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Trip to Hong Kong 2011 – Day 2

The second day in Hong Kong was mostly spent at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Just like Universal Studios Singapore, Hong Kong Disneyland is located far away from the busy city center. It rests on reclaimed land at Lantau Island. There are a few options to travel to the park: the most popular being public transport, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) of course.

Day Tickets at Hong Kong Disneyland goes for HK$350, which is equivalent to about S$56. The price is the same for any day in the year and can be used on most days, anytime 6 months after date of purchase. However, for some special days, such as public holidays, tickets will need to be purchased with a confirmed date of use.

The park also offers Annual Passes, called the Magic Access which is split into 4 tiers of membership and is priced from HK$2400 to HK$650.


Sunny Bay MTR Station
Disneyland Resort Line Train

The Disney experience begins the moment one arrives at Sunny Bay, the interchange station between the Tung Chung line and the Disneyland Resort line. Typically, the iconic Disney train will be there waiting for eager guests to run across the transfer platform.

There is a little fanfare during the ride to Disneyland Resort, with a special message being played in the train cabins. It is all part of a thematic journey, transforming from “modern city of Hong Kong” to the “magical world of Hong Kong Disneyland”. Visually, the stations were designed very differently as well – with the Sunny Bay station having a lot of glass and white roof work, looking like most of the other stations in Hong Kong. Visitors will be surprised with a spacious Modern-Victorian design at the Disneyland station.

The entrance area of the park has been decorated for the park’s 5th Anniversary festivities, Celebration in the Air. It is quite a cohesive theme and includes some tweaks to the park’s merchandising, decorations and is supported by a very impressive daytime parade show and night castle show.


Esplanade Gateway
Tinkerbell

It was a Tuesday when my family went to the park – although marked as an off-peak day, there was a lot of people. FASTPASS is no longer a novelty, it is a necessity if you wish to do the rides multiple times. As for the park crowds, it’s comparable to a school holiday weekend at Universal Studios Singapore.

If you are wondering why the photos below show an empty park, here is the explanation: The main gates of Hong Kong Disneyland opens 30 minutes before the scheduled timing (usually 10:30AM). Only the Main Street area is accessible, for some quick bites or (hopefully not) overly well-planned shopping. A rope is held in place at the end of Main Street, just before the roundabout (where Sorcerer Mickey is) in front of the castle. Moments before 10:30AM, there is a ceremony called “First Family” where a family is chosen to open the park by “cutting” a ribbon. The First Family thing is an opportunity is given out to families with small children who at the gates during park opening. Apart from this little fanfare and some special photo-op moments, I recall reading somewhere that the First Family also rides down Main Street before a parade starts, but I’m not sure if that is done anymore during the 5th Anniversary Celebrations.


The Castle
The backdrop

The location for Hong Kong Disneyland is unlike any other Disney parks. The lush mountain backdrop frames the park beautifully, masking any hints of the outside world. While yes, the park is entirely artificial and built on reclaimed land, the surrounding landscape creates an illusion – a “magical” one that is reinforced with thematic music – to trick the guests that they are in some other world. I really wished Universal Studios Singapore had the large walking spaces between park zones, which offers breathing space between each zone’s thematic design.

Tinkerbell Castle
Tinkerbell Castle
Tinkerbell Castle

As part of Celebration In The Air, Sleeping Beauty Castle has embellished with golden trails and sparkly pixie dust by Tinker Bell! The “sparkly” effect is made out of shiny metallic discs that moves with the wind, creating a graduated shimmering effect. This is similar to the kinetic art by Ned Kahn, which has been replicated at many places, including the Wind Arbor at Marina Bay Sands. Hidden behind the curtains of discs are LED lighting arrays. The evening castle show, known as Tinker Bell Castle Illumination, is a dazzling spectacle.

Another important element of Celebration In The Air is the Flights of Fantasy Parade which unfortunately I have no photos to provide. It is a stunning parade and has been compared to some of Tokyo Disneyland’s parades by some theme park fans. There are 7 parade floats in total: Dumbo + Mickey and Friends, Winnie The Pooh, Disney Princesses, Jungle Book/Lion King, Tinker Bell, Lilo and Stitch – and lastly, Toy Story. The theme song is very catchy, memorable and uplifting (well, it’s about flying, after all).



Flights of Fantasy Parade, © Disney

Flights of Fantasy Parade

Main Theme – English Lyrics

It’s a sky high celebration,
So come on! come on! come on!
Let’s fly away!

Take a flight on imagination,
So come on! come on! come on!
It’s a brand new day!

We’re chasing rainbows,
Wherever the wind blows.
So come on, come on,
The Flights of Fantasy!

Hey, Hey, Hey

I can only grasp this line from the Cantonese version of the song:

我會帶你飛越萬里, 常飛起,飛起,飛起!

