The battery cover door of my 2 year old Metz 50AF-1 flashgun broke over the Chinese New Year period – *groan*. The flashgun still otherwise works fine, though it still has that odd quirk about having to dial in a +0.7 to +1.0 EV flash output for me to get the appropriate amount of bounced lighting, but a broken battery door meant a struggle to close the battery compartment each time I had to recharge the batteries. Also, the flashgun was an extremely tight fit into the new LX100’s metallic hotshoe, and in-fact became stuck. I practically had to forcibly pry the flash loose from the hotshoe. Double bummer.

So, looking around for a replacement flashgun that would work for my existing m4/3 bodies and also the LX100, I found a ‘lil flash that looked like it’d meet my lighting needs, and then some too. Below is the Nissin i40, a third party flash unit for m4/3s and also compatible with the LX100. The i40 is sold cheaper here in Singapore than through online stores like Amazon – shocker indeed when the converse is usually more true. The pictures might not convey the real idea of how tiny is this flashgun – but it is. The flash body itself is barely just larger than the battery compartment holding 4 AA batteries!

Unlike the Metz 50AF-1, the i40 is a bit more barebones information screen-wise, featuring two command dials on the rear-panel. On the other hand, unlike the 50AF-1, the i40’s flash head can be reversed to point backwards, and also supports LED video light.

Oh really

Value for money. The package comes with everything: a metallic stand, soft-case, and even a Stofen-styled snap on diffuser. The bounce card and diffuser is built into the flash head.

Oh really

This is how small it is – compared to the Metz 50AF-1 it’s replacing.

Oh really

The Metz was already a little too physically large when sitting on-top of the E-M5, and much more so when mounted on the LX100. The Nissin i40 here is a relatively more balanced fit for the LX100.

Some of our children’s pictures using the Nissin i40. No output compensation required – hooray! All taken with the LX100 + i40.

Hannah on her evening drawing activities. Ikea warm-lights were just above her.

Hannah on her evening drawing activities. Ikea warm-lights were just above her.

Late afternoon shot on our balcony, with the flash gun's output pointing upwards and the bounce card engaged too.

Late afternoon shot on our balcony, with the flash gun’s output pointing upwards and the bounce card engaged too.

Peter's bedtime. Low ceiling, flash gun output upwards - and still correctly exposed!

Peter’s bedtime. Low ceiling, flash gun output upwards – and still correctly exposed!

In all, I’m very happy with this new purchase, and the flash pictures remind me of the kind of exposures I was getting off the old Nikon DSLRs with SB600 flash guns. The only oddity at this point is that the i40 seems a bit finicky with some of the rechargeable batteries I’ve got, and refusing to prime/ready the flash gun for firing unless the set of batteries is fully charged. Something to continue keeping an eye on for sure.

Continuing from my earlier post of what’s working well on the LX100!

The first LX100 that I picked up from the shop tested fine there. But barely 20 minutes later when I’d left the shop and was on my way home, the camera suffered a catastrophic sensor failure – similar to what at last one other Amazon owner had also reported. The shop changed the set immediately without question, thankfully – but that the first unit had failed so quickly left me feeling a little worried if the second one is going to suffer the same fault soon.

Sensor failure. This is what's seen on the viewfinder, and stored when the shutter is released.

Sensor failure. This is what’s seen on the viewfinder, and stored when the shutter is released.

The images the LX100 produces so far are good relative to small sensor compact cameras, but it’s also not near what the E-PL6 and E-M5 can produce, let alone cameras with even larger sensors than that. Not really a negative as I knew what the LX100’s limits are, but still.

Non-articulating and non-touch screen. These two were my biggest limitations of the LX100. I’ll have to count on some other camera for Daddy-Hannah selfie shots, and I’ve been spoiled by touchscreen AF too. I never figured I’d be a fan of touchscreen AF, but it’s incredibly useful on small and light cameras like my E-PL6. Heck – I use touchscreen AF on that more than I use spot or multi-point AF.

Start-up and shutting down is, ugh, s l o w. And the lens barrel protrudes an additional 4cm out as soon as it turns on. Zooming in to the uppermost focal length will extend the barrel by a few more cm.

