Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Back on our feet

After weeks of salvaging and porting this blog from our old wordpress platform we are now back. This kind of give us renewed energy to revive this blog that we have neglected for far too long. During the period that we were away from the blog our love for photography remain intact. However a number of things have diverted our interest and attention from blogging.

First is the maintenance of the wordpress site with this blog being constantly bombarded with persistent undesirable visitors from eastern Europe. I got turned off looking at the web stats and visitor logs and slowly got tired of logging in every time to block them or ban them but they kept coming back with different IP.  Installing security plugins from Wordpress is only a false security you only realized these plugins are not working in a painful way that is after you got hacked. Sometime last year the site was hacked by script injection and hijacked to spam other website. I hope our blogs' new home at blogger will provide the type of security that is expected from Google which has a good record of it and lets hope it stays that way

The other disturbing element to this blog is our user experience with Olympus Micro-Four Thirds camera. Our past experience with Olympus film camera over the last 30+ years with the OM and the Mju series of cameras was totally positive. Unfortunately that is not the case with the Olympus Digital Pen series of cameras. There are many users I know who had little to no problem with their Micro Four Thirds camera so I can only assume that maybe my luck with Olympus had run dry after being a loyal Olympus user for too long.

My E-P1 had numerous problems from the spot metering circles disappearing from the screen after a firmware update, the camera main control wheel dial worked like a Russian roulette; a game of chance in setting the camera control. The IS (Image Stabilization) symbol kept showing red warning alert on the display, the LCD screen's peripheral went dark and the battery became bloated up and stuck to the battery bay and hard to remove from the camera. All these happened just over a year of using it. My wife's E-PL2 didn't fair any better. The kit lens kept showing a lens locked notification on the camera screen - this lens just died after warranty expired; the hand grip rubber covering dropped off but luckily we found it and managed to glue it back. The main control wheel dial also malfunction like my E-P1 but in a much lesser degree.

Reindeer decoration at Pavilion Mall KL taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 and Kit lens
Reindeer decoration at Mall taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 and the 14-42mm Kit lens --  Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5, Lens: Panasonic's LUMIX G VARIO F/3.5-5.6 14 - 42mm ASPH aperture set at F/5.6 shutter speed 1/60s and ISO at 1600.

Checking with online forums and blogs found other Oly users also suffering from some sort of problems as well.  Some had the same problems like us but non can beat mine in numbers and diversities. Luckily with Micro Four Thirds System we can keep our lenses and still have an alternative camera  manufacturer to fall back on. I decided to check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 camera and looking back I am glad I did. The DMC-G5 turns out to be a no nonsense back to basic camera. It does not have all the bell and whistle of its peers. It feels rather plasticky to touch and hold but it is surprisingly reliable and a dependable workhorse - a user experience that echos with other DMC-G5 users. The switch makes me a believer of the Panasonic Lumix system camera and lenses.

For my wife her E-PL2 still works OK other than the unlucky kit lens but not an issue as we got other lenses, including a Lumix kit lens too.

However I notice some of her macro photos have some kind of camera shake or 'shutter shock' problem. Possibly the Olympus 5 axis Image Stabilisation can take care of the camera shake and the 0 second shutter delay may cure the shutter shock problem. We decided to try Olympus one more time for the 5 axis stabilisation and after weeks of checking on forums and photographer blogs the answer is the Pen E-P5. This Pen E-P5 looks like the Olympus camera that has the least complaint. The common issue I notice is the shutter shock problem which was solved after Olympus issued a 0 second anti-shock setting in firmware update.

Q-Dee kinders taken with Olympus Pen E-P5
Q-Dees preschoolers eagerly waiting for their show to start photo taken with Pen E-P5 with M.Zuiko 60mm Macro lens - Camera: Olympus Pen E-P5, Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60 mm f/2.8 MSC Macro Lens, setting at F/3.2 1/80s and ISO 1600.
Elaine upgraded to a E-P5 kit with a 17mm F/1.8 lens and a new 14-42 kit zoom that came free in the promotional package. The E-P5 solved the blurry macro photo problem and she got a new kit lens as well.

