Macro photography is hard and requires a lot of practice for one to be any good in it. I’ve over the years dabbled occasionally in it, including the one-stop flower macro photography spot in Singapore i.e. National Orchid Garden @ Botanic Gardens, over a variety of small sea critters during our Telunas Beach Resort stay, and also at the stunning Butterfly Garden @ Museum of Science in Boston. The half-way decent selection of pictures in those posts though are a result more from a couple of occasional hits from a sizable number of misses with cooperative subjects.

There are several ways of taking macro shots. Serious enthusiasts will typically invest in dedicated macro lenses. The Sigma 150mm f2.8 I owned for a couple of years for my Nikon system then cost a decent sum of money and was well-suited to flower photography but IIRC not for insects. I haven’t yet bought a similar dedicated lens for my m4/3 cameras now, though there are several such for the system at typically somewhat lower price points than say for the Nikon system. The Olympus 12-50mm kit lens that came with the E-M5 comes with macro ability though. Not a very good one by any measure, but it’s still useful when I have to take the odd close-up picture.

A second way of taking macro shots is to add extension tubes. These get attached to the camera mount and before the lens. Without glass and optical elements, tubes are simple in design, and essentially reduce the minimum focusing distance of a lens. Depending on supporting electronics in the tubes (e.g. to support aperture control and autofocusing), extension tubes for the m4/3s range from a very low price point of about $20, to branded Kenko tubes that cost about $160 and more. Finally, the third method is to add optical accessories to the front of the lens – e.g. close-up filters.

I was quite interested to get into macro photography again for the m4/3 system but loathed this time to spend money to buy a dedicated lens for it, though the excellent Olympus 60mm f2.8 Macro sure was tempting. The Kenko extension tubes were a real viable alternative and popular among many enthusiasts. Two disadvantages with this solution though: some of the clone copycats of Kenko tubes have, according to some Amazon reviews, damaged the electronic contact points on the camera body. I didn’t read of similar concerns for the Keno-manufactured tubes – they are apparently made to higher quality specifications and in Japan, compared to the cheap knock-offs which I think are made in China. Still, that got me worried. The other disadvantage lied in the very nature of using extension tubes: you have to dismount your lens, mount the tubes, then remount the lens. Not only is it tedious, any such swapping increases the possibility of foreign elements getting into the camera and landing on the sensor. Ugh, the horror.

So, it was to the close-up type optical accessories. There’s a whole bunch of close-up filers/lenses sold at shady camera shops here that seriously degrade or distort the image information that hits the sensor, so I was quite wary about them. The Raynox macro conversion lenses though are a different breed. These are well-regarded, manufactured in Japan, and have been around for a while now and I’ve been keeping my eye on them for several years. There are two particularly popular models in the series. They cost a mere fraction of what one would pay for a dedicated macro lens, and is also cheaper than Kenko tubes. The series is carried in several stores, but I went with an online reseller of it that’s been carrying Raynox products for several years now.

The Raynox DCR-150 is the model more suited for macro photography dabblers, and here’s the unboxing of the package, alongside some quick shots using the Olympus 12-50mm. I primarily intend for this conversion lens to work with the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (hope there’s minimal vignetting!), so will report on that once the cheapo step-up ring necessary to mount the DCR-150 onto a 37mm filter thread arrives from eBay.

Compact box that measures about 3x3x2 inches.

Compact box that measures about 3x3x2 inches.

Box contents I: a plastic carry case, a brochure of Raynox products, and an instruction leaflet.

Box contents I: a plastic carry case, a brochure of Raynox products, and an instruction leaflet.

Box Contents II: clockwise from top left: the box, the carry case with the lens, the stacking ring, universal adapter, and front/back lens caps.

Box Contents II: clockwise from top left: the box, the carry case with the lens, the stacking ring, universal adapter, and front/back lens caps.

Close look at the lens. The filter size is 49mm, but the packaged universal adapter will permit the DCR150 to be mounted on a larger ranger of lens diameters.

Close look at the lens. The filter size is 49mm, but the packaged universal adapter will permit the DCR150 to be mounted on a larger ranger of lens diameters.

The DCR150 attached to the universal adapter.