Customization menus are comprehensive and deep but also perplexing! It’s somewhat better organized and visually more pleasing than Olympus’, but on a couple of occasions, I was scratching my head wondering why options I wanted were disabled. For instance; I was flummoxed why the panorama mode had been greyed out in one of the nested options, and the user manual was no help, nor the built-in help. It was only through checking online with other users who faced the same difficulty did I realize that the camera had been set to RAW, and had to be switched back to JPG before the panorama option would be enabled. Duh.

Alright; couple of pictures.

Hannah is hooked onto Tom & Jerry cartoons while Peter entertains himself.

Hannah is hooked onto Tom & Jerry cartoons while Peter entertains himself.

Peter making faces!

Peter making faces!

Waiting for her morning school bus at 0700 hrs. The bus-stop was actually quite dimly lit, but sufficient facial detail was retrieve through Adobe Camera Raw.

Waiting for her morning school bus at 0655 hrs. The bus-stop was actually quite dimly lit, but sufficient facial detail was retrieved through Adobe Camera Raw.

The Minton at late night. The blog photo here is too small to tell image details, but the shot was dialed at ISO400 and handheld at 1/5s - but the image is still sharp. Incredible optical stabilization at work.

The Minton at late night. The blog photo here is too small to tell image details, but the shot was dialed at ISO400 and handheld at 1/5s – but the image is still sharp. Incredible optical stabilization at work. I did another shot at ISO200 at 1/2s handheld – and it turned out just as great!

A polycarbonate screen is also on the way to protect the LX100’s rear monitor, alongside a cheapo third party lens cap – just so that the original one supplied with the camera can go right back into the box for safekeeping! :)

Almost five months ago I did a post on large-sensor compact cameras. And after a fairly long back-and-forth period of indecision since that point, I finally decided yesterday and picked up the LX100. The contenders alongside the LX100 were the Sony RX100 and Canon G7 X. Briefly:

The RX100 was priced about similarly to the LX100, while the Canon G7 X was much cheaper.

Interestingly, the G7 X scores higher than the LX100 on DXOMark. Not that I read too much into their sensor values though, but still.

Despite all the heaps of criticism laid on the Olympus m4/3 cameras’ menus, I like the large degree of customization possible on those cameras, and wanted the same for whichever camera I decided on. And between the three, the LX100 scores very high here.

It was a toss-up between how compact the camera I would tolerate. I did want it to be pocketable, but not at the expense of it being too small to handle.

Of the bunch of requirements, the LX100 won out in the end though it was really a very marginal win, and I had to give up a couple of features that the LX100 didn’t have by design. I did get a pretty good bargain for the camera though at our local camera stores at USD751 while Amazon is selling it at USD757 – and that’s not counting the large number of freebies that came with it that only further sweetened the deal. I had a friend which picked up the Leica equivalent of the camera – the Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) – but that cost a lot more at USD1,130, and I wasn’t gonna pay that much more for a branded version of it.

The LX100 next to the similarly-sized E-PL6.

The LX100 next to the similarly-sized E-PL6.

The sexy-looking LX100.

Rear view of the LX100.

Rear view of the LX100.

So, about a day after playing around with it; my initial reactions.

The camera feels assuredly dense and well-built. There’s a lot of mass built into the body though and I count it slightly on the heavy side too at 393g. The front and back rubber grips help in guiding your hand to hold it steady, but I’ll still be getting a strap for it soon.

The Exposure Compensation Dial is satisfying click-y when rotated, and pretty useful when the default Multiple Metering has difficulties handling complex lighting situations. On the other hand, the dial is also positioned at the extreme right corner of the top plate, and is at risk getting snagged when I fish it out of the camera bag. Thankfully there’s some resistance on the dial itself, so it won’t turn as perilously easy as the mode dial on the E-PL6. Lost count of the number of times when the E-PL6’s Mode Dial got accidentally rotated from ‘A’ (Aperture-priority) to ‘S’ (Shuttle-priority) without my noticing until I wondered why my first picture taken was all under-exposed LOL.

The EVF is decent, and though not as bright as the E-M5’s, the image view when peering through it looks as big. This is one of the key features over its competitors that swayed me away from the G7 X and RX100. Unfortunately, possibly because of the size of the viewfinder window itself, how thick its rubber-cap is or heck maybe even because I wear glasses, the image does not fully fit within my eye perspective. Which leads to an odd sort of situation where I actually have to pan my eyeball around to get the whole super-imposed image in view.

