Camera phones have really come a long way. It didn’t seem more than just 2-3 years past when the pictures you got out of most camera phones were routinely out-of-focus, badly exposed and so full of noise grain that they were only usable if you shrunk the image to pint-size, i.e. for web use only. The iPhone 4S apparently has a pretty good built-in camera, as does the Galaxy Note. In fact, I’ve found myself taking a lot of camera phone pictures of Hannah since picking up this gargantuan phone.

The phone supports customization, including a variety of both shooting and scene modes, exposure compensation, and adjustable aspect ratios, white balance and ISO. The lens itself is wide too at 28mm, and the out-of-camera JPGs, especially in good light, are pleasing.

It’s not perfect though. The camera sensor is – by my guess – where entry-level compact camera sensors are, but still not anywhere near the upper range compact cameras (e.g. the Olympus XZ-1) nor mirrorless cameras and certainly not DSLRs. The camera’s multitude of customization options are also accessible via touchscreen menus, and there’s the inevitable lag when you bring them up. Lastly, the Note lacks a dedicated shutter-release button. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem… except that the Note’s a large camera, which means your fingers need to stretch quite a bit to press the Home key to release the shuttle.

OK; time for samples! All the pictures were taken in available light:

blog-2012-hannah-20120320_174029-greenwich-empire-state-dinner-flickr

Dinner the other week at a funky new Western cuisine restaurant @ Greenwich. ISO125, f2.6, 1/17s.

blog-2012-hannah-20120331_092016-car-flickr

On our way to Lentor this morning. It'd rained very heavily the previous night, and was still drizzling this morning. ISO100, f2.6, 1/50s.

blog-2012-hannah-20120331_101216-AMKhub-food-junction-flickr

At AMK Hub's NTUC Foodfare. ISO100, f2.6, 1/50s.

blog-2012-hannah-20120331_113406-AMKhub-ntuc-flickr

At AMK's Fairprice Hypermart. ISO50, f2.6, 1/50s.

The compact camera I picked up was a Canon IXUS 115HS, with its first-party housing from Canon. The latter is coming from an eBay seller, so it’ll still be at last a week before it arrives. As for the camera itself; it’s a 12 megapixel shooter, with a fully automatic for-dummies mode, and also a somewhat more customizable Program mode.

blog-2012-photography-N7K_6494-canon-ixus

The IXUS 115HS, alongside its brethen: Ling's LZ8, and my E-PL2.

blog-2012-photography-N7K_6503-canon-ixus

Either the IXUS is tiny, or my Galaxy Note is massive!

After spending the better part of the day tinkering around with it, here’s what I think are the camera’ strengths:

It’s really tiny, and easily the most pocketable compact camera I’ve got now.

Maximum aperture of f2.8 – nice!

Lots of scene modes (not that I’ll bother scrolling through them if ever)

Full 1920×1080 movie capture, though only at 24fps.

And for the immediate downsides:

It’s so tiny that wrapping the camera strap around your wrist is a must, lest you accidentally drop it.

No handgrip, which makes the above pointer even more critical.

No A, S, or M modes, unlike Ling’s Panasonic LZ8.

Pictures out of box are pretty soft. Sharpening in post-processing will be necessary for this bugger.

JPG pictures don’t quite have the ‘pop’ when compared to the E-PL2.

Oh well. I know what I was buying into; and besides, I don’t intend for this camera to be a replacement for my E-PL2. Once the underwater housing comes in, expect an updated review of this and our first water pictures of Hannah.=)

27. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Photography & Cameras · Tags:

A year ago I blogged about my project to find a underwater-capable camera to take pictures of our girl swimming. The state of affairs haven’t changed too much since that post. Basically, you either get:

A comparatively cheap vinyl case solution; or

A waterproof compact camera; or

An external polycarbonate housing camera casings.

I tried going with the first solution first, picking up a cheap case to try it out with the home guinea pig camera  – Ling’s nearly 4 year old Panasonic LZ8. Nope she didn’t suspect that her beloved camera was going for a swim soon! The case arrived from eBay yesterday. I took a few minutes to assemble it together, and then the litmus test. Dunking it into water with a piece of paper supposedly sealed in to see if there’s leakage.

And yep there was – in just 5 minutes. Either I didn’t follow the instructions incorrectly, or the damn thing just doesn’t work. To be fair though; the second attempt seemed successful; the paper stayed dry this time. But this was after I turned the three sealing screws so hard I got finger blisters. And one failure is one too many.

blog-N7K_6502

Second attempt!

