Saturday, 31 January 2009

Assorted Chinese Lions

R0012665 (Medium)

The best part about the Chinese New Year is the lion dance. I have seen many of them, among which only a few were performed on the peg array which consists of pegs up to 3 metres at the highest point.

R0012660 (Medium) There is usually two lions dancing on the pegs in a mixed acrobatic and Kung Fu style. They dance and race for a overhanging lettuce, known as “Choi Tseng” (pluck the green).

The Chinese character of Tseng also denotes Spring, the east and young. The lion plucking the lettuce is taken figuratively as an auspicious sign for the new year. In a similar manner, a single lion followed by a band of Chinese drum players may dance and shower the lettuce pieces it finished munching about the shops. The lion players are normally given red packets as a token of thanks.

R0012662 (Medium)
R0012667 (Medium)
R0012661 (Medium)

Just in case you wonder how I managed to take photos of the dancing lion: Well, it was the first time since I got the GX200 last year that I missed my Dynax 7 SLR with a lightning focusing speed, a true shutter modenad a lens featuring a manual zoom ring . The GX200 is not really the candidate for taking fast moving action in a dimmer environment. I wonder if many of the compacts are. I watched the real lion dance. Then I visited the exhibition area to take photos of these stationary lions, which, I am glad to say, were life-size real lion costumes.

Post note: There are some photos of lion dance on peg array here and here, which I mentioned but had not a chance to photograph for the post.

B&W Gallery

We have fetched and published a B&W magazine subscription link in the left-handed sidebar. This is one of the magazines we have been reading in the public library. Real eye-opening and inspiring it is, especially for photographers shooting in B&W. Magazines devoted to B&W photography are few and far between. The magazine has put up an on-line B&W gallery which you can view here.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Don't Shoot in Black and White

Wonder why? If you prefer B&W images and shoot in colour, you can harvest better results by way of conversion. If the reason is not obvious to you, read on. R0012641a (Medium) (Mahjong Player No.1: Mahjong is the all-time favourite mind-body-emotion-wallet contest, a.k.a. gambling, in the Chinese adult world. The four players can spend hours over the game with chats on topics ranging from the economy to gastronomy. This photo is converted to B&W from a colour image in RAW. In case you wonder, it is a job far from well done, nor the others to follow in this post)

Recently, I talked with a fellow photographer about R0012593 (Small)using digital cameras in B&W photography. We made mention of Luis Castaneda*, a renowned Cuban photographer located in the United States. Luis takes photos predominately with digital compacts and earns his fame and living with those photos (keep working on your photographic skills even with a serious compact; any of us can be a photographer as successful).

(This is an inspiring poster which I like a lot. Anyone can be a successful photography expert) My friend and I both agreed with Luis’ advice that a B&W photo straight from a digital camera is more restrictive. Similar discussions have been going on in online forums where some photographers already mentioned the advantages. But basically I think the numerous advantages can be summarised into what Luis points out: a straight digital B&W photo gives you an image with only 256 scales of grey while a colour photo can afford a have much wide range of colours, hence more information, to be post-processed for the best B&W conversion result. Of course, a side merit is that you can retain the colour version alongside the final B&W output.

R0012643 (Medium)(Mahjong Player No.2: This is a straight-from-the-camera colour JPEG. It was taken in ISO 200 but coincidentally, there are visible artefacts in the highlight parts of the hands and the shadows underneath them. The artefacts could be overcome in post processing but I’ve found them more prominent in the converted B&W image) Now, that’s all well and good; but not good enough. Digital B&W photographers can benefit the most from this strategy only if the colour photos are shot in RAW. Michael Reichmann writes in his Understanding Raw Files article:

“Possibly the biggest advantage of shooting raw is that one has a 16 bit image (post raw conversion) to work with. This means that the file has 65,536 levels to work with. This is opposed to a JPG file's 8 bit space with just 256 brightness levels available. This is important when editing an image, particularly if one is trying to open up shadows or alter brightness in any significant way.”

His remark neatly illustrates the advantage of RAW for conversion. Also, unlike JPEGs, the RAW files are not compressed (artefact problem in PP), adulterated with Uusharp Masking (prone to halos) or affected by in-camera settings (loss of data). So, colour photos in RAW can permit you the freest scope in B&W conversion.

That said, some may prefer shooting JPEGs because post-processing can be redious sometimes. That’s fair and fine. But, again unlike JPEGs, RAW files can be benefited from more powerful PP software in the future which may help add juice to the final prints. Who knows if you will become a successful photographer and hope to sell the old images to be converted and revitalised from RAW?

