December through 85mm

December always comes with Christmas trees decorated with lights. Its a great time to make some portraits with bokehlicious background.

The 85mm is my to-go lens for this season, and I got the cheap Canon FDn paired with the alpha 7. Here are some of the other photos besides family portraits.

 

Christmas lights
Christmas lights at the airport

 

Yummy treats
Yummy treats

 

Violinist at Westgate. Great smile!
Violinist at Westgate. Great smile!

 

An adult baboon
Portrait of an adult baboon snacking

 

Photo in the lawn
Photo in the lawn at NUS UTown

 

Omar the white tiger
Omar the white tiger trying to take a nap (cropped)

 

Cat on its way home
Cat hesitating to go home

 

Students hogging Starbucks seats
Students slogging it off at Starbucks, but wait — aren’t exams over?

 

Drizzling weather -- hazy insta effect achieved by shoot through my dirty car window
Drizzling weather — hazy insta fade effect achieved by shooting through my dirty car window

 

Golden Mile Complex

Completed in 1973, the 16-storey Golden Mile Complex is one pioneers of integrating multiple operations into a single mixed-use development in Singapore. The complex’s shopping mall houses numerous Thai clubs, shops and eateries, as well as ticketing agencies for travellers going to Malaysia by bus.

 

The place is a haven for “street” photography and I will probably be back to get more shots — I may try to include the exterior facade — before it is being redeveloped.

 

Below ground car park
Below ground car park (a7 + Minolta MD 50mm)
Happy chatting
Happy chatting (a7 + Minolta MD 50mm)
Offices here?
Offices here? (a7 + Minolta MD 50mm)
I can totally imagine how grand this entrance was
I can totally imagine how grand this side entrance was (a7 + Nikkor-N 24mm)
Thai sweets
Thai sweets (a7 + Minolta MD 50mm)
The tomyam soup which brought us to this place
The tomyam soup which brought us to this place. Yummy! 🙂 (a7 + Minolta MD 50mm)

How to get there:

 

Xperia Z1

I do believe that the best camera is the one that is always with you.

More than a decade ago, it was my Lomo LC-A because it is compact enough for me to bring it with me to most places. Today (in 2014) it is the Xperia Z1. I am so glad that we now have smartphones which are equipped with high-resolution sensors. The Xperia Z1 camera sensor packs 20.7 megapixels in 1/2.3-inch area. This sensor is among the largest in the smartphones’ market and should promise low noise (but not really…) and better bokeh. The phone also has a dedicated shutter button with half-press ability — something I like very much.

The default operation mode is Superior Auto which means the user just needs to compose and trigger.  The Manual mode on the other hand offers a little more flexibility to the user for EV compensation and setting of WB. It does not provide control/access to the shutter speeds and lens aperture (aperture seems to be fixed at f/2 in all the EXIF data I have checked for both Auto and Manual modes). Instead, there is a Scene selection. Also, full resolution 5248 x 3936 (20.7MP, 4:3) is only available in the Manual mode.

 

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Scene seletion in “Manual” mode

 

Although I prefer having some manual controls in my cameras, I seldom use the Manual mode. I stick to Auto most of the time because:

  • Noise at full resolution or 20.7MP is more pronounced
  • Smaller file obviously, with Superior Auto which locks max resolution at 8MP
  • 16:9 in Superior Auto crops out the soft corners reported
  • The phone doesn’t remember the mode which I last used! Each time I start the camera app, it goes to Superior Auto!

Besides these two modes, the camera app also accepts add-ons developed by Sony and third parties (e.g. Evernote). I rarely use any of them except for Timeshift burst. They’re downloadable from the Play store.

 

Modes and add-ons
Modes and add-ons

 

Below are sample photos, directly from the camera (unedited) but resized, shot in either Superior Auto or Manual and all handheld. You can probably tell which mode is used from the aspect ratio. Resized images often reduce the effect of noise (one conclusion – most phones are fine if you use the photos for web). The lens according to the EXIF data, has 4.9mm focal length. I read this is equivalent to 27mm (FF/35mm).

