Singapore Zoo

Spent the recent Sunday at the Singapore Zoo and River Safari with the new lens.

 

DSC07237_rs
Poor Inuka having to bear the algae growth

 

DSC07269_rs
Headscarf for the playful orang utan
Has excellent grip even on thin cables
Has excellent grip even on thin cables
Young orang utan, hanging up side down
Young orang utan, hanging up side down
Young orang utan, trying to cross over
Young orang utan, trying to cross over
This one looks bored
This one looks bored

 

Found Omar (or maybe its Winnie), one of the two rare Bengali white tigers in the Singapore Zoo. The Zoo has reportedly acquired an orange Bengali tiger but has yet to join in the exhibit. I wonder how will  the white tigers react when they being introduced with the new member.

 

Lonely white tiger
Lonely white tiger. Left eye looks injured 🙁
White tiger taking a dip
White tiger taking a dip
White tiger after taking a dip in the pond
White tiger after taking a dip in the pond
What is on this cat's mind? Something yummy?
What is on this cat’s mind? Something yummy?

 

The Australian Outback was kind of bare with most of the kangaroos and wallabies hiding at a shaded corner.

 

A joey, munching on food
A joey, munching on food
Bearded dragon under the spotlight
Bearded dragon under the spotlight
Cassowary at rest
Cassowary at rest
Young Hamadryas Baboons
Young Hamadryas Baboons

 

Using the zoom lens (at 300mm) made me realize that these animals were also eyeing me as well. It was almost shocking to me when I was doing post-processing, to find out that they were staring right at me — cautiously and ferociously at times.

 

Adult Hamadryas Baboon giving me the stare as well.
Adult Hamadryas Baboon giving me the stare as well.

 

Here’s a cropped version, just to give a clearer look of the baboon’s gaze.

 

The gaze
The gaze
Red panda giving me a ferocious stare :S
Red panda giving me a ferocious stare :S
Kai Kai having his lunch
Kai Kai having his lunch
Jia Jia in an awkward position
Jia Jia in an awkward position
Jaguar licking its toes
Jaguar licking its toes
Jaguar eyeing its meal (us).
Jaguar eyeing its meal (us). Scary stare!

 

I used a telephoto zoom lens from Sony (SAL 70-300mm SSM G) which is not exactly fast since the widest aperture ranges from f/4.5 to 5.6 only. It comes with other weaknesses e.g. having to use an adapter (LA-EA4) in order to use this A-mount on the alpha 7 (E-mount). The adapter limits the focus region in the small centre area and also sacrifices a little bit of light since it uses a mirror for focusing.

 

The advantages? The 300mm focal length and the price! It is affordable for me, so I relied on higher ISO and noise reduction in post-processing.

 

Xiaomi Redmi

Xiaomi launched the Redmi in Singapore in February 2014. Since then I have been wanting to get what is known as Hongmi in China which sports a quad-core 1.5Ghz ARM processor that runs a modified version of Android OS’ Jelly Bean i.e. MIUI. The 4.7”-inch 720P IPS display phone comes with a 8MP BSI camera (probably came from Sony, but if it was true — Xiaomi would have mentioned it all over).

The UI in the camera application does not look very different from other Android implementations. In other words, it looks clean and easy to use but there is nothing more to shout about. It offers a choice of simple UI or a slightly more advanced UI with more options selectable (white balancing, more shooting modes, EV setting, etc).

 

Simple mode UI
Simple mode UI

 

The EXIF data says that the focal length and aperture are fixed at 3.8mm (3.8mm is equivalent to 28mm – source) and f/2.2 respectively. This means the sensor size is approximately 76% that of the Xperia Z1. In the settings, the user can choose “standard” camera frame which fully uses the 8MP resolution i.e. 3264×2448 in a 4:3 form factor. Besides “standard”, there is also the “full screen” mode which comes in 16:9 form factor where the image will be cropped at 3328×1872 or 6MP.

All photos below are taken in “full screen” mode.

