Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gardens by the Bay - OCBC Skywalk

It has been a while since the opening of the OCBC Skywalk in the Gardens by the Bay, but I had yet to give it a try myself, until today.

I had been to some tree top walks, so I guess the experience may be similar, so I didn't really expect much.  But then when I really stepped my feet out of the elevator and onto the skywalk itself, I knew it was different.   How talk can a normal tree be?  30 meters high?  That is about 10 stories.  How about the OCBC Skywalk?  I don't have the official numbers, but my humble watch says it is ~90m above sea level, although it doesn't look like this high.

Looking from the top indeed is very different from looking from the bottom.  The super trees look so 'ordinary' now when you stand on the skywalk.

When the wind blows, the skywalk shakes.  It kind of scares me, really.  The skywalk is being sustained by tiny stainless steel wires tied to the super tree tiny branches.  When there is wind, you have this feel of a candle in the wind.  Lucky Singapore has no Typhoon, otherwise....

Anyway, it was a great experience, and if you have the opportunity, give it a try.  You won't regret it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sam Hui's Album

Walked past a Cash Converter shop the other day and found a very old Sam Hui album.  It was really cheap, only S$1.50.  What can you buy these days with S$1.50?

Came back home and tested it on my computer, well, it happened to be Sam Hui's Karaok set, not really his album.  However, it was really funny to watch those videos from decades ago.  The video and the songs may or may not have any links at all, but always beautiful girls and handsome guys.  Probably that is the simplest, and the most successful formula to sell pop.

Sharing one of my favourite songs from Sam Hui.  Enjoy :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Olympus E-PM1 Review IV: Daylight Performance (Conintued)

Previously I already wrote about the E-PM1's daylight performance, the performance was not too good.  To give it a second chance, I did this again.

This time I chose the busy Orchard Road as my subject under much better daylight.  YMCA and the nearby church came out vibrantly in the picture, plus the striking red SBS bus.

Looking at the 100% crop of the area being well lit.  The result is not too bad.

But looking at the area where the lighting condition is more challenging, again we see the patches of pixels.  I took this photo using iAuto mode, I did notice the 'Sharpness' setting has been automatically set to 'hard'.

Instead of shooting subjects far away, this time I chose to shoot something nearer.  The bus stop in front of me appeared to be pretty well in the picture.

Looking at the area where lighting condition is more challenging.  Both well lit area and poorly lit area are well captured.  No patches of pixels here, at least it is not obvious.

Lastly, let's look at our typical Singapore HDB.  The blue sky, the red and yellow HDB wall, they all appeared vibrantly in the picture.

The photo still looks very decent at 100% crop.

In conclusion, Olympus E-PM1 can perform reasonably well under well lit conditions, but the performance will deteriorate very fast once the lighting conditions become a bit more challenging, especially so for far away subjects.  It is probably also has something to do with the lens.  For far away subjects, the user will tend to zoom in more, using the kit lens' far end, which usually does not perform as well as the 'sweet point' of the lens.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gardens by the Bay - Cloud Forest

Entering into the Cloud Forest Conservatory, visitors are welcomed by the giant man-made waterfall.  This is also the center piece in this conservatory, with everything being built around and in the waterfall.  Somehow it makes me think of the legendary Monkey King's Mt Waterfall....

The wall of Mt Waterfall is covered by many different types of plants, where you can only find them in the Cloud Forest, of course.

In the afternoon, the Cloud Forest can be really misty, as water moisture is being sprayed out from many sprinklers in the conservatory.  I guess the purpose is to maintain the humidity and the temperature.  For visitors with cameras, do take good care of your cameras.

At the top of the Mt Waterfall, it is the 'Lost World'.  I don't know why it is called the Lost World, but there are some really interesting plants there.  One of them is a wonderful pitcher plant.

Don't you think it is cute?  To contrast the Lost World, at the bottom of the Mt Waterfall, it is the 'Crystal World', with those wonderful stones from caves. I think they are called 'stalamite'.   You can find such stones in many parts of China, and they look specially wonderful when wet.

Oh, by the way, at the Lost World, you can also have a good view of the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotels.  The un-mistakenable boat shape and 3 tablets building is right outside of the conservatory.

It is another wonderful place in the Gardens by the Bay.  Please do pay a visit to this wonderful place, and take good care of it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Olympus E-PM1 Review - Part III: Battery Life

I only have one battery for my E-PM1, which is the original battery that came with the camera.  I fully charged the battery on Friday night, knowing that I would be going out for heavy shooting over the weekend.

