Monday, October 31, 2011

Shopping for a new camera

It’s time to replace my old Olympus e510. When I turn it on or off, there’s a loud whirring sound, like an old film camera rewinding an exhausted roll of film. So I’ve retired it permanently. I can still activate the shutter and take pictures but each picture is all blurry even though the lens focuses. Either the sensor or IS mechanism is spoiled.

Am now in the market for a new camera. I’d really like a compact backup camera to go with a new dslr which I’ll eventually pick up but right now I’m looking for something compact that takes nice dslr quality photos.

The mirrorless cameras (also known as interchangeable lens cameras or ILCs) offered by Panasonic, Olympus, Sony and Samsung are all really enticing… but I’m especially drawn to the Samsung NX10/NX11 which I’ve personally tried out in a Samsung store.

The Sony NEX cameras have a lot of bells and whistles (fast continuous shooting, excellent high ISO performance etc.) but their lenses so super ginormous and look so awkward on the small bodies.But the biggest issue I have with the nex system is their mediocre lens selection, there are so few e-mount lenses in the market!

I’m also looking at the Olympus e-pl3 (PEN lite) and e-pm1 (PEN mini). Both do not offer built-in flash, which I find rather odd since the e-p3 has one (e-p1 and e-p2 do not have built-in flash units). The e-pl3 does have a useful flip-out screen though. One thing I like about Olympus cameras is the excellent jpeg engine. The photos look really nice with beautiful stand-out colours right out of camera. There is no need do much post processing, just upload and share as is.

I did consider the Panasonic Lumix GF3 too but the lack of a hotshoe totally puts me off. Plus, Panasonic lenses are expensive!

The mirrorless camera that I find the most enticing in terms of looks, ergonomics and features is the Samsung NX10/NX11. The dslr style body is very small and although larger than the competition, very comfortable to hold. In my opinion, the NX10 (and the newer NX11) have the best-designed bodies among all ILCs. I picked up one in a Samsung store and immediately fell in love with it, absolutely love the ergonomics! Took a few shots and was pleased with the performance too.

However, I read that the nx20 will be announced early 2012 so I’m still thinking if I should go ahead and pick up a heavily discounted NX10 or wait and see what the new model brings. I would definitely like better high ISO performance since I shoot in the dark jungle quite often and sometimes have to shoot at ISO1600.
I think all modern cameras (especially DSLRs and ILCs) are highly capable of shooting nice photos especially at lower ISO settings. I’m most certainly not a fan-boy of any particular brand; I just use whatever does the job well for me. After all, it’s not what camera you use that matters but what you do with the camera that’s in your hands, right?

My Olympus e510’s served me well, heavily used over a period of nearly 4 years and was a trusty companion on so many hiking and holiday trips. The last major one was a 6-day trip to Mulu National Park where I made it all the way to the top of Gunung Mulu(Sarawak’s second highest mountain). It’s first International trip with me was to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve got real fond memories of the places I’ve been to with this camera. Took it on countless outings to waterfalls, streams, lush jungles, open fields, hills and mountains. But now it’s time to find a replacement.

Anyway, here are some shots taken with my Olympus e510 which will never be used again (sob). They are the e510’s last few shots before being retired permanently…

The e510 is known to blow out highlights. Another photo (same scenery) taken in auto mode had a blown out sky (all white space). So when shooting a scene like this, I always underexpose and post process later. For this shot taken at -0.7ev f/11, I applied a neutral density filter and brightened the entire image during post processing (PP), simple steps for a better picture. All the other photos below are as they come out of the camera (settings selected in camera, no PP).

A large Gesneriad

View of Kampung Santubong, taken on the way up the mountain

Lush jungle

Jungle stream





A beautiful waterfall in Southwestern Sarawak. Hand-held 1/8 second exposure (with circular polarizer affixed). I often was able to take hand-held shots at shutter speeds as slow as 1/6s thanks to the e510’s effective in-body stabilization (plus, I have steady hands!).
So what’s it gonna be? Oly PEN? Sony NEX? The Samsung NX10/NX11 is looking mighty tempting, especially when paired with their much-praised 30mm f/2 pancake prime…

Paddy planting season (October 2011)

The rainy season is approaching (Northeast monsoon). Musim menanam padi telah tiba - paddy planting season has arrived.

In Malaysia, two types of paddy are cultivated. Water or aquatic paddy (padi sawah) and hill paddy (padi huma). In this photo and the one below, we can see both types.

Jagung or maize is often planted together with hill paddy.

Hill paddy and maize planted together.

Rice field at the foot of a small mountain.

Very beautiful scenery; reminds me so much of Ba’kelalan, except that it’s very hot here! Even though the sun was behind clouds, it still felt really hot, “biting-hot” as we like to call it. Without proper sun protection, one would burn easily. The local farmers working the fields and slopes are often seen wrapped up in long sleeves and long pants. They’ll also use towels to cover their heads or faces. Large straw hats provide further protection from the hot sun.

