Saturday, 22 November 2008

Protectors of Children

R0011052 (Large)R0011051 (Large)(Funny Faces: A blend of frightening and interesting, the faces of these traditional soft tiger toys catch my eyes.  In the Chinese New Year, some children wear stitched tiger shoes with similar face patterns on.)

In the exhibition of embrodery I visited last week, there was a corner decorated with soft tiger toys of various sizes and colours.  Tigers, along with images of other animals were used as tribal totem images in prehistoric times.  Gradually the tiger was combined with the mythical dragon in a new culture.

R0011054 (Large) Over 2500 years ago, when unification under one emperor on the now Chinese continent was estabilshed, the dragon became the emblem of the power of emperors, while the tiger quietly endeared itself to the masses, and in particular, became the protectors of children.

Mothers made tiger hats, bibs, vests, gloves, shoes, toys -- in effect to cover the children from head to toe with image of tigers, to ensure the continuity of the household bloodline, and to bless the children with heath and safety in their growing up.

Nowdays, there are still shops selling tiger shoes for children to wear in the Chinese New Year, a time when everyone wishes for a head start.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Come to Rest

R0010625 (Large)R0010624 (Large) Taken in a public housing estate, these three photos I took, along with  several others, for a photo contest themed on "caring and support". I picked the upper one and sent it with another four different photos for submission. The photo tells of the architect's thoughtfulness to put in metal seats every twenty steps along the 200-metre walkway for the elderly tenants' sake.

In Hong Kong, about one-third of the population live in these publicly subsidised housing estate, which were initiated by the former British colonial administration following a notorious great fire in a shanty town at Shek Kip Mei (literally, Rocky Gorge End) in 1953. At that time, masses of refugees fled from the civil war in China to take refuge in Hong Kong, only to find themselves among broken bricks and half-collapsed walls – hopeless and homeless. As time wore on, the shanty towns became home to 300,000 people, almost a quarter of the whole population.
 
 
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(Shek Kip Mei shanty town: "In those days, we were neighbours to rats and cockroaches. Inside and outside the house, they were just all over the place, running in all directions," a fomrer squatter recalled.)
 
 
passbyThe Shek Kip Mei fire was not catastrophic, but in three years time, one-tenth of the squatters was made homeless because of fire. It gave the British a big headache and the public housing estate was the cure.
(At that time, the English-speaking class lived on the mid-levels of Hong Kong Island, a cooler place to stay away from the heat and humidity of summer and a "cool" place to stay away from the poor. Today, the Mid-Levels is still an up-market residential area for the rich and famous.)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

DP1 vs LX3: A User's ISO Test

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lx3 dp1 user test In arranging the upcoming night comparison shots for G1 and other serious compacts, I bumped into a local forum in which a user of DP1 and LX3 did an ISO test for the two cameras.

 

LX3 is praised for its high ISO performance as a compact.  But in both the local and overseas photography circles, there have been discussions about the false ISO numbering of LX3.   That is to say, LX3 on a higher ISO performs in a way as another compact on a lower ISO.   Take for example, if you use ISO 100 for two compacts, chances are that LX3 needs a longer exposure.  If that's true, it's not at all welcomed.

 

Back to the ISO test, click HERE for a Googlish translation.

Chinese version is HERE.

Maiden Art thro' a Man's Eyes

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(Occidental and Oriental: At the entrance of the exhibition, there was a large drape showing many pieces of miniature ethnic clothes of people in China and Taiwan.  A western old lady was admiring the needle works.)

 

R0011063 (Medium)I made a visit to an exhibition of embroidery yesterday. Embroidery is considered the finest of Chinese women's needle arts.  With a simply needle and coloured silk threads, patterns of flowers, birds, animals, people, geometric patterns, are deftly embroidered onto silk or cotton fabrics, using as many as over a hundred varieties of stitches.

                                                                                  (Embroidered period waist bags)

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(The embroidery at right shows a popular theme in the Chinese culture which is fecunity.  In the old days, these blankets were doweries that symoblised good wishes to the new couples.)

 

Embroidery has survived the centuries in China, due to its application in daily life, such as decorations on purses, shoes, bonnets, and other personal items.  In addition, owing to the patronage of dynasties of emperors, dragon robes, and other emblems of official rank, have made embroidery an exquisite art form.

This intricate technique was passed from generations of mothers to their dzugthers.  Even a small purse contains the love, hopes and pride of a mother or a young maiden.  Some interesting themes of the embroidery in the exhibition were tiger and dragon.   Photos of the colourful works will be posted later on.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Rustic Charm of Lifestyle

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(Very Rustic: This is one of the metalsmith shops nearby.  It is open for business six days a week of which the smith usually bares his upper body and sits on the chair at the folding gate.  He left the chair with a grin on his face when I asked for permission to take this photo.  I wished he hadn't.  The small cabinet with two red bulbs is a shrine for deities which is obiquituous in Hong Kong's Chinese families and old shops.)
 