We are very pleased with these two cameras and have some catching up to do as we have photos from these two cameras waiting to showcase on this blog. Let's hope all will be smooth sailing from now on and happy blogging.


Friday, 22 April 2016

Retreat, regroup and .....

A few days ago I received an alert email from my site monitoring services saying my blog had gone missing with the error message "server not found". I checked and found that the hosting company suspended my site for "malicious activity". Oh dear, since when a photo blog had become a malicious website and how could I had to set up some "malicious activity" if I had not login to my site for months already. Couldn't reason with that guy he seemed very unhappy over the issue and not answering any further email from me. Now I am locked out from my blog and my server's control panel. 

I started some rethinking of what is the best course of action from here on. There is no point beating a dead horse so if we were to continue with the photo blog a new hosting or a new blog platform plus a rebuild of the website is required.  Well, what are the options for me?

First option is to move my site to another hosting company and continue with Wordpress. I am not very comfortable with this because Wordpress needs a lot of administrative work. Wordpress is also becoming  a magnet for black-hats and hackers basing on visitors' stat from my website. New security hole is discovered almost every other week in Wordpress as well as from its vast pool of third-party plugins. No matter how much attention you put on Wordpress you are likely to be just behind the curve. If you like scripting, programing, updating and doing admin task, Wordpress is for you, otherwise it become an uninspiring and tiresome task that leaves little time and motivation for blogging or photography.

The second option is host it with Wordpress.com and let them handle the admin task. However just a quick check around also rule out this option. The free platform on Wordpress.com has a lot of limitations and if you opt for the paid one it quickly adds up and become the expensive option. This one is also not the best choice where security is concerned after doing a search with the words "hack" and "wordpress".  The results made me want to quickly get out from there and go to the following option.

Choosing another CMS platform will take time and effort to learn and there is no guarantee that it could be better than Wordpress. There is also the Tumblr blog - this one is interesting I am still  checking it out to see why it is call microblogging and how it compares to regular blog platform.

So these lead me to Google Blogger and mostly for two big reasons - reliability and security. There is no need to sign up for Blogger, almost everyone has a Google account and from there you just need to activate Blogger on your account. Moving the text from Wordpress to Blogger is not difficult; what is needed is the "export file" from your Wordpress. I have them backup on my desktop computer so no problem with that and next just reformat the "export file" to Blogger format. Moving the images are more tedious. I need to get them from my PC and match the exact image that was used for the particular blog post and upload them one by one to Blogger and re-input the captions and metadata. That takes time and but that is all to it. 

I like to thank the following website with contents that helped me come to this decision quickly and provide details on how to move from Wordpress to Blogger. The first one is from an Internet security guy, the second one makes everything "look" so easy and the third one is interesting.

haseebayazi.com - Why and How to Shift from WordPress to Blogger
15minutemondays.com -  Moving From WordPress to Blogger
 hellobrio.com - Why I Switched from Self-Hosted WordPress to Blogger

So we are now on the path of recovery, smile, keep calm carry a camera and have some tea and we will be back soon.


Castelton Darjeeling tea in a shining silver tea pot and a red sugar canister
A refreshing pot of Castelton Darjeeling tea in a shining silver tea pot and a red sugar canister from Betjeman & Barton Tea Room ---  Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5, Lens: Panasonic's Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH aperture at at F/3.5 shutter speed 1/60s and ISO at 100.



 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Recovering a -2 EV Underexposed Image From Olympus XZ-1

Our grand nephew insisted we join him and his family to the cinema one evening. Unfortunately the movie he wanted to watch was taken off for the day's screening. Feeling disappointed and dejected he was not in the best of mood so we decided to have dinner first before thinking how to fill our time for the rest of the evening.

Kids being kids, after dinner he got over the disappointment  and was running all over the mall and posing for photograph. My wife was pleasantly surprised by his happy mood and quickly pulled out her XZ-1 and started snapping away.  He and his little sister were happily posing in front of the lighted fountain at the mall entrance but the tiny flash from the XZ-1 did not have sufficient power to cover the whole scene. On top of that the alternating fountain lighting from bright to dark accompanied by ever changing coloured illuminations fooled the camera metering.

