Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bonny M(an)

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This is Sunday.  Have a hearty meal of meat!

Devices of Illusion

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Illusion is a good medium to create special effects in an image.  The device of illusion is especially useful for photographing lifeless items to give the viewers a creative perspective to the otherwise boring feeling of stillness in the photo.  "Water", the topic of this _SAM2425 (Medium)month's photo contest at ricohforum, is exactly when illusions can help bring the image to life.  A clear example is Danielygo's entry.

You don't need expensive tools to achieve illusions in an image.  Apart from making some effort to use our imagination as Danielygo did, we can make use of the illusions readily available.

Reflective surfaces are one of the approaches I use a lot. There is actually a tag titled "Reflections" for the posts here. As far as my experience goes, the effect is best when the surfaces reflect images from various directions and reproduce them with different opacity qualities.  I have the penchant for even using reflection to give out this riddle: where is the photographer?  Such an image is only possible when the reflective surfaces actually do not but seemingly do point to the position where I am shooting.

At first glance on the spot, the result may seem less obvious  because the reflections seem not really illusive to the three-dimensional visual sense. But on a two dimensional image, the spatial factor becomes less obvious and so the reflections puzzle and interest the mind more greatly.

Another yet more handy way to achieve illusions in the image is to turn the picture upside down.  I will revisit this topic when I have an obvious example.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Association of Food with 1/60s

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If asked what Cheung Chau is most associated with, there would not be an easy answer because the island is famous for so many things. The Buns Festival? The pirate's cave? The fishing port? The walla-wallas? The beaches? Its iconic geographic shape? They all are assoicated with Cheung Chau. So is seafood. _SAM2076 (Medium)

Just as one cannot visit Beijing without setting foot on the Great Wall, visiting Cheung Chau without trying seafood is a sin absolutely not to be committed. Do it alfresco at any of the Daipaidongs (search this site about what it is) lining the promenada. If you ask for my recommendation, don't miss the one located immediately next to Pak She Fourth Lane. It offers the best seafood with good value for money. It is advisable to book a table in advance or arrive eariler during weekends or holidays.

_SAM2079 (Medium) To take streetshots like these, or actually under any situation, using the flash is a non-starter unless a special effect is intended. Alas, we have ISO 3200 and 6400 at a flick of a finger. Who needs flash? This brings us to the question of whether digital cameras are associated most with or without better creativity in photographic techniques.

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With no extra cost for experiencing with additional shots and the convinence of post-processing, for example, how many digital camera users are aware that Aperture Priority Mode is the best choice for flash photography if the background ambient light is to be captured?

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How many do we know what the 1/60s given by the P mode for a flash shot means? Okay, with digital cameras, we can achieve the shots with a decently exposed background at the mercy of the wisdom of the camera: auto high-sensitivity, auto nighshot mode, et cetera. This is okay but knowing how to do what is just different, if not better.

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The conclusion is not necessary that one type of camera is better than others. But instead of dropping in just any daipaidong for seafood in Cheung Chau, it pays to know which daipaidong has the best offers. In photography, isn't the logic same?

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After the seafood dinner, I went through the maze of dark alleys and lanes leading to the place I was staying in. Actually the maze was so confusing that I lost my orientation. What did I do? I took it a chance to shoot more photos on my way back to the starting point for finding the right route.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Musings at a Fishing Port (Part 2)

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The rule of thirds is at play for this shot. It was divided in three equal parts with the primary subject -- the man in the moving boat -- being placed one third down the image.

On the promenade fronting the bay of Cheung Chau protected by two long arms of breakwaters extending some hundreds metres offshore, I spent over an hour shooting pictures. The bay, serving as a shelter for vessels during stormy weather, had an inherited peaceful quality to it even though the vessels were bustling about.

_SAM2050 (Medium)I highlighted the man by placing him at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines according to the Golden Ratio.  Added to this basic measure was the expanse of water in the background which hopefully arouses the viewers' imagination of the route the boat has moved along, thus eventually giving a longer attention to the man.

Long-time readers may recall my comments about the focusing issues somehow plaguing the like of NX10.  The focusing with these cameras is generally reliable.   To these cameras, however, there are four foes: the less brightly-lit scenes, less contrasty subjects, zoom lenses with longer focal length and macro mode.  Once experienced, these factors can deter potential buyers from acquiring such a system because under these conditions, it can take some tens of seconds to lock the focus.

