Monday, December 28, 2009

G10 vs Taiwan

Cicada skin - I had to rest the camera on the micro ferns of the tree to get a stable shot

As a person who has taken to attempting to capture moments and sights that I wish to share with others in a single frame of visual data, I naturally want a power-packed capturing device that can deal with my every whim and fancy. That is, a camera that can work with my strange capturing angles, not-so-stable hands, sitting on every conceivable type of surface that can support its weight without corroding into a smoking puddle...

Obviously, any half-assed photographer in this day and age would think of a DSLR as his ideal companion. Whatever extra trouble one had to deal with carrying a fundamentally heavier and bulkier camera, carrying multiple lenses on a trip and having to change them as and when a shot requires it, I was prepared to do. Or even better, having a big-arse all-in-one lens that I had to fix on everytime I pulled out the camera, and disassemble everytime I packed it back in. As long as I could jump from having my lens precariously near to a steaming bowl of soup to bringing a brightly-colored bird into frame from 25o metres away in an instant, what's that bit of trouble?

The result of snapping that stupid duck over and over for 5 minutes

But then I thought wow. I may be ready to do all that in a photographer's quest for the perfect shot, but when one is on travel where virtually everything is new, good shots don't wait to be taken. I know I am not ready to deal with multiple lenses (and definitely not ready to try to explain how the portrait lens I loaned rolled down a highway slope into the river), and so a very powerful point-and-shoot camera came to mind. Nicole sealed the deal by recommending that I get the G10 from Canon Singapore.

Which I did. I guess I'm to blame partly for getting it done only the day before I was due to fly off for Taiwan, while I was still working in camp. But I have to say, it takes an awful lack of professionalism to miss out an entire charging pack when sending a review unit to someone. If I hadn't gotten it at the last second from a friend, this review would definitely not have happened.

The challenge which I found quite perversely fun was that I needed to know how to operate this camera intimately by the time I walked out of the immigration checkpoint at Taiwan. I needed to know what it could do, what it could do well and under what conditions, what it simply could not do, and most importantly, what it could not do well under XYZ conditions, and if there was anything doable to make the situation better. That gave me less than 6 hours travelling from Singapore to Taiwan (including a transfer at HK which was more frantic walking than anything else) to consume the relevant parts of the very thick manual.

The very first shot I captured... mistakenly at 2MP.

As expected of a bridge camera, the G10 matches the relatively compact size and ease of operatability of any simple point-and-shoot camera, with the complex options that photographers who know what they want will undoubtedly want in their camera. I say they are complex not because the options are many, but because striking a balance between these few options require knowledge of each individual factor, and how they will work and clash with each other.

Capturing on almost auto settings - Ming Chih Recreation Area

As an amateur photographer more interested in versatility and swift efficient captures of single-opportunity shots, I am quite comfortable leaving most of the settings on auto mode (ISO, white balance, contrasting, anti-shake, aperture, shutter speed). This however is not to be confused as using the auto mode setting on the camera, because the camera's intelligence simply cannot yet be trusted to automatically work out the type of shot I'm going for.

Having used a very basic model of Panasonic Lumix as my usual digital camera, I am disappointed to see that there aren't as many scene settings in the G10. Sure, the potentials of the camera are aimed towards knowledgeable photographers in mind, but scene settings nevertheless provide for a quick jump to the appropriate settings in the quest for that perfect shot. Honestly, I'm starting to tire of going on about grabbing that perfect shot before it disappears forever, but there really is no escape from it. And if general photographers are willing to sacrifice the power of a DSLR for a jack of all trades prosumer camera, then you better make sure that Jack really knows alot of trades.

Foliage scene mode enhances green and produces stunning images as these

And speaking of recording, I was puzzled to find that this camera only records in 4:3 aspect ratio. With the international standard of 3:2 ratios for higher level photography, and the increasingly common use of widescreen monitors nowadays, I would have expected this of a far lesser camera. In fact even my Lumix has it. And I know that it's not because they are not aware of this, because they actually have a 3:2 ratio guide for you to crop your images later. What the hell for? It's more of a burden to me because I get the ratio but I know that the parts beyond the black markings are going to be recorded anyway. So why put it there in the first place?