Interestingly, the parade theme music is also used in the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim but with a different narrative altogether. It is called Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. In the chorus instead of “The Flights of Fantasy!”, you get “It’s Soundsational!”


Notable Attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland


it's a small world
Excited girl
Marie

it’s a small world

Originally created for the UNICEF Pavilion in the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it’s a small world is one of the few attractions that exists in all Fantasyland zones around the world. It is a gentle indoor boat ride that sails through various colourful scenes with animated characters singing the same tune. Although the music might drive some people crazy, this attraction is well-known for its very high-capacity per hour, which has influenced future Disney attractions in their design, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (from a walkthrough attraction into boat ride). In Hong Kong Disneyland, it is also one of the most comfortable rides to enjoy in a hot summer day.


Space Mountain
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue

Space Mountain

In contrast to Universal Studios Singapore, which has several roller-coasters, Space Mountain is now the only high adrenaline adventure in Hong Kong Disneyland. One commonly heard rationale is that the locals prefer photo opportunities compared to intensive rides. This is set to change with the construction of new attractions in the three new themed zones, to be completed in 2013.

Despite being a smaller, more compact version compared to the other Space Mountain attractions in the world, this ride has a slightly different theme and queue design. There is also a lot of detail in the design of the loading/unloading area. The ride safety video is also carefully done to be both succinct and heavily themed, something which was perfectly executed for Battlestar Galactica in Universal Studios Singapore back in 2010, but was unfortunately altered in the 2011 reopening with “real-world videos” spliced in between themed sequences.


Other activities

Apart from rides, shows and parades, there is also a special summer event going on called Rev Up Your Summer Fun! which is tied closely with the new CARS 2 film.


Cars Secret Mission
Cars Secret Mission

Cars Secret Mission is an activity that involves finding game stations scattered around the park and playing minigames. Players will need to get a little leaflet from a cast member (My sister’s holding it in the photo above) that has a QR code on it. At each station, players will need to scan their leaflet and proceed on with a simple minigame, which varies from memory to “spot the difference”/”find a character” style games. Cast members will invite players to get a stamp on their leaflets. Upon completion of all game stations… you actually get nothing except for a (presumably) random Cars character profiling and a certificate which you have to print online on your own. Well, you didn’t pay to participate in this anyway.

There are also Cars photo opportunity zones (which are actually, just large 2D installations) themed to certain cities around the world. It doesn’t just stop there – the theming continues with snacks offered at each zone, such as sushi rolls for sale at the “Tokyo” zone, for example!

Seen around the park


Theatre in the wild
Queues for Festival of the Lion King, a short musical performance of the popular hits and compressed narrative from The Lion King.

Fantasyland
The area behind the Castle in Fantasyland

Dumbo
Dumbo: The Flying Elephant ride

Moving bin
Talking Bin in Tomorrowland

Lantern
Lantern at the interactive zone in Adventureland

Royal Banquet Hall
Royal Banquet Hall – We had lunch here.

Royal Banquet
Mixed Grill Set

Main Street snaps
Happy couple at Main Street

While not exactly comparable to the other larger Disney Parks in the world, Hong Kong Disneyland still retains Disney magic – with the successful formula in designing and running theme parks that Disney has decades of experience to rely upon. I have visited the park a handful of times for the past five years and the park has always been improving, with exciting seasonal and milestone events. Things will get very exciting at the resort when three new themed zones – Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point – are completed in the years to come.


After spending almost a full day in Hong Kong Disneyland, we got tired of the heat and went back to Kowloon. Yep, we gave the evening shows a miss.


Garden Street
Garden Street

My family went to this night market street called “Fa Yuen Street” which translates to “Garden Street”. There’s always those usual night market stalls selling cheap clothes, souvenirs and trinkets. The more interesting parts are actually the shops hidden out of the florescent glow of the night markets though. My sister goes to a random shop and after some bargaining and trying them out – if I remember correct – paid S$80 for 4 pairs of shoes.


Sabotage??
Investigation

I witnessed this interesting incident of a billboard being sabotaged and the canvas was flapping dangerously in the wind – it was fixed the next day though, which was good as the Typhoon warnings started coming up the next morning.


All photographs were snapped using my NEX-5 with a rather old LEICA Summicron-C 40mm f/2.

The complete flickr album can be found here.

1

Trip to Hong Kong 2011 – Day 1

Just mere days after finally completing National Service, I found myself at Hong Kong with my family. We’ve not traveled together since late 2009.


