Spode: Blog http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Spode ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Thu, 13 Jul 2017 15:13:00 GMT Thu, 13 Jul 2017 15:13:00 GMT http://spode.zenfolio.com/img/s2/v59/u33590192-o607966712-50.jpg Spode: Blog http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog 120 90 Hong Kong Photo Essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/7/hong-kong I spent last weekend in Hong Kong. It has a lot going for it: a business, financial and currency hub; a tourist launch pad but also a vibrant tourist attraction in its own right; an iconic skyline to compare with any other as far as highrises go; mountains, a wonderful bay, a mix of tropical weather and London/SanFran pea soups; great food establishments that include a very large number of Michelin starred restaurants; and enough attractions to consume both a weekend and a whole week depending on your inclinations.

But Hong Kong is also a street photographer's paradise, competing with the likes of New York, Tokyo and London for sheer diversity of experience. There are the lanes like beckoning warrens of exploration, the myriad-hued light that challenges you at every hour of the day, the four seasons accompanied as they are by the unpredictability of the weather, the street lights after dark (both sulphur vapour and bright white), the shadows, textures and colours ... and of course the characters that enter the frame at every crossroad and street corner.

New use for a mobile phone

Some of the best places for candid street captures include Soho (also a food haven), Kowloon, Stanley Village, Ocean Park and the length and breadth of Hollywood Road. Sometimes you really have to get in close. It's at times like this that the compact and unobtrusive Fuji X70 shines. It's silent, fairly quick and allows for both one-handed and hip-level captures.

There's a whole city underground

Contemplation at Blake Pier

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The old man near the sea

Except for Sunday the weather was a bit of a disappointment, but the wet and cloudy days provided a diffuseness all of their own that was pleasing in its own way, providing a somewhat filmy look to many of the captures.

Processed with VSCO with fs4 preset The absence of junks was also a little disappointing

Glass, steel and concrete make for great reflections

Trump is as popular here as the fell hand of the PRC

Some nice bokeh at the Man Mo temple

The Fairies in the forger's glass

There is a pulse in Hong Kong, a real city vibe that mixes the confidence and glitter of affluent modernity with the starker realities of coexistence, struggle and individual angst. You can feel in on the streets, in the pubs and cafes, in the buses and tram cars and even in the malls! But this only adds to the excitement and enjoyment of the street photographer, providing immediacy, uniqueness and narrative which, with a little luck, can be captured through the lens of the camera.

We also serve who only sit and wait

The watcher

The Hosier

Chasing Bubbles

The Couple

The vendor

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The eternal selfie is never far away

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) fuji x70 hong kong photo essay fuji x70 photo essay fuji x70 travel photography hong kong x70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/7/hong-kong Thu, 13 Jul 2017 11:35:22 GMT
Bali Revisited http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/6/bali-revisited

Back in May I had the opportunity to revisit Bali. This was my first visit in more than 14 years. Many things have changed since then. For one, it has become considerably more expensive. Having recently visited Vietnam and supped on some of the best food on earth, sipped some of the easiest lagers and purchased some of the most beautiful handicrafts - all on a reasonable budget - Bali seemed unreasonably overpriced. There were many restaurants which advertised their crazily priced fare on shop windows that were virtually empty each time I passed, both afternoon and evening. There were art stores and artisan galleries that had obviously not entertained patrons in a very long time and yet any attempt at negotiation was rebuffed by a vigorous shake of the head and a gallic shrug!

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And yet, Bali is still great for a number of things. The beaches are as spectacular as I remember them. And they cater to every taste - from the crowded to the secluded. If surfing is your thing, there are stretches that are as good as anywhere else on earth. Then there are the coastal drives and the temples like Uluwatu and the forests. Bali has its own brand of Hinduism which is something of interest, mixing local customs and beliefs with a stricter diet of Hinduism untouched by any parallel belief in Buddhism as evidenced on other Indonesian islands.

Food, however, is not Bali's strong suit. Java has a wider selection of local fare and tastier. That's not to say that Bali doesn't have some great restaurants. Locavore in Ubud and Bali Cardamom in Nusa Dua were some of the key highlights of the trip. But Warung fare just doesn't do it for me. Even the much vaunted Jimbaran Bay seafood was less tasty than I remember. And I tried it on two separate occasions at two different (but high recommended) restaurants.

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Still Bali still stands out as a place that caters to the pure holiday maker. If you are not in it for eco, religious, historical or gastronomical tourism, but rather want a few days away from the madding crowd (or to immerse yourself in it), to laze and be active, to gorge and abstain, to sally forth and retreat, all after the inclinations of the moment, then Bali is certainly among the top five destinations to consider for your next vacation.

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Trio, Nusa Dua

The over-hyped paddy fields

Monsters watching over us, Ubud Palace

Processed with VSCO with s3 preset The road to Uluwatu

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Fisherfolk, Sanur

Surfer's sunset, southern coast

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Hindu Priest, Pura Jagatnatha

Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud

Tile work, Nusa Dua

Masks rival Batik work for beauty

All pictures taken with the iPhone 7 Plus.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Bali Bali photo essay Travel Photography with the iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus photo essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/6/bali-revisited Mon, 19 Jun 2017 09:10:59 GMT
Hue and Hoi An http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hue-and-hoi-an Many who visit Vietnam tend to spend most of their time either in the North (Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa) or the South (Saigon, Nha Trang and the Mekong Delta). But some of the most beautiful cultural and relaxing experiences are to be had in the centre - to the north and south of Da Nang - at Hue and Hoi An. Taking the scenic route from from Da Nang to Hue is worth it if only for the prospect of sipping coffee by the Tam Giang Cauhai lagoon.

Fishermen, Tam Giang Cauhai lagoon

Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam is only some 50 km north of Da Nang (famous for the US airbase here during the Vietnam War). Itself the scene of some of the worst carnage in the war (remember the Tet offensive of 1968), Hue resembles nothing so much today as a peaceful little town that offers satisfaction to both the earnest and casual tourist. It is home to some fabulous hotels, restaurants, structures and handicrafts that will suit every budget and taste. Most famous among the hotels is the Saigon Morin Hotel which, with its classic old world charm and understated elegance, played host to Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard when they honeymooned here after a quick wedding in Shanghai. Situated by the Perfume River, it is the perfect place to be situated to enjoy the strand, access the citadel and sally forth into the maze of lanes that house some of the best restaurants to be had anywhere in Vietnam. The best among these is undoubtedly Le Jardins de la Carambole for both French and traditional Vietnamese: the Bun Bo Hue is not to be missed.

Living statue, Perfume River Walk

But the icing on the cake has to be the citadel, the tombs and monasteries, and the local art for which Hue is quite famous. The citadel is a grand fortification whose construction began in 1804. Within the citadel lies the Imperial City (not unlike the Forbidden City in China), that houses imposing gates, palaces, temples, gardens and pavilions.

A different era, a different flag

Giant dynastic urns to commemorate less grand (often short) lives

And then there's the Perfume River. Emitting a somewhat nauseating scent (perhaps the putrefying relic of bygone days), a short boat ride brings you to The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady that affords some superb views of the river and the southern bank. It was also from this pagoda that the monk Quang Duc set forth in his Austin for Saigon and set himself ablaze in 1963 in protest against the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. His blue Austin has been returned and will, to the best of my knowledge, be parked here for all eternity.