One thing I'm very thankful for in this camera is the custom settings, marked on the dial as C1 and C2. In these two modes every single detail is at your disposal. You work your way through settings like your focus type (there's Flexizone, where you define your focusing point in every shot - awesome for macro), flash output power, white balance of course, and when you were finished, you save this settings in the mode of your choice, and everytime you turned on the camera or returned to that mode from some other setting, these settings that you have so carefully specified will be returned to you. I was surprised to accidentally learn one day that even the zoom is included in the settings. I had switched the ND filter on for the day, which is what I usually do to get a more vibrant image with less chance of overexposing as long as there is adequate natural light (cloudy sometimes doesn't cut it). I must have zoomed to test that the ND was doing its work, and saved it that way, and when I turned the camera on again later, I was puzzled at first to find the zoom lens stretching almost all the way out. For my needs, what I found useful was to set C2 to be my default photo taking function, and having the exact settings for C1 with the macro function turned on. It's hard to think of more ideal methods for that sought-after jump between near and far.

Flexizone focus in action - point A the sign and point B the strawberry (which was delicious btw)

A bad point I should mention about the macro function is that it cannot handle zoom very well. Yes, macro is supposed to be near and you aren't supposed to zoom, but there's always that particular shot where you can't get too close to your subject so you have to use the zoom to bring it closer. And the shakes the come from zooming in macro aren't pretty at all.

Success using macro + zoom after many frustrated attempts.

Another highlight of the G10 would definitely have to be it's scroll wheel. A firm grip on any camera is fundamental to getting even the simplest of shots, and that really only leaves your thumbs free to manipulate your camera on the fly. The scroll wheel naturally can only run through the various settings of one function at a time (eg ISO, or SCN mode, or shutter speed), but it still manages to solve a big part of this problem. It's abit low on the camera for my thumb to circulate smoothly without shifting the grip of the rest of my hand, but the ideal space for the wheel is taken up by the wonderfully large screen, which I would give priority to any day.

Angled flash = bad images. Sorry cl0udi3 you're still fab to me :P

Speaking of ideal spaces, the biggest image sensor in the world won't be able to prevent the obvious result of a side-installed flash. Subjects taken at sharp angles will be jarringly illuminated from one side. Given the fact that the optical viewfinder is a separate mechanism from the otherwise awesome lens and real honestly seems to serve little more purpose than to make you feel pro, I do feel that the center top of the camera would have served far better as the space to put the flash. Studying the camera as I type, I find that the telescope of the lens shouldn't get in the way of the illumination, but if I'm wrong, do correct me (or else what the hell, make the camera abit higher lah).

Night shots are the real test of any camera's prowess, and it's a pity that the G10 only serves to be half a step up from your average point and shoot. However, the adjustability of ISO up to 3200, shutter speed up to 15 seconds, and aperture up to 8.0 does give the photographer a significant increase in probability of getting a good night shot. On this count I depended more on the luck of getting shots right, as I only have basic knowledge of these factors.

Good nightshot

Awful grainy nightshot

Surprisingly good performance of long exposure... after some serious scrolling

Another point about the G10 that I had a hard time dealing with is the exposure compensation. I find it great that this is about the only setting independent from saving and actually has a whole dial dedicated to it because it is meant to be variant to every shot. But I do think something else is going on in there that I can't control, and the problem is everytime I shoot towards the sky, either the sky gets overexposed and is just a bright mass, with vivid colors of ground objects, or else the light intake is brought down, and the sky is distinguishable with the awful trade off of silhouetted ground objects. Makes for artistic shots sometimes, but definitely not wanted all the time.