CX710

We took the 8:05AM flight on Cathay Pacific. Upon arriving and dropping our luggage at the hotel, we went straight to Causeway Bay for lunch at Hunan Garden. Located at Level 13 of Times Square Food Forum, the restaurant offers Hunan cuisine in a European setting. It’s interesting to note that the Times Square Food Forum is very popular and during the lunch hour it becomes necessary to actually queue (à la theme park rides) for the lift to the higher levels.


Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

At the ground level of Times Square was.. Hogwarts Express! It was accompanied with Platform 9¾ (and yes, the trolley was there as well.) Unfortunately it seems like classes has just ended and the whole area was flooded with students!


Hogwarts Express

We then went to SOGO at Causeway Bay. Despite being owned by a Hong Kong company, it still has the strong makings of a Japanese department store – with a structured department store layout and even greeters at every floor and the lift attendant ladies. There was a memorable moment where two of the attendants were in a lift, filled to capacity and when a shopper wanted to squeeze her way in, the lift attendant said “Sorry we’re full already” politely, only to receive a snide “Why are there TWO of you in there??” back.


SOGO Hong Kong

street.hk


Found at SOGO Causeway Bay is one of the only two Kura Chika boutiques in Hong Kong. Kura Chika deals with items from PORTER TOKYO and YOSHIDA & CO. While the store does not have the full PORTER TOKYO collection, they do have the classic items and if you’re lucky, some obscure limited edition items.

Like I’ve told many people (and countless people have told me), if you want to get a PORTER bag, please only buy either a PORTER TOKYO or HEAD PORTER product. Stay away from PORTER INTERNATIONAL (based in Taiwan). While the designs may look similar (to some), the INTERNATIONAL label is not directly related to the Japanese company and most importantly, those items are not Made in Japan. There is an exciting tale about how this Taiwanese company came about, which I will save for another entry – or you can ask me for a short version in person.


Edit: Since I’ve received many emails about this, I’ll just post it here:

I’ve been told by streetwear and bag aficionados that Porter International (Taiwan) started off as a knock-off brand, copying designs of PORTER TOKYO/JAPAN and HEAD PORTER. Instead battling through copyright lawsuits, both Porter International and YOSHIDA & CO. came to a settlement. They now work in a partnership and the Taiwan brand now produces their own designs and collections, though some of them share the same look as the Japan variant.

Under the partnership, Porter International also operates KURA CHIKA, a chain of stores that sells Porter Japan items outside of Japan.


After spending some time here, my Dad finally decided on a nice PORTER canvas shoulder sling. We then traveled back to the hotel and took a short rest. We then decided to head to another mall which we’ve never been to, called ELEMENTS.


road works

ELEMENTS

Louis Vuitton, ELEMENTS

Surrounded by major road works and urban redevelopment, ELEMENTS is perhaps, a diamond in the rough. Like other similar malls in Tsim Sha Tsui, it is clearly aimed for the Upper-Middle class in Hong Kong. The mall is uniquely structured into 5 zones, themed after the Chinese elements of nature: Water, Fire, Wood, Earth and Metal. While each zone has a specific “subject area”, i.e. Wood zone for health, well-being stores, there are some minor inconsistencies. The Metal (or more accurately, GOLD) zone however, is strongly focused for an ensemble of the most coveted luxury brands. It feels like the Middle section of Marina Bay Sands Shoppes.


Hermès, ELEMENTS

miu miu, ELEMENTS

Unlike the highly illustrious lane in Canton Road where stores have to temporarily close at times to accommodate their patrons, ELEMENTS was quite deserted and could offer a safe haven for those who seek a tranquil shopping experience. At least you don’t have to wait for your own SA here. My sister finally found the bracelet she wanted.


night life

night market

It was a very relaxing experience to walk around ELEMENTS and soak in the intoxicating aroma of European leather goods, but we decided to travel back to the drastically different streets of Mong Kok. This is where most of the shopping took place for the next few days – major bargains to be found, even for items bought at retail, they’re usually 10-20% cheaper than Singapore!

There’s probably too many stores to list, but if you are looking for something and would like addresses or names, just let me know via comments or messaging. Of course, the famous Sino Centre, Langham Place and Argyle Centre are some of the must-go places for clothes and other knicks-and-knacks.

Mong Kok is also where Hong Kong’s iconic night markets happen. There are several streets, each (supposedly) catered to certain groups of people (Ladies’ Market, Temple Street’s Men’s Market etc) but over the years it has become “everything” night market.


Gong Cha

The last stop of the day was GONG CHA. For just HK$13 (that’s about S$2), you get the large cup of milk tea. In Singapore, the small cup goes for S$2.80. What is this?

The adventure continues in the next entry!


All photographs were snapped using my NEX-5 with a rather old LEICA Summicron-C 40mm f/2.

The complete flickr album can be found here.

