Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A melancholic return

Most people would feel excited when the return to a place which they've known for so long and so well. As for me, I wasn't really feeling that way when I flew to Melbourne 2 weeks ago. Its a melancholic feeling indeed.

As the aircraft approached the city, the faint outline of buildings and roads illuminated by street lamps started to appear.

The cold winter rain and wind was a little shock to me because I was just in a very warm place 8 hours earlier. The temperature at nightfall hovers around 5 degrees celcius and it isn't very nice to be outside when its that cold.

Business goes on as usual. The city still looks and feels the same. I have been away for only less than a year. Of course things should appear as they should.

After 830pm, the malls get really quiet. Its an eerie feeling when you walk through them by yourself.

The city has introduced a new bike share system. I'm not sure how these bikes feel when you're riding them, but they definitely are a welcome start to those who're more inclined to conserve our environment.

Although the sun shines brightly most of the day, most folks put on a pair of jeans, shoes and a sweater.

Although its relatively expensive to eat out in Melbourne (10 dollars approx for a dish), I still had the opportunity to try out some old favorites, for example:

Wing Loong's spicy chicken ribs with fried rice. They taste great; unfortunately this dish isn't available in Malaysia.

Freddo's gelati on Lygon Street. Yes, over here its OK to have ice cream in winter :)

There are lots of selections for you to choose from. My favorite is still durian. Just be aware that the strong flavour of the durian may mask the taste and smell of the other flavours that you choose, eg. mango.

We wanted to go to Koko Black for the iced chocolate, unfortunately it was quite full at that time. We settled for the cafe next to it. I had some good old Tassie beer - James Boag. Ahh... its a far more refreshing taste than the Carlsberg and Tiger beer that we brew locally in KL. I've definitely missed Aussie beer since I left Melbourne.

When will I return? Frankly, I don't know. I hope the city will be the same as I know it when I return in probably a decade. I hope I can still roam down the streets while breathing in the fresh air, and find my way around the CBD.

Till then, I can only look and appreciate it from afar. My time in Melbourne has past. Life in Malaysia hasn't been easy for me at all. I have accepted reality and moved on. I will survive.

Goodbye Melbourne.

Friday, August 27, 2010

the enigma

So the story goes that one day, I walked into a camera shop on Elizabeth Street to try a lens. After pixel peeping the first image, I thought to myself - "Gosh, this is sharp!"

*D-lighting and High ISO noise reduction was disabled in-camera to ensure maximum detail was retained on the FX sensor.

*The unwatermarked images are uploaded as full sized files, although blogger has downsized them a little. Please respect copyright and do not upload the images to another website without prior permission

I took a few more shots, and it wasn't a dream. This lens is a gem for its price and features. Read on if you'd like to find out more.

So what is this mystery lens anyway? It's a not-so-common Tamron SP AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) Macro lens. (whew.. thats quite a long list of abbreviations)

IF - the front element does not rotate while focusing, so thats good news for those who're using circular polarisers.

DI - digitally integrated for both full frame and APS-C sized sensors

AF - autofocus, duh

XR - the result of using high refractive index glass has enabled tamron to produce lighter and more compact lenses. The 28-57 only weighs 500 grams and utilises a 67mm filter instead of the typical 77mm that most manufacturers use.

SP - for super performance. Hmm.. they don't exactly mention any more details, but aren't all manufacturers eager to make their lens perform as good as possible anyway? :s

Macro - although it doesn't have a magnification as good as a true macro lens, its magnification of 1:3.9 at 75mm does a very respectable job to capture some semi macro shots, as I will demonstrate later.

I've had a terrible experience with a third party lens before (a Sigma 30/1.4), and my frequent liasing with other users who use Sigma lenses has left an unpleasant opinion about third party lenses. But this Tamron lens is quite different.

The lens is made well, although you should not expect the tank-like construction of the Nikon 24-70. High quality plastics have been chosen to keep its price point affordable to consumers. The zoom and focus rings are fitted with textured rubber for a more tactile feel and are quite smooth. There is no distance scale either.

*Stay away from the focus ring while the camera is auto focusing - it may damage the lens.

Although it is of plastic construction, its made quite well. It also balances elegantly on a pro camera body. A plastic petal shaped hood is provided to keep flare from ruining your images.

Having a fast f/2.8 aperture is very useful in low light situations where you might not have access to a flash gun. The lens focuses flawlessly on the D3, although its probably just a tad slower than the Nikon 24-70 which is equipped with a silent wave motor. 