Tourist on the north bank

View of the Perfume River and the south bank

And then there are the tombs - well mostly mausoleum complexes - that lie strewn in a somewhat broken line along the north bank of the river. Each as imposing as the next, my favourites were the tombs of the emperors Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, the former for its sheer scale and splendour, the latter for its location and prospect.

Mandarins guarding the ghost of Khai Dinh

The hills beyond Khai Dinh

Tu Duc's lavish mausoleum complex allows you to take shelter from the rain ...

...or walk for miles and feel like pieces on a giant chessboard!

Hoi An, however, is everything Hue is not. It is a beautifully preserved beach town that has consciously started up from the bedrock of an old trading village (Fai Fo). It has a wonderful beach, some chic hotels, a vibrant night market, lots of touristy activities, boutiques, dives, great restaurants (Ancient Faifo is one of the very best), outstanding cafes and visitors from almost every corner of of at least 3 continents. And all this within a walkable 4 square kilometres (except maybe the beach for which you would need to cycle some 2 kms)!

The ubiquitous rickshaw will take you from anywhere to anywhere else in less than 20 minutes

Lanterns hanging from the rafters

Even the locals know how to play to the popular imagination

If I were to go back to Hoi An, it would be for the beach, the restaurants and the cafes. I'd probably give the boat ride (except during the monthly lantern festival), the lantern making and the night market a wide berth!

The balcony of Ancient Faifo: the scallion pancakes, mango and lotus salad, and the crispy rolls are to die for

Even at the night market, the lantern shops are a star attraction

Sunset on Thu Bon river: the estuary here was a major mediaeval port

Another ode to the local craft: during the beginning of the lunar month, the power is shut off and the central courtyard is lit by lanterns only

A note on the pictures: Once again, all these images were snapped by the iPhone 7 Plus. I am beginning to get more and more impressed by the capabilities of this humble phone camera. Even as the light begins to fade, the camera performs well, especially if supported by a tripod. Apps like Cortex Cam allow handheld shots that are absolutely amazing! Except if you need to capture very fast moving objects or if you need longer reach, the iPhone may be all you need for almost any type of vacation.

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Hoi An Hue Travels in Vietnam Vietnam Travel Photography iPhone Travel photography shot on iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hue-and-hoi-an Tue, 23 May 2017 02:53:25 GMT
Halong Bay Photo Essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/halong-bay-photo-essay The Bay of Tonkin has a 1500 square km expanse of shallow water called Halong Bay in which limestone and dolomite karsts abound. The air is cool and the water is an unreal bottle green. On the day that I visited it was cloudy and the diffused light was less contrasty than I might have originally desired. But it made up for this in spades.

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First, because of the weather there were fewer boats in the bay than (I am given to believe) normally ply these waters. Not only that, we were the only ones on a boat that could have held at least 50 passengers. Secondly, the soft even light was perfect for the iPhone 7 Plus. With a dynamic range that seemed made for this small sensor, the little beast was able to manage every scene masterfully. Lastly, it was cool. Cool enough to ensure that we never wanted to go below deck. In fact my advice is to try and choose an overcast day to really enjoy the beauty of Halong Bay. Bright sun, heat and humidity are good for the beach, but not so good for sipping a cocktail and looking out on this geological wonder.

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset A small piece of advice. When booking a trip, ditch the guide. Just book a car or take a bus to Halong Bay (if you are not already staying in town) and reserve your tickets in advance. The guides do little more than point out some forgettable towns on the way from Hanoi to Halong Bay and make you stop at one or two equally forgettable handicraft factories of indifferent provenance and skill to get you to spend some money that you would be better served spending at smaller village shops or even shops in Hanoi itself, if you are that way inclined.

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Processed with Blackie There are half-day, full-day and overnight boat tours. I personally prefer the half-day tour because it gives you a wonderful taste of what Halong Bay has to offer without ever making you wish that the trip could come to an end. In a span of 5 hours you traverse a distance of some 60 kms, take in one of the most beautiful marine landscapes in the world, eat a wonderful seafood lunch, get to sip your favourite tipple at least three times, and get to visit at least one cavern. What's not to like?

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Back on shore, if you are staying the night, there are some great cafes and restaurants that serve fresh seafood to suit every taste. And there's even a cable car ride for those who just need to be reminded that they are on holiday!

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Halong Bay Halong Bay Photo Essay Travel Photography iPhone 7 Pus shot on iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/halong-bay-photo-essay Tue, 09 May 2017 02:20:35 GMT
Hanoi with the iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hanoi Hanoi is a traditional Asian city in many respects: surging crowds, chaotic traffic, the decrepit mansion cheek by jowl with the fashionably modern and pristine, uninhibited romance on the streets, an explosion of cafes for the middle class, a plethora of bars for the richer classes, and the inevitable trappings of modernisation: pollution, conspicuous consumption and the all pervasive smart phone.

Nhat Tan Bridge

But there are at least some key differences between say, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or even it's southern sister - Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City - and Hanoi itself. First, like some other cities in India like Calcutta, Hanoi has no specific sense of urgency. Despite the crowds and the traffic, you never get a feeling that people are impelled (or indeed compelled) to move forward at a rate that makes the empty monotony of life obvious and unbearable. Shopkeepers are attentive, taxi drivers are forgiving and restaurants are long-sufferingly patient. There is an ease about the pace of life that makes it both quaint and timeless. You cannot walk on the footpaths on account of the hawkers, but you can sit on them wherever you like without shame or fear of rebuke; It is not easy to hail down a cab here but you can jump into and out of a rickshaw at will.

Taking a break

Secondly, people are friendly without any of the ingratiating sweetness that usually grows like a giant toadstool in every tourist hotspot. The people you meet in restaurants and parks and temples are ordinary people carrying out the ordinary business of their everyday lives. They are unselfconscious and inattentive. When they smile, it is by way of a tentative companionship - strangers who find themselves enjoying the same meal or spectacle - not a precursor to a commercial transaction.

It's easy to be a communist and a buddhist since neither believe in divinity

That's not to say that there are no tourist hotspots: any guidebook will recommend The Hanoi Opera House (with a national ballet that rivals any gymnastics troupe) the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (not for the impatient or those with a decided taste in music) the Hoa Lo prison (too sanitised for a weak imagination), the Temple of Literature (touristy), the Tran Quoc pagoda (beautiful) the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (austere but impressive) and the serene walks along Hoan Kiem lake. But none of these are deal breakers. Hanoi might even be enjoyed without a noteworthy visit. Well, maybe not without a visit to Tran Quoc pagoda, or the walks around Hoan Kiem lake and the old French Quarter!

The beautiful Quan Troc pagoda on West Lake

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Watching the sunset at Hoan Kiem Lake

Lastly, there's the sense here that people genuinely don't want to give up their past or let progress and trade hold their future choices hostage. There's a pride in language, food and culture that doesn't assert itself by shouting like the class bully; instead it wins you over through understatement and the quiet dignity of a people who understand their identity. In this it is more refreshing than Bangkok and less subdued than Rangoon.