2

Transformers: a look at the concept art

TRANSFORMERS is an upcoming attraction at Universal Studios Singapore. Scheduled to be open in the second half of 2011, the attraction is an indoor sit-down ride that uses vehicles similar to motion simulators, but can also travel along a track. The ride should be using improved technology from “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman” rides in Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Japan with some new advancements, such as High-Definition 3D displays and of course – impressive looking robots. To add more excitement, the attraction will feature elevation changes and potentially: dual-level scenes!

Some concept art have been leaked recently on Theme Park Insider, giving us a first glimpse of how the queue area and show scenes might look like.



Preshow area


Queue area that revolves around the AllSpark


Loading area, looking somewhat familiar..


One of the ride’s scenes.

It certainly looks exciting! The concept art appears to be more believable as compared to the sketches for Battlestar Galactica (which had rather ambitious plans for large, elaborately themed queue areas such as vast hangars – in the end it looks more like a little shed for just one lonely Viper).

Information is scarce about this ride and there isn’t anything much to see from within USS itself, unlike the other recently opened (and RE-opened) attractions which are situated very close to park guests. From what I’ve heard, the company involved with its construction has announced that their project will be completed by June 2011. The very same company was also contracted to rework some parts of Madagascar: A Crate Adventure and according to them, their work was done in March 2011. Crate Adventure opened about 2 months later. Perhaps we might see Transformers open much sooner than we thought, but let’s not keep our hopes too high – the park only promised that it will be open before the year ends!

Photos: Robert Niles, Theme Park Insider

0

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station – Photowalk

Slated to close on 1st July 2011, the 88-year-old Tanjong Pagar Railway station is a place lost in time, and space.

The entire compound felt rustic and rather laid-back; almost as if I’ve stepped into a portal to Malaysia. Even the food vendors speak Malay almost exclusively.. just that payment is in Singapore dollars!

Fence

Framing the Orient Express

E&O in a Circle

Changing roles

Beyond the station

The rope

Metal tool things

Jelly lights

Life on the line

STOP

There are two coffee shops in the station (or Stesen), a bookshop that sells anything but books and some kampung hut in the center of all the business. I felt one momentary breeze of cool air in the hot weather – it came from the VIP Lounge for the Eastern & Oriental Express.
After walking to the end of the platform, there is a path which leads to some abandoned buildings, an outdoor restaurant (of sorts) and the train depot which is rather empty and weathered. Many opportunities to take photos of yourself standing/planking on some railway tracks here! Of course, do not wander to the actual working tracks!

The LEICA SUMMICRON-C 40mm Short Review / Thoughts about the Leica lens
For this photo trip, I used a LEICA SUMMICRON-C 40mm f/2 made 38 years ago. Most close-up and shallow DoF shots are taken at f/2.

After months of using the Carl Zeiss Planar lenses on my NEX, I have chanced upon some articles about Leica’s most underrated offering. The price seemed affordable (Leica-wise) and reviews just kept praising this tiny German-made lens – which was often overshadowed by its SUMMICRON-M brothers but yet appears to offer almost similar optical performance for the lenses within the same era. This means of course, no comparison with Aspherical lenses please – just not sensible. I then spoke to Desmond, who is very knowledgeable in this field – but also a very dangerous person to speak to when it comes to photography and audio equipment! Then yes, the DECISIVE MOMENT arrived.

Fine lines

I am enjoying the film-like colours and look of the Leica. The Summicron is sharp wide open, yet produces a pleasantly soft effect at the same time. The colour signature (out of camera) is quite similar to what I have to process for the high-contrast, vibrant images from Carl Zeiss lenses. I guess I am not the type of person who loves vividly loud colours. I prefer smooth, subtle and subdued (Triple-S? ha!) tones and surprisingly, this 38-year wonder just does it for me. There is just something about this lens. It brings out the very fine subtleties in colour tone.

Of course, even though it’s a Leica, it is not miracle glass. Understandably, the lens was made decades ago, so it does not have the best lens coating to suppress flare. I am using it with a camera it was not designed to pair with. Being a Leica rangefinder lens, the minimum focus is at a shocking 0.8m (0.1m more than the Nokton lenses and 0.3m more than the Contax G Zeiss lenses!). It does bring a lot of challenges in real-world use and I am being brought back into the tedious (and rewarding) experience of using M lenses again. I will probably write an entry soon about all the lenses I have used so far with the NEX – Both to document the experience and also help fellow “Mirrorless Cameras” enthusiasts in making acquisition decisions.

NEX-5 right now

4

The Grand Opening of Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore - Grand Opening 2011 - Parade 17

Universal Studios Singapore marked an important milestone on 28th May 2011 with a glitzy, action-packed event filled with celebrities and a grand procession show.


