The most recent family vacation to Club Med Bintan in December last year turned out to be such a let-down that we’ve sworn off beach resorts for our family holidays for the immediate future. I reckon that the disappointment was made the worse as many Internet bloggers had written glowing paradise-like praise for the place. And that let me to really wonder whether we’d finally gone to the same place or not over the five days! A Minton neighbor was recently quite interested in our blog, and commented that she especially appreciated and would rather follow independent bloggers than those affiliated with influencer agencies or receiving sponsorships and what not, and even withstanding caveats/open declarations/editorial policies. We’d write without having to feel as though we’re obligated to only say favorable things.

That aside and in any case, we have a window this year in June where we could make plans for a longer than the usual five-six day trip we’ve been making do in the last few years. And at that time of the year, the northern hemisphere would be typically warmer than the south, so we decided early on to arrange for an at least eight day trip, and somewhere south. Like the last three trips – to Legoland Malaysia, Koh Phangan, and Bintan – Peter would be with us.  And apart from prevailing climate, we were also mindful of other considerations, including:

Airfare costs

Availability of direct flights

Not too far (we were worried if Peter could handle anything more than 12 hrs in a plane!)

Child and pram-friendly

Self-drive as an option

Cool weather

With these criteria in mind, we really weren’t considering many options – yep, it was going to be Australia. Again.

Truth to tell, I’ve spent so much time in Australia, comparatively, that I’m not sure if I wanted to go there again for a vacation. I reckon if we were planning for a September or December holiday, we’d travel to Taiwan, Japan or Korea instead. And if funds had permitted, to visit our Ang mo bud in Missouri.

Of the several cities in the country, Ling wasn’t so keen on Perth as she’d already been there and didn’t think there was much, city-wise. I concurred – I would know as I lived there for three years! The next two cities which were going to see fairly cool weather was Sydney and Melbourne, and both cities were connected to Singapore by several airlines whose fares were competitively-priced, and they also offered direct flights. The two cities architecture and vibe-wise are different, and they also offer a very slightly different basket of sights off-city. I’ve previously spent a bit of time in both, and my preference was Sydney while Ling’s was Melbourne – and we eventually decided in favor of the latter, and a ten day trip.

At this point, we’ve confirmed our flights – we booked Emirates on a pretty decent deal that was about comparable price-wise to budget offerings after taking on board the additional food and baggage charges, and also our accommodation arrangements. More comments on that to come, alongside of our itinerary in-planning!

melbourne

Melbourne, June 2016.

And some pictures of our kids with the new X70! The camera was configured for shutter speeds of 1/80s and ISO3200 max, and also a mix of program-auto and aperture-priority.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired head-on. The picture is still correctly color balanced though I reckon that the soon to arrive Meike MK320 will allow for a less-noisy ISO setting.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash. Early weekday morning at about 0620 hrs. Peter does not like sleeping on his bed! Handheld shots like this are easy on the E-M1/E-M5, and tough on the X70 because of its lack of optical stabilization.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash. Peter just after he was disciplined for his usual misbehavior.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired. It’s amazing how quickly primary school kids are introduced to computer use in school. Hannah has weekly scheduled lab time where the kids do independent learning through an education portal.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash. We’ve been frequenting Toast Box @ Parkway Parade of late, on account that our two kids love the varieties of thick toasts there.

I’ve mostly stayed clear of virtual reality headgear, on account that the few I’ve tried in the last couple of years have invariably induced massive bouts of vertigo within minutes. I’ve also found these head mounted gadgets massively discomforting, to say nothing that I’ve not found them to work well with the current prescription spectacles that I wear.

That said; the current hot name in wearable VR devices now is Oculus, and they have a device that has long been in gestation – the Oculus Rift – with the consumer version finally to be available sometime this year. The Oculus Rift is expected to cost a pretty penny and I’m not prepared to throw half a thousand moola on the this. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the recently released Samsung Gear VR – which goes about providing for consumer-level VR experiences at a pretty attractive price-point.

The Gear VR has garnered quite a bit of interest here, and Samsung (Singapore) has spared no expense in marketing their product. The Gear VR is carried widely in the Samsung Experience stores in many places on the island, alongside also in smaller demo areas in the large consumer electronic chains like Best Denki. So, I paid $148 for one such device over the weekend at the Parkway Parade Experience store, and here are my bunch of first comments on it after playing around with it intensively over the last day.

samsungVR-01

The product works as advertised.The product is compatible with the most recent generation of Samsung smartphones, and no other accessory is required for it to start working. Getting it to work with my Samsung Note 5 was also painless. Apart from installing the requisite Oculus/Samsung apps onto, the smartphone easily connected to the headset via the micro USB port, snapped in place onto the two device holders, and I was all set.