In northern Vietnam the Chinese influence in strong

Hop on Hop off

No place, though, is ever made famous without a famous cuisine. And while the British have (at least) their fish-and-chips and Cornish pasties, the Vietnamese are far more richly endowed. From the ubiquitous Pho to the almost equally popular Bun, from salads to wantons, from beef and pork to a tantalising array of creatures from the sea, there is something here to please every palate, somewhere to meet the size of every pocket. And talking of pockets, the warm and cold liquid stuff retails cheaply here. The concept of taxing the population (indigenous or foreign) for a tipple is alien to Hanoi. Bia Hoi pubs aside (you couldn't ask for cheaper beer), neither a large hotel nor a tiny restaurant would ever think of cheating its customers by overcharging for liquor.

Bun Bo Nam Bo

The restaurant ambience here is startlingly diverse. From the arty interiors of Chim Soo to the hole-in-the-wall snugness of Che Cap Tham Cu, there is food aplenty. Some of my personal favourites included Bun Bo Nam Bo and Koto. The only thing you can ever be sure of is that the local food will be tasty, different and fresh.

Salad at Koto

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It's plain to see that all ingredients are fresh

Eventually Hanoi is as much a place as a mindset, a location in the traveller's imagination that asks no more than tolerance, empathy, friendliness and adventure. From its night markets that somehow seem more alive than those that greet you in the day to its interesting street characters and bustling cafes - that serve a delicious brew - Hanoi brings together a myriad of experiences, stimulating the senses in a way that makes a visit to this city thoroughly enjoyable.

 

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Sugarcane at the night market 

Open wares, hidden owner

The Red River

The barber and the tea seller

Special Note: All photos on this post were shot with the iPhone 7 Plus. I was most wary of carrying this as my travel camera, but it served me well. I noticed that the Portrait Mode worked well in good light; the tele lens was less contrasty than the wide. I would recommend this as a travel and street camera  - not as sharp as a Ricoh, not as versatile as a Fuji - that for its size and convenience, is a great carry everywhere piece of gear.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Hanoi Hanoi Blog Hanoi with the iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus travel photography iPhone travel photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hanoi Mon, 08 May 2017 12:09:34 GMT
Udayagiri http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/udayagiri I have now been visiting India every month on account of work and have begun a sporadic but deliberate rediscovery of India. At least those parts that I have visited before and that I would now, with the aid of digital image technology, like to capture for my own pleasure. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I had an opportunity to spend about an hour exploring the ancient monastic caves of Udayagiri in the city of Bhubhaneshwar. Not only were there great photo opportunities, but a chance to observe how Indians confront and engage with their heritage.

I had only my iPhone 7Plus and my Moment Wide lens and I tried to make the most of the late afternoon sun. While I missed my Fuji X70, especially when I wanted to capture the dynamic range of the scene before me, the iPhone held up quite well.

Ancient Set, Modern Props

Tete-a-tete in (sic) ruins

The inmates, 2000 years later

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Rock Climbers

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The documentary impulse

Leave taking

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Mextures Moment Moment Wide Orissa Rediscovery of India Udayagiri VSCO iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/udayagiri Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:29:33 GMT
Bangkok Weekend http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/10/bangkok-weekend There's precious little to write about Bangkok that hasn't already been said in one way or another. So this time I'll just stick to the photos and state that visiting after many years I chose to stay in a more "seemly" part of town only to discover that the tentacles of the tourism octopus have spread everywhere. There is more thuggery, seediness and exotic fare for every palate than ever before!

Dashing Monk

Posing Tourist

Reach for the Sky

At the feet of the Master

Outside the sanctum

Modern Times

Royal Splendour

Competitors

Sunlight

Vertigo Bar

Wat Arun

Profusion

 

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Bangkok Bangkok with the X70 Fuji X70 Thai weekend with the X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/10/bangkok-weekend Thu, 06 Oct 2016 12:33:20 GMT
Evening Stroll http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/evening-stroll Three shots from this evening stroll along the river: all shot near the Helix Bridge.

The Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands

The eternal selphie

The helix bridge

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Stroll Photography X70 B&W X70 in Singapore http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/evening-stroll Thu, 22 Sep 2016 12:16:29 GMT
Vandals http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/vandals It's not often that you find folks who are allowed to wantonly post their impressions on public property here. Every so often Singapore (Antisepticopolis) believes that it must project an image of being more liberal, of promoting urban art, of embracing grit and popular angst. So it was that after months of aimless wandering and many hours of applying filters to provide some soul to my ham-boiled images, I came across - O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! - 4 young men that were having a blast, literally, at the expense of the state in a skater's park. I do not know what prompted me to carry my X70 in my pocket yesterday but have it I did and, in a flash, out it came. For the first time I really thanked Fuji for providing both a tiltable touchscreen and a camera small enough to cradle in the palm of my hand and I bent, squatted and stood on tip-toe to frame my shots.

I do believe the X70 is proving more and more to be a worthwhile street camera!

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Graffiti with the X70 Street Photography with the X70 X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/vandals Wed, 21 Sep 2016 09:59:24 GMT
A wet weekend in Saigon http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/a-wet-weekend-in-saigon Saigon was wet when we got in on Saturday afternoon. The monsoon held the city in a vice and a wall of water enveloped everything till about 7PM. Which was probably just as well. The darkness and the water warped the view from the hotel windows and obscured what is probably one of the most architecturally mundane cities in Asia. Even the tourist agencies do not try to augment its charms in any way. There are probably a handful of buildings you could ever put on your list (unless you count the countless pagodas and pagodas are your thing).

Among these is the Notre Dame Cathedral. One wonders if this was a pre-requisite for every French colony. However this has neither the elegance of the one in Paris nor the splendor of the one in Montreal. This is simply plain, robust and worth checking off in your travel book. The crowd outside is usually more interesting, especially over the weekend. Couples especially make epic and fearless crossings while all around them scooters and cars zip by oblivious to things in their path!

There is also the post-office where people congregate under the watchful eye of Ho Chi Minh to view some old maps and look at all sorts of paraphernalia linked to the old post and telegraph services. I don't think you will ever see such a post-office anywhere else - with people lounging around as if they are all waiting for the last train out from Siberia in some second class waiting room.

And there are the few museums - the City Museum, the Reunification Palace and the American War Museum - the last a gallery of horrors and atrocities that cannot but make you cringe. Though somewhat representative of the Vietnamese side of things, there are indisputable facts that will not be brushed aside and points of view that leave you undecided. A must visit but not for the faint hearted. They even have a children's playpen there so as not to expose the impressionably young to the exhibits.

The City Museum has no such gut-wrenching exhibits however. A sedate, demure colonial building that was obviously once the home of some French grandee, the most interesting thing there is the balustrade ... and the underground tunneled pathways.

But I personally feel that these are not the reasons one visits Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer). If you want history, atmosphere, colonial architecture and culture in Vietnam, you would be better served going to Hanoi and ... well, north at any rate. That's not to say there is no reason to visit this southern city at all. It has at least 3 things going for it. First, it's a big urban Metropolis and has a fairly active night scene. Secondly, it's got a great food scene and serves not only the myriad Vietnamese cuisines that exist but a whole lot of other Asian ones as well. Lastly, it has a casual, friendly vibe that puts you at ease almost at once. And so, it's great for street photographers and foodies.

