Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ricoh Caplio GX100

Is this my next lightweight adventure camera? I’ve been looking for a compact camera to replace my Pentax Optio 43WR and this is the most likely contender.

Ricoh has a long history producing its GR line of compact film cameras with high quality, wide-angle lenses. These rugged, compact and lightweight cameras were popular with outdoor enthusiasts like backpackers and climbers.

Why I like it:
Compact and lightweight (220g)
Wide (The only compact that zooms to 24mm)
Fast reaction/low shutter lag
Good battery life/supports AAA use
Raw file support
Meaningful control options (manual & aperture priority)
Image stabilization

What I don’t like about it:
No optical viewfinder
Noisy above ISO 200
Not weatherproof
Price
Slow to write raw files

DP Review has a thorough review on this camera here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Adventure Singapore: Ketam Bike Trail

I just rode the Ketam Mountain Biking Trail on Pulau Ubin, a small island off Singapore, and I am impressed. I think this has the potential to be the best MTB trail in Singapore.

While The Tampines MTB trail I wrote about earlier can offer riders a ‘quick fix’, getting to the Ketam trail is at least a half day affair. You’ll need to get yourself over to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal, and then catch a bumboat for the 10-minute ferry ride to the island of Pulau Ubin. If you didn’t bring your bike with you, you can rent a ‘mountain bike’ at Ubin Village when you get off the ferry.

Getting to the Trail is a pleasant 15-minute road ride towards the western part of the island. There should be signs to guide you to the start of the bike trail when the trail is officially open in January 2008.

When I first rode this trail 3 months ago, it was still a work in progress. I thought it was a little too technical, and reminiscent of the Kentridge MTB trail. No surprise, since the same guys are involved in the construction of both these trails.

DirTraction, the trail builders, have made some very intelligent changes since then. There are 8 km of beautiful singletrack trail, which circumnavigate Ketam Quarry Lake. It is tight, twisty jungle singletrack, which occasionally opens up to spectacular views of Ketam Lake and the sea. There are 3 levels of challenge. Most intermediate riders will opt to ride the black diamond trail, which have sections hard enough to make you think twice. Yummy!

t took us one hour and 15 minutes to ride the trail, including stops to take photos and having to re-ride sections we failed to clear on the first go. Novices should stay off the black diamond trail. It’s a long way down to Ketam Lake and if you goof, it could be very bad for you!
I
Photos:
All photos captured with a Pentax Optio 43WR

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shoot Your Next Adventure Race

When I wanted to bring a camera to the Southern Traverse, an expedition length adventure race in New Zealand, my teammates were against it. They were worried that we would waste time having to stop to take photos. I told them that we didn’t need to stop to take photos and that the camera would hardly impact on our race performance. Well, carried a little point-and-shoot and not only did my teammates enjoy the photos, but I also managed to have some of the shots published.

If you have an interest to take some pictures in your next adventure race, I may have some advice to help you out.

Discuss it with your teammates first
You’ll need to discuss how heavy a camera you are willing to carry, and who is going to do the shooting. When shooting, I generally tell my teammates to ignore me, unless I call to them to look my way, and do nothing else (like giving me the ‘V’ for victory symbol). My teammates were even willing to take some of my load so that I can move quicker into position to shoot. You can even discuss what color uniform looks good on film (hint: wear red).

Get A Rugged, Lightweight, Water- Resistant Camera

Your camera will be bashed around, get dirty, and probably get wet. It may not survive. These days, a number of water-resistant, lightweight point-and-shoots are available with enough megapixels to have your shots published as a full page spread.

Know Your Camera
Be familiar with the controls, performance and various scene modes of the camera. If you are using a point and shoot, your control over your camera is limited. Leave all the automatics on – Program mode, Auto focus, Auto exposure, Auto ISO, etc. I would also suggest turning the flash on and leaving it on. The flash will work within a range of about 10 feet, outside of this, it’s just wasted energy, but you won’t have the time to manually turn the flash on and off during the race. In addition to the night, the flash will also be useful in filling in shadows in harsh daylight conditions.

Keep Your Camera Handy
It’s no use having your camera in your pack, because you will miss shots while you decide whether or not it’s worth the effort to get the camera out of the pack. I’ve been there. A camera holster or pouch works best, and you can fasten it to your belt, or backpack shoulder strap – somewhere quickly and easily accessible.

Think Composition
Try shooting from unusual angles, called POV (Point of View) shots. Get down low to shoot footprints in the sand, or of your teammates as they jump over you, or hold the camera up over your head for a quick self portrait.

Anticipate The Action
Your team is not going to stop, so look ahead for photo opportunities. When you see one, quickly run ahead into position. Regulate your breathing, and steady your camera. Get some shots of your teammates as they move towards you. Wait for your teammates or direct them into ideal position for the key shots. Continue shooting your teammates as they move away. Then run to catch up!

Shoot Early
Take your pictures in the morning of the first day, or if it is a stage race, every morning. Not only is the light is better, but you will be fresher, more alert for photo opportunities and have more energy to get the shots.

Shoot, and keep shooting
Shoot the pre-race briefing, shoot the equipment check, shoot the race volunteers. Shoot everything from the before the race, to the post race party. You will have a more rounded portfolio and a better picture story to show.

