Friday, 14 January 2011

Macho Man

R1230935L (Camera: Ricoh GX200)

Cycling past a junction the man took no heed of the red light which told him to stop and give the right of way to the traffic coming along. He went on his way as he saw fit and could not care less about safety. In fact, going one way and looking up to the other, he could not care even less about others' safety. To him, the riding to the destination and the flight of the mind was so very important that these temporarily negligible things -- safety, himself, others -- are nothing but trivium.

This reflects something typical of men. Men are with a different design compared to women. For women, they are physically and psychologically born with a meaning -- briefly put, to bear and raise offspring. But men are not conditioned to stay committed to a dedicated course of pursing a lifelong resolution. To the contrary, they are required to find their own place in life. They always struggle in life to assure themselves of a material identity and a significant standing. So, men may look macho on the outside but as they lack a preset meaning in life, they are generally more insecure in the inside. 

Observe and you can notice such characteristics in your dad, husband, partner or boyfriend. When these men you know see something fit, they will pursue it at such a cost that may be downright worthless.  When this happens, you bet that the search for security is at play.  Call them selfish, inconsiderate or despicable, but they will still be full-steam ahead without really minding others' benefits. You know, they just need self-assurance, which is unlike women. 

Postscript: In Hong Kong, there are no safety requirements for cyclists on the street unless they have to comply with the traffic rules.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Excellent Matron

SAM_2547L (Camera: Samsung WB600)

Across the busy Nathan Road on a freezing rainy morning came a lady so warmly-clad that cycling became a clumsy endeavour.  Notwithstanding this, she rode on this bike with shopping in the front basket and, more notably, some filled the makeshift back basket on which a white plastic sheet was meticulously placed to fend off the raindrops. As if these stuff and the slippery wet surface had no bearing on balance, she had one hand on the bike handle and the other holding an umbrella, crossing the thoroughfare with ease.

To most mums, the sense of duty to the family rules them as the moon rules the tides.  But they always make as little show as possible of being burdened. These excellent matrons, who could have never in their best days been pretty, are actually the most beautiful persons to whom we will find in our middle life living happily without giving back enough care and attention as they age.

To the excellent mum in your heart, let's salute.

Postscript: Nathan Road is the lifeline of the Kowloon Peninsular, Hong Kong.  It runs almost the full length of where the British colonists first rented the peninsular (the Hong Kong Island had actually been taken over eariler) from the harbour front to the Boundary Street. That's why the Boundary Street is so named. Nathan Road was named after the 13th Viceroy of Hong Kong (1904), Sir Mattew Nathan. He was a Jewish born in Paddington, London. He also held the viceroyship in Queensland of Australia from 1920-25.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Is Even the "Camera" Concept Necessary?

SAM_2543L (Camera: Samsung WB600)

Wondering whether the recent hypes about a short film and the studio shots done with the ubiquitous smart phones forebode the doom of the cameras as we know them? 

Well, our take is that there should be no cause of concern. This is not a foolhardy wild guess. As far as revolutionary ideas are concerned, a cellphone fitted with even a 40mp full-frame sensor and a Leica lens will not be an utter, unparalleled challenge to the cameras as we know them today. In principle, such a cellphone can gives movie makers and photographers a more convenient and economic way to do their things.  But a fair bet is that this will probably be as good as it can get. 


The rationale behind this argument is simple. While changes in forms can bring about some material gain to a product, like the ipad versus a netbook, it is the change in the media that revolutionises a concept. History has seen enough examples to prove this.

To take the mode of writing for example. Changes in the media mean the leaps from carving on rocks to writing on sheep skins, to writing on papers, to typing on papers, to recording electronically (to what the Hong Kong scientists have recently succeeded in recording data in micro-organism).  Changes in forms mean the development of hard discs to floppy discs, then to CDs and DVDs, to memory cards, to flash drives -- basically these are invariably electronic stuff. 

The media-change takes the development from one stage to the next, whereas the form-change deepens that development at the same stage. So, no one will use sheep skins for writing because it is a thing of an stage of yore. But even though flash drives are the order of the day, we are still relying on hard discs (especially the external ones) decades after its invention.  The two are at the same development stage.

A smart phone fitted with a full-frame sensor and a fast high-quality lens will be thrilling. But it will still be a phone which does smart tricks. Bet that will be a very expensive one too.  At any rate, it will stand no chance to replace a regular camera soon unless it sports something implying a media-change.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Novice Driving a Porsche

R1230925L (Camera: Ricoh GX200)

The title is meant to be an analogy pointing out why an expensive top-notch model doesn't suit photography tyros: they just don't have the skills to put the tool to the best use.  That's where the entry-level models come in.

Wait a minute.  Don't we all know this platitude full well? 

So, how about if we say, these expensive top-notch models don't necessarily make for a sensible choice even for seriously experienced photographers?

