I knew that when my birthday rolled around in November, we’d probably still be staying put due to the pandemic. In 2019, I had flown to Dubai and Oman so I wanted to do something that still felt somewhat adventurous even if it wouldn’t be quite so exotic. I had heard that Parc Omega, a wildlife park about an hour’s drive from Ottawa, had built cabins along the edge of two of their enclosures. There are 4 cabins on the side of one enclosure with one wolf pack and on the other side of the high boardwalk is another enclosure with a wolf pack and 2 smaller cabins.
A cabin felt much safer than a hotel since we brought our own food and I only needed the code for the keypad entry. It was a perfect COVID escape with the only human interaction was at the reception desk where I got a map and instructions. Masks were worn by both of us and they had hand-sanitizer and a plexiglass barrier in place to keep us safe.
We didn’t arrive until after the park itself had closed for the day but we were allowed to walk along the boardwalk so after dropping our bags we took a stroll in the fading light and got our bearings. By the time we got back inside the cabin, it was too dark to see the wolves so we cooked our pizzas and played some board games we’d brought. There is no TV or wifi so it was a nice way to really disconnect and get some quality family time.
I was brushing my teeth when I heard the first howl, then a response and then the chorus. We all rushed to the window and tried to see the wolves in the dark. People in the other cabins had thrown their outdoor lights on but they remained ghosts in the shadows. We were settling into bed the next time the calls rang out. How cool, I thought! By the time they howled again at midnight and then 3 am, I thought, maybe not so cool…
I finally managed to doze off again but was up at first light to walk along the boardwalk with my son to take pictures. I had taken this opportunity to rent a Sony A7rIII with a 100-400mm lens as well as test a Nikon Z6 and 500mm f5.6 lens. I’ve been shooting Nikon since I bought my Dad’s old Nikon FE film camera as a teen, but I had been wanting to check out the new mirrorless systems and try to lighten my load when travelling.
While I was thoroughly enjoying being in my happy place, my son got bored and cold and headed back. My husband stayed behind to make us a wonderful breakfast, he’s a good man! After we ate, it was time to pack up. It was not an inexpensive way to spend less than 24 hours but just to be in a different space than our house and to be surrounded by nature made it worth every penny.
The stay in the cabin also included the entrance fee to the rest of the park which is a self-drive loop where you can see many of North America’s most iconic animals in large, natural settings. We made sure to be among the first to go through the gates when it opened at 10 am. It was a good call because, by the time we left, it seemed many families had figured out that this was a great COVID-safe activity to do. Cars would pile up as eager children handed carrots to the equally eager elk and deer that you are allowed to feed.
We also saw arctic foxes, arctic wolves, coyotes, wild boars, a moose, bison, caribou and black bears even though it was November and normally they’d be beginning their long winter sleep. The weather had been unusually mild up until that weekend so they were taking advantage of last-minute foraging. Click on an image to see which camera I used, you can then scroll through the carousel to see the rest of the images and compare.
In the end, I found both cameras to be really good and the lenses were fast to focus and sharp. I think I found the Nikon Z6 more intuitive thanks to having been a loyal user for well over 25 years but I wouldn’t hesitate to invest in the Sony system if I was just starting out. In the summer, I got to try my Dad’s Fuji and I also had a friend lend me his Olympus the week before so I felt I got a really good sense of what each system could deliver. So what did I end up choosing to buy? Drumroll……. A Panasonic Lumix G9! Go figure. The one brand I hadn’t tested other than the Canon (which I hear is great too). Why did I end up with a whole new system? Size, weight and price are what swayed me. Both Panasonic and Olympus are what’s called Micro-Four-Thirds cameras and one cool feature is that their lenses are interchangeable between brands. Their sensors are much smaller which means the cameras and lenses can be too. I was very close to getting the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III (I’d like to know who came up with that mouthful of a name!) but when I held the G9 in my hands in the store and compared it to the Olympus, I thought it felt more like a Nikon in terms of where the buttons and dials were found. And since both were comparable in terms of quality, the fact they had a better sale on the G9 sealed the deal.
I won’t be selling all my Nikon gear just yet and I have a feeling I will eventually get one of their mirrorless cameras to replace my trusty D810 (either when it dies or my coffers fill up again). I also would really love that 500mm f5.6 prime but it retails for almost $5K so that will have to stay on my wishlist a while longer. For travel or hiking, I wanted something lighter and the full-frame mirrorless cameras still take full-frame lenses which are often the bulk of the weight. I may be compromising a bit in some areas but so far, I’m really enjoying being able to bring it on a long walk with the Leica DG 100-400mm (equivalent to 200-800mm on a full-frame) and not need to make an appointment with my chiropractor right after.
If you have questions about staying in one of Parc Omega’s wolf cabins or what I think about any of the cameras I tried, feel free to reach out. I’ll write another blog to show off some of the images I’ve been able to get with my new Panasonic soon. You can also follow me on Instagram to check out my latest work. I often put the camera I used in the hashtags if that helps!