Tag Archives: travel

Olympus Stylus 1

A few months ago I joined the Asia-Oceania Olympus Grand Prix photography contest. There were two categories: landscape and camera effects. The latter requires that you use the built-in camera effects in your shot and this is where I won the Stylus 1. You can find the winning entries here.

To be honest, I did not expect much from a point-and-shoot camera. I have read the specifications of the Stylus 1 and among the many features I was most curious about the lens. It has a 28-300mm constant f/2.8 full frame equivalent. This kind of lens is unheard of. You can’t find a lens with this specification anywhere. Not even in the CaNikon world. This feature alone got me really excited. It would be the perfect travel camera if it performed well.

As soon as the camera arrived, I immediately tested it using whatever charge is left in the factory-sealed battery. The first thing that caught my attention was the aperture ring in the lens. This is absolutely awesome. It feels like shooting with my Nikon FM3A film camera with AiS lens again. Heck, this is even better than the overhyped Nikon Df’s very clumsy implementation of the aperture adjustment dial. I was over the moon! Hey, it’s got an electronic viewfinder too that rivals the size and quality of my high-end E-M5. This camera is big in features and it still fits inside my jacket pocket!

It took me a few days to seriously test my camera. My day job was getting in the way of fun LOL! When I finally managed to go out during lunch break I walked around the city to capture some shots. Let’s have a look at how this tiny camera performed …

Note that the images I’m presenting here are all JPEG shots straight from the camera with absolutely no editing done. No cropping even. I just had to rotate the portrait oriented shots in Snapseed though because my iPad (which I’m using to type this) does not recognise the rotation info. They were also shot completely handheld. Click on the images for a larger view.

Low light shooting is the main weakness of P&S cameras due to their small sensors. It made sense for me to try shooting inside the church that was close to my office to see how this thing performs.


That’s ISO 800 at f/2.8. I really like how it handled the colours, the highlights and shadows. It’s quite sharp too.

After work, I took some evening shots on the way home:




This camera is the perfect travel companion so I brought it during our recent trip to the Snowy Mountains and Victoria. Here are some of the shots that I took.




I especially like the way it handled the backlit shots. I could not see any posterisation or nasty abrupt highlight clipping at all. The gradiation is very smooth. Note the absence of flare as well.

Let’s see how it does bokehlicious shots:



It’s not a bird photographer’s wet dreams but for a casual snap I quite like it.

Overall, it’s a really nice camera. I dare say that if I were to travel for a few months and bring just one camera and one lens, I will seriously consider this over my full frame Nikon or any other camera. The 28-300mm f/2.8 is just too convenient to leave behind. The built in wifi allows me to remotely control the camera and transfer the photos directly to my iphone for easy sharing to social media. It is what a travel camera should be. Good thing that it’s small so I really don’t have to make that decision. I can bring it anytime anywhere together with my other bulky cameras. It’s a no-brainer.

The Stylus 1 isn’t perfect though. Autofocus starts to hunt in low light. Being an electronic zoom lens, it’s not precise. It’s just like any other P&S with jerky , “gappy” zoom movements. Other than that, I can’t fault this camera at all.

Would I recommend that you get one? At $699, you must think hard if you really need that big of a zoom range because this camera is quite sharp even at full zoom and wide open at f/2.8. For that price, you can get a decent m43 camera kit or even an entry level APS-C DSLR. Remember that there is no way you can get a 300mm f/2.8 lens, more so a zoom, at $700. That’s just not possible, at the moment, outside of the Stylus 1. I’m just very lucky to have gotten this camera for FREE.

Tempting? You decide.


Bad Adventures in Photography


(Byron Bay lighthouse. iPhone shot)

I woke up at 10:30AM already. I was very tired from yesterday’s activity: I had to sing in the church choir and played bass guitar for my new band’s last major gig for the year. After several stressful weeks, today I was determined to spend time for myself.

So we drove to Byron Bay, a good two hours from Brisbane if you stick to the speed limits. I have already checked the weather radar and the forecast showed a clear afternoon in our destination. Brisbane already had a few showers and continued to be gloomy so I was hoping that the weather in Byron Bay would not disappoint.