And the X70 really delivered here. It proved to be fast, inconspicuous, flexible and reliable in a whole host of situations: indoors, in low light, on overcast days, close-up and wide.

Reflections on an overcast day

Taking a break from the eternal ride, ride, forever ride ...

Preoccupation of the print-seller

Les Masseuses sont perces

Vestibule atelier

The best way to get into Vietnamese cuisine

Chic restaurant

The fruit seller

Restored: Through this gate a tank made its rude entrance to end the war in 1975

The pick up

The elevator shaft & stairwell

Young flaneur

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Fuji X70 in Saigon Saigon Saigon Street Photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/a-wet-weekend-in-saigon Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:37:58 GMT
KL Snapshots http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/kl-snapshots Last weekend I visited Kuala Lumpur for the first time. Despite the short stay I must say that I prefer it to Singapore for a few reasons. First, it has a nice vibe that nicely combines the needs of a modern technopolis with some serious street photography grit. Secondly, it has a more gentle social stratification that allows for easier engagement and access. Lastly, I really like the dives and the food. I think the difference is like that between San Fran and Las Vegas. After a while you've seen all there is to see in Vegas. As such, I certainly intend to spend more time in both KL and greater Malaysia. Look out for more blog posts soon.

National Mosque. Palm trees and fountains surround the compound.

KL is full of underpasses that provide both access and relief from the heat.

Despite the humidity, Merdeka (Independence) Square is a popular tourist destination.

​Situated at the confluence of two streams, the Masjid Jamek was the main mosque in KL before the creation of the National Mosque.

Chinese temples abound in KL and are the most accessible places of worship.

Taking a break. KL provides great opportunities for street photography.

A pair of tired legs. The X70 was able to focus quite quickly in scenes such as these.

The Menara KL Tower is a popular place in the sky (at 515m) from which to look down on the city.

As is the wonderful open-air butterfly park. Who said 28mm was limiting?

And the world's largest free-flight bird sanctuary. Holocene Park anyone? Again the X70 was up to the task of capturing (albeit close) wildlife.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Fuji X70 as a travel camera KL with only a Fuji X70 Kuala Lumpur with the X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/kl-snapshots Fri, 12 Aug 2016 13:00:00 GMT
A short stop in Java http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/a-visit-to-java

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the island of Java in Indonesia. My original destination was the town of Yogyakarta, not quite the typical Indonesian tourist hotspot. Most tourists visit Bali/ Lombok and, if they visit Java, stay on the western side near Jakarta or the east near Surabaya and volcanic Mount Bromo (currently smoking). This is a pity, because, other than the superlative beaches and highlands, Java actually has a much richer and longer Hindu-Buddhist heritage than Bali; in fact the culture migrated from Java to Bali because earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and finally the rise of Islamic kingdoms threatened the prevailing civilization.

Yogyakarta looks like any medium sized city in SE Asia. A town square, a main market and restaurants clustered near the shopping area. Traffic is chaotic and, though transport is good and cheap, it takes an interminable length of time to go anywhere within the city.

But Yogyakarta gives you special access to at least 3 must-dos:

1. The most celebrated Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Southern Hemisphere

2. Some amazing Batik and Wayang (leather carved puppets used in shadow plays)

3. The Keraton (palace of the Sultan) that stands as a testament to how a Muslim ruler has integrated pre-islamic culture into a proud living tradition

The main attractions for me were the temples of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu), both completed sometime in the 9th century. In fact Borobudur is especially attractive because it is one of the few historical Buddhist temples that I have ever seen (the other being Angkor Wat). Historical Buddhist edifices (such as remain or are excavated in India and the Eastern Himalayas) tend to be stupa-monasteries and no evidence of grand temples survive in any appreciable form today.

We set off early, determined to catch the sunrise. Along with at least 50 other tourists (mainly Dutch) I waited patiently for the sun to rise. When at last it did, we were all rewarded with an amazing spectacle of stone and light and shadow and scene.

Pre-dawn tourists taking in as much as possible.

As the sun came up, I was attracted to the glimmer on this lady's hair.

Everything in Borobudur adds up to the number nine (the number leading up to zero), a symbol of surrender and freedom from desire. There are 108 (1+0+8) stupas and 54 (5+4) Buddha statues that make up the temple.

Chinese Buddhist group performing a ritual. I like the way my trusty Ricoh GR handled the colours here.

Lost among the stupas. The Ricoh GW-3 (21mm converter) did a good job.

That evening we made our way to the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan prior to watching a Ramayana ballet (staged with the temple as a background). This temple complex has a huge Shiva temple and is flanked by smaller Vishnu and Brahma temples. The complex seems to have taken a bit of a beating in the recent quake (2010) and is currently undergoing extensive restoration. Though very different in style to Borobudur it is equally impressive and lends itself to Ricoh's special way of handling B&W.

Welcoming party at the gate of the temple.

The temples afford great vantage points to take in aspects of the overall scene.

The stones are able to speak to those who are willing to listen.

The next morning we visited the Keraton and after touring its various exhibits made our way down to the Water Palace and the underground tunnels that served as an escape route in earlier days. The place complex (still inhabited) is quite impressive and displays a great blend of tradition and modernity.

Who can resist a picture on holiday? Phone Cameras were ubiquitous. Maybe Ricoh should tie up with Apple or Samsung!!

Palace Guard. The Ricoh GR was, as usual, the stealth camera of choice.

Water Palace. In this pool, it is said, the Sultan would permit his favourites to bathe with him.

One of the underground passages. Now lit by street level skylights.

Indonesia is a nation relentlessly marching along the road of development. But what impressed me most about the area was how well Indonesia has integrated its Hindu/ Buddhist history with Muslim culture and global modernity. This is no where more evident that among the artisans who, in each instance, endeavour to preserve ancient tradition with the demands of the present. But even among the ordinary man on the street - and as street photographers one must engage with the man on the street - there is a sense of pride in what was that is mixed with a desire for what will be ... the same struggle to better one's lot that defines the essence of existence anywhere in the world.

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Borobudur with the Ricoh GR GR GW-3 Java with the GR Ricoh GR Travel photography with the Ricoh GR Yogyakarta with the GR http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/a-visit-to-java Thu, 11 Aug 2016 08:11:45 GMT
Lau Pa Sat http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/lou-pa-sat I visited Lau Pa Sat yesterday - a 24 hour street food market located at the site of an older Victorian market in the Central Business District of Singapore. The aromas and tastes were fantastic. In many ways this is the best way to savour the local cuisine of Singapore.

The Menu Spinner

The Order Taker

The Satay Griller

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) 28mm Street Photography Lau Pa Sat Ricoh GR Singapore Street Food Singapore Street Photography Street Photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/lou-pa-sat Tue, 26 Jul 2016 02:13:58 GMT
Visiting the Juggernaut http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/visiting-the-juggernaut After relocating to Singapore this year, I find I am able to visit India more frequently. My first stop was Calcutta, in which I have not experienced the monsoon in more than 12 years. But while the weather held much foreboding, it held up well. It was relatively cool and despite the lack of rain the humidity was not stifling. One Wednesday afternoon, I decided to visit the Strand and found to my delight that little had changed (for the worse) since my last sojourn. One thing did, however, stick out like a sore thumb. The ruling party, in power for a mere 5 years since ousting the erstwhile Communist party that had ruled for over 3 decades, had decided to brand every inch of municipal property with its colors of blue and white and its three-flowered symbol! A luxury, to my mind, that smacks of reckless extravagance and public apathy!