And here's the good news - its 1/4th the price of a Nikon 24-70 too (well, with all the above mentioned compromises ;) To have such a lens with great image quality at a fraction of the cost is indeed a dream.

The lens performs well on APS-c sensors, giving an equivalent focal length of 42-115 mm (for Nikon). It gives very good central sharpness.

On full frame sensors, its somewhat compromised. At f2.8, it lacks a sharpness especially at the corners. If you're a pixel peeper (of if your clients are very demanding), you might find this irritable, but otherwise you can't really notice it if you don't print photos at large sizes (4R for example).

Distortion is quite well controlled for this lens, especially at its widest focal length (28mm). 

As I've mentioned earlier, this is a lens with decent macro capabilities, which makes it great for food shots :)

The out of focus highlights are almost circular in nature, thanks to the use of circular aperture diaphragms. It's generally quite pleasing to the eye, although it can appear a little 'busy' at times.

In summary:

  • small (67mm filter) and light (500g vs 900g for the Nikon 24-70).
  • [relatively] cheap (1/4 the cost of a Nikon 24-70, and even cheaper if you can find a mint copy)
  • razor sharp at the center of the image at all focal lengths, even at maximum f/2.8 aperture.
  • Good auto focus speed (although its a tad slower than Nikon's SWM)

  • Plastic, non-weathersealed construction.
  • Doesn't perform well at the corners for full frame bodies. You can see the image smear a little (That's subjective of course. I notice it, but I don't really object to it).
  • A little less wide than other competitors (28mm vs 24mm)
This lens is not the holy grail for full frame standard zooms, but it offers plenty for its budget-conscious users. Do give it a try if you're interested.

That's about it folks. I hope you like this mini review so far, and do email me if you have any further questions.

Other reviews:

Photozone.de - Nikon D200 and Canon 5DII

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A for apathy

To those who've been wondering where I am, I've just gotten back from Melbourne from shooting a friend's wedding. Several people wished me 'happy holidays', but in reality, I guess its far from that. The cold winds and incessant drizzling sent a chill into my bones. Yes, I did meet up with friends (just for one day), but for most of the time, I'm just feeling so tired. I'm tired from work in Malaysia, and there are several obstacles which I have to get rid off in my life. It's an ironic thing when you just simply blurt out to your friends, 'everything is alright' when in reality it isn't. I guess its just our way in society to keep some distance from friends who might be interested to know more about our ever so private personal lives.

31 August is coming soon. For those who don't know, it commemorates the independence of Malaya (more specifically Peninsula Malaysia) from the British, as opposed to the actual federation of Malaysia comprising Singpapore, North Borneo and Sarawak in 1963.

I recently caught up on a friend's blog after not having the time to read up his updates for a few months. His post is titled - "Happy birthday Singapore", and it sums up the thoughts that I have towards my country's independence day. So here it goes.

Sorry I missed out on the celebration. I really wanted to be there but I was busy doing my part to stimulate your economy by working.

I had got your invitation, though I don’t quite know where it’s gone. it must have gotten lost in my in-pile of things to do, meetings to attend and other goals I’m trying to achieve for the year.

I wanted to buy you a present but times are tough and I’ve got to watch how much I spend. Also with the price of property soaring I think my hard earned cash is better used to save for an HDB apartment one day. I hope you don’t mind. Afterall i don’t want to be a burden to you by being homeless.

I’ve missed so many of your birthdays recently. In fact I’ve been stuck at work so much that I’ve almost forgotten what you look like. Your streets are so clean and vibrant but I just don’t have the time to admire them. I hear from tourists that you’re such a wonderful place to spend time in. One day when I retire I’ll find the time to do so. For the moment I’m just too busy.

Maybe I’ll send you a card one day to apologise for being so thoughtless and selfish. I mean I’m only ever preoccupied by the material things and the gaining of wealth but those things are so shallow. Forgive me, there’s so much more to being a Singaporean but I just haven’t the time to discover what exactly that is right now.

I hope the birthday goes well and that there’s lots of cake to go around. I hope the fireworks are just as beautiful as the newspaper always reports them to be.

I’ll come join in someday.

don’t wait up.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

1 Bak Kut Teh, PJ SS 2

Restoran 1 Bak Kut Teh 
No. 23, Jalan SS2/67
47300 Petaling Jaya

Bak Kut Teh shops are commonly found in Malaysia, but the recent opening of a new outlet in Petaling Jaya SS2 will brings a new concept of premium bak kut teh dishes at affordable prices.

