Sunday, November 14, 2010

Samsung EX1 advanced compact camera (first impressions)

See also: Samsung EX1 Night Shots

Been planning to buy this camera since I first heard about it. Equipped with a Schneider-KREUZNACH 24mm – 72mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 – f/2.4 lens, the EX1 has the fastest, brightest lens on a compact camera in the market right now. I read several reviews and viewed some full-sized sample photos and was quite impressed with what I saw. Then just this week my bro showed up with a brand spanking new EX1! So now I have the actual camera to play with. :)

I won’t be doing a review as there are already excellent full-length reviews on the internet. I’ll be taking this camera with me on short outings for the next few days and see what it can do for me and my style of shooting.

Here’s the EX1, also known as the TL500 in some countries. Owners of the Panasonic LX3 will immediately notice the similarities. The design does borrow heavily from the Lumix, in fact, if you view the name “EX1” printed on the top of the Samsung from the front, it reads as “LX3” LOL.

Is that an EX1 or an LX3? ;)

It’s quite a big compact camera, a little too large to fit into a trouser pocket without being too conspicuous. People might think you’re too happy to see them! :) I walked around town today with the camera slipped into my jeans pocket and attracted stares from passers-by and people sitting in a kopitiam (cafe). At about 350 grams with memory card and battery, it also feels quite heavy.

From the moment I picked it up I knew it’s a well built camera. Reassuringly heavy, it’s mostly metal with a comfortable grip on the front.

First impressions
So far, I find plenty to like about the camera but there are also some minor complaints. I like the superbly bright Schneider-KREUZNACH lens which allows me to take photos of my orchids in the dark, shady orchid house without upping the ISO. However, the maximum shutter speed of 1/1500s also means I can’t use the largest aperture when taking macro photos in bright sunny conditions without burnt-out highlights.

Granted, the small sensor (1/1.7” type) means the bokeh effect at f/1.8 can no way be compared to that produced by a capable dslr with a macro lens, it’s still nice to be able to shoot at f/1.8 to get the shallowest depth of field. But that’s only a minor quibble as I often shoot in very dark conditions such as in the jungle while trekking and seldom take macro shots in bright daylight.

The 3” AMOLED articulating LCD displays photos beautifully. The downside is, what you see is not what you get. Colors are wonderfully vibrant on the little screen but once downloaded and viewed on a computer screen, often are much duller or subdued. For example, shots taken using the Smart-Image (fully automatic) mode appear vivid and beautiful on the AMOLED screen but they are quite flat in reality.

Which brings me to another minor complaint, vivid color or any of the other color settings are not available in Smart-Image mode. In fact, SI mode is truly an all-automatic mode with the only available option being image size. Not a big deal for me since I always shoot in either P or A modes only.

Will have to use the camera more to have any idea how the battery life is like but Samsung quotes 270 shots in the electronic manual which is average for a compact shooter. Without the need to use flash in most conditions I find myself in (given the bright lens), I think I should be able to coax at least 400 shots out of a fully charged battery.

The EX1 has four dials! Two to change shooting modes and two more to change values. The finger wheel on the front panel provides a quick and easy way to change exposure compensation values by simply clicking it then rolling it. The dial on the back panel is like the one on the Canon S90 but much nicer as it clicks into place reassuringly when changing values. The S90’s back dial is just too loose.

The lens cap may be bothersome to some but I am already using a lens cap attached with a piece of string on my slr (to avoid losing it!) so it’s not a big deal to me. There are auto-open-shut lens caps made for this model available for sale on ebay for those interested. Be careful not to accidentally touch the big lens on the front however. I have lost count how many times I’ve had to wipe the lens with lens cleaning solution and lens paper to get rid of greasy finger prints. I am now much more careful but today, I handed the camera to someone and it came back with smudges on the lens.

More photos
These aren’t full sized shots, but they give you an idea of what the camera is capable of. The only editing done is a bit of cropping and of course, watermarking. All were shot in P mode, sunny white balance, -0.3 EV, super-fine file quality then exported in picasa (normal quality, web size).