This afternoon, after shooting ~186 shots over the last two days, the battery indicator started to flash warning.  Only 2 bars left out of a total of 3 bars.  This sounds a bit on the low side of my expectation.  If you bring this camera out for a day shoot, for me I will shoot around 100 photos in a normal day, so it is probably ok for a normal day shoot, under normal temperature of 27C.  If you take the camera out in a chilly day in winter, what will happen?  In this case, a back-up battery seems absolutely necessary.  I highly suspect it is the display that is draining off the juice from the battery fast, but this camera has no way to shut it off while shooting.

However, for 186 photos per charge, it is still comparable with other cameras in the same league I think, so it is not all that bad.  

Gardens by the Bay - The Flower Dome

The Flower Dome is one of the two green houses in the Gardens by the Bay.  It is one of the crown jewels in the center of Singapore.

The structure of the Flower Dome itself is a construction achievement.  According to the official website, the Flower Dome is the world's largest columnless greenhouse.  Looking out from the green house, you enjoy the beautiful view of Singapore's richest district, the financial center.  Here you can see the Singapore Flyer, the skyscrappers, the colonial district.  The Gardens by the Bay looks like an oasis in the heart of this concrete jungle.  

The Flower Dome is divided into many sections, featuring plants from the Mediterranean basin, Australia, South Africa, Chile and California of USA.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Let me go straight to show you what are waiting for you upon your visit to the Flower Dome.

All these photos were straight from my Olympus E-PM1 camera without any editing, except re-sizing.  Some photos were under-exposed due to a change in weather, however, I still hope that you enjoy the photos and the beauty of nature.  

Lao Beijing Restaurant

Lao Beijing Restaurant is one of Tunglok group of restaurants.  Recently we got this concession card called the Happy Card.

If you spend S$60 or more in a single bill, then you can get a S$25 fixed discount for that meal.  This discount is valid for 12 times within 3 months, the cost of the card itself is S$10.  We did our calculation and figured that if we spend just S$60, and get a S$25 discount, it is equivalent to a 42% discount!  It is a pretty good deal.  The card is valid for Lao Beijing, Zhouzhuang, Lingzhi and Garuda, but not valid at other Tunglok brand restaurants, such as Tunglok Signiture.

For today, we visited the Lao Beijing branch at Plaza Singapura.

The restaurant has a very classic Chinese restaurant setting, with the traditional style of furniture.

Even the menu is bounded like a traditional Chinese book.

Our first dish was mixed vegetable of celery, carrot, black fungus, and bai-he, a Chinese herb.

Second dish was mutton with leek.  That special smell of mutton was completely eliminated.  That was a good point.

Third dish is a soup, pigeon soup.  Probably some people may start frowning, but hey, it is not bad.  It is a tonic good for health.

We also ordered a cold dish, which was the beef tendon.  It is a little bit spicy, but not so spicy that you can't take it without water.  The tendon had been cut into smaller pieces, easy to chew in the mouth.  The tendon was crispy and a little bit chewy.  It was not bad.

Our grand finale was the sea bass.  My friend complained that the meat was not tender enough, but knowing his background of being more customed to fresh water fish, I was not really that critical of the fish.  However, the fish was not acceptable but not extremely fresh.  Guess can't ask for too much for sea water fish.

In general, as a member of Tunglok group, the quality of food is not too bad, there is a certain standard to it, but it doesn't mean that the taste is fantastic.  Somehow the food has been modified to suit the local taste, as a result, some key flavour kind of missing.   Anyway, overall it is still a pretty good restaurant if you would like to taste some northern Chinese food.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Olympus E-PM1 Review - Part II: Day Light Performance

After checking out E-PM1's low light performance, I continued to test its day light performance.  I again went to our famous Marina Bay area to photograph Singapore's financial center.

At low magnification, the photo looks quite reasonable, and any photographer should be pretty happy about the results.  How about at 100% crop?

At 100% crop, it is always problematic.  At the Tung Center there, you can see patches of pixels.  I don't know whether it is due to the sensor or it is related to the lens.  When I use my trusted 28-138mm lens on my dSLR, at the 135mm end, I would have such a problem too.

Let's look at another photo under a slightly more harsh lighting condition.