The DCR150 attached to the universal adapter.

Casual test of the DCR150's magnification ability. This is the Olympus 12-50mm as close as it can get. No cropping here.

Casual test of the DCR150’s magnification ability. This is the Olympus 12-50mm as close as it can get. No cropping here.

With the DCR150 mounted onto the 12-50mm. The lens' front element was perhaps just about 1-2cm away from the box!

With the DCR150 mounted onto the 12-50mm. The lens’ front element was perhaps just about 1-2cm away from the box!

More notes to come soon!

The ‘mysterious’ camera strap I wrote briefly about a month ago here arrived not too long after that post, and I’ve been putting it through the paces since. The strap is from Joby, the California-based company that is perhaps better known for its series of Gorillapods (owned a couple of them). The company has diversified quite a bit over the recent years, and apart from action video gear for (extreme) sports enthusiasts, the company also now has a varied series of camera straps of the sling, neck-hung, and handgrip types.

I’ve tried all three types of straps extensively now. I’ve never got used to the neck-hung ones – even those those claimed to be super-comfy neophrene ones from OP/TECH – and the handgrip straps don’t work well with battery/vertical grips. The sling-type straps remain my preferred choice especially when I’m totting multiple cameras around for the odd event-shoot at work. The Joby Pro comes in several flavors, including one that’s catered for women even, and the ‘Pro’ series I picked up – comes in two sizes (Sm-L, and L-XXL) which as I understand it, is factored based on T-Shirt size. I picked up the L-XXL if nothing else because I can only grow wider now and not slimmer LOL, and ordered it from a South Korean reseller off eBay which offered it at quite a bit lower than direct from the manufacturer itself.

My notes after the first period of use, and especially in comparison against my other two straps: the BlackRapid RS4, and the BosStrap.

The Joby strap is cheaper than the other two straps by quite a bit!

The RS4 remains by far the easiest to set-up. You fasten it to the tripod socket, and you’re done. While the number of parts to the Joby seem about similar to other two, whether it takes less time for it to secure your camera depends pretty much on whether you want to use the secondary system; the camera tether. If you don’t, then – like the RS4 – the Joby strap is secured in about the time it takes you to screw the thumbscrew into the tripod socket, and also way shorter than it takes for you to poke the BosStrap’s tail through the eyelet + do a few more rounds of looping. The Joby’s camera tether though is a different story. It’s easy enough though to unscrew the carabiner and loop the reinforced string through it – just takes a bit of time.

The strap material on the Joby is, apparently, of the same nylon webbing as the the BosStrap, but not quite as velvety smooth or luxurious-feeling. Still far better feeling than the stiff padding on the RS4 though. The camera doesn’t glide (slide?) as naturally too as compared to the BosStrap, but the strap lock helps a lot in limiting the amount of movement the fastened camera has on the strap. Quite a nifty feature, that is sorely absent on the RS4 which makes it all too easy for the shoulder pad to slide off my shoulder when the camera is swinging about.

In all; the Joby’s a good purchase. I don’t find it as comfortable as the BosStrap, but it’s way more usable and the secondary camera tether is a great assurance in case the strap”s thuimbscrew ever gives way!

Pictures of the Joby Pro Strap:

The camera tether is secured via carabiner to the front pivot ring.

Close-up look at the camera tether.

The LockSafe attachment that screws into the camera’s tripod socket.

Strap lock that when pushed down will limit the strap from gliding along the pivot ring.

Nylon webbing for the main strap.


The third – and probably last post on our Minton renovation one year on – unless there are more things to say later in the years to come! Previous post here.

Children’s Bedroom double-beds: this was one of the key design features in our renovation project 18 months ago, and while Peter hasn’t moved into the room yet (he still sleeps each night in his cot currently in the Study room), the upper bed here is at least one of his frequent play areas. The invisible grills in the room have given us relative peace of mind since without them, it really wouldn’t take any effort to climb from the upper bed out of the window. The multiple storage bays built into the bedroom have also been really helpful in keep both children’s clothes out of sight too.