I’m very impressed with the lens sharpness! My line is too slow to upload full sized photos but do head to any of the reputable review sites like dpreview or user forums and download some unedited samples and see for yourself what this camera can do.



The EX1 has managed to reproduce the colors of this hybrid cattleya quite well.

Smart Range
The EX1 has an option called Smart Range buried in the menus. When turned on, the camera takes a couple of pictures at different exposure values and then combines them to make one picture with increased dynamic range. In high contrast scenes, it works quite well. Look at these two photos. The first was shot with SR turned off.

SR off.

SR on.

Will post more entries about this camera from time to time. Taking it on a hiking trip in a few days’ time.

See also: Samsung EX1 Night Shots (Kuching Waterfront at night)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pangium edule




Pangium edule, locally known as buah kepayang. The fruits are poisonous as they contain hydrocyanic acids. But look at the fruits in this photo...




I wonder what could have eaten them? squirrels? bats?




Kepayang is a tall tree that can reach about 30 or more meters high. The fruiting tree in the above photos is about 35-40 meters by my estimate. Even though the fruits and seeds are poisonous, when prepared properly, the seeds are actually quite tasty. See my old blog entry here:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Habenaria alagense

I have one plant of this unique species which produces a single two to three foot long inflorescence full of flowers. I noticed that the flowers give off a light fragrance at night but have no smell in the day. I wonder if its natural pollinator is a type of moth active only at night?
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fries that won’t rot

I am sure by now most of you have heard and seen pictures of a McDonald’s Happy Meal that won’t rot. Well, I thought it was probably because of low humidity. Anyway, not prepared to waste money on an entire Happy Meal, I bought some fries from McD and left them out on a shelf. Humidity is quite high, high enough for mold to grow on the shelf if I don’t wipe and clean it now and then. 5 days in and the fries had shrunken a bit and smelled of stale vegetable oil. But still no mold. I then bought some fries from KFC to compare, left that out in the open also. Here’s how they look like now:


McDonalds and KFC fries

See for yourself! Compare that to the 5 day old KFC fries which I also left on a shelf, the KFC fries have gone moldy. Yuck. McD fries on the left, 14 days old, no mold. KFC fries on the right, 5 days old, positively yucky.


Obviously not a scientific experiment. I just left them out to see what would happen. Make your own conclusions or try it yourself!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tree ferns in the shade house



discovered a few more baby tree ferns (Cyathea species) in the shade house this morning. yippee! they grew on their own, must be from spores from the older tree. Sadly, the older plant is dying but its trunk has only reached a foot high and I don't know what's wrong with it. the leaf fronds just keep browning and drying up.


pictured here is one of the bigger ones, there's also a small one in the top left corner which i will have to carefully shift to a brighter spot.




tree ferns are large, beautiful ferns that can reach heights of several meters. they add a lot of beauty to a simple orchid shade house. i'll try my best to make sure every one them survive. if anyone knows why my big one is dying (new fronds brown and dry up within two or three weeks), please drop me a note!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ba’kelalan dream

I often get a little sentimental when a wonderful holiday draws to a close. The 6 days we spent in the Kelabit highlands were most memorable. I remember my time there as vividly as it was yesterday...


I hope I can get around to posting more photos taken during my trip. For now, here’s one taken on the flight back to Kuching…




As our little plane entered the Kuching airspace and began to descend, the sun too bade goodbye and slowly sunk out of sight in the west, bathing the eastern horizon in a surreal, warm glow. The bright white tops of the distant clouds too, slowly turned gray and dark from the bottom up like a stage curtain drawn at the end of a play, only upside down!


Bakelalan and Mt Murud had left lasting memories. As did Lambir, Niah and all the wonderful people we met.


