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.=)

If there’s one thing I dislike about living in this part of the island, it’s the amount of dust that gets blown around the house. When we first moved in our current home, we actually had a routine where we’d mop the house twice a week. The frequency dropped down to once a week, and before long – or rather when Hannah came along – we finally engaged part-time help to clean-up the place every two weeks, which isn’t nearly enough. The worst hit room in our home is the workroom too, since that’s the room where we do all our work, and all our computers and notebooks, book shelves etc. all are – all potential little pocket areas for dust to accumulate.

The computer equipment isn’t spared. My current desktop is a heavy-duty ensemble I put together 4 years ago, but in the last two, have been starting to get real cranky with intermittent failures. Opening up the casing alone reveals layers of dust and dust balls aplenty. The most serious failure was earlier this year and caused by the video card accumulating so much dust and gunk in its intake fans that it no longer was able to dissipate heat properly, causing the desktop to crash repeatedly.

Initially, I’d intended to assemble a new desktop PC when we’d projected we’d be moving to The Minton by the end of this year. That got delayed, but I stuck to the new PC project timeline nonetheless. Most of the PC’s key parts were picked up during a Sim Lim square outing this afternoon, but a couple were bought separately: the new SSD drive was from Amazon a month ago during the Black Friday sales, the Dell 27 inch monitor is currently at my workplace, and the blu-ray drive is still somewhere in delivery.

Here’s the outcome several hours of work later:

desktop

All my harddrives are labeled with masking tape with information on manufacturer, capacity, and month/year of purchase. Makes it easy for me to see which drives are nearing end-of-life and needing replacement.

Like the 2010 desktop, I didn’t go for broke in picking up the best equipment possible. I went with average components, since I mainly use the computer these days for work, image and video editing. Here’s the outlay:

Corsair Carbide Series 400R MidTower: Well-reviewed midtower casing with 6 internal and 4 external drive bays.
Asus H87-Pro + 4670 3.4 LGA1150: A reasonably-spec CPU and motherboard with sufficient USB 3.0 ports. Unfortunately, the motherboard supports slightly less SATA connectors than the last desktop. Looks like I’ll have to pick up a SATA expansion card soon.
Cooler Master Hyper 212x PWM CPU Cooler
Western Digital 4 TB Green 64MB 5400rpm: more storage for cheap for me to keep backups of backups.=)
Crucial Ballistix 1600 MHz CL8 (16 GB): a bit excessive for today’s normal usage, but more RAM is always good when I’m doing video-editing.
CoolerMaster V750S 750W 80+ Gold: this was one component that I didn’t scrimp on.
Dell S2740L Monitor: budget large-screen monitor
Palit GTX760 2GB: average-spec video card
Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 250GB SSD: bought for cheap from Amazon
Corsair AF120 Quiet EDT 1,100 RPM 21dBA: an additional fan mounted on the top of the casing

Oddly speaking, the motherboard still doesn’t play nice with the Probox enclosure I use for a couple of external harddrives. Basically, none of the drives will properly mount when connected with USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 works fine though). I experienced the same difficulty with the old desktop, which leads me now to wonder if it’s an issue with the enclosure than the desktop itself. That aside, the new desktop works great – I’ll put it through a couple of torture stress tests soon and see how the configuration works out.=)

 

Ling was sharing a story that she posted on Facebook just this morning. Conversations with Hannah again.

H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: To cool us down when we feel hot.
H: Orh.
H: It can also blow my hair dry.
Mommy: Yup.
H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: No more already.
H: No, it can also blow the mosquitoes away so that they won’t bite me when I’m sleeping at night.
Mommy: Oh, okay.
H: *giving me a cheeky grin*

It might just be a thing about young children, but they sure are fond of saying or pointing out the most obvious things! Or maybe she just likes an audience, and goes about chatting to everyone who is around her, and to herself when there are none within earshot. To be fair, we’re of mixed feelings here. On one hand, we’re thrilled that she’ll go out of her way to engage with us. On the other hand, we wonder if she’s just a little too friendly and without restraint! On a couple of occasions now when we’re out of home at shopping malls, she’ll bring along Disney character stickers, and give them out to other children she walks past. And we’ve observed before too that she has no compunctions telling others off when they do things she believes to be wrong – like shushing other children in the public if they make too much noise around her and if Peter is trying to nap in his pram. So far we’ve not had angry glares from irate parents in return yet, but who knows.=)