+1/Study Room configuration: we’re waiting for Peter to ‘graduate’ from his cot so that he can vacate the +1/Study Room. After which the first thing that’s going in is one of those large bean bags.:)

Decking: we didn’t write about our decking considerations and final decisions made during our 2014 renovation project, but deciding on the basic material type, material color and also vendor to go with was one of the harder renovation decisions we made last year. Briefly, there are two broad types of decking material: natural wood (e.g. ironwood, Chengal, teak) and wood plastic composites, which basically is a synthetic wood type.The considerations we had in mind included:

The amount of direct sunlight that would hit the decking

The amount of rain that will hit the decking during each year end’s monsoon

The kind of furniture and also usage that decking would be put through

How much maintenance we were prepared to keep up with the decking’s outward appearance

How the decking would be installed

Cost (of course)

From anecdotal observations, most people seem to prefer natural wood decking since it doesn’t have that odd artificial look that’s inherent in WPCs – you know, analogous to computer-generated faces against real human faces that we see in the most Terminator film – and with natural wood, you can at least re-sand and varnish periodically and the decking would look like new again. Still, we read and also saw through pictures worrying on either side, and don’t think we could really finally say which material type is better all-round. We finally decided on an Australian-branded decking type sold and installed by a local reseller, on account of the very long warranty the reseller was providing, the overall package price, method of installation (no drilling involved), and also that the method of installation permitted wider than normal gaps. A note on the later: we went with a larger than normal gap of 5mm between planks. It resulted in a somewhat less pleasing look visually, but also provided a much better water drainage system when the inevitable monsoon rain cycle begins.

Gap between deck planks.

Gap between deck planks.

More than 18 months, and the decking has fared pretty well with a few caveats. None of the planks have warped, chipped, broken etc. but there has been surface scratches and plant acid burns into the material as a result of our usage – basically the children’s toy vehicles running forcefully over the decking, and the many potted plants excreting fluids that over time burn into the deck planks. Not enough for the decking to look unsightly at all, but I guess it’s just the nature of the material.

Solar Film: the solar film still looks solidly in place, and we don’t even notice that it’s there anymore. And the apartment interior is still reasonably bright enough for us.

One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.


Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!


Ling comments that it’s hard buying tech toys for my birthday every year. Thankfully, it’s easier on my end for her birthdays – on account that, apart from apparel and things that women use (i.e. handbags LOL), there are always new kitchen or home appliances or gizmos out there. And I actually enjoy the learning process involved with finding out about the new home innovations, and comparing between them using the usual spreadsheets.

One home item that Ling mused about early this year was a juicer. We do consume some fruits at home as a family of four on most evenings, but it takes time to wash, and slice/dice them. Moreover, I’m a temperamental fruit eater: there are many fruits I dislike, and I have low tolerances too for fruits that are sour or bland. The juicer is supposed to take care of all that, since when they are mashed and squeezed into pulp and fluids, and mixed into different concoctions, blandness and tastelessness become less of an issue.

There seems to be at least two broad types of fruit juicers: fast juicers that use centrifugal forces to essentially grind fruit pieces into pulp and juice, and slow(er) juices that use pressure. The ‘net is awashed with a lot of material comparing between the two and occasionally trying to separate fact from fiction of both juicers’ advantages. The fast juicers as sold here are also somewhat lower in average pricing than the slow ones, with some premium models in the latter category coming close to or crossing the thousand dollar mark.

Possible hype and unfounded fears aside, I decided to go with the slow juicer early on – if nothing else that I think power-pulverizing by motors does strike me as being very cruel to fruits! There’s a wide range of slow juicer models, with the cheapest ones costing just slightly over a hundred dollars. I wasn’t sure how a juicer would finally fit into the kitchen, since there’s been a couple of big ticket household appliances that turned into white elephants (a certain vacuum cleaner from OSIM or breadmaker machine for example), while other low price items that have turned out to be a lot more useful than we envisioned (e.g. an Electolux handheld vacuum cleaner). Erring on the side of caution this time round again, we went with a fairly cheap slow juicer – the Philips HR1830 that cost slightly more than S$200.

Despite it being Ling’s birthday present, I’ve been the primary user of this new juicer now since its purchase 5 weeks ago now – on account that it’s fun to juice, and everyone gets their Vitamin C fix almost every night. Some comments about the juicer and juicing!

