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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.
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:
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!
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.
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 8 – Lake Cave
There are perhaps about half a dozen well-known ‘show caves’ in the Margaret River region, each having its own special look, feel and accessibility into the cave itself. We were uncertain which one would suit H and P best, and especially the latter since the thought of having to carry him up as down several hundred stair steps was unappealing. We would be doing one or more caves with Hank on Day 8, so left it to the actual day to decide which best to visit, and also depending on weather and the rest of the itinerary along with that.
Day 7 had seen a heavy downpour from the early afternoon onwards, and the first half of Day 8 experienced light drizzles still, but Hank was able to work an itinerary around that, and after some discussion, we decided on Lake Cave on account that this cave is the only one with a permanent lake in it and casting beautiful reflections, though you’d have to climb 300 or so steps down (easy) and then back up later (ouch!). So, after checking out Surfers Point, we raced back to Caves Road and arrived just in time to join the 11:30AM guided tour.
The cave is reportedly one of the deepest in the region – about 62m below the surface – and is reached by walking down well-constructed wooden steps supported by steel beams (i.e. safe and rock solid) around a spectacular ‘doline’ – a large cavity in on the surface. The guided tour itself takes about 35 minutes, with great commentary that provided insights into various interesting structures inside the cave. The cave also has illuminated board walks with railings on one or more sides. And at various points, lights came on and off to showcase different parts of the structure – including one spot at the far end when the guide switched off all lights to give us a sense of what it would be like to be in total darkness.
We didn’t have time to check out the caves, but if we’re again ever traveling to this area, we’d want to.
P.S. Peter could handle the steps going up – albeit slowly!
Western Australia – Margaret River – Exploring the Town Center
The Margaret River town center certainly looks a lot more developed today in 2017 than I remember it from 2003, with lots more shops and eateries, and also more human and vehicular traffic than before. We had plenty of opportunities over the five days we stayed to visit shops and check out restaurants. There are plenty of carparking lots littered throughout the center especially around the side roads, in addition to those that lie along the main road parallel-parking styled.
The speed limit slows to 60km/h nearing the center, 50km/h within the center itself, and 40km/h at the further end where there is a school-zone, and there are numerous side-roads that branch out from the main road (Bussell Highway). It’s an easy drive but do it’s was still necessary to keep our eyes opened for vehicle doors opening!
Not all the eateries are opened past 6PM though, but there are sufficient places to have dinner – quite unlike Pemberton. In the worse scenario, both Coles and Woolsworth are opened till the early evenings, so you won’t starve.:)
Western Australia – Day 6 – Whale Watching @ Augusta
The first whale-watching experience I with our Ang Mo bud had was in Gloucester in 2010 – site also of the famous disaster fictionalized in the year 2000 George Clooney The Perfect Storm – and I had a second trip out a few weeks later but traveling out from Boston. It was the first trip from Glouscester though that left me with an incredible memory – that of whales breaching, though as the second Boston trip and now this one in Augusta showed, you’re more likely to see the whales just rolling lazily and diving than breaching.
Still, whale watching has long been one of the key highlights of our just over 11 day trip to Western Australia, on account that this would be the kids and Ling’s first such. And from all accounts, whale watching off Augusta won’t be anything like what Matt and I suffered: we spent 2 hours traveling out and searching in vain for these ocean-going fellows. And right when the boat pilot just above gave up to turn the boat around, we finally spotted a few who breached for us, making the entire trip worth it. Matt has a hilarious retelling of it still here on our blog from 7 years ago. There are a few whale watching charters traveling out from Augusta, but as guests of the Margaret River Hideaway & Farmstay, we would get a small discount from one of these companies – so we went with Legend Charters.
The operator’s reporting-time was 10:15 AM, but we took a few more minutes trying to find the right place: do note – the start point is in Augusta Boat Harbor, which is several minutes away from Augusta town center itself. The boat can sit around 20, so we were nearly full at 19 persons: four Singaporean families, with a Aussie couple. We could have just as well sung Majula Singapura for in-boat entertainment LOL.