2014 Remaster – Happy USS 3rd Anniversary!


In Celebration of Universal Studios Singapore’s 3rd Anniversary, this entry has received the Remaster Enhancement treatment. I have revisited the digital negatives and re-processed the photographs taken back in 2011. Apart from improved colour, clarity and consistency with my current visual aesthetic, there are also some photos that are published for the very first time. This is an opportunity to relive the magic of the Grand Opening Celebration. Enjoy!


Continue Reading →

2

RSAF Open House ’11


Entrance Gateway

Paya Lebar Airbase is open to public again this year as part of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Open House 2011. As I am currently part of MINDEF, I snapped on the chance to visit the open house on a preview day and show my support during office hours. It was also field trip day for students – the whole airbase was packed with chatty youngsters, many with DSLRs coupled with large zoom lenses in their hands. The organisers were not very strict at admissions though, there was no ID checks or anything – essentially it is “sort of” open to public.

If you like to know more about RSAF’s organisational structure, the people behind RSAF, its Air defense arsenal/capabilities or just love aircraft in general, then you should go to the RSAF Open House. It is also a good place to “sight-see” photography equipment, for obvious reasons!

And for those who goes to such events for freebies, the goodie bag I received has the following items: A cap, a fan, a bottle of water, a small carton of Milo, a tattoo sticker, two magnets, a fighter jet-shaped mobile phone charm thing and.. a yellow highlighter (which ironically, most random but will be very useful when term starts!)

Since it is a free event, why not just make a trip down? Details can be found here:
http://www.mindef.gov.sg/rsafopenhouse/


Some of the new aircraft “premiering” at this Open House include the F-15SG – one display was accompanied by a very neatly arranged chain of highly polished rounds:

F-15SG

20mm rounds

Some of the of pilots were around to give an in-depth tour of some aircraft’s controls. They even made the effort to explain all the complicated stuff to children:


Guided cockpit experience

Guided cockpit experience

There were also three Arming demonstrations, here is one of them (AH-64D):

AH-64D Arming Demo

AH-64D Arming Demo

AH-64D Arming Demo

In my opinion, this open house felt a little underwhelming, especially when compared to the Navy Open House, which had a lot more things to see and do. Due to the layout of the airbase, there are a lot more sparse walking areas than actual attractions (the aircraft and related equipment) which were all very closely packed and swamped by photographers (like myself, I’d admit). The most interesting attraction of the Navy Open House was the large variety of ship tours (non-moving), all guided by the actual ship crew, as well as the very fun and exciting ship rides! Okay – to be fair it is not exactly possible to do the same with aircraft.

The RSAF Open House is primarily an outdoor event, although it does also offers two exhibition halls with indoor displays, as well as a “Food Village” situated inside gloomy, air-conditioned hall. There is also a rock climbing wall (???) which I thought was rather irrelevant.

There were no “rides” available on the staff/school preview days. Probably because air fuel surcharge is on the rise lately. Haha.


RSAF

AS332M

Bridge

C-130 Hercules

0

The FinePix X100


While some camera manufacturers are flooding the market with competitively priced, simplified DSLRs and tiny compact cameras with many, sometimes gimmicky features, Fujifilm has boldly emerged in another direction – to build a high quality premium camera that not just have the good parts inside, but a stunning look to match. The FinePix X100 was first unveiled last year at Photokina and has attracted quite a large number of fans.


The Look
It is easy to tell why. The X100 looks delightfully vintage and minimalistic. The camera body is mostly covered with a black leather-textured material, with the top and bottom plates in a smooth grey finish. It resembles a classic rangefinder design, very much like Leica’s M system. The look is completed with a range of mechanical knobs, switches and rings.

Despite sporting a nostalgic design, the hardware within the X100 is of course, up to date. The designers have utilized various tricks to create the illusion that the camera has various “manual” controls (such as the aperture ring and shutter speed knob) when it is mostly electronic – and it is not just the looks, the ring “click” like old lenses.

The Specifications

Fujifilm FinePix X100
• 12.3 megapixels APS-C CMOS sensor
• Fujinon 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent) custom-designed lens
• 9-bladed aperture diaphragm
• 10 cm Macro
• Built-in 3 stop ND filter
• ISO 200 ~ 6400 (can be extended to ISO 100 and ISO 12800)
• Hybrid Viewfinder (Optical and LCD display)
• 2.8″ LCD display
• SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards supported
• Maximum image resolution: 4288 x 2848
• Video resolution: 1280×720 Progressive

The Hardware
Image quality is obviously one of the top considerations for the Fujifilm engineers. They did not go for an APS-C sensor with high megapixel count. Choosing a 12.3 megapixel sensor would yield less “noisy” photos and of course, clearer images. The Fujinon lens is custom-designed for this camera and is very sharp in all apertures in most situations – and the aperture has 9 curved blades – This makes out of focus areas appear very smooth and pleasing.