 

Photobook, shot indoors. (ISO431, 1/14s)
Photobook, shot indoors. (ISO431, 1/14s)
Diddy Kong (ISO143, 1/33s)
Diddy Kong (ISO143, 1/33s)
Love the red color on the benches (ISO115, 1/33s)
Love the red color on the benches
(ISO115, 1/33s)

 

From the previous two photos, the camera app chose lower ISO instead of higher shutter speeds which I found odd. This device is predominantly meant for handheld use and as such I would give priority to faster shutter speed instead of lower ISO. I suspect Xiaomi is trying to “hide” sensor noise at higher ISO.

 

Lizard (ISO115, 1/1859s)
Lizard (ISO115, 1/1859s)
Trying light trail handheld (ISO820, 1/8s)
Trying light trail handheld (ISO820, 1/8s)
Unimpressive Night mode (ISO920, 1/5s)
Unimpressive Night mode (ISO920, 1/5s)
Singapore flags (ISO122, 1/5917s)
Singapore flags (ISO122, 1/5917s)
A really simple distortion test. Quite OK!
A really simple distortion test. Quite OK!
Jurong East (ISO132, 1/50s)
Jurong East (ISO132, 1/50s)
Jurong East (ISO370, 1/20s)
Jurong East (ISO370, 1/20s)
Blue cloudy sky  (ISO136, 1/7092s)
Blue cloudy sky (ISO136, 1/7092s)
Portsdown Road (ISO115, 1/654s)
Portsdown Road (ISO115, 1/654s)
Church (ISO408, 1/17s)
Church (ISO408, 1/17s)
Singapore Flyer  (ISO115, 1/3215s)
Singapore Flyer from a moving car (ISO115, 1/3215s)
My lunch (ISO133, 1/33s)
My lunch (ISO133, 1/33s)
East Coast Park (ISO128, 1/4425s)
East Coast Park (ISO128, 1/4425s)
Some lens flare (ISO124, 1/124s)
Some lens flare (ISO124, 1/124s)

 

If you have also found the exposure numbers being odd or random or non-standard, me too! And I don’t know why Xiaomi does it this way!

As it is priced very competitively, I can conclude that it is indeed a very good replacement for your point &  shoot camera! And its more than just a P&S, its a smart phone! But if you’re expecting to buy a red phone, you will probably be disappointed as Redmi does not come in red (yet)!

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.

 

Screenshot_2014-04-27-18-31-55
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.

Canon FDn 85mm f/1.8

This post is about Canon’s “New” FD or FDn 85mm f/1.8 lens which I got from Japan via eBay. There are not many articles on this lens on the Internet; some stuff I found out: it is constructed with 6 elements in 4 groups. The angles of view are 16° vertical and 24° horizontal. The more popular 85mm Canon lens would be the f/1.2 one which is probably why information is so scarce.

Canon FDn 85mm f/1.8
Canon FDn 85mm f/1.8

I find colour reproduction of this portrait/telephoto lens very acceptable, perhaps due to lack of ghosting and/or flare. Overall sharpness is also good but I often get slightly blurred images due to my own movements when using maximum aperture — couldn’t always nail sharp focus on the eyes when shooting portraiture at 0.85m distance. Will probably need to work more on this, or I could make use of a monopod.

The following photos are taken with Sony Alpha7.

DSC03852_rs
Children warming up before their swim lesson
DSC03891_rs
Portrait done with shallow depth of focus
DSC03915_rs
Too bored; took photos of essential oils with lush greenery as the back drop. Love the bokeh.
DSC03936_rs
Splash
DSC03954_rs
Let’s jump!
DSC04079_rs
Knocking off on a Friday evening at One Raffles Quay
DSC04082_rs
Making a call or surfing Facebook?
DSC04087_rs
Sculpture
DSC04094_rs
One Marina Boulevard
DSC04125_bw_1920x1080
Facades of the Chronos and Helios buildings at Biopolis
DSC04127_rs_1920x1080
Facade of the Chronos building at Biopolis. This is my current desktop wallpaper 🙂

 

Nifty Fifty

I love prime lens, and the 50mm focal length is one of my favourites. In my opinion, primes generally offer 3 main advantages — (a)  less optical distortion introduced, (b) have wider maximum aperture for those bokehliciuos portraits and finally (c) for the smaller package as compared to zoom lens.