Rice field with a small farmer’s rest hut and tall stands of Sago palms in the foreground. The rice seedlings are newly planted; at this growth stage, they require plenty of water.

Cloudy day…

Padi huma or padi bukit (hill paddy). Unlike rice grown in flooded paddies, padi huma does not require plenty of water to grow well. Therefore, they can be planted on dry land and are often grown on hill slopes.

Did you know that before the arrival of padi sawah, padi huma was planted throughout Malaysia? Today, hill paddy is still being planted in many areas in Sarawak (and I think Sabah too?) especially by the Ibans and Bidayuhs. I suppose this is because of the many hilly areas throughout the state (another reason why pepper plants are widely grown in Sarawak, they require well drained soil).

Two elderly Bidayuh ladies tending their hill paddy and doing some weeding to keep their rice patch free of invasive weeds. The nearest village from this hilly area (about 7 or 8 hundred feet above sea level) is about 1-2km away. I can only imagine how tough it is to trek up and down the hills everyday just to get to your farm! I guess this also makes them really fit and strong! They were kind enough to let me snap some photos (I took only a handful as I did not want to disrupt their work) and the lady in the foreground even flashed a smile for the camera! :)

The photos in this entry were taken in 3 or 4 different places, all in the month of October (2011) and all in South-western Sarawak.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Giant Hypermarket Kota Padawan opens for business

Giant Kota Padawan: my poor attempt at “stitching” two photos together…

Giant in Batu 10, Jln Penrissen has opened its doors to the public (25th Nov 2011), exactly two months after Giant Tabuan opened for business (25th August 2011). So after several years of waiting, Kuchingites finally get, not one but two, proper hypermarkets with Maggi mee stacked up two storeys high and giant Milo islands next to baby diapers! hooray! :P

What’s the inside like? Like any other Giant mall, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all! Besides the hypermarket, the mall also has boutiques, a pharmacy (Guardian), food outlets and stalls selling bags, knick knacks and souvenirs.

For those of you who’ve been to Giant Tabuan, you’ve probably noticed how some items are ridiculously expensive there. Happy to report that prices are quite reasonable at this branch except for some items which are priced far higher than other places. So, always shop around! Having been to the Tabuan branch twice now, I don’t think I’d ever shop there again (cut throat prices - “low price leader” my foot!).

I doubt the Padawan branch will survive long if they didn’t offer competitive prices because there are three other supermarkets in Kota Padawan (H&L, Unaco and Fair Price). If Giant is able to keep their prices low, the other three supermarkets will have a really hard time keeping their existing customers!

Aisle after aisle of food items: I find the selection to be much better here than Giant Tabuan.

Always shop around and compare prices. Some items are priced far higher than your regular supermarket prices while others are well below market price. Fresh chicken wings are sold at RM13.99 per kilo (at time of writing) in Giant Padawan but costs only RM12.50 at a cold storage and RM3.19 maggi vs RM4.30 elsewhere... But from what I saw, most items are priced quite reasonably.

There’s also a clothing section. Saw lots of people picking items from the bins. The electronics section is also better stocked than Giant Tabuan. Overall, the Padawan branch seems to have a wider and better selection (and fairer prices) than Tabuan.

Like other hypermarkets, there’s also a bakery and take-away food section. Ayam percik, ayam lada hitam, ayam madu… RM12.99 per bird. Also available, ready to eat nasi lemak, nasi ayam, bihun goreng, mi goreng and various fried foods.

Opening hours are from 9am to 11pm daily (extended to 12am from 25th Nov 2011 till 30th Nov 2011).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thank you, MasWings!


I was supposed to fly to Mukah recently but our little MasWings Twin Otter arrived late and was later grounded because of technical difficulties. Once it was confirmed by their engineers that it wasn’t fit to fly, Maswings quickly arranged an ATR-72 to fly us to Sibu then put us 2-to-a-taxi and ferried us to Mukah (2.5 hours by land from Sibu, 50 minutes by flight from Kuching).

Our grounded Twin Otter. Right, fellow passengers enquiring about alternative arrangements.

I was quite impressed, the level of service provided for such a small group of passengers was beyond anything I had expected (my tickets cost less than RM200 return). I thought they’d just cancel or reschedule the flight, instead, we were given the choice of a full refund or the above alternative arrangement. Since many of us had important meetings and seminars to attend, most chose the latter. 

MasWings ATR-72 ready to take us to Sibu. Right, being driven to Mukah in a taxi. Note the trucks on the left queuing up to have their loads of oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFB) weighed and sold at a processing centre.

Fortunately, the flight home saw no further delays or unwanted incidents. I even switched to an earlier flight as I was quite bored with Mukah already and couldn’t wait to get home. :)

BTW, I don't think AirAsia would bother to go to such lengths. :P

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