Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rainy season


Every Chinese New Year it’s like this for as long as I remember. It is this time of the year that the people in Kuching are most worried about flash floods (King Tide + monsoon = floods). Last year the flood waters rose quickly causing lots of damage to property. Worst affected were those living in single storied houses in low lying areas.


Thankfully, my place is on higher ground and we’ve never been affected although the roads leading in have been inundated before. However, the orchids in the shade house do take quite a hit. Already, I’ve removed countless leaves affected with leaf rot due to too much water and poor air movement. I’ve got a huge Phalaenopsis amabilis from a nursery in KL that’s been reduced to nothing but a stump. It’s got a fairly big keiki but that too has been affected with leaf rot. It’s an RM20 plant so it’s not too bad, the keiki should also survive.


Tried putting plastic sheets over the orchids a couple years back but the orchids became too dry and I’m so lazy at watering. Plus, the sheets started collecting water (breeding ground for mosquitoes) so that didn’t work too well. Many of the plants are not affected though, it’s usually just the stressed plants which have been repotted or damaged by snails and the more sensitive ones such as phals. One of my most hardy orchids are actually Paph stonei-s, which I have potted in a mixed media of limestone, natural humus and some moss.


Normally, the rains would continue to fall until after Chap Goh Mei, which is the 15th day of of the new Lunar year. Friends in West Malaysia and Singapore have been telling me how hot and dry it’s been over on their side of the pond but it’s all wet, dank and gloomy here.


In November and December last year, the weather was unusually dry and we had surprisingly little rain compared to years past. I think all that rain’s been reserved to be dumped on us in February!


All my plans to go trekking this holiday’s been spoiled too. Can’t do much in this kind of weather! So I’ve been filling my free time just playing those silly time wasters on Facebook haha. I’m currently playing this game, Fishville and here are two of my tanks:


Fishville SarawakLens Tank 1


Fishville SarawakLens Tank 2


Anyway, here’s wishing all celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Tiger a very Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fujifilm F70EXR: dynamic range samples

It was very sunny this afternoon so I took the opportunity to snap some photos of my blooming Phalaenopsis hybrids. I wanted to try out the different DR settings on my new pocket zoom, the Fujifilm F70EXR. The headlining technology is Fuji's new EXR sensor (not so new actually, introduced with the F200 last year, the F70 was introduced about 6 months ago). :D Says Fuji, the camera now boasts the ability to record a wider dynamic range (DR) that is closer to what the human eye sees. So I was eager to test this out by taking photos of what I photograph the most, orchids!

The bright sunlight coming through the shade cloth and leaves above presented a nice opportunity to test the camera's strengths against my older Fujifilm F50SE.

Click here to read my quick review and thoughts about the camera.

Below are some samples I took, click on the photos for larger size and refer the EXIF data for more information. Unfortunately, because my third world internet line is crap, I cannot upload full sized files without the upload stalling. Even the uploading of these smaller files stalled a couple of times! But one can see the apparent differences between the different DR settings. Overall, am very happy as I won't have to worry too much about blown highlights when taking quick snaps anymore.

No post processing done except cropping. ISO set to AUTO on both cameras, note that in DR800% mode, the F70EXR will always use ISO200.

First set:

Fujifilm F50SE, no exposure bias.

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 100%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 400%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 800%

Second set:

F70EXR, -0.67 EV, DR at 100%

F70EXR, -0.67 EV, DR at 400%

F70EXR, -0.67 EV, DR at 800%

Third set (not much difference because not high contrast scene):

F50SE, no exposure bias

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 100%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 400%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 800%

Fourth set:

F50SE, no exposure bias

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 100%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 400%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 800%

Fifth set:

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 100%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 400%

F70EXR, no exposure bias, DR at 800%

From what I've seen from taking more than 1000 photos already in just a few short days, Fuji's much hyped EXR technology, especially when it comes to extended dynamic range (up to a whopping 800%) definitely delivers. The DR800% photos are less "contrasty" but are very useful for tricky scenes such as in the fifth set of photos.

Hope you all enjoyed this simple non scientific post! I have owned a few Fujifilm cameras and this is the best one I've ever owned yet, can you tell I'm happy? LOL I am by no means a fanboy of any particular brand however, since I also use a Nikon D80 and my travel/hiking slr, Olympus e510.

Oh, by the way, if you're interested in this camera, note that Fuji has just announced the F80EXR with HD video but is slightly larger than the F70EXR.

About the orchids, my 1.5 year patience has paid off. Many of the seedlings bought in 2008 are spiking and blooming now. The other seedlings raised from compots shouldn't take too long to spike either. Along with the adult phals, the seedlings add a lot of color to my otherwise all-green shade house. Some are NOIDs, some have ID tags but most are complex hybrids.

My new travel megazoom: Fujifilm F70EXR

Fujifilm F70EXR

See also: F70EXR Dynamic Range Samples

I’ve been wanting to buy this little pocket megazoom since it was first introduced middle of last year. Finally bought one last week and now Fuji's just announced the new F80EXR! No regrets whatsoever though as I don't need any of the new features on the F80. Besides, the F80 is slightly larger than the F70 which as far as I know, remains the world’s smallest pocket megazoom (with 10x optical zoom).

The first Fuji digicam I bought was the DX-10 about 12 years ago. That camera is still working fine today except that parts of the brittle plastic on the battery door have broken off.

The DX10 (black camera) was released about 12 or so years ago and featured a fixed lens and 0.8 megapixel sensor. It utilized 4AA batteries for operation. The F70EXR below it, uses a small NP-50 battery that is rated at 230 shots (but I managed to get 420+ from it) and packs a 10x optical zoom and latest technology from Fujifilm, masters of color, all in one small package. Isn’t technology great?

Next was the S6500fd, that died a watery death (slipped down a waterfall)!

This was one of the last images it took:

Then I bought a refurbished F10 which served me a good number of years before it slipped out a hole in a pocket and into a drain! It could still shoot but the lens had water spots in it and the sensor produced "smudged" photos. Its replacement was the F45. Pretty decent camera for my needs. Got it for 49 pounds off ebay, I believe. cheap! Sold it off as it didn't have IS.

Next, got a refurbished F50SE but found its IS and IQ to be wanting. Pictures from it were also very noisy and the IS didn't seem to make any difference. Still, it served me well, no problems whatsoever. In fact, none of my Fuji cameras, refurbished or brand new, have ever given me any major problems.

Fujifilm F70EXR and F50SE
The F70EXR is only just slightly bigger than my F50SE.

I decided to pick up the F70EXR when it first hit the market as I wanted a pocketable travel zoom to complement my Olympus slr. I go hiking a lot so small and light cameras are easier to carry. However, I kept putting off the purchase but finally bought one last week.

So far I like it a lot. I seldom shoot at full res unless I am taking macro photos with the slr. Other times, I often shoot at a lower resolution as I never print anything larger than A4. So I don't mind the 5M images that the F70 produces in certain modes.

I'm one of those people who snap photos of their food since I like sharing and blogging about it (helps other travelers). I've found the pro low light mode quite useful. Here's an example:

Nasi lemak, or savory rice, is very popular in Malaysia.

Full size with EXIF intact: Click here – Pro Low Light mode. Compare that with the full sized photo taken in EXR SN (high ISO and low noise mode): Click here – SN mode.

I think the camera's auto white balance did well as the diner was very dark and had colored lights. Took lots more photos in poor lighting but my line is way too slow to upload more full sized files. Took the cam for a field test last week, shooting mostly in P and EXR auto modes. Managed about 260+ photos before the red batt low icon appeared.

Yesterday, I managed about 420+ shots on a single charge before the battery went flat. I took about 50 flash photos, used the zoom extensively and shot mostly in P mode. I only used the EXR mode when I needed to shoot in EXR DR800. I like the "super intelligent" flash too, coupled with a high ISO, cam exposes for the subject as well as the background, great for indoor shots. To force the brightly lit macro subject with dark background, just set the ISO to 200 or 100.

What I like based on my own casual shooting style:
- noticeable DR advantages, DR400 seems the sweet spot. DR800 is nice to have too.
- flash is quite improved from previous models I've owned, no more overexposed macro subjects.
- usable high ISO images up to ISO1600 (for small prints) especially in SN and Pro low light modes.
- pro low light mode for shooting still life (food!) in dark cafes, restaurants etc.
- 400+ shots from one single charge when not using EXR Auto
- small and compact with a 10x zoom starting at 27mm eq. makes it a perfect travel zoom for me
- ability to use zoom while taking videos
- auto white balance and presets are pretty good
- face recognition works well and is useful when you have to hand the camera to someone to take your photo

And the not so nice:
- so so image quality (compared to other Fuji models I have owned before)
- somewhat plasticky body
- gets pretty warm fast!
- Chromatic aberration or purple fringing is pretty pronounced in some photos/scenes, reminds me of the CA on my F10.
- pro focus is really just a gimmick. More misses than hits. Works sometimes but the images produced are quite funny most other times. Like cut and paste photos.

Here are two examples of when pro focus does a decent job (when it works): Drosera burmannii (a sundew species) - normal focus:

And Pro focus mode:

Nepenthes mirabilis - normal focus:

Pro focus mode:

The DR advantages show in the following photos:

My older cameras (even my Olympus e510) would have blown the sky and I would have had to set exposure compesation and do some PP to get a decent photo but the F70EXR does it all for me! :D

The zinc roof on this hut was so bright I had to squint while looking at it but the F70 managed to retain some detail on the roof instead of blowing it completely. And finally, this shot was taken on a dull cloudy day, I think the camera has tried to make the best of the overcast conditions:

Overall am very happy I bought the camera and am having fun shooting with it. I only hope it is able to cope with living in my lint filled pockets like the older models before it. :D

Updated June 2010
Having used the camera for quite some time now, I must reevaluate my initial assessment. I think it is a really convenient 10x zoom in a small pocketable package but the image quality disappoints. It may be okay as a backup camera but I now wish I had spent money on a new lens for my SLR instead.

See also: F70EXR Dynamic Range Samples

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thousand apologies

I am very much behind on my writings and blog entries. Like my cat here, I've been too lazy to sort through photos and post to my blog. The fact that my internet connection (third world "broadband" - monopoly sucks!) is slower than a 28.8k modem from 1996 doesn't help. For example, a short and simple blog entry like this one can take about 10 minutes to finish uploading if it doesn't stall!! Crazy slow. So, a thousand apologies to my 1 or 2 regular and faithful visitors/readers. :D :D Thanks for dropping by though. A good way to see if I have updated anything is to be a "blog follower" (see link on right column) or subscribe to the RSS feeds.

Been to a few interesting places recently but have not uploaded many of the photos yet. Last week, friends and I were supposed to go on a a very exciting and challenging trek but our plans were foiled by heavy rain. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative this weekend.

I have also just bought myself a small little compact camera, the Fujifilm F70EXR which Fuji claims to be the world's smallest 10x optical zoom camera. I bought it to complement my dSLR and as a pocketable travel megazoom. A few days after I got mine, Fuji announced the F80EXR, an update to the F70 but is slightly bigger and not the world's smallest 10x zoom like the f70. Overall, I am very happy with the F70EXR (the cat photo was taken with the cam) and will share my thoughts about it perhaps in the next entry.

Not making any money from my writings so the motivation ain't there. Now, if only ya'll would help click on the ads... :D :D :D
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