Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2009 is Here!

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Dear all,

Happy new year to you all!  We are already in 2009 in Hong Kong.  May we all take even better pictures and enjoy a greater life in the new year.

Best,
Nevin

Windows to the Soul

(Keeping an Eye: This man in a suit, looking aimlessly into the distance, was heard having an animated argument over the cellphone on the footbridge as I walked past him. A footbridge in China can be a busy place to walk on because there are lots of selling and other activities on them. Some years ago, I was warned to be vigilant on a footbridge in China because thievery was more rampant up there. The warning has tested to be not really true.)

Some years ago, I read a story titled, "Compassion is in the Eyes" which is about Thomas Jefferson giving a horse ride to an old-timer. The old-timer thanked him for his help by saying something that Jefferson felt heart-warming, "I looked into the eyes of the other riders and immediately saw there was no concern for my situation. It would have been useless even to ask them for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, kindness and compassion were evident. I knew, then and there, that your gentle spirit would welcome the opportunity to give me assistance in my time of need."

A Chinese saying goes, "Yanjing shi linghun zhi chuan", or, literally, eyes are the windows to the soul.

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(Up and Down: It was at the end of lunchtime when I took this shot. This young lady must have taken her lunch, and was probably walking with her friends back to the workplace. There was not much interaction between the passers-by, not just about this lady and her friends but most people I walked past before and after this shot. I think she was casting a rather blank gaze upon the road ahead)

I am not sure how ordinary or typical some of the people I met on the street are. But as far as my experience goes, a lot of them lack sparks in their eyes. That was just my vague impression until I reviewed the street shots which, thanks to the handiness of my GX200, I was able to take during the China trip. The eyes of the subjects seem to be filled with uncertainty. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe calling them the-without-hopes is going too far, but the expression in their eyes can betray the amount of hope they see.

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(The Bicyclist: This middle-aged man was not waiting to cross a road or for whatever. He just walked slowly with the bike to one direction and look over to another direction. The enlarged original image showed that he was wearing a puzzled expression on his face with a pair of puzzling eyes)

Last night, I took the trouble to check out the expression in the passers-by's eyes on the street. I was not sure if I saw the same worrying gaze in the Hongkongers.

To those who do not see much hope, I wish them more, better hopes in the new year. To all the Chinese people, I wish you all a brighter future to come.  And, to you, a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The-Without-Morals

R0012128 (Small)(Rain and Tear: Late last night, the van I rode back home tore onto the road in the rain but at the red traffic light the driver still dutifully stopped the car, giving me a chance to take a shot of the medley of colours reflected on the windows full of raindrops. There was not enough light so I simply defocused the shot a bit)

 

An OZ (Australian) friend of mine who took almost five years to travel around the world commented badly on China for its people. She was annoyed by the sly quality of the people she met during her China leg of the trip. Opinionated her comments might be, but there is some truth in it.


I have made regular trips to the Mainland China for some years. There are certainly good people I have met. But a large portion of the people can be summed up into two categories: the-without-morals and the-without-hopes.

 

R0011971 (Small)(Believe It or Better Not: Two youngsters with their hair dyed in golden colour are selling self-proclaimed medicine for skin problems. News about fake foodstuff and medicine in China are galore. The government ad in the background, “Be a Civilized Citizen, Build a Civilized City”, speaks volumes for the general situation)

 

It is not that only China has the-without-morals. There are surely a great number of them in the more advanced countries, but in finer attire and with fancier titles for probably even more voracious ulterior motives. The moral dissonance in China is more deafening because there seems to be scant advancement for a fairer and more open society to compensate its fast-tracked economic development. So, people tend to take chances to cheat. It has grown to be kind of a moral plague. It is contagious too: sights of very mature Caucasian men holding the hands of fledgling Chinese women (usually with a great body) have become more common in China. This is not intended in any way about age discrimination. But something is fishy about it nonetheless.

 

R0011975 (Small) (Agricultural Past: Some twenty years ago, he was probably transporting the goods on a bike or an oxcart. China used to be a big agricultural country. After 30 years of economic reforms, it has jumped to become the fourth largest world economy)

 

R0011970 (Small)(Traffic Police: The policeman is on duty at a busy road junction. China is already one of biggest world economies and on the rise probably as another superpower. More should be done to improve its governance and government. Without a more fair and open system, a huge economy as China is now could dent the world economy if anything serious about it goes wrong)

Soothsaying the GRD III, Again

The January issue of China's Popular Photography quotes the price for GRDII at RMB 3,500 and GX200 at RMB 3,200. I was around the Guangdong province in China during the last few days. The prices for the two cameras I saw in a big digitial store were RMB 3,980 and RMB 3,780 respectively.