Even lamp-posts are potent symbols of the Chief Minister's power. LX100.

But the Hooghly remains what it always was, a large and majestic river that runs at its own sedate pace. The LX100 performed admirably and was bale to capture the colors of a cloudy sunset perfectly.

The river runs on forever. LX100.

I was also able to take in Prinsep Ghat (Wharf) and it surroundings and indulge in a little street photography. Despite the failing light, the LX100 was able to produce great files because of its fast and stellar lens.

Nothing like a selfie in an historical monument. LX100.

Who says adults can't join in the fun? LX100.

From Calcutta I took a drive South along the peninsula to Puri - which affords both a lovely beach and a lot of history. On the road, we passed Dhauli, close to a very historic battlefield and a stone inscription that began the spread of a major world religion. It is said that in about 262BCE, the emperor Ashoka decided to wage war against the kingdom of Kalinga and in so doing began a conflict that was to end in his victory. But the conflict took such a toll in human lives that he was sickened by the prospect of war and turned to Buddhism. As a result he made Buddhism a state sponsored religion and sent missionaries to Burma, Sri Lanka, China, Afghanistan and Central Asia.There is a very famous rock edict at Dhauli that speaks of his grief and conversion and above this memorial is a statue of an elephant - a symbol in India associated with the Buddha and Buddhism.

​The elephant marks the spot. LX100.

Often a place or monument takes on a life of its own in the human imagination because of what it connotes in the popular idiom. Such is the case with the word juggernaut. This magnificently Germanic sounding word actually derives from the word Jagarnath - an avatar of the God Vishnu - and more specifically came into vogue when it was discovered that the image of the God (in the Jagarnath Temple in Puri) was pulled in a giant chariot with long ropes measuring many kilometers by thousands of devotees each year in July. This ancient custom goes back many centuries, but I like to believe that its likeness is forever enshrined in the Konark Sun Temple, some thirty kilometers from Puri. Despite the ravages of time, it has lost none of its magnificence.

The original chariot of the Juggernaut. LX100.

One of the seven steeds that pulled it through the cosmos. LX100.

And its giant Sundial Wheels. LX100.

The local tourists make for some great juxtaposition. LX100.

And the local residents make for some great portraits. LX100.

We finally repaired to the beach where we spent a few days soaking it all in. The LX100 made for a fantastic camera right through the trip, holding its own in sunny and cloudy weather, in low light and bright, in haze and rain. I really am beginning to believe that this is one of the best all-round travel cameras on the market today.

Early risers. LX100.

Monochrome. LX100.

Environmental Portrait 1: Where the smaller sensor of the LX100 shines.

Environmental Portrait 2: LX100.

One with the original Fuji X100. The old girl still performs.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X100 Juggernaut LX100 Panasonic LX100 Puri Travel Photography Travel Photography in India http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/visiting-the-juggernaut Sun, 24 Jul 2016 14:38:48 GMT
Testing the LX100 in Singapore http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/testing-the-lx100-in-singapore I finally managed to devote a half day to testing the LX100 in Singapore. What better place to test it than at Gardens by the Bay. Walking along the skyways, visiting both the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest and generally pottering around the gardens affords you a great opportunity to test the capabilities of this little zoom compact. And boy, did it shine! I was able to put it through a variety of light conditions and compositional situations - urban landscape, macro, high contrast scenes and low light, and in each of these it more than proved itself. Making sure that i restricted myself to the 28mm - 60mm zoom range, f2.8 - f8 aperture range and capping ISO at 800, I managed to get the results below. Sure, my Ricoh GR and maybe my Fuji X70 could do a little better (especially since I wouldn't mind taking them all the way to ISO 2000), but this is a marvelous instrument ... compact, versatile and producing files of sterling quality for a 12M Micro 4/3 sensor. The lens is incredible. I hope that Panasonic brings out a 16MP-20MP sensor without the AA filter for the next iteration. Maybe weather sealing ... maybe enhanced IBIS for low light shooting. :) Everything else is just perfect. Highly recommended for travel, street, documentary and urbanscapes.

Great colours, even SOOC.

Great metering.

Able to preserve great detail even in low light.

Sharp and contrasty lens.

Some pretty astounding macro capabilities.

No need to over-or-under expose when shooting A-priority or Manual.

Versatile zoom range allows for great framing.

Great compact camera overall.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) LX100 LX100 in Singapore LX100 notebook Panasonic LX100 test http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/testing-the-lx100-in-singapore Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:48:27 GMT
Testing the Ricoh GM-1 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/testing-the-ricoh-gm-1 More than 2 years ago when I first tested the Ricoh GW-3 wide angle adaptor lens on the Ricoh GR I gave it the equivalent of a 5 star rating. Despite being an adaptor, the lens allowed sharp, contrasty images with hardly any deterioration in the centre and acceptable falloff at the edges. So when I finally picked up the GM-1, I had great expectations going in. And a day after my purchase I was able to test it at BranchBrook Park where the cherry blossoms had begun to bloom. I was not disappointed.

First off, like the GW-3, the GM-1 is also made in Japan (at least both my lenses are of Japanese make). Sometimes I wonder if the there would have been no dust issue if the camera had been manufactured there as well. But unlike the GW-3, the GM-1 is a little sleeker and a little shorter than its wide-angle sibling. And unlike with the GW-3, I was not worried about edge sharpness, only about focusing distance and centre sharpness.

Secondly, the GM-1 feels a lot lighter than the GW-3. In some ways the increase in weight  (<120g) is not as perceptible and one-handed operation is effortless (though two hands are recommended for close-up macro work). Thirdly, this attachment allows for 49mm filters to be screwed on. Lastly, as with the GW-3, the GH-3 adaptor is required to mount this on to the camera.

So how does the lens perform? My initial impressions were restricted to testing minimum focusing distance, AF speed and sharpness when taking pictures handheld. And my initial impressions are that this is an absolutely fantastic lens. For most of the pictures below, I set the camera to F4 - F5, set the ISO value to 400, pretty much ensuring that shutter speed was always in the 1/400 sec - 1/1000 sec range (enough to freeze motion and compensate for lack of IS.

One of the really great benefits of this lens is that it allows you to focus up to 1.5inches away (and I can swear there were instances that I was able to focus from a little farther than an inch away!) AF is pretty quick, and in my tests, the camera did not hunt. Even in very contrasty scenes (as in the pic below), the camera was able to lock focus quickly enough.

Sharpness is outstanding for a screw-on adaptor lens and in my humble opinion takes the joy of macro photography with the GR to an all new level. As with all macro shooting on the GR bokeh is smooth and pleasing.

There were times when I wished that I had carried a tripod, but I was able to ensure focus accuracy most of the time. While sharpness is fantastic, there are still a few things that could be improved - not so much with the lens as with the macro shooting experience as it relates to the camera. And while most of these will have to wait for the next iteration of the series, here goes:

a. Articulating screen for those shots that need to be taken at odd angles and for when brightness makes it too difficult to see

b. Touchscreen interface to enable setting the focus and exposure point at will

c. A better implemented manual focus operation to maximize the use of the lens and GR sensor

d. A 24mp or higher sensor to allow creative cropping.