Next solution. There are lots of water-friendly cameras around, with just about every major compact camera manufacturer having its own models. I was eyeing an Olympus TG-310, which rated as an inexpensive solution at around SGD200 that produced reasonably good images, until I read of the horror stories on Amazon about the camera not being waterproof. Nope.

The last solution – polycarbonate housings – seem to be the safest. Unfortunately, they can also be pretty expensive, with some of the DSLR housings routinely costing 1-2 times the DSLR itself. For instance, the comparatively cheaper Ikelite housing for my D7000 costs SGD2,500 – ouch!! And the better ones were going to cost SGD4,000. Sure, I wasn’t going for a DSLR water-capable solution, but still. Moreover, these housings are typically manufactured specific to camera models i.e. you can’t buy a housing for one camera and use it for another camera, unless the latter has the exact physical characteristics and button placements.

Interestingly though, there’s a third-party housing that goes with the one-size-fit-all. It’s reasonably affordable at SGD199, and it got fairly good reviews though the housing limits you to just taking stills with zero other functionality (i.e. no zooming, no tinkering around with buttons, no movie, no flash).

blog-ss-1

The Seashell SS-1. Was very tempted!

I would have gone for this solution right away – except that I really wanted to be able to take underwater movies of our girl swimming, and this housing would have made it pretty much impossible.

So, after a lot of hunting high and low, I finally found a solution that met all my project requirements: a first-party housing + for a pretty decent compact camera that supported full HD movie capture + fairly cheap too with a total cost of under SGD300. More in the next post!

25. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues · Tags: ,

I’m torn between the two f1.8 primes for the D7000 – the 35mm and 50mm! After the in-body micro AF adjustments, the 35mm is sharp now in the image center now, and the 50mm slightly less so. The 35mm seems to give better color reproduction than the 50mm, but on the other hand, the latter seems to focus just a very small bit faster. The bunch of pictures below were taken on the 35mm this time, and at our weekly Sunday brunch with parents.=)

blog-2012-hannah-N7K_6429-AMK-sunday-brunch-flickr

She's been chewing on her lips a little - it's a little swollen on the lower lip.

blog-2012-hannah-N7K_6446-AMK-sunday-brunch-flickr

Her luggage this morning was a couple of books, one of which was a Mandarin book she wanted granddad to read to her.

blog-2012-hannah-N7K_6449-AMK-sunday-brunch-flickr

Hoping her double-chin goes away when she grows older!

blog-2012-hannah-N7K_6466-AMK-sunday-brunch-flickr

Getting fed egg tarts. Just prior to this she gobbled up roti pratas. The girl eats everything!

blog-2012-hannah-N7K_6485-AMK-sunday-brunch-flickr

Getting tutored in Mandarin by granddad.=)

25. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, New Home · Tags: ,

We went by the building site for The Minton condo to check out its progress. Our vantage point this time was back to Blk 142. Just to give us a perspective – this is what the progress looked like 4 months ago when we last checked out the sight from the 12th floor:

This is what it looked liked yesterday afternoon:

Yep – two blocks have almost just sprung themselves up! The block that’s right in the center of the picture, and towards the right too.

I’ve marked out our unit with a red arrow too. You can see that our block is nearly done now too. Another view of our block below, but taken on the ground level of Block 142:

blog-2012-minton-OLYP0193-visit

And a final picture. Hannah’s hair is in a bit of a mess as we’d decided to go by for this visit at the last minute. Our girl had just woken up from her afternoon nap, so her hair was only kept in place with that haphazardly-worn hairband. A Ixora flower had dropped onto the flower bed, and it became a teaching moment for Mommy to Hannah.=)

blog-2012-minton-OLYP0204-visit

Yep, it came and went. And am I sad to see that the March hols left us all too soon.

Hmm, I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment from the short break. Perhaps I didn’t plan to do something that would make myself happy. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed spending more time with my family. Just that I didn’t spend time for the inner person to grow. :( Before I knew it, I am back to the hustle and bustle of work life.

I cooked very little over the hols. When pressed for time, I like to do a stir-fry dish to go with a Chinese-style simmered soup. Below is a photo taken of a plate of stir-fried cai xin with shiitake mushrooms. BTW, Hannah loves to eat mushrooms. :)

Stir-fry cai xin with shiitake mushroom in oyster sauce

A quick-fix for lunch when I was too lazy to walk over to the nearby coffeeshop in the hot noon-day heat to do take-away could be a yong tau fu meal. I like to cook sweet corn in boiling water first and then add the yong tau fu pieces and cook until they all float to the surface. Twenty minutes tops.