Here, probably I had the time to try and err, the focusing didn't seem to pose a problem.  Again, apart from reading hands-on reports, it is always advisable to try your targeted camera preferably for a few days before making up your mind.  At least, play with it at a store.

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I strolled along the promenade and this scene of three old ladies caught my eye.  They were chit-chatting on the bench.  Quickly I replaced the zoom lens with the pancake lens on the NX10.  I aimed but didn't shoot at once.  The final image would not look nice with all of them showing their backs to my camera.  It will be nice that a sneak shot is made not like one.

So I waited until one of the oldies noticed me and stared at me over her shoulder.  Whether it was pleasure or displeasure filling her eyes I didn't know.  Well, I was too engrossed in catching this very moment I had hoped for.

Before leaving this place so paradoxically mixed with busyness and serenity, I took a few more shots trying to draw some patterns in the final images with the outlines of the vessels.

A last note should be added that for some of the shots, I made used of the NX10's customisable colour function to mute the colours of the scenes.   The results are fantastic, or at least better than NX10's black-and-white tone.  For black-and-white images, I recommend GXR, followed by GF-1.

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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Musings at a Fishing Port (Part 1)

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Cheung Chau is primarily a fishing community. For the most iconic of Cheung Chau people's daily life, look no further beyond its fishing port. It is the first sight greeting the visitors on incoming ferries. The haphazard clumps of boats scattering over the bay may make the place look confusing, but there is an unspoken order of things amid the disorganisation. The ferries worm in and away from the pier while walla-wallas crisscross their routes. On the narrow channel separating the clumps, there are always vessels going this way or that and giving out a tutti of hums from the puffing motor engines. But vessel accidents have never been heard of in the bay.

To any photographer, this port offers the most enticing yet challenging photo opportunity. On the one hand, the activities and liveliness are fascinating. On the other, it is so festooned with different shapes and colours that virtually no scene can be trimmed into a decent image. _SAM2067 (Medium)

So, I started with the obvious: human subjects. Whenever I shoot under a similar situation having to live with a disorderly background which just refuses to budge or oblige, it is always logical to hinge the focus on human subjects. This is very natural for we are social animals. Chances are that, take the first image here for example, we consciously or subconsciously check for clues of human subjects and activities when we look at a picture. In this sense, human subjects somehow "grace" an image by offering a natural point of interest.

Well, the point that there are plenty of techniques to work around the background should not required making. Using a shallow DOF is one example. We know better than that. So we skip it.

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After making a number of shots, the image lacking punch remained a prominent flaw to my eye. The points of interest were there but far from clear in the photos. What should I do? Experience led me to look for intriguing elements to add an outstanding dimension of interest to the images which could hopefully grip the viewers' attention longer.

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Then I searched for elements of tension and ended up with the above picture. It was a shot of two men on separate boats talking to each other. Owing to our reading habit, the viewing starts from the secondary subject to the primary subject; that is to say, from the man in a white shirt to the man in a grey polo shirt. The tension is formed through the travelling of the viewers' eyes, as well as the invisible line of sight connecting from the lower-left folk to the upper-right one. The image hopefully induces the viewers to imagine the dialogue between them.

For sure, there are weaknesses in the composition. But that was the best I could do with the longest focal length possible and the restricted space to maneuver.

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I continued searching. Amid rows of similar flat-bottom boat containing unnameable odds-and-ends, this red sampan attracted my eyes for the clue of human activities faintly suggested by the rattan hat with a dropping wide-beam which were commonly worn by the fishery workers. The scene was half mystical and half romantic to me.

The composition was done by placing the red boat in the middle as a highlight to this primary subject, while the side boats were cut by roughly one third. The one-third trimming was borrowed from a technique in graphic design that an object extending beyond an edge gives a sense of continuum and movement into or out of the frame. Here, the continuum of the row of simialr vessels hopefully extend the viewers' imagination beyond the image. "Where are the boat people? Are they down a few boats along the row? How long does the row of boats extend?" are the questions which may arise in the viewers' minds.

A final note is that the top and, more noteworthy, the bottom of the image are used to show some water. If either of the space was filled up by the boats, the photo will look really stiff and narrow the scope of imagination intended for the viewers.

That's long enough for a post. Let's continue the musings in another one.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Play Ducks and Drakes With TIme

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Owing to some technical twitches, the effort spent on today's post was dissipated as I inadvertently overwrote the post with a draft when saving to Blogspot.