I know this probably seems like a gratuitous rant but I hope Ricoh is listening and implements this in the GR 3. I have purposely left out the request for an EVF, but some of the stuff above would be a great start. A camera like this with the GW-3 and GM-1 to complement and enhance its abilities would keep the GR series in the game for a long time.

For now, though, the GM-1 promises to be a great GR companion and a must have for those who want macro equipment that is both highly capable and compact.

 

100% Crop

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Macros with the GR Ricoh GM-1 Ricoh GM-1 review Ricoh GR with Macro lens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/testing-the-ricoh-gm-1 Mon, 18 Apr 2016 20:11:18 GMT
Macros with the Moment Lens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/macros-with-the-moment-lens After all the excitement with the X-70, it was time to try my much ignored Moment Macro Lens. So I grabbed the opportunity to try it when I visited a garden for the second time. The lens is sharp and contrasty and really let you get close. At 10X, you need to get very close, hold your breath and shoot, but the results (for an iPhone 6) are nothing short of stellar. All shots below are shot with the Moment app and lightly processed in VSCO.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Macros Momentlens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/macros-with-the-moment-lens Wed, 13 Apr 2016 14:09:46 GMT
The Fuji X70: Closeup and Wide http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/the-fuji-x70-closeup-and-wide As I had discussed in my last post, I was very keen to test the Fuji's closeup capabilities. Most compact cameras come into their own when in macro mode/ closeup. The best thing about getting close with the X70 lies in the fact that you don't need to switch to Macro mode. The camera automatically adjusts focus up to about 10cm from the object. In the event that even spot focus will not work, Fuji cameras allow for manual focus and this is really well implemented, allowing you both the highlight and the split image option.

Here are a few examples of the images created close-up a few days ago when I happened to visit the local botanical garden. No surprises here: they are mostly of flowers. But I find shooting flowers a great way to test sharpness and colour accuracy ... and the ultimate way to test the macro capabilities of a lens.

Lack of IS coupled with the fact that the camera has no VF can make handheld macro shots difficult. Having said that, being able to set the minimum shutter speed to 1/500 sec and being able to tilt the LCD does help as far as framing and stabilizing the shot are concerned. While these shots are very pleasing and prove the capabilities of the lens, I still prefer the bokeh of the GR. And I still believe the GR has an edge when it comes to sharpness ... if ever so slightly. I would love to get my hands on the new GM-1 macro converter and test it on the GR. If it is as capable as Ricoh claims it is, it will probably make the GR a macro champion in its class.

As the elusive 21mm WCL-X70 wide angle adaptor lens is still not available I decided to try my trusty old Ricoh GW-3 on the X70. Luckily it screws on perfectly and allows one to shoot without switching to the "converter lens" option in the Fuji menu system. What amazed me was that this lens worked better on the X70 than either the WCL-100 or the TCL-100 options. In both of the latter cases there were major issues with vignetting and edge distortion. The GW-3 on the other hand provides an image almost as sharp in the centre and almost as acceptably sharp at the edges as you would get when it is screwed on to the Ricoh GR.

With touchscreen shooting, it was possible to enjoy the wider angle and the ability to quickly place focus at the bottom left hand corner and capture the image all at once. Despite the added bulk, because this is essentially a camera with an articulating LCD that needs to be operated with both hands, it provides more stability in my opinion.

Finally the GW-3 lets you get both wide and close as the following shots demonstrate. The minimum focal length with the wide angle adaptor lens attached (I believe) shrank from 10cm to about 6cm. Since centre sharpness is really the most important thing here I believe that the lens performed admirably with the X-70. I am now curious to see how well Fuji's own wide angle adapter lens performs!

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/the-fuji-x70-closeup-and-wide Wed, 13 Apr 2016 04:23:36 GMT
Fuji X70: Continuing Review http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/fuji-x70-week-1 Here are some further impressions of the X70 since my review on March 23rd: ( http://www.zenfolio.com/spode/e/pages/blog.aspx#515599834 ). Overall impressions remain favourable and this has been helped in no small part by the fact that I am learning to deal with the X-Trans files in LR. I specifically wanted to see how the camera performed in low light and I got a chance to test the X70 in a small foodcourt in Singapore with flickering neon lights and moving bodies.

Given the ambient light and the lack of IS, I was forced to shoot this wide open at ISO 200 while resting the body on a table. In this regard the articulating screen acted as a support and the camera performed admirably. Focus was locked almost immediately (years ago I took a similar shot in the Spice Market in Istanbul, but it did take a little longer to focus) and the image was captured at 1/90 sec.

I was also hell bent on shooting foliage to see if the watercolor effect was really as painterly as some have described. I am happy to report that as long as the foliage is (literally) front or middling, this is not really a problem. Foliage in the background is still a big issue. I will try shooting foliage again in the distance next week to see how this impacts the final image.

In the harsh, flat light of a Singapore morning I did miss a viewfinder. At first I used my trusty GV-1 (Ricoh) viewfinder to frame shots when the screen was unusable, but then i learnt through trial and error how to use angle the articulating touchscreen to ensure that I could compose my images with ease. I think the  trick is to not only compose by angling the screen but to turn on the touch interface and focus and shoot with it at times. Crazy as this sounds, I think I get the best out of the camera when I use it like a smartphone. Which begs the question: Why all the vintage dials and rings? Frankly, I think to keep true to Fujifilm's design principles and ethos. One who wishes to rely on these may never really come to terms with the ultimate flexibility of the camera. At the expense os sounding like a stuck record, if Fujifilm were to include the ability to separate focus point from exposure point via the touchscreen, many street shooters who currently use smartphones may turn to this as the "big daddy" camera.

On Saturday, April 2nd, Fujifilm organized a photo walk in Singapore. Having learnt of it on Friday night I made my way over on Saturday morning hoping to be included on the grounds that I was visiting. While it was wonderful to experience the warmth with which I was received and quickly registered with one of the groups (I was given a red wrist band, was provided a Fujifilm wrist strap and given a bottle of water), it was equally gratifying to see the number of participants who had gathered early on what was already a steaming hot day. There were about 80 participants of all sexes and ages and every time of camera was present. The Fuji X-Pro 2 already had a strong following and the XT-1 and XT-10 were the most ubiquitous. I am happy to report that there were at least 4 of us who were sporting the X-70 (in addition to two of the X-photographers there). What is equally interesting to note is that 2 of the 4 were Ricoh GR previously - this was their first Fuji - and one was an ardent iPhone photographer!

Starting at the base of the Helix Bridge we made our way towards Gardens by the Bay and here some of us (who fortunately had purchased tickets earlier) entered the two main greenhouses. Some, like me, decided to stroll outdoors and take in the riverfront. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom here and I hope to visit this coming weekend. i will give me a chance to test out the macro capabilities of the X70. The walk provided many opportunities to capture Singapore's more celebrated structures.

I was also able to make some friends  - like John, featured below. An ardent photographer, he owns the classic X100T and is currently shooting with a Nikon FM2, making notes about exposure details after every shot. He hopes to master film photography in the not too distant future. We spent mor ethan an hour chatting about photography, styles, equipment, etc.