And of Peter; we were again reminded last week how quickly stronger he’s grown compared to Hannah at coming to six months old. It often takes the both of us to apply his facial creams to deal with his drool rash, and when we’re arm carrying him, he’ll continuously struggle to break free – and we’ve found ourselves having to exert a lot of energy just trying to keep him from tumbling off our arms. I guess it comes down to gender; many parents have shared before how more energetic baby boys are compared to baby girls. I imagine how different we’d be feeling if Peter had come first before Hannah – we were would be appreciating how much easier Hannah is to carry than her brother.

Several more pictures too taken over the last fortnight, including on my birthday.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall - Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall – Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

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

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

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall - she enjoys dressing up!

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall – she enjoys dressing up!

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R' Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday. I'm a little tempted to get this for her - it's really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which are quite educational.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R’ Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday.

About the latter – I’m a little tempted to get the Tab 3 for kids for Hannah – it’s really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which seem quite educational, and it helps that the tablet comes with parental controls for accessibility and the like – e.g. to control usage. Hannah enjoys her gadgets time, but at least she doesn’t pine after them too much, which at least removes my concern about addiction to these toys if we were to get her one at some point later.

Ling has all but given up trying to find the right gadgets when it comes to my birthday. There was this occasion when she bought an (expensive) electronic shaver, that on my first try using it, turned my chin into a bloody mess. Not long after that, and knowing my love for mobile devices, she did thorough research and got me an Asus Transformer TF101, that very well-received tablet when it was released in 2011 – only that she got me the Wifi-only model which basically limited what I could do with it outside home. Lesson learned, so she said – so she got me a non-electronic and very useful notebook backpack for this year’s present to replace an old that has got frayed all over the edges.

I still love my electronic toys though. So, in the last week, I picked up two Android-based devices: the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and also the new Google Nexus 7.

The Google Nexus 7 in hot-pink, and the Samsung Galaxy Note III.

The Google Nexus 7 in hot-pink (that was the only available case color left), and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

I’ve really liked the Samsung Galaxy Note series, owning the first two generation devices. And while other competing mobile phone manufacturers have come up with similarly themed and styled phablets, none have come with the built-in digitizer and stylus support that the Note series have – a feature that I use a lot e.g. when jotting down notes that come to mind. Hannah loves doodling on it too. My contract plan with the telco was up for renewal, so that was opportune time to get the new phone on discount.

The new Note certainly has a nicer build than the Note 2. It’s slightly thinner, lighter, less rounded around its edges, and with its faux stitched back really feels nicer to hold. The bumped up resolution is a bonus though at my typical view distance holding the phone, I really couldn’t see that much of a difference. The Note 3 also has an enhanced feature suite for the S pen, though I found it intrusive – I prefer to just use the stylus for simple writing – that I disabled most of the new pop-up features. The device on the whole also feels snappier and quicker in doing most things, exhibiting none of the occasional sluggishness I got on the Note 2. This was an easy upgrade choice.

The Nexus 7 on the other hand was a much deliberated purchase, especially considering I already have a Motorola Xoom 2 that was picked up from clearance sales when it was getting phased out more than a year ago, and also an about year old Apple iPad 4 Retina. The iPad 4 is still working well and survived the iOS upgrade to version 7 recently – but the device also weighs a ton that of late that I’ve found myself using it less when on the move. Once the iPad Retina breaks, I’ll go with the iPad-mini instead. I’ve also been quite keen to try one of the custom ROMs that have been put together by the thriving Android developer community. This wasn’t quite possible for the Xoom 2 – OS upgrades from Motorola for this tablet has been quite disappointing, and the device is now stuck permanently on Android 4.0 – the device though still works great for Hannah, so I’ve got it loaded up with lots of her usual cartoons.