The device fits snugly on the head, more so if you also use the head strap. The visor’s cavity is deep enough for my pair of glasses. The front focus adjustment wheel permits you to adjust the optimum eye focusing point, though I found myself having to adjust it each time the visor shifted.

You need a good pair of headphones to complete the experience. The device’s holders do not impede using the headphone jack, so a wireless headphone set isn’t mandatory.

Interesting content. I’ve tried/purchased quite a few of the VR apps/games at this point, and there are some that provides for a really immersive experience. Of particular note are these three:

Jurassic World Apatosaurus – where you come nose to nose with a lumbering dinosaur… that looks very real, even with one as normally jaded with CG as I am. The app is fairly short at just a few minutes, but it’s an amazing couple of minutes.

Ocean Rift – paid app, but there’s a free demo version for one to try out. Each setting has a particular marine wildlife for you to find and interact with, and you can swim about in each setting too. Can take a while for you to find the critter though, and the app doesn’t feature more than one wildlife type in each setting.

Eve: Gunjack – paid app. This VR turret game was one of those that was loaded at the Samsung Gear VR devices at the demo shops, and it’s pretty much the kind of game genre that will sell VR devices like these. It’s visually impressive enough and gameplay is straight forward (i.e. shoot at oncoming alien ships) with increasing tactical challenges as the levels advance.

I’ll write more on other apps along the way. Of the couple of issues I have with the device so far though:

The touchpad on the right side of the device is finicky. The first couple of days’ use will likely see many users accidentally pressing the touchpad.

The thing sucks battery power like no tomorrow. There is a micro USB charging port on the headset itself though which helps heaps, though you won’t want cables dangling from the headset when you’re trying to experience full 360 degree content.

The viewing experience is still somewhat pixelated. Not much of an issue for typical moving visuals, but you can see jagged edges in text displays. If there was ever a need for 4K resolutions on smartphone, here is it!

Below picture says it all. Yeah I know the device is not intended for kids under 13, so we’ve only been letting Hannah try it for a few minutes!

samsungVR-02

 

Hannah has finally finished pre-school and will be progressing onto Primary One next year. She’s been really looking forward to starting in a new environment and meeting new friends and teachers, so much so that every night at bed time she’ll ask us to tell her about her P1 school again. We shared with her too that over time, she’ll be making friends and forgetting old ones – including her pre-school ones. Rather than get emotional about it, she’s resolved to make memories of her old friends, including taking pictures and also inviting them over to our home for play dates this December break.

One such break was just yesterday, and one segment of which saw the kids head over to the Minton waterplay area for fun and activities. Another opportunity to fish out the new 40-150mm f2.8 lens for pictures! The selection below was shot using this lens, with several at maximum focal length (though not always wide-opened), which provided some interesting depth of field levels. The subject distance made possible by the long focal-length enabled non-intrusive pictures – none of the shots below were posed.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

Intrepid explorers, these two - as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

Intrepid explorers, these two – as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

This one's a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

This one’s a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

The shallow end of the kids' waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

The shallow end of the kids’ waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

The next major outing for the lens will be the upcoming Club Med trip, so more to come soon!

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!

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.

 

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!

 

My first impressions of the E-M1 against the E-M5 after several days of use!

The E-M1’s overall ergonomics and handling surpasses the E-M5, easily. The handgrip makes it easier to balance the camera’s weight against mid-length zooms, and the two configurable front and back dials are slightly stiffer and ribbed, and make accidental turns less likely than the E-M5.

Couple of neat functions not present on the E-M5 – including configurable exposure bracketing, built-in HDR, faster top-shutter speed, and WIFI support though its phone-control implementation seems a little more clunky than Panasonic’s on my LX100. Still, I can finally take family pictures using quality prime lens glass and a smartphone remote!

The image processing software in the E-M1 is also supposedly improved from that of the E-M5’s, though I haven’t pixel-peeped to be able to tell where the differences are. Finally, the E-M1 offers better weather-proofing, though I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bringing this out in rain LOL.

The E-M1’s 0.74x magnification electronic viewfinder makes picture composition much easier than the E-M5’s 0.58x. and with higher EVF resolution to boot too.