While I still think that the Ricoh GR is a little sharper across the frame, the X70 delivers colours that pop, dynamic range and speed to make up for it. When using it for landscape there is very little distortion and the ability to compose at virtually any angle and in any light (thanks to the articulating screen) and to shoot with the flow of your finger (on account of the touchscreen) makes this a pretty handy tool in the field.

Of course, the ability to compose from the waist and snap without feeling for the shutter is a real blessing. This shot was taken between the bars of a bicycle. The avid texter-subject had just turned my way and thought nothing of my shenanigans. In fact, he probably thought I was texting too!

In the coming week I want to test two things. First the macro capabilities of the lens, with and without a tripod. Secondly, with the aid of the the 21mm Ricoh GW-3 converter (which fits perfectly, incidentally) shoot wide and see if the Ricoh lens renders crisp images sans distortion/ vignetting. If it does (and on the Ricoh GR it was a mighty fine piece of glass), owners of the Ricoh conversion lens may never need to buy the WCL-70.

Till next week ...

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Continuing Review Fujifilm X-70 Impressions Fujifilm X-70 Review X-70 X-70 Review http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/fuji-x70-week-1 Mon, 04 Apr 2016 09:00:53 GMT
The Fuji X70: a somewhat comparative review http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/the-fuji-x70-a-somewhat-comparative-review  

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This review is not meant to be an uber technical review. Instead, I would like to dispense with some of the key features of the X70 upfront and then move on to a user's comparison between the X70 and (to my mind) its chief rival in the 28mm, F2.8 space – the Ricoh GRII – that includes handling, image quality, best features and ares of improvement. I was lucky enough to get to use both these cameras simultaneously (the GRII was borrowed from a friend) and, after much deliberation, decided to keep the X70 and return the GR II. While the choice was simplified by the fact that I already own and use the original GR, there were reasons beyond these that drove my decision.

Riverside shrine, India

 

To begin, let’s take a look at the X70. There are at least 3 things that make it more appealing than other Fuji cameras out there for certain types of photography. First it is small; I mean small enough to fit into the pocket of my shorts. It may not fit into the front pocket of a pair of skin-tight jeans, but when you think of its APSC-size sensor and non-retractable pancake lens, you realize that those Fuji engineers actually pulled off a fairly challenging feat! With a small wrist strap to tether it to your wrist, the X70 can be perfectly gripped and concealed in the palm of your hand, much like a regular sized mobile phone with a protective case (or a GRII for that matter). Second, it has an articulating touchscreen that can be used to set focus, shoot and set some other functions. This is a first for Fuji who, so far, has been busy trying to please a generation of photographers who loved and continue to love the age of film, brass, film emulsions and faux leather … but with all the trappings and convenience and technology of the digital age! Now with the Fuji X70 it appears that Fuji has subtly – without sacrificing the look or the build quality – incorporated aspects that would be familiar to and welcomed by a generation of young photographers whose initiation into photography was through – and in many instances whose current device continues to be – a mobile phone. And finally, it allows 8 customizable buttons and a totally customizable Q menu that seems like overkill. This is the first time I have seen a serious compact camera that permits more customization than the Ricoh GR! While this may not appeal to everyone, there are those who do not like having to resort to the menu every time they need to recall or change a setting.

 

Handling

 

So let’s talk about build and haptics. Both the X70 and GRII feel pretty solid in the hand (even though the Fuji is a little heavier). The GRII is a little longer while the Fuji is a little thicker, not least because of the tilting touchscreen. While Ricoh has a number of pre-assigned buttons (visibly represented through symbols) on the back plate, the Fuji layout looks sparser, almost by way of reinforcing the fact that the actual layout can be customized by the user. For users unfamiliar with the Fuji system and Fuji’s new drive towards user empowerment, their best bet will be to resort to the Q menu. Fuji has also sacrificed the toggle wheel around the menu button for the 4-way control buttons last seen on the X100. Again, the user can customize each of these buttons. Where Ricoh uses a front control wheel and a back rocker (in addition to an up/ down switch to control exposure), Fuji resorts to its standard array of milled dials on the top plate to control shutter speed and exposure and another control dial around the lens barrel to control aperture. While all of this looks great, for street and candid photography where speed is of the essence, the Fuji (unlike the Ricoh) does not automatically lend itself to one-handed operation or swift changes on the fly. In fact the aperture dial is a little too fiddly for my liking.

 

Since neither camera has an EVF, framing is managed through the rear LCD. On the face of it, Fuji has a similar sized LCD but Ricoh has higher resolution. If this camera were simply a copy of the X100T without the EVF, I would have to hand it to the Ricoh. But this is where the Fuji comes into its own. With a bright, tiltable screen that is responsive to touch, whose display can be customized, and that can be used to set both focus and shoot, the Fuji has set a trend that others will need to follow in the near future. There have been others before this that tried: Samsung is the first manufacturer that comes to mind. But Samsung focused on extending certain phone features into its serious compacts ahead of developing the camera and lens line that these features were meant to augment. Fuji on the other hand has developed a highly sought after aesthetic, top-of-class functionality, a fairly robust line of cameras and lenses and an expectation of quality from its X line. Only now has it gingerly ventured into a domain that has traditionally been the preserve of compact camera and mobile phone manufacturers. But by doing so, it is seeking to define how a really serious compact camera can be an extension of how you shoot with a phone! For those who are used to getting the best out of their phones by using camera replacement apps like Camera Plus, Pro Camera 8, 645 Pro, etc. this camera provides more control - more welcome button functionality but familiar touch-screen logic – to make the X70 one of the best ways to start using a serious camera that can produce results beyond the capabilities of any mobile device!

 

Autofocus speed is generally excellent. In good light, the speed is only just better than on the Ricoh; but as the light wanes, the Fuji does considerably better (at least in my tests). The manual focus and macro functions can be invoked through a switch on the front plate of the camera and manual focus works beautifully – through the use of magnification, a digital spilt image or a focus peak highlight. One of my biggest peeves with the Ricoh is the way in which manual focus is implemented. Though the snap focus function somewhat alleviates this, it does not wholly do away with the need for a manual focus option. Add to this that the start-up time and shot-to-shot time are faster on the Fuji, and suddenly you seem to have a serious contender to the GRII.

 

Some areas where the Fuji loses out to the Ricoh GR are:

  1. Lack of a dedicated ND filter (what were you thinking Fuji?): To compensate you have to either switch to the electronic shutter (but keep perfectly still) or screw on an ND filter (which means buying an additional filter holder).
  2. Lack of Custom Combination Settings: While Fuji does remember your most recent settings, there is no method as on the Ricoh to retain up to 3 custom settings at a time to be quickly invoked at the flick of a switch (MY settings). To do this the X70 user will need to set and memorize button assignments and quickly change these as required.
  3. Crop Mode constraints: While Fuji does provide 35mm and 47mm crop modes akin to Ricoh, these cannot be used when shooting in RAW. Fuji claims that the integrity of the 16MP jpeg file is maintained at all focal lengths (28mm, 35mm, 47mm) but this is not entirely true.

