Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do you believe ?

Call it as you like but bazi consultations or a feng shui audit are here to stay, especially for businessmen and the social elite. (Its been in Chinese culture for thousands of years anyway) Otherwise Lilian Too and Joey Yap will be out of a job. I received a healthy dose of this knowledge from a two hour meeting which I was assigned to shoot today in Sime Darby Center in Mont Kiara.

Its interesting to note that some claim that our destiny can be designed, even when we are created by God. The speaker proved this by doing a feng shui analysis of several prominent business figures such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Some local politicians were also included.

The speaker dipped his toes into feng shui when he found out that geomancy consultants are very expensive. Top practitioners can earn RM 1600 per half hour, while their subordinates charge RM 600 / half hour ! Anyone fancying a RM 20k per day job now ? ;)

Do I believe ? I'm still a skeptic I guess. But what happens when some one whom you don't know at all can predict your character and your entire future (eg. your most lucky / unlucky years, character, bad fortune) from the date of your birth alone ? I don't know. But when you listen to talks like this, you have two options. 1. Ignorance is bliss, so you can go on and live the rest of your life without knowing why certain things happen to you. 2. Take the advice with a pinch of salt, and act upon it and use it as a reference for your personal and business life.

The risk of doing a feng shui consultation for someone is that you can fall into stereotyping. For example, you can choose to employ or dismiss an employee purely based on their date of birth. And if that happens, your resume and certificates can be irrelevant, whether or not you are totally qualified for the job. Its a scary thought but there is no doubt some politicians and entrepreneurs are using this everyday, eg. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Donald Trump. Some public listed companies such as Coca Cola have been using feng shui principles in their office and have reported an increase in sales, profits, and employee efficiency.

Malaysian politicans are also notorious for using feng shui to predict what will happen for the next general elections, who will be the next party president, etc. Some even have their own personal counsellors and they're paid very well. It's ironic that they're using this knowledge when some groups are incensed that feng shui goes against the very religious principles that they currently practice.

Feng shui is very "low key" and doesn't make any exaggerations or claims to prove its powers. However the unusual accuracy of feng shui predictions continues to surprise many. Of course, the decision to act upon it depends entirely on you. Do you believe in it? Do share your stories by commenting below. Thanks !

KL Bird Park revisited

It was a lovely, sunny Friday afternoon. I had just gone through a rather painful visit to the dentist, hence my teeth were hurting a little. Nonetheless, I decided to make good use of the rest of the afternoon by visiting the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park.

The last time I recall visiting the Bird Park was about 6 years ago. The park hasn't changed much (the underutilized parts of the park look shabby as usual, but the ticket price has gone up a fair bit. Its now RM 25 per Malaysian adult (or RM 48 for foreigners). With RM 25, I can have a comfortable dinner for two at the local Chinese stall. Oh well, there's a price to pay for everything I guess.

I brought along the aged Olympus E-3 with the versatile Zuiko 50-200 SWD lens. I used Large Fine JPEG files instead of RAW because the camera does a good job with the white balance and colours. I also boosted sharpness +1 so that I didn't need to add sharpness during post processing.

The 50-200 SWD lens is spectacular. With a usable, hand holdable range of 100-400mm due to the 2.0x crop factor, I was able to zoom in right on the birds and capture every exquisite detail. The autofocus was snappy, albeit not accurate at all times. The birds were moving very rapidly, and I had to make the best of my skills to shoot them when they were relatively stationary.

Although the 43rds sensor is smaller than full frame ones, it was quite difficult to get accurate focus at its maximum zoom length (400mm) because the depth of field is only several centimeters across.

Around 330pm, there was a bird show at the amphitheater. No doubt, since the shows are run twice daily, both trainers and birds are very well versed with what they were supposed to do.

This macaw, smarty has the ability to add numbers, as long as both numbers don't exceed the sum of 15. He answers by ringing the bell.

This is a very hungry looking ostrich. I fed it some stale vegetables, which it gobbled down its throat gleefully.

I returned to the parrot enclosure after the show. It seems like these bird's love to be photographed. How intriguing !

