Saturday, 5 September 2009

Guest Appearance in Macau

P1010626 (Medium)^The echo of the curving lines on the floor and the CTM signboard is an interesting factor to me.

Hi, I am Chris Guy and have been staying in this part of the world for quite a long time.  I have been following Nevin's GX GARNERINGS for some months and admire him running the blog with such gusto.  His recent posts about Macau are especially relevant to me as I just visited the once Portuguese colony.  It is a place with character in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle here in HK, in particular around Macau's western tip where villages have probably stayed the same way for some decades.

Thanks to Nevin for permitting me to post some photos I took in Macau.  In fact, I have several of my photos posted here before.  And I look forward to other readers to share theirs too.

Enjoy! P1010547 (Medium)^Nevin rightly pointed out that motorcyclists were ubiquitous in Macau.  This shot was taken through the bus windows. 

 P1010574 (Medium)^Tourists (or locals) have fun doing the ritual of rubbing the rings of the metal basin, of which the meaning is opaque to me.

 

P1010610 (Medium)^An old tenement building in a rather rundown residential area.  I am not aware if I have seen similar sights in Hong Kong outside Chueng Chau, an offshore island of HK. 

 P1010582 (Medium)^Macau has lots of these narrow lanes reminiscent of those in some European towns.

(Courtesy and copyright of Chris.  Thank you for the kind words, Chris.  ~Nevin)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bushwalk at Dark Hours with CX1

This is the second post of the CX1 review series.   Instead of the usual unexciting reviews (a bottle of unduly fermented red wine immediately spring to mind), I will do the review posts in a photographic journal sort of writing. 

This is how: I will write about how I used the camera in a real life situation, supplemented with some verdicts on the review items which are focusing, flash and high ISO IQ for this post.

R0010282 (Medium)^The signboard dimly lit by a flashlight could be a non-starter for auto focusing, but it obviously posed no problem to the Multi-AF mode of the CX1.

On one hot summer night, I tripped to a secondary forest with friends here in Hong Kong.  That was when a serious compact user might prefer taking along a point-and-shooter which suits the rough environment better and offers some manual controls at the same time.  And, more importantly, it is cheaper in case a damage occurs.  This is a reason why I proposed the price factor to be pivotal to serious compact users’ consideration of a secondary P&S .

So, I took the CX1, which fitted nicely in the pocket of my pants.

R0010279 (Medium)^This is a larva of the territorial firefly

The secondary forest, literally known as Tai Po Pine Garden, was a 45 minutes coach ride away from the city.  For one thing, it is not remotely located and for another, Hong Kong is linked up by a very efficient highway system.  The place was barely vegetated for a few years after the Japanese invasion army chopped all the woods for their military supply during the WWII.  It was the British colonial government which ordered replanting of the area.

The forest got the name because it was overhung with pine trees when the replanting was done.  Soon, an invasion of bugs wiped off the pine trees.  That is why the forest is known as Pine Garden but the woods are of a wide variety.

The bushwalking was far on a novice to intermediate level.  All participants were ordered not to turn on the flashlight unless it was necessary.   That said, all flashlights were required to be covered by a piece of translucent red paper.  The reason?  All of us wished to spot the insects at dark.

R0010276 (Medium)^Another larva of the same kind was spotted.

For a moment I doubted if the CX1 could focus in this almost pitch-black setting.  It was not until the CX1 took the first photo did I sigh a sigh of relief.  Its AF auxiliary light was very effective for that matter.  The photo of the larva in the palm was blurry because of my shaky hands holding the camera in an awkward position, not because of any issue with the AF.

The CX1 boasts (yes, Ricoh can really boast that) an array of focusing mode, from multi-AF, spot AF, multi-target AF, MF, snap and infinitive (plus Ricoh’s trusty AF macro and useful AF shift of course ).  As far as I have tried it, these focusing mode works very well in various focal length of the lens, except for the multi-target AF which I haven’t really tested it.

According to Ricoh, the CX1 uses a more advanced AF algorithm and therefore responses more rapidly in focusing, notably in low light.  I can testify to the claim because my GX200 has been consistently outperformed by it.  There  is one very suspicious point in that on several occasions when the lens was zoomed to 135mm, the lens slightly retracted upon locking the focus which was then lost.  The issue doesn’t happen every time and can be attributed to other than the camera's problem.  But, anyway, note this if you have a chance to try out a CX1 or CX2 at a shop before buying it.

R0010262 (Medium)^The larva was having a sumptuous French dinner, a snail!  It injected some poisonous secretion into the snail to compel it out of the shell.  We had to be very lucky to spot this and I, turned on the flash of the camera, took this picture in no time.

An hour after the bushwalk started, the team came to a place when some fireflies showed their intriguing twin neon-green signals from one tree to another.  The team leader being a wildlife expert paused, climbing up a slope, and got something in his palm.  It was a larva of the territorial firefly ready to feed on a snail several times its size.

Every one of us was fascinated by the find as young children did by new toys on the rack.  Before long, people were squatting around the scene of insectile murder.  It was when the long reach of the CX1's lens could come to the rescue.

I had tried to observe the unnecessary-light-off rule but was unable to get a clear shot.  So I bent a bit, adjusted the flash output and shot the photo.

For most long-zoom cameras of its class, the flash output is adjustable for  2 EV up and down in 1/3 increments.  As far as CX1 is concerned, the flash results in photos outdo those RIMG0009 (Medium)of the GX200 and probably the GRDII.  It is exceptional that the CX1 focuses swiftly and fires the flash to get a very evenly and winsomely lit image.

>This is an extra picture to show to the photography tyros the usefulness of adjustable flash output.  Otherwise, the face would have been blown out.

 

RIMG0001 (Medium)

>This shows the strength of the SIE engine.  The shot was done in a split second when the lady walked past me and stopped less than 1m from the lens.  I didn't adjust the flash output.  In a circumstance like this, I would expect either the subject to be out of focus or blown out by the flash or the background be rendered pitch-black.  I was totally impressed by the result.

I have reasoned that this could be an advantage of the new SIE IV engine.  Ricoh says that the engine has a specialised circuit analysing the image by breaking it down into small areas.  The effect is primarily to give the white balance of each area the due temperature correction, best suited for multiple light sources. 

R0010308 (Medium) ^A toad in its hiding place.  Taken with the flash on and output dialled down.

So for the rest of the night we also saw some larvae of the aquatic firefly.  But they were tinier and less dramatic in its flashing lights.  On our way back to the starting point, we were greeted by some toads in their hiding places nestled on the vegetated slope.  Then the team leader caught a tree frog.

R0010303 (Medium)^A tree frog caught by the team leader.  Shot in colour in macro AF mode.

The tree frog reminded me of the green frog Kermit of Sesame Street.  It was not green and I shot the picture in colour anyway.  When viewing the image on the computer screen, I became hopefully: the next Ricoh camera will fare much better in high ISO.  Now that we know the GRDIII is doing great in as high as ISO1600, much better than LX3's according to the samples posted by Pavel on ricohforum.com.

R0010303crop^100% crop of the above photo.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

A Serious Compact's Bedfellow

cx1

Just as a serious compact to a DSLR, a flexible point-and-shooter can make an indispensible companion to a serious compact , most notably for street photographers to take advantage of the quicker response and longer focal length of the latter.

In choosing such a P&S camera, two primary factors must be borne in mind: price and useable manual functions. Surely, good image quality is assumed.

Around two months ago, a plan was hatched to to expand and complete my serious compact system in relation to the GX200, in which I as a film SLR user for years was rather circumspect at first. The expansion surely includes such a P&S camera.

RIMG0140 (Medium)

My choice is the CX1. Why? It is not because I’m a huge fan of Ricoh (close but I’m still primary a huge fan of the now-defunct Minolta camera section) but CX1 is probably the only point-and-shooter in its class with advanced features relevant to the savvy photographers like, well, me.

This series of review posts will be written in relation to CX1’s suitability as a companion to a serious compact. Hopefully, the review can facilitate a decision for those contemplating a CX2, which is by and large a mildly upgraded version to the CX1.

Before passing verdicts on its useful features as a serious compact’s companion, let me rattle off my impressions of the camera.

RIMG0095 (Medium) ^The swinging beady lines of the curtain did not deter the CX1 in swiftly finding the focus of the little girl behind it. The accuracy and speed in focusing is a class standard, right for advanced photographers who are most often confronted by difficult focusing situations.

Focusing Speed

Ricoh achieves a class focusing speed in CX1. Owners of the GRD (probably improved in the III?) and GX series, which show noticeable time lag on the screen during focusing, would wish for the focusing speed of the CX1. There is a teeny-weeny moment of a time lag which is not seriously an issue. The best of all is that I have been amazed by the image made possible by the freakily accurate flash distribution under an almost instant focus lock and exposure.

I hope this is not being exaggerating but I really had the déjà vu of using the flashgun on my full-fledged film Minolta Maxxum 7 for that matter.

Focusing Mode

The various focusing modes are as flexible as can be, namely, Multi-AF, Spot AF, Multi-target AF, Snap, Manual and infinitive. I have not encountered any failure so far with a shutter count of 509.

RIMG0145 (Medium)^The photo shows the reach of the longest focal length. The one below is photographed at the widest focal length.

Powering Up

RIMG0146 (Medium) The powering up is almost instantaneous and not an issue. The problem is that if you’re new to Ricoh, be prepared to adopt to the more audible mechanic noise of the lens zooming and retracting. It is not loud enough to do any harm to doing photography (much much much much much much better than the LOUD clicking sound of the Sony A900’s shutter, which is idiotic in design, I must stress) but audible.

If you make your own setup in the MY mode and start up from there, the camera takes a second to be ready to power up the screen as it needs time to recall the setting. That’s normal and understandable.

Features

The CX1 has a bagful of features useful to a the more advanced photographers. The DR mode is one, the time exposure is another, to name a few.

Size

It is of the right size and weight in a man’s palm. Ladies may wish it to be slimmer. The construction of the body and the lens feels solid, a should above the GX200 for that matter.

RIMG0234 (Medium) ^The ISO400 setting with good IQ is undoubtedly useable.

Ergonomics

It inherits some functions from the higher class Ricoh cameras. The teeny-weeny jog stick affords swift access to the quick menu and various functions. The GRDs and GXs are excellent in this aspect, while the CX1 is great. I have an peeve about the layout of the functions on the dial though, as well as on the menu system.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A Serious Enough Review of GRDIII

image

I'm not being sarcastic but the photo amused me. It is from a Chinese website ePrice on its review of the GRDIII. To show that the camera was light enough, the tester put it on a scale!

A link to the Googlish version is here. Not that I prefer Googlish to English but that it is handy as I am too occupied to do a quick translation for you buddies.

But visit the Googlish version by all means 'cos I think the tester did quite a good job reviewing the camera. Comprehensive and systemic without the bland technical tests in a laboratory.

By the way, the III fares very well at even high ISO and the noise sets in more noticeably at ISO 800 which is not a problem unless you pixel-peep. ISO1600 is useable to me as I have seen films my friends.

The vignette control is good. The barrel distortion of the lens is barely visible. The tester has found that since the new sensor has traded in the film like grainy character in black-and-white images for better ISO performance in the III. So it is advisable to shot in black and white at higher ISO settings when using the III.

A Link to an Informative GF-1 Preview

Panasonic announced its GF-1 today. Imaging-Resource has a very informative preview with still and video samples here.

The built-in flash is a considerate fitting. The EVF looks very like that for the GX200 (Well, has Ricoh got the patent of it?). We are all very tempted indeed.

(The photo is from Imaging-Resource)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Genius Loci

R0011230 (Medium)^Old buildings in Macau combining a taste of continental deco and form and the eyesores of modern fittings

Taken from Latin, genius loci literally means the “spirit of a place”, basing on the concept that cities have a deep underlying spirit arising from climatic and cultural aspects.  This is exactly what a street shots photographer can consider represent in their works, not the least when travelling and photographing in another country.

I did not consider myself a street shot photographer until I really made my first sortie into digital photography with the Ricoh GX200.  To digress a bit, the upcoming lowest priced ever FF A850 did tickle my fancy at some point of time to revive my Minolta system.  But the sheer weight of the body at 850g, as compared to GX200’s slightly over 200g, was a big non-starter.  Cameras of such a magnitude size- and weight-wise are best suited for people who make money for a living from photography and, I surmise, it’s the marketing which makes them proliferate.

And guess what?  It is a misguided belief that the pros use pro-gear to do the best works for the best selling prices.  I’d show you tomorrow.  Besides that, a professional wedding photographer I knew had his shoulder bone broken once after a day of hauling the heavy gear on his shoulder.

R0011110 (Medium) ^An old open-air market in Macau.  With a labyrinth of narrow lanes connecting the city, Macau impressed me with a higher population of motorcyclists on the road who, more often than not, rode on scooters.  This shot was taken by waiting next to the row of parked scooters for the passing by motorcyclist to completer the composition.  The market in the background works just great to tell the smallness of oldness of Macau.

Back to genius loci, photographers other than a local of the place should first get some ideas about the shooting locations they are going to visit.  For that matter, there is nothing better than reading a books.  You may look at the works of other photographers about the place but mind your own style and interpretation in the final images, which I think are the keys of successful photos.

When in the destination, wander into the back lanes and the residential areas whenever it’s safe to do so.  I’ve found that talking to the locals would also bestow myself as a photographer with a stronger sense of the spirit of the place.  Once I was in Bali, having befriended some policemen, had a spin in the police car to do sightseeing.  That experience gave me a new perspectives in seeing and photographing the locals which better epitomised the place (sorry that I shot slides back then and don’t have the time to convert them here to illustrating the point).

R0011117 (Medium)^A seemingly time-honoured snack store around a corner of an old area in Macau.  If you’re local, you can easily see that it bears testimony to the old way of life of the place.  Those big glass jars were common sights in the snack stores of its kind before the advert of supermarkets in this part of the world.  This speaks of the fact that a photographer needs to know something about the place before a picture better representing the place can be produced.

The sure-fire way to find the right destinations of such is by the aid of a map.  Otherwise, it is my habit to tour around a place on foot.  Probably except for in London, taking a cheap bus ride will end you up in a place unexpected to you.  Simply make sure that you’ve got the money to take a taxi back home and the phone number for hiring one in case of need.

R0011118 (Medium)^The composition was done with an intention.  The diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right is to give a feeling of force to the image, hopefully better balancing the seemingly heavier jar on the far left due to the shooting angle.  You may download the image and reverse it horizontally to see an image with the jars seemingly perilously placed atop the display cabinet.

For the Macau tour, I took a bus ride.  The blind route to me added to my creativity and inspiration in shooting the street shots.  Otherwise, my photos for the tour could have been more typical and humdrum.

R0011226 (Medium) ^One the best known facts of Macau is the crispy snacks of it.  Here I wandered into a shop cum workshop and shot a chef who was making some pre-packaged sweet snack later for sale on the shelf in the shop.  The image is mirrored.

The last tip for taking street shots is, especially for photographing in a foreign country, don’t follow what you see on the postcards.  You can make use of a postcard in an image (I can show how when there is a chance) but don’t follow them.  If you do, why don’t you just buy a postcard, right?

