Saturday, December 02, 2006

Naim 5i/CD5i

The sound of Naim is easy to recognize. "Good tempo" is a classic comment. More importantly, the Naim sound is not an electronic sound. Of course, it cannot compare to the soulfulness of tube acoustics but it is truely an audiophile sound..

My first encounter with Naim was with a Naim 5 that I bought secondhand from someone from Echoloft. When I first heard it, it made my previous Rotel and my demo set of Roksan sound decidedly crappy. Unfortunately, I got conned and the set started malfunctioning (the volume control was whacky). Fate will make sure that $%$#%$@ person who sold me that set gets his just punishment in the future. I found out later from Acoustic Sound the distributor in SG that that set was faulty and had been repaired several times and had many previous owners before.

Luckily (or unluckily) the Absolute guy allowed me to trade in the Naim 5 for his demo set which included a Naim 5i and CD5i. I can say, the sound of the 5i isnt as warm as that of the 5. But it isnt bad, and the extra 20W probably drives my B&Ws better. Unfortunately, my 5i volume led has died recently, leading me to conclude that Naim QC is not the greatest. Also, the much vaunted rule of using NACA cables seems to be a marketing gimmick. The sound isnt much improved over my previous run of bi-wire cables.

I was tempted to get a NATO tuner but I might hold back and wait for a good deal on a DAB set. The Tivolis dont appeal to me though..

The below pic is of my Naims with B&W speakers.. listening position isnt ideal though at the PC though... :)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Seiko Black Monster SKX779 mini review

My very first automatic watch was a Seiko Monster. Its a fairly cheap watch (I bought it for less than USD 150) but it does not feel cheap e.g. the bezel operates very smoothly, the metal bracelet that came with mine had strong and beefy links and has a divers extension. It has a very attractive face with the large hour indicators swathed in lume. The drawback to the lume is that it does not seem to stay bright for as long as other watches e.g. watches using superluminova.
Another drawback to this watch are the fact that it uses a Hardlex crystal face which hardly is a drawback as I have had this watch for some time and there isnt a single scratch on the face. The 7s26 movement is a fairly robust movement (most Seikos are) and it is a non-winding (winding is achieved by shaking the watch) and non-hacking movement i.e. you cannot stop the movement once it gets moving.
In the picture below, you can see my watch on the rubber strap (which I actually prefer to the metal bracelet). Sometimes, I put a 20mm NATO strap on it and it looks great on that too.

Even though it is a great watch, I never end up wearing the Monster much. The main reason is the size of the watch - its around 42mm in diameter. I am not much of a big watch fan as I typically wear a long sleeved shirt during work and it just sticks out too much. The huge bezel which allows one to operate it wearing gloves is in no way as slim as the ones on the Submariner or the Seamaster. I feel that it is more of a tool watch - to be used on days where you are working or playing outdoors - chopping wood, diving etc.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Crumpler Formal Lounge mini review

Most serious photogs will tell you the same thing - next to lens choices, buying a camera bag is one of the hardest things to decide on. There are literally tons of websites recommending the best camera bag to use - try for some good pictures of cameras in bags. After my NZ trip where I brought my SR 200 crammed with 2 bodies, 3-4 lenses and a backup and nearly broke my shoulder, I have sworn to become a photo minimalist. Most people simply won't use all that gear when travelling for leisure.

Nowadays, I usually carry a body and extra lens or a small compact digicam like my Fuji F31fd as a daily shooter. For travels, I only carry a single SLR body, 2 lenses max and one compact camera as a backup (used to be my Olympus Stylus Epic, now using the Fuji F31fd) plus a tripod (usually a Manfrotto 3007 Table top tripod, sometimes a Manfrotto 719B). I already have a shoulder bag - a Stealth Reporter which I mainly use in Singapore when I go for events and family occasions, but I wanted a backpack for travelling so I wouldnt have to carry another bag as a daypack plus I wanted a bag that could carry a laptop.

Popular options in Singapore are Lowepro (Compu-trekker, CompuRover, Stealth AW, Compudaypack etc) and Crumpler. As I mentioned earlier, I really like Lowepro, especially their Stealth Reporter line) but most of their traditional camera backpacks make the carrier look like a ninja-turtle i.e. it looks like a person carry a box. As mentioned earlier, I wanted a bag that could function as a daypack also, and the Trekker line from Lowepeo were mostly for dedicated camera carrying use. The designs were really stupid too, in order to access the camera equipment, you have to place the bag on the floor straps down e.g. in dirt etc and open the main flap - too slow to access and ruining a perfectly good shirt maybe.

After spending some time traversing the super-confusing Crumpler website, I finally got the Formal Lounge in Olive. This bag doesnt good enough for someone to want to steal stuff from it, and the main compartment is accessible only from the rear - i.e. facing the person's back. I usually put a bottle of water and into the main compartment in the back, my Manfrotto table tripod in the padded laptop compartment - unfortunately not removable. A 15inch laptop can fit into the laptop area. You could easily slip in a light jacket or even a small flash in there. The bag has external cloth "slots" on the right and left so you could slip a tripod leg into the hook for carrying a tripod; there is no "designated" tripod holder. I hardly carry a large tripod so thats ok.