"Quack, quack!" Very smart indeed. Have a nice day!

Monday, 24 May 2010

35-item Setup Menu, Format is No.29

imageThere have been some animated debates over Sony's NEXt cameras to be shipped and to hit the retailers' shelves. While the photography community railed at the mediocre optical quality of the 16mm pancake lens, Sony made the announcement which sounded unusual to me that all the 16mm lenses were pre-production samples. Is this a hindsight? Well, this doesn't really matter as long as Sony lends an attentive ear to us and makes improvements to the lens.

Then some critics are concerned about the ergonomics of the machines. To be honest, I quite like the way how the testers hold the camera by the lens barrel. The camera body is really slim and chic. I pointed it to a few non-into-photography ladies who immediately said that they could buy it. But the critics are actually more upset by its way of doing adjustments which they think are simply cumbersome.

R1229637 (Medium)I really admire Samsung for making the menu system of NX10 so blissful easy to work with.

The ladies' approval and the critics' disapproval can prove which I pointed out in an earlier post. The NEX cameras are not targeted at the more serious photographers. They are for the point-and-shoot users who wish to take "good" photos with a better camera. Now, when so many serious and professional photographers are using something with changeable lenses, they can easily want one but at a lighter size. This I believe is the rationale behind the design of the NEX3 and NEX5.

But the cameras are really cool. Small enough in size, big enough in the sensor. So, to resurrect my Minolta lenses, I was at a point almost determined to buy the NEX5. I thought to myself, maybe the menu system was still bearable. Then, I sussed out the facts but was horrified by the following descriptions of the its menu system:

The Sony NEX-5 is a blend of more traditional digital camera design with an SLR sensor and interchangeable lenses, but the best of both worlds were not always chosen. In this case, Sony says they completely redesigned the interface to make it easier to control with only a few buttons, but it really brings to mind the inconvenience of some of Sony's recent Cyber-shot menu systems. My first impression of the NEX-5's menu system was quite positive, because it was snappy and beautiful. The most attractive item is the Scene menu, in fact, which includes high resolution photos to illustrate the purpose of each. Very nicely done. For the first time, too, the sound that accompanies menu selections -- a sharp click -- is actually quite nice. Unfortunately, my initially positive reaction to the NEX-5's menus didn't survive my actually trying to use them.

Rather than using the truly simple menu from the other Alphas, which are among the best in the business, Sony opted for a more complicated scheme that uses buttons to get to icons to get to menus, some of which are pretty long -- and when you get to the bottom of some very long lists, the menus don't wrap back up to the top. Worse, once you've found and adjusted a menu item, you're dropped into Record mode, rather than back to the Menu, where you could make further adjustments. Instead, you have to hit Menu again and start all over from the top.

Thanks to the large, high resolution screen, there are plenty of icons to tell you about the camera's settings, but to change any of them, you have to first look on the four-way navigator, then hit the Menu button (provided it's available, since it is a "soft" button, whose use may change as the mode changes). Once the Menu pops up, you have to choose the right one from among six: Shoot mode, Camera, Image Size, Brightness/Color, Playback, and Setup. Here's where tabs would have been nice, because it's not exactly obvious that ISO and DRO are hidden under the Brightness/Color menu rather than the Camera menu.

RIMG8310 (Medium)The GXR's DSLR-like menu is really ace.

As if those are not enough, the simply-not-simple menu of the NEX5 has yet more surprises to "offer". I was appalled to read "... Setup menu, which contains 35 items. Format is number 29."

And a Quick menu would make changing things like ISO or DRO/HDR more easily accessible. As it is, you have to press the Menu button, navigate to Brightness/Color, scroll down to DRO/Auto HDR, and press the center button. Then the screen goes completely black, and you're taken to the live view, where the little DRO/Auto HDR options pop out of the right side of the screen. Rotate the control dial until your selection appears and press the center button again. Take your shot! The big problem I have isn't how hard it is to turn on, though. It's how hard it is to turn back off, because I seldom want to shoot in Auto HDR for more than a few images, and then I forget I have it set for the next shot, and right when I don't want it to, the Sony NEX-5 will rattle off another three shots. It's then that I have to go back into the menu, navigate to Brightness/Color... You get the idea. What's worse is if you need to change a setting on the Setup menu, which contains 35 items. Format is number 29.

