Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life ain't all about cameras

I'll let the music video and article by Kenny Gan speak for themselves

she’s all layed up in bed with a broken heart
while i’m drinking Jack all alone in my local bar
and we don’t know how
how we got into this mad situation,
only doing things out of frustration
trying to make things work,
but man these times are hard
she needs me now but i cant seem to find the time
i got a new job now on the unemployment line
and we don’t know how
how we got into this mess is a god’s test,
someone help us cos where doing our best
trying to make things work,
but man these times are hard
but we are gonna stop by drinking all cheap bottles of wine
sit talking up all night,
saying things we haven’t for a while
a while yeah
your smiling but where close to tears,
even after all these years
we just now got the feeling that where meeting
for the first time

shes in line at the door with her head held high
well i just lost my job, but didn’t lose my pride
and we both know how
how we are gonna make it work when it hurts,
when you you pick up yourself up you get kicked to the dirt
trying to make things work,
but man these times are hard
but we are gonna stop by drinking all cheap bottles of wine
sit talking up all night,
doing things we havent for a while
a while yeah
your smiling but where close to tears,
even after all these years
we just now got the feeling that where meeting
for the first time

yeah thinking all cheap bottles of wine
sit talking up all night,
doing things we havent for a while
courtesy OriginaLyric.Info
smiling but where close to tears,
even after all these years
we just now got the feeling that where meeting
for the first time

I started working as a young graduate electrical engineer in 1983 in an engineering firm in Kuala Lumpur. My starting salary was RM1200 which was pretty typical in those days. This may not seem much now but mixed rice was less than RM2.00 with Chinese tea and petrol was RM1.00 a litre. After 6 months and an increment under my belt I plonked down for set of wheels; a cute little Toyota Corolla which I paid off in 3 years. Two years later I put down the deposit for a double storey terrace house in a thriving suburb near the capital.

Fast forward to the present and it would be very hard for any graduate to follow my act without substantial help from their parents. No, I wasn’t from the privileged class and I didn’t get a leg-up from my parents, save for the education they gave me. Present day graduates start their working life at RM1800 to RM2000 a month, not a lot of difference from 25 years ago but prices of everything have tripled and quadrupled. A hawker meal now cost RM5 (drinks extra), prices of cars and houses have grossly outpaced income and there are new expenses like toll, hand phones, Astro and internet. Our ringgit has depreciated against foreign currencies making consumer goods and overseas travel more expensive. To put it simply, real income has declined.

Today we find that graduates have to ride motorbikes if their parents do not help them buy a car. A car loan has to be stretched to 8 or 9 years just for a basic family car. The middle class is burdened by high car loans which they have little choice due to the stunted public transport. We find couples who are both working graduates lamenting that they cannot find any house within their means. Many of them have to get help from their parents to pay the house deposit. Unfortunately they will have nothing to give a helping hand to their children in future.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I'll be home soon in less than two weeks.

Its a good thing. I miss my home very much. I've been away for about two months, and some housekeeping needs to be done. Lets hope everything goes well.

Wish me luck.

I wanna take you with me
to life with no more yesterdays
we can start again awake and so excited
and change the way we always push
we always push

I'll open up and be your parachute
and I'll never let you down
so open up and be my human angel
and we'll only hit the ground

and when the world gets sharp and tries to cut you down to size
and makes you feel like giving in
oh, I will stay, I will rain, I will wash the words and pain away
and I will chase away the way we push
the way we pull
you're beautiful

I'll open up and be your parachute
and I'll never let you down
so open up and be my human angel
and we'll only hit the ground

and if it feels like we might drop
it will stop
so don't look down
it wouldn't be the same without you
this life is too good to give up on

I'll open up and be your parachute
and I'll never let you down
so open up and be my human angel
and we'll only hit the ground
and we're gonna hit the ground

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I loved my Olympus E-3 very much. It was a gem and it performed according to expectations.

I started off with Olympus because I wanted to be different from the rest of the others who were on Canon or Nikon. I still take out the trusty E-510 once in a while when I feel like reliving my past when things were much simpler with a beginners camera.

