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Western Australia – Equipment Comments

Just a few more posts in our WA series – honest! And this one is for tech junkies – comments on how various gadgets and toys fared during the trip!

The Olympus E-M1 continued to perform admirably on it’s third major overseas outing. Oddly though, the camera occasionally required a few seconds to power-up from a cold-start. Might be something to do with the age of the battery – one of the two BLN-1 battery is about 5 years old now, and its internal circuity might be starting to fail.

The Panasonic GX85 did amazing well in its first major overseas trip! The GX85 was mostly coupled with the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x converter throughout the trip, and I was able to get pretty good picture retention rates, with the C-AF modes able to track moving subjects. There was some minor annoyances though: the camera seems to have its own mind sometimes by selecting its own aperture against what I really want to shoot at. Specifically, I can set aperture on the Olympus m4/3 bodies set on Aperture-Priority and don’t ever worry about it again. But the GX85 will sometimes change f-stop on its own even on Aperture-Priority. I’ll have to read up a bit more about how Panasonic m4/3 bodies treat A modes.

Two batteries accompanied each of the bodies, and on most days, the one battery apiece for the E-M1 and GX85 was able to last for an entire day of shooting on most days. That is, excepting the really heavy days during the day tours, though the batteries were also routinely nearly drained by the day’s end. Sill, the weather in WA wasn’t cold enough at usually between 18 to 7 degree Cs for either the E-M1 and GX85’s batteries to discharge faster.

Shooting sunsets with the E-M1 and Sirui T-24X @ Margaret River.

The number of exposures I triggered on the E-M1 and GX85 was about 3,250 and 2,251 respectively, about 227 using the Samsung 360, and another hundred or so using  Huawei Mate 9 – a total of about 5,828 pictures. And of that, I processed and finally kept about 3,331 of them – a keeper percentage of about 57%. This WA trip goes well past the 5,013 exposures I took for the 23 day New England trip in 2010 (still the most memorable trip ever!) but I kept 4,327 of them then – or a much higher 86% retention. A huge number of shots for this WA trip were on burst mode – particularly the animal feedings – while the ones in New England were of a lot of scenery, which don’t require shooting on drive modes.

Three lenses came along for the trip: the 12-40mm f2.8, the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x teleconverter, and the 17mm f1.8. The approximate picture distribution was 65% 12-40mm, 34% 40-150mm, 1% 17mm. Yep – just a small handful of pictures taken using the prime!

I was really happy with the videos taken on the Huawei Mate 9, despite the initial trepidation before the trip. Between that and Ling’s Samsung Note 5, we took about 79 videos, most about a 1 to 3 minutes long each. The 4K videos coming out of the Huawei Mate 9 did take a bit of processing though as the Dell XPS 13 wasn’t able to handle the 4K videos well. A comparison between the 2K videos taking in Melbourne using the Samsung Note 5 against the 2K downsized from 4K videos on the Huawei Mate 9 showed that despite the lower frame/s – the Note 5 can shoot at 60fps – there was simply a lot more visible resolution and detail for videos taken using the Mate 9, and less obvious jello-effect too when panning the phone around.

Sirui T-024X CF tripod/C-10S Ballhead: were instrumental in enabling some of our family photos and doubled-up also as the tripod for the Samsung Gear 360. It was light enough also for our 8 year old daughter to help carry around. Call me a traditionalist – but I simply don’t think smartphones take very good wefies!

Samsung Gear 360 (2017): already posted separately on this. The pictures were so-so, videos disappointing – but I got perspectives that traditional cameras simply cannot obtain, and the camera was purchased on the cheap.

But the most valuable item that accompanied us this trip was:

Best camera bag ever – the Billingham Hadley Pro.

Hank – our guide at Margaret River – was quite interested in this camera bag too. Despite it being more than 4 years old now, it still looks as good as it did on the first day. Dirt simply rolls off it!

 

Western Australia – 11 Days in WA – 360 Views – Part 2

And the next half of the 360 stills taken using the Samsung Gear 360. Like in the previous post, the WordPress 360 plug-in seems to have difficulties displaying multiple 360 photos, so it might take a few reloads for the images below to appear. Also, the plug-in doesn’t work on mobile browsers.

Warren National Forest:

Yeagarup Sand Dune:

Yeagarup Beach:

Pemberton Tram Station:

Beedelup Falls, view from the suspension bridge:

Surfers Point, Margaret River:

Cliffs, Margaret River:

Lake Cave, Margaret River:

King’s Park Fraser Avenue, view of the city:

 

Western Australia – 11 Days in WA – 360 Views – Part 1

Here’s a selection of the stills and videos taken using the 360 camera. Not all of them – especially the videos – turned out well though, only the passably OK ones are posted below. There also seems to be some issues posting a large number of VR images in a single post, so the stills here are divided across two posts. Also, the WordPress 360 plug-in doesn’t seem to work on mobile browsers – so these are best viewed on a desktop browser.

