Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My collection of Nokia phones

It just dawned upon me that I do have quite a colourful collection of Nokia phones.

My latest acquisition is the orange one, the Lumia 530, which I got for a bargain basement price of just AUD39 a few days ago. It has the latest Windows 8.1 mobile operating system. It is minimalist in design, yet equipped with all the essentials like GPS, wifi, bluetooth, memory card slot, etc. The processor and display are not cutting edge, but good enough to please the down-to-earth-practical me. This is my foray back into using a smartphone after deliberately abandoning smartphones for a year.

Yes, a year ago I gave up my Samsung S2 for the yellow Nokia Asha 210. The Asha 210 has a rudimentary capability in the areas of wifi, camera, web, Whatsapp and Facebook; all of which I rarely put to use due to poor performance. In a twisted way, that helped wean me off smartphone addiction, while I grew to love the alarm clock (works even when powered off), calendar (never missed any appointment), keyboard (helps when you don't have a smartphone keyboard), and 3-4 days battery life. It also has dual SIM, which is great for travelling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blind woman's discrimination claim against Coles

There is a report in today's papers that a blind is filing a discrimination claim against Coles Supermarket because she couldn't do her online shopping anymore after some software upgrades. This woman is legally, but not completely, blind.

My say: I think some people are using the word "discrimination" indiscriminately. The woman is demanding that Coles caters to her special needs on the website. Does Coles have a sinister plan to single out this woman to discriminate against? Imagine if a lawsuit were brought up by everyone with special needs, against every website, there would be absolute chaos. I cannot imagine that any judge will take the lawsuit seriously. Very soon we may have people claiming discrimination because they don't qualify for a credit card to make online purchases. We may have obese people crying foul because the retailer does not carry extra, extra large sizes. We may have religious groups claiming discrimination because the website displays items offensive to their beliefs. The list is endless.

Click here if you want the full report: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-05/blind-woman-launches-court-action-against-coles-over-its-website/5869874

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My trip to the Grampians

I spent last weekend with my wife and her childhood friends at The Grampians. It was a very enjoyable visit to the national park. It was also an opportunity to practise what I have recently learned about handling the camera for shooting sharper images. I am quite happy with the result, after reviewing the images back home. Here are some of the images I like.

On the way to The Pinnacles, we passed through this place called The Grand Canyon.
The rock formation reminds me of Angkor Wat and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
 Another interesting reminder of the Angkor Wat temple ruins.
This reminds me of a werewolf, shot against the midday sun and converted to monochrome.
Shot this "family portrait" at the aboriginal centre in Hall's Gap.
This is Mt Abrupt, as seen outside the tourist information centre in Dunkeld. Dunkeld is the southern gateway to The Grampians.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How to shoot a sharp image

I have to admit that despite my technical knowledge about all the controls on a DLSR camera, I really know very little when it comes to achieving tack sharp images. I hope all this is about to change with the time and research I have invested in the last few days.

All the  information I ever got in any photography course about focusing was not enough to get me there. Typically, the lessons cover camera holding technique, use of tripod and remote control, and correct setting of minimum shutter speed. The more advanced topics may cover hyperfocal distance, and use of mirror lock up to reduce camera shake.

With the above knowledge, I have never really mastered the art of getting consistently tack sharp images. Therefore I jumped at the opportunity to read a book called "Tack Sharp" by James Brandon when I signed up for a special 5-Day Deal on photography. The book did not help me at all (later, on re-examining the book, I found that it did cover the important camera settings I am going to talk about) but it did trigger me to do something about it.

I pasted some printed papers on the wall and started target shooting practice. Fixing the shutter speed at 1/50 sec, I got some disastrous result; I have over-rated myself at my own hand holding stability. I increased it to 1/80 sec (i.e. I was shooting with 24-70mm lens) I started to get better focus more often. Therein lies my Discovery No.1: the experts were right. The minimum hand held shutter speed must be faster than 1/(focal length).

Discovery No.2: Using another camera, the Olympus OMD-EM5, I managed to achieve consistently sharp focus even when hand holding at 1/45s on the equivalent of a 90mm lens. The image stabilizer actually works! Previously I was using a Nikon D700 which has no image stabilizer.

Discovery No.3: I "discovered" that many pro shooters out there actually (not surprisingly...) use the fancy camera settings available on the higher end DSLR. I re-discovered the back button focus "AF-On", which allows me to focus using a separate button other than the shutter release. I also learn to take advantage of the AF-C servo focus. I also learn when to use the Single Point AF and when to use the Dynamic auto focus to achieve better result.