I live in a neighbourhood which has an atmosphere. It is sort of aged and dilapidated. An old area it is, having seen better days before an extensive reclamation of the sea some 15 years ago to form the land in existence today.
 
R0010660 (Large)In those days, the area bordered on the waterfront where sailors from the four seas* disembarked at the piers. Those seamen were ashore either to take a short break, load or unload the goods consignments, or replenish necessities in preparation for another long voyage. Travelling in barges to and fro the piers and their big ships, which jam-packed the waters several metres offshore, they brought about a flourish in trades to the area.
 
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Still in business today, many of the shops are seafaring-specific that you may call them metalsmith shops in general. At the sight of those old shops, you will wonder if they are as old as grandpas.
(Chain Store: These are the only goods sold in a nearby chain store. The whole store is full of chains in different sizes and lengths.)
 
 
 
In fact, oldness is a city's treasure. The uniqueR0010339 (Large) characters fermented at the old areas in Athens (gives a back-in-anciet-time delusion), Paris (a crime-happens-any-moment excitement), London (an everything-is-antique-but-over-priced heartbeating), Melbourne of Australia (a tree-tree-nothing-nothing-weird-street-name puzzlement) and Bali of Indonesia (a simplicity-is-joy epiphany) are what still impress me the most among all the sightseeing I have done.
 
As for my old neighbourhood, it speaks literally of a "rust"ic charm of lifestyle. I am loving it!
 
(*Four seas: A Confucius teaching goes, "In the four seas, all men are brothers", meaning roughly people should treat each other with friendliness.  In Chinese, "four seas" is an idiomatic  expression for "around the world")

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

LX3 vs GX200: How to Read a Review

This article will reveal the all-impotant question to ask upon reading a camera review next time.

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(Victoria Harbour with the Hong Kong Island in the background: This was taken by handholding my GX200 which I rested on a railing, enabling me to use ISO100 and effectively avoid the high ISO noise issue. I could have made the image less blurred if I had the mini-tripod that I usually carried around with.)

What matters the most to an undecided buyer after he or she read a camera review? The "highly recommended (not just really)" rating? A comparison of the length of the lists of pros and cons? As a user, what should we deduce from a review to hammer a deal?

Let's take as an example Pavel's recent review at ricohforum.com. Pavel has put together the full size JPEG photos taken with a GX200 and a LX3. In a nutshell, the results show that LX3 produces images with a better quality. Okay, photography is mostly about the end product which is the photo. But, wait, before a good photo is there, something else precedes.

PROS FOR LX3

First, let's look at the arguments for LX3:

1) a better dynamic range (whereas GX200 has some areas in the photo overexposed)

This is a sure win for LX3.

2) more details in JPEG images (GX200's are visibly less sharp)

This doesn't matter. I bet that viewers can't tell the difference when viewing the photos in normal size.

3) a higher rate of restorable details in RAW images (GX200's have a good restorable rate but not as high)

This doesn't matter. Again, I bet that viewers can't tell the difference when viewing the photos in normal size. And here it is about RAW which gives you more elbowroom to restore the details if you really need them in the photos. But I think the general users won't bother about a wee bit more details unless we are going to make large prints, which I bet we seldom do.

4) smaller and acceptable noise and noise artefacts (GX200's have more noticeable noise in dark areas)

This doesn't matter much. LX3 really performs better at a glance. But noise can be easily and effectively be prevented. And noise is not as irremediable as the wrong white balance, which is more difficult to rectify in post processing work IMO.

5) more nicely circular blurred background (GX200's look a bit patchy in the background)

This doesn't really matter. This is nice but I think the blurred background is only possible when you shoot in marco mode. Again, as compacts have an extensive depth of field, this doesn't matter to the non-marco photos.

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(Looking Over the Cruise Ship: It would be nice to have a bit more dynamic range in the photo. But I would certainly choose egronomics over a bit more dynamic range. A camera with great egronmics is more intuitive and inviting to use, hence a better chance to catch the right moment.)

PROS FOR GX200

Likewise, there are some arguments for the GX200 in that it has:

6) better WB performance (vs LX3's false representation of the colours in a scene)

This matters a lot. When the WB is inaccurate, you are more obliged to tweak it at the shooting scene. Imagine how clumsy that will be when you are taking photos! Moreover, as compared with noise, the inaccurate while balance is more difficult to correct in post processing.