Busselton Jetty, Train platform end:

Busselton Jetty, far end:

Forest Lodge Resort, Pemberton, view of the Lake:

Forest Lodge Resort, Pemberton: view from our chalet’s porch:

Forest Lodge Resort, Pemberton: view of the living and dining areas, and kitchen:

Treetop Walk, Valley of the Giants, Denmark: view from the platforms:

Ancient Empire, Valley of the Giants, Denmark:

Nornalup Inlet, Walpole:

Samsung Gear 360 (2017) – More Notes

We took just a small number of 360 videos and photos using the Samsung Gear 360 (2017) I acquired just a few days before starting on our trip. The Billingham Hadley Pro bag at any one time contained the iPad Air 2, the Xiaomi 15,000mAh powerbank, the E-M1, GX85, three lenses (17mm, 12-40mm, 40-150mm + 1.4x converter), straps, the circular polarizer filter, spare batteries, and this 360 camera. Between the two cameras, the Huawei Mate 9 which did the lion’s share of work for videos, I just didn’t have enough hands anymore to also fish out the Gear 360 as much as I wanted!

Still; my comments on the Gear 360 2017 edition after the 11 day trip to Western Australia:

The gear’s very smooth plastic surface makes the device a tad slippery to hold. While it doesn’t give the sense that you’re holding a bar of soap – like what the most recent Samsung Galaxy phones can feel like – I still found myself having to very consciously hold the device lest it slipped out out of hands and kiss hard concrete on the floor.

The battery easily offers enough juice for a day of shooting. Charging using the USB-C port didn’t take long either (about an hour at most each time for a fully flat battery?)

Processing stills and video using ActionDirector, the Samsung-supplied software, is pretty easy, and without needing a Samsung Galaxy phone either. You connect the 360 camera into the PC, transfer files to say a desktop folder, then drop that entire folder into ActionDirector. The software program immediately starts processing them in the background and will save them into a working directory that you can easily take out from later.

Stills-wise, the camera does reasonably well in strong daylight. But as the sun goes down, so does the quality of images – significantly.

Video fares don’t look as good after processing in ActionDirector, and YouTube further compresses them until they look like a pixelated mess.

There are obvious imperfections in the stitching – particularly for video, somewhat less so for stills.

Limitations of the current consumer-level technology aside, I still have a long way to go technique-wise too. Specifically:

This thing desperately needs its own good and dedicated tripod. It was too much of a hassle to bring out even the Sirui tripod that’s designed for traditional cameras, so a number of videos included my fingers and thumbs. It’s also very hard to keep the camera level when holding it high above your head!

Once the camera starts recording, keeping at least one meter away from the camera is a very good idea.

As with spherical lenses, objects look a lot further than they really are. I incorrectly judged the positioning of the camera in several video recordings.

The Samsung Gear 360 (2017) sitting on top of the Sirui tripod.

H helped loads!

In summary, consumer-level 360 cameras are still a long way off from what the really expensive 360 cameras are able produce. But that said, they do provide very unique perspectives that traditional camcorders and digital cameras are unable to record. Compared to the other consumer-level 360 cameras that cost between $500 to $900, we got the Samsung Gear 360 (2017) comparatively cheaply at just SGD284. I recommend that if you must get a 360 camera to record these types of stills and videos to get this model. Don’t spend more than that, and recognize the limitations of what the devices at this stage can produce.

 

 

Western Australia – Day 11 – Scitech and Returning Home

Our next visitation place was Scitech Perth, the interactive science museum that was a short 10 minute drive away from The Perth Mint. The entire floor is choked full of exhibits for children to try on, and each area is separated by theme. There are also special exhibit areas, including a thrilling puppet theater show that the enthralled the kids. We missed the 2PM Planetarium show though and didn’t have the time to wait in the area for the next show.

A beach ball gets suspended by air jets.

Plumber Peter! You have to configure the numerous pipes and joints to guide a ball through to the end point.

Lots of kids and parents about. The area is quite safe and child-proof, so parents just need to keep a loose idea on their kids.

Peter and Hannah exploring exhibits each on their own.

Puppet theater!

H trying to solve the Tower of Hanoi piuzzle.

Building an igloo.

Constructing wood towers and seeing how well they fare when placed on moving surfaces.