I’m not sure what kind of boats the other operators used, but the Legend Charters boat was luxurious for what we paid (about AUD225). The main seating was carpeted, had tables with comfortable and cushioned chairs, and the crew offered in-boat beverages and Lamington cakes. As reported on several reviewers and unlike the trips in Gloucester and Boston, it didn’t take long for us to spot whales in Augusta – just 15 minutes and right out of the harbor! And not just a pair, but several dozens across multiple sightings in the about two hours we spent out in the waters.
The waters were anything but perfect though: it was choppy, and possibly because the boat we were on was much smaller than the previous two I were on, it took an hour before I got nausea and was knocked out: and thus missed the best part of the trip: 4 whales swimming beside the boat. But Ling took a video of it that we’ll post up soon.
All in – recommended and a must-see if you’re in the right month and the right area!
Western Australia – Day 6 – Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Day 6 and we’re went south. The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse sits at the most south-westerly point of Australia, but it’s also a little different from many of the other lighthouses we’ve visited not because of that. Rather, this one’s a working lighthouse. Interesting as you’d expect ships today to benefit from modern navigational equipment, GPSes and the like that seem to make lighthouses redundant. But as the guide explained it, in this age of digital attacks and hacking, you can never not benefit from having some good old-fashioned equipment.
We arrived early and well before the opening time, though there was another Singaporean family ahead of us. Why am I not surprised LOL. In any case, the extra time afforded Ling lots of time to get the kids ready with their heat packs, while I could explore the area a bit and managed to catch some beautiful photos of white horses along the rocky coast line, thanks also to the 40-150mm f2.8 lenses which gave me the reach I needed the breaking waves. The other family opted for the audio tour, while we were the only family on the guided tour – so we had pretty much the entire lighthouse to ourselves.
Hannah was able to climb the approximately six floors of the tower, while Peter could also do so though more slowly. The view up-top is as incredible as I remember it, though as soon as we’d climbed to the top, we had to scurry over to the side where we would not face the full-blast of the ocean winds. The guide was informative, though at spots he sounded like he was also on auto-mode. Must be tough sounding fresh when you’re doing this every hour every day.
The area has also seen quite a bit of development since I was last here in 2003: including the new cafeteria, and also the viewing gallery (more on that later).
The drive to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is an easy 45 minutes from Margaret River without any tricky spots. Highly recommended: and if you’re visiting, go for the guided tour, if nothing else to be able to climb the tower to the top for magnificent 360 degree views! Next stop: Whale Watching @ Augusta!
Western Australia – Day 1 – Fremantle
With the benefit of hindsight now and that the two of us were doggoned tired by the time we landed, we’re glad that we didn’t try to pull of the stunt of driving the about 350km between Perth and Pemberton right after landing. Just over the 25 minutes it took us to get from the airport to Fremantle, Ling dozed off 3 times while trying to be my map reader. Scary LOL.
Our place of stay in Fremantle was booked through Airbnb. There weren’t very many properties available for us to choose from within Fremantle Center itself, but there were at least a few in the suburbs. This was our first Airbnb stay, and if this is the general standard of such hosted accommodations in this part of the world, we’re superbly impressed! The place we got wasn’t exactly new, but the host has put in all manner of touches to make the place as easy to adjust to. Branded utensils and cookery, spare linen and towels in cupboards, a very wide range of beverages, a fully equipped kitchen with condiments and dishwasher and a huge Fisher & Paykel fridge, a lot of spare toiletries, board games, and even a small range of DVDs to watch if we wanted. And the view of Swan River! Ling liked the place so much that she lamented we were only staying for one night.