 

Image Quality

 

Eventually despite everything else, it all boils down to image quality. Note that I am comparing these two cameras in terms of still images only. Those who would like to purchase either camera as an “all-rounder” would be better served investing in a Sony or a Panasonic. Those cameras have far better video capabilities than either Fuji or Ricoh are likely to have in the foreseeable future. While comparing the two cameras I have looked at sharpness, colour saturation, B&W tonality, dynamic range and High ISO noise. Doubtless many will think that there are more scientific ways to run a comparison; I agree but then this review is not meant to imitate or plagiarise from a DXO report. I have tried as far as possible to shoot in succession at the same time of day, using the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO values and have applied as far as possible to apply the same minimum post-processing edits in Lightroom (to my taste).

 

Sharpness: In general the Fuji X70 is sharp from F4 – f11. Images are sharpest at the centre while edge sharpness lags a little. In this it is not much different than the Ricoh Gr II though, under a magnifying glass, the prize for sharpness wide open and corner sharpness under F5.6 may go to the Ricoh GRII. I talk of images processed from RAW. The JPEGs from the Fuji have a bit of that watercolour effect loved and hated by users in equal measure.

Fuji X70

Ricoh GRII

 

Colour Saturation: I have always liked the somewhat muted colours produced by the GRII, but I love the colours that pop from Fuji OOC. There is no doubt in my mind that the Fuji processing engine is superior here.

Fuji X70

Ricoh GRII

 

B&W tonality: I think both cameras do an admirable job of shooting B&W JPEGs. I find that Fuji with the green filter handles skin tones better; Ricoh’s signature high contrast grain can’t be touched though.

Fuji X70

Ricoh GRII

 

Dynamic Range: Nothing that can’t be neutralized in Lightroom, but in some instances Fuji had a slight edge.

Fuji X70

Ricoh GRII

 

High ISO noise: Up to ISO 1600, both cameras perform equally; between ISO 2000 and ISO 4000, the prize goes to Fuji. After that, it doesn’t really matter. Stepping above that limit shows carelessness: the use of a tripod would obviate such a need.

Fuji X70

Ricoh GRII

 

X70: Assessment Summary

 

Pros

  • Excellent Build Quality with dimensions that seem right
  • Sharp and contrasty lens
  • ​Excellent JPEG output, great RAW output (I'm still learning to process these files), with punchy colours
  • Responsive and well-thought out touch screen LCD defines a new way to operate a serious compact
  • Commendable auto-focus and good shot-to-shot times
  • Lots of customizability
  • Ability to shoot looking down (for those times when this provides stability or conceals intent!)

 

Areas of Improvement (in current model)

  • Allow Crop Mode in RAW (even if this means an 11MP file for 35mm and a 5MP file for 47mm)
  • Through firmware update, allow separation of focus area and exposure area through touchscreen interface
  • For street shooters, include the ability to turn off the LCD screen altogether and rely on the external OVF or pure hit and miss!
  • Through a firmware update, allow the use of the TCL-100 converter lens. Given that the Fuji already has a dedicated 21mm converter lens (I am yet to get my hands on one), the combination of 21mm, 28mm and 40mm may prove irresistible to Ricoh fans who have been demanding something like this for years
  • Include the much vaunted ACROS filter

Areas of Improvement for (for the next model)

  • Include an ND filter (a real miss here)
  • Allow at least 2 Custom Settings through an external dial
  • Include the Snap focus function (essentially zone focusing at set distances) for street photography
  • ​Create an external EVF for those who need a VF at all. The external OVF is an expensive accessory that provides very rough framing guidelines. A quality EVF will provide another level of differentiation that may make the Richoh GR crowd sit up and notice
  • Include a 20MP or higher sensor for greater detail. This may allow the camera more versatility and detail, especially for landscape photography
  • Include OIS as longs it does not compromise size or specs
  • ​Create a weather sealed option

 

Conclusion

 

In the final analysis, as with any artistic tool, we must ask whether this camera is meant for personal or commercial use. Because of its focal length, it is will not typically lend itself to portraiture, wildlife or wedding photography. Because of its sensor size and resolution many professional landscape photographers will ignore it in favour of full-frame, medium format or larger format equipment. Because it is not the fastest kid on the block, it is particularly unsuited to sports photography. The one area it may meet the needs of the job is photojournalism: but even here the photographer may choose another camera with interchangeable lenses or a zoom lens as these provide more flexibility.

Who then is it for? On a recent visit to India I had a chance to use the camera, experiment in a variety of light conditions, and shoot a number of different subjects. The one thing that struck me about the camera is that it is uniquely responsive once you have taken the trouble to understand its menu system and have customized its buttons to suit your taste. Very much like the Ricoh (and many complain of the latter's complicated menu system ... ha! Have they ever tried figuring out Olympus' menu system) it takes time to get used to it. Once you have, it can be an intensely enriching experience.

Barges on the Ganges

 

I would say, after having used this camera for about 3 weeks, that this is a very personal tool. Like the GR series, it is a serious piece of equipment meant to record impressions, a contemplative, take-everywhere camera, that forces you think about what you are about to capture. This is not necessarily the kind of camera where you fire off a hundred shots and keep one. It is a perfect camera for street and documentary photography. But it is also excellent for travel and personal impressions including landscape, portraits and still life. As with the Ricoh, the closer you are to the subject, the sharper the image and the more individual the capture.

To cross or not to cross?

It is actually quite strange that Fuji has still not included the X70 in its X-Photographers site. The X-Pro 2 which was released at the same time already has a ton of aficionados and ambassadors, and they have posted enough photographs to fill a book. I believe that there is a simple reason for this. After the X100 series, this is the first time that Fuji has actually created a personal tool. All its other cameras are either positioned as commercial products or all-purpose vehicles for enthusiasts and advanced amateurs. There is a very specific kind of photographer to whom the X70 will appeal. That photographer is the kind who only owns or mostly uses the X100 series. But the 28mm length may be too wide for them. Despite their proximity there is a huge difference in the FOV, and 35mm shooters do not always produce pleasing results at 28mm and vice versa. Furthermore, those who owns 35mm fixed focal length compact will not always see value in a 28mm compact when the WCL-100 converter lens option is available to them.

Early morning sketch

Fuji is going to have to look beyond its loyal base to get the kind of user who will do this camera justice. In fact, users of the GR series would be the perfect target. Frustrated by the fact that the GRII was hardly an upgrade from the original GR, many are beginning to upgrade to full-frame or look farther afield to meet their needs. The kind of Fuji ambassador for this camera may also be the mobile phone shooter (and there is some really great stuff being done by such shooters on the street and elsewhere), who is used to the 28mm - 30mm FOV and who is looking to take his/ her photography to the next level with more creative control. There is a real opportunity for Fuji here to make inroads into a market that has traditionally stolen share from camera manufacturers. In fact Fuji should dedicate a special site to showcase the capabilities of the X70 and its descendants.

He can't be taking my pic. He's looking down at the screen.

I for one intend to test the hell out of this camera in the weeks and months to come. Starting April 1st, I will post a weekly blog with my impressions, experiments and captures. No camera is perfect but this camera really makes you want it to work for you. I can state that after the GR, this camera has really fired my imagination and sown the seed of infinite possibility.

Make shift clothes horse

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Fuji X70 review Fuji X70 vs. Ricoh GRII Fujifilm X70 X70 X70 Review comparative review review http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/the-fuji-x70-a-somewhat-comparative-review Wed, 23 Mar 2016 02:05:26 GMT