Perth Adventures + Snapshots From Smartphone Camera

I had a portrait shoot for an old friend last week, hence I was in Perth, Western Australia and after the shoot, I extended my stay to do some shutter therapy. During my time there, I have visited quite a few places from walking the streets within the CBD to the ports and beaches in Fremantle. I did quite a bit of shutter therapy but I also spent a bulk of my time catching up with old friends, eating amazingly Delicious food and basically just enjoying myself, eg watching the sunset by the beach while eating an ice-cream. I did spend quite a bit of time here in Perth many years ago, during my university days. I graduated with a Civil Engineering degree from University of Western Australia, hence Perth holds some precious memories for me. I took the opportunity to revisit some old places and relive nostalgic moments, walking down memory lane.

The images from my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II will be shared on Ming Thein's site soon, so do keep an eye out for that. Perth is such a wonderful place for street photography! At the meantime, I am sharing snapshots from my still newly acquired smartphone, the Realme 2 Pro.

With each image I shared here, I shall accompany them with short anecdotes from my past and the significance of the location to me. An interesting note: ALL photographs here were shared live on my Instagram stories during my trip in Perth, so please follow me on Instagram @shutter.therapy

Perth CBD sykyline as seen near the War Memorial, Kings Park. When I purchased my first compact camera, a Kodak Point and Shoot, I hiked up to the peak or Kings Park (about an hour walk, uphill) from UWA. It was at night, and the trail leading to the peak was almost pitch dark with no street lights. When I got to the top, I planted the tripod and did my first ever long exposure night photography, shooting the city landscape during the night. I remember the camera settings perfectly - 4 seconds, F3.5 (fixed) and ISO100. I still remember the euphoric sensation I felt when the shot came out beautifully. That was one of the huge turning moments in my life when I knew photography was in the future of my life. 

Robin Wong Meets Perth Readers!

Thank you so much for those who came to the mini-gathering earlier this evening at Greens & Co, Leederville, it was such an amazing experience meeting everyone! If you did not know, this was my first time ever in my life organizing a meetup with my blog readers, and it was done in the beautiful city of Perth, WA. I am extremely grateful that I do have loyal readers who have been visiting my site for so many years, some even as long as more than 10 years. I had great fun listening to the stories shared with me, some about their personal journey in photography. I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful people reading my blog, I guess my readers are the reflection of what I have shared and written on my blog. I am glad I have attracted such passionate, truly remarkable bunch of photographers!

Thanks Charmaine, Dan & Emma, Dan, Giovanni, John, Roy, Chris, Jason and Augustine (not pictured). 

The reason that this blog still exists, and that I continue to write about photography, sharing my shutter therapy adventures (also on Ming Thein's site), is because of the support from you, this blog reader! So, to whoever you are out there reading this, I sincerely thank you, and I do hope we get a chance to meet in person in the future, if we have not. To all the awesome Perth photographers that I have just met earlier, I wish you all continue to do "shutter therapy" and enjoy photography. 

I have spent the last few days shooting the breathtakingly scenic Perth and I cannot wait to share the photographs with you beautiful readers. I am currently blogging this article from Perth, and will be returning to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. I shall do one last round of shutter therapy tomorrow before flying out in the late afternoon. My hands are already getting itchy thinking about street shooting tomorrow, the final session in Perth. 

Shutter therapy MUST go on. 


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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