2 stop underexposed photo from Olympus XZ-1 digital camera
A 2 stops underexposed photo from the Olympus XZ-1 in Normal Program Pattern metering mode — Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6.0mm(lens) and at f/1.8 1/30s, ISO 100, Built-in flash On

This photo with both of them in front of the fountain was about 2 stops under exposed. With the images loaded on the computer we tried to recover the images from the RAW files. On the Olympus Viewer 3, I set the Exposure value to + 2 EV or 2 stops over which is the maximum setting available on Olympus Viewer 3.

The recovered image looks good, the colour vibrant and Olympus Viewer 3 has kept the noise level at an acceptable level. I am amazed at how good this small 1/1.63" old fashioned CCD sensor that many people thought as outdated, on the XZ-1 is doing.

After seeing the result from the Olympus Viewer 3, I decided to try this on the Darktable; the raw processing and work flow software on Linux computer. Darktable is very powerful but with a different and sometimes geeky user interface. I had toy with Darktable for a while but yet to commit to it seriously.

2 stop increase in exposure in Darktable Raw Conversion Olympus XZ-1
The same image as before but with a 2 stops increase in exposure during RAW conversion using Darktable — Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6.0mm(lens) and at f/1.8 1/30s, ISO 100, Built-in flash On.
Comparing the result I got from both theDarktable and Olympus Viewer 3 they are very close. The Darktable seems to do better with more details in the mid tone area on the fountain itself while the Viewer 3 is better in protecting the highlight. The Viewer 3 also did better in the noise reduction but the Darktable had many ways to denoise - I tried the Profile Denoise feature on Darktable and found it to perform very well. Darktable is more flexible with what you can do with the images but that also makes it more complicating. The Olympus Viewer 3 has limited set of settings but is a much easier software to master yet produce good result.

After looking at the recovered images and the original images I got an idea to Exposure Blend the recovered image with the original together. Olympus viewer 3 and Darktable both do not have Exposure Blend features in the current version of the software. So the Blending part goes to The GIMP and the blended and tone mapped image overall looks better than the +2EV photo with more contrast and details especially on the illuminated sign and lamps in the photograph.

Result of  the -2EV underexposed image blend with the RAW converted Image.
Exposure blending the two previous images to form this final photo — Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6.0mm(lens) and at f/1.8 1/30s, ISO 100, Built-in flash On.
The only draw back is the blended image has more noise but that can be taken care of with the Wavelet Denoise on Gimp. For web use like on the blog or social websites the noise on the blended image should not pose any problem with the image scaled down to web-ready image size.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Legoland Malaysia with XZ-1

Located at Nusajaya, Johor, Legoland Malaysia Resort is the first Legoland theme park in Asia and the sixth Legoland theme park in the world.  It started operation on September 15, 2012 and officially opened by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, Sultan of Johor on September 22, 2012.

Main Entrance to Legoland Malaysia Resort.
The main entrance to the Legoland Malaysia where adventure begins for many families  -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6.0mm(lens) and at f/5.0 1/100s, ISO 100.
LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort consists of three parks namely LEGOLAND Park, LEGOLAND Water Park and LEGOLAND Hotel. This place is truly a family holiday destination with rides, slides, shows and attractions for everyone. Legoland park focus mostly on family fun, hands-on, interactive experience and building with Lego bricks.

Legoland Park has several themed areas designed for all ages so the whole family can have a fun-filled day during their stay at the park. Obviously children and the young at hearts are the heroes and heroines in Legoland Park.

The Miniland featuring famous Asian landmarks is the centre of attraction in Legoland Park Malaysia. These mini landmarks are carefully constructed in precise details from millions of Lego bricks at 1:20 scale to the original landmark;  some are also interactive with the push of a button.

Lego model of Taj Maha at Miniland, Legoland Malaysia
This beautiful Lego model of the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum is one of the attraction at Miniland in Legoland Malaysia -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 34mm(35mm film) or 7.4mm(lens) and at f/4.5 1/125s, ISO 100.

My wife and my niece's family went to the Legoland park Malaysia for a one day visit. Legoland Park is about 4 hours drive from where we stay so to have a full day trip at the park will include an overnight stay in Johor Bahru.