So, the 30% price drop for GRD II is not just for Hong Kong. It is suspicious to me if the cut is to simply change tact on account of the economic downturn as told by the Ricoh distributor here. The prelude to GRD III has begun IMO. Ricoh is shedding the GRD II stock at a very low price. This is an unfortunate tactic, if my guess is right, because if I were a GRD user, I would be concerned about my future investment in Ricoh cameras. A 30% drop in value is a lot for a relatively expensive camera within such a short perio of time, not to mention the ever dropping price of the GX200 at least in this part of the world. In just six months, the GX200 is selling for around US$120 less here. Not a wise move to cultivate loyality maybe.

But on the other hand, I am glad that the Ricoh distributors are generous, friendly and helpful. Just yesterday, a GX200 user in Malaysia was returned a new GX200 for his old one which had got dust on the lens.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Reinforcing Your Holiday Mood

Nevin is probably coming back tonight. So, where have you been celebrating the Christmas holiday? Feeling a bit down to be back to work? Here are some more photos of the holiday in Hong Kong to reinforce your holiday mood.

R0011891 (Small)(Stop in the Name of Bus: Nathan Road, the lifeline of Kowloon Peninsula, was partially cordoned off from traffic during the holdiay at night when people were crowding the area near the Victoria Harbour for celebration)

R0011882 (Small)(The Mongkok Mob: I was amazed to see the street jampacked with people after a cup of coffee in Starbucks. For some seconds, I dared not walk to the crowd)

R0011894 (Small)(Great Shot or Not: The family was checking out photos on the camera)

R0011893 (Small)(Multitasking: Walk-checking photos is like drunk-driving a car. Both are dangerous thing to yourselves and other people)

R0011887 (Small)(Human Trafficking: Roads were turned into pedestrian precincts. There is something about this tiny city -- it has atmosphere!)

R0011888 (Small)(Look Alive: The dad was walking steps ahead of the mum holding the baby. Okay, tell me, why didn't he hold he baby and let the lady push the pram? Man, come on!)

R0011901 (Small)(River of Pedestrians: Hope to see you in Hong Kong the next Christmas!)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Your Camera: Who Manufactures It Where?

Have you ever wondered who assemble your cameras where? If you are Canon, Nikon, Olympus or Fujifilm user, check this out. For Ricoh, Casio, Kodak and the now defunct KM brands, see here. (It seems that Ricoh cameras are predominately manufactured in the same plant in Dongguan Muncipality of Guangdong Province, China). Lastly, these lists are for Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Pentax cameras. Conclusion? This is it: there is no wonder why China has managed to jump the line to be the World's fourth largest economy in just 30 years.

Selected Excellence: Wouter Brandsma

64th_commemoration_of_operation_market_garden_4(Courtesy and copyright of Wouter Brandsma. Taken with GX200)



Wouter Brandsma is no stranger among Ricoh camera users. His works are highly regarded by fellow "Ricohans". Located in Holland, Wouter has published many intruguing photos and useful articles on his GX100 and 200. We are in the process of translating one of his articles in Chinese, as a way to better introduce him to the Chinese speaking community. This photo caught Nevin's eye because of the emotional charge in it. The man in a beret is a war veteran having taken part in the real battle. It was also because of the feeling of action, rendered in an emotional way by a typical upper-left-to-lower-right diagonal pattern.


By Wouter Brandsma: The photograph was made at the 64th commemoration of operation Market Garden. See the full story with more photographs here. The RAW file was processed in Adobe Lightroom and converted to B&W.


I really like to use a compact camera since one can easily can blend in with the public. These cameras are very silent, especially in combination with the snap mode or manual focussing. The wide angle lens is superb of the GX200 and I almost never use 50mm or above.


(For further reading on Operation Market Garden, read this)

Friday, 26 December 2008

True Colours of the Editor...'s Place

All photos are taken at Nevin's place...shhhhh...while he is away. His place is warmly aglow with the early sunshine in the morning.