Our concoctions most of the time are what comes out from a pineapple, 3 large oranges, 4 apples, 1 carrot, and 1 celery stick. Enough for everyone to get at least a full relative-sized cup – even Peter. We’ve of course tried many other fruit types at this point, but this particular mixture seems to provide us with a blend that is reasonably tasty without strong flavors in particular directions.

The HR1830 isn’t a heavy duty juicer, or at least not with the daily abuse it gets put through. The machine wobbles, and depending on how hard one nudges (or forces) the cut fruit slices down the main vertical tube, the juicer can shake quite a bit as it tries to slice fruit and drive them through the metallic sieve.

The machine’s not silent. But the motor sound is far less than the din of what you’ll normally hear from a fast juicer.

The juicer is fairly easy to clean too. Disassembling the machine takes just a minute, as also is its assembly, and it’s super easy all round. No really small parts to figure out either. No parts with sharp edges either too. Pretty child friendly!

From what I’ve observed against online notes from other juicer models; the HR1830 does an adequate job at squeezing juice out from pulp, but there are clearly other models that do an even better job at maximizing the amount of juice you can get from the cut fruit.

Soft fruits are easy to juice – up to a point. We tried water melons, but they provided so much liquid volume that it was hard to balance it off with other fruits and to reach an appropriate taste… unless you don’t mind drinking what is essentially gonna taste like melon juice to the max.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Hannah's interpretation of what is really going on.

Hannah’s interpretation of what is really going on.

I can’t believe I’ve gone from talking about photography and cameras in the last post to kitchen juicers now LOL.

Hannah’s last concert at her Kindergarten was today. Amazing how time flies – she’s had four of these now, and now that she’s at her last year as a K2 student, the concert was preceded by her graduation ceremony too. In the last couple of concerts, the Olympus 75-300mm did the honors, with the 600mm full-frame equivalent reach reaching every part of the stage with ease. This year, the lens of choice for the long shots from our Circle seats was the newly acquired Olympus 40-15mm f2.8.

After about 600 shots, the long and short of it is that the 40-150mm is worth every cent. The E-M1 was set to Single-AF, but hit the correct focusing point. The several stops of light-gathering ability also led to the lens’ most significant advantage over the old Olympus 75-300mm, which meant I could get shots at 1/500s to freeze motion and ISO1600 – a combination of shutter speed and ISO that would had never been possible previously. The 1.4X teleconverter stayed in the bag for most of the concert after I decided I’d rather keep the extra stop of light than lose it to longer reach.

We did have experience a mishap though when it was Hannah’s class turn to perform their dance number on-stage. Specifically, and in part from a misunderstanding on where our girl would be entering the stage from, I ended up taking taking pictures centered on what looked like Hannah when it wasn’t her. Yeah – super dud LOL. Fortunately, Hannah was still very much in the frame; just not centered. The dance routine wasn’t particularly memorable unfortunately too; the performances from the other classes were more interesting, and my casual shots of those performances using the 40-150mm turned out pretty well (won’t post them here on our blog though).

A small selection of pictures!

She chirped after the event that her teacher mispronounced her name.

She chirped after the event that her teacher mispronounced her name.

Kids in motion. Hannah is on the left of the frame.

Kids in motion. Hannah is on the left of the frame.

Waving to us who were all the way far behind at the Circle seats.

Waving to us who were all the way far behind at the Circle seats.

Our family wefie. We take one every year at her concert!

Our family wefie. We take one every year at her concert! Taken witn the E-PL6 and 14mm f2.5G.


It’s been more than two years since I last bought a new lens, having been pretty satisfied with the trio of m4/3 prime lenses – the 17mm, 25mm, and 45mm – that are considered mandatory for serious owners of the system. The two new Olympus lenses picked up this month are labeled ‘Pro’. According to Olympus’ public information of what that descriptor means, their Pro line of lenses are developed for professional use, and provide constant f2.8 apertures. There are currently three such lenses in this line – the 7-14mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm – and the latter two were the most recent acquisitions.

At this point, I’ve put the 12-40mm through a few weeks of use, but not for the 40-150mm. Even then, these are just the first and early handling impressions of both.