50mm focal length (in full frame) is nifty because you can use it for many types of photography genres. If you’re new, 50mm should be your first prime because it can help you explore these various genres. You’ll be able to find what you like — portraits, street, landscape, etc before investing further in other lenses.

If you’re using a camera with APS-C sensor, you should be looking for focal length of about 35mm. Olympics and Panasonic mirrorless cameras use m4/3 format and the equivalent focal length is 24mm.

All photos  below are taken with the manual Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 with full frame sensor.

Kid at the playground under mom's watchful eyes
Kid at the playground under mom’s watchful eyes
Children at the playground
Children at the playground
Lego car down the slide
Lego car down the slide
Man looking for a seat at McDonalds, King Albert Park
Man looking for a seat at McDonalds, King Albert Park
Gathering at McDonalds, King Albert Park
Gathering at McDonalds, King Albert Park
Status update?
Status update?
McDonalds at King Albert Park on its last night of operation.
McDonalds at King Albert Park on its last night of operation.
Group selfie
Group selfie
Barista at the CAD cafe
Barista at the CAD cafe
Relax lah.
Relax lah.
Not plain but fruity water
Not plain but fruity water
Cookies
Cookies
Barista at the CAD cafe
Barista at the CAD cafe
Blue hour at the junction of Alexander Rd & Queensway
Blue hour at the junction of Alexander Rd & Queensway

Wide-angle Saturday

More photos this weekend using the Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 lens.

The rain after a bout of dry season created a perfect environment for many of the trees here to  blossom. I would suggest that the National Parks Board of Singapore dedicate an area in the Gardens by the Bay planted with rows of these Tabebuia Rosea or the Trumpet Trees. This will create our very own version of Sakura Spring/Cherry Blossoms!

Saw these blossoming trees on the way to NUS Utown.

Singapore's version of Cherry Blossoms
Singapore’s version of Cherry Blossoms
Singapore's version of Cherry Blossoms
Singapore’s version of Cherry Blossoms

Then again, I do not think these trees are local. They could have been brought over from the Central/South America region about 50 years ago during the greening campaign.

Education Resource Center & Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at NUS UTown
Education Resource Center & Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at NUS UTown
Graduate Residence at NUS UTown
Graduate Residence at NUS UTown
Graduate Residence at NUS UTown
Graduate Residence at NUS UTown

Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8

The first 24mm lens designed specifically with a reflex F-mount was introduced in June, 1967. The Nikkor-N 24mm f/2.8 Auto lens has a retrofocus design, it was based on a creative design concept by Nikon optical engineers, combines a super picture angle of 84° and coupled with a fairly fast speed at f/2.8 (fastest lens among the same focal length lenses available during that period) [source: leofoo].

Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 adapted to the Alpha 7
Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 adapted to the Alpha 7

This first version has the “Nippon Kogaku Japan” label but mine was simplified to just “Nikon” — but it is still probably among the older 24mm Nikkor lenses because it has a minimal aperture scale of up to f/16 only (f/22 was later added in 1975). Anyway, I love the design — especially the deep ribbed “scallop” grip for the focusing ring.

Some sample photos:

One North Residences
One North Residences
Lucasfilm Singapore, the Sandcrawler building
Lucasfilm Singapore, the Sandcrawler building
Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit at the River Safari
Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit at the River Safari, at ISO5000
Singapore cityscape
Singapore cityscape
Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands, shot handheld at 0.5s!
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Underneath the tiered seatings of my church
Underneath the tiered seatings of my church (ISO6400)

Pandas at The River Safari

Went to the River Safari this morning and got some of these shots at the Giant Panda Forest with the Vivitar 200mm.

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)

The red pandas (close relatives of the raccoon and weasel) were very active this morning — showing off much of their tree climbing skills. Their quick movement proved a little difficult to manually focus with the Vivitar telephoto lens (the focus ring is a tad tight). By anticipating their movements and drive mode set to continuous, with some luck, I did manage to capture some reasonably sharp images.