The mall that Scitech is situated in – City West – doesn’t have much though, apart from a large Harvey Norman and also small kitchen appliance store. There’s a small cafeteria in the mall that sells overpriced pastries and beverages, but we didn’t have much options.

Taking a break after lunch.

Always fun to take pictures of kids in motion, and seeing how good the E-M1 is in C-AF tracking mode.

The two of them will easily burn off their excess energy by playing catch.

The last stop for the day before heading back to the airport for our departing flight was a visit to my Ph.D supervisor from 15 years ago; Professor-Emeritus Heinz Dreher. He looks tough and lean now, while I look fat! We spent hours catching up.

Last couple of posts to come in the next few days on some post-trip reflections!

Western Australia – Day 11 – The Perth Mint

Day 11 and our last day in Perth. Our flight was late in the night – the nice benefit of choosing Jetstar as our carrier again – which meant we had a full-day to explore a few more sights before we head to the airport for our return home to Singapore. We’ve already done Perth parks yesterday, so it was museum day after all today.

The Perth Mint is rated as the current fourth top Tripadvisor attraction in Perth. Pretty uncommon for a museum to be rated among the top most attractions in any city, and many of the reviews off the review site note now that the gold pouring demonstration is really special. So, a quick discussion after Day 11 breakfast, and we decided our plan would be to check out the Mint, then Scitech, and then finish off the day with the visit to my Ph.D supervisor from 15 years ago.

The most interesting visual experiences: I’ve had for a while the pouring of molten gold to create a gold bar. The actual demo is about 10 minutes long, with the actual pouring and cooling process taking no more than a few minutes. Our demonstrator and guide was Richard (or ‘Greg’ as he quipped if we didn’t like his demo haha).

The furnaces today at the mint are gas-operated and fuels the furnace to 1200 degree celsius, a little above the melting point of gold. Tongs are used to lift the melting pot (called the ‘crucible’) that is made out of graphite out fom the furnace.

The crucible contains 6.2kg of molten gold!

The liquid gold is poured into the iron cast molt (shaped as a gold bar).

Mesmerizing! The liquid gold was so bright against the darkness of the work bench that it’s amazing that the E-M1 was able to capture the pictures as well as it has done here.

The molden gold bar was so hot the the guide’s protective gloves.were aflame just by brushing the glove tips over the bar.

Gold cools very quickly, and after immersing the molten bar into a vat of room temperature water, it takes just minutes to cool from 1200 to about 25 degree celsius. This 6.2kg is worth AUD300K. Too bad it won’t be sold – this piece will be re-melted shortly for the next demo.

The world’s largest coin on display at the Perth Mint – weighing just over a ton of gold at 99.99% purity, and created in 2012 at the Mint.

It’s diameter is 80cm, and thickness is 12cm. The coin face value is AUD1 million, but at today’s gold price, is worth AUD58 million!

The Newmont Normandy Nugget, discovered in Kalgoorlie in 1995, and weighing 25.5kg

So -we will be almost millionaires if we ebayed Peter?!

To summarize: if you’re going to visit the Mint, the about 45 minute guided tour is a must – not just for the gold pouring demo, but also that the commentary on the gold rush of the 19th century, how the Mint start and what it does today is informative and very well-presented. The family admission price was AUD48, and the tours begin every hour, partially on account that it takes about 25 minutes for the gold bar to be re-melted and to be ready for the next tour.

 

Western Australia – Day 10 – Elizabeth Quay and Matilda Bay Reserve

Next stop was a short 10 minute drive to Elizabeth Quay, though parking was painfully expensive (AUD12.60 for 3 hrs – ouch!). The area is a mixed-use development project, and you could easily spend hours exploring not just the Spanda side but also its entire circumference. Lunch was at Isle of the Voyage, which wipe up really yummy Beer Battered Fish & Chips There’s also a children’s playground beside this restaurant.

A Children’s Carousel near the Spanda. AUD10 for both kids, though Peter had to be accompanied by Ling as he was under the 1.1m height requirement.

Elizabeth Quay Bridge.

Ferries plying various segments of Swan River. Walking on the bridge gets you a really pretty view of the city’s business towers.

Lunch @ Isle of the Voyage.

The restaurant has children activities too, and the area is served by free WIFI.

Peter learning how to use both knife and fork. Not successfully yet though.

Hannah shared the children’s swing with an Aussie girl at the Children’s Playground @ Elizabeth Quay. The Aussie girl is half Hannah’s age – coming to 4. Aussie girl :”Higher! Even higher!!!”
Hannah (in terror): “Not so high! Not so high!!!!” LOL.

The playground is ship-themed, so there are plenty of rope ladders and even a crow’s nest at the top of the structure.

Tummies filled, we made our way next to Matilda Bay Reserve, a thin strip of grass land that has cafes, BBQ pits, and places to just chill while having a view of the many boats that are anchored in Matilda Bay.

Matilda Bay Reserve. It’s a long stretch that includes Perth’s reportedly most photographic spot – The Blue House. Didn’t visit it as the thought of having to join long queues to get photos was unappealing.

A beautifully scenic and quiet park that gives visitors more amazing views of the city line.

Framed with the 40-150mm lens.

More opportunities for the kids to play with sand again.

Western Australia – Day 10 – King’s Park

Day 10, and one more day left to our vacation to WA. We planned to make the trip to Whiteman, north of Perth, to visit the Caversham Wildlife Park in the earlier versions of our itinerary, but after that was dropped in favor of just visiting Bunbury Wildlife Park, we could spend the entire day in Perth city itself. Rather than visit shopping arcades and the retail district, we went instead with parks. The most popular one in Perth is quite well-known – King’s Park – and few tourists to Perth won’t at least spend several hours in the 4.0 sqm park, especially along the Fraser Avenue stretch to get a unobstructed view of Perth city across Swan River.

I visited King’s Park several times during my years in Perth, and the view of Perth’s central business district remains magnificent – though I’d forgotten that the best time to visit is mid-afternoon, and not early morning when the sun is behind the city, making it really hard to get nice pictures. So, after spending several hours exploring the park in the morning, we headed elsewhere and returned to the park in the mid-afternoon.

A view of the city from King’s Park at 9:30AM

And at 3PM on the same day, World of difference!

Photos from the morning visit first. The birding shots were all taken using the GX85 and 40-150mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter:

Huge lawns for the kids to run about.

See ducks must chase. That is, until Mommy told them firmly to stop terrorising the ducks!

Every park visit is a nature lesson for the kids, what with Mommy’s green fingers and appreciation of all things flora.

The Pioneer Woman’s Fountain sprouts up every few minutes or so.

There were many bird species that had made King’s Park their home. They’re really hard to see, but Ling used her eagle eyes again to spot them. This was a very sweet pair that was nesting nearly the top of the tree.

Pretty hard to see this fellow who was hiding in the shadows of the palm tree leaves against a bright sun.

No way I could have spotted this fellow either without Ling pointing it out!

This one was easy – he was just scurrying across my path.:)

And in the afternoon visit next. The place was quite a bit more crowded at this time, with tour buses offloading large numbers of guests, but the park is still large enough for the crowds to spread out.

Back to King’s Park for me to take pictures of the city in mid-afternoon light, as the circular polarizers really do their best work when the sun is angled at 90 degrees, while the kids simply enjoyed the park by stoning…

… doing gymnastics…

… or just playing catching.

Sister and brother. Hope they always stay close!

Family wefie!

Western Australia – Margaret River Hideaway

If you ask Hannah on what she thinks is the biggest highlight of this vacation – even though there are still two more days left to go in this 11 day stay in Western Australia – she’ll say without hesitation, “animal feeding at the farmstay”! I reckon as exciting as as wild flowers, Karri trees, water rushing down rock cascades, the beaches and numbers of sea shells the two kids picked, the different flavors of ice-cream we had, nothing they have experienced at this point comes close to the experience of feeding tame farm animals.  So much so that we worked out check-out day itinerary around today Thursday’s animal feeding so that the kids could have a second go at it.

Oddly, there aren’t that many well-known farm stays in Margaret River, with what seems to be the most famous one being the Sunflowers Animal Farm which apparently has a larger range of animals, but some of the apartment types in MR Hideaway are newer and more modern. In any case, Sunflowers wasn’t available over our travel dates to the region and across a five day stay, which was just as well.

MR Hideaway is situated at Osmington Road, which itself is a short 5-6 minute drive from MR town center. From MR town center, you continue along Bussell Highway, and turn a 90 degree right along Osmington Road where you’ll drive for another 2 minutes or so. The road between the two spots is fairly easy to understand and drive on – but be warned: there are no street lights along Osmington Road, and this stretch has very few properties and even fewer vehicles using it at night. Nights were settling in early over this winter period, and driving in near pitch darkness beyond the vehicle’s headlights and trying to find where the farm was was a little unnerving the first night until we got the hang of it.

Like all the stays we’ve been to this trip, MR Hideaway & Farmstay was a wonderful experience where things went overwhelmingly well, with just a few things we had to adjust to. We stayed at the Studio Apartment for five days, and our comments:

There are seven standalone cottages, and two studio apartments that are constructed as a single building. Units are spaced far apart enough for cottages, while the two studio apartments are adjacent to reach other, which meant that guests can hear the other unit if noise is loud (we had peaceful neighbors throughout our stay).