The main camera compartment is tiny and has 3 padded compartments. You can carry a semi-pro SLR with a mid lens mounted in the middle and smaller stuff like lenses on the left and right. I usually bring my Nikon D70 with 12-24 mounted (or 18-70) plus a 24-120 or a 50mm. If I wanted to carry my 80-400mm, I would have to put this in the main compartment. There is space to carry a blower as well. The camera padding is removable so you can use this bag as a normal laptop backpack.

As for comfort, I carried this bag around Paris for a day with much more gear that I listed above and I survived. A little sore yes - Crumpler makes really hard bags - but it gets the job done. This is not a hiking style bag. The back of the bag has 2 padded areas that gets hot quickly and cannot match the comfort and coolness of my Deuter AirComfort style backpack.

Would I buy this bag again? Probably not. I realize I hardly will bring a laptop AND camera equipment around - the combined weight would be a killer. Mostly for travelling then. But the materials used look like they would last a long time. Hmm.. maybe I could pass this to Harry in lets say - another 10 years :)?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A dog's love

Buddy (1996 - 29 May 2006)

I make my journey through eternity
I keep the memory of you and me inside

But you are my only,
And I will follow on the road that lies ahead
And I wont let my heart control my head
But u are you my only,
We Don`t say goodbye,
We Don`t say goodbye,
And I know what I've got to be

There is a vision and a fire in me,
I'll keep the memory of you and me inside
We Don`t say goodbye
We Don`t say goodbye
With all my love for you
And what ever else we may do
We Don`t say goodbye...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Manfrotto 719B - the perfect travel tripod?

Looking the major tripod manufacturers today - you have Gitzo, Manfrotto and the rest. The rest includes quite ok brands like Velbon or Slik and the china brands which I wont mention...

I guess the perfect travel tripod would be the Gitzo carbon fiber GT1540 until you hit the cost issue (around 500 USD)... ugh.. thats serious $$$

So what is a perfect travel tripod to me?? It

- must be light at around 3lbs (1.36kg) or so
- must extend to the right height for me - at least 1.2m for the legs w/o the center column, plus head and camera this would bring it to around 1.5-1.6m through the eyepiece.

- must fold and fit into a backpack while at <50cm,>
My Manfrotto 719B NEARLY fulfils all of the requirements and its 1/5 the cost of the Gitzo at around 100 bucks new. It went with me on my New Zealand trip and did its job well. Its only weakness is the built-in head which cannot support heavier lens setups like a 70-200mm f2.8. In a fit of shopping-lust, I replaced it with a Velbon carbon fiber version with a Kirk Enterprises head and my 719b is used now as an overweight light stand.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

"IDEAL or REQUIRED" lenses for Nikon shooters?

There's always been a lot of talk in the Nikon fraternity about the trinity of lenses - meaning the trio of f2.8 lenses, namely the 17-35mm, 28-70mm and the 70-200mm VR. These cover the focal range of wide, normal and telephoto with supposedly superb sharpness and color but at nearly SGD$7000 aren't exactly cheap. I say supposedly since I dont own any of the trinities... :)

But frankly, these three lenses might not be the best at shooting in certain situations e.g. for macro, street shooting, birding and portrait shots. They are great for what can be classified as general purpose shooting, things like landscapes, holiday shots, family, sports and wedding shooting.

So what can be classified as a set of practical and "ideal" set of lenses for a Nikon user to cover almost any situation a photographer will face? Well, I can give you the standard reply that it "depends on what you shoot" but that would be copping out! I will simply make the assumption that you are like me - an amateur shooter - someone who takes pictures of a wide spectrum of subjects - and just wants to be prepared for any occasion. I will also make the assumption that most people do shoot both film and digital and that you DO have a budget! As a result, I have attempted to choose lenses with a budget of about five thousand Singapore dollars. Now that may seem a lot, but it will be approximately be the price of a decent Nikon DSLR (I recommend the D70s, if you can afford it the D200), film SLR (I recommend the the F100 whole-heartily). I have focussed (pardon the pun) on AF lenses and will save the AIS lenses for another post...

Wide lenses (for going wide)
  • Nikon 12-24mm DX F4. This would be the most expensive lens in the arsenal and to me is the essential choice to cover the wide angle if you are using a digital SLR with a 1.5x crop of a 35mm frame. Some people might say that the 17-55mm would be a better choice but since 17mm is hardly wide enough (25mm in 35mm terms) and this lens is much more expensive than the 12-24 (around SGD$2,000 when I last checked), I hesitate to recommend it. I use the 12-24 frequently whenever I travel, because it can capture such dramatic landscapes, and to a lesser extent for parties, weddings and gatherings). Costs around SGD$1375.
  • Nikon 20mm F2.8. The 12-24 lens is great choice for your digital body, but what about your full frame film body? To get the 17-35mm would be overkill; such a short range and at more than SGD$2000 it would blow most people's budgets in a hurry! C'mon, we all know a plasma TV would get more use than this lens! The MOST I would ever spend on a lens is SGD$1500 and that would be stretching it. As such, I would heartily recommend the 20mm Nikkor. Much lighter than the trinity zooms and 20mm is plenty wide enough for most people. Costs around SGD$700.