Discovery No.4: My OMD-EM5 with a simple $250 45mm lens, does a far better job at focusing than my D700 with a ~$2000 24-70mm lens.

Now that I think I have a better understanding about focusing, perhaps I might next learn the fine art of lens appreciation. Frankly, with all the wonders that a simple bit of photoshopping can do, I am not a big connoisseur of lenses.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Model shoot and fine art rendition

As always, model shoot has always been a highlight event at the camera club for me. Tonight we had a model shoot at the club. This time, my images get some fine art treatment instead of the usual realism, due to my new-found penchant for this. The first image below is the original, while the other two are artistically rendered.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to convert an image to monochrome

Converting a coloured image into black and white can often be achieved with just a single click when using even a simple photo editor. However, the resulting image may not always be pleasing. Often this is the result of not having a good enough tonal range and the image looks "flat". To achieve the classic high contrast look in a black and white image, one of the easiest ways is to use the dodge and burn tool in Photoshop.

Here's how. First, use whichever method you prefer to change a coloured image into black and white. For instance, click on Image>Mode>Grayscale, or, Image>Adjustments>Black & White.

Now, using the Burn tool and setting the Range to Shadows and Exposure very low (to, say, 3%), brush over the entire image to make the dark areas slightly darker. Then using the Dodge tool and setting the Range to Highlights and Exposure again to very low (say 5%), proceed to brush over the image again to make the bright areas slightly brighter. That's all there is to it!

Below is an example of an image before and after the Burn and Dodge treatment.

Before Burn and Dodge

Monday, October 6, 2014

Loch, a country town in Victoria

Loch is a quaint little village in country Victoria, about an hour and a half's drive southeast of Melbourne. There is a little cafe there that serves a most delightful meal.The cafe is decorated with antiques new and old, which I find to be very interesting subjects to photograph. At this time of the year, the sidewalks are full of bright and colourful spring flowers. If you ever make a visit to Loch, don't rush through it, but take some time to leisurely enjoy the food, the flowers, and the fresh air.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Fine art photography portraits

Last few days, I did a google search for fine art photography portraits. I found that many of the images have a grungy background texture. Therefore I decided to try my hand at reproducing the technique. See these images below, which I did this morning. All these images were shot against a white backdrop and have been post-edited for background effect.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another photo art of a dog

After doings shots of Yuna (see earlier post), I have to do some shots of Mizu too. Mizu is Yuna's companion. Mizu calls the shots around the house. She barks at every dog that passes by our house, while Yuna remains unperturbed.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hahndorf, as I view it

Hahndorf is a picturesque little German town outside Adelaide. I love it because it conjures up for me images of bygone days. In real life, of course, the scenes are not like what you see here. But in the eyes of my mind, Hahndorf is as quaint as the scenes below.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Impressionist dog

Her name is Yuna. Following on my other "impressionist paintings", I thought that Yuna might make a good impression (pun intended).

Friday, September 26, 2014

Vegetables in still life

If you Google "still life vegetables" you will find excellent paintings and photographs of the most common things we encounter on a daily basis: vegetables. Most of us will probably equate a lovely vegetable as one that is fresh and palatable. Many will probably view them only as food for eating but not food for the eyes.

Vegetables make a lovely subject for still life photography. It has always been my interest to capture them as art on a camera.  Below are two images I just did; one rendered in low key and the other in high key.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More impressionist paintings

These two images were taken at Mont de Lancey. They have been post edited to give them the antique painting look.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Seascape in Williamstown

This image was taken in Williamstown in 2013. I thought it makes a good candidate for an impressionist painting, especially the threatening clouds and the setting sun lightening the horizon. A wild sea with some thunderbolts would have gone better with the dramatic sky, but then I doubt I would have been there to make the shot.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How I created an impressionist painting

One of my favourite impressionist painters is John Constable. I particularly love his paintings that depict the countryside. Here is my maiden attempt at turning a digital image into what I hope looks like an impressionist painting. 

The post processing technique used here is relatively simple. I increased the saturation on the original image, blended in a grunge background using Soft Light blend, then repeated with another layer of blending using Overlay blend with opacity reduced. Finally I "painted" in some lights and some shadows judiciously.

Friday, September 19, 2014

High key images

A high key image is one where the background is intentionally white and featureless. If you Google for examples of high key images, you will see what I mean.