church fence

The most talked about feature about the X100 is actually the Hybrid Viewfinder. It is two viewfinders in one – optical and electronic. Allow the diagram below from Fujifilm.com explain it better:


X100’s Viewfinder modes, Fujifilm.com

Essentially, the X100 has an optical viewfinder (0.5x magnification) that also overlays useful information on top of the optical image – such as framelines, exposure information, distance scale, histogram and even an electronic level. However, the optical mode does not see exactly what is going through the camera lens due to differences in field of view. Hence, there are some slight variances in the final image due to parallax and sometimes the camera is unable to “focus” because the images from both the optical viewfinder and image sensor are too different – leading to frustration because the camera would need to be switched to electronic mode for images at closer distances to be taken properly*.

The electronic mode gives a 100% view of what the camera actually sees – including the right depth of field, but is not as bright (in low-light situations) as the optical mode. Of course, it is also not as sharp or as fast as optical mode, but I found it sufficiently speedy. In electronic mode, a screen would be raised in the viewfinder window to block external light coming from the front, allowing the LCD display to appear vivid and bright.

The X100 manual suggests not sticking with just one viewfinder mode but rather switch them depending on shooting conditions. The optical viewfinder is excellent for landscapes, street photography and most portraits. When shooting closer subjects, the electronic mode is the only way to go. The camera is designed to switch between both modes quickly with a dedicated switch – convenient positioned for the tip of the index finger. The camera also switches between modes quickly after each shot, utilizing the electronic display for image review (which can also be disabled entirely, should the user chooses).

*The optical viewfinder is able to focus up to distances as close as 80cm. Activating electronic mode would allow the X100 to focus to 40cm. The camera is able to go closer in macro or manual focus mode, bringing the minimum focus down to 10cm.

Time for the short story
My family got the X100 a month ago, by sheer chance and luck. For the past few months, I was talking to my Dad about how he should probably buy a camera to document his travels – he travels to many places for business and it’s quite a pity how we only get photos from his Blackberry! He used to be (or so he claims, haha) to be very into photography when he was my age. He didn’t like my NEX because it was cumbersome to use – I only mount old Carl Zeiss lenses on it and those lenses are manually operated. The X100 was a strong option.

A month ago, there was a worldwide shortage of X100 cameras due to the disaster in Japan causing the factory to be closed and also delayed shipments out of Japan. In Singapore, wait-lists were already very long (even before the earthquake happened) and some people were asking for refunds for their reservation deposits as it was unclear if the camera would be able to arrive within a reasonable time-frame.

My family was just having our usual dinner on an ordinary Friday evening and we decided to just walk past a camera shop to see if we could see a display set. Nope, there was nothing captivating on display apart from the X100 poster. We then decided to ask a salesperson, who quickly just said “Yes, we have it.” and out of nowhere, took out a new set for us. Jaw-drop moment! No reservations or anything.

Well, for the past few weeks, I was fortunate enough to have the camera for myself as Dad decided not to bring it along with him for his recent long trip to the US.

untitled, d.2904

Real-world usage
The X100 is a joy to use. The small size meant that the camera would be carried anywhere and everywhere. The body is ergonomically designed (despite its blocky appearance) to hold and has a good bit of heft to it – it is not too light nor heavy. Most importantly, the viewfinder just allows me to focus on nothing but the picture. The prime lens, fixed at 35mm (equivalent) is a perfect focal length to work with – and after working with prime lenses with my NEX for the past 6 months, it just feels natural for me to “zoom” by actually moving about. The lens is fantastic with great overall sharpness, little distortion and great control over chromatic aberration. However, it could produce quite a bit of flare in some situations. Depending on the photograph, it could either look distracting, or rather spectacular.

The sensor used is able to produce cleaner images compared to my NEX as it has a lower megapixel count and seems to be using a very weak anti-aliasing filter – allowing more details to be captured in images. It has pretty good dynamic range too.


Live updating

Other features which I thought were great were: Built-in ND filter (for shooting wide-open outdoors in the sun), circular aperture (nice out of focus areas, always!), super silent shutter (huge difference from the NEX) and also the quick autofocus speed in most situations. While most users on the internet tend to praise Fujifilm’s signature colours that is inherent from X100’s out-of-camera JPEGs, I prefer developing my photos manually in Lightroom.

It is not a miracle machine however – the camera did take me a while to get used to and the first images from the camera seemed very underwhelming.. until I realized that I have not really “used it in the right way”. It could be anytime from days to weeks to become fluent with the X100’s true capabilities (and problems). So yes, there is a learning curve for this camera and it is a very critical phase that has split the userbase into 2 groups: People who love the camera to death and might actually want to die with it and.. People who find that this camera is just too different and utterly incongruous to how they think cameras should work. I think that the X100’s prime lens is probably one reason why these people could not appreciate the camera. And also that mystical photographer-camera synergy – if it’s not meant to be, it just isn’t.