I got Kim (my E-3) through ebay from an owner who used it in the states. I loved the extremely vibrant and natural colours that the Truepic III image processor produced, especially for portraits and landscapes. It didn't have art filters, but I think it doesn't really matter that much. (My favorite was black and white, but more often than not, it blew out the highlights and severely limited the depth and tonality of the resultant image.) The swiveling LCD screen was also a nifty idea, enabling me to easily compose shots with live view, although it only had a 230k resolution screen. The body feels well built and solid, and it is a very immersive experience to hold an E-3 with the HLD-4 battery grip and the GS-2 handgrip. No worries about the solid build quality and weathersealing. I've brought it out in the rain before, and it works flawlessly. As advertised, it should perform well in adverse conditions. Image stabilisation works well, and you can get relatively sharp images (handheld) at 1/10s and below. Any issues changing lenses? No worries, the SSWF (supersonic wave filter is your ultimate dust buster.

When the E-3 is fitted with the Zuiko armada (namely the 7-14, 14-35 and 35-100), it produced glorious images straight out of camera, and I truly attest to this fact. The images were sharp from edge to edge, and well detailed at low ISOs (using good quality image sizes of course, namely large JPG or ORF). It was relatively quick to focus albeit Olympus only claims its the fastest focusing system in the world with the 12-60SWD. Focusing accuracy is a separate issue though.

So the Olympus faithful have been eagerly waiting for a replacement E-3 model. Ok.. Eagerly is an understatement. Let me rephrase - Extremely desperate... Yes that sounds better. During its heydays, the E-3 was up against the 40D and the D300, which are still very capable and sought after camera models in their own right even today. As time passed, the pond got gradually more crowded with better and more capable cameras, such as the Pentax K-7, Canon 7D and the Nikon D300s.

 I was intially excited when Olympus announced the launch of the E-5 yesterday. My colleagues were talking about it (My boss monitors Dpreview every day), and I did hear the faint mention of the word "Olympus", but it slipped off my mind not too long after that. So here you go.. the Olympus E-5.

OK... from the front , both look indistinguishable (like the Nikon D3 and Nikon D3s, for example). The more obvious changes are from the back, where the 2.7" 230k dot screen is replaced with a spanking new 3" 920k screen which puts it on par with other competitors.

From the back, some buttons have been rearranged because of the newer and larger LCD screen. Now the buttons look small and as if they're competing for space with the screen. I still miss the controls of the E-3, I guess.

The E-5 sports a new 12.3 MP sensor which maximises detail and reduces noise through the True Pic V+ processor. Yes, I believe detail has been increased, but noise is still noticeable even at base ISO 200, especially in the shadow areas. The new 3" 921k screen is a welcome, but due to the increased power consumption, they also had to revamp their battery technology, which I still suspect is behind Nikon's and Canon's. I admire the concept of a CF / SD card for more image back up security (they should have abandoned the XD technology a long while ago).

In my opinion, the release of the E-5 this time is very muted. This could very well be the last of iteration of the Olympus flagship model which began with the Olympus E-1 which was then superseded by the E-3. Perhaps I'm dreaming that Olympus would come up with something really novel, something that would tantalize our senses and set them apart from other manufacturers.

But we have to be realistic. The fourthirds sensor, being the smallest existing DSLR sensor format has some rather limiting factors that inhibit its growth. It's low light / high ISO performance isn't on par with the D300s and the 7D, for example. It's dynamic range isn't very good too, and you wouldn't be able to get too much detail even by processing the Olympus RAW files as compared to other models which allow you to recover one stop worth of blown out highlights, for example. Canon has taken it a step further by introducing the 'highlight tone priority' feature, which expands the dynamic range from 7 stops to 8 +2/3 stops whilst retaining the highlights and boosting brightness in the shadow areas.

The metering wasn't very reliable too. The camera tends to underexpose, especially in bright light. When this happens, I switch to manual mode to make the exposure constant, especially if I'm shooting jpegs. This works well if the light doesn't change too much. Focusing in low light is a bit of a challenge too. If there isn't enough contrast, the camera refuses to focus at all.

Yes, 5fps is relatively 'fast' for sports and action photography, but with other manufacturers taking it further to 8fps (with the 7D for example), I for once do wish that the camera wouldn't be capped at that speed. If it could be upgraded to 8fps with the battery pack (such as the d700), that would be a really nice addition. For serious sports and nature photography, one would like to capture as many frames as possible, and pick the best one. If full frame cameras can do 10fps, shouldn't Olympus with a smaller sensor and shutter unit be able to to do so with less problems, while at the same time boast a 150k shutter life?