Overexposed sky and underexposed foreground

Lastly, the fundamental of startup time. The Sony T10, the Lumix I have, the Olympus that my family had as our very first digital camera in like 2004 or 2005 had great start up times. Any of these cameras could literally match up to a person saying "Power. Focus. Capture." at average reading speed. That's slightly less than 2 seconds. You have to wait for the G10 to power on because you perform the focus, which takes slightly longer, and then capture. That takes almost double the time, something I definitely find undesirable in an otherwise powerful camera.

I've described the shortcomings on the G10 in more detail than its good points. But that does not in any way mean that its bad points outweigh its good points. On the contrary its good points trump the bad points to no end. But bad points deserve to be mapped out in detail so that anyone who intends to purchase one knows full well what they're getting into. I certainly know what I am getting into, and depending on more detailed comparisons in the future, a G10 or G11 will be mine by mid 2010.

Avatar 3D: How a good movie is put together

Yesterday, I went to watch the much screamed about Avatar, in its much screamed about 3D version. The awesome crowd of friends who invited me along - DK, Justin, Justin, Ivy, Gina and Mohan - would I think have heeded my demands of watching at Cathay (cos GV is so tween, Shaw equipment is so budget, and Lido is for DOM) but for the fact that they stopped screening Avatar 3D on Thursday or something (and wtf just checked and they're showing again, maybe everyone rushed to book tickets online making it slow). So for all my bitching, GV is without doubt the next best cinema around so there we went. And at least we went to GV Vivo, which again is without doubt the best GV venue in the whole of Singapore. And closest to my house as well.

I donned the 3D glasses, and apart from a few irritated adjustments, because I had specs and that made the 3D glasses sit on the middle of my nose like an uncle's glasses, I felt no need to take it off because of the fantastic new technology that doesn't give most people headaches like the older jarring red-blue ones used to (listen to Simply Geek Ep1 plug over at Tech65 plug for an interesting discussion on this and its future plug).

When the movie ended, I pulled the glasses off and found myself taking in deeper breaths than before, astounded that a whole three hours had passed like that.

So what is a good film? Like so many other questions attempting to define a positive example that a sensible majority can agree upon, the answer cannot be pegged to a single example, because idiosyncrasy can never be avoided in the quest for ultimate perfection. In that case "What is the good film?" cannot be answered. But Avatar will definitely serve well as one example of a good movie.

The story on its own isn't much to sing and dance about. As so succinctly summarized by DK, it's Pocahontas 2154AD. I say it's Pocahontas with Star Wars effects and a Lion King soundtrack. But anyway, it's nothing new. Nothing particularly bad, mind you. A plot by my rules can hardly ever be bad in its most basic form - it's the fleshing out of it that is always screwed up and over.

Before I go on about the effects, one very important point to the success of the movie is plot progression. This is how the rollercoaster ride is designed, how the adventure tour is composed. Some stories are like bullet trains - see see look wow bam kapow slash ugh blood spray sex what slap betrayal love make up make out end. Alot of things are presented, and nothing gets to the audiences' head. Some other stories are the scenic monorail rides - this here is the Quadridangus Corcilipeptus leaf, it first appeared in 2484BC, has 628 distinct veins, and ranks #38 in the chart of foliage green intensity. It gives you anything and everything in excruciating detail, and most people are drooling right after this here is the...

Avatar shows how to do plot progression well. Starting off at a decent pace, giving you a hell of a speed demon ride through action sequences, and where necessary, slowing to a near stop to let you experience the beauty of the details that would most certainly have been lost on you if you had even been cruising past it. The effort that comes from good storytelling (something I absolutely can't do because I belong to the monorail side) involves the audience member in the making of the story - one becomes part of the story journeying with the protagonist or antagonist as it unfolds, and one's emotions are being lent to the forming of the story. And that is what people describe as being sucked into the story.