The battery length’s about average at about 330 according to CIPA tests – but importantly, the package came with an extra battery (alongside a couple of 16GB Class 10 SDCards and a dedicated leather case). The battery normally costs around SGD55, and that the package supplied an extra one was a much appreciated complement!

AF is quick, and from the limited range of shots I’ve taken with the LX100 so far, it’s also been pretty spot-on.

The camera supports 4K resolution, though I don’t see myself recording home videos of our two kids at that setting. The Full HD setting on the other hand is at least producing nicely crisp video, though continuous AF still can’t match that of a dedicated camcorder.

Turning off the AF confirmation beep and also shutter sound, the camera is almost inaudible, only emitting a very quiet and soft ‘click’ (shutter curtain I assume) when the shutter is released. Totally discrete shooting!

Next post on the things that aren’t so great about the LX100.

 

2015 is one of those lucky years when the Lunar New Year falls just before the weekend, and extending the long holiday weekend for us too, and we got to enjoy a good 4.5 day stretch. Last year‘s family pictures taken over the festive season didn’t look so good on account that Peter was suffering from a bout of mosquitoes bites. We did better this year, since Peter was (slightly) more able to listen to instructions to look good for pictures, though not by too much still!

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

Us!

Us! Don’t mind the plant watering bottle on the top left corner LOL.

Lighting was a bit off for the first picture above – you can see that the right side of the frame looks a bit darker than the rest of the picture. The Metz flashgun wasn’t producing sufficient output. I guess that was because the flash head had not been fully turned to point upwards but at a slight off-angle, and that might have caused the flash gun to misunderstand how much light was required. The first picture had to be post-processed from the RAW file as a result. The flashgun was correctly adjusted for the second picture of the four of us at home, as it was taken an hour later.

One thing’s for sure. My next camera is gonna feature built-in wireless control capability. I’ve had enough mucking around with third party wireless remote-controllers for the old Nikon DSLRs and for the current Olympus E-M5. The wireless remote controller for the latter almost didn’t work on this occasion (I had to furiously jiggle the batteries a little). Otherwise, I would have been forced to use self-timers for the family pictures.

At play at our parents' home.

At play at our parents’ home.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy - as usual.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy – as usual.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

Olympus has just released the next iteration of the E-M5, nearly named the Mark II of the model. The new E-M5 II is a little better-specced for the most part, including providing support for a very high-resolution mode, and an improved IBIS (In-body image stabilization) that now offers up to 5 buffer stops for sloppy handholding technique LOL. Unfortunately, the continuous AF support from the more professional but also older E-M1 model did not go over, which makes it a little harder for enthusiasts deciding between the two which to go for. Decisions to make, maybe later this year!

Another year, and time for my annual year-end post on our big decisions of 2014 – what went well and what didn’t!

Choice of Interior Designer – Win: Our renovation project took a good part of all our free time in the first four months of the year, and it was a tough decision shortlisting from 13 IDs we checked out to 2, and then finally deciding on who to go with. Our renovation project was of course a culmination of many activities – the main renovation, the individual furnishing items, choice of decorations, the other subcontractors we enlisted to do other parts of the house etc. On the overall and briefly; our renovation project went on balance very well, though 8 months into the fact, we’re starting to regret our choice of LED lights. Oh well – lesson learned.

Selling The Rivervale – Win: Another tough and significant decision we made this year; whether to sell away or rent out our old Rivervale home, and which estate agent to go with. We’re still not absolutely certain that selling our old home was the best financial decision long-term, but we did benefit from a great estate agent who was accessible, and got us a selling price that we were comfortable, and an easy and fast sales transaction to boot too.

Koh Phangan and Santhiya – Mix: Peter’s first vacation out, and the entire experienced gave us mixed feelings. The resort was nice enough and holiday unrushed and quite laid back. But it was also a pretty expensive holiday and the overall resort package wasn’t matching to the premium price charged for the stay, Peter wasn’t on his best behavior, and both the men of the household fell ill.

iPad Mini Retina – Win: The first of two iPads I picked up during the year. This was to replace the Google Nexus 7 – whose screen I had to squint at from deteriorating eyesight. The tablet is perfect in size, pocketable though screen wise it’s not quite up to what the Air 2 below is capable of. I’m still figuring out which will be my go-to tablet long-term; this one or the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 – Win: Came with a mobile broadband bundle I signed up for late in the year. Lovely screen, quick performance, thin and light if almost also a little fragile; but if only the form factor was just a little smaller. This one can’t fit into my bermuda pockets!

Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom – Win: I picked this portable Bluetooth speaker at the start of the year for use during my classes, given the number of videos I use for teaching purposes. The speaker is stylish, loud, has a battery that charges quickly and runs forever – though ironically, the speaker doesn’t pair very well Bluetooth-wise with my Macbook Pro, and I end up using the old analog 3.5mm audio jack LOL.

Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear – Win: The audio quality of the Walkman isn’t as warm as the Cowon it replaced, but the pair is now my music companion whenever I’m on the treadmill.

Novita 611-I Air Purifier – Lose: We bought this for the impending haze, and it turned out to be a white elephant when the haze didn’t return much for this year.

2015 ought to be an interesting year; since our mobile phone plans are both up for renewal (new smartphones in other words), the Panasonic TM700 Camcorder will be five years old and approaching end-of-life, and the Macbook Pro Retina will be three years old – the typical point where notebooks in general start getting wonky!

One of the main reasons why I started moving in 2010 to the micro four-thirds system was the general sizing of the camera bodies and lenses. Basically, the removal of the reflex mirror found in traditional (D)SLRs meant that camera bodies could be made smaller, and the smaller imaging sensor also meant that lenses didn’t need to be quite so big to cover a larger sensor. Things have changed quite a bit since then, since we now have full-frame mirrorless camera systems, and debate continues to rage among enthusiasts and loyalists of different camera systems on the merits and disadvantages of different systems. For the moment though, the truisms that still apply are, that generally micro four-third systems compared to full-frame systems…

Occupy less mass/weight

Lenses cost slightly less than the full-frame equivalents (thought not always)

Handle low light images less well

What has also changed is the emergence of larger sensor compact cameras too. The initial wave of models weren’t very good – they tended to be bulky, slow, and using batteries that didn’t give quite the same life as micro four-third systems. That has also been changing too, which brings me to this post: that I’ve been revisiting the most recent and upcoming range of large sensor compact cameras and exploring if this is the right time now to get one. I still have the almost two year old Panasonic LX7 which I bought for cheap during a crazy discounted offer on Amazon, and several of those wide-perspective shots of The Minton development in progress were taken on that little compact. But the camera has never been a low-light wonder. Heck; there’s a perceptible loss of detail even at the lower ISO settings already.

The bunch of models I’ve been keeping my eye on include:

Sony RX100 III

This compact features a 1″ sensor that reviewers have raved about, is in its third iteration already, and Sony managed to squeeze in a small viewfinder to it even. I’ve been playing with a demo set at the Sony showroom @ Nex. The compact feels solidly made, and the rear LCD screen is sharp, bright and colorful. The viewfinder though is a little clunky in actual operation (one has to first pop it up, then pull it towards oneself for it to work). The camera is available now but also dreadfully expensive at USD899. Ouch.

Canon G7 X

This yet-to-be released compact looks like Canon’s answer to Sony’s RX100 above. The upcoming compact uses a 1″ sensor, shoots as wide as the Sony but also offers a slightly further zoom at 100mm compared to Sony’s 70mm. Interesting. The CIPA rated battery life is worrying though at just 210 shots, compared to the 300+ shots that the Sony can muster. The expected retail price is substantially lower than Sony’s too at USD699.

Panasonic LX100

Of the bunch of large sensor compact cameras, this is the one I’m most interested in. Unlike the Canon and Sony models above, this fellow uses a nearly m4/3-sized sensor, a max aperture range of f1.7 to f2.8, built-in electronic viewfinder, and a reasonable battery life rated at 330 shots by CIPA at the moment. And as a bonus, it offers 4K video recording too. The general feeling among enthusiasts is that this is the one compact that could give the equivalent large aperture and pricey lenses in the m4/3s system a good run for the money, since the sensor is almost to m4/3s and max aperture is right there too at f1.7 to f2.8. Ticks all the boxes, excepting size – it’s larger than the above two models, which significantly reduces the space advantage in comparison to my E-PL6. This forthcoming compact is priced similarly to the Sony at USD899.