I was very excited. I brought my landscape camera of choice: the Pentax K5. My Mamiya 645 was also loaded with a fresh roll of Provia 100F and I could not wait to try the 45mm/2.8 lens that I got from Ebay. I even skipped lunch (bad move #1).

When we arrived in Byron Bay, the weather was not perfect but manageable. The wind was a different matter though. It was so strong that sudden gusts could literally throw me off balance. It was only a matter of time before it brought a few rain clouds which made taking photos so much more challenging. My K5 is weathersealed but a single droplet on the lens’es front element is enough to ruin a shot.

I took a few cliche shots of the lighthouse before deciding to head down to the beach (bad move #2). I haven’t tried going through the path that leads from the lighthouse to the beach but I have seen other people walking and even running so I thought it should be an easy trek. Some of them even look a lot more unhealthy than me (not!!!). So down I went with nothing but 3kg of equipment. Not even a bottle of water (bad move #3).


(The path that leads to the beach. iPhone shot)

I immediately realized that the pathway was a lot steeper than the others that I have experienced because my thighs were shaking with every step. I started blaming my injured right leg; it is still a bit swollen even after a year from when I fractured both bones in basketball. The surgeon did a good job of repairing my leg by inserting a titanium rod inside the bigger bone to put it back in place. I began to think about alternative routes for my way back to the top. Going back via the beach would be the only possible route if climbing was no longer an option. Confident about my decision, I continued the long way down to my intended destination. I clocked my descent so I could double that and get a rough estimate how much time it would take me for the return trip. I wanted to be back before it gets dark.

I did not actually head down to the beach but went to the same spot where I took this shot:


(The lighthouse is about 100 meters above this location. The beach is further down that path.)

I captured this with a 35mm camera so I wanted to try using the Mamiya knowing that a film that is three times larger should give me better results.

The weather did not cooperate. It started to shower before I could even take my first shot. I carefully wiped the lens with my shirt and fired a few more. The weather was getting worse so I decided to pack up. I was ready to call it a day when my photographer instincts told me not to go home yet. If there is shower and there is sunlight then there should be rainbow somewhere. So I waited, both cameras inside their bags (bad move #4).

My prediction was correct: a rainbow started appearing so I quickly pulled out my K5. It was very tricky to shoot under the rain. I was actually spending more time wiping my lens than shooting. Very annoying indeed. I have given up hope in getting even a mildly decent shot with my smudgy lens. Frustration came in very quickly and I decided enough was enough. So I packed up for real this time.

Sweat mixed with rain plus no decent photo; this has certainly drained the remaining strength I needed for the climb back to the lighthouse. After a dozen or so steps, I could feel my heart pumping wildly and I could hardly breathe. Mind you, I am 5 feet 10 inches at 76kg. Not really somebody that you can call unhealthy. I used to play competitive basketball and volleyball for 15 years. So did my old man who died in a massive heart attack. Cardio problems run in our blood and I am certainly aware of this. I was very careful not to trigger a panic attack just like what happened to me in Canberra a few years ago. I had to call an ambulance after hopelessly trying to hail every incoming vehicle because I thought it was game over for me.

I rested for a bit while thinking about my next move. I remembered the beach access because I have been there before. This is the shot I took from the beach several months ago:


I immediately called my family who were waiting for me at the top and told them to meet me at the other side near the beach. I gathered myself and went back to where the pathway forked. Then came the surprise: the beach is gone!!! It was all under water!!! I could not see one bit of sand. Gone!

