Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Borneo Surf and Turf Adventure

Diving Sipadan, Malaysian Borneo

Sabah, East Malaysia, has heaps of potential for adventure tourism.  A couple of top picks are a climb up Mt. Kinabalu, South East Asia's tallest mountain, and diving Sipadan, rated one of the top places in the world to dive.  If you've got a week, you can do them both!

Sunrise on the Summit of Mt. Kinabalu

Day 1
Pick up from your hotel in Kota Kinabalu and drive 2 hours to Mt. Kinabalu National Park, where you will register for the climb and pick up your guide.  It is about a 5 hour climb up to Laban Rata hut where you will spend the night.

Descending Mt. Kinabalu

Day 2
The day begins with an early 2:30am pre-dawn hike up the hill using headlamps.  It takes about 3 hours to reach the Low's Peak summit, and if you time it right, you should arrive in time for sunrise.  Then it is a long, knee-busting hike back to the hut for breakfast, and then all the way down.  The day ends with you being dropped off back to your hotel in Kota Kinabalu.
Kapalai Island Resort

Day 3
Take a 45-minute flight to Tawau, and transfer to speedboat for another 45 minutes.  We stayed at the Kapalai Island resort, which is a resort built on stilts over the reef.  It is absolutely gorgeous!  We saw turtles and a small Manta or Devil Ray right from our room!  If you've arrived in the morning, you can do the required orientation dive at the Kapalai 'house reef' that afternoon.

Diving off the 'Oil Rig' at Mabul

Day 4
Permits to dive at Sipadan are scarce.  The park controls the number of visitors and allow only 120 divers a day.  Kapalai Resort is allowed 14 divers a day.  Generally, a 3 night stay at Kapalai Resort will entitle you to 1 day's diving at Sipadan.  The rest of the dives are done at the other nearby island reefs, such as Kapalai, Mabul and Siamil.

Diver below a ball of schooling Jack fish, Sipadan.


Day 5
The boat leaves Kapalai at 5:30am so that you are ready to sign in when the office opens at 6am on Sipadan Island.  No time is wasted, and you'll get 4 dives while at Sipadan.  The diving at Sipadan is outstanding.  The other reefs pale in comparison.  While your time at the other reefs is spent poking around in the sand looking for macro life, at Sipadan, there's plenty to see: Turtles, sharks, schooling Jack and barracuda are everywhere.

Ho Hum... Another Green Turtle...

Day 6
This is a non-diving day to allow for the 24 hours recommended between diving and flying.  Depart Kapalai by speedboat, transfer back to the airport and fly back to Kota Kinabalu.

BBQ night at Kapalai Resort

Day 7
Leave Borneo for home :o(

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adventure Camera: Full-Frame vs. Crop-Sensor DSLRs

Every once in while, I get asked a camera question, such as: Should I get a full-frame camera like the Nikon D700, or crop-sensor like the D90?  In terms of cost, weight, and perhaps image quality, they are very different.  Here's how I look at it: 

Nikon D700.  Image courtesy of Nikon.

First off, determine you image quality needs.  The biggest difference between full-frame and crop sensors shows up at higher ISOs.  Differences also show up if you crop or edit heavily.  In other words, if you shoot at low ISOs, shoot JPEG or rarely post-process your shots, it might not make that much of a difference.

Secondly, