Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Most Desirable of 2009

imageLast month, ImpressWatch of Japan released the voting results for the best cameras of 2009. The voting was done separately for two categories, namely, the interchangeable-lens cameras and the compact cameras.

The votes were casted by the Japanese readers. That is to say, the results reflect which cameras are more popular in Japan only. But since Japan is the sole biggest camera maker and trend leader of the market, the voting results offer reference to the general direction the camera technology is going.

Valid votes totalled 9,502 votes, representing a 21.4% increase over the same in 2008.

For the compact camera category, Canon PowerShot S90 is the winner, followed by GR DIGITAL III. Canon also secured a 4th place with its PowerShot G11. Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR is 5th, winning in its better performance in higher sensitivity (which has been outdone now). Cyber-shot DSC-WX1, an interesting camera with nice night IQ performance by way of its back-illuminated high-sensitivity CMOS sensor, got the 7th highest vote.

image ^Distribution of votes

The voting results clearly show that in the compact camera market, better high ISO IQ (thus a 1.7" sensor) coupled with portability matter the most to users. Luxury cameras, even with a bigger sensor, do not necessarily suit the users' tastes.

So the APS-C-sensor Sigma DP2 and Leica X1 are lower down the top ten billboard. But it should be noted that Leica gets to the top ten position for the first time. That is to say, there is a certain number of users who are prepared to pay a dearer price. Well, it should also be noted that this voting was for the most desirable cameras, not the best selling ones.

At the top eighth position is the Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj, which incorporates a projector function (I really wonder what the Nikon designers were thinking). The CX2 ranks 9th. I have the CX1 and I think it outperforms the P&S produced at the same period. I have not used the CX2, but the added telephoto range and the scene modes certainly make it more desirable.

Unless a more advanced imaging technology is introduced to the sensors, we are going to see the P&S and serious compacts have their sensors beefed up to 10 megapixels top, which the market rumour has it that the camera makers have proven this as the best balance between pixel counts and IQ for small sensors.

As for the interchangeable-lens cameras, the MFT is the winner. And the Japanese has been known for being open to new technologies. So the GXR, just released around last Christmas, is on the 7th place closely behind the D3S!


The distribution of votes for this category:


Friday, 22 January 2010

You Jump, I Jump


In the Samsung NX10 Video Commercial post, Rob commented: "I would also like to see something (similar to NX10) from Pentax that could use my Pentax lenses including AF ones."

He continues, "I can understand if Canon are scratching their heads wondering if the world has gone mad and can they really get away with selling yet another range of lenses for a new camera system!"

While Rob's comments remind us of an old issue of "how do I do with my lenses" when considering abandoning a boat (brand), Marco sounded a wake-up call to some camera makers.  He wrote in his comment, "(NX10 is) Aimed at the creative and younger crowd with no investments in lenses."


Here we are, sitting at the table with our troop of lenses on it and contemplating the chance of an adaptor for using them on the better camera of another brand  or another system.

Now, the issue is not just in making a camera better and smaller  It is more in making a camera integrate with other lenses better and the doubts to jump boat smaller.

As a relatively new camera maker going into a DSLR/ sub-DSLR market, Samsung is facing strong resistance from the older photographers with a cabinet-full of lenses.  And for Ricoh's GXR, I'm still reasoning.

There are few Dicaprios who are prepared to jump because you jump.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

How to Approach a Street Subject

P1080420 (Medium) ^The four largest Chinese characters spell out the name of the kiosk, "Li Wo Tsing Ho" (literally, Beneficial Peace Scale Business).  The kiosk sells traditional Chinese scales which are rare things now.

The previous post of a NX10 commercial vividly depicts the fun of street photography: carry a camera and observe and see the unexpected scenes present themselves around the next corner.

Street photography is a photography genre of its own.  To me it is primarily about candid pictures.  And for candid pictures, the guiding principle is timing.  It follows that a street photographers do not and actually cannot ask for permission to take pictures for most of the time.

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^The old shopkeeper takes pride in her business.  She starts business around noon after yumcha and closes early in the afternoon to make time for taking her grandchild from school.

Some fellow photographers mock street photographers as cowards for shooting without asking.  I'm not sure about what his definition of a coward is but he misses the point.

Street photographers do shoot like spies hiding behind a corner sometimes.  But as far as my experience goes, on a lot of occasions they'd go up front and take pictures – only that they don't (and can't afford to) ask for permission.  I'd compare street photographers to photojournalists.  If a photojournalist asks to be allowed to take pictures, he'll lost his job from like day one.  So will a street photographer miss his shots likewise.

P1080419 (Medium) 
^The kiosk was lit by some light bulbs.  These are the scales for sale.

But it is advisable for street photographers to ask his subjects for permission when the photographic chances won't disappear in a blink.  Like here, the old lady in her kiosk selling traditional Chinese scales is a case in point. 

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^Roughly before the 1980s, lots of local households used these scales to weigh ingredients for making drinks and food.

Asking for permission made it possible for me to linger around the kiosk, which was needed for there were so much shots to take.  Asking also allowed me to learn the nitty-gritty of the sales items and some personal stories of the shopkeeper lady.

P1080425 (Medium)^The scale handles are made from the thigh bone of cows.  In the old days, as revealed by the shopkeeper lady, ivories were the materials for making the handles.

How to approach a similar street subject to not be turned down?  Here are some of my tactics:


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^The scale cakes.

1) Linger at a distance and take great interest in the things the subject is probably proud of;

2) Smile and start by asking your subject about those things;

3) Heap a right amount of praises on those things;

 P1080431 (Medium)
^The rectangular rulers with the notes on them are for giving auspicious  wishes to the users: they are to be given as presents for the newly weds.  The ones on the left are called, literally, Lots of Wealth and Offspring Rulers.  The ones on the right are named, literally, Hundred Sons and Thousand Offspring Rulers.

4) By now, your subject is probably feeling more relaxed about your existence and camera.  He or she is more prepared to be taken photos;

5) Ask for permission to take photos of the things;

6) Keep engaging the subject in a conversation and incidentally include him or her in the shot while verbally acknowledging the person that the shots look great with him or her in them;

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^These are special scales for use by the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to weigh herbal ingredients for the prescriptions.

7) You may now even ask the subject to pose for a shot or two.  Crack a joke or two if you see fit;

8) Sometimes it pays to act like a tourist.  In fact, if you take real interest in the scene, you do speak and act and see things like a tourist.  People tend to be less cautious of tourists.

My two cents.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Samsung NX10 Video Commercial

Suss out the size of the upcoming NX10 in this video. Oh, we all hope that it can be made smaller. We need truly compact cameras with a large sensor, don't we folks? That said, Samsung's is a wlecomed move. Now, who will be the next? I bet Sony.

Canon? They will probably not budge while still having a lion's share of the camera market. But they will slip in when the market is more mature... and get a lion's share again.

Nikon? Hmmm.

Fujifilm? Probably still busy with their DSLR look-alikes?

What say you?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Photography is about Focusing Speed

P1080526 (Medium)^The inside of this stationery store was rather dimly lit as you can guess from the exposure combo. The GF-1 kit zoom lens did okay in locking the focus here. The man is the owner of this store which he inherited from his father.

If a veteran photographer has a state-of-the-art camera fitted with the largest sensor on earth, but the lens has a really sluggish focusing speed, what will happen?

He'll probably be mad about missing most of the shots.

The first impression I had with the GX100, which was the first serious compact I played with, was its slow focusing speed. Well, the slowness was not that slow but slow enough to be discernable to anyone who primarily uses a SLR or DSLR.

P1080525 (Medium)^The plague in black with the name of the shop written in Chinese calligraphy had a smooth surface which, complicated by the dim light, could have inconvenienced the focusing if the lens do not perform well in focusing. The GF-1 with its kit zoom lens took a wee bit longer than a DSLR to lock the focus. But the lag was not significant.

The same can be said more or less on the GX200, G7, G10 and LX3, which I have laid my hands on. It goes without saying that these serious compacts have their own advantages to even out the inconvenience arising from the slow focusing speed. For example, the shallow depth-of-field.

This is why the new MFT and small-size APS-C systems are all the more exciting. Photographers can get the best of both worlds: portability, image quality and focusing speed. To me it is the focusing speed matters most in the equation. Not that the IQ is not as important; it is. But for prints of normal sizes, the 1.7" sensors can cater for our needs regarding IQ, let alone these bigger sensors.

P1080524 (Medium)^The Hero is a household name for harmonica for the older generation. These Hero items was popular back 30 years ago but cannot be easily found now. The reflective glass surface of the display cabinet posed no problem to the GF-1 lenswhich locked the focus quick and easy.

In the GF-1 review, I said that the lenses tended to hunt in low light and close- up shots "like fanatics". A definition of fanatic is "Those who charge even faster forward when the target has been lost". The hunting is not serious by any measure but will not be P1080528 (Medium)expected for the regular lenses for a DSLR. So illustrations above may act as footnotes to my observation.

Ahead of us is the the Samsung NX10, the first small-size APS-C sensor camera with interchangeable lenses. We'd see how well it will perform in the focusing speed.

The NX10 will come with three lenses, a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS, a 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED OIS, and a 30mm f/2. Photographers are also musing on the optical quality of these lenses of Samsung which is far from being an opticial expert. Panasonic wasn't a camera maker from day one, right? We shall wait and see.

« Hing Wah Stationery Shop has seen the changes of Hong Kong for over half a century. This billboard has been used since its first opening.

Monday, 18 January 2010

They Save Films

R0011553 (Medium)As the days of the film are numbered, some white knights (also yellow and black and red knights, to name a few) coming to its rescue.

Because of them, it is not yet the time to sound the death knell for the film era.

R0010551 (Medium) Along with these Lomo cameras on the shelf are a wide array of expensive films.  Take the Fujifilm Reala 100 for example.  It is known for rendering images in good tonal values and edge sharpness, and sold for HK$45 per roll (about US$6 or UK£4).  A roll of Fujifilm 100 Superia costs HK$18 per roll, as a reference.

R0010548 (Medium)

The charm of Lomo cameras is in the possibility and necessity to combine light, exposure and photography in a single entity, which is more or less the soul of film photography.  In this light, Lomo cameras cannot be  digitalised up to now.

R0010550 (Medium)

A very important member of Lomography, the Holga camera, was originated in Hong Kong.  Holga is actually the Cantonese pronunciation for the words, "very bright".  It was a nickname to mock its final images which were overexposed (thus, "very bright").  Holga was first made to sate the thirst for cameras of the poor cousins in the then backward Mainland China around the time when it opened up the bamboo curtain to the world.  It was designed to be a plastic toy camera on the mind of its maker.

R0011552 (Medium)A new member of Lomo cameras is the Diana Mini.  It allows half-film exposure, making it possible to do 72 shots with a roll of film for 36 exposures.  It can also do images in square format on the 35mm negatives.

The Diana Mini features a  24mm lens capable of a minimum focusing distance at 0.6m.

The accessories for Diana Mini are as complete as those for a regular DSLR.  As we all know it, lots of serious compact users have purchased and mounted some of these accessories on their cameras.

R0010549 (Medium)

The greatest fun of Lomography, as in film photography, I think is in the waiting for the final images to appear before you.  The film is sort of given a new lease of life by Lomography.  The remaining film photographers (I shot a miserable number of films last year, which was two rolls) are certainly glad to see the film departments of Kodak and Fujifilm to stay afloat for as long as they can.

By the way, if you tweak the WB correction function in the Ricoh serious compacts, the final images will be tinged with some lomo feel.  If you're using other brands of serious compact, play with the white balance functions or adjustable colour functions and see what you may end up with.

Photo Competition HK, Singapore, Taiwan


Pure Yoga offers a chance for you to win a Canon SX1 by joining a photo competition. Participants are required to send in photos showing weird places where yoga is practised. The competition opens for people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan from now on until 12 April 2010. Join here.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Statue and His iPhone

P1090150 (Large)

This busker is having a break for his stiffen limbs and sits aside reading his assumedly iPhone.

phone^100% crop

This is Sunday.  Take a break for your stiffen creativity from school assignments and work.  Have a good day!