Upon touch down, i knew it was time to wake up, the dream had come to an end. But i shall be lulled to sleep again soon, to dream with the beautiful Lunbawangs, the golden rice paddies, the fresh mountain air and all the natural beauty that made me appreciate just how lucky i am to live on this land, my home called Borneo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stir fried Arundina graminifolia (bamboo orchid)!

One of the most unusual dishes I had while visiting Pulong Tau National Park (Mount Murud) was stir-fried orchid flowers! Our guides collected young shoots and flowers of Arundina gaminifolia (bamboo orchid) that were growing abundantly along the logging tracks as we made our way to our first camp.



Bamboo orchid flowers collected by our guides. This would be one of the dishes at dinner!



The highland variety found here are much paler than the common lowland variety found in Kuching. The lip has much less purple and more pink with thick, white petals. Arundina graminifolia is an easily grown species which quickly colonizes open, disturbed areas with good drainage.



All cleaned and ready to be stir fried over a wood fire!



And here are the stir-fried flowers! They taste quite bitter, reminded me very much of bitter gourd leaves which I often take raw as a natural health food. Since I’m used to bitter gourd, I was able to eat a few spoonfuls of this. The locals take this flower to control high blood pressure. I suppose it could be good for controlling high blood sugar problems as well. You know what they say, most things that are good for you are often bitter.


Anyway, when I got back from Ba’kelalan, I was determined to try this dish with my own Arundina flowers. I have a few Arundina bushes of the lowland variety. This lowland variety found in Kuching have short lived flowers that last only a day but new ones bloom daily so the bushes are never ever out of flowers. Read on…



Here are some flowers I collected for my little “experiment” ha! These flowers have more purple and are more fragile (thinner, softer petals) compared to the highland variety we had for dinner in the highlands.



Into the frying pan for a quick stir fry with a bit of oil, garlic and salt obtained from the natural salt springs of Ba’kelalan.



Voila! the taste? let’s just say this will be my first and last attempt at recreating the dish we had in the highlands! LOL Perhaps it’s cause they are different varieties (or maybe we were just real hungry after a long trek in the mountains), but these left a really horrid bitter aftertaste that lingered even after I ate lots of sweet stuff to get rid of it. The flowers themselves aren’t that bitter when you first eat them, it’s the aftertaste that made me nauseous! So folks, don’t try this at home! hahaha

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ba’kalalan, bawang dotaga!


Ba’kalalan panorama. Click on picture for larger size


Bawang dotaga, “beautiful place” in the language of the Lunbawang, the people of Ba’kalalan. I suppose the name Lun Bawang also means beautiful people? And indeed they are! Beautiful, friendly and generous with smiles.


Prior to my recent visit to the Bakalalan, I had never been anywhere near the Sarawak highlands before. I had never even been to Miri except on a flight transit and that hardly counts! I spent 2 nights in Bakalalan and 3 nights in the mountains, hiking up Sarawak’s tallest mountain, Mount Murud (about 7900 ft above sea level).


On the first day in this beautiful highland village, we hiked up a small hill to get a bird’s eye view of some of the 9 villages that make up the Bakelalan community. Then, in the evening, I went for a walk and snapped some photos of the paddy fields. Kids at the nearby SK Ba’kalalan just got out from an evening class and greeted me in English, "Good Afternoon!" Some asked where I was going and some were taking photos of each other. Apparently, there was a photo workshop earlier at their school and a major photo company had sponsored some out-of-production cameras, given to the kids for free.


I was pleasantly surprised at how well they spoke English. Later found out their school is one of the best in the country, having won multiple awards including the Commonwealth good practice award.


This highland village sits at about 3000 feet above sea level and access is either by 4wd over dirt roads and logging trails or by plane. MasWings flies a 19 seater small twin otter, very much a flying bus for the local community, a few times a week from larger towns like Lawas and Miri.


The rice grown here is similar to the rice grown in Bario I was told. No fertilizers are used and the fields are fed with running mountain water throughout the year. I loved the rice so much I brought a couple of kilos back with me. There are also natural salt springs here and some villagers make their own salt, a laborious process which requires one to watch over the boiling spring water throughout the night. I got myself a kilo of this mineral rich salt. It should keep for a long time!