R0012500 (Medium) R0012500 (Medium) (2) (Caution Trip Hazard: The man is jogging regardless of the warning bill posted on the column. The right image is the original colour version and the converted B&W on left. B&W conversion in post-processing requires the photographer to tell from experience if the scene, lighting distribution and composition are desirable for B&W images without the instant feedback on the LCD display) Now the only “drawback” of Luis’ advice is that the photographer has to practise a photographer’s eye for a desirable B&W scene with the best composition through a LCD showing a colour image. Unlike the otherwise instant B&W feedback on the LCD, the photographer using the strategy has to pay attention to the contrast and transition of the colours in the final image to be converted into B&W. Surely, there is a wide gap between knowing how and doing it right. Just because we know the tricks doesn’t mean that we will end up with great B&W photos. An important factor is how to do the conversion right. For starter, I recommend you to read further here and here.

*Check out Luis’ works. But frankly, I’ve seen some occasional better photos taken by some of us “amateur” photographers. A friend of mine working as a global dealer for French artists says that the art business is like a matter of chance. The best selling art works are not necessarily the most appealing, creative. Luck plays a big part. So, again, keep going with your passion for photography. YOU can be famous too.

------ Featured comment by Wouter Brandsma: I think it is more important to recognize contrasty scenes, textures and structures. Get an eye for form and factor and learn to see past the colors. With regard to the post processing I do agree with you on the technical part. In theory you are right, but for me it is not how it always work. I use my camera in B&W jpeg mode with an additional RAW image. At base ISO (64 and 100) the jpegs look really fine too and can be printed large. The success of a B&W photo is made when the image is taken, not in the editing stage in my opinion.

Nevin’s Reply: Wouter, I cannot agree more to your last paragraph. I just wish to expand it to "the success of any photo is made when the image is taken." The editing stage can do just two things: 1) Make a great photo even more better 2) Make an average photo look better.

Links to GX200 Review

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The following review of the GX200 was done by Nevin from the perspective as a SLR user:

1. gx200- a slr user's verdict (review 1 of 3)

2. gx200- a slr user's verdict (review 2 of 3)

3. gx200- a slr user's verdict (review 3 of 3)

Win a Sony A350 Before Too Late

Tomorrow (GMT+8hours) is the closing date of a local photo contest co-organised by Wing Shing Photo and Sony. The theme is "My Growth My Life". Photos must be taken with a Sony camera and submitted before midnight on 31 January 2009 local time.
The winner will win a Sony A350 with lens. There are also prizes for runners-up. For details, check it out here.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Group Photo Afterthoughts

R0012131 (Medium)

(Group Photo: Roasted duck is the gourmet dish on almost every single table for celebration in the Chinese New Year)

Today, life is basically returning to normal after the Chinese New Year holiday.

There have been chances aplenty to take group photos (of people not ducks, mark you) during the Chinese New Year holiday when we paid visits to all the relatives and friends. Two things sprang to mine while I was reviewing the group photos.

A fun thought about group photo is: how many shots does it take to get an blink-free group photo? Physicist Dr Piers Barnes came up with a formula (1 - xt)n , which is so unpractical to a photographer at work that he simplied it into:

For a group photo of within 20 subjects, a blink-free photo can be obtained by the number of subjects divided by 3 (when the light condition is good) or 2 (if the light condition is bad).

This is still too complicated. My simplied and proven version is:

No matter how many subjects there are in a group photo, ask them to close their eyes and open only when you count to "cheese" at which time you will press the shutter.

OR

No matter how many subjects there are in a group photo, ask them to hold their eyes and press the shutter when you count to "two" (people tend to blink at "three" which I doubt is a reflex action)

Another thought which interests me is: for an indoor or outdoor environmental lighting group photo -- sometimes your subjects prefer not to be flashed -- is it possible to do an all-within-the-dynamic-range group photo disregardless the light distribution on the subjects? This brings a further question: will the HRD "computational photography" devices be available soon? How about the 3D bug-eyed lens? It has been over a year since the Abode Light Field prototype bug-eyed lens was reported, not long after which the Panasonic announced its research on HDR sensor. Provided the bug-lens lens is available, it could be fun playing with the refocus shift or perspective shift for a group photo. A HDR sensor will work miracle in difficult lighting situation (some discussion has it that the G1 can do similar tricks in boosting the ISO value in underexposed areas; I'm not quite sure about it). What fun that will be!