The camera is not without flaws. The way Manual Focus is implemented in the X100 is absolutely hopeless and it utilizes a light-sensor to track the amount and speed of turns on the focusing ring. However, as it uses light, it becomes very indecisive and sluggish in dim conditions – situations where manual focus will be very useful. Instead, the lens focus mechanism would make a lot of “chutt-ing” noises as it struggles to figure out what is happening to the focus ring. Focusing could also become an irritating issue when it comes to video recording – there is no way to lock focus during recording; the lens would persistently try to focus.

As I have said before, the X100 does resemble Leica’s digital M cameras and unfortunately even the slow processing speed was also replicated. I kid, but not on the speed! Perhaps I am too used to the blazing speeds offered by the NEX even with a normal SD card. The camera buffer seems to have problems pushing out images fast enough to the card, causing the camera to lock up until the transfer has been completed. This is a lot more drastic in burst-mode – the X100 could take 7-8 images in quick succession and become unusable for a few minutes. Perhaps a faster (or the fastest) memory card could ease this issue.

However, there are some very serious shortfalls could potentially ruin the experience for some users. I don’t know if the camera was rushed or Fujifilm is abusing a bunch of overworked programmers – there are numerous glitches and strange quirks littered everywhere in the camera’s firmware. DPreview has documented a long (but not exhaustive) list of bugs and issues with the current firmware. For me, I have just learnt to work around those issues, but they do get in the way from time to time.

Ancient Egypt

But..
I have talked to a several friends who own professional cameras and most of them told me the problem they have with the X100 is the price. Yes, at S$1699, it is rather steep (some retailers offer lower prices, do ask for discounts) but it is interesting how the price is quickly compared with other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They did not deny that they still desire it, though. No matter what combination, it is not possible to get a camera with a good APS-C sized sensor, high quality 35mm (equiv) f/2 lens, a decent viewfinder and keep it within a compact body – good looks will just be bonus points. It is only with highly customized parts – and that’s what Fujifilm did. Therefore, I feel that the initial high investment will be quickly paid back with lots of fantastic pictures and without the hassle of experimenting with lenses and cameras.

I would think that the X100 should only be compared with the Leica X1, although both cameras have their own differences anyway. Both cameras belong in a niche market: Large sensor, fixed focal length, beautiful design, premium materials, “luxury” marketing strategy.

Still, depending on the photographer, the X100 is not a replacement for a full DSLR system. You cannot do high-speed shooting. You cannot zoom. You are stuck without interchangeable lenses. But what if you have no need for these things? Would this be the perfect camera? What do you think?

Perhaps it’s just me but – I want to be able to bring a good camera everywhere – like I’ve already said in the NEX entry. It should be able to fit in all my bags so I could bring it to school, overseas or any place interesting. It is just me, but I don’t understand the point of having a large camera to lug around in its special bag. If I am a professional photographer, then yes.

So I guess, it depends. Okay, I admit it’s rather pointless for me to comment anymore because I have access to the camera now (hahaha). Still, I must state that I have never felt so excited to take photographs and actually enjoy the process of doing so. I still love my NEX though and I am waiting for the E-mount 24mm f/1.7 lens to be released!

wind and water

vertigo

flower

Sunny

Lights, Camera, Action!

cumulus

More photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikolux/

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Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure (MCA) is an attraction based on the successful Madagascar film franchise. It is a gentle river boat ride designed for children. The official ride description explains: Join our four heroes – Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria – on a river boat adventure as you arrive at the shores of Madagascar. Defeat the foosas at the rim of the bubbly volcano cauldron with the aid of the technically-savvy but psychotic penguins.

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The ArtScience Museum

ARTSCIENCE museum

float

After finishing two examination papers, I could finally catch a breather and go on an adventure. This time: The ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands!

At time of visit, there were three exhibitions happening:
– Van Gogh Alive: The Exhibition
– Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds
– ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity (Permanent Exhibition)

It is very important to know what is being shown at the Museum before planning a visit. Read the next section!

Tickets
Admission for ArtScience Museum is a simple: You just pay a standard fee to enter ($30 for adults, $27 for seniors, $17 for children) and you can view all the exhibits in the museum. This means that it is best to visit when there are a lot of traveling (or new) exhibitions and just “swoop” them all up in one go. The ticket price is not very encouraging for frequent revisits and there is no “annual museum pass”.


Museum Gateway

The ArtScience Museum Lobby is a very open glass house which is located at the base of the lotus-shaped Museum. There is nothing much here apart from ticketing counters, entrance gantries and also the glass lifts that travel to all the gallery floors. According to the brochure, the Museum has 21 gallery spaces which totals up to 50,000 square feet of exhibition space!