Today I managed to create a high key image that I feel good about. In particular, my greying hair no longer reveals itself starkly against a dark background. So for you guys out there, when your hair turns grey, you might also want to consider high key portraits of yourself.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cost of Micro Four Thirds camera vs Full Frame camera

Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera bodies are relatively inexpensive, compared to a full frame (FF) camera, but the MFT lenses are much more expensive than FF camera lenses. Is the cost justified? Here is the math.

For this study, I compare a top tier full frame Nikon camera versus a top tier micro four thirds Olympus camera. I use a range of lenses that a serious general photographer might purchase, citing prices (in US$) from the reputable B&H store. For lenses, I chose FF lenses that are closest in focal length/maximum aperture to the MFT equivalent.

Nikon D800 (full frame sensor)
$2997: camera body
$121: 50mm f/1.8D lens
$360: 24mm f/2.8D AF
$899: 180mm f/2.8D
$670: 24-70mm f/2.8-f/4.0D

Olympus OMD EM1 (micro four thirds sensor)
$1399: camera body
$399: 25mm f/1.8 (*DOF=f/3.7) M.Zuiko
$799: 12mm f/2.0 (*DOF=f/4.0) M.Zuiko
$899: 75mm f/1.8 (*DOF=f/3.7) M.Zuiko
$999: 12-40mmf/2.8 (*DOF=f/5.6) M.Zuiko

In summary, although a MFT camera body costs only about half of a FF body, the cost a complete lens/body system is actually only about 10% different.

You might notice that the true DOF difference is 2 f-stops worse in the MFT than in the FF system. Therefore the deal breaker is not in the price, but in the equivalent depth of field. That is to say, if you want maximum depth-of-field in your images, a FF camera is irreplaceable.

(*DOF = Depth of Field equivalent. A MFT sensor gives the lens a crop factor of 2. Not only is the focal length multiplied by a factor of 2, but the depth of field also increases by 2 f-stops)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We don't need a smarter smartphone

If you follow what is being announced at the Mobile World Congress this year, they are all about smartphones with new looks and features. Notice that it is not called Smartphone World Congress; it is called Mobile World Congress for a very good reason. It is not about telephony anymore; it is about computer-in-a-pocket.

I do not see any compelling improvements in the new smartphone that make me want to replace my Galaxy S2, as far as my telephony needs are concerned. I don't need a smartphone to monitor my heart rate, as in the new Samsung S5. I don't need bigger screen or higher resolution as I'd rather carry a smaller phone. I don't need a faster processor; mine runs fast enough. I don't need more apps; (help!) I am already overloaded with them, most of which I don't use.

I do so want to replace my Galaxy S2 though, if the right phone comes along. I want one with a week-long battery life, in a small and light body. I don't need lots of features, but low price tag would be nice. I want one with reliable internet connection, both broadband and WLAN. I want built-in WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Skype and whatever good free phone or messaging systems are out there. Built-in emails like Gmail and other popular email systems would be good. The problem is, these apps seldom come as built-in apps. Instead, you get lots of unwanted bloatware.

I now carry a non-smartphone (Nokia 210), which many call a feature phone. I don't like that term because these phone are really quite featureless phones. They are good for the intended purpose of making calls and delivering SMS and not much else. My phone is cheap, small, light, and has several days of battery life. What's more, the alarm works even when the phone is switched off at night! This serves to extend the battery life and I get to sleep with being interrupted by calls and message alerts.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Going low tech with my Nokia 210

After using a smartphone for several years, I decided to swap out my Samsung Galaxy S2 for a regular Nokia phone running on Symbian. This was prompted in part by an overheating problem on my Samsung, and in part by a desire to break free of smartphone addiction (have you noticed how people seem to be peering at their smartphone wherever they go?).

My Nokia 210 dual SIM phone seems to fit my needs very well. It can go for three days before I need to recharge. It has built-in apps for Youtube, Facebook and Whatsapp, as well as an internet browser. The processor is not very fast, so the apps are a little sluggish as compared to smartphones. My Nokia 210 costs me AUD$80, while an average smartphone at today's prices costs about thrice that amount.

The Nokia 210 does not have a touchscreen. It has a camera but not as good a one as on my Samsung S2. It can record video but at 15fps. It can accept Symbian apps but they are usually not great for running on small screen with low processing power. The 3" display is functional but not high resolution, nor does it have wide viewing angle.

So why should anyone bother with this phone? Well, I call it technology fatigue with using smartphones. It is quite liberating to go out with just a low tech phone. I don't feel compelled to fish out a smartphone every few minutes to see what is going on. I have enough features on my Nokia 210 to stay connected, but the features are not compelling enough for me to want to keep on peering at the little screen. I now leave my smartphone for use at home; I still enjoy playing with the apps and doing many things with it, such as listening to internet radio and reading the news when I am relaxing at home. But I am definitely keeping the smartphone under house arrest from now on.