The 12-40mm occupies an odd spot among what the focal lengths of the three great m4/3 primes. The 17mm and 45mm roughly offer a full stop’s benefit over it – i.e. not a significant difference. But in the case of the 25mm, the difference is two stops, which really improves upon the range of conditions one has to take a picture. I’m of two minds about this. I imagine that I’ll continue to use primes when weight of the setup is a concern, or if I have time to properly setup a shot – e.g. if Hannah is doing her homework and is largely not moving off her chair and running about. But for catching our kids in action or when they’re running around the house, the 12-40mm is probably a more versatile option.

The 12-40mm is also a more convenient focal length range when we’re traveling. The only times I shoot wide is when it’s for a family photo with everyone in the extended family, or when I’m taking landscapes on vacation (haven’t done that since the Japan trip!). I wished it had some macro ability – similar to the very basic facility on the 12-50mm, but oh well.

No complaints about the center sharpness too. At similar apertures, it’s sharper in the center than all three primes to varying degrees, according to posted MTF resolutions at Photozone. Anecdotally though and from what my eyes can tell anyway, the 12-40mm is obviously sharper in the center than the 17mm, somewhat less so than the 45mm, and about the same as the 25mm. Moving off the center onto the borders of the image circle, the 12-40mm holds up well with smaller resolution drop-offs than all three primes. Amazing!

The 12-40mm is also much larger and heftier than the three primes. The lens’ build quality though is impressive and confidence-building, and not quite like the more plastic-y feel of the 25mm and 45mm primes. The pre-supplied petal hood also allows it to be reversed onto the lens for storage.

As for the 40-150mm. There’s an option to buy the lens without the Olympus 1.4x MC-14 teleconverter – though that’s honestly isn’t really the best thing to do. The teleconverter costs a whopping USD349 if bought separately! Locally, the price difference between the 40-150mm sans TC versus with the TC is a mere USD142. No brainer duh. The teleconverter though doesn’t work with most lenses – at the moment with just (apparently) the 40-150mm. It’s reported to work with the upcoming Olympus 300mm f4 Pro, but nope, no interest in that lens at all. The 40-150mm with teleconverter will allow focal lengths of up to 210mm or 420mm full-frame equivalent. Not as long as that crazy upper limit on my Olympus 75-300 i.e. 600mm, but you get a stop of light advantage, and also reportedly better sharpness all round.

And surprisingly, the teleconverter is reported to work quite well with the 40-150mm, putting aside the expected light loss. More to say on this later on once I put it through good use!

The supplied hard plastic hood is a design marvel. Unlike most lens hoods that have to be reversed for storing onto the lens, the 40-150mm’s hood uses a clever retractable system that does away with needing to reverse it. Basically, you twist the hood and it can be retracted. Voilà!

The 12-40mm with the E-M5, and the 40-15mm/1.4x teleconverter with the E-M1.

Relative sizes: the 12-40mm with the E-M5, and the 40-15mm/1.4x teleconverter with the E-M1.

The 12-40mm's weight and girth is nicely balanced against the E-M1 already, making the grip non-essential if weight distribution is a concern.

The 12-40mm’s weight and girth is nicely balanced against the E-M1 already, making the grip non-essential if weight distribution is a concern.

The two lenses sans hoods, with the 1.4X Teleconverter in the foreground.

The two lenses sans hoods, with the 1.4X Teleconverter in the foreground.

Hoods on. The 40-150mm's hood adds almost three inches to the length of the lens. Still finally not nearly as long as the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 though!

Hoods on. The 40-150mm’s hood adds almost three inches to the length of the lens. Still finally not nearly as long as the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 though.

Lens hood retracted on the 40-150mm, making for a much more compact set.

Lens hood retracted on the 40-150mm, making for a much more compact set.

The E-M1 with the 40-150mm and teleconverter. Long lens, making the grip an essential item!

The E-M1 with the 40-150mm and teleconverter. Long lens, making the grip an essential item!