Red Panda
Red Panda
Red Panda
Red Panda
Red Panda
Red Panda

 

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

The Giant Pandas were easier; Kai Kai was just lazing around at one spot and Jia Jia was moving in and out of her den slowly. She was too shy to stay out at the public exhibit area. The eyes were large but dark — can hardly see if the eye lids are opened or closed without zooming into the picture. These pandas are a sign of the twentieth anniversary of friendly Sino-Singapore relations. They arrived on September 2012, are on a ten year loan from China. [source: Wikipedia]

Kai Kai
Kai Kai
Kai Kai
Kai Kai
Kai Kai
Kai Kai
Jia Jia
Jia Jia

 
How to get there:

 

Vivitar 200mm f/3.5

This solid all-metal prime lens has the longest focal length in my collection today. Think it was made in the 70’s. It is super sturdy and heavy; this handsomely-built lens should easily last another 40 years or more.

I was worried that it may be too heavy for the alpha7’s E-mount adapter, but I’m glad it came with a tripod mount. It has minimum aperture of f/22 and provides adequate sharpness at wide open. I find focusing a challenge because the focusing ring is stiff. Turning the ring will shake the lens and that’s not helpful when seeing through the EVF at such long focal length.

Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 with alpha 7
Vivitar 200mm f/3.5 with alpha 7

However for the price I acquired it, the outcome makes it a real steal. Although it’s quite sensitive to stray light which causes overcast images when the lens points to bright areas, this is quite fixable by minor curves adjustment in post- processing.

Fullterton Bay
Fullterton Bay Hotel
Merlion
Merlion
LV
Louis Vuitton Island Maison
Weird vignetting
Weird vignetting at 1 edge when shooting the sun directly
Temple
Temple
Shophouses
Shophouses
Tooth relic courtyard
Tooth relic courtyard
HDB
HDB
Capitaland
Top of the Capital Tower bathed in morning sunlight
Nice stairs & colour
Nice stairs & colour

First Weekend with the Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7

Bought this lens off eBay. It has a minimum aperture lock, so according to a Wikipedia entry, it should be a post-1981 lens. I’m using it as a manual lens on the Sony Alpha 7 body.

Alpha7 with Minolta MD 50mm
Alpha7 with Minolta MD 50mm

The Alpha 7 has a couple of features which help manual focusing i.e. focus peaking which highlights the in-focus edges in red, yellow or white, and magnification which blows up a small area to fill the whole EVF or rear LCD (I prefer looking through the EVF). Having said this, I had some time struggling to shoot at f/1.7 — nailing the focus probably only 70% of the time during the first weekend. Hopefully my hit rate will improve.

I found it nevertheless fun. 🙂

Girl Getting Ready for a Swim (50mm, f/1.7, 1/2000s)
Girl Getting Ready for a Swim (50mm, f/1.7, 1/2000s)
Pre-swim Shower (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1600s)
Pre-swim Shower (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1600s)
Umbrella (50mm, f/1.7, 1/400s)
Umbrella (50mm, f/1.7, 1/400s)
Texture (50mm, f/1.7, 1/400s)
Texture (50mm, f/1.7, 1/400s)
Planks (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1250s)
Planks (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1250s)
Penchai (50mm, f/1.7, 1/60s)
Penchai (50mm, f/1.7, 1/60s)
Cheers! (50mm, f/1.7, 1/60s)
Cheers! (50mm, f/1.7, 1/60s)
Construction along River Valley Road (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1000s)
Construction along River Valley Road (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1000s)
Passerby's (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1600s)
Passerby’s (50mm, f/1.7, 1/1600s)
Alighting (50mm, f/1.7, 1/800s)
Alighting (50mm, f/1.7, 1/800s)
Taking a Break (50mm, f/1.7, 1/5000s)
Taking a Break (50mm, f/1.7, 1/5000s)
Making Sure the Kids Finish Their Homework (50mm, f/1.7, 1/200s)
Making Sure the Kids Finish Their Homework (50mm, f/1.7, 1/200s)

I’m looking forward to more weekends with this 50mm prime lens. Meanwhile, I have also managed to snatch a 200mm off eBay and now waiting for it to be delivered! 🙂