My niece asked my wife to bring along a camera and since it is a short holiday of one day travel light is clearly the priority. Although the Olympus Pen camera is already small and light but taking along a 2 lens kits plus accessories is not so light. Moreover, too many camera equipments in a park may take away the fun of visiting a theme park like Legoland where the action is the hands-on. So her cute compact Olympus XZ-1 became the camera of choice for this outing.

Karaweik Hall at Miniland, Legoland Park Malaysia
This attractive Karaweik Barge in Miniland, Legoland Malaysia is a recreation of the Karaweik Palace in Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon, Myanmar. -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 38mm(35mm film) or 8.2mm(lens) and at f/4.5 1/160s, ISO 100.

We got the XZ-1 a while ago at an irresistible price just before the Olympus XZ-2 and XZ-10 was about to be launched. The XZ-1 is really a fun little camera as it captures good images and is very versatile and handy.

The XZ-1 is a good compromise between sensor size, camera size, weight and quality fast zoom lens. The XZ-1 does all that we want from a little compact camera and the photos we got from it are of good quality. There are many newer high end compact cameras with lots of new features and improvement such as higher ISO, bigger sensor, tillable touch screen, WIFi, NFC and more megapixels, etc. Those features can be tempting and wanting at times but we are not switching to the newer model yet because we find our XZ-1 complement and fill the gap between our Micro Four Thirds systems and our phone camera nicely and we are happy with it.

Dino Island rides to the lost world at Legoland park Malaysia
A thrilling rides to the peak of a forgotten volcano at Dino Island in the Land of Adventure at Legoland Malaysia -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 41mm(35mm film) or 9.0mm(lens) and at f/3.5 1/100s, ISO 125.

 The  28-112mm f/1.8-f/2.5 zoom lens on the XZ-1 is very sharp and retains good sharpness at the corner. The CCD sensor delivers great colour response together with reliable exposure it deliver very good images. However the function menu is a bit  limiting for our liking. For example there are no AEL/AFL button, no customisable  buttons and noise reduction setting is fixed and not user adjustable. Fortunately Raw files are available on the XZ-1 so noise reduction can be overcome by shooting RAW and processing the images with RAW converter on a computer later.


A royal guard outside the knight castle at the LEGO Kingdoms
A cool looking Lego knight standing guard outside the LEGO Kingdoms Castle Stage -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1, Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6mm(lens) and at f/3.5 1/60s, ISO 200.

Image noise is a subjective thing. Photographers like us from the film era  are more forgiving towards image noise. The XZ-1 standard noise reduction blurs out details which we find not quite acceptable. So we usually shoot RAW or RAW and JPEG on the XZ-1 and use Olympus Viewer 3 for the RAW conversion and set noise reduction to low which delivers better looking images than the camera JPEG images.

The one day at Legoland Park was not such a fine day for photographers. That very morning was sunshine and blue sky but by noon it became all cloudy and rain clouds were forming. Fortunately the rain clouds dispersed later but the sky became overcast for the rest of the day. Since the XZ-1 does not have a filter thread so a graduate filter cannot be use to enhance the cloudy sky. However with digital we can digitally add the graduate filter during post processing. We did just that for the two images from Miniland by adding a blue graduate filter in GIMP using layers and masks.

Legoland Hotel part of Legoland Resort Malaysia
Legoand hotel at the entrance of the Legoland theme park is designed like a building created from Lego bricks -- Camera: Olympus XZ-1. Setting lens zoom at 28mm(35mm film) or 6.0mm(lens) and at f/1.8 1/1000s, ISO 100.

Other than the two images with the enhanced sky all other images are done on the Olympus Raw converter software Viewer 3 with no additional enhancement. We set the Raw conversion with noise reduction to low, white balance to 6000K with amber/red adjustment set to -2, a slight boost to the Saturation with the fine adjustment set to +1 to take care of the cloudy weather, the rest of the settings are all set on defaults.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Striated Heron at the Park

Today I was at the MPH Book store in 1 Utama shopping Mall browsing some magazine and books. The MPH book store at 1 Utama once claimed to have  the largest floor space in the City. Sad to say, they are now just half that size occupying only the upper level. The lower level at 1st floor is now vacant with the sign "We Are Still Open. Please Use The 2nd Floor Entrance".