The tide was so high and the wind was so strong it was blowing 6, probably 8-foot waves. I looked for alternative paths. There must be some other routes. I was walking over jagged rocks trying my best not to fall. I knew I should have brought my trekking sandals that have secure straps and not this orthopedic thingy that I have been using to rehab my injured leg. I came to a spot where I could have a look at the other side of the cliff to assess the situation. Waves were smashing against the rocks so I started studying their rhythm patterns. I began counting the intervals between waves so I could estimate my own movement and make sure that I would have enough time should I decide to turn back in case the small gap in the cliff would prove to be impassable. I counted a few seconds between big waves so as soon as a big one hit the cliff I scrambled for it. Leaping over jagged rocks I went but soon realized that the only passage I had was already neck deep under water. I quickly turned around hoping that a big wave won’t engulf me. I called my family again and told them to abort. The tide has cut off my only route to the other side of the cliff.


(The gaps between these rocks were supposed to be my way to the other side of the cliff but they were already deep under water. That far hill in the background is where I was taking photos.)

I was already hyperventilating. Two stupid ideas: 1) call emergency rescue so they can bring down a helicopter for me or; 2) they would have a bunch of people carry me to the top with a stretcher. That won’t be just stupid, it would be very embarassing!

It’s when humans become hopeless that they start thinking about a Greater Being who can perform miracles. This must have been my punishment for skipping mass today. But hey, I sang in the church choir yesterday and this feels so unfair. I started praying. Three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s and countless Glory Be’s.

I gathered myself again, trusting in my muscle’s capacity to recover quickly. In a basketball game, I usually get tired during the first 10 minutes so I normally get substituted. But after another 10 minutes of rest, I could finish the whole game with enough strength left for another half. I climbed about 20 steps before I had to sit down and take another rest. It’s that steep. Did a dozen more then more rest. Every time I rested I was praying: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, over and over again.

It was still bright enough for me to see clearly. By this time, I have probably recited more prayers than I ever did for the year. Even that stupid rainbow was still there. I took another shot of it with my iPhone. Photographers: they never stop taking photos while they are still breathing.

It was already 6PM and I’m only halfway through the climb. At this rate I’d reach the top just before it gets dark. There was a couple who were kind enough to ask if I was OK. I told them I wasn’t but I asked them anyway how far is it to the lighthouse. They said it’s still a long way and it gets steeper. Thanks for the encouragement.

I kept climbing and resting every few steps. The cameras now seem to weigh a ton. Ansel Adams had a donkey to carry his gear when he was photographing the Sierras. Me, I’m just stupid.

I probably made more than a dozen stops before reaching the top. It was 6:30PM. It took me an hour to climb back to the lighthouse which is now lit with it’s 1000W lamp. I took a few more shots of the lighthouse just to remind me of how crazy this day was. I passed by the water fountain before heading back to the car where my worried family was waiting.

Will I be going back to this location? Of course I will. But I will be more prepared next time.

What have I learned from this crazy adventure?
1. Bring at least a bottle of water.
2. Be mindful of the tides.
3. Exercise!!! If going down is tough, going up is 10 times tougher.
4. Unplanned shots rarely work.
5. Make sure people know where you are going.
6. Wear proper gear.
7. More equipment may result in less photos.
8. Pray. It helps.

You guys take care.

How NOT to Look Like a Terrorist

There had been several incidents where an innocent photographer is confronted by police for taking photos in public places. The police are just doing what they are told to do: stop any potential terrorist activities.

So to avoid becoming the next suspect follow these very simple rules:

1. Never use a tripod. That’s a dead give away. Terrorists use tripods to mame law enforcers.

2. Never use a DSLR in public places. If you are a poser or a gear whore and could not help bringing your D3X and 70-200/2.8 lens during a simple holiday trip, make sure that …

3…. you never use the viewfinder. Hold your camera with outstretched arms and compose your shot using the LCD like any ordinary terrorist, I mean, tourist. I know it’s difficult to do it with gigantic lenses but *your* image is everything.

4. Like any other list of rules, the last one always tells you to break them, so break the rules but don’t blame me. So there!

Stop Shooting Flowers

Ok, this post would probably hit some sensitive nerves but whatever. Anyway, I’m just voicing out my opinion based on observation and experience so it’s up to you whether to take it seriously or not.

If you want to develop real photography skills, stop shooting flowers.