7) better exposure metering (LX3's tendency to underexpose)

This matters a lot. With "exposure to the right" as the rule of thumb, I wonder the benefit of LX3's tendency to underexpose (wrongly expose?) a scene. Judging from Pavel's JPEG images, especially the one of the flower market, the end of the covered passageway is pitch black (GX200's here). I doubt if there is any data to be recoverd there. But this is no big deal as the exposure combo can be easily changed on, say, M mode when the photographer shoots. But a correct exposure metering is indispensible to a camera.

8) better flash performance (LX3's whitish dead-meat skin tone)

This matters to me. I don't think you will like to correct the whitish flashed skin tone in PP work. If the ugly flash performance is so forbidding, its use is limited. Think again: a compact with a flash of limited use. That will be inconvenient.

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([This is a full size photo] An Evening Wihtout Glasses: Click open this full size photo and pixel-peep. You will see the noise creep in all over the dark areas. The noise may not be pleasing. But who cares? The camera is inviting and easy to use. Making the exposure combo and the defocus was a bliss. This photo looks good to me and the noise actually adds a character to it.)

9) lower contrast in the images (LX3's more saturated colours; lower contrast can be a plus)

This is a matter of personal taste. When I look at Pavel's softtoy photos, I am glad that the GX200's image is less contrasty. The colour of LX3's softtoy image is too strong to my taste. The softtoy doesn't look as soft as in GX200's image. Again, this is no big deal because the default contrast can be easily tuned up in GX200 (and LX3?). But I like the characteristic of GX200's image with a lower default contrast because it gives a more pleasing look to portraits (especially of ladies and children) and soft topics like softtoys.

10) a better macro capability

This may matter to some, not me.

[11) This is not in the review but matter much to me: GX200 has great egronmics that feel like a DSLR!]

THE ALL-IMPORTANT QUESTION

So, before a good photo is there, this question matters much to me: DOES THE CAMERA ALLOW ME TO USE IT INTUIATIVELY FOR THE RESULTS I WANT FOR MOST OF THE TIME?

I have deduced from Pavel's review that arguments 6, 7 and 8 for GX200/ against LX3 can aptly answer my question. LX3 may produce better results but you have to mind the exposure metering, WB and flash effect more often. This is contratry to the "intuiation" of use. On the other hand, arguments 2, 3, 4 and 5 for LX3/ against GX200 have no bearing on my answer since it is not quite relevant to the end results for general use.

A BRIEF CONCUSION

Surely, the deduction is personal depending on each user's needs. Next time when you read a review, you know what question to ask.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Second Life

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(There are a number of zi zah shops, literally "funeral-paper-product shops", in the neighbourhood offering a whole array of paper offering merchanise which includes this 5-feet bungalow fitted with all sorts of modern household contents. Other prestigious items are life-size paper iphones, PSPs, notebook computers, jewellery and whatnot.)

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(On the first floor, a palm-size paper doorman is keeping guard. On the second floor, a maid has prepared tea on the tea set ready to serve.)

It is a common conception to many that the biggest oriental religion is Buddism. Think again. For one thing, Buddism has a number of splinter branches. It has been so historically widespread and relatively accommodating that the corollary is a merge with religious beliefs in folk deities. Its theories (Buddism is actually not qualified to be a religion but more a school of theory if religion is what at least a god is involved) drew the likes of the folk reiligions. Take for example, Buddism's idea of Nirvana or Enlightenment is similar to Taosim's idea of Ultimate Transformation, both of which in Chinese can be called "de doe" or literally, attaining the way.

Taoism-Buddism is one of the popular believes among the Chinese. In Hong Kong, funerals are held in the tradition of Christianity or Taoism/ Taosim-Buddism. In the latter case, people will burn paper offerings during the funeral or the yearly worshipping at the graveyard for the deceased to enjoy in the afterlife. It is believed that the deceased has to be well provided for, be it financial or other material provisions. This is where those funeral-paper-product shops come into the picture.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

GX200 Can Really Zoom

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Now, when you are really into photography and start to learn this common language, mark that you can go bust and be penniless if you wish to speak with the Queen's accent.  I am writing figuratively about the respectable owner of the GX200 pictured above.  It is fitted with a 500mm cannon!  Wow, have you ever thought of putting your serious compact to such a creative use?  The photographer said that the gears belonged to his boss who was a geek of wild bird photography.  Okay, how come he hasn't bought a proper DSLR?  That is the real question.  As I said, when you are into photography, sometimes you have to be out of your mind to do a thing so creative, and expensive I think.  It is likely that the gears are for fun and the rich boss has already got a number of proper wild bird photographic tools.

A photo taken in 24mm:

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Zoomed to 500mm and there you are (the shed is at the far end of the passageway on the left, and the car is parked at the end of that passageway):

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The photographer also posted some shots of the GX200 on some gradient filters and more of the resulting shots.  You may click HERE, and there click open the underlined blue links written in Chinese to check out.