There are also many instances when a menu option is inexplicably unavailable. It's just grayed out, and the pop-up explanation doesn't offer any remedy. The Face Detection option for example, is grayed out by default, and the only way to activate it is to first turn on Multipoint AF and Multi-area exposure. While the camera has 80 photography tips, none of them address such a fundamental issue as this. There's always the manual, yes, but some of this stuff should just be automatic (turn on face detection and it automatically changes to Multipoint AF and Multi-area exposure).

Another peculiarity is that you can't review both images and videos in Playback mode at the same time. Playback confines the list of available items to whatever you shot last. That is, if you've been shooting stills and movies, and the last thing you shot was a still, when you press the Playback button you'll only see still images. To see movies, you have to switch to Movie mode, or else a quick movie. You can also hit the Menu button, select the Playback menu item, and scroll down to Still/Movie Select, press that menu item, then select between Still and Movie on a separate screen. We think this might be because scrolling through movies takes a long time -- like two or three seconds per item -- while stills are easy to flick through. Rather than please consumers, though, idiosyncrasies like this are going to make users think they've lost images or videos. Hopefully this is due to the prerelease nature of the NEX cameras.

RIMG8452 (Medium) The GF-1 and G-10 have their own ways to make the menu systems less complicated with success.

Now, is Sony nuts? Or does it not know that such a menu system can kill its sales? No, if you consider which market segment the camera is aimed at. With long years of experience of selling popular consumer goods under its belt, Sony is surely aware of what it is doing: it is creating a market segment to seep up the spending power of the P&S community, a.k.a. the larger segment of the camera market, before it goes higher up to sell some cooler stuff for those who are pointing angry fingers at it.

So, let's keep our pointing fingers crossed instead that the NEX7, 8 and 9 will take the serious photographers' needs and suggestions into account:

Here's a summary of things we'd like to see change in the NEX-5's menu system:

  • Add an option to the Setup menu that would let you configure the camera's default menu behavior to drop you back to the last-used menu position, rather than always at the top level. Call it something like "Menu Default," with options of "Return to last setting" and "Return to top."
  • Likewise, as noted above, an option for the camera to leave you in the menu system after making an adjustment, rather than popping you out to shooting mode again would be a real convenience.
  • Make the system less modal; let the user change more things regardless of the mode the camera is in. For instance, rather than requiring that the user first set AF area to Multi and change the AF mode to Autofocus or DMF before they can select Face Detection, why not just make the choice of Face Detection put the camera in AF/Multi-Area mode? Telling the user that the Face Detection function is disabled isn't at all helpful. And why shouldn't users be able to select digital zoom with zoom lenses if they want to? Ditto panorama direction or panorama size, when they're not in Panorama mode? Having items mysteriously greyed-out only makes the camera more confusing for users of any level.
  • If you can't get rid of the modal nature of the menus, add explanatory text, telling why an option is greyed out, rather than just saying "This function is currently disabled." - This would arguably hold more real end-user benefit than the current 80 pages of shooting tips.
  • In Playback mode, make the Menu button take you immediately to the Playback menu, and make the first option there be Still/Movie Select. (This is one place where the camera really needs one more button, as all the buttons on the back already have necessary functions assigned to them.)
  • Add a setup menu item that would let you configure the lower-right button as a custom function button, rather than defaulting to Shooting Tips. Let the user configure it to optionally control their choice of White Balance, ISO, AF area (it does currently turn into Focus when you're in Flexible Spot mode, so you can adjust the focus point, but it'd be nice if you could choose to make it select AF mode all the time as an option), Face Detection, Metering Mode, DRO/HDR, Creative Style, and possibly Steadyshot.
  • Add a Quick Menu, optionally activated by the lower soft button, to give quick access to a number of common settings. (The list above would be a good start, but add things like image size/quality, movie type/size, etc as well.)
  • On future models, don't be quite so focused on reducing the number of buttons. Even one more button in the lower right corner of the rear panel, or to the left of the Movie button on the angled top panel could have really helped with some of the user interface complexity.

Should we make it a petition list and start a campaign? Or with the suggested alternations to the camera, will the next NEWs still look like what they are now? In any case, no counterintuitive menu again please.

(Texts and the menu photo in the quotation, as well as the NEX sectional image, originally appear in Imaging Resource NEX5 Review, used with permission; Copyright © Imaging Resource)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Fake Mercedes

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This is the Mercedes Benz in Cheung Chau, Hong Kong.

Sunday, have fun!