As the property was not being stayed in by others when we arrived, we were able to check-in earlier at noon. Luggage down, and we headed out to find grub: with our lunch-stop Cicerello’s Fish & Chips. This is a fairly well-known restaurant in Fremantle. The dock-side outdoor dining in on a sunny winter afternoon was marvelous, and we had two plates of Fish & Chips, totaling just over SGD30. A good deal of energy had to be expended to ward off the dozens of seagulls all waiting for an opportunity to swoop in and grab a bite though!
Fremantle Market was closed for the day, so that got dropped off the itinerary and we swapped it for the Western Australia Maritime Museum. The real attraction of this Museum though is the submarine tour but we had to opt out of that too. Peter was too young for it – minimum age to go is 4 years old – and Hannah was unlikely going to like or understand the tour. It was just as well, because Ling was so tired that she sleepwalked through the 1.5 hours we spent at the museum. The museum has three levels that houses several galleries that explore the state’s relationship with the sea. There are also numerous life-sized boats on display, ranging from dinghy-sized boats to leisure boats, sailing boats to commercial pearl luggers.
We all agreed that we needed to have an early night before heading out early the next morning for Pemberton, so it was a quick stopover at Coles @ Fremantle Shopping Center to buy microwavable dinner packs. End of Day 1!
Samsung Gear 360 (2017)
Our last gadget purchase for our trip to Western Australia – and not a moment too soon too! I’ve been keeping an eye on 360 cameras for some months now, but held back picking one up on account that while the technology itself is stable and reliable, the resolution and stitching processes on consumer-level models still don’t do that great a job. And they can be quite costly too, with models from Ricoh, Nikon, LG and 360fly costing easily of half a thousand and more.
Samsung has two 360 cameras now, with the 2017 edition that was just released a month or two ago offering a number of improvements from last year’s model. Even more interesting too is that the Samsung Gear 360 (2017) retails for significantly cheaper at SGD340 – and if that that price point was not attractive enough, I found a mobile accessory shop selling it for SGD280.
So, a quick first shot of our balcony using the device. It was mounted on the Sirui T-024X tripod, so its legs are pretty visible if you pan the camera right down. The image below might also take a while to load, as it’s essentially an out of box full-sized JPG composition from the Gear 360.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2017 – Part 3 – Breaking Down
And quite literally too, because the X1 Carbon broke down just 5 days after delivery. After loading up the notebook with the office productivity tools, Microsoft Office, Photoshop, a Linux distro on VirtualBox, the machine strolled along nicely for all of about four days – and then inexplicably crashed (i.e. powered off) with no warning. No amount of cajoling and hard resets could revive it.
Well, time to see exactly how good Lenovo’s technical support and Next Business Day servicing is.
A 30 minute chat with tech support for a bit more trouble-shooting, and the early diagnosis was that the notebook had suffered a motherboard failure. Unbelievable – it’s a brand new machine that was just assembled a week before that, was it not?
Later in the day, I got a next update: that replacement parts were being ordered. Then three more days followed (one of which was the Vesak Public Holiday) before I received another call from Lenovo tech support saying they are going to try to do a one-for-one replacement instead – at which point I told them exasperatingly that the notebook has already been loaded with my programs and files. They can do whatever they need to – just so long as they get it fixed, and don’t lose my data.
And over the weekend, the Lenovo warranty status portal reported that the issue had been resolved. Huh?!
At this point, it’s almost six days after reporting the notebook failure, the notebook still is not working, and I’ve spoken to what looks like three different Lenovo Tech Support representatives.
Suffice it to say; Lenovo ThinkPads might be nice, but their support is abysmal.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2017 – Part 2 – Early Impressions
And of early impressions of the new X1 Carbon 5th Generation (X1C5):
At 1.13kg, this is almost the lightest full-fledge laptop I’ve owned. I reckon the SP3/keyboard is even lighter still by about 100g though one might also argue that the SP3 is a tablet/hybrid rather than a full laptop. And the XPS13 weighs 1.29kg in comparison. The X1C5’s entire case is covered with soft-touch material that not only feels luxuriant to hold, it’s also finger-print and smudge resistant.