After picking up the Nexus 7 LTE over the weekend and taking the next few days to become familiar with its functions and quirks, I went about rooting, unlocking the device, and installing a custom ROM on it. The procedure wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hope though. The version of the custom recovery software I flashed into the tablet didn’t play nice with the ROM I initially wanted to try. And compounding the problem – I accidentally deleted my backup factory image that I’d installed too, resulting in a tablet that for a couple of hours had no OS installed, couldn’t boot past BIOS, and couldn’t be detected by Windows 7 either for me to do a sideloading of a new ROM. For those us who’re not geeky – that basically means that for several hours, I had a tablet that couldn’t connect to a computer, and also had nothing on it. Potential brick and return to manufacturer situation, without warranty even LOL.

That said, and several hours of checking out self-help forums, postings and guides from the developer community, I had the ROM difficulties sorted out – I still couldn’t get my choice ROM working on it, and eventually settled for the most recent stable build of the CyanogenMod ROM instead. Most Android users won’t ever have to worry about custom ROMs like these, but for those of us who love tweaking and heavily customizing our devices, custom ROMs are great. That said, I’d only install custom ROMs on devices that aren’t critical though – so the Note 3 is going with the official firmwares from Samsung.

Ling seemed quite impressed by the Nexus 7. Not by the device itself – but that it was small and compact enough for me to fit it into my bermudas pockets.=)

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.=)

I’ve had the Olympus E-M5 for about nearly 19 months now, and only just realized that I haven’t done a post yet on a couple of accessories that I use with it. Over the years I’ve used DSLRs and now mirrorless cameras, I’ve found that that I routinely buy the same type of accessories for each camera body that’s come along the way.

There are a lot of add-ons one can typically pick-up for one’s camera these days, and they range from those that are purely cosmetic, to those that enhance a camera’s feature set, right to those that make possible or significantly alter the conditions one takes pictures in. Here’s the current outlay for the E-M5 then, with pictures and comments on what they do, and how much of actual utility I’ve found with them.

For many enthusiasts, and interestingly also for persons new to photography, the first must-have is a system flash-unit. Olympus manufactures several flash-units for its range of cameras, but the one I picked up was a third-party unit made by a German company, Metz. The company is well-regarded for its range of flash units across a range of camera systems, and it was available on discount at Amazon some time back (around $290 including shipping here). The particular model I bought – the 50 AF-1 – light output more than exceeds my requirements, but it had the swivel range I wanted, and also offered quick flash recharge times.

That said, I haven’t used the flash unit very much at all – much preferring to take pictures in natural light as far as possible. This is a must-have though for the sit-down family portraits that I do for my family every Chinese New Year.

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The Metz 50AF-1, alongside a Sto-Fen-styled flash diffuser that I picked up for cheap.

The E-M5 and flash unit in the picture above is sitting on a new Joby Gorillapod Hybrid GP2 that I bought to replace the old Gorillapod Focus. The latter’s rubberized joints had been slowly disintegrating and falling into pieces for a year now. The GP2 is sold for around $80 in Singapore, but I bought it for $64 off an eBay retailer. The new pod is much lighter at a mere 165g, and while its load capacity is just about a kg – compared to the Focus’ super-heavy duty loading of 2.5 kg – the E-M5 is also a lot lighter. The GP2 also comes with a small bubble-level, though the E-M5 ‘s built-in electronic level makes the GP2′s bubble-level extraneous.

The Joby Gorillapod Hybrid GP2. Incredibly light and also requiring less effort to twist and wrap its legs around fixtures than the Focus.

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The GP2′s bubble-level. Not really necessary when the E-M5′s sitting on top it.

The E-M5 isn’t Wifi-enabled, unlike several of the newer m4/3s models – so an independent remote trigger is what I use for pictures with all four of us at home in it, and of those family portraits. Selfies are hard when you have to squeeze four persons inside a picture! The setup below is a cheapo Chinese knock-off that’s available on eBay for around $25, but works as required. It comprises several parts: a unit that’s connected to the E-M5 via a supplied cable (this unit can also trigger shots), and the remote controller itself.

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The setup makes use of four AAA batteries; two each in the controller, and connected unit.