Its eye-cup also feels more securely locked in-place in its holder than the E-M5’s. I’m already on my third E-M5 eyecup, with the last two accidentally dislodged and lost. That it’s slightly protruding is both an advantage and disadvantage though: my nose is less likely to come in contact with the rear monitor (transfer of facial oil smudges onto the monitor – eek), but it’s also harder to see the entire viewfinder without having to pan my eyeball about when peering through the viewfinder.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

The mode-dial lock is a nice touch – press once to lock, press again to unlock. The mode-dial on the E-M5 is too easy to accidentally turn too. On more than a few occasions, I triggered severely over-exposed shots because the E-M5 dial had without my knowledge switched to Shutter-priority mode.

Mode dial lock - nice!

Mode dial lock – nice!

Much harder to slide the memory card slot cover open!

The On/Off lever is now on the top-left panel, compared to the bottom right on the E-M5’s back. Not a good change since it’s impossible now to fish-out the camera from my bag and flip it on in a single motion.

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

The E-M1 is obviously heavier than the E-M5 though still fairly light for a DSLR-styled camera. Coupled with the 12-40mm f2.8 though is a very different story; the lens and camera is now inching closer to the weight of my last APS-C DSLR with a similar lens – the D7000 with the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8. Coupled with even a light flashgun like the Nissin i40 will make one nervous about hauling the E-M1 about, even with its handgrip. That makes a handstrap or vertical battery grip almost a necessity.

Some casual shots of Peter and Hannah next:

With the 25mm f1.4.

With the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there's no such mode of play - but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister's reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there’s no such mode of play – but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister’s reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.

I wonder sometimes if I suffer from minor GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – a descriptor used among photography enthusiasts who love their photographic hardware as much, if not more, than taking pictures. I do take a lot of pictures at least, even if in the last year or so now, I’ve refrained from posting as many photos of our kids as before, due in large part to my wanting to increasingly guard their privacy as they grow older.

I was again tempted by the larger sensor serious enthusiast models, including the Fujifilm X series (the Fujifilm X-T1), and even Sony’s full-frame Alpha series cameras (the A7 Mark II), both of which were at price-points that were broadly within my budget. But I ended up staying again with the m4/3s family for multiple reasons: that neither of the two other camera systems are still offering lenses with the same breadth or depth as m4/3s, that their lenses are for the most part more expensive and heavier, and finally, the generally more shallow depth of field in the m4/3s system also meant that their cameras are routinely more forgiving of focusing errors than say the full-frame systems.

The Olympus E-M1 is widely regarded as Olympus top-dog m4/s camera that is designed for serious enthusiasts and even professional photographers. The camera is a little long in the tooth now, it being announced more than 2 years ago, but pundits still estimate that it’s a year away from being surpassed by the expected second iteration in the line. I’ve had the E-M5 for almost 3.5 years now, and thought long and hard if I should go for the next-up model this year. The E-M1 uses fundamentally the same sensor as the E-M5, but is otherwise very different in build quality, usability, the absence of a low pass AA filter, and overall performance.

The E-M1, alongside the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 ‘kit’ lens – though this lens is anything but ‘kit’ in quality, goes for around S$2.5K in recommended retail price, and about S$2.25K street price. Ouch. I got lucky finding a nominally used set from someone who bought the set 2 months ago and had barely used it, with a shutter-count of less than 200. I picked it up for S$550 less than street-price for what is really a near-mint set. Good bargain!

Three of the four m4/3 cameras I've got now in possession; the 3.5 year old E-M5, the E-M1 with the 12-40mm and the Nissin i40 flashgun, and the E-PL6.

Three of the four m4/3 cameras I’ve got now in possession; the 3.5 year old E-M5, the newly acquired E-M1 with the 12-40mm and the Nissin i40 flashgun, and the 2 year old E-PL6. The E-PL2 is still in the dry cabinet.

The E-M1 makes it the fifth m4/3s cameras I’ve picked up – four are still in possession, and incredibly, all models from Olympus. The E-M5 is wonderfully light and still offers DSLR-styled handling. So, even though the E-M1 offers function that includes all of the E-M5’s (maybe besides size and weight) and then some, I’m thinking of keeping the E-M5 as a second body for primes when I’m asked to do the occasional event photography at work. The E-PL6‘s rangefinder-esque form factor makes it also a joy to shoot, especially using touch-screen AF and shutter release. Coupled with the 14mm f2.5 pancake lens or the 17mm f1.8 (pictured above), the camera makes for a discrete photography tool that I can fish out in public faces like NTUC Fairprice and not feel too conscious!

Impressions of the E-M1 against the E-M5 in the next post.:)