Speaking of getting sucked into the story, I heard that the 3D effects weren't originally part of the equation. If you don't already know, I am an unabashed graphics whore. And if for nothing else, I would watch almost anything just to wait for good graphics sequences. Prime examples - Speed Racer and The Spirit. This is the first time I've seen 3D being used to such an extent, to its current commercial limits even. The level of depth and realism it extends to the movie just makes the best of all previous attempts seem childish and slipshod. And until I get myself a copy of the 2D version, I probably can't say this in all certainty. But I am going to say it anyway that with or without the 3D effects, this is the first time in my history of watching special effects that a movie has actually trumped a Star Wars climatic battle sequence (to qualify, modern trilogy, not classic). That said, just because it pwned Star Wars doesn't mean that Mr Lucas isn't involved in it. I know for a fact from catching the credits that Skywalker Sound was involved in Avatar, and I would be more surprised if Industrial Light and Magic was in no way involved in the making of this, once again, awesome show.

What makes a great movie? Plot. Plot progression. Emotions. Well carved characters. Good actors. Filmography. Videography. Symbolism. These are the classic factors of a great movie. Avatar may not have half these elements, but how are we to look to the future, when we are staring at the old school all the time? The progression of time and culture may have rendered some of these factors unimportant, and given weight to new and novel factors. And as far as that is concerned, Avatar takes the big juicy steak home.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

SG Blogosphere 2009 Most Talked About Event

Last year it was Rinaz and Cart's wedding. Next year it will be... well something.

This year, the topic that wins the recognition of being the one that generated the most intense chatter is...

DK's Christmas Bearbear bag.

What can I say? Fate deals cruel hands. It's the shitty part of her job. But sometimes right, she deals it in such a way that the resultant situation makes it into the top ten funniest moments of all who were there to witness.

In all honestly, even I would have wanted the bear (it's awfully cute and of reasonably good make) if not for the lousy fact that it was a bag. I wonder who was the genius who saw this perfect product and went "Nope not enough let's slit a hole in the back of his neck and add straps to him that way he will be even more appealing."

Well, win some lose some.

And below is the torture we all put DK through for your utter viewing pleasure. I have to say, it does look so much better in Youtube HD.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Micro Pantry

I talked about it on Twitter. And here's the result. Feels really nice to have something like that. Now it's just how to stop the other three monsters raiding it.

Thanks to Justin for advice on the mini tray. What? I'm indecisive and I make good use of my friends' presences.


If anyone still reads this (and I guess this line is used on 76% of blogs), I'm sure it isn't the first time you have seen something like this. Damn well won't be the last.

There are so many things going on in my mind right now. There have been for weeks now, and they've been gradually building up until it's two sides on my brain on opposite cliffs bickering endlessly with each other at the top of their lungs.

At the very fundamentals of it, I guess hardly anybody can insist that lying is good. The question is whether or not it is not bad. Because let's face it. A liar of average skills get away with 80% of his lies. Those who get away with 92% are or will be world-class poker players. Those who get away with 95% become politicians. And those who get away with 98% of their lies will be recruited into secret service. The other 1.9% can be trained or induced somehow.

Lying to someone you don't want to see hurt solves the immediate problem. The more facts you have on your side, the less you have to work to sufficiently color the truth. By the way, lying about a sexual affair doesn't fall in my book under "lying to not hurt". But you don't need a malicious person to burst your carefully created bubble. People absolutely unaware of the situation say things and bomb, Hindenberg. While I have to say shamefacedly that lying comes quite naturally to me as a survival instinct in today's world, I can't but stop and consider if it really is worth it at all. I don't have all the time in the world. Goodness knows I'm hoping for 26 hours a day. But should I take the time to sit down and try my best to break the truth gently? Because even if it works for my conscience, and I know I'll feel pretty damn good after the hard part is over, I most likely won't be fair to any of the other parties involved in the complex situation that birthed the white lie. That of course, makes x bad parties, as opposed to x+1 bad parties if the truth is uncovered. If you think being the bad person trumps possibly getting implicated in the whole deal, which in all morality does, that's only your choice to make. But for such an emotionally-driven person as me who likes to look and look again at both sides, it's another endless debate, and unless the benefits highly outweigh the ease of a lie, I would almost surely flow with the latter as a default response, and that, I think you will expect, does nothing in the world to move this eternal question forward.