And lastly, wrist-straps. The next picture might look a little odd – it does look as though there are not one but two wrist-straps attached to my E-M5; only that one of that isn’t a wrist strap. The BosStrap piece below is actually the tail end of a a sling-strap that I use when I’m outdoors and using two cameras simultaneously, and I leave the tail there so that it’s easier to connect the main strap when I need to. I’ve got to thank our Ang Mo bud for recommending this particular string strap; it’s a lot more comfortable than the BlackRapid strap I use for my Nikon D7000!

The actual wrist-strap below is made by a local person Andy for around $25 (you get to choose the color of the strap, wrap, and O-ring), and there are also more costly options made by Gordy, which some enthusiasts feel is more premium. Gordy also offers other connector options. I’ve got and use straps made by both persons, and honestly for my rough usage, can’t see much of a difference between the two.

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Andy’s camera strap. This is a must-have for me!

These leather straps will feel quite stiff when first purchased, but will gradually soften over time after usage. You can also slide the O-ring about to wrap around your wrist quite snugly.

There’s a couple of other E-M5 accessories that I’ll write about in a next post later too – basically, eye-cups, and also batteries. One last accessory that I’ve picked up for all my Nikon DSLRs that I haven’t for the E-M5 is the vertical grip. The E-M5 does have a couple of options in this regard, including the original manufacturer’s grip (which costs a bomb), and third party ones which go for much cheaper, though at the expense of features that are only found on the OEM grip. I haven’t picked up the grip for the E-M5 this time round, on account that it would have defeated the main reason why I’ve switched from Nikon DSLRs to m4/3s a couple of years ago – a large camera is just not nearly as fun to take pictures with as a small interchangeable lens camera.=)

There’s yet another sign that time passes by so quickly, and it’s how soon I have to write another end-of-year retrospective post! Every year end I write a long post to reflect on the ‘big’ (e.g. costly and involving technological toys) decisions we made in the last year. Always fun to think with hindsight the decisions that worked well and didn’t. Looking at the list of decisions made last year, many of them involved purchasing of computing or photographic equipment, but this should taper off in 2013 since I’ve got just about everything I need or care to use for both the Nikon and micro four-thirds camera systems.

Nikon D7000 (Win). This one was a marginally ‘right’ decision. I picked up the D7000 to replace the D300 nearly a year ago now, and still marvel at how light the camera is. Compared to the D300, the absence of focusing levers and metering buttons to toggle between modes still proves troublesome and is the singularly largest thing I’ve still yet to adjust on the D7000. I haven’t used this DSLR as much since picking up the E-M5 though, but it’s still a great camera to use on the occasion when coupled with the portrait prime lenses. I suspect when the newborn comes into our family in July, I’ll be using this camera a lot again.

Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 (Mixed). This lens cost more than the D7000 but has still yet to see extensive use – on account that apart from our park outings, there hasn’t been many occasions where it’s been necessary to bring this out. One occasion would had been Hannah’s year-end pre-nursery concert in November, but the school advised that there’d be official event photographers and parents were ‘discouraged’ from taking pictures. We went to the event to see parents bring all kinds of photography gizmos, including several with Canon’s signature L lenses. Now we know better, so hopefully next year will see extensive usage of this fast zoom lens.

The old E-PL2 which I now use at work, the E-M5 and the D7000.

Olympus E-M5 (Win). This has been one of the best purchasing decisions of the year. The micro four-thirds camera has won numerous photography accolades and has been viewed as among the best, if not at the top of its peers, camera of the year among review sites. The camera’s light, focuses extremely quickly, and when coupled with the two portrait lenses I have for the camera – the 20mm f1.7 and 30mm f2.8 below – have helped me take many of Hannah’s most memorable pictures of the year. I still think the Fujifilm X cameras – especially the X-Pro1 or X-E1 renders colors visibly better than the E-M5 or D7000 – but they’re still let down by apparently more sluggish auto-focusing speeds, which is absolutely critical when trying to take pictures of a 3.5 year old daughter who won’t remain still. Maybe when Fujifilm releases an X series camera that is as quick as the E-M5 will I finally make the jump of selling away all my Nikon gear and picking up the X system.