This photo was taken at around noon time.  The sun was still there, although it was a bit cloudy.  The trees appeared to be very dark in the photo.  I used both 'landscape' mode and iAuto mode to take the picture, but in both cases, the subjects appeared to be very under exposed.  I suspect the sensor's metering had been fooled by the strong background lighting.  For me, I did expect a better metering performance with E-PM1.

So far nothing from E-PM1 has impressed me in my test, other than its nice body design.  How about we look at something small.

I used the macro mode for some flower shots.  The result was not too bad actually.

Even at 100% crop, the edges are sharp, the color is vivid.  There is no patches of pixels as we saw earlier.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Olympus E-PM1 Review - Part I: Low Light Performance

I will do a different type of camera review.  This review will be divided into different parts, with illustrations with actual photos, by me, and for all photographers :)

This first part of the review will focus on low light performance of the E-PM1.  For a camera with a smaller sensor, and with a minimum ISO setting at ISO200, it is a real challenge to have good low light performance.

Here is a shot using the camera's night scene mode.

At this resolution, I think the photo looks very decent and I have nothing much to complain about.  How about at 100% crop then?

At 100% crop, then you can see that the edges of the face appear to be patches of pixels.  What a disappointment.

Exif Data:

ExposureTime - 1/13 seconds
FNumber - 4.00
ExposureProgram - Creative program
ISOSpeedRatings - 1600
ExifVersion - 0221
DateTimeOriginal - 2012:09:02 20:29:48
DateTimeDigitized - 2012:09:02 20:29:48
ComponentsConfiguration - YCbCr
ExposureBiasValue - -0.30
MaxApertureValue - F 3.50
MeteringMode - Multi-segment
LightSource - Auto
Flash - Flash fired, auto mode, red-eye reduction mode
FocalLength - 15 mm

How about I use the aperture priority mode?

I set the ISO to ISO200, aperture priority at F10.  Exposure time is 6 seconds.  Again, it looks pretty decent at this resolution.  How about at 100% crop?

Noise is very visible.  To reduce the effect of noise, I run the photo through noiseware.  Here is the 100% crop after noiseware treatment.

We can still see some noise artifacts.  I must say the low light performance of the camera is very much left to be desired.  It is a far cry from my old old Canon EOS20D at ISO200.

In addition, probably the camera is still new to me.  I am not very good with the focusing yet.  Quite a number of photos are out of focus, although the face detection feature was in use.  To give it a more fair comment, I will need to get myself familiar with the focusing under harsh conditions.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Olympus E-PM1

It has been many long years since my last purchase of any camera-related stuff, until recently, I again get interested in photography, to experience the great advancement in this field of technology.  In a few short years, our cameras have transformed from bulky dSLRs to the compact, yet still high quality micro-4/3 systems.  There are also many mirrorless dSLRs available in the market.

Today, I finally made the decision to purchase the Olympus PEN series E-PM1.  What made me finally decide to do that?  I was playing with the camera at COMEX this afternoon.  The feel of it in my hand is so comfortable!  It is light, a stark contrast to my Canon EOS20D, plus my two bulking lenses.  One weights like a piece of brick, while the other feels like a feature.

Olympus is notorious for their user interface.  The last time I used an Olympus, I was really put off by all the hidden, scenario sensitive menus.  It was like a hide and seek game.  Now Olympus still has many hidden menus, and it did take me quite a number of hours to get a hand of it, but then, hey, it is still quite manageable.  Once you know how it works, actually it is quite alright.

New technology does provide a lot more convenience than my old dSLR.  It is not that my old dSLR can't do something, just that new technology makes it easier, more efficient, & saves time.

I am looking forward to a more exciting & enjoyable journey with my new camera.  Once I can confirm that the image quality from this camera lens pair is as good as my bulky camera lens set, then I most probably will just sell off my old ones.

This is the age of digital technology advancement.

Bogus Seminar

I bought a Groupon voucher for a 'seminar' some time ago, and I was eagerly waiting for the seminar day to come, hoping I can gain some knowledge from this 'seminar'.  When I bought the Groupon, I did notice some of the free seminars organized by some investment services are being put on sale at Groupon with a nominal fee.  I hesitated, but then, still what the heck, just putting 12 bucks at risk, I took the risk.

I went for the seminar today.  It was a fear come true story.  The so-called 'seminar' ended up more like a   sales talk, product introduction, rather than a seminar where you can gain some knowledge.

I won't say the name of it, but then in the future, I will be more careful and skeptical about such 'seminars'.  This is to share with people who might be interested.