Ba'kalalan has left a lasting impression. It is such a beautiful, rustic place, one which I hope to visit again very soon.


More photos:


Approaching Bakalalan airport.



The small twin-otter plane that took me and my friends there…



Shortly after dropping off passengers, the plane left again loaded with rice and other farm goods. Some villagers took the opportunity of a near-empty flight to export their surplus produce to the city of Miri. Flights to another small town, Lawas is almost always full however.



Beautiful, green and gold rice fields greeted us first-timers and our hands never left our cameras!



Water buffaloes. We were told most farm work is done by hand, toiling, planting, harvesting etc. The buffaloes are probably for food (we had buffalo meat the last night we were there).



A bird’s eye view of this small highland village taken from a viewpoint not far from where we stayed.



Rice fields.



Unfortunately for the villagers, the notorious apple snail has invaded the village, eating rice plants and affecting harvests.



Beautiful scenery.



To be a kid again! Kids finding fun and joy in as simple a thing as a burst pipe.



Village kids returning from an evening class at school. These kids politely greeted me in English, “Good Afternoon!” they said. Some others asked where I was headed.



Friends taking photos of each other on a lazy afternoon…



Rolling down a slope! Fun!



hahaha, it was fun to photograph these kids having fun rolling down the slope without a care in the world. If I were to do that, I’d have rashes all over my body! :)



The Ba’kalalan apple. If I’m not mistaken, Bakalalan has the one and only apple farm in Sarawak. Harvests are made once or twice a year, with the next one coming up in about a month’s time (~ Nov 2010).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The broken tree tower, Lambir Hills NP

if you’re afraid of heights… stay grounded!


this tree tower is about 20-30 meters high. it was one of the highlight attractions i looked forward to visiting at the park. all the materials that i'd been reading prior to my visit talked about what a perfect place it was to spot birds and wildlife.



built around a tall Kapor tree (Drybalanops sp), the viewpoint at the top affords a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding valleys. However, when I got there it felt like i had all four tires punctured and deflated. the tower is in bad condition with lots of planks missing.


i thought the missing steps were the work of hooligans destroying public property (unfortunately a common problem in Malaysia)


there was no "no entry" sign, only a sign advising visitors not to climb it if they doubt their fitness or confidence. i was also not told anything about this tower and the state it is in at the info counter when i obtained the map and asked for advice.


the only sign here.


when i saw the missing planks, i thought it was cause hooligans had ripped them off! since it was one of the highlights and something i looked forward most to, i went up this tower slowly and carefully, testing each plank before putting my weight on it.


this flight of stairs has no bottom support.


the tower is quite steady except at the very top where it sways with the tree. there was a flight of stairs without any support whatsoever. it never crossed my mind it was off limits cos all i could think of then was how badly maintained it was, all the while thinking "what? i paid rm10 for this? i am so writing a complaint!!"


there is no sign the tree is dying, its crown is still green and healthy.


the tree swayed in the breeze and i quickly made my way down after a few quick snaps. i must say, my guardian angels were with me that day cos i am so thankful nothing bad happened.


missing planks at the top…


it was only after i met an MNS friend the day after that i was told the tower's no longer maintained cause the tree is supposedly dying (it looked pretty healthy and normal to me, healthy crown and all). some irresponsible person must have removed the no entry side if there was one.


it’s such a pity because the view is magnificent up there. i got some pretty nice shots but i really hope they take this thing apart and build a new one cos these towers are really great for spotting birds and getting a bird's eye view of the surroundings. a canopy walkway is also a good idea, take a page out of poring in sabah and mulu np.


also, i think the park needs to update its photocopied maps and website to reflect closed trails etc.


more photos:

the tower is built around a giant Kapor tree.



Acriopsis orchids growing on the stairs.




one of the giant branches of the tree.



view at the top.

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