Friday, January 17, 2014

What's so good about Nokia Asha 210 phone

Frankly speaking, I have enough of my Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone. True, it does everything from the mundane to the esoteric. I have an app to tune my guitar, an app for star gazing, a posing app for photography, etc. In fact, it has basically replaced my need to use a regular PC other than for serious photo editing purposes.

Turning my attention to feature phones, I am quite taken in by the Nokia Asha 210. This phone runs on the old Nokia S40 platform (not as sophisticated as the Android). As a result, power consumption is very low and the processing speed is supposedly fast (i.e. I haven't bought one to try out yet). I really would want a phone with a battery that lasts for a week based on low usage.

The Asha 210 has a physical keyboard, which is a classic feature to have now that anything retro is in vogue. It has a dedicated button to bring up Whatsapp. Due to this and due to the physical keyboard, it is the ideal phone for heavy texters. It also has a dedicated button to launch the camera, which is great for impromptu shots.

The Asha 210 runs only on 2G and not 3G, but it this is probably alright for text and call purposes, since we are not talking about internet browsing here. It also has WLAN for use on home wifi, which is very handy to have.

Without having tried one and basing on specs alone, I daresay the Asha 210 is quite a good alternative to my smartphone for my text and call purposes. The built-in Whatsapp makes it THE reason to want this phone. If you are interested to get one too, make sure it is the RM-928 variant, which has dual SIM capability and which allows you to charge the battery through the microUSB port.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Epson Expression Premium XP610

This is the fifth printer I have bought in the last 11 years. I have enjoyed using every single one of them and everyone of them have all been well and truly utilized. When I finally upgraded to Windows 7, I had no choice but to retire my trusty HP Laserjet and my old faithful HP PSC 2310 inkjet. Both were still in good running condition but are incompatible with the newer OS.

So here comes my new "toy" - a spanking new up-to-date printer that has all the important and necessary features for modern home use. I won't list down all the features, but only the ones I am thrilled about.

Perhaps the most exciting new feature is the built-in wifi, which I have wanted for a long time. Setting up was quick and easy. I can now print straight from my smartphone, my laptop, or my PC. The printer sits far away from my PC. It does not need to be connected up with a PC. It is also compatible with Apple's Air Print and Google's Cloud Print.

I can scan by using the front panel, straight into a memory card, a PC, or to any cloud storage location. On my old scanner I had to launch a scanner program on a PC in order to scan. The scan quality is practically flawless, both in terms of sharpness and colour reproduction.

This printer has 5 separate ink cartridges, including a photo black. The ink levels can be viewed easily on the printer's front panel or on a computer. Third party (much cheaper) replacements can be bought from the Caribbean Market or on eBay. It has very good reviews for its colour prints. I have yet to try it out on high quality archival paper. I have quite positive vibes about it.

I would certainly recommend it to anyone for home use, especially due to the fact that it works almost straight out of the box (for heavy usage, consider the Epson Workforce series). Setting up was easy and hiccup-free. In spite of all the advanced wifi and cloud features, the front panel is very simple to use and a non-techie should feel comfortable with it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Venus Bay outing for pipis

Here's the scoop. It is about a great catch, but not of pipis but of my camera falling into the water.

Last Sunday was a great day for pipi catching at Venus Bay. The water was not too cold and the mid-morning sun was not too hot. The pipis were large and plentiful at the low tide. I had to work fast as the tide was coming in quickly and the strong wind was creating waves about two feet high. I was getting myself increasingly wet; first at knee level and then at waist level.

Alas, pipi catching and photography do not go hand-in-hand (was that a pun?). I was carrying my little compact camera with me, kept in a pouch tied around my waist. The pouch got a little wet at first. Not a problem. Then I got a phone call. While scrambling to fish the phone out of the pouch, my camera fell out. It hit the water, but due to quick action I managed to save it from drowning... fully submerged, that is. But the damage was already done. The camera still turned on but behaved oddly.

As hoped for, after three days of drying out by itself, the camera is back to normal now. This will be the last time I am going pipi catching with a camera. Besides, the strong wind on that day was blowing up fine sand and it would have been a disaster had I brought my expensive lenses and DSLR with me. The sand would have easily gotten into the zoom lens where it protrudes. I have learned my lesson. Get a Go Pro instead.