Sigma 30mm f2.8 (Win). For the very low cost of the lens, this has been the best bargain I’ve found this year. The lens is very sharp out of the box and focuses quicker than the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. In fact, I hardly use the 20mm as much anymore. The focal length is a little on the long side for Hannah – it’s meant I routinely have to take a few more steps backwards to have her in the right picture frame, so there’s been some necessary adjustment to technique.

Telunas Beach Resort vacation (Win). Mostly right decision. The hospitality at the resort was wonderful, as was the companionship we enjoyed with our Ang mo family friend, Matt. It was only let down by less than pristine waters. The highlight of the trip? Ling and myself carrying Hannah in the 12 km trek up to the jungle waterfall LOL.

No idea how Ling managed it, but I got through the hike carrying Hannah by counting 1 to 100, repeat etc.

Melaka vacation (Win). Our second short vacation. Somewhat less memorable than the Telunas one, given the fact that we didn’t sight-see very much, preferring just to take it real easy as Ling was still wrestling with the early stages of pregnancy. That said, the stay at The Majestic was wonderful, with a beautifully done-up and comfortable room. Hannah adjusted to the trip very well, gobbling up everything we put before her and swam a great deal too. She still talks about the trip a week after we got home.:)

Macbook Pro Retina (Win). No contest; easy win. I dislike the fruit company, but they still make the most amazing notebooks. I still get more than a few colleagues or students asking how come I bought a souped up Macbook Pro and run Windows exclusively on it though.

Motorola Xoom 2 (Mixed). This Android tablet was intended to replace the iPad 2 that Ling (accidentally but who really knows) destroyed. I picked it up at a bargain, but while I like and enjoy using the Android OS a lot more than iOS, the hardware just simply wasn’t up to spec leading to sluggish performance all round. This would had been a bad purchasing decision were it not for that I can still find uses for it e.g. at work or for Hannah.

The Xoom 2 and the iPad (4) Retina.

iPad 4 Retina (Win). Still hate the fruit company, but iOS has Hannah’s favorite apps. The tablet’s distinctly heavier than iPad 2 though – something I still haven’t been able to adjust to.

Samsung Galaxy Note (Win). A year ago, people were wondering how ridiculous it’d look to hold a small tablet-sized phone beside your ear and makes call. Today, no one bats an eyelid anymore – and there are even large ph-ablets in development now. Now that I’ve used a smartphone with a large screen and experienced its benefits browsing, notetaking, scrolling through pictures etc. doing just about everything, I can’t see myself ever going back to a phone that’s smaller, including a certain smartphone with a 4 inch screen from a certain fruit company.

Canon IXUS HS115 + WP-DC310L (Win). This camera was the surprise ‘win’ for the year. I didn’t expect to use it nearly this much taking pictures of Hannah swimming, but in the just over half-year since purchase, I’ve taken several thousand pictures with it.

Fun pictures like these. First-Person Shooter starring Daddy and Hannah; Daddy won (no fight LOL).

Fun pictures like these. First-Person Shooter starring Daddy and Hannah; Daddy won (no fight LOL).

Best of all, the waterproof casing is still holding out great.:)

 

I had a Windows Live Messenging conversation with the wife yesterday afternoon, and it went like this.

“Dear, I have a confession to make.”

“I know. You bought yourself a new toy?”

“!!! Dear, you’re so clever.:)”

“When you have a confession, it’s usually some purchase involving a certain sum of $$.”

I blame this entirely on our Ang mo bud actually. He bought along his iPad Retina when he came to Singapore to visit in June this year and I got tempted LOL. Despite my dislike for the fruit company – the moreso now with its troll patent suits – Apple does continue to produce amazing tablet hardware. I’m less tempted with their phones, but the reality remains that the real Android equivalents of the recent iPad tablets simply aren’t available in Singapore for them to be a viable alternative. I’ve had the Motorola Xoom for several months now, and while it works great as a media playback device (especially videos for Hannah to watch), it’s general sluggishness and frequent browser crashes have made the tablet tiresome to use.

blog-tablets

The new tablet is a pretty recent refresh of the earlier iPad Retina released this year, but with bumped up specifications – it’s reportedly twice as fast as the earlier one – a slightly longer-lasting battery, and using a different power and data connector. Pundits are calling this the “iPad 4”. Hannah’s certainly thrilled, because all her favorite games are on the iPad.