For those who are interested in the brief videos introducing the Abode Light Field lens and the Stanford's even more powerful 12,000-microlens lens respectively:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Canon G10 MIHARAYASUHIRO Case

canonbag

This limited edition camera case for G10 is available in Hong Kong for a while.  If you have the money to burn and don’t think that the camera itself is bulky enough, it is now selling for less than its rack price of HK$980 here (for exchange rates, use the calculator link on the left sidebar).  It is certainly a head turner, just as my GX200 on a neck strap hanging around my neck which rises eyebrows on the street.

The Canon’s press release is as follows.

Blending with Canon’s over 70 years of optical imaging expertise and market leading digital image technology, PowerShot digital compact camera is well-received by the public. PowerShot G10 Digital Compact Camera, in particular, incorporating superior images and professional functionalities is definitely the best choice for quality-conscious style-savvy. In view of this, Canon has invited the famous Japanese fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro to design a classic yet stylish and practical camera case for the newly launched PowerShot G10. Available as limited edition in Hong Kong, this camera case is surely a collector’s favorite.

Tradition meets Innovation Becoming famous by his unique designed textile and accessories, the popular fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro is a big fan of leather. To him, photography is also an act of creation that is of equally appeal. Thus when designing the camera case for PowerShot G10, Mihara Yasuhiro has specially featured a brown leather that accentuates the sense of nobility. This light aroma of leather takes photography to a
higher level of art.


PowerShot G10 and the camera case both resonate with the feeling of a nostalgic film camera. The faux leather hand grip, together with the metal ring, PowerShot G10 has created a classy touch. For the camera case, in addition to its primary protection function, crafted with shinny gold metal frame is the sign of nobility and elegance. Featuring such a classy appearance and an unique way of opening of the case, this results in an excellent old-meets-new design. This also shares the same concept with
PowerShot G10 being innovative in delivering high quality shooting function while inheriting the best tradition and classic look from its predecessors.


Mihara Yasuhiro
The famous Japanese fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro is renowned for his leather application and processing techniques. Since 1998 the pening of his first shop SOSU MIHARAYASUHIRO in Tokyo, Mihara Yasuhiro has quickly become the top fashion designer in Japan. Gifted with acumen sense to fashion, Mihara Yasuhiro has released a remarkable number of collections featuring unique designed textile and accessories, among those, his leather boot has become his signature piece. In the year of 2006, Mihara Yasuhiro has released his MIHARA collection in Milan.


Canon x MIHARAYASUHIRO Camera Case is priced at HK$980 and is available at Canon Image Showroom and www.shop-canon.com.hk. All Club Canon members even can redeem the Canon x MIHARAYASUHIRO Camera Case with 1,000 loyalty points at special price HK$380. Stocks last while available.

Canon Image Showroom address: 10/F, 26 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.

God of Fortune

R0012525 (Medium)

Ladies and gentlemen, CHOI SEN arrives!

If Santa Claus is the more secular symbol of Christmas in the West, Choi Sen is the same for the Chinese New Year.  Choi Sen is a god of fortune in the Chinese folk worship.  “Choi Sen” should be put in plurals for there are the civilian (BI and FAN) and military (ZHAO and GUAN) gods of fortune, which is the case in China.  For Hong Kong and Taiwan, which are Chinese-dominated countries, people also take the god of land (TODI) as a god of fortune.  Actually, in Hong Kong, for reasons of practicality and simplicity, the god of fortune is a blend of all.

R0012590 (Large) Most non-religious Hongkongers still follow the tradition to receive the god of fortune at the Chinese New Year’s eve, giving a chance to adults and kids alike to make money.  Well, it is like the treat-or-trick visit in the Halloween.  These opportunists write the Chinese Characters “Choi Sen” on a tiny piece of red paper, and go from door to door.  Sometimes in pairs, they press the door bell while calling out, “Receive Choi Sen.”  The household should anwser the door, give money to the deliverers and receive the piece of red paper.

Of course, you may say “I’ve got Choi Sen already” to give an excuse to turn away the deliverers at your own risk of losing money for the year.

(A popular version of Choi Sen in HK
adorning the wall in homes and shops
during the Chinese New Year)

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

R10 Vintage Version + Film vs Digital

R0012568 (Small) (This film version of R10 is available in a neighbourhood shop for US$70)

r10

A new year comes, and the old year must go. This is Mother Nature’s rule, harsh as you may consider it. Film cameras have almost exhaust its value in the history of photography, save some special niche markets like the medium format cameras maybe. But one day, which will not be far away, cameras in whatever format will be conquered by digital models (And the hefty DSLRs must drift towards the attributes of smallness)

Today, we have an interesting discussion on this topic by Bill Lockhart. Bill is a retired Courts Administrator of one of the largest trial courts in the United States. He is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel, US Army National Guard, in which he served for 30 years, and for which he was honored with the Florida Cross, the state’s highest award for service. He holds a BSJ from the University of Florida School of Journalism, is a Fellow of the Institute for Court Management, a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College, and the US Army Inspector General School. He have been in photography for four decades.