For those of us who care about these things: the top lid is fairly sturdy and resistant to pressure, though it shows the tinniest flex if you set your fingers to it. But the lids on the XPS13 and MacBooks are even more heavy duty and capable of double duty as a bludgeoning weapon!
I was concerned about the maximum brightness level of the X1C5’s display panel. My particular unit has a AU Optronics B140HAN03.1 panel installed (couldn’t find the specifications for exactly this model, but the closest appears to be this), which seems to be what everyone else is getting for this model. The panel is bright enough for indoor use, but its maximum brightness is clearly lower than what the XPS13 and SP3 can dish out. The Aftershock S17 has really shown that matte screens can put out visuals as gorgeous as glossy screens – but they need to be of sufficient nit brightness, and I feel the X1C5’s display is just not great in this respect.
I’ve always felt that the XPS13’s 3200×1800 pixel screen was way overkill – the resolution is just too fine for a small 13.3″ screen at native font sizes. The X1C5 panel is full-HD 1920×1080 pixels – which is a more suitable native resolution for me.
The X1C5 I configured doesn’t include a touchscreen. I barely used the XPS13′ touch features, so I’m not missing that too much.
The X1C5 supports a variety of i5 and i7 7th generation Kaby Lake processors. The i7 processors as installed on the X1’s seem to be getting mixed feedback; basically along the lines of marginally better performance in selected processor-intensive tasks compared to i5s but a lot more draining on the battery. These days, I no longer do programming or game engine work but crunch spreadsheets and data sets for analytics, so the i5 processor would have sufficed normally. Still – just to be safe, I selected the fastest i5 processor available at configuration – the i5 -7300U.
Lenovo keyboards are widely known to be among the best in their ranges, though some of their recent home consumer models have reduced the size of the right SHIFT key – a serious design sacrifice that has made touch and fast typists everywhere groan. Thankfully, the X1C5 uses a regular size R-SHIFT key – though like their ThinkPad enterprise models, the CTRL and FN keys are swapped around. I rate the X1C5 ‘s keyboard to be better than the XPS13 in feel, key spacing and key travel and on par with the old MacBooks before their implemented their stupid Butterfly keyboards in their current line-up.
The glass trackpad isn’t very large, but it offers an appropriate amount of friction though the MacBooks’ are still better in this regard. Nice to note too that it supports Windows Precision Touchpad, and the trackpoint’s buttons produce reassuringly soft click sounds when depressed.
I couldn’t lift the X1C5’s lid with just one hand without the laptop also lifting off its feet- the laptop is just too light for this single-handed feat. The same difficulty lies with the XPS13 too, and that laptop is slightly heavier.
The X1C5’s fingerprint scanner is useful, though as earlier feared, it’s not as responsive as the similar scanners on the Mi Max or Huawei Mate 9. I why the extremely fast sensor recognition on those phones have not made their way to laptops.
The X1’s display bezels are pretty slim, though not as crazy thin as the XPS13’s (see below picture for a comparison). On the hand, the X1’s Integrated Webcam is in the normal and correct placement: at the top bezel, and not at the bottom like the XPS13’s up-your-nostril Webcam.
The AC adapter with USB-C connector puts up 65W of power, and is also quite a bit larger than the XPS13’s more modest 45W but very portable power adapter. I’ll probably at some point look for a supplementary USB-C laptop AC adapter that’s hopefully smaller than the X1’s. The laptop charges up real fast using the 65W charger. I haven’t done a precise test yet, but it seems to take just 5-6 minutes to juice roughly 10% of battery. That’s crazy quick.
Like the XPS13, the X1C5 runs cool under normal load – which includes web browsing, video streaming, and office productivity for me. I haven’t put the machine through any kind of stress testing yet (might do that in the next post), but under such normal use, the X1C5 also runs dead quiet as the laptop fan isn’t running.Next post to follow on issues and final takeaways of this X1 Carbon!