The 40-150mm f2.8 and teleconverter will be given its first real exercise this weekend at Hannah’s K2 Graduation Concert. I’ll be bringing that, alongside the 75-300mm for a field comparison. We’ve chosen seats at the Circle – we must have been the only weirdo graduating students’ parents not to sit in the normal floor stall seats closer to the stage – and only because it provides an unobstructed view of the stage for these two crazy long focal length lens to work their mojo. More to say after this weekend! :)

I was looking at my tabulation of camera expenditure since 2008 – I am that obsessed over all things tabular – and it’s interesting to see my spending pattern:

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Broadly, the spending spikes especially every several years whenever I change a camera system or buy substantial new gear. So:

2008: I didn’t track my camera spending before this point, and had owned a bunch of different digital compact cameras, pro-user cameras, and also my first DSLR: the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D. I sold that away and in 2008, bought into the Nikon system with the:

D300 – an M1 Abrams Tank-life DSLR, and with a whole bunch of lenses and accessories to follow later including the…

SB600 speedlight

Sigma 10-20mm Ultra Wide Angle

Nikon 50mm f1.8

Hannah and Mommy @ Nikon 50mm f1.8

Sigma AF150mm f2.8 Macro – took some lovely pictures at the Orchid Garden with it

Street cat at Punggol Park @ Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro

Sigma AF24-60m f2.8 – which is currently with our ang mo bud!

Hannah at three years old @ Sigma 24-60mm f2.8

2009: more lenses and accessories for the D300, which included:

MB-D10 battery grip

Sigma 18-250mm – this was for its time among the first all-in-one travel lenses which could shoot somewhat wide and relatively far along in the focal length too. The lens increasingly faced AF issues, and at this point today, is no longer working reliably.

Hannah @ Sigma 18-250mm

2010: when I bought into a second camera system to accompany the heavy duty Nikon system, starting off with the…

Olympus E-PL1 – which at the end of the year, accompanied us on our Japan trip, and also for my month-long stint in Massachusetts. The camera even survived dunking at Niagara Falls!

2011: no looking back from the m4/3s now! Apart from selling off several Nikon lenses that offset new purchases, the acquisitions that year were:

Olympus E-PL2 – a significant upgrade from the predecessor. The E-PL2 seemed better built, had a bumped up LCD, and the kit lens focused a lot quicker. The camera is a backup-backup m4/3s camera now that I still take out for an occasional spin.

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 – pancake prime that was extremely sharp in its center image, and capable of lovely pictures. Only issue was that it focused slowly.

Hannah and Mommy in the evening @ Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7

2012: this one was a messy year and also the one where I finally moved away from owning two camera systems. The Nikon D300 was sold away, and in its place:

Nikon D7000 and MB-D11 grip – with hindsight now, a somewhat impulsive buy. The DSLR was a landmark in the Nikon system, offering – at that point – unsurpassed cropped sensor imagery, but it was also at a point where I was seriously considering moving fully onto the m4/3s standard.

Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX – among the most highly rated Nikon primes for the APS-C sensor.

Hannah @ Sigma 35mm f1.8

Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM – my first ‘pro’ f2.8 zoom lens! This lens was considered a much cheaper alternative to the Nikon equivalent that cost almost twice as much.

Hannah and Mommy @ Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

Olympus E-M5 – the real game changer in the m4/3s standard and also for me. The entire Nikon camera system I owned essentially got sidelined because of this camera.

Metz 50 AF-1 MZ 50312OPL Digital Flash – throws up an incredible amount of light. Worked well enough until the camera battery door broke!

Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 – owned this lens briefly, with several of the earlier Minton in construction photos taken with it.

Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN – this prime was longer than the Panasonic Lumix 20mm and weren’t as quick aperture-wise, but it focused a lot faster.

Hannah @ Sigma 30mm f2.8

Panasonic LX7 – highly praised rangefinder-esque camera that I got for dirt-cheap from Amazon. Used it for some of those very nicely wide-angle shots of the Minton.

2013: the prime lens year! Sold away some of the m4/3s gear, picked up the:

Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G – fun wide-angle prime that’s flat as a pancake. Great for wefie shots.:)

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G

Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 – still the best portrait prime I’ve got for the m4/3s. Picked it up from Amazon JP and had it shipped here. One of the three highly-rated prime lenses for the system, with the other two the next two lenses below.

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 25mm f1.4

Olympus 17mm f1.8 – pretty much permanently mounted onto the E-PL6, and color-matched too. This one’s an all-purpose general photography lens.