Panasonic GM5

This one isn’t a large sensor compact, but an interchangeable lens camera of the same breed as the line of m4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. I included this forthcoming model here only because it’s a baby-sized camera that allows you to leverage on the full range of m4/3 lenses. The second iteration of this camera also improves on a bunch of things off the first generation: including a viewfinder and a hot-shoe! Size-wise, it’s about the same as the already diminutive RX100, and is expected to be pegged at the same asking price as the LX100 – USD899.

All very tempting. Gonna be hard to decide which of these four if I eventually find myself deciding to pick up one of these at the end of this year!

 

 

I’ve been using m4/3 cameras for more than 4 years now, and was running through my records the various camera bodies of this system I’ve picked up over the period.

March 2010 – Olympus E-PL1

April 2011 – Olympus E-PL2

May 2012 – Olympus E-M5

October 2013 – Olympus E-PL6

The E-M5 has been my workhorse camera for almost 2.5 years now and while it’s starting to show its age through the usual nicks and bruises, still functions otherwise well. The E-M5 was joined by the E-PL6 a year ago, and both cameras have found permanent spots in my Messenger bag whenever we’re out of the home.

I was curious though to see how pictures on a camera with an APS-C sensor fares against these m4/3s. Nikon has been pumping out new models of its full-frame cameras, but disappointingly, seems to have become uncertain on what to do with their APS-C DSLRs. The D7000 – which I bought in January 2012 – hasn’t seen much use since I bought the E-M5. So, over the weekend, I dusted it off, brought out my two favorite primes for it – the 50mm and 35mm f1.8s – and took pictures at home of our kids.

Peter still as stony-faced as ever.

Peter still as stony-faced as ever.

Deep in contemplation o things important to 5 year olds.

Deep in contemplation of things important to 5 year olds.

She doesn't pose as willingly anymore though - so memorable shots are harder than ever to come by.

She doesn’t pose as willingly anymore though – so memorable shots are harder than ever to come by.

Probably not evident here, but I messed up the focusing point in this picture, so Peter's face is somewhat out of focus.

Probably not evident here, but I messed up the focusing point in this picture, so Peter’s face is somewhat out of focus.

Still extremely attached to Mommy.

Still extremely attached to Mommy.

With the 50mm, wide-open.

With the 50mm, wide-open.

The results were pretty mixed for sure. Running off my head:

I realized again how helpful the 5 axis built-in optical stabilization on the E-M5 is to picture taking. A small number of shots with the two Nikon primes – and these are both non-stabilized lenses – were out of focus to varying degrees because of camera shake.

The D7000’s ‘kaplak’ mirror slap each time I released the shutter was very loud compared to the E-M5’s very quiet shutter that I’d gotten so used to.

The D7000’s back panel buttons and command dials feel a lot more premium than the squishy and small buttons off the E-M5.

I like the colors coming off the E-M5 than the Nikon D7000’s – so much so that I found myself dialing up the image color saturation setting on the latter.

Bokeh off the two Nikon primes were marvelous, but the thinner depth of field caught me off guard. Made me realize again how forgiving are m4/3s when it comes to errors in focusing points.

The last observation was especially pertinent, since I sometimes wonder if I should give a (mirrorless?) full-frame system a go, and then become cognizant of that adage; that those systems can be extremely unforgiving, and your photographic techniques had better be pretty good already. There is a new but future camera purchase I’m thinking of though at year’s end – will blog about it soon enough.:)

 

 

We went by The Minton over the weekend for a meeting with a curtains/blinds maker we’re interested in engaging. This particular contractor is based in Johore Bahru, but commutes to Singapore every day for work. He was a particularly jolly fellow and we like him, though at times he was chuckling at his own jokes! There’s no lack of curtains/blinds makers in Singapore of course, but for those of us on a budget, the contractors who’re located across the causeway are possibly a more affordable alternative. For our home, we’re looking at day and night curtains for the living/dining room, blinds for the bedrooms/study, and frosted films for the master bathroom windows, and hopefully we’ll receive a quotation from him soon enough as to how much it’s gonna cost us for all these.

Rectification work has also started for the long list of defects we forwarded to the Developer too last midweek. A good number of chips and cracked lines along the wall edges at the front balcony and also bedrooms have been rectified, though others at the back balcony and kitchen have not been touched yet. Workers were also sanding down the parquet flooring on Saturday, and during a follow-up visit on Sunday afternoon, the same floor had just been varnished too. A couple of residents were reporting that the defect rectification team have (accidentally) caused a few more defects when they did their patch-up work – we’re hoping that that doesn’t happen too much for us. We wouldn’t want a continual cycle of new defects caused by rectification teams!

Sunday mid-afternoon yesterday was quite cloudy, but there was some brief direct sunlight, which allowed for for this picture - bubbles reflections against sunlight @ the cascading waterfalls. I'd forgotten to bring ND filters, so will probably redo this picture again soon.

Sunday mid-afternoon yesterday was quite cloudy, but there was some brief direct sunlight, which allowed for for this picture – bubbles reflections against sunlight @ the cascading waterfalls. I’d forgotten to bring ND filters, so will probably redo this picture again soon.

Asymmetrical lines between Block 10A and 10B. The bright sky would have killed most of the shadow details, so some post-processing was necessary in Adobe Raw.

Asymmetrical lines between Block 10A and 10B. The bright sky would have killed most of the shadow details, so some post-processing was necessary in Adobe Raw.

The flora in The Minton is thriving, and I went all nuts with the m4/3s macro setting on the 12-50mm lens.

The flora in The Minton is thriving, and I went all nuts with the m4/3s macro setting on the 12-50mm lens.

We visited a friend whose staying at Block 10B and facing Fun World. Here's her level 10 unit looking down at the Grand Clubhouse. We don't get this view from our unit.

We visited a friend whose staying at Block 10B and facing Fun World. Here’s her level 10 unit looking down at the Grand Clubhouse. We don’t get this view from our unit.

Flowerbed just in front of the Badminton Dome. Very pretty!

Flowerbed just in front of the Badminton Dome. Very pretty!

Hannah finally at the slide at the Children's Treeouse @ Tranquil World. She's been pining to try this out for months now ever since spotting them in visits last year!

Hannah finally at the slide at the Children’s Treeouse @ Tranquil World. She’s been pining to try this out for months now ever since spotting them in visits last year!

Mommy and Hannah trying to attract the attention of the Lily Pond's kois @ Tranquil World. These are the mega-sized monster kois we see elsewhere - hopefully they'll grow over time.

Mommy and Hannah trying to attract the attention of the Lily Pond’s kois @ Tranquil World. These are the mega-sized monster kois we see elsewhere – hopefully they’ll grow over time.

At the contemporary bridge. Peter is more interested in the bridge's wood decking.=)

At the contemporary bridge. Peter is more interested in the bridge’s wood decking.=)

More pictures of The Minton flora here.

31. December 2013 · by CY · Comments Off on Year in Review – 2013 · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Photography & Cameras, Toys & Technology

It’s the end of another year, and Ling was asking just the other day when I was going to do another one of my end-of-year review of our big ticket and asset decisions in 2013. To be fair, we’ve kept the decisions that cost a lot of $$$ somewhat minimally this year, given the large expenditures we’re projecting for 2014 i.e. home renovation. Looking through the list, we had a large number of interesting (or just fun) purchasing decisions though mostly still relatively small purchases. Going with the list again in chronological purchasing order…

Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 (Win). 2013 was the year where I picked up a number of micro-four-thirds lens, all of which turned out to be great purchases. The first one in the year was the 25mm f1.4, which is closest the m4/3 standard has to a ‘standard’ focal length reach. The lens focuses very quickly, and has become one of the two main-stay lenses for my two m4/3 cameras. The only issue I can think of – and this is really being creative – is that the lens makes an odd soft squeaky sound when it focuses. And er, that’s it.=)

Panasonic-Lumix 14mm f2.5 (Win). This lens normally comes bundled with an earlier generation Panasonic m4/3 cameras, and lots of people were selling the lens out of the bundle for cheap on eBay. In terms of focal length, the lens is redundant since it’s covered by several other kit zoom lens already, but as a semi wide-angle and very compact prime, it works great. Attach it to the E-PL6 and the form profile is small enough for the camera to be pocketable. I don’t use the lens as much, favoring the 25mm and 17mm, but it’s still a win because of how cheap it was.