(From top to bottom: a table lamp, clock from Santorini, plant and shadow, crystal ceiling light, a curtain)


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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Christmas Letter to Readers

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Dear Readers,

May we wish you and your family a Merry Christmas full of love and joy. Christmas is a season of receiving and giving love, especially when this year lots of people are suffering from the financial downturn. If you are lucky enough to be spared a job, we are joyful for you. Even if you not, don't lose heart. You are not alone and this will pass. Hang on, just hang on.

R0011616 (Medium) (Hands Full: This man loses both hands. He makes his living by being a painter in the street. He has decided to hang on regardless of his difficulties)

R0011617 (Medium)For those who are more lucky at this point of time, may we call upon you to share your love with your family, the people around you and those who are in need. Donate money to a charity fund or do a voluteer work. We are no empty talker. Take Nevin for example, he has been doing voluteer work for two non-profit-making bodies for a good course. He does it on top of his job, family, a tight schedule to practice guitar and manage this site. Whenever and whatever we can afford, lend a helping hand. It will mean a lot to the needy. He knows it intimately because some people helped him out when he was almost driven to despair.

Enjoy you holiday. Again, Merry Christmas to you!

With warmest regards,

Nevin and Co-editor GX GARNERINGS

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Six Feet Under

R0011436 (Small) (2) (Ephemeral: This is a real but transient world.  Where are we going to after the end?)
 
image001 A year has almost slipped by, and we are nearing Christmas. Love through the birth of a saviour in the Christian belief is the religious theme of Christmas.  I like this theme.  This makes me think of not birth but, I don't know why, death. Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being immediately springs to mind, in which a sentence goes like this, "From the first day of our birth, we are all moving one-day nearer to death each day." What a pessimism!

Death is a matter of importance in the Chinese society. The funeral of the Chinese is also known as "Ba Si" , literally White Ritual, as opposed to "Hung Si", literally Red Ritual which is wedding. The Chinese wedding ceremony is themed on the auspicious red colour while the funeral on white and yellow.
 
Paper Offerings
 
(Coffins, Chinese style)
R0011744 (Small)When I was young, some old people would prepare a set of paper clothes to be worn on their dead body at their own funeral. I actually met an old lady who showed the paper clothes to her family for comments. Some would also make it clear what paper offerings to be burnt to them. There are a whole array of different paper offerings. I published some photos of a paper house for offering in a previous post.

Buddism and Taoism are somehow interweaved with the folk version of the religions, which gave rise to some interesting rituals in a funeral. Take for example, leather is forbidden to be used for the attire dressed on the dead body. It is believed that, otherwise, the deceased will morphed into an animal in the next life.
 
The Funeral Ritual                        (Waiting for Her Turn: But time 
                                                              doesn't wait for us)

R0011795 (Small)The funeral starts in a funeral parlour for a night. The other day, when the coffin is to be moved to the graveyard, the eldest son of the deceased breaks a clay pot to start the procession. Holding a mugshot of the deceased, the eldest son lead the procession flanked by a funeral band playing some Chinese tunes. Paper money is flown into the air on both sides and, sometimes, a Feng Shui master is called into the graveyard to instruct the conduct of the burial.
 

R0011758 (Small)(Snatch a Sleep: When we all get very old, we will not be able to sleep like this.  We will sleep straight, very straight in a coffin.  Then, do we just decay six feet under?)

 
The immediate family and the closer relatives of the deceased are required to wear some insignias (a while or blue cotton flower or a black swatch) on R0011471 (Small)the chest to mark their mourning for 49 days during which they should refrain from taking part in any celebration. The funeral is officially ended on the seventh day after the burial when some more paper offerings are burnt.

(Passers-by Passing by: Life is an interesting phe-nomenon.  Where is this phenomeno leading us?)