That’s not say that flower shots are bad. In fact some of them are really good. Actually, it is very easy to get good flower shots. Anyone can do it that is why they are usually the shots n00bs make during their formative years.

Set your camera to auto mode and get as close to the flower as what your lens allows and trip the shutter. That’s all it takes to photograph a flower. No need for composition really. A flower dead center in the frame will still look nice. All you need to worry about is getting the focus right. Easy.

So if you really want to learn photography, stop shooting flowers. Your shots will suck but that will force you to learn how to improve them.

Let me suggest a starting point:

Do still life photography in the comfort of your house. Use natural light. Positioning your subject next to a large window will give you that nice soft light. You can use white paper as reflectors. In short, you will learn how light interacts with your subject and proper exposure. Don’t just shoot a solitary object. Use multiple objects and arrange them so you will learn the basics of composition. Use different focal lengths. To get a noise-free shot, you probably would need to use a tripod so you can shoot at low ISO and avoid blur caused by camera shake. Later on you can incorporate the use of strobes or flash.

This still life study will prepare you for landscape photography. Why am I not suggesting landscape as a starting point? Because you do not have control of the light. To have a better chance of getting good light means being on location at least 30 minutes before and after sunrise or sunset. Any other time means ugly cold light. Being in the right location at the right time does not guarantee good light though so it is still a hit or miss situation. If you are persistent, mother nature might reward your efforts. Such is the joy of landscape photography.

You may want to do portraiture next. Portraiture has different challenges although it is very similar to still life photography. The biggest hurdle is that your subject can now complain. Everyone wants to look good on camera even if it they have a face that only their mother can love. It means you will need to master the art of photo retouching. You will have to pixel peep like never before. Your friends may ask you to shoot their special events once you start getting the hang of it. Now that is a challenge.

Another area of photography that you may want to try is wildlife. Here you have a subject interacting with its natural environment. Avoid cliche shots of birds because that will bring you back to the same level as flower shots…only difference is that you now require a lens that’s ten times more heavy and more expensive.

Do macro photography when you get bored. It’s no different to flower shots. Just more tedious. The results can be jaw-dropping amazing though. I enjoy looking at macro shots but I’m not really that interested in doing them.

Street photography and photojournalism can quickly become craptography if you do not have the compositional skills. It requires a lot of skill but more importantly, an even greater amount of luck. Things must happen in front of you and you have to be there to capture it. Depending on where you are, extraordinary events may not happen at all. You are better off taking photos of your drunk friends. Now that I have mentioned drunk, street photography is also dangerous in the wrong locations. Be ready to deal with people who are paranoid. Persistence will pay off. The world’s most memorable photos are, afterall, products of photojournalism.

Avoid sports photography when you are just starting. It encourages bad habits. It’s slightly more rewarding than street photography because you can almost guarantee that there is some action happening where you are. If there is a brawl then you get to do photojournalism as well. There is minimal thinking involved in sports photography. It’s more of a hand-eye coordination thing like playing video games. Reaction time is very important. It also relies on how long your lenses are and how fast your camera can flip the shutter curtain. Of course, you would need to anticipate the action but sports photographers just fire a salvo of shots hoping that something magical happens. Highway patrols do the same with their radar guns. I am not making fun of them. I’m just telling the truth. The fact that sports photographers can manage to capture incredible shots is a testament to their persistence. They know that their keeper rate is lower than Joe Blow’s grade in college calculus but they still do it anyway. And that’s dedication. Sports photography is not for everyone especially if you can’t afford the five-figure equipment.

Again, if you want to improve your photography, stop shooting flowers.

Drive by Shooting


As promised, I am posting the photographs I have captured during my recent long drive to Snowy Mountains. It was  a one of a kind photoshoot “session” since nothing was ever planned at all. I didn’t know what to expect in each location; in fact the word “location” does not mean much at all because I barely stayed in one spot. It was more of whatever-comes-my-way type of thing. These shots were taken literally along the shoulder road.