The studio apartment is pretty new (constructed a year ago?), and despite the farm being a popular place of stay, the apartment has remained in good shape and well-taken care of so far. In fact, it feels designed like a luxury condo apartment unit, especially its use of parquet flooring and toilet and bathroom fixtures!

The kitchen is open-concept and includes a large oven. The toilet is a separate unit from the bathroom.

There are lots of little thoughtful gestures; including the ubiquitous Ikea (!) child seats for the dinner table and Ikea (!) child stool in the toilets. On the first day, there was also baked bread, a complimentary bottle of wine, milk and orange juice in the refrigerator too.

There are two bedrooms, with both double beds on rollers. Very convenient so that we could move the kids’ double bed to one side of the room (lest Peter rolled off the bed while sleeping).

The living/dining room has an inverter-type air-conditioning unit which we used to heat up the common areas, but individual bed rooms are unheated.

There are laundry, and dryer machines near the reception.

The farm animals really do roam around during the day time, and they seem to have settled into a daily routine where to move during the non-feeding days.

The farm animals were also very tame, and the sheep and cows will allow you to pet them if you approach them slowly. The three Alpacas were a different story though: they were very timid, and the farm hosts repeated numerous reminders to us that we must never pet or approach them from behind lest you want to be spat on, or worse still, receive their powerful hind kicks! One Singaporean guest received a painful kick during the first feeding day as she’d accidentally stand to close to one of the Alpacas.

Our two hosts and co-managers of the property – Andrew and Hanisi – were very friendly, and their farm dog – Archie – was a huge hit among all the kids who were at feedings!

There are two common access gates that allow vehicular and human traffic, and must be closed at all times – lest the animals escape and probably become road kill on Osmington Road.

The animal feedings on days 7 and 9 of our vacation respectively were a lot of fun, and I’ve blogged about it separately already here and here .

If there is one annoyance, it’s the Internet reception. It was, surprisingly, poorer than what we got at Forest Lodge Resort, even though Pemberton is more remote than Margaret River. There were frequent Internet drop-outs, and low download speeds even when I could stay connected. I don’t think it’s the fault of the property, and they are at least very upfront about it in their welcome note explaining that the Internet access is as good as they can get at this point. To be clear: 4G coverage was not much better and at times even worse – i.e. no connection at all. It’s a wonder I could even do any posting of photos – and it sure took a lot of patience and repeated attempts to post the few hundred photos I selected for sharing on Facebook and this blog over the five days!

We had fairly dry weather in the first half of our stay. At midpoint though, the region experienced a heavy downpour and slight drizzles over subsequent days – which meant that a bit of mud started forming on the ground. This is a farm, so it’s expected – but for mommies who have to clean children’s sandals and crocs over the kids when they traipse all over over the farm, be warned LOL.

Margaret River Hideaway

Reception area near the main entrance off Osmington Road.

The living area, dining table and kitchen.

A two seater sofa and additional single seater, with several wooden stools in the living room.

One of the two bedrooms – the kids chose this one as there was a window out to a small lawn where the sheep would roam.

The second bedroom.

Do-Re-Mi.

One of the farm emus and Hannah eyeballing each other.

There are at least three resident peacocks on the farm.

My first attempt at photographing stars @ Margaret River. The kids were treated on Day 5 to a sight we don’t get in our urban jungle at home: not just a cloudless and crystal clear night, but one that is free from light pollution – letting us have a wonderful view of the stars.

The total price of our stay was a shade under AUD1.1K for the four nights – a little more expensive than typical downtown properties, but it was worth the money. Though if we’re ever in the region a third time and looking for a farm stay again, we’d probably want to try Sunflowers Animal Farm – just for variety!

Western Australia – Day 9 – Dawesville Foreshore Reserve

The second stop we made was in Dawesville, a suburb of Mandurah and located between the Harvey Estuary and the Indian Ocean, according to Google’s write-up of it. We drove along Estuary road until we came to a spot that had a small park at a boat ramp, then got out to stretch our legs. The place was beautifully serene and quiet on the weekday mid-afternoon, and coupled with a sunny blue sky, made for some marvelous opportunities to take pictures of the birds around the shoreline.

Looking for food on the ground.

Flight and flightless birds.

Aaahhh – it’s coming for me!!

Several boats anchored off shore.

Set up the E-M1 on 12s self-timer for family wefies!

We stayed in the area for half an hour before soldering on towards Old Coast Road – though we shortly hit heavy traffic along Kwinana Freeway that delayed the reaching our final stop by a bit.