Billingham Hadley Pro (Win). My luxury camera bag for this year, and the last messenger-styled bag I’ll need for a while. The bag normally costs a lot when purchased here and nearly as expensive even through Amazon stores. For some odd reason, the bag is much cheaper in South Korea, and after assuring myself I wouldn’t buying an imitation, I picked up one through eBay. The bag has accompanied me for all of this year’s Minton shoots from March, and it holding my two m4/3 bodies, several lenses, filters, and a camcorder.

Olympus 75-300mm II (Win). This lens is a consumer-grade long zoom lens – as compared to the f2.8 equivalents which cost twice as much – and an improved model over the earlier generation lens of the same focal length range. I picked it up locally mostly for the Minton pictures. There’s some very slight perceivable loss of resolution and image degradation at its longest focal, but with the 2X crop factor, it’s a pretty cheap way to reach up to 600mm.

Zojirushi Bread Maker BB-HAQ10 (Win). The first of three presents I got for Ling this year, and I’m one of the main beneficiaries of it! I’ve been able to enjoy home-baked bread in the form of packed lunches to work, though Ling is quite concerned with the flour-intake when she bakes an entire (small) loaf for me to finish in a day.=)

Olympus 17mm f1.8 (Win). The second of my preferred lens for m4/3s. Robustly constructed, focuses very quickly and reliably, and nicely balanced between offering both a very slightly wide-perspective, and also capable of subject isolation when used wide-opened. I picked up the silver edition of the lens, and it looks gorgeous when attached to the similarly-colored E-PL6.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah's hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Pictures like these are why good prime lenses are worth every cent.

Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Win). The fifth and last m4/3s lenses for 2013. The lens is a small telephoto prime and while it doesn’t quite have nearly the same kind of reach as the 75-300mm, it’s a fast prime. The lens has allowed for some very nice close-ups of the two kids with plenty of subject isolation. The focal length also lets me put some distance between myself and them too, and Hannah is also less self-conscious as a result for it too.

Viking E20 Sewing Machine (Win). Ling’s birthday present this year. She hasn’t blogged about it yet though, but she’s already sewed a dozen baby bibs for Peter. She mused that these bibs sell for $15 each. This could easily become an alternate source of income if she ever decides to churn these out like a sweatshop.=)

Olympus E-PL6 (Win). The best sensor that Olympus has created in a smaller body. Handling is quite different from the older E-M5, the mode dial is fiddly, and you don’t really get to use the full 3 inch screen when previewing RAW images. But the camera allows for selfies and was picked up for cheap. Both the E-PL6 and EM-5 are in my bag whenever we’re out as a family.

Samsung Galaxy Note III (Win). A new phone that came out of my renewal of a teleco plan this month. Snappier and looking more gorgeous than the earlier generation device. I was considering numerous devices to upgrade to – including the LG G2 and the even humungous Sony Xperia Z Ultra – but none of them offered the stylus.

Google Nexus 7 (2013) (Win). Not an easy decision here as there are so similarly sized tablets. Among them included the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 (nearly bought this because of its stylus, but did not because of the comparatively low-resolution screen), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 (low-resolution screen – ugh), the LG G Pad (ideal size, high resolution, metallic back place, but no 4G/LTE arrgggh!!), and the new iPad Mini Retina (but didn’t want another iPad). The updated Google Nexus 7 won out in the end, given how reasonably future-proof it is, low-cost, great screen, and that it’s such a popular device that custom ROM developers have been churning out builds for it like no tomorrow.

Krups Dolce Gusto Circolo (Win). Ling’s Christmas present from me, though we’re again both beneficiaries. We’ve been enjoying gourmet coffees every evening now, and are gonna try the entire range of brews over time. The machine is one of mid-range models in the popular line of coffee makers, and is for the most part well-reviewed by purchasers. Interestingly, a couple complained about the apparent lack of full automation, but I actually appreciated that you can control the amount of water you’re using when brewing each cup.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

That’s it. Happy 2014.=)

Continuing from the first post on accessories for the E-M5. Unlike the couple of Nikon (D)SLRs I’ve had, the E-M5 uses an electronic viewfinder, which itself is a prodigious user of battery power. The pair of Nikon DSLRs for instance could routinely take 800 and more pictures – with plenty of image chimping in between too. The E-M5 is CIPA rated to just 350 shots, and though one could get more than that depending on shooting habits, picking up a few more batteries shortly after purchase was necessary when we headed out for our trip to the Telunas Beach Resort last year in June, followed by my 8 day trip to China thereafter.