My yong tau fu bowl and a dipping sauce of freshly cut chilli padi in light soy sauce

I came across a very useful guidebook for new parents at a Popular Bookstore towards the end of the school break. It deals mainly with nutrition for babies from birth (i.e. breast-feeding and/or bottle-feeding) to 24 months (feeding solid foods). What makes it close to heart is its Asian perspective. And the author provides scientific basis for selection of foods too. Although the photos are not professionally taken and processed, they did the job of conveying ideas therein. It is easy reading with many pictures and minimal chunks of text. I was sold when I saw recipes for nutritious Chinese soups thrown in. I was further thrilled to find out that the book also included a section for parents on how to handle food-related problems such as diarrhoea and choking. I got a copy for a friend is going to be a new mother in a matter of weeks. Below is a photo taken of the cover page of the book. Popular is selling it at 30% now.

21. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags:

Continued from the last post.

Storywise, you’ve sort of seen it before. Yep; it’s mix of Lost and Star Trek Voyager. Visually, thematically, and stylistically though, it draws its cues from recent dramas like Battlestar Galactica. The show is very dark and edgy. No more cute and fuzzy benign aliens, nor even alien of the week. Every episode is almost depressing as the Destiny’s crew struggles each week against the challenges of traveling onboard a vessel that is technologically far ahead of what they can readily comprehend. And the challenges run the gamut of finding power, oxygen, water, food, then facing off radiation, unfriendly aliens, collisions with stars, marooned crew that are left to die, alien viruses that are accidentally brought onboard, military-civilian tussles for power etc.

blog-sgu-01

The main cast from Stargate Universe

Some of these interstellar travel challenges aren’t new; we’ve seen them before in the first season of Battlestar Galactica, but SGU ramps it up a couple of notches. The series kills characters with alarming frequency, and there are only so many crew members that are onboard Destiny to begin with. Many of the challenges are also – apparently – scientifically grounded (the show’s producers note that NASA scientists watch the show), and while I don’t claim to understand all that science and astronomical mumbo jumbo for a second, it does at least sound as though the series knows what it’s talking about when a character says something about the dangers of how a white dwarf is stripping material from a neutron star in a binary pulsar and creating an accretion disc that is producing gamma radiation. I kid you not. That’s exactly one of the danger scenarios that the Destiny’s crew faces in one episode.

The cast is pretty good too, though aside from one of the two leads are all unknowns to me. I immediately recognized Robert Carlyle, who stars as Dr. Nicholas Rush, Destiny’s super brilliant but also extremely arrogant and also mentally unsound scientist. With him are Louis Ferreira as Colonel Everett Young, his military opposite who’s constantly bumping heads with Rush, Brian J. Smith as the loyal but conscientious Lt. Matthew Scott, Jamil Walker Smith as Master SGT Ronald Greer, the crew’s hot-tempered bulldog, and David Blue as Eli Wallace, a civilian who starts off as slacker but also a genius, and grows to be a real asset to the crew.

The civilian-military antagonism isn’t too different from the Adama-Roslin tug of war in the early seasons of Battlestar Galactica, and as good as Ferreira is as an actor, he’s not in Edward James Olmosclass. Carlyle’s Rush is a different story though. You love-hate his character. You hate his ruthlessness and single-mindedness in pursuing his scientific goals, but it’s hard to fault his cold-minded logic. Exactly the characterizations that make for great series viewing.

blog-sgu-02

CG's all good. Wished there was more of it though.

What’s unquestionably impressive is the Computer Generated graphics work. Unlike Battlestar Galactica’s numerous and very large-scale space battles, the CG work for SGU is mostly in Destiny, the worlds they explore – some of them look truly alien – and also a couple of space battles. It’s somewhat sparing, but when you do see it, it’s all pretty good.

All in; not too bad. I’ll put this series at below Battlestar Galactica. but since that series has completed its run and until the prequel series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, is released, SGU will do.=)

21. March 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment · Tags:

I had a housemate back in Perth who was a big fan of the sci-fi series called Stargate SG-1. For those of us who’re not in the know; the TV series was a spin-off from a 1994 so-so sci-fi film made by the then darling purveyors of pop-corn sci-fi films – the Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin duo who’d go on to make the alien-busting Independence Day film next. The film and series essentially covers the discovery of an ancient ring-shaped device in present-day Earth that serves as one-end of an interstellar wormhole that in turn makes possible travel to distant planets and galaxies.

The first series that followed the film – Stargate SG-1 – turned out to be quite the success, and ran for a whopping 10 years, becoming the longest-running American sci-fi TV series ever before getting recently surpassed by Smallville. The series was well-regarded for its adventurism, cast chemistry, and story arcs that evolved and ran for years. In fact, the producers themselves seemed surprised by how loyal a fan-base the series created – the series was to have been wrapped at several junctures, but kept going on because of its fans.

blog-sg1

The main cast from Stargate SG-1.