All photos taken with a Pentax Optio 43WR whilst participating in The Gobi March 2005.
From top: Racing The Planet. I ran ahead of my teammates and waited for them to run up to the race organizer's logo to get this shot;
The Long Road Ahead. A POV shot I got holding my camera at knee level whilst running and being towed by my teammate on a bungy towline;
The Flaming Mountains. Dust in the air as my teammates negotiate a 6 foot jump out of a slot canyon;
Disco Ridge. Competitors run along a knife-edge ridgeline during the race;
The Chase. Getting the shot early in the morning on day 3 of the race;
Running in the Desert. Getting a shot of my teammate as he leaves footprints in the desert sand.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sorry, I Don’t Do Weddings


I’ve still got a month of work left before ‘My Endless Summer’ begins. I am so ready for this. I’ve already distributed my new business card. It says ‘Adventure Nomad – athlete/ writer/photographer.

I’ve already had to reply to a few inquiries:
“No… I don't do adventure tours.”
“Er… Sorry, I don’t shoot weddings.”

Clearly, I’ll need to redo my business card. Since I just 'retired' from my first career, money is not my main motivator. I can afford to be picky.

There's an opportunity for me to take on a job to shoot some photographs for a new adventure tour business. It's for a friend, so there's no money in it. But at least I'll have a week of mountain biking, canoeing and caving in Kuching, East Malaysia. Woohoo!

Photo:
Receiving blessings from a Lama, Ganden Monastery, Tibet.
Photo taken by Laura Koh with a Nikon D200, 12-24mm lens.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ads Alive!

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve caved to commercialism and quietly snuck some ads into my blog. Now that I’ve gone and quit my day job, the money has to come from somewhere. I hope that the ads won’t be too intrusive, but the ads are here to stay. Sorry.

Monday, October 8, 2007

More Images of Tibet

I wanted a classic image of the Potala at sunrise, so we hiked out early to this spot on our last morning in Tibet. Unfortunately, we never got a 'classic' sunrise due to the cloud cover. I wasn't really happy with this shot until I converted it to black and white and could use the contrast to show off the dramatic early morning cloud cover.

Kitch is adding a stone to an 'Oris'. Oris's are piles of stones at holy places like mountain passes. Travelers passing by are encouraged to add a stone, a sort of offering or prayer, before moving on.

When I took this, I thought it was kind of funny. But when I look back at this image, I'm a little sad, and sort of disgusted. Tibet has changed so much since the Chinese took over, and not all of it is for the better.

This little guy was having his dinner when he came out to see what the commotion outside his home was. Shy at first, but he ended up holding our hands as we made our way through his village to our campsite. Taken during the Ganden to Samye trek, Tibet.

A yak and handler making their way down from Yumbu Lakhang Palace after dropping off some visitors.

Images of Tibet

These are some images I shot in Tibet. There are more in my earlier posts: 7 Days in Tibet and parts 2 and 3. This top one of a woman carrying some vegetables back from the field was taken on the first day of the Ganden to Samye Trek, just outside a small village where we spent the night.

This shot of a nun was taken just outside Jokhang Monastery. I was behind her taking some shots when she heard me, turned around and smiled... which kind of surprised me, because Tibetans, in general, are pretty camera shy.

A young man, all dressed up on a motorcycle seems out of place as he rides by a group of monks. It seems to be a clash of cultures. The modern and the traditional. Personally, I think the motorbike looks out of place.

A boy and his donkey pose outside Ganden Monastery.

Yaks and horses waiting to take visitors unable or unwilling to make the climb up to Yumbu Lakhang Palace. The Palace is over 2000 years old and claims to be the first palace built in Tibet. It was one of those places that was not really on our list to visit, but our Lonely Planet guidebook said it was 'a must visit', so we went, and we were glad we did!

Monday, October 1, 2007

48 Hours in Beijing: Part 2

0900 – Panjiayuan Flea Market
If you are fortunate enough to be in Beijng over the weekend, the Panjiayuan flea market is well worth a visit. This was another of Felicia’s suggestions and, again, I was surprised by how interesting this place turned out to be. It seems you can find just about anything here, from Tibetan beads, antiques, pottery, toys, arts and crafts, and even a tiger’s claw! Bring money, because chances are, you are going to spend some here.

1200 – The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is probably the next most popular tourist destinations in Beijing after the Great Wall. It is located just to the north of Tiananmen Square. Rumored to be the largest palace on earth, the Forbidden City has 9,999 buildings. From here, the Chinese Emperors ruled their empire for 500 years. If you only have a few hours, it’s very important to control the amount of time you spend at each site or museum. Just remember, it gets better the further in you go. Incidentally, if you are looking for Starbucks at the Forbidden City, its been closed since July.

1900 – Reflexology and Dinner
By now, your feet must be pretty beat up and well deserving of a foot massage. These massages, also called reflexology, are an ancient art form. The Oriental Taipan Spa gives it a modern twist it by including a buffet of sorts. While you are having your feet rubbed and massaged, you can order up some food – noodles, dumplings, rice, and vegetable and fruit juices. You could have different massages and treatments, but it might be difficult to eat at the same time. The menu is small, but the is food quite edible. This spa is quite reasonably priced and you can make reservations at 65025722.

Thanks to Felicia Soh of The Ascott Hotel, Beijing, for providing us with the above suggestions.

Photos:
Top: Jack Wen, Photographer. While wlking through Panjiayuan Flea Market, I came upon some beautiful black and white photographic prints for sale. This is a picture of Jack Wen, the photographer who made those prints from all over China.
Right: I made a 'stealth' shot of this tiger's claw for among other relics up for sale at Panjiayuan Flea Market.
Center: Guardian of the Forbidden City. This gilded unicorn stands guard at the rear entrance to the Forbidden City.
Left: Changing of the Guard. A portrait of Chairman Mao ovesees the changing of the guard at Tiananmen Square just outside the Forbidden City.