Hannah @ Olympus 17mm f1.8

Olympus 45mm f1.8 – the longest focal length prime I’ve got at this point. Capable of rendering nifty bokeh, though best used out of home where there’s space to move around.

Peter @ Olympus 45mm f1.8

Olympus 75-300mm II f4.8-6.7 Zoom Lens – an updated and much sleeker-looking version of a consumer-level zoom lens. Never mind that it’s a slow-lens aperture-wise, but this lens is capable of 600mm equivalent shots on the E-M5. All those crazy zoomed-in pictures of the Minton construction were taken on this one.

Workers at The Minton @ Olympus 75-300mm II. This was shot from an opposite block some distance away.

Olympus E-PL6 – one of the two cameras I tot around these days, and largely as a replacement for the old E-PL2. Uses about the same sensor and processing as the E-M5, and capable of producing images as good!

2014: a lull in spending, finally! No major camera purchases that year, and I sold off most of my remaining Nikon gear.

2015: the year’s not up yet, and at this point:

Panasonic DMC-LX100 – my first (relatively) large-sensor compact with a nice 2.8 aperture. The camera isn’t without its issues, but it still has more strengths to it than weaknesses. As a bonus, works well with the m4/3s flashguns I’ve got.

Nissin i40 – as a replacement for the Metz 50AF-1 flashgun. Perfect in every way – except that the rear dial’s mode markings have started fading off from wear/tear, though it’s only been 6 months.

Olympus E-M1 – got it for a great price, and is really as mint as it can be for a used unit.

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro – from the same seller as the E-M1! A post on the lens to follow soon.

Kids @ Olympus 12-40mm f2.8

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro – a very recent acquisition, and largely to take pictures of Hannah’s upcoming K2 Graduation concert this weekend. A post to follow on it soon too.:)

Whew – that was a long post. I think I’m pretty much embedded into the m4/3s system at this point, and the only gaps I can think of are:

A macro lens, maybe.

A ultra-wide angle, big maybe – only because I’m not a fan of ultra wide angles.

The stunning Olympus 75mm f1.8, at some point!


Continuing on a widely spaced thread on our Minton home, post-renovation one year on. The last post in the series is here.

If there is any one aspect of our home renovation that has not worked well, it’s been our choice of supplier for the LED downlights. We picked them up from a large supplier located in the Ubi area, and had them installed by our ID’s general electrician. As I recall it, the first units started failing barely 3 months into our moving in, and along the way, several more did. Our initial experiences of the LED downlights are here, and here.

I’ll have to do an accurate tally of the units that failed, but here are the failure numbers off the top of my head:


The 8 failures are over the 18 month stretch, and I think roughly split between the LED light emitting unit, and the driver unit. As I recall it, the first four failures (all 3-in-1s) occurred in the first year, and were exchanged without complaint at the warehouse. The remaining ones zonked out about this year – after their guarantee period – which meant we had to look for options.

Clarifying our usage too: the lights are not heavily used. In fact, two of the dead units were in a part of the living hall and were rarely switched on. One of our Minton neighbors got their LED downlights from the same supplier and experienced failures of their 3-in-1 lights too.

We scouted around for alternatives, and eventually settled on a Qoo10 supplier who has a new warehouse over in Woodlands. This supplier has a web site – which gave us a slight bit more confidence than the previous supplier which had nothing of this sort, though the web site still states their old Jurong warehouse address. We’ve had enough bad experiences with 3-in-1 types now, unfair as it might sound to tarnish all lights of this type because of one bad experience with a supplier. The new units, according to their supplier, have some components made in the US while assembly is in China.

Pictures of the new units:


The 6200K temperature of these Cool Daylight units meant that they are very slightly warmer than the units they are replacing. We ended up replacing all the 3-in-1 units in the study with these single-color types, and keeping the 3-in-1s that were still working as spares.


Output watt is the same at 12W, and size too. The panel design though is different – though one would have to be looking hard up at the ceiling lights to tell!


The output here at 24-48V DC is slightly higher than the old driver types of 21-45V DC though rated current is identical at 300mA.