On the down side, the show – especially in the earlier years – was also rather campy at spots, with the occasional ‘alien of the week’ episodes showing up. Stargate SG-1 itself had its own spin-off. The equally successful Stargate Atlantis, which ran for five years, and most recently and the topic of this post: Stargate Universe.

Stargate Universe (SGU) is a pretty recent TV series that ran for just two seasons before getting discontinued because of development timing constraints. It follows the adventures of a multinational exploration team which is stuck on a massive starship after an offworld base they were based in is destroyed (the planet explodes in a spectacular scene). The starship, Destiny, unfortunately, is also billions of light years away from home, and the series tells the story of their difficult journey home.

Continued in the next post.=)

Our about 6 year old speaker system in the living room conked out without warning yesterday evening. Quite possibly the worst time to too, since I’d just picked up a bunch of blu-ray discs – the last two Harry Potter films in the series, and Stargate Universe – that was to had been our weekend movie marathon. We found a replacement system after brunch at Serangoon Nex, but upon reaching home discovered that there was a packaging error – speaker audio cables had been left out.

Argh. A quick trip to Compass Point’s DIY store would get me what I need. That’s when Ling suggested that I bring Hannah out for daddy-daughter bonding. She chuckled that Hannah loves taking buses, and she’d love me to bits if I did! It was a terrifically humid and sunny Saturday afternoon and I was already not in the best mood of having to make another trip out of home after just finishing one.

But I was intrigued by the notion. I’ve of course spent time alone with Hannah at home, out shopping, or when driving her around. But this would be the first time I’m on public transportation alone with her. Pictures to tell bits and pieces of our hour long trip together (aren’t any pictures of the two of us though).

blog-2012-hannah-20120317_124831-weekend-bus-trip

She has her own Ezlink card, and it's that little yellow pouch she wears around her neck. Ling even had clear instructions; "Carry her up, and let her tap her own card against the reader."

There was a long wait for the bus. She was, surprisingly, quite patient and had lots of things to talk about while waiting.=)

Always interested in the other vehicles whizzing past her bus.=)

Pictures taken with – would you believe it – the Galaxy Note, and at a very nice ISO32 in the sunny light.=)

Yang always cringes whenever he happens to see me ordering items on the Internet. I should add that I spend mostly on our girl :)

I usually don’t order directly from overseas online stores. I prefer to join spree organisers on Singapore Motherhood forum to get children apparel and shoes. It is cheaper when the loot is shipped in bulk (erm, I think so).

For Hannah’s clothes, there are a few brands which have gotten my support. Old Navy beats others hands down in terms of affordability and quality. Its items are often on discounts and I love most of its designs (thoughtful, creative and cute) and workmanship. It is possible to get cheap clothing from local stores such as Kiddy Palace but the cotton is not as comfortable. Besides hitting the heartland Kiddy Palace, my next best alternative (in terms of convenience) would be Fox’s Kids and Babies. They have good quality cotton wear but good bargains only happen during certain periods of the year.

Back to Old Navy. Their best steals would have to be pajamas (USD 10; they have short-sleeved, long-sleeved and onesies), shorts (as low as USD 4 and of good terry material), capris (~USD 5-6), swim-wear (USD 10; they carry designs with better coverage), slippers (USD 2.50; cute and long-lasting) and pretty dresses (as low as USD 8) amongst other items.

Other online stores that also get my business include Marks & Spencer and Carter’s. Marks & Spencer have beautiful and quality things to be sure but the exchange rate (pounds to SGD) is often an ouchie. Carter’s have bright and cute kiddy clothes – just that it is not as cheap as Old Navy. BTW, I love Carter’s rompers. They are not like those from Mothercare where the cut at the neckline is often too wide. Theirs hold up well and stretches as the baby grows. Hannah wore her six-month-old rompers until she was 2 years old before I retire them.

Next, SHOES! My PASSION. :D For Hannah, it has been mostly See Kai Run. Then there are a few pairs of Crocs and the occasional Pediped. They have been all good, very good indeed. All shoes from the three brands cost a small fortune if you buy them in Singapore. If you shop online, you could get it at half or less than half the retail price here.

Of course, shopping online has its risks. You might end up getting the wrong colour, size or design. The spree organiser might turn out to be unreliable. So far, both scenarios happened only once to me. *heart attack* But thank God.

blog-2012-hannah-OLYP0149-sunday-brunch

Hannah was wearing a new dress from Old Navy (USD 12)