It was very challenging. Firstly, because setting up a tripod was impractical when a “session” lasts for a couple of minutes. Five clicks and away I went. Secondly, there was not much that can be used as a foreground element therefore subjects were typically several hundreds of meters or even kilometers away. Thirdly, since I had no time to set up my gear, filters became too cumbersome so I had to pick the right light conditions.


Think about it for a minute. Low light, distant subjects, no tripod. Now you know why I practically dumped my Nikon D700 in favor of the small Olympus E-P3.


I only have two lenses for my E-P3, the 17/2.8 pancake and the 40-150/4-5.6 plastic tele zoom. To be honest, I never needed anything more. The 35mm equivalent focal length of the pancake lens was wide enough for just about anything and the plastic tele was long enough for landscape shots. What I liked about my E-P3 was the fact that it is so light and it has built-in stabilization. And because it is a 43rds format, at f5.6 I basically get the equivalent depth of field as a full frame camera shooting at f11 at the same field of view. Instant two stops of light advantage!!! With image stabilization, I never needed a tripod! How good is that?!


The images above were all captured by the plastic tele. I think it is sharp enough even wide open (f5.6) at the long end. I shoot it at f8 when I can just to get that extra ooomph. Here’s another one captured by the same lens:


During those instances when I got the chance to rest and shoot properly on location, the 17mm pancake became very handy. The weather was also quite weird in that it would suddenly rain for a few minutes and then it stops. The E-P3 and 17mm combo was small enough to put inside my jacket’s pocket during a downpour.


Here’s another shot captured by the pancake lens:


And this is from the cabin where we stayed:


I learned a very important lesson in this trip: Do not sacrifice fun for photography. In fact, photography should always be fun. If your equipment is a hindrance, then look for something else. Just because it’s more expensive does not mean it’s the best for every situation. Never underestimate the power of a compact camera. Even a point-and-shoot or an iPhone is good enough if you know where to point it.


Before I end this post, please allow me to show you a few more of my E-P3 shots:




By the way, all the photos here were shot in JPEG. I didn’t want to miss the best JPG rendition in the industry that I only get from Olympus.

Until next time! 🙂

Snowy Pilgrimage 2012 Update

I thought I would be able to update my blog throughout the course of the snowy trip. It turned out to be the most different among the trips I had. Not only did I lose access to the internet most of the week but the type of subjects and shooting opportunities were very different as well. There were no planned shots at all. I just aimed and shot whenever I got the chance. It was a run-and-gun type thing.

I brought my D700 with me because of the larger buttons that are easier to press in the cold. I also managed to bring my Olympus E-P3 by accident because it was inside my work bag together with my laptop. As it turned out, the E-P3 became my most valuable camera while the D700 stayed inside the car trunk!!! I would say that this trip was like a test drive of the E-P3.

For the mean time, here’s a shot I took with my iPhone in East Jindabyne:

I will post photos and stories when I get back to Brisbane tomorrow after a 12-hour drive.

— from my iPhone

Why I Shoot Film

It may seem strange to most photographers today why anyone would shoot with film when digital is so much more convenient. The quality of digital images has already surpassed 35mm film and, with the release of Nikon’s D800, may finally surpass that of medium format film as well. These are valid arguments but they do not stop me from shooting film and here’s why …

The main reason I shoot film is to preserve my most memorable experiences. Memorable does not necessarily mean best. Family travel photos won’t win awards but they are very important. By shooting film, I get three copies, in three different media, of the photos that mean a lot to me: the film strips, the prints and the film scans. Film has very long archival life. Same goes with cheap Fuji archival paper. I still have the negative strips and prints of my childhood years. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for digital images. After losing 95Gb worth of data when my hard disk crashed, I became paranoid and started investing in external drives. My important digital photos now have triplicate copies in separate disks. Yesterday I managed to chat my with friend whose house got broken into a few weeks ago. All his disks got stolen. He did have backup copies online but they were encrypted and the encryption key was in one of the disks that got stolen 😦 Really bad luck. Thieves will never run away with your film. OK, that’s a bit of an extreme case of bad luck but it need not go that far for you to lose access to your photos. I still have lots of photos stored in one of my IDE drives but modern computers do not have IDE controllers anymore. They all use SATA. Of course I can still recover them if I have to but that’s not the point. Digital technology moves too fast that storage becomes obsolete in just a few years. CD/DVD drives are now becoming useless as you might have noticed in laptops. Digital storage technology is like a dog trying to chase its own tail. You have to keep up or lose everything.

Shooting film does not make you a better photographer. Anyone who says so is just being boastful. Anyone who advises a beginner to shoot film to become better needs a serious reality check. It will force you to think a hundred times before clicking and that’s about it. Your skill won’t magically improve in an instant. The quality of your film shots are a good indication though of how far you have progressed in your photography. It shows that you can capture your vision in a single take without the need to chimp on an LCD screen. I have far greater percentage of keeper shots in film than my digital captures not because film made me better. I didn’t magically improve after 36 frames in a canister, but rather, I was just being conservative. It’s just human nature that if something seems inexpensive then we tend to abuse it and that translates into our digital photos quite clearly.

In terms of image quality, digital photos are superior. Digital images are very clean, almost grainless in low ISOs shots. Nearly perfect. However, that is just one aspect of image quality. There is another aspect where I think film is better and that’s character. It’s quite difficult to describe it. It has got something to do with the way film renders images. Here’s a bit of an experiment: Go through your childhood photos or any photo captured with film. Now go to Facebook where you find thousands of the same ordinary snaps of you and your friends. Do you notice how lifeless the digital images look? They look dull and boring. Film, on the other hand, has so much life in them. This is why I use film to capture family travel photos. I don’t care if the photos weren’t properly composed because they still look fantastic. Lomography is not just the hype that “elite” photographers poke fun at. Aside from being fun and care free, true Lomography photos have this character that digital lacks. I’m not just referring to the wild colors of cross-processed shots but every single one of them. Here’s another experiment: Do you know that you can buy the infamous Holga lens for whatever digital camera you have? It’s just $20. It was meant to let digital photographers enjoy the Holga without spending a fortune on film. The general feedback I have read was that “the lens is terrible”. Sorry but I think it’s not the lens but rather the medium. Digital is already dull and boring without the help of filters and photoshop and when you attach a crappy lens, image quality (whatever that is) goes south pretty quickly. Real Holga shots though have won several international awards even with their quirky exposure, bad vignette and softness.

I have only recently captured with slide film. To be exact, I have just finished my 72nd frame of Kodak E100VS. My reaction? WOW!!! How could I have missed this?! Every single frame looks stunning. The colors are so vibrant. There is so much depth that the photos look three dimensional. I’m sold! You’ve got to see it for yourself. Scanning slide film won’t cut it. I think that’s almost blasphemous. Scanning is no better than capturing the photo with a DSLR. So I bought five more rolls of slide film, this time another discontinued emulsion, the Kodak EBX. Not only that, I got myself a Mamiya 645 Pro TL and five rolls of Fuji Provia 100F. The camera is still in transit from the US as I’m writing this and could not wait to shoot with it.

Reciprocity failure of film is both a problem and a blessing. A problem because it could introduce weird color shifts in long exposures (10 seconds or longer). A blessing because it means you can do very very long exposures without introducing more noise or completely ruining the shot with ugly blown highlights. Think of star trails. You could literally expose film for hours. Try that with digital 😉 Film behaves quite differently. The exposure response is not linear but tends to flatten at the extreme shadows and highlights. What this means is that film will not have that ugly clipping that happens to incorrectly exposed digital shots. I have overexposed negative film by three stops and still managed to get acceptable results. Don’t even try it with digital. The obvious advantage is that if you shoot in difficult lighting conditions, say in snow, it is easier to push two stops higher and be assured that your highlights are in control.

Film is not for everyone. It is quite expensive, especially the cost of developing. Some photographers develop their own shots to save money and that’s next in my todo list. I hope film stays forever but who are we kidding. For the mean time, I’ll just keep on shooting with it while the cost is not yet very prohibitive.