Trouble is – the OEM batteries for the E-M5 are dreadfully expensive, going at just a shade under $90 each here. Ouch. Shortly after the E-M5 was released last year, there was a lot of online discussion on where one might find cheaper third party alternate batteries for it. These off market batteries can be quite a hit and miss thing, with mildly annoying problems of them not reporting their current charge levels properly to the camera or not holding their charge well, to more serious challenges of them not working with their intended cameras at all. After doing some fact-finding, I settled on a pair of third party alternatives that cost about $40 including a charger for them last year in May. The two batteries were rated at higher amperage of 1450 mAh compared to the 1220 mAh, but no those numbers were deceiving – I roughly squeezed about 80% of the juice I got out of the OEM battery. Still, for this sort of price, I couldn’t complain – and nearly 19 months after the fact, the two batteries remain nice back-ups for the E-M5 and are still working reasonably well.

The original battery that came with the E-M5 on the left, and a knock-off on the right - which still works great, and dirt cheap to boot too.

The original battery that came with the E-M5 on the left, and a knock-off on the right – which still works great, and dirt cheap to boot too.

A more serious issue with the E-M5 that surfaced early was the eyecup though. By design and also depending on how one is handling the camera, the eyecup has a dreadfully nasty habit of slipping off. It might be the result of the eye piece getting entangled with other gadgets in one’s camera bag – which wouldn’t be quite so bad since the eyecup will just drop into the bag – or getting snagged against one’s clothes while on the move, which would likely mean the eyecup will get lost. Either way, enough users have lost their E-M5 eyecups this way that it’s surprising there isn’t a more thriving business coming out of China making knockoff replacement eyecups for cheap. Things wouldn’t be so bad if it also wasn’t for the fact that the OEM eyecups aren’t cheap: they cost US$9.99 each, and add quite a bit more to get it shipped here to Singapore. I’ve already lost one such eyecup during the China trip, and shortly thereafter, a third party replacement too. I decided not to take chances with the third eyecup – securing it this time with a bit of school glue. This is the white sort of paper glue that’s commonly found in art n craft shops, and is also water soluble.

The E-M5 has seen a lot of vigorous use and isn't in pristine condition anymore. The thin white substance layer lining the EP-10 eyecup is the school glue I used.

The E-M5 has seen a lot of vigorous use and isn’t in pristine condition anymore. The thin white substance layer lining the EP-10 eyecup is the school glue I used.

Yep, it does look like an eyesore, and the solution isn’t perfect by any means even. The rubber lining still comes off too easily, and once it’s out, it’s almost impossible to securely fit it back into its plastic holding frame. I’ve just ordered another third party replacement for just a few dollars, and even though this eyecup is really intended for Nikon DSLRs, it’ll at least be a good temporary replacements to ensure that the E-M5’s viewfinder sans eyepiece doesn’t scratch my glasses.

And lastly; something as seemingly innocuous as extra lens-caps. Might not seem necessary at all – until you start losing them! I carted around both the D7000 and E-M5 coupled with their respective long zoom lenses in May this year for an outdoor shoot of water-borne events at Bedok reservoir, and at the end of the event – lost not just the original Sigma 77mm lens cap for the 70-200mm f2.8, but also a 58mm screw-on UV filter for the Olympus 75-300mm. Yeah shocking – how does a properly screwed-on filter even come loose…?! Losing the lens cap was equally as bad, since the OEM ones can cost a lot of money. A typical 46mm OEM lens cap can cost around $10, while generic ones cost just a dollar. From that point onwards, I bought spare generic-type lens caps for every one of my frequently-used lens, and keep the OEM ones back in their boxes.

The one on the left costs $10. The generic one on the right costs just $1. And they both serve exactly the same function.

The one on the left costs $10. The generic one on the right costs just $1. And they both serve exactly the same function.

Well, that about covers it for the moment. I might do another accessories posts in later months for the couple more odds and ends – like camera bags.=)