Normal lenses (for going fast and simple)

  • Nikon 50mm F1.8. This lens is a no-brainer, doing double duty for both digital/film and can be used as a portrait lens or a great walkabout lens. Sharp too with nice bokeh at large apetures! For a low light lens, it has no parallel except for its F1.4 brother ($$$) and the 85mm F1.4 ($$$$$+). Cheap, light and you wont even know it was in front of your cam. Focusses fast too. Costs around SGD$160.

Mid-range Zoom (all-purpose/travelling lens)

  • Nikon 18-70mm DX F3.5-4.5. Now most people would tell me to get the 18-200mm DX VR. That is an attractive option but at more than SGD$1200 it is a lens that is a wee bit overpriced. After all, a mid range lens is supposed to be reasonably cheap! This lens is actually a super underpriced lens that performs very well for digital SLRs for travelling and all purpose shooting. This is a lens that I recommend getting used since so many people are letting it go at outrageous prices! Available for around SGD$250 used. Recommended for shooting in areas that arent so "safe". However, never mind if u lose it, you can pick another up easily at a steal.
  • Nikon 24-120mm VR F3.5-5.6. This lens has been slammed repeatedly by many people for being "not sharp". Many of these people have never even used this lens. In my informal tests using my 24mm, 50mm and 105mm lenses, I can see no significant differences between these primes and the 24-120mm. Face it, the 24-120mm range is ideal in a single lens especially for film users. Other alternatives most people mention are the are the 28-105mm and 24-85mm (color reproduction for the Japan version of this lens is fantastic though), which are good choices but with no significant advantages over the 24-120mm. Great for both digital and film use and again, I recommend that you get this used at around SGD$600-700.

Telephoto lenses

  • Nikon 80-200mm F2.8. This lens is another no-brainer. Excellent photo quality and can be used for general sports photography, landscapes and for portraits. The only reason not to get this lens is because of its weight (about 1.5kg) and size. But unless you are going somewhere that has stuff like whale watching on the agenda, the 200mm reach will not be needed much. I guarantee that you WILL NOT bring this on your travels unless the trip is purely for photography. You can get this for around SGD$1350 new.
  • Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro. This is one of my most favorite of lenses and a must have in my opinion in any Nikon shooter's bags. Great for double duty as a macro lens for all those excellent eBay product shots and also for portraits - don't believe what you hear about this lens being too sharp for portraits... what are these people saying, are they nuts? These people are dumb pixel watchers and silly nit-pickers... Get it new for about SGD$800.

In total, these lenses will bust the budget slightly at around SGD$5300+ but it will serve you well until your wallet recovers. For people with larger wallets, you might consider adding a 85mm F1.8 or a 300mm f4 lens (for birding). After all, you do need to save up for that fancy Gitzo CF tripod with Markins ballhead right??! :)

Friday, February 24, 2006

My new, err old Panerai PAM 104

What a watch! Have been contemplating getting an automatic Panerai or a Rolex Submariner for a long time but after comparing the two - the PAM looked cooler, simpler and much much larger! Getting it second hand from the Paneristi Forum made much more sense as well. Going with the trend of large watches, I guess anything smaller than 40mm is really passe. Anyway, even being such a large watch, it still feels more comfortable than a smaller Rolex (it has a very smooth watch back with no sharp sticking out bits..). Looking forward to some straps soon... maybe a brown tan strap with a tang buckle... should be slightly easier to put on than the existing deployant buckle ;)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Choking in Golf

Just watched the dubai tournament with tiger winning over ernie in a playoff. hardly nail biting. ernie choked on the drive and hit it into trouble. after that it was painfully obvious who would win the tournament.

it is also obvious that the person with the stronger mind will win most of the times. same for tennis and other sports. its all a mind game. tiger was not hitting the ball well all tournament but he gutted it out and made the shot when it matters. worst thing about it was the reaction from ernie - apparently second place was good enough for him and he was satisfied with his performance. geez..

Sunday, January 08, 2006

UPDATE .. Latest Nikon setup

Over the past few months I have been using the following nikon setup - a 1980s FE and F3 + motordrive, a F100 with batt grip, and most lately a digital SLR D70. Yes, the F80 is gone, sold off to a new owner. Much of my shooting have still been using film although I have been moving slowly to digital.

This shot was taken using my latest purchase - a Canon A610 - the first Canon I have bought ever since my much maligned EOS 700 which I gave away in disgust some years back ;)