 

My son's collectibles (1/32s, ISO125)
My son’s collectibles (1/32s, ISO125)
Drink stall operator (probably also owner of) Blanco Court Prawn Mee (1/100s, ISO100)
Drink stall operator (probably also owner of) Blanco Court Prawn Mee (1/100s, ISO100)
iEat Burger by Aston's (1/64s, ISO64)
iEat Burger by Aston’s (1/64s, ISO64)
Blue hour at the Boon Lay MRT station (1/5s, ISO64)
Blue hour at the Boon Lay MRT station (1/5s, ISO64)
Café Swiss interior (1/50s, ISO500)
Café Swiss interior (1/50s, ISO500)
Rooftop of a carpark along Upper Cross St (1/2500s, ISO64)
Rooftop of a carpark along Upper Cross St (1/2500s, ISO64)
Two (1/125s, ISO160)
Two (1/125s, ISO160)
Hong Kong's cloudy skyline from the Peak (1/320s, ISO50)
Hong Kong’s cloudy skyline from the Peak (1/320s, ISO50)
Unimpressive low-light shot at a Lion King show (1/32s, ISO320)
Unimpressive low-light shot at a Lion King show (1/32s, ISO320)
Interior of the Fullerton Hotel (1/125s, ISO320)
Interior of the Fullerton Hotel (1/125s, ISO320)
Light trails at Clementi using Manual mode -- one of those scene selected with "long" exposure. My shaky hands are very visible. (1/2s, ISO50)
Light trails at Clementi using Manual mode — one of those scene selected with “long” exposure. My shaky hands are very visible. (1/2s, ISO50)
HK-style pastries at a hawker center in Whampoa (1/100s, ISO200)
HK-style pastries at a hawker center in Whampoa (1/100s, ISO200)
Hardworking hawker at Chinatown -- serves one of the best mee pok (I call it the local ramen) (1/50s, ISO200)
Hardworking hawker at Chinatown — serves one of the best mee pok (I call it the local ramen) (1/50s, ISO200)
The local ramen, dry variant. (1/50s, ISO800)
The local ramen, dry variant. (1/50s, ISO800)
Another unimpressive but decent low-light shot -- subjects, context maintained (1/20s, ISO1600)
Another unimpressive but decent low-light shot — subjects, context maintained (1/20s, ISO1600)
One of the 60 shots taken by the Timeshift Burst mode (EXIF n/a)
One of the 60 shots taken by the Timeshift Burst mode (EXIF n/a)
Panorama mode (EXIF n/a)
Panorama mode (EXIF n/a)
Blue hour at the Marina Bay -- noise very apparent (1/8s, ISO400)
Blue hour at the Marina Bay — noise very apparent (1/8s, ISO400)
Waiting at a bus stop (1/64s, ISO1600)
Waiting at a bus stop (1/64s, ISO1600)
Dawn at Boon Lay MRT (1/500s, ISO50)
Dawn at Boon Lay MRT (1/500s, ISO50)
Finally a late night shot in Auto.
Finally a late night shot in Auto.
On the way (1/50s, ISO320)
On the way (1/50s, ISO320)

 

To conclude, the camera produces sufficiently good images. With some post processing (noise reduction, sharpening, adjustments of shadows & highlights), the resized images should look great for web (or facebook, etc).

While the camera in your smartphone is not going to replace “real” cameras anytime soon — it should still be your best because you have it with you all the time — unless if you have dSLR with you all the time too.

Taiwan

Taiwan, a sweet-potato-shaped island is once known as Ilha Formosa – Beautiful Island. This is what a group of Portuguese sailors, said to have been the first Westerners to lay eyes on the island, uttered upon seeing Taiwan for the first time.

Taiwan has been chosen as one of the top 10 best countries to visit in 2012 by Lonely Planet. I have been reading a little about Taiwan after the trip and found that there are so simply too much to cover in just 8 days. These photos were taken during a road trip / guided tour around Taiwan in October 2011. The sky during the period was extremely cloudy, and gloomy at times. I brought the Olympus E-PL1 with kit lens for its travel-friendly size; no tripod.

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Beautiful Taipei in the morning. That’s the Taipei 101 tower at the background.
Taken with Nikon P&S (S6000) from a moving bus.

Taroko National Park

Taroko National Park  is one of the seven national parks in Taiwan and was named after the Taroko Gorge, the landmark gorge of the park. The park spans Taichung City, Nantou County, and Hualien County.