This time round too, we picked up spares so that we can replace them on our own if it comes to that later. Funnily; these replacement lights at about $19 each cost less than the old ones at $28. Our neighbor – who shared the similarly bad experiences with the old LED lights – helped us install the replacements, and judging from what’s involved, I’m fairly confident that I’d be able to do the same later if I need to. Oddly though – the traumatic experience our ID’s general electrician had last year when installing the LEDs seem unfounded. Our neighbor was able to mount/dismount the old lights with relative ease.

Oh well. Hope these new ones work better this time round. And if not, at least we have spares to replace several more.:)

I did a check on the last time I wrote on sling-type camera straps and realized that it’s been more than 3 years since I last wrote one such, even though these sling straps are a much-needed improvement over the typical shoulder strap that comes supplied with new camera bodies. My previous post on my first sling strap – the BlackRapid RS4 – is right here, and on the Herringbone handgrip here.

The BlackRapid series of straps are widely known and used, and also carried at many local resellers here. Shortly after I picked up the BlackRapid though, our ang mo bud came about visiting us in Singapore, bringing along an interesting strap from a lesser-known supplier: the BosStrap. Now, who wouldn’t like a name like that? :)

Comparing the RapidStrap and the BosStrap.

Comparing the BosStrap with the RapidStrap RS4.

Nylon webbing!

Nylon webbing!

The BosStraps though aren’t available through local resellers as far as I can tell. You either need to get them through online retailers like B&H, Amazon, or on eBay. I picked up the BosStrap Generation 3 Sliding Sling Strap for about S$80 – shipping costs = ouch – through their eBay store, and the strap’s been used for more than 3 years now.

Comparing between the BlackRapid and the BosStrap: both serve the same function – sling your camera on your shoulder and offload from your neck the weight of your camera. The securing mechanism and material used for the straps couldn’t be more different though. The BosStrap uses nylon webbing, similar to the material you find on car seat belts. There are numerous advantages to that: the material is soft, velvety-like and nice to hold and run your fingers along. The strap is also easily flexible and can wrap around your lens for easy storage, something that’s just not possible on the BlackRapid.

Very different camera securing systems.

Very different camera securing systems though.

Unlike the BlackRapid too, there is no shoulder pad. Some photography enthusiasts won’t like it, but I actually prefer a pad-less strap. The BlackRapid pad keeps sliding back, and its presence makes me consciously aware that I’m carrying a camera on my shoulder. The BosStrap’s mostly soft material and minimal use of metallic elements is also a talked about advantage as it reduces the possibility of those elements scratching or damaging the camera body.

Next couple of pictures showing how the BosStrap is secured to the camera.

The untangled Tail featuring a Double Safety Lock Release.

The untangled Tail featuring a Double Safety Lock Release.

The Tail goes through the camera strap lug.

The Tail goes through the camera strap lug.

Loops back into the cam buckle, locked into place, and the safety sleeve slides over to make sure that the lock stays solidly in place.

Loops back into the cam buckle, locked into place, and the safety sleeve slides over to make sure that the lock stays solidly in place.

Excess strap can be looped for neatness.

Excess strap can be looped for neatness.

All done on the E-M1. The strap can be looped around the lens.

All done on the E-M1.

Wraps easily around the camera lens!

Wraps easily around the camera lens!

In short I like the BosStrap. The one difficulty I have with the strap though is incidentally also another much talked about benefit. The BosStrap secures the camera via the body’s strap lug. This frees up the tripod socket that’s routinely used by other straps, including the BlackRapid, and enables the camera to sit properly on flat surfaces. I found the Tail however a chore to remove, and you’ll need to be happy leaving it right there tethered semi-permanently to the strap lug. And fixing up the main strap to the Tail also takes time. Fundamentally, if you want a strap that’s quick to mount and dismount, you might need to look elsewhere – and this is something that might be more important than you’ll realize until you’ve used the strap for a bit!

Neither straps have secondary securing systems. The straps are pretty secure for my use. But for those of us who’re nervous about having several thousand moolas worth of glass, plastic and metal dangling about your hip and the chance of it kissing concrete, there’s apparently other sling straps with redundant camera securing systems built-in. More on that later once this innovative strap comes in!