Kamchatka, Russia
Ricoh GRD II takes on Kamchatka - Russia's far far east!

My vision of Kamchatka in far east Russia has been painted by various books and documentaries.
One thing I knew for sure that my trip to the land of "Fire and Ice" will be challenging.
It after all is a peninsula at the end of Siberia stretching from north to south and being squeezed by the Sea
of Ochotsk in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east.

Being part of the "Ring of Fire" in the Pacific, Kamchatka has a great numbers of volcanoes and hot geysers.
The climate is affected by so many factors so that the weather is totally unpredictable!

I had to carefully choose my equipment. I would climb volcanoes, cross rivers, be showered by rain and chilled
by wind. I also prefer to travel light as when the going gets tough every kilogram of extra weight feels like
a tonne!

Besides taking my Nikon digital SLR, I needed something to satisfy the following conditions: be small and light
enough to stay in my pocket unnoticeable, be tough enough to take a fair amount of beating under the extreme
conditions, produce good quality pictures and have an ability to override various settings
(have additional manual controls). I would also prefer for my choice camera to have a RAW file format
for future manipulations to achieve the best quality possible.

After doing some research and re-calling my earlier satisfaction with the original Ricoh film-based GR,
I have decided to give new Ricoh GRD II 10 Megapixel camera a go.

The Ricoh GRD II felt really good in my hand. I didn't realize how small it was and packed with
so many "pro" features! I have immediately started testing it to familiarize myself before the trip and
was amazed how sharp the photos were even wide-open at f2.4. I knew I had something special in my hands!

On my arrival to Kamchatka's capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatksy, I have decided to explore the city on foot.
The little Ricoh lied comfortably in my pocket.

I have noticed on my previous trips that pulling a big camera out on a busy street not only takes time but
also attracts an unnecessary attention to you.

Making quick shots of the surroundings with this small camera allowed me capture the soul of the city without
being too intrusive in people's everyday life.

As I moved along, people simply paid little attention and proceeded with their daily tasks.
Using a wide 28mm lens I was able to capture the cityscape whether it was cheerful, imposing or simply depressing.

The later is a better definition of the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky as I have wondered its streets often
covered by fog and swept by a sudden wind.

The city is simply deteorating. Its roads are rarely patched up and big hollows often appear as you ride down
the road. The buildings are often grey and unpainted. They invoke a feeling of sadness. Some of the buildings
looked like they were loosing their skin.
Some more cheerful buildings were surrounded by
the piles of rubbish and neglected gardens.

Time and time again I have asked myself, how can
people live here?

Some people have no other place to go to and local authorities do little about the state of some of the houses.

Proceeding towards the city I have encountered a fish market. It looked more cheerful and presented a number
of photographic opportunities. I was able to inconspicuously use the camera without anyone noticing it and
yet the picture quality made my heart race.
Sometimes, thanks to the Ricoh's stable base,
I was able to place the camera onto some table or
another object with a flat top, keep it reasonably leveled, set Ricoh's timer to 10s and press the shutter button.

A few seconds later I would get a crisp-sharp image.

On a way to the centre I have passed a local soccer

The gates were locked.

So the best I could do was to pick through the gate's
metal bars.

The city centre is full of symbolism. Either there are placards calling for Putin's plans to be realized near
the statue of Lenin or the "locks of love" left by newly weds to show how strong their love is towards
each other.
Near the city centre, hidden in a lavishly green garden,
there is memorial to the fallen defenders of
Petropavlovsk during the English-French fleet invasion
of 1854.
Finally, we have left Petropavlovsk to experience the wilderness of Kamchatka.

The two main types of transportation are the 6-wheel drive truck "Ural" and a helicopter ME-8.

The first destination was the Valley of Geysers. I've mounted a telephoto lens on my SLR and kept
Ricoh GRD II handy for the landscape shots.

On a first glance "the Valley" looked serene.

Suddenly, the steam started coming out from
the ground approximately a hundred meters
in front of us.
Coming closer, a long stretch of geysers became clearly visible

The local stories say that some misfortunate bears
have been cooked alive inside those geysers.

This hypothesis is based on the later discovered claw marks.

Chemical deposits are clearly visible.
at the base of this geyser

The weather was changing rapidly.

I have found the manual exposure compensation
adjustment very useful as it had reflected the image
in the live view of the Ricoh's LCD screen, and allowed
me get the correct exposure.

Shortly after, we have left the Valley of Geysers and headed to the caldera of volcano Uzon.

Our next destination was the area around
Ploskiy Tolbachik volcano.

Having Ricoh GRD II prompted me to take spontaneous
shots along the way during our stops and at camp

Feeling very tired after a long trip, with no effort on my part, I've pulled my Ricoh out to record what
my mind wanted to remember.

The camping side in the Lunar Valley looked rather

Ascent to the top of the Ploskiy Tolbachik volcano was quite difficult.

On a way up we have experienced a splendid view
on the adjacent mount Ostriy Tolbachik.

In Russian "ploskiy" means "being flat" and "otsriy" means "being pointed".

The view of the Ploskiy Tolbachik's crater was magnificent!

On a way from Ploskiy Tolbachik to the village of Esso
we have often crossed dry river beds.

The presence of the volcanic ash was visible on
the barred surface.

The short stop to stretch our legs called for some
photographic action! Well, Ricoh GRD was by my side.

The village of Esso, which is the cultural hub of local
Even people, has greeted us with the remnants of
an ex-military vehicle.

These vehicles are used where there are no roads.
They are called "vezdehod" which in Russian means

The local shops appeared to be well-stocked with fruits
and alcohol.

The following shot was taken with the Ricoh's timer function. Not all point and shoot cameras have
a stable base to simply place it on a flat surface!

The GRD's auto white balance seems to work well
under the mixed lighting.

The Russian vodka has been noticed to be
quite popular among the locals.

After leaving Esso we have departed to do rafting
down the river Bystraya ("fast" in Russian).

We had to travel over 500km south.

River Bystraya gets filled with salmon going upstream.

A visit to the Gorely and Mutnovsky volcanos

The 6-wheel drive, an 11-tonne "Ural" truck,
conquered the impassable, by an ordinary

4-wheel drive, roads. Some of them were
covered with ice.

What the camping site lacked in creature comforts,
it surely gained in scenery.

Gorely volcano did not disappoint!

Although, it was covered by clouds most
of the time.

Near the base of Gorely there are some pretty creeks.

Here, I had an opportunity to use Ricoh
GRD's splendid macro mode!

Ascend to Mutnovsky volcano was a treat.

The colorful walls and mini-volcanos of yellow
sulpur gases reminded that this volcano has been
active quite recently.

The lava rocks look like nothing I have ever seen before.

The crater contained a beautiful sky-blue lake!

Here is a grim reminder that people have died
at Mutnovsky volcano.

Mountains don't forgive mistakes.

When we have returned to Petropavlovsk
we have visited the Avacha Bay's bird colonies.

Petropavlovsk's port looked congested on our return.

We were fare-welled from Kamchatka by
our terrific interpreter and guide Katya.

You can find the details of Ricoh GRD II here.