Nope, you don't have to drive all the way to Klang for good bak kut teh. The flagship store of 1 Bak Kut Teh which has been recently relocated from Klang is conveniently situated within the SS2 shopping precinct.

The shop is cleanly furnished with traditional-style stone table tops and timber chairs.

There are even some traditional style chinese tea samples in the glass cabinets.

A range of Bak Kut Teh dish stypes are available, ranging from lean pork, pork belly, pork knuckle. My favorite is the half fat pork.

According to Jet, the restaurant manager, the pork is acquired daily from a reputable supplier, hence ensuring its freshness. The broth is very thick and flavorful, which is consistent with traditional bak kut teh recipe which is not very common nowadays. Honestly, I love it to bits. The service is quite prompt too, you usually don't have to wait long for your bak kut teh to be served, unless there are heaps of people waiting for it!

Here it is... the a wonderful breakfast of pork leg bak kut teh with deep fried yu char kueh.

The bak kut teh coupled with the soft and tender pork fat is oozing with flavour. Bak kut teh lovers should definitely give this outlet a try.

Rock on, 1 Bak Kut Teh !

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Out of focus

I've just returned home after a long hectic week of shooting a convocation. Lots of things have occurred too, but the public nature of this blog refrains me from revealing too much of it.

My life is a real blur right now. Its hazy, and I can't even focus on what I'd like to become as a photographer.

On the surface, my current job seems wonderful. There are a slew of 'high-end' cameras and lenses that I can play around with to capture technically perfect photos. But I feel empty, because I'm not being able to express my photographic vision. I wonder how long do I have to wait to be able to be granted the opportunity to do so.

I constantly remind myself daily that in the pursuit of photography merely as an income generating device, you tend to lose yourself and produce 'lifeless' photos.

I hope I will be able to see the light soon. In the mean time, I shall be patient... very very patient.

May God help me.

Good night everyone.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Being a Graduation photographer

I've had some experience as a freelancer shooting graduations while I was in Melbourne. It was fun, and I only had to concentrate on one family at a time, so things weren't' too tough. I'd often notice the main photographer being armed with a 70-200/2.8 lens, shooting from a distance away with some high powered battery strobes. I always complain how the photo lacked 'feel', because the flash just takes away the ambiance of the whole ceremony.

Yet in my current job, I got a taste of what it feels like to be a graduation photographer. I kid you not, we're provided high end camera bodies and lenses for the job at hand such as the 1Ds mkIII, 5D mkII, Nikon D3 and 70-200 VRII. Yes, they have very good ISO performance and have ridiculous 10fps shooting speeds, but we still use studio lights to augment existing light, hence the direct flash look and harsh shadows.

I'm basically stationed at a specific spot on the stage, be it in front or on the side. Concentration and reflexes are of the utmost importance. Every time a student receives their scroll from the Chancellor or a guest of honor, I have to press the shutter once - no more, no less. Its interesting how weary you can turn out after 2 continuous days of shooting the students from the same position over and over again. Nope, we don't shoot RAW. When we print and develop the images, jpegs are sufficient for our needs; we just need to ensure that our autofocus, exposure and compostion are acceptable when the clients receive the finished product. RAW just takes up too much space and time to process. And when you have 10,000 RAW files to process from a single convocation, thats a heck a lot of  space. It's a rather thankless job too. No one will compliment how 'nice' and 'creative' your image is. We're just recording a split second moment in time to our memory cards, and then on to photo paper.

After the conferment of the degrees end, we rush off to the studio location. When the graduates start to enter with all their relatives and friends, the whole place is in chaos. We drag a chair or two and put them in front of a painted canvas of bookshelves for the family portrait. For the personal portrait, we take away the chairs, and adjust the mortar boards, how they hold the scrolls, body position, and head position. We can 'try' to be creative, but time is of the utmost importance in this case. Everyone just wants to get things over and done with. Studio lights are blasted at 1:1 ratio to eliminate as much shadows as possible.

In the last few weeks, I've learnt how it feels to be a factory line photographer. Its not the most glamourous job. A lot of it involves repetitive, manual labour, but someone has to do it to earn a living. I haven't touched my own camera in ages and just go out for some street shoots to sharpen the mind. After I get back from work, I hardly have enough energy to be creative with my photography, and I just wind down and prepare my body for a next day of hard work.

The lack of opportunity to sharpen my photographic vision worries me a little. As Kirk says, you have to get wet if you want to learn to swim.



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