You may check out his works here.

By Bill Lockhart: Like others, I read stuff on the web. Mostly about photography since that is one of my principal interests.

Recently, a close friend of mine who shares my interest in photography pointed me to a website that argued that using a film camera would not only produce higher quality images, it would also be cheaper.

So, I read the article. The article went on to blast the cost of the new Nikon D3x saying that it’s high cost of $8,000 was out of line and that the author could use a film camera that cost next to nothing and produce images of equal quality and substantial dollar savings.

Then I did some calculations.

Let’s examine my specific interests in view of my calculations.

In a typical year, I take 20,000 photographs. I know, I’m obsessive. So is that number exceedingly high? Actually not. A typical National Geographic photographer will spend six weeks on an assignment during which she will shoot approximately 400 to 1,200 rolls of 35mm film! At 36 shots per roll, that’s between 14,400 and 43,200 shots!

Well, I will never do a shoot for National Geographic, but I do shoot for myself, and the 20,000 frames per year is typical of what I do.

I would guess that the average photographer will shoot far less than I do, but for argument’s sake, let’s say the average gal shoots one roll of film per weekend. That’s 52 rolls per year or about 1,800 frames per year.

So, I asked myself how much she will spend each year shooting film? 52 rolls of film will cost about $310 - that’s for Fujifilm RVP 100 Velvia. And what will it cost her to process the film and then have it digitized? Depending on the quality, the average cost is around 59 cents per frame. In other words, about $1,062. So her total cost for the year for film and processing is $1,372.

So, if she decides to invest in a Nikon D3x, how long will it take her to recover the cost of film processing? It’s about six years.

Now, let’s consider my situation. What would it cost me to buy film and process 20,000 images? I would need 555 rolls of film at a cost of $3,444.16 and $11,800.00 to get the film scanned. Not including shipping charges. That’s $15,244.16 per year!

And, remember, I am not a professional photographer. My guess is that a pro will shoot considerably more images than I will in a given year, maybe not as many as a National Geographic photographer but somewhere around 1,000 shots per week. So the cost for a pro to shoot film is very high indeed.

Not let’s discuss film versus digital image quality.

No one will deny that film produces very high image quality. And, that film has some advantages over digital. Dynamic range is one issue along with some other factors. But, one has to ask, how good is digital?

Let’s read the Nikon Press Release:

“Designed to produce files suitable to meet the demands of tomorrow’s commercial and stock requirements, the camera produces 50MB 14-bit NEF (Raw) files. Using Capture NX2 software, NEF files can be processed into medium format terrain; 140MB (16-bit TIFF-RGB). Fine details are reproduced with incredible clarity, whilst shadows and highlights contain tonal gradation with minimal clipping for pictures with a unique look and feel.”

Well, I was stunned when I read the release. Seems the D3x is stepping into the medium format range!

And, further, I inquired as to what high quality magazines require in order to submit photographs for publication. Let’s see what Arizona Highways (one of the most demanding magazines there is) wants:

RAW captures saved as TIFF files
300 DPI
8 bit
Adobe RGB (1998)
18 X 12 (Horizontal)
12 X 18 (Vertical)

Will the D3x do that? Yep, hands down it will.

Well, to the average photographer, none of this stuff matters much. But to guys like me, the idea that a film camera will produce better quality images at a cheaper price is total bunk. Not the least of which are my concerns for all the dern chemicals that are used in film processing. I am an environmentalist.

This is not to say that I might not pick up a film camera, say a 4X5 and use it for special shots. I suspect that pro photographers who shoot film may only shoot a small number of frames under certain circumstances.

There are other considerations as well. The author who slammed the D3x and made the argument for using a film camera talked about stuff like having to charge batteries using digital cameras and what a pain that was while on a trip. What he did not consider was the problem of transporting film. For me, on a typical shoot, it means taking along about 100 rolls of film! And then, I have to deal with X-ray machines at airports, meaning I have to put the shot film in special containers and pray that the folks who run security in Paris won’t require me to run the film unprotected through their machine!

Nor did he mention that many professional photographers have wifi attachments on their cameras that are feeding shots to editors in vans some distance away who are wired to national publications and are sending shots across networks at light speed as the actions occurs. Try that with film!