The park was originally established as the Tsugitaka-Taroko National Park by the Governor-General of Taiwan on December 12, 1937 when Taiwan was part of the Empire of Japan. After the Empire of Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Republic of China assumed control of Taiwan. The ROC government subsequently abolished the park on August 15, 1945. It was not until November 28, 1986 that the park was reestablished.

The name, Taroko, means “magnificent and beautiful”. Long ago a Truku tribesman saw the beauty of the azure Pacific when he walked out of the gorge. On seeing the magnificent scene, he cried “Taroko!”. [source: Wikipedia]

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“Bridge of 100 Lions” at the Taroko National Park in Hualien.
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Flowers, Taroko National Park
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This is the view from the mountainside coffee house of “Eternal Spring Shrine” which is situated over the waterfall. Taroko National Park.
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Clam farm in Hualien

The Aborigines

Aboriginal groups are seeking to preserve their folkways and languages as well as to return to, or remain on, their traditional lands. Eco-tourism, sewing and selling tribal carvings, jewelry and music has become a viable area of economic opportunity. However, tourism-based commercial development, such as the creation of Taiwan Aboriginal Culture Park, is not a panacea. Although these create new jobs, aborigines are seldom given management positions. [source: Wikipedia]

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Performance at the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Culture Park, Pingtung.
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Performance at the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Culture Park, Pingtung.

Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan, with a population around 2.9 million. Also known as the “Harbour Capital” of Taiwan, Kaohsiung has always had a strong link with the ocean and maritime transportation.

The city sits on the southwestern coast of Taiwan facing the Taiwan Strait. The downtown areas are centered around Kaohsiung Harbor with the island of Qijin on the other side of the harbor acting as a natural breakwater. [source: Wikipedia]

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Kaohsiung at night (taken handheld). Stitched panorama from the 62nd floor of The Splendour hotel.
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Local delicacy found in Liuhe Night Market, Kaohsiung
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On the way to Tsingtao Brewery (a thirst-quenching stop before Kaohsiung)

Sun Moon Lake

Situated in Yuchi, Nantou, the area around the Sun Moon Lake is home to the Thao tribe, one of aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake surrounds a tiny island called Lalu. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name. [source: Wikipedia]

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The Sun Moon Lake which is located 748 m (2,454 ft) above sea level. This is a stitched panorama.
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We were playing with bubbles at the compounds of Wen Wu Temple (文武廟) located next to the Sun Moon Lake.
Supplies Delivery at FengChia Nightmarket (Xitun District, Taichung City)
Supplies Delivery at FengChia Nightmarket (Xitun District, Taichung City)
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Found this cozy place selling beef noodles near our hotel in Hsinchu. Had this for supper.

Yehliu

Yehliu is a cape in the town of Wanli, New Taipei, Taiwan. The cape, known by geologists as the Yehliu Promontory, forms part of the Daliao Miocene Formation. It stretches approximately 1,700 metres into the ocean and was formed as geological forces pushed Datun Mountain out of the sea.

A distinctive feature of the cape is the hoodoo stones that dot its surface. These shapes can be viewed at the Yehliu Geopark operated by the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area administration. A number of rock formations have been given imaginative names based on their shapes. The best known is the “Queen’s Head”, an iconic image in Taiwan and an unofficial emblem for the town of Wanli. Other formations include the “Fairy Shoe,” the “Beehive,” the “Ginger Rocks” and the “Sea Candles.” [source: Wikipedia]

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Yehliu Geopark
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Close-up of amazing rock formations at the Yehliu Geopark
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Ship wreck off Yeliu

Taipei

Taipei is the capital of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, Taipei is located on the Tamsui River; it is about 25 km (16 mi) southwest of Keelung, a port city on the Pacific Ocean. It lies in the Taipei Basin, an ancient lakebed bounded by the two relatively narrow valleys of the Keelung and Xindian rivers, which join to form the Tamsui River along the city’s western border. The city proper is home to an estimated 2,618,772 people. Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung together form the Taipei–Keelung metropolitan area with a population of 6,900,273. [source: Wikipedia]

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The Martyr’s Shrine, built in 1969.
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Plane in Cloudy Taipei
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A Street Junction in Taipei
Taipei Streets in Grainy B&W
Taipei Streets in Grainy B&W (E-PL1 built-in “Art” filter)