Birds of the same feather flock together.

The keeper placed papayas on the tree branches for the birds to feed on. It was an exciting scene to behold.

Monkeys were aplenty, scurrying through litter at the bird park for their food.

There's a story about this hornbill. I saw it perching above a cage, while another friend was on the ground, holding a fruit in its beak. It was trying to feed the fruit through a hole to another hornbill in the cage. It was very touching to see the hornbills caring for each other., sometimes even better than how we humans do it.

This bird is very common in the park. Its not so pretty, but I shot it anyway.

Peacocks were in abundance. Its just that the tail feathers of the males were all broken and not so vibrant. Perhaps its because they drag it along the floor too much.

I'm fishing for my dinner.

Its a pity that the flamingos in the park aren't as vibrantly coloured as those that we see on Animal Planet.

A limitation with the E-3 is that it still doesn't perform very well in low light if you have to boost the ISO, unlike other full frame cameras. I could get an E-5 to solve the issue, but whats the point if Olympus isn't developing the E-system anymore since I have invested so much in it ?

Although I have moved on from my E-3, I still miss it from time to time. Its like an ex-girlfriend. I know she's around, but I don't know her as well as I used to because I don't catch up with her everyday anymore. Quite sad, ain't it so ? That's life, I guess.

Cheers, and good night.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pentax 645D first impressions

I was acquainted with Pentax cameras in Melbourne by an ex-housemate who was really into them. He had a K 10 and a nice selection of Pentax limited edition lenses. I used to take his K10 out and do photowalks with his sublime 50mm / 1.4 and 77/1.7 limited prime lenses. Unfortunately after I returned to Malaysia, I didn't really have the chance to play with  other Pentax cameras. But opportunities arise when you least expect it. Recently I had the chance to try out Pentax's first digital medium format camera -  the Pentax 645D.

This beast incorporates a 40 MP Kodak CCD sensor which is approximately 1.7 times larger than a 35mm sensor. The Prime II image sensor ensures high speed data processing capabilities for the super high quality images produced by the camera's sensor.

For starters, this camera is big and weighs as much as two bricks, so you better have strong hands to support it (with a battery and two CF cards inserted, it weighs a bone-crushing 1.48 kilos sans lens). It's also very well crafted and has the weather sealing capability of its siblings, the K-5 and K-10.

The lens which is attatched to the camera is the Pentax-D 55mm F2.8 SDM AW prime lens which is equivalent to a 43mm lens on a full frame camera. There are numerous used pentax 645D lenses which can be had for bargain prices if you look hard enough on the internet.

There's a hot shoe to mount regular flashes, but I reckon only Pentax flash guns will give you TTL capabilities.

From this angle, you can see that the 645D has two tripod mounts; one on the side and one from the bottom. its very useful I must say, especially if you're mounting your camera portrait-wise on a tripod. To the right is the compartment for dual SD cards (essential for the insanely large 50mb DNG files) and a HDMI port.

From the rear, the controls of this camera are quite intuitive, much like an SLR. Each button performs one function, and you can also customize it through the camera's menu. There's also a top LCD panel which contains all the essential information of your shooting settings.

Speaking of the camera's menu, I was dumbfounded by its sheer complexity. Perhaps I've been too accustomed to the controls on my Nikon and Olympus cameras.

Another issue for me was the relatively microscopic viewfinder compared the the camera's mass. Because of that it was challenging for me to ascertain if my images were truly sharp, or if I focused at the right area. I was informed there was a viewfinder magnifier to solve the issue.

The deep hand grip conceals the rechargable lithium ion D-LI90 battery, which is the same little battery used by the K-7. With the larger sized sensor and faster data transfer, this camera will only be able to shoot a few hundred frames. Better pack a spare battery just in case ;)

In aesthetics, the 645D isn't the most sexy looking camera, but its functional (form follows function - robert venturi).

So how does the 645D perform in real life, you might ask?

This is a typical high contrast scene in front of my shop on a good sunny day in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. If you used a camera with a smaller sensor (eg. handphone or compact camera) all the details would've disappeared. The shadows would be clipped and the highlights would have been completely washed out.