And, while it might upset one’s wife or girlfriend that one is looking at shots taken while on the trip, well, I need feedback, I want to see what I have shot now, not six weeks from now. I want the advantage of looking at a histogram. I want to know if the shot was in focus. Yes, I want feedback, because I may not get to the spot again. And the cost to return to some remote spot will certainly exceed what the digital camera cost me by a long shot.

So, after reading the article, and thinking a little, I conclude that in some instances film might be a good choice for an average photographer, but for the serious shooter and the professional the economics of shooting film may be prohibitive if not totally unreasonable. And, in today’s economy it’s the difference between staying in the business and going broke.

My friend, Darwin Wiggett, whom I consider to be among the best photographers in the world today, takes photographs with his Canon Powershot G9 and sells them through his stock agency. Course, Darwin could take a master photograph with any camera. But here is a serious professional using a digital camera that cost about $400 and is selling images made from it routinely!

Like all else, making decisions about equipment is difficult. But, frankly, my money is on digital. And, I truly believe that within two years any consideration of film by any photographer will be totally out of the question because the technology will get better and better.

And, as far as the Nikon D3x is concerned. Well, what can I say? Nikon has produced something special with this camera. I only wish I had the money to buy one along with some of their great lenses. For now, I am sticking with Canon and my 1Ds Mark II and while I await the next Canon professional camera, I am buying better glass, which, in my opinion outweighs everything else.

—–

BTW, if you like to write and have some good photos, you should submit an article to Photo Travel Review. My colleagues and I have received dozens of articles from photographers who have traveled all of the world. Would love to hear from you.

(Published with courtesy and copyright of Bill Lockhart. The title of his original post is Film versus Digital – The Myth.)

Monday, 26 January 2009

Off Topic: Win a Sony A900

sony

This contest has been going on for a while. So, try your creativity and win an Alpha 900. Participants must register as a Vaio Club member (you’ll need a Vaio machine serial no.). Click here to the contest site. Some of the winners can easily be surpassed with a wee bit more creativity which you can certainly show.

Chinese New Year Fun Phrases

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This is the first day of the Chinese New Year here.  For the next three days of public holiday, people are going to pay goodwill visits to relatives and friends to bring them gifts, red packets (money for kids) and good wishes.  Some of the good wishes are interesting if you consider it literally.  Let’s look at some examples using the above good wish posters which people stick on walls at home for the Chinese New Year.

choi

 

 

Choi Yuen Kwong Chung: The source of fortune coming in profusely.

 

chok

 

 

 

Ceok Yup Pink On: Going in and out
and have peace

 

dai

 

 

 

Dai Gat Dai Lay: Big mandarin big
advantage (Gat= mandarin/luck)

 

lone

 

 

 

Lone Ma Jing Sun: Dragons and horses
are energetic (a good health wish)

 

mang

 

 

 

 

Mang Si Sing Yi: Ten thousand things
winning as planned

y

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yat Tuen Wo Hey: One heap of
harmonious air
(Get along well wish)

 

The best part of the Chinese New Year to me is seeing the lion dance.  Lion dances are usually staged on the seventh day of the Chinese New Year.  Hope that I have the time to watch some.

R0012579 (Medium)R0012577 (Medium)

 

(These are the southern lions, which differ in outlook as compared with the hairly northern lions.  I like the southern breed better)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Aboard Kiev Class Aircraft Carrier

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I was aboard a Kiev Class Aircraft Carrier not long ago.  It is an eye-opener for those who like me haven’t been on an aircraft carrier.  This is the real carrier named Minsk berthed at Shenzhen, China’s earliest boom town neighbouring Hong Kong, for tourists.  There you are allowed to go from above the machinery deck to the flight deck to as high as the captain’s bridge.

At the lower deck, there are lots to see from the captain’s cabin to the actually working conveyer system which moves the missle up to the flight deck, on which there are aircraft you can go in.

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R0012015 (Medium) (All staff are in navy uniform to put on an atmosphere aboard)


R0012023 (Medium)(This is the second highest deck open for tour, the air traffic control tower, above which you can walk on the captain’s bridge)

R0012039 (Medium)(This is a Soviet Mi-24 Hind, one of the aircraft on which you can go in the pilot’s seat)


R0012053 (Medium)

R0012055 (Medium)(Guided missles on the flight deck which you can touch and feel.  They are moved up to this deck by a coneyer system which is still working at the lower deck to show to the visitors)

I included a video (a comprehensive one apart from the man trying to be funny in his remarks) in case you are interested in the details.  The Minsk is accessible by taxi. so that you know: