Tale of A Tripod That Fixed Itself

I bought this tripod (did not bother with the model, was an al-cheapo China branded one) several years ago and I have rarely used it ever since. With the capabilities of Olympus' 5-Axis Image Stabilization, I have used the tripod less and less these days. I do admit there are occasions when the tripod is an absolute necessity. However, the last time I used the tripod about a year ago in a trip shooting the night sky, I remember accidentally destroying one of the legs. I did not remember how it happened since everything was in the dark but I felt something snapped and there were rattling sounds as I carried the tripod along. The leg could not stand properly and the tripod wobbled in use after that incident. I have since put the tripod aside and did not think of it until recently, when I was spring cleaning my room and there the tripod was, staring at me. I have considered discarding the tripod but a voice in me told me to just have one last look. I took the tripod out of the carrying bag and set it up for one last time. To my surprise, the tripod stood up proudly like nothing happened before. There was no sign of anything broken (I admit I did not inspect the damage after coming home from the trip a year ago) and the tripod worked well with no hiccup. Not even a scratch. The tripod looked like new.


Part of me was happy that the tripod worked again, but part of me was also getting a bit horrified. You know, as if something changed and I was not aware of it. I am sure you have read the "Mandela Effect". Or possibly worse, I had a faulty memory of what happened, or maybe that shooting incident never happened at all.

Then there was the almost full moon over the balcony and I decided to put the tripod to immediate use. Shooting with Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with the 50MP high res shot enabled, I managed to capture a highly detailed shot of the moon even with a heavy crop into the frame.


No, I am not going to show you the photo of the tripod, let's keep it a mystery. After all, it did just somewhat come back to life.

Have you experienced any of such encounters? A little creepy, but hey, looking on the bright side, I now have a tripod to use, and do not have to buy a new one anytime too soon.

Anyone Interested in a Meet-Up in Perth, Australia?

Hello Australia! I will be travelling to the beautiful Perth, Western Australia on 23rd March 2019 to 28 March 2019 for some shutter therapy action, and catching up with old friends. I was wondering if there are any Robin Wong readers in Perth, and is a coffee session/meet-up possible? I would love to meet you guys! I want to hear your crazy stories in your photography journey, and if you have any questions you want to ask, I would love to answer them. I will be free from 25th onward, and location-wise possibly any of the evenings downtown in the CBD area would be awesome. Before I finalize the details and create an actual event, let me hear from you cool Perth people, let me know what you think!


My plans when I am in Perth? Lots of street photography, eating Dim Sum, watching sunset at Cottesloe, roaming around in Freo and maybe go out somewhere out of the city to do some night sky photography. I miss Australian coffee. And importantly, I miss the deep, deep clear blue skies! I just cannot wait to visit Perth again.

So beautiful Perth people, show yourself!

The Old Trick Works Every Time!

Whenever I found this particular plain plastic chair (yes, it is environmentally unfriendly, but so, so good for photography) I cannot help but to do something with it. Leveraging on available directional window light, with plain background, interesting results can be achieve on site without much aid of additional or artificial lighting. The results can often look clean and professional. Even if the image was shot merely with a smartphone, and in this case, which was also true. I was still itchy over the new smartphone I had, Realme 2 Pro, though I have not had much chance to shoot out with it.


I was checking out the new Antipodean Cafe in Bukit Bintang. I did not even know they have opened an outlet in Jalan Alor, and apparently this branch has been operating for more than 4 months already. This will probably be my default coffee place to go to immediately after my shutter therapy sessions in Bukit Bintang, one of my street hunting grounds. Yes, I still practice what I preach - end the shutter therapy session with an overpriced cup of coffee.

I have always loved Antipodean Coffee, and I particularly like how they serve their coffee in bright red cups. They have the similar red tone on their furnishing and I took advantage of the red chair as my backdrop for the cup of flat white I ordered. Light was all natural, coming from window. Camera settings? What camera settings? The shot was done in all auto and slightly post-processed in Snapseed by Google on my smartphone. I added a little bit of warmth to the image and boosted the contrast more to add some oomph to the red. I think photography needs not be too complicated. I frequently find ways to simplify my execution and trust me, simplicity works!

I could not wait, need to finish the coffee before I took this "behind the scenes" shot. Can you really blame me? Good coffee must be downed when still piping hot. 




If you are in Bukit Bintang do drop by Antipodean. Who knows you might be able to catch me doing silly things like shooting a cup of hot coffee on a chair by the window. Come say hi and join me for a cup!

Realme 2 Pro Camera Quick Review

I have recently purchased a new budget smartphone the Realme 2 Pro to replace my daily driver, the Motorola G5S Plus. As a practicing photographer I was both extremely excited and curious at the same time about how well the camera in the Realme 2 Pro performs. Becoming a ritual now, every time I got myself a new smartphone, I shall bring it out for shutter therapy sessions and do a camera review from a photographer's perspective. After all, a smartphone is the world's most popularly used imaging device today, and almost everyone owns and uses a smartphone camera daily! However, for this particular article on the Realme 2 Pro, we are going to do things a little differently this time!

Robin Lockscreen with Robin Lego Brickheadz and a smartwatch with clock-face having Robin themed colors, geddit? Geddit??

For those of you who prefer to watch a video review instead of reading a lengthily written article, here you go! I made a video, with video screenshots of all the images I have taken, so you can see me shooting in action and how I managed to get my shots in the field. 

REALME 2 PRO CAMERA QUICK REVIEW


Before we jump in too far, let's have some disclaimers first. This is an independently written article. I am not affiliated or associated with Oppo and Realme in any way. I purchased the Realme 2 Pro with my own money and this shall be my main phone. I am not reviewing the Realme 2 Pro from a gadget or tech site's perspective, as there are many smartphone reviews done on this product already, everywhere! Therefore, I am focusing merely on a singular aspect in my review - the camera, which is often glanced over and quite frankly, poorly done by a majority of tech reviews. I am after all a photographer, so I am sure some will be interested to find out how the Realme 2 Pro handles in a photographer's hands. 

The reason why I gave up on the Motorola G5S Plus was quite a silly one. The phone performed admirably with smooth and lag-free experience for a whole year of me using it. Everything worked fine, and I did like the camera on the Moto (with Google Camera ported over). However, I have overlooked an extremely important feature which was not included in the Moto G5S Plus, or at least the variant that was sold locally here in Malaysia - an electronic compass. Without a compass, the Google Maps navigation was very problematic for pedestrians like me. Without the auto-orientation, I have been misled and made many wrong turns in my reliance of the Google Maps directions in the past one year. The breaking point was during my travel to Bangkok last month, where I almost got lost without a working compass inside the phone. 

Then why Realme 2 Pro? Well, honestly, it was due to the massive price slash during a recent sales on Lazada. It was offered at a price I could not refuse. Currently (at the time of writing) there were no other smartphones that offer 128GB UFS 2.1 high speed storage and a massive 8GB of RAM under the RM1000 price tag. Also, in comparison to the aging Moto, the Realme 2 Pro has bigger, better and more color accurate screen, 2018's best Snapdragon mid-range performing processor, larger battery capacity as well as Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD support, something very important for an Audiophile (wannabe) like myself. All in all, for a very affordable price point, 



LET'S TALK CAMERA

The Realme 2 Pro features dual camera module - the primary 16MP camera having 1/2.8 inch image sensor, equipped with F1.7 lens, focal length unknown (about 27 or 28mm, based on my educated guess), and another 2MP camera having F2.4 lens, with little known info, supplied solely for depth sensing purpose only. The setup is quite a basic one for a late 2018 smartphone model, when everyone else at higher end of the spectrum today were experimenting with ginormous megapixel counts (48MP!!!), 5 camera modules and even included AI aided operations. The specifications of the Realme 2 Pro's camera may sound lack-luster, but without all the bells and whistles, is the camera sufficient for even the most demanding photographer like myself?


AUTO MODE ONLY

Instead of going all out, I have decided to use the smartphone like everyone else, relying on Automatic mode. Yes, there is an Expert mode built in allowing full manual controls of shutter speed (16 second to 1/8000sec), ISO (22 to 3200), white balance, manual focus, etc, but I shall explore these settings separately in another article. I acknowledge that a majority of the population won't even touch these advanced settings, and also they are not needed for 90% of the shooting scenarios. To make this quick review of the Realme 2 Pro's camera more relevant, let's just stick to basics, and go full Auto mode! The evidence can be found in the video - I am showing you how each and every shot were taken.

All images shown in this blog entry were shot with Realme 2 Pro's camera, on full automatic mode, hand-held (no tripod or other support/aids used). Images were almost straight out of the camera with only minor tweaks for better consistency for presentation purposes.


Crop from previous image



JPEG - IMAGE QUALITY GOOD?

Under favorable lighting condition, image quality from the Realme 2 Pro exceeded my expectations. The JPEG engine did a splendid job in optimizing fine detail output and rendering realistic and pleasing colors. Skin tones came out life-like and natural, without being over-saturated. I did no adjustments to the colors of the images shown here, they were as they were coming out from the smartphone's camera. I like how the colors are very punchy (typical consumer-friendly look) but not being over-bearing at the same time.

Even under harsh conditions, I find the dynamic range to be well handled, without the use of HDR mode. I have tried the HDR mode, and honestly the HDR made things worse by oversharpening the edges and introducing ugly artifacts all over the shadowy areas. The default mode without HDR works very well, and I was very pleased with the image output.


AUTOFOCUS AND SHUTTER LAG?

Autofocus performance was another surprise to me. I understand that fastAF speed, reliability as well as minimal shutter lag can only be found in high-end flagship phones with the most powerful processor built in. I did not anticipate the mid-tier, budget priced Realme 2 Pro to be able to aquire focus that quickly (refer to the video), and at the touch of the shutter button the phone responded near instantaneously. This was something that I seriously needed for street photography - crucial timing for my shots to successfully capture decisive moments. I have always been let down by many smartphones (some even the top of the line models) having noticeable shutter lag (delay between the press of shutter and capture of image), which caused many missed shots and opportunities. I am very glad to report that Realme 2 Pro has one of the snappiest performing camera I have tested so far.






The camera does have a tendency to over-expose the images, as seen in the video, in many scenarios, I was using the exposure compensation to bring the exposure down a little for a more balanced look. Overexposure can lead to blown highlights (whiteouts in bright regions of the frame), which can look unappealing in a photograph. To protect the highlights I suggest dialing down the exposure compensation to achieve that natural looking output.

I also wish the camera has RAW capture, so that I can further enhance the images with more flexibility during post-processing. More highlight and shadow details can be recovered. Nonetheless, it is a budget smartphone, and having good JPEG engine is the next best compromise.

LOW LIGHT SHOOTING

Low light shooting was always the challenge for smartphones. Managing my expectations, I did find the low light shooting of Realme 2 Pro acceptable. There is nothing to write home about, as the images look clean and serviceable without pixel peeping. Zooming in to scrutinize the images at higher ISO settings (ISO 400 and above) the noise reduction kicked in hard in supressing the noise but at the same time washed away useful fine details as well as reducing contrast. Nonetheless, this is a similar issue for most cameras with small sized image sensors. This is when the manual mode of the camera comes in handy, and I shall be exploring the Expert mode in my coming articles.

All other technical flaws were well controlled, most likely by software correction. Minimal chromatic aberration was seen, and no wide angle distortion even at the edges.

The close up shooting is very good, just as expected from any other small-sized image sensor. The sharpness of the image is well maintained, even at macro-range shooting.

ABOUT THE SMARTPHONE - GENERAL USE

I have only been using the Realme 2 Pro for less than a week, so far I have not encountered any issues. Thanks to the abundance of 8GB RAM (not sure if I need that much) the experience has been buttery smooth, with zero lag when multitasking or switching between apps. Using the camera was also an enjoyable experience, being super responsive. Battery life was average, I could get by a whole day in a single charge, and that itself is nothing to shout about. I do however love the screen, I have tweaked the color temperature of the display to be slightly warmer, which seems closer to the color balance I am seeing from my laptop and desktop LCD screens. I guess quirks and issues will arise with more time using the smartphone, and if there are any major issues, I shall be reporting them on this blog.






FIRST IMPRESSION SUMMARY

Having used the Realme 2 Pro in full automatic shooting mode, I dare say I have been impressed. The Auto mode works most of the time, having blazing fast and accurate AF and efficient camera response time. I like what the JPEG in the camera is doing, the color rendition is beautiful and for good lighting conditions, images come out clean, life-like and natural looking. The same cannot be said for low light shooting, but honestly, I do not think anyone else at this price point can do any better.

MISSING OUT ON FEATURES, SELFIE CAM AND VIDEO?

I purposely did not test out the "portrait" mode, which renders fake background blur or "bokeh" effect. I shall test this in another article soon. I don't take selfies, so please don't ask me how capable the phone is in shooting selfies. Please, don't. I beg you. How about video shooting? Maybe, maybe I will do something with the video capture of the camera. Since I have the smartphone with me at all times, I should do more photography and video related shoots.

Smartphone photography has come a long way, and there is no excuse for bad photographs. I am sure everyone can benefit from some photography fundamentals, learn the basics and never skip them. Sometimes, bad photography is easily blamed on the camera itself, but a little know how can go a long way in turning a failed photograph into a usable and maybe a decent shot.






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Little Drummer Boy

I have recently published an article on Ming Thein's site, covering the Thaipusam 2019 celebration in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur. However, there was one favourite shot that I have taken which did not fit into the series of photographs shown in that article. Therefore, I decided to single this shot out and place it here. I saw this little kid beating a paper box like a drum, as he was imitating the real drummers all around the location, setting the beats for the devotees in procession. To me, the sight of the young boy wanting to take part of the larger cultural picture was heart-warming. I could not help but smile to myself as I composed this image. Here is a short video clip of the kid "drumming" away (click here).

Image shot with M.Zuiko 45mm F1.2 PRO lens on OM-D E-M1 Mark II

To me, I find pleasure not in seeking images that would win competitions or are worthy to be published in National Geographic sites, but shooting something more personal in nature. These photographs may not appeal to the larger crowd, but they speak to me and I find shooting want I truly want to be more rewarding.

Olympus Malaysia E-M1X Touch & Try Session

Du to the Chinese New Year holidays, everything in Malaysia has been slightly delayed. I used to be able to tell the Olympus consumers who attended our launch events that they were amongst the first in the world to touch and try previous products, eg E-M1, E-M1 Mark II, etc. Nevertheless, the Malaysian team managed to create an unusual event yesterday, taking the participants outdoor to a dirt bike trail in Most Fun Gym. We had two full sessions, one in the morning and another in afternoon, and I was there as a support, doing a short photo-sharing presentation on my experience using the E-M1X, as well as helping out in one of the shooting stations to ensure everyone had a wonderful experience using the new E-M1X. It was an extremely exhausting day for me but it was so much fun seeing everyone enjoying the new camera and getting some really cool shots. It was a hot day being exposed under the sun, but looking at the happy faces after getting that "ah-ha!" shot was well worth all the trouble!

Image by Cindy Quek

As a bonus, I am featuring a video highlight shot by a dear friend, Van Ligutom. I thought it was a fantastic video showing what happened during the E-M1X Touch and Try session!


I hope everyone who attended the event had a great time. For those of you in Malaysia, feel free to follow the events and activities at Olympus Malaysia's official page here.  I hope to see you guys in future events!

RGB & The Bean Hive

What better way to cap off an exhausting week full of drama over the never-ending discussion in online photography forums than eat all the awesome hipster overpriced food and coffee? I did just that with cool friends, Elaine and Jess. Elaine suggested RGB & The Bean Hive, a residential house turned cafe restaurant which I have not been before, and I must add it was such a great suggestion. We spent an entire afternoon eating good food and catching up. Sometimes, all you need to do is just eat and talk your worries away.

RGB is indeed an easy name for me to remember, a very important phrase for photographers - red, green and blue, the primary colors that make the image sensor as well as how our eyes sense colors. In this case, RGB stands for Roast, Grind and Brew, I think.

For this session, I brought along only the Olympus PEN E-P5 and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 lens. I shot everything with the 25mm.

Pandan and Coconut Scone

 Australian Beef Brisket on Sourdough

 Pumpkin Soup with Toast and Salad

 Vegetarian Nasi Lemak



Cheese with Lime & Pineapple Cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Elaine and Jess being trigger happy, snapping food pics away!

The mighty little PEN vs food

Gong Xi Fa Cai

To all beautiful people who celebrate the Chinese New Year 2019, have a joyous, prosperous and blessed celebration! May this coming year bring you ever-flowing wealth, abundant opportunities and the best health.


As for me, I will be having a quiet celebration with mum in my hometown, Kuching (in Borneo). When I return to KL I shall be loaning the Olympus OM-D E-M1X again and perhaps do one or two more articles.

GONG XI FA CAI!

The Small Sensor Argument

I have been following the discussions and feedback on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X everywhere as much as I can over the past week and I must admit I have not seen that much negativity on a single newly launched camera. I also fully acknowledge that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and free to vocalize their thoughts. I can totally understand the uneasiness expressed on the larger and weightier than usual body of the E-M1X, or how the pricing may not suit the general market. It is true that Olympus created the E-M1X for specific target group of photographers and that the camera may not appeal to the larger crowd. However, what I cannot agree and I feel I must say something here about is regarding the "small sensor size" as a universal excuse to condemn E-M1X and all other Micro Four Thirds system cameras.


Olympus OM-D E-M1X - My Menu Personalization and More Image Samples

I have been actively following the discussions over the internet on the newly launched Olympus OM-D E-M1X. I think I have not seen such huge reaction to a camera released by Olympus since the first original E-M5 in 2012, though I must say the overall tone was heavier on the negative side. I am not here to make any further persuasive argument or rebutting any comments, I believe there is sufficient information online to go about for everyone to achieve their individual conclusions on E-M1X. Everything that I have wanted to say about the E-M1X has been covered in my original full article here (click and read if you have not). In this blog entry, I want to bring your attention specifically toward a new customization feature in the E-M1X, which I think is a crucial improvement over previous cameras - the My Menu.



Olympus OM-D E-M1X Launch Event in Malaysia

Olympus Malaysia and Singapore had a joint launch ceremony for the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X last week, just a day after the worldwide announcement of the camera. The launch happened at Sepang International Circuit, a prestigious racing track that has hosted Super GT, Moto GP and F1 races over the years. The guests were media and dealers from both Malaysia and Singapore. I was requested to help out, being an Olympus Visionary, I took charge of one of the touch and try stations. It was a fun day meeting so many people, some familiar faces whom I have known from my days of officially working for Olympus Malaysia. All Olympus Visionaries from Olympus Malaysia and Singapore were also present in this event. I managed to take some event shots just before the touch and try slot when I was busy tending to the guests. 

Here are some shots from the event - images were all taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko lenses 7-14mm F2.8 & 45mm F1.2 PRO

Oh yes, the newly announced Olympus M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 PRO lens was also on display. I believe this was a prototype and not fit for any testing purposes. Nonetheless, seeing it in person was quite an experience, I cannot wait to test it out when a review sample is ready. 

 The lens features a built in teleconverter 1.25x, effectively providing the full telephoto end of 1000mm equivalent focal length (in 35mm format). 

There is also a new teleconverter, MC-20, available soon, and will be fully compatible with M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO and 300mm F4 PRO IS lenses. 

The metal unibody design of E-M1X. 

The Star of the show - Olympus OM-D E-M1X




Seiki Yamamoto, Head of Sales for Olympus Japan was present during the launch in Malaysia, giving his opening speech. Seen in the image on the screen in his background, a photo of the legendary Maitani, possibly the world's finest camera designer and engineer. 

This slide served one purpose - to tell you Olympus's staunch stance that they will never go full frame. 



A friend and fellow ex-colleague based in Olympus Singapore, Amos Kang, was doing the product presentation for the new E-M1X. This was my job when I worked for Olympus Malaysia years ago. It was nice being in the audience instead of on stage. Amos did a fantastic job explaining the camera features and key improvements. 


Tanes Jitsawart was the key speaker for this event, an Olympus Visionary as well as Profoto Ambassador. He shared his experience using the Olympus system as well as some tips on shooting motorsports. 

We then moved on to the track for touch and try with the new E-M1X, shooting the fast moving cars. I was busy making sure everyone was ok and answering questions left right front and center so I did not have any chance to shoot during this slot. 


It was a successful event and I was happy to be a part of it, being able to contribute a small part. Although I am no longer a staff, I felt right at home, seeing so many friendly faces who remembered me from the old days. 

A little update: I am flying home to Kuching (in Borneo), my hometown tomorrow, 30th January 2019 to 14th Febuary 2019. Kuching people, let's catch up! Therefore, the soonest I can do further testing on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X will be after my 2 weeks long holiday, and when I return to KL in mid February.