As slick and smooth though as iOS6 is, the interface honestly looks real dated compared to the Android equivalent. And why I have to go through iTunes to transfer Hannah’s videos onto the tablet is still beyond me. And while iOS maps look nice, I’m not going to trust directions on it, though what little I’ve seen from the Singapore maps seem about right.

Ling wasn’t in the bit surprised of course. She chuckled: “iPad is still better right? Admit it.”

A few years ago I put up a status update on Facebook; and it read like this:

“The wife has discovered online shopping. I’m dead.”

That of course elicited a lot of ‘Likes’ and humorous comments that followed that status update!

I’ve been purchasing small items on eBay for a while now, and they run quite a wide gamut; Hannah’s plush toys, computer accessories (e.g. cable connectors), lens filters and assorted camera accessories. Most of the purchased items are usually extremely cheap – usually less than $20, but many costing just a few dollars even. Surprisingly, the vast majority of my shopping experiences have been quite positive, but two have been poor in the last 4 years, and both involving sellers based in China.

The long-story summarized in both cases are similar; they send you a defective product, and when you seek a refund, they plead/ask nicely for you to send it back to them (at your cost) where they’d refund or send you a new item. Each time I did exactly just that, and you never hear from them again. Normally, it’s possible to initiate a dispute incident through eBay or your payment merchant. Unfortunately, their incident rules require a within 45 day response window, after which both providers will do nothing, and both times those crooked sellers have gotten away because I was nice enough to have given them the benefit of doubt at the expense of my response window lapsing.

Oh well; lesson learned. The next time I buy something from China-based sellers, I won’t hesitate to start a dispute incident immediately at the first sign of potential difficulty. Better safe than sorry, and auto-resolve the dispute on my own if things work out rather than play nice and let these buggers fleece me.

The screen on my 1 year 4 months iPad 2 went kaput over the weekend. Initially I was just astonished. Weren’t Apple products commanding premiums because their products do not compromise on quality? But here’s the funniest thing. After Ling found out that the tablet’s screen was failing, she said meekly that she’d accidentally step on them not once but twice a month ago while reaching out to close the curtains in our room.

Sigh. I went about looking for a replacement tablet, doing up the usual comparison tables and the like – and listed down about a dozen Android tablets alongside the new iPad Retina models to decide which one to pick up. The iPad Retina’s screen is amazing, but at about SGD800 for a suitable 3G model with the lowest memory capacity, it was just too much to pay for a replacement. The new Galaxy tablets – Note 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 – were great and loaded up with a reasonably current version of the Android OS, but were also priced around SGD750. A real contender was the Galaxy Tab 7.7 with its amazing Amoled screen can be had for about SGD560, but I eventually went with one of the cheapest 3G models I could find that had the least design issues according to reviews; the Motorola Xoom 2 3G 32 GB – which I picked up at Challenger for SGD499.

After a day of configuring the tablet and loading it up with productivity applications, my overall impression of the tablet is mostly good, moreso considering the bargain bin price I paid for it; the tablet cost twice as much just 8 months ago. The strengths of the unit include its build quality – it feels more premium than the Galaxy 10.1 inch tablets – respectable battery life, and that Motorola has just rolled out Android 4.0 for it. That’s not mentioning that while the Google Play Store isn’t as slick as iOS’s equivalent nor are many of its applications on it optimized for tablets, the customizability of Android for me still far outweighs that. The above picture is a skinned theme with GO Launcher HD – something I could never achieved with the iPad unless I jailbroke it.

As for the problems with the hardware itself; well – the screen simply isn’t as nice as Samsung’s Amoled screens especially in color contrasts. It’s bright at least though. And the design and placement of the on/off and volume buttons are awkward – insufficient travel and too closely situated to each other.

Oh well. Can’t complain since I got the tablet for very cheap. And apparently the tablet is rapidly running out of stock island wide, what with the amazing price that Challenger has put onto this.:)