Titanium, Just in Case You Wonder


This is it, Leica D-Lux 4 Titanium edition. Just in case you wonder after reading yesterday's post.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Digital Print Size Rule-of-Thumb

R0011745 (Medium)(Baffled Driver: I walked past this taxi driver who gave a baffled expression on his face. He would have to pay for the repairs and probably make do with no income until the repair is done. The insurance agent will certainly up the ante for next year's policy)
I have came across a few questions about the largest quality print size of GX200's images. Well, I have done 4R (4 × 6 inch) and 8R (8 × 10 inch) prints. No problem at all for even 8R size. But the question about the largest quality print size baffled me.
After much asking and searching, EUREKA!
For general use, the largest quality R0011007 (Medium)print size for a digital image is calculated as follows: vertical and horizontal pixel counts divided by 200 respectively.
For a critical use of the photo (in a photo contest, exhibition and so on), make the denominator to 250.
Take the GX200's images for example, the largest quality print size for general use is 15 ×20 inches (i.e. 3000 and 4000 divided by 200); for critical use, 12 × 16 inches (i.e. 3000 and 4000 divided by 250).
(Baffled Smoker: This man was so ruminative and probably depressed that I was able to take a number of photos of him without his notice)
------
Featured Comments by Wouter: This year I made four A2 prints (60 x 40 cm) [Editor's note: i.e. 24 x 15.8 inches]. Two from the GX100 and the other two from the GX200 and they were all impressive. And I am glad that the customers were impressed too.

Leica Hong Kong Promotion

The local Leica dealer is offering a special Christmas promotion for Leica D-Lux 4 and C-Lux 3 buyers from now on until the end of January. Each purchase wil entitle you to a 3-year warranty and a Leica leather case (the one for D-Lux 4 is worth of HK$980). The 4 selling for HK$6,900 is a Leica version of the Panasonic LX3 with different firmware and a more high-class outlook.

 

It is worthy noting that the price of D-Lux 3 has never dropped since its introduction, meaning that Leica cameras have a high resale value in case that concerns you.


For those who cannot care less about the price tag, a limited Titanium edition of the D-Lux 4 is available at a mere HK$9,500.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Tai Chi Ladies

R0011132 (Medium)Good morning.  Morning is a time for exercising.  Here in Hong Kong, you will bump into people having morning Tai Chi session in alomst any park.  Even some gweilos and gweipos (literally, male and female foreigners ; previously offensive terms but now playful among even the expats) do Tai Chi with local masters in Chater Garden at Central for some mornings.  The Hong Kong Tourism Board has partnered with some parties to offer free Tai Chi class to tourists.  You may check this out for whether the classes are still available.  Otherwise, show up in any park and ask the local Tai Chi exercisers for permission to join.

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R0011122 (Medium) So don't be sleepy head.  Get up after reading this post and do some exercise too. 

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Ye Heung and Si Taup

R0010319 (Medium)(Classical Mailboxes: These tin mailboxes were characteristic of the 1970s when the general domestic buildings in Hong Kong did not have a place for mailboxes.  I took this shot on the ground floor of a tenement building)

ye heung si taup Some weeks ago, I published a post about the tenement buildings in Hong Kong. Most of these old buildings remain in Mongkok, Yaumatei and Shumshuipo on the Kowloon side, with some declared as monuments in Wanchai and Sheung Wan on the Hong Kong Island. Let’s get down (or up?) to the nitty-gritty of these buildings.

 

In most cases, these R0010634 (Medium)tenement buildings are closely packed together from  wall to wall, making it possible for residential units to have front and back windows only. Most of them are still poorly managed. There is no proper place even for mailboxes. The communal electrical and TV cables are lined casually in the common areas as you see in the photos below.                          (Letters are frequently stolen)


A large number of them are of three to four stories while those built in the 1960s have as many stories as eight and, for later ones, higher. But, sorry, you’ve got to walk up the stairs for no lifts are provided, which is, well, the second most appalling fact. What topping the list of appalling facts is: there was no flashing toilet in tenement buildings at first!


This is going to be filthy, R0010631 (Medium)mark you: The back section on each floor of a tenement building was used to be a communal kitchen next to which there was a “toilet” where tenants got rid of their waste in a round, wooden “Si Taup” (literally, faeces tower) of 2.5 feet in height. The “Si Taup” has a top opening of 2 feet in diameter. It is covered with a lid when not in use.

(Fire hazard is severe)


R0010628 (Medium)The lack of flashing toilet gave rise to the profession of what was known   as “Ye Heung Fu” (literally, nightly fragrant ladies) who cleared away the human wastes in containers in which the tenants empty the Si Taup at mid-night. The colloquial term “Ye Heung” is still used as a euphemism for human faeces, and "Si Taup" is playful equivalence of "toilet".                                                 (From a higher angle)

Friday, 19 December 2008

Photography: What Counts?