Monday, 31 August 2009

The Origin of a Legend

A friend of mine, seeing the studio shots of her and her fiancé, gasped, "Why do the photos seem to have a layer of masking texture on them?"
Fact is, she has been so used to the digital-fidelity photos that those film images look almost unacceptable to her. Her remarks struck on me that we have really come a long way in digital photography. Well, there are folks still incessantly pixel-peeping and complaining about the "noisy" digital images.
^Holga is widely available in Hong Kong, notably in Kubrick Cafe of Broadway Cinematheque and the fancy stationery section of CitySuper.
However, much like an audiophile will claim that vinyl records still sound better than digitally enhanced CDs and MP3s, many photographers feel a similar partiality for low-fidelity photos.
"Digital pictures are almost too clean and too sharp; there's no texture to them," says Norm Yip Wai-sing, 46, a professional photographer in Hong Kong. "But with film, because it's made out of chemicals, there's texture inherent in them and that shows in the photos." Off all the legacy of the film era, the Holga cameras, alongside the Lomos, are probably surviving best. Holga the Hong Kong Connection
The Holga was meant to be a cheap toy camera for the mainland market. Yet, more than two decades after it was conceived at a Hung Hom (Note: a local district which was more of an industrial area then)factory in Hong Kong, the Holga has gained a cult following worldwide rather like that for the Russian-made Lomo cameras.
In today's digital age, where portability and convenience are primary considerations, the Holga is selling better than ever despite its clunky size and primitive design.
Even its creator admits he was just trying to make a quick buck when he came up with the idea for the plastic camera. "I was looking to make something simple and cheap," says 79-year-old Lee Ting-mo, founder of Universal Electronics Industries. "I wasn't too ambitious then." In the 1970s, Universal Electronics made stand-alone flash guns for cameras. But when Japanese camera company Konica released the world's first camera with a built-in flash in 1979, sales plummeted.
^The characteristic vignetting effect by Holga
The Original of the Name Holga
"I had to come up with something, it was a matter of survival," he says. Mr Lee had neither the technology nor the ambition to compete against powerhouse Japanese manufacturers, so he designed a simple camera using the cheapest materials. He insisted on adding a built-in flash unit, however. "I wanted to show off what we did best - making flash units," he recalls.
When the product was first tested, Mr Lee bragged to observers that the camera was ho gwong, meaning "very bright" in Cantonese (Note: the language spoken in an extensive part of the southern China and Hong Kong). He says some non-Chinese buyers later dubbed it "Holga", and the name stuck.
Made entirely of plastic, the Holga uses medium-format 120 film and the resulting photos are often blurry because the lens leaks light. With a clunky shutter that makes a loud clicking sound after each snap, the Holga looks and feels like a toy.
Because of a design flaw that leaves images underlit, pictures taken with the Holga usually display what is known as "vignetting", where the brightness of the image fades towards the edges, producing dark corners with saturated centres. Sales were so badly affected by the design problem that Mr Lee was ready to stop the line.
Holga Conquers
"We mass-produced the first batch of 5,000 and it moved so slowly I was going to discontinue after they were gone," he says. But the camera found life overseas when a group of analogue photography enthusiasts in Austria who had been using a Lomo model got their hands on the Holga.
"Ironically, they considered the vignetting problem an artistic effect," Mr Lee recalls. "The popularity of the camera picked up overseas and the orders started coming in."
Over the next two decades, the Holga's popularity continued to spread, especially in the United States and Japan. Even professional photographers began taking notice, most notably award-winning American photojournalist David Burnett.
Leading Hong Kong cinematographer Henry Chung Yau-tim is even more extravagant in his praise of the Holga. "I am an avid stereo photographer and I used to shoot with a Hasselblad XPAN. That camera costs HK$30,000 and the lens another HK$30,000," he says. "I now use a Holga 120 Stereo Camera, which costs HK$600 and produces the same pictures. I seriously cannot tell the difference." Mr Chung says he carries his Holga with him at all times.
^ The special effect afforded by Holga which is known as the "sprocket hole" exposure
Anticipation - the Magic of Film Photography
For many young Hongkongers, the appeal of the Holga lies in its simplicity. "What I love about the Holga is how basic it is, the lack of options makes for an unpredictable shooting experience," says Jeffrey Siu Tsz-Hang, 15. "You never know how a photo has turned out until you've developed the film. The anticipation fascinates me."
Young Holga fans tend to gather in Facebook groups to share photos and tips. Carmen Ng Ka-man, 22, a journalism student at the University of Hong Kong, started one of the earliest Facebook pages for fans in the city in 2007. "I noticed there wasn't a dedicated page for fans in Hong Kong," she says. "I thought that was weird, considering I know many people who love to capture Hong Kong's spectacular east-meets-west cityscape." The page, now just one of many on the social-networking website dedicated to Holga images, has more than 1,200 members.
Ms Ng fell in love with the Holga as she was about to complete secondary school. "I love the lack of rules with the Holga. It was a perfect tool to capture our youth before we each headed off to different universities."
Holga with Spine
Despite the Holga's steady rise in popularity this decade - the millionth Holga was sold last year and a search on popular photo-sharing site flickr .com yields 22,975 Holga users - for many years Mr Lee and Universal Electronics focused on manufacturing, content to leave the lucrative distribution and marketing business to others. However, that changed a few years ago following a split with Lomography Asia, which used to act as the local distributor for the Holga.
"They came to us a few years ago and requested to be the sole distributor of the Holga," Mr Lee says. "I rejected their offer because I didn't like the monopoly aspect."
Their relationship soured after that, Mr Lee says, and this year Universal Electronics launched a marketing division, Holga Inspire, and opened five shops across the city.
Holga Inspire's public relations co-ordinator, Christine So Chi-yuet, says their main goal is to develop a community of Holga photographers worldwide through exhibitions.
Ever practical, Mr Lee sees Holga Inspire as a means of ensuring his company's survival, just as he did more than 20 years ago when he created the Holga. Let's hope that the Holga retains its spine and don't let the marketing people kill it by being ambitious enough to come up with digital Holga cameras just as with the worse taste ever in plying digital cameras with gimmicks like face-, smile-detection functions and whatnots.
(Information adpoted from South China Morning Post. Photos are permitted to use by Wiki and copyrighted to Mark Wheeler and Thomas Barnes)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Where Am I?

R0017031 (Large)

Remember the old posts about imposition as a composition technique?  This photo exemplifies how imposition can accentuate the nitty-gritty of a scene in a photo, which is “we can easily get lost and have to regularly look for our location in an ever-developing city, without exception to any adults or children” for this photo.

The photo was taken in an underground station.  The passengers were looking for the what they hoped to know on the information board.

This is Sunday.  Enjoy your day!