Saturday, January 03, 2009

Low Light Fish

So this is finally one weekend that I have it all to myself only. For the past four or more weekends I have been travelling to Penang, Ipoh, Singapore, Malacca and even rushed to a friend's convocation, entertaining friends from outstation staying over my place and the list just could never end. Ultimately, it was finally great to settle down, and curl up in my bed till late morning without worrying about meeting schedule times or anyone else. It was so refreshing to wake up feeling so energized !!

This, is my well deserved rest.



As I got out of bed, I did some minor tweaking to my blog, before heading out to KLCC, the place that I have always wanted to have a stroll around but never really had the chance to. I have been there a couple of times before, but most of the times I was with friends and during those occasions the walkaround session were rather short. Originally I wanted to make a visit to any open park for landscape shooting, but the weather was cruel like usual and it poured and poured and poured. Therefore plans could only be made for anything indoors for this particular day.

After spending an hour or so at KLCC I was beginning to feel a little, well, unsastisfied. I do consider myself a good window shopper who could kill solid three to four hours maximum at any major shopping malls. Somehow, this did not apply to me at KLCC, it was different there and there were not that many shops or items on showcases that managed to interest me that much. Still having the entire day, and the only nearest place I could churn out was Aquaria. The more I thought about it, the more it felt right to make a visit there.



I have been to Aquaria before previously (click to view previous Aquaria entry), half a year back with Jian, SleepyHao and gang. During that time, I only had my new DSLR for less than a month, and only had the standard kit lens. To top that up, my skills back then were seriously noob, and as I looked back at my pictures, there were some good shots, but nothing I could actually be proud of. Nevertheless, I did have awesome fun with the lovely gang of students from MMU Malacca, and from there on I have met some really wonderful photog/bloggers like Jian and SleepyHao, both coincidentally were also from my hometown, Kuching.

One of the reason why I wanted to go to Aquaria the second time is to try out the capabilities of my current camera, Olympus E-520 in low light conditions. Previously my E-410 did not have the built in Image-Stabilization like the current camera does, so camera shake was a huge issue back then. Further to that, now I own a pancake lens, the 25mm F2.8, though not exactly a fast or bright prime lens, but the F2.8 does help heaps in gathering more light in comparison to my standard zoom kit lens. Any bit of faster shutter in terribly lit situations are most welcome if you ask me. The combination of my new body E-520 with IS + the pancake have not been put to all out test yet. I figured this could be the time.


Aquaria, like I have described before, houses a collection of water creatures, ranging from river snakes and frogs to gigantic sharks and stingrays. I shall not post redundant pictures as to which I have uploaded before in the previous entry, but the emphasis this time would be the underwater tunnel where I have performed quite badly in my old attempt.

It was a total nightmare taking pictures in there, everything was blueish, the fishes were moving superbly fast, and lighting was awfully tricky under ever-changing rays of light illuminated by the wavy water surface. Having just an entry level DSLR with budget lenses, this was a serious challenge, I kid you not. DSLRs do not produce miracles, you have to make that miracle happen and work your DSLR.


The pancake does yield almost twice as fast of the shutter speed obtained from my kit lens, and combined that with the built in IS, my shots were almost all shake free. Do take note however, I was forced to use ISO 800, and most of the times especially in the tunnel, ISO 1600 to achieve decent shutter speed of 1/60s to 1/80s just to freeze some crazy moving sharks and stingrays. And even at 1/100s there were many times it did not help in stopping the blur of subjects caused by motion !! Of course I know Nikon D90 users or Canon 50D users will be laughing at me since they could shoot at ISO 3200 comfortably without worrying about noise issues, but hey, your cameras cost way more than twice than what I own !!

All in all, I would say that my current equipments are quite incapable when it comes to low light situations like this. Maybe an F2.0 lens would help (or the Sigma 30mm F1.4), but imagine how much that bomb would cost. Of all the fuss and puffs, I believe I still manage to salvage a few usable shots, and those are the ones you have been viewing in this entry so far. For any Olympus cameras, noise will become a serious issue when you push to ISO1600, and this problem can be evidently traced in my photos exhibited here.



Also worth noting that there is a huge difference in AF (autofocus) performance and speed in between E-520 and E-410. I have not come across any online or magazine reviews that do direct comparisons between those two models, but for those who own E-410 and contemplating on switching over to E-520, you can be assured that the focusing in low light has been significantly improved. It still takes a little time, a minor lag to lock the focus, but it is very workable in comparison to E-410. You have no idea how frustrating it was back then when I kept missing the shots due to AF not locking in time.

Composition wise, this time I believe I fared much better. In my old attempt, I was only concentrating on the subjects solely. Now I also bring in the water and surrounding lights prominently into the picture. The water and light are important elements to enhance the atmosphere of the subject, providing deeper immersion into the picture. Thank goodness the white balance of the camera did not fail me.



I can't help but wonder how much better would Olympus flagship model E-3 fare in such harsh conditions. Obviously the AF is expected to surpass E-520, and also better ISO performance. But how much better? Would it be a world of difference? I guess I would never know until I try it out with my own hands and see the results with my own eyes.

So anyone of you have been to Aquaria before?

Do share some experience and tips.


  1. i went there once when i was just equipped with my kit lens, and my 90-300mm.. and it was barely one month since i got the 350D. LOL a lot of bad shots there.. >.<

  2. hey allen,
    dun worry dude, you can pwn the sharks with your 50D now the next time u visit !!

  3. Since you are testing the limit of the oly's ISO capability quite a bit, are you contemplating to change system then when you have the $$$??

    Actually I am thinking should I change system too since I have only the kit lens and an OM 50mm + adapter.

  4. hey ven,
    to be honest, I bought Oly with budget in mind at the first place. So back then, if I do have $$$ I would not have gotten Oly in the first place.
    However, after using Oly for a while, I have fallen in love with it. Now, if I do have $$$, I will buy more lenses for Oly. Yes the ISO sucks, but theres just something about the picture that pwns the other systems.

  5. nice fish pics.. yes, iso performance is terrible to start with, but oly colours rock!

    the e-3 does use a diff sensor, but its not a huge leap from the 520.. (hehe i'm waiting for the e-4 to turn up). ur basically paying more for a bigger body, more AF points, very comfortable buttons to press (not like the plasticky feel of the 520), absolute waterproofing, larger viewfinder, faster FPS.

    next step = 14-35 f2. dun waste time with the 12-60 if ur thinking of the best iso performance(seriously!). our 14-35 and 35-100 beat the canon 24-70 & 70-200 2.8s flat out in lens reviews!

  6. Yes I got oly with budget in mind too and so far no serious complains besides the ISO.

    brandon: e3 + 14-35mm will be nice for sure, but it's enough to buy Canon 5D MI + 24-105mm f4 + one or 2 L series prime lens!! Oh, and that's also like carrying a 2kg dumbbell everywhere you go. Anyway, I won't have the money for either combo.

  7. ven: get stuff 2nd hand from the forums, and u'll save a handsome bit of money :)

    have u considered the e-3 + 35-100 combo also? :p

  8. hey brandon,
    ahahaha, but i would say the 14-35 F2 would be a bit far fetched for my 520. Yeah, kinda curious what oly would be churning out for the e-3 replacement. they better fix the ISO issue. and of course we all know, oly lenses pwns canon lenses muahahahaha...

    hey ven,
    yeah man... quite a number of people who started out with oly had budget in their minds, but somehow after using it for a while, they discover the joy of using oly.
    youve got a point there.. carrying something so huge and so heavy... sometimes isnt that encouraging.

  9. I want my sharkfin soupnow hahahaha

  10. hey andrew,
    can, go to the nearest Chinese restaurant ahahah