And then there is that debate with religion. You will find that most modern Christians correct one when asked and say that "Christianity isn't a religion it's a relationship". So there lies my answer, I'm well aware of that but I still have to say religion for the sake of clarity, I can't be saying there's that debate with The Relationship, and then you read and find out its about God not my girlfriend and go the hell why is it a relationship with God and et cetera.

Anyway, God.

I haven't been to church now, for about a year. And as you are wondering, my definition of "been to church" doesn't count sporadic visits.

"Have you been exercising?"
"Yes, I ran for 10 minutes in the gym yesterday."
"And I...... sweat. What?"

Being to church simply means going whenever you possibly can. There are a score of micro reasons why I stopped, but really, why fill another foot of space with those? Long and short, I just lost the passion to go - the fire, that wanting. And why would we want to go to church? Fundamentally, to get in touch with God. As I learnt from my church, recharging your spiritual batteries, satisfying yourself and consequently others around you. And by the way, I am one who believes that religion and science perfectly compliment each other. It seems like a weak convenient excuse, but I do really believe that religion plugs that gaps that science can't fill, and science is slowly but surely uncovering the reasons of religion. Science shouldn't regard religion as superstitious tosh, and neither should religion regard science as faux-logic (fauxgic?) made to disprove religion. But back to God. Sorry, digression seems to be hardwired into me.

I'm not exactly happy that I'm not attending church regularly. Certainly, while we're here, I'm glad I don't have to deal with the pressures of doing so against my obvious will. But that by no means indicate that I'm glad to be away. It's not a very good feeling to be away from it all, to know that there is love and hope and peace happening in that one supernatural place, and you aren't part of it. And as you learn, these things aren't a jump-in experience. Or they rarely are. Just because you feel like it doesn't mean you're gonna get in the spirit of the Lord. I jump and sing and shout and scream. I feel nothing deep down where it really matters after all the loud noise is over. It just doesn't work that way. You can't expect to have in on the sweets and berries whenever you please. That's why we call it a relationship, because in a religion, I am sorry but unrepentant to say, you more or less can.

This really isn't helped by the fact that I am of the opinion that since the God I believe in does not believe in forcing people's hands into doing things, believer or not, and also that especially since I have confessed my belief in Him and His unparalleled powers, he is watching over me like only God can. And that there will be a time and place when I one day either experience the fire once more, or my soul would just cave in from all the worldly pressures and would bring me back to church. Long short, that I don't have to force myself in any way to go to church. That in time, when it is my time, I will go back to attending church without effort, or at least not minding the effort, because I did sacrifice quite abit serving and attending church last time, all of which I did not mind at all, I suppose because I wanted to do what I did. But I get impatient. When is my time? It's been over a year. How much more can I afford before my life goes in to the ditches? Am I getting this all wrong? Do I really need all that maddening effort after all? But that doesn't make sense, my church taught me it didn't work that way. Did I get the teachings wrong all this time? Is my church wrong? Heart vs church - where do you suppose God connects to, if it's a relationship? So the heart wins?

See for yourself. How many question marks there are, as opposed to periods. I suppose that would sum up my life now. Maybe I'm just going through what everyone at 21 goes through to varying extents (I obviously get to have the strong end of it). I can feel myself slowly going rancid, as far as the rules of judgment are concerned. I'm doing awful things, the very same terrible things I despise as base when being done to me. And all this with the realization that I'm free as a believer of the finished work of Jesus Christ from the condemnation that inevitably comes from breaking these rules. Imagine if that was still that case. I think I would totally empathize if you decided to just end it right now. Honestly why add more crap to your long list?

I wonder if I have to do this self-exorcism, this catharsis, as a sort of routine quarterly defragmentation (go read up Wikipedia if you don't know what I'm talking about). As far as computers are concerned the only way I solved that was... well I didn't solve it myself, the problem disappeared along with quite a few others when I made the jump to Apple OS X. And I guess that's what I have to do with my life. Completely reorganize the way things are computed in my mind. Perhaps I've found this elusive operating system in Christianity.

The remaining problem then, is how to install it. Good night.