But this is not the case with the 645D. The higher quality pixels produce plenty of micro detail in the highlights and shadows. Better colour rendition can be observed because there are more gradation of each colour and more shades of grey.

You have the blow up the image on your computer screen at 1:1 to appreciate the full details. Even from this small crop, you can easily see the handphone number on the electric pole for a 'lori sewa'.

I shot this candid portrait of a friend indoors. Due to the lower light levels, I boosted the ISO of this camera to 1000. The image of course suffers some degradation, but it was not as bad as I expected. Of course if you afford this camera, you would use it for studio or landscape purposes at low ISOs for maximum image quality.

Some might ask, whats the difference of a 40 MP medium format camera when you can easily obtain  36 MP on a D800 full camera. Well, the difference is in the micro details and the ease of photo shopping the jpeg files from the 645D as compared to a 21 MP 5D Mark II, for example.

I touch up client's faces everyday due to the nature of my work. So I ran a quick test by shooting a passport photo of my colleague and attempting to touch up the jpeg file in Photoshop CS 4. To my surprise, I found that I could clone stamp the 645D's jpeg much easier than the 5D Mark II's, and the results are more natural. The detail and gradation 5D mk II jpegs are quite harsh, making it a little more challenging to photoshop.

This is another sample image shot in shady conditions. The resultant image looks more 'life like' due to the abundance of micro detail, tonal gradation, and dynamic range. Frankly, you could produce life sized prints of your subjects with this much of detail if you had a printer that large !

One gripe that I have about this camera is its autofocus. It will not be on par with your basic entry level DSLR. And with the extremely limited depth of field, you have to be really careful with what you're intending to focus on. I had several blur images more than I'd like to when I was using the 645D (which I could only observe properly when I viewed the images on my computer). And with the high megapixels , you'd better be using a higher shutter speed (at least 1/160s) for sharp images if you're hand holding the 645D !

At present, you may purchase the 645D with the 55 mm lens for RM 37,888. They'll even throw in a bag, 32 gb SD card and an extra battery for free. Its one of the cheapest entries into medium format territory. In contrast , a top-of-the-range Hasselblad medium format camera costs at least RM 100,000 sans lens!

Some may ask if this camera is a good buy. Unfortunately the answer is not that simple. If you're doing heaps of commercial work which requires high megapixels and micro detail, this camera might be for you. But if your clients aren't paying that much for your services, a cheaper alternative such as an APS-C camera will suffice, and will make much more economic sense.

I hope you've enjoyed this short first impressions review. If you're reading this and you're a sales person from Pentax Malaysia, I hope I can have another opportunity to review this spectacular camera =)


Monday, February 13, 2012

Putrajaya Night Photography with PEN lovers

Hi, its been a while ! Please let me update you with whats been going on. Incidentally, this is also my first post for the year 2012. I've been hanging out with the PEN lovers for 2 TT sessions already. They're a great friendly bunch to hang out with. One day, I noticed that they had a Putrajaya night shooting session on February 11th, so I immediately took the opportunity to join in.

The first meeting point was at the Putrajaya lakeside near Pullman Hotel. You can see sifu Blu taking out his panorama kit.

Inadvertently, the main discussion topic always relates back to camera gear.

We had to wait for a while for twilight to occur. Since Malaysia is quite near the Equator, its unfortunate that our twilight period is very brief, unlike Melbourne for example.

This short period of time provides the optimum conditions for twilight photography. Wait any longer and you get a pitch black sky, which doesn't look very attractive :s

I brought along the Olympus E-3 and the 50-200 SWD lens, but the slight wind induced some camera shake. Knowing this, I just stuck to my Nikon instead.

The Putrajaya International Conventional Center, which is sadly vacant most of the time.

The beautiful Wawasan Bridge from a distance.

A beautiful view from Wawasan Bridge. From this viewpoint, you can actually see 3 bridges. One was never completed, that's why its not lit up.

That's all folks. Hope you like the pictures. Stay tuned !


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