Didn't find anything interesting in MPH but was attracted or rather distracted by a nice view from the glass windows at the far end of the book store. Looking down the window panel I saw the 1 Utama Central Park on the ground level. I had never set foot on the 1 Utama Central Park and since there is nothing much for me here I decided to take a walk in the Park.

Striated Heron on The Rock
A lone Striated Heron at he One Utama Central park.   --    Camera: Olympus Pen E-P1. Lens: M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens . Setting lens zoom at 150mm and f/5.6 1/4000s and ISO 1600.

The 1 Utama Central Park looked a little doughty - many trees with leaves turning yellow due to the dry season here. There was a pond or lake not far from me. As I walked towards it, I started pulling out my Olympus Pen E-P1 camera from my messenger bag.  At that juncture from the corner of my eyes something caught my attention - something small but moving swiftly by the bank of the pond.

I turned and saw a Striated Heron running by the lakeside hunting for food.  Striated Heron, also known as the Little Heron are a sub species of the Heron families. They are called Little Heron because they are half the size of their bigger cousin.  Striated Heron are not commonly seen in our park so was not expecting it anyway. Squires are more likely to be seen everywhere in most parks but instead there was non here today.

Little Heron hunting for food
Striated Heron hunting for prey by the lakeside   --    Camera: Olympus Pen E-P1, Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm 1:4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens, setting at 150mm F/5.6 1/200s and ISO 200.
I started taking photo of the Little Heron.  On the third shot I noticed my camera was set at ISO 1600; that was when I noticed the shutter speed went as high as 1/4000 second. This morning in the kitchen I set  the ISO to 1600 and forgot to reset it. I quickly set it back to ISO 200, my preferred ISO setting.  I am not too confident with ISO 1600 and usually stay below ISO 800.

Later, on my computer screen looking at the photos I was presently surprised by those photos taken with the ISO 1600 setting. Those ISO 1600 images were in JPEG only though I usually shot Raw plus JPEG.  However those images look way better than the images I scanned from ISO 400 35mm film taken from my film days. So for the purpose of the web or blog the ISO 1600 images from the Pen E-P1 are perfectly usable.

Little heron standing on a rock by the pond
A Little Heron standing on a rock by the pond waiting for prey at noon time.    --    Camera: Olympus Pen E-P1. Lens: M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens. Setting lens zoom at 150mm and f/7.1 1/160s and ISO 200.

The first image on this post is the Little Heron with the ISO 1600 setting. The Little Heron is back-lighted on this photo. The first two images not shown here at ISO 1600 have better colour compared to this one but the Striated Heron appears too small in those two photographs.

The feathers of the Little Heron seem to reflect light differently depending the direction of the light shining on it. I am no expert on birds and I only have an hour with this Striated Heron so not sure my observation is in general or just this one Little Heron.

Beautiful Striated Heron
In good light the feather of this charming Little heron look shiny and beautiful.   --   Camera: Olympus Pen E-P1, Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm 1:4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens, setting at 150mm F/5.6 1/150s and ISO 200

This lone bird looked proud and collected and it didn't care too much of my presence. This Striated Heron seemed to maintain a distance as long as I don't cross it otherwise it will take off to the other side of the pond. I got closer by moving slowly hiding behind a tree however at one point the Little heron and I were both walking together along the bank of the pond side by side with a distance of about 2~3 meter apart!

What a coincidence that I mounted the M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F4-5.6 Lens with my Pen E-P1 camera today. Having no prior idea that I was going to meet this Little Heron at the park. This is the one time I wished I had a longer focal length lens than 150 mm focal length with me but situation like this don't happen too often for me.

Lake at 1U Central Park
The rocks on the left is where I first noticed this Striated Heron    --    Camera: Olympus Pen E-P1, Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17 mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens, setting at F/8.0 1/160s and ISO 200.

The impromptu visit to the Park turned out to be a rewarding nature/wildlife photography session. I packed only two lenses with me, the other is the Olympus pancake lens M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F2.8 and these seemed to be just the right lenses for the day.