The art filters are pretty nifty. Yes, i guess they make the camera cooler with regards to its features, but I just can't get out of my mind that the art filters make the camera look amateurish in some way or another.

I've heard somewhere that some people really like Olympus lenses, but their camera bodies 'aren't quite there yet'. I'm afraid this would be the same scenario. With plunging full frame DSLR prices (the 5DII and D700 have a retail price of about RM 6k body only, Olympus will be in very tight spot to compete with its competitors.

Do I have to wait for my dream to materialize? Nope, not really.

The D3 is big and beautiful. With the vertical grip infused into the camera body, it offers superior grip and a great shooting experience, alongside the large viewfinder and the ergonomically placed buttons. There are a whole host of lenses to play with, such as this beautiful 85/1.4D or the ridiculously affordable but sharp 50/1.8. Any issues in low light? Nope.. almost none at all. It focuses quickly and accurately, and the high noise capabilities enable iso 6400 to be used straight out of camera without requiring noise reduction techniques in post processing. The anti-aliasing filter is pretty light so the files are really packed with detail, especially if you examine the NEF files. Yes, Olympus is claiming the E-5 is equipped with  "fine detail processing" to maximise image quality at higher ISOs, but I think N and C got the basics right quite some time ago.

I like the D3, but I don't love it. Where are the accurate natural colours, true-to-life skin tones and brilliant blue skies? Where's the image stabilisation that enables ridiculous hand holdable shutter speeds?

Olympus did pioneer many things in the DSLR market, and I tip my hat to them for their inventiveness. But now, every camera has similar features. Canon even had the cheek to blatantly copy almost all the features from the E-system into their new 60D, such as the vari angle 3" LCD, creative image filters, aspect ratios, etc. I bet the engineers in Olympus Tokyo have been crying blue murder ever since the 60D was officially announced.

I guess I'm not the only one being disappointed here. I reckon other faithful E-users around the world are thinking the same thing. Nikon bombarded dpreview today with announcements of their D7000, 35mm/f1.4G, 200mm / f2G and sb700 flash, causing the news of the Olympus E-5 release the day before to disappear into oblivion. Any news of new fourthirds lenses, flashes, or accessories compared to the announcement of its predecessor, the Olympus E-3? Practically none.

The future of the E-system looks bleak. Perhaps one day it will disappear altogether. But you know, I will always keep my Olympus cameras. As I look back upon them, I can say that I appreciate my Olympus pedigree, and it has made me the photographer that I am today. Thank you Olympus.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shooting for myself

It's been quite some time that I've done some street shooting. And as a result of that, my photographic vision has seemed to be a bit dull recently. I needed something to jump start it again, hence I went for a short street shooting session with Robin on Hari Raya.

When I reached Kota Raya (near Pasar Seni), there was a whole mass of foreigners, mostly from Bangladesh and Myanmar. For a moment, I was pretty stunned and wonder where did all these folks come from in the first place. No need to talk about 1 Malaysia - there were not even any Malaysians in sight!

It was really crowded and hence taking a photo was a bit more challenging than usual. Nonetheless we persevered and continued shooting away.

I haven't seen anyone chewing on betel leaves recently, but it seemed pretty common when we were walking around.

Fancy a cheap flight to Dhaka, anyone?

We walked by pasar seni, and everything was eerily quiet. Most of the shops were closed.

Business was going on as usual in Petaling Street.

Hari Raya flowers, anyone?

This Indian temple has been recently repainted. It stands alone in stark contrast to its more 'contemporary' (aka. boring) neighbours.

1 Malaysia.... Oh really ?  :s

We passed by this interesting looking temple and decided to explore it a little further.

You can supposedly light up a spiral shaped incense and make a wish after that.

The old temple caretaker maintaining the oil lamps.

Paid a visit to the Nikon center again to try out the new Nikon 85/1.4 G. Other than the inclusion of Nano coating, a silent wave motor and a redesigned G chassis, nothing much has changed. It's price has also increased to become over RM 5,000 like the 24/1.4G. Ouch! = ="

At f/1.4, its really sharp at the centers, yet retains it's dreamy bokeh-licious look due to the thin depth of field.

A candid portrait of Robin, who loves compact cameras. Note the point of focus is on his spectacle frame, not his eyes.