Like any other good Museums in the world, there are of course etiquette guidelines. The same things basically: No flash photography, eating, drinking, loud noises and rowdy behaviour in galleries!


ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity

interactivity

Leonardo's Flying Machine


The Permanent Exhibition is located at the highest (guest accessible) level and it is a “light” exhibition, with just about three small galleries. Each gallery has a theme to bring guests through a “journey inside the creative process”: Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression.

The galleries three
The first gallery, Curiosity is rather focused on the design of the ArtScience Museum. Here guests will be able to see the sketches, mock-ups and engineering research that were part of the process to create the Museum’s unique building.

The Inspiration gallery is an interactive space that allows guests to view some important inventions and discoveries in the history of mankind. There are many interactive screens and also places where guests can create their own postcards to share the experience.

Lastly, Expression gallery is actually a small sit-down theatre showcasing various major art and science periods. The video has high production values and the theatre itself is very uniquely designed – with many objects (relevant to the video) and panels layering around the main screen.

All in all, this is like an appetizer to the actual traveling exhibitions. It is probably relevant if you are interested in the story behind the Museum. Takes about 20-30 minutes.


Van Gogh Alive: The Exhibition

frame Van Vogh

A Thousand Pictures Tell A Single Story
Although the famous Dutch genius artist has only sold one artwork during his life, his work is celebrated by millions after his death, with landmark pieces such as Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers and Starry Night becoming legendary Post-Impressionist works and also hot auction items. In Van Gogh Alive, more than 3000 images have been transformed into a multi-sensory experience in the form of immersive large-scale projections spanning many galleries.

No photographs are allowed in this gallery so I have nothing to show. Essentially there are many expansive galleries linked together showing the same projections, synced with soothing classical music. There is a small gallery at the side which shows and describes some of Van Gogh’s famous pieces as well as some details about his (troubled) life.

You may either walk around or find a good place to view the projections and drown yourself into Van Gogh’s magical world. The projections last around 25 minutes and restarts immediately after a cycle. The benches in the galleries are strategically placed for viewing – take note though, there aren’t a lot of them!


Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds


Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Thousands of salvaged treasures from the maritime silk road are presented in this traveling exhibition. It is designed to provide a sequential narrative for guests, starting with the story of ocean trade and the importance for trade in the region.

The later sections describe the conservation processes for the artefacts and finally, large galleries showcasing hundreds of preserved artefacts. While there is definitely volume in terms of what is being displayed, it does get a little repetitive after a while – especially a room that focuses on different ceramic plates and being plates, most of them share similar designs.

Apart from videos and displays, there are two small interactive sections in the galleries: A simple boardgame and a “pattern press” for guests to collect free souvenirs. It takes about 30-45 minutes to walk about, watch the videos and enjoy the exhibits in the galleries.

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds

Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds


the diagrid

Is the ArtScience Museum worth visiting? Well.. the admission fee is rather steep and there are no discounts, apart from a group ticketing option but you will need a lot of people. You may probably want to wait for the Dali exhibition to be open to get more value from your ticket too.

Also included in the ticket is access to the open-air area of the Museum directly beneath the “Lotus”. There is nothing much here apart from water pools (and dying lotuses) but it is a nice windy place, with some tables and chairs, to relax and enjoy the views.

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Singapore Biennale 2011

Featuring 60 artists from 30 countries, Singapore Biennale 2011: “OPEN HOUSE” promises to intrigue and invoke the imagination of its visitors. This year the Biennale venues are a bit more unique, going to places such as the Old Kallang Airport, SAM @ 8Q and even at the Merlion (Singapore River/Marina Bay version). I find that this year’s exhibition is a lot more thematic and has many contextual pieces. The strongest works are, like back in 2006, very closely linked with the venue where it is being shown. The Old Kallang Airport venue has some of the most interesting – especially the interactive – pieces I have seen so far!

While the 2006 Biennale has a special place in my heart, 2011 has somewhat redeemed the Biennale for me. I’m sorry, but SB2008 was felt rather incongruous as a whole and had a very (inherently) vague theme, “Wonder”.

Enjoy the photos.


OPEN HOUSE at Old Kallang Airport

[Robert MacPherson]

[Rubén Ramos Balsa]

[Gosia Wlodarczak]

[Martin Creed]

[Michael Lin]

[Michael Lee]

[Rafael Lozano-Hemmer]

[Tiffany Chung]

[Charles Sandison]

SAM

[Shao Yinong & Muchen]

[Stuart Ringholt]

[Sopheap Pich]

Complete photo set can be found here: Flickr: Biennale 2011

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