(Featuring photos and comments on DP1 by SW Kuo from Taiwan)
A previous discussion on compacts for portraits triggered off the a photographer to say that street shots photograph was for wimps, quoting Norman Parkinson's 'Wimps make bad photographers'. This thought-provoking comment made me write something to share my views on street photography, which is in the process.

Until then, I wish to illustrate an important question first. Let me start by showing you some portrait works of SW Kuo from Taiwan. He wrote to me that there were much left to be desired in the following shots but was brave enough to let me publish them. Typical oriental politeness. My salute to Kuo. He uses a DP1. Despite its CCD of a larger size, I consider the DP1 compact enough to be relevant to the contents of this site. (A portrait taken with Minolta 7000i in my greener days)
old portrait (Medium) If we compare Kuo's works with Ye Li's (here and here), also a DP1 user, there is an obvious conclusion which should not be required making: What matters is not the camera or the genre or some bigwig's beliefs but SKILL! Street shots need skill too, just that different genres requires slightly different skills. Maybe some of us really need some excellent street shots to change our (mis-)conception about street shots. We should carry on this discussion on street shots when my writing is done. Some tips on street shots will also be offered.
Now, Kuo's portraits and his comments on the DP1. (Note: if you visit Kuo's blog, you will notice that his photographic skill is growing. Congrats, Kuo)

sw kuo dp1By SW Kuo: Sigma DP1 is my shooting tool on top of my Canons. I was in touch with Sigma when I first used its lenses which I think give a big bang for the bucks. However, this Sigma DP1 is expensive in comparison with other compacts, with a sluggish speed in focusing, data writing and reading, and a slower than desirable lens. So, what on earth was I thinking when I started craving for it?

2718305811_bf1c549140_o (Small) (This shot was done at a portrait shootout organised by a local photography club. I like the exposure of this image. The model was in a pinkish long dress. The exposure does justice to the pinkish colour so that it does not become whitish. The model has a cute face in a sexy posture)

As a matter fact, I was curious about the Sigma SD14, especially for its Foveon X3 CCD. After the enlightenment of the Sigma DP1, I can safely say that Sigma boasts the unbeatable CCD with its Foveon X3 in the market at present. Of course, prejudice is personal. No understanding will be complete without using the camera itself.

2954500553_97551867bf_o (Medium) (This shot was also done when I joined a portrait shootout of another club. The shot was made possible with the 28mm of the DP1. The photo is rightly exposed to show a rich colour texture)

I have been using DP1 for almost six months. I am amazed by the quality colours, details, texture it gives to the images with a APS-size CCD. However, ergonomics-wise, there are improvements to be made. Another point to note is that the RAW files give the best results only with the proprietary Sigma Photo Pro. DP1 is one of the best shooting tools though. I hope that Sigma will be able to improve the ergonomics of heir to DP1 to make it more enjoyable for photographers.

If you're interested, Kuo's flickr page is here.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Temple Street Night Market

The following photos were done during the shootout with Cristi, a Ricoh camera user from London. He lent me his GRD which was set to the B&W setting at ISO 1600. As a GX200 user, I found myself fumbling for the zoom button without success. As I shoot primarily in colours and seldom shoot in such a low night situation, I was quite unaccustomed to the setting until almost ten shutter clicks or so. After the shootout, I agreed with Cristi that the ISO1600 was exceptionally useful in such a situation for B&W; he simply skipped ISO 400/800. The noise gives a wonderful film-like grainy look to the images which I like a lot.

R0012147 (Medium) (Can't Get My Eyes off You: The sungalsses kiosk owner is busy counting the money)

R0012144 (Medium) (Look Up, Look Down: A tourist buying some hair accessories)

A brief note about the Temple Street night market: it starts from Yaumatei to Jordon. If you walk leisurely without stopping, it will take you some 30 minutes to finish it. The lesser known facts about the market are the porn shops alongside the walkway and the Nepalese / Thai shops selling exotic Asian items. Look for them not on the main market aisle but along the walkway on both sides of the street. If you try to take photos involving the porn shops, please be forewarned that they are mostly operated by gangsters.

R0012150 (Medium) (Illegal Parking: A passer-by sat on the carts to soothe his sore legs)

R0012148 (Medium) (Sigh, Wrong Way: Some Putonghua speaking tourists was heard discussing which the right way was)