The 85G focuses slightly faster and quieter than its predecessor. But is it worth the price increase? I'll leave that up for you to decide.

The new full frame superzoom - the Nikon 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR seems to be pretty versatile, but its not sharp when used wide open, such as this 28mm/3.5 shot. Would you pay a thosand dollars for a lens thats only 'okay'?

It has a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:3.2, which isn't bad at all.

Shooting someone across the room at 300mm. Although the fluorescent lighting was decent, I still had to bump up the ISO to 6400. I was also careful to limit the shutter speed to 1/40, because even if I was holding my breath as I triggered the shutter, my subject would still move a little and make the image unsharp.

For dinner, I had some roast duck rice. It's really expensive to have duck rice in KL, at RM10+ per pax.

I hope you guys enjoyed your raya holidays too. Cheerio!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ramadhan pasar malam

I faintly remember my first experience of going to a Ramadhan pasar malam about 7 years ago when I was in Shah Alam doing my pre university course. It was a new experience for me seeing hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of foods to cater for Muslims who break fast daily.

Of course, several stalls sell the same dishes and are similarly priced. It's up to personal preference for which stall you'd like to buy your dinner from in the end.

Most of the dishes are freshly made on the spot (eg. fried chicken), but others such as the Nasi campur (mix rice) dishes are brought from home. I wonder how must it feel for a cook to see such tasty food in front of him while he / she is fasting.

Drinks are cheap, usually about RM 1 a packet. You can see some fresh sugar cane juice at the right corner of the table.

I haven't eaten curry puffs in a while. Perhaps I should start tasting a few soon.

Glutinous rice cooked in banana leaves over a charcoal grill. Great stuff.

Roti John. It's a long piece of bread, fried and then layered with mayonaisse, vegetables and slices of meat.

Pahang durians. Not that I've ever tried one before, but I wish I did, I guess.

Before I sign off, I'd like to wish all my Muslim readers a very happy 'Selamat Hari Raya'.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Food in PJ

Malaysians and food are an inseparable lot. Wherever you go, local cafes and restaurants are found in abundance.

I visited this yong tau foo shop a while back on Independence day (31 August) in Taman Paramount. They serve exquisite yong tau foo with a host of other selections, such as this Oyster Porridge.

You basically just go to the counter and choose which yong tau fu you'd like ranging from vegetables (large chillies, egg plants, ladies fingers) to crispy wonton skins. After you've made your selection, they'll pour some hot soup onto the plate to warm it up.

At other yong tau foo outlets I've tried so far, there is a slight chemical smell and starchy taste to the fishballs. over here, all the food is made fresh daily, so kudos to them.

You can have the yong tau foo on its own, or have it with some fried noodles as I've done here.

Would I return? Definitely!

Choong Kee Kampar Claypot Chicken Rice is also one place not to be missed. It's at 80 Jalan SS 22/25 Damansara Jaya, 47400 Petaling Jaya.

I ordered the large chicken claypot rice. It's basically chicken marinated in soy sauce, served on top of rice with some spring onions. The large portion is RM 13, while the small one is RM 7. There are additional charges for chinese sausage (lap cheong) and salted fish. I'm not a big fan of them anyway, hence I skipped those options.

There are also some other dishes you can order on the side, such as ginseng with kampung chicken and lotus root with pork rib for RM 5.

Would I return? Yes!

Not far from where I work is Teow Chew Meng restaurant, which serves delicious hakka soup dishes with seafood. Personally, I'm not a big fan, of soupy dishes, but this one got my attention. The sharkfin soup noodles is definitely worth a try. 

The kueh tiaw with seafood soup is also good, but I guess it lacks the rich taste of the previous dish.

Looks like this place has been visited by the Star newspaper several times, hence it has already earned quite a reputation.

The restaurant has a clean but utilitarian interior similar to most Chinese restaurants in Malaysia.

Yep, we finished the whole bowl. Yummy!

I've visited Roast and Toast before, but this time we returned for a quick 15 minute breakfast. As always, the char siew pork is deliciousy crispy and sweet on the outside, and it's tender too.

If you're impressed with the pork, you can order an additional side portion for RM 6.

My brother had the hakka noodles. Kinda reminds me of kolo mee back in Kuching. I wish they made their char siew this elegant back home.

Hope you've enjoyed the pics folks. Hope I didn't make you drool on your keyboards. 



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