The other day when going to work, the author was amazed at the sight of a teenager having an expensive Leica M9 digital hanging around his neck on a strap.  Whao, what a dazzling flaunting of wealth!  Honestly, that wealth-/ skill-level-flaunting mindset is prominent in a great number of photographers when they buy expensive cameras.  But whether they are really skillful in the craft is another matter.  A true story goes like this: a rich amateur photographer from Mainland China wanted to spend big on a Leica camera and the optical gear on his visit to Hong Kong only to find that, to his surprise and dismay, the M9 is a manual-only camera!

That person doesn't represent the typical photographer to be sure.  But when an old-timer photographer goes into a camera shop and heads to the counter selling top-level, or semi-pro models – photographers with some five-year experience under their belt will likely do the same – what is happening in his head?  Surely, his savvy choice is a natural result of being more discerning in the optical, colour and ergonomic performances of a camera.  But it is very likely that he is hypnotised by the rave reviews for the "state-of-the-art" cameras promised to give the best for the images, and his ego.  Probably, he is also compelled to stick with the big brand names or the top models with the largest group of professional photographer-followers to show that he is good too.

Fact is, as said in the postscript to yesterday's post, an increasing number of professional photographers are picking sub-pro level cameras as the regular working gear or back-ups. That speaks volumes for what the entry to mid-range cameras can do for the stunting results previously only possible (or was it really) with the higher-level machines.

Moreover, with the know-how to work with and around a camera's limitations, such old-timers and five-year photographers know more than they wish to believe that a cheaper model fitted with a better lens can actually make a difference. At the end of the day, it is the photographer's skills that count and a top-notch model is not really necessary to that end. Honestly, how many of us will in our shooting use the 1/8000s shutter speed (why not buy a much less costly ND filter if necessary), ISO 12,800 or the nearly 20 megapixel image for a commercial-poster-size print?

When choosing a camera, a more sensible equation may be:

the real worth of a camera (which is the   = the benefits the user can reap from 
 amount of money you should spend)             it pragmatically + financially

The more favourably it is titled towards the right side of the equation (i.e. the worth or $ spent < the benefits to be reaped), the smarter the choice you are making.  Here, the financial benefit is factored into the equation because we could blindly follow the professionals' choice without seeing the point that their cameras make money, thereby adding weight to the right side of the equation! This factor in the equation can also become an incentive to make the buyers use the camera to make money – by joining competitions or whatever means – which is photography training in disguise.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Why Sturdy Built is Less Important

RIMG0967L (Camera: Ricoh GXR A12 50mm)

Yesterday, the GXG co-editor had a good question, "Are all the upgrade items for the A700 replacement (or whichever camera's replacement for that matter) necessary?"  For sure, if there is one unnecessary thing, it is the sturdier built.

Let's put the illustration this way: if you can pay 5 pounds or 8 US dollars for a roll of film, will you embrace an upgrade version with a sturdier film case but for a dearer price?  Such a cheeky proposition will be a non-starter because what's important about the roll of film is the content, not the case.

Likewise, let's further say that actually a digital camera is a metal case fitted with contents of imaging technology: Would you pay more for a sturdier metal case with the similar contents?

Fact is, whether in the film or digital era, this metal-case identity of a camera has not changed.  What has been changed is the content from, in short, a roll of film to an imaging sensor.  In the film era, SLRs were metal cases independent of the advancement in films. This reason, among others like camera-makers had fewer gimmicks to add to the camera body, facilitated a longer serving period for SLRs. So, a sturdier built and an endurable finishing were the convictions in especially making higher-end SLR cameras.  This is not the case for their digital cousins.

Now, with the metal case and the contents integrated, and the rapid development in imaging technologies, a digital camera is retired sooner than later. We are probably retiring our main camera and buying a new one every five years or less.  The gain in durability on the strength of a sturdy built therefore becomes less important.  We are not saying that a sturdier built is not important for digital cameras.  It is important to professional photographers or photo journalists.  But for the general users, factoring in convenience of smallness/ lighness and the shorter serving life of cameras, a sturdier built with a heavier weight and a costlier price tag just sounds neither right nor good-value-for-money.
Some afterthoughts: the differentiation of the various levels of DSLRs lies in the pixel count, the reach of ISO, the speed of continuous shooting and the body built.  While the first four confines are becoming blurred, the body built still matters.  Almost all of the new entry level DSLRs/ SLTs' body uses polycarbonate to shed cost and weight.  Polycarbonate is a less expensive and lighter material with a comparable durability as metal, or magnesium alloy.  Fact is, more and more old-timer photographers are buying these powerful entry level machines to reap the benefit of lightweight.

Also an afterthought: Well, if we flip over the coin, there is always the other side on it.  Sometimes, a sturdier built is not just important, but life-saving important:

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A700 Replacement be Priced at 60D's Level


Wandering a bit away from the COMPACT path of GXG:

With a magnesium body, better EVF, higher-pixel sensor and so on – and the same technology as implemented in the existing two SLTs – the A700 replacement is said to be priced at the area of Canon's 60D.

Pricier, certainly.  Bulkier, likely.  But are all the upgrades necessary?  Just wondering.

What say you?

Tied up

RIMG0976L (Camera: Ricoh GXR P10)

This is Sunday.  Untie yourselves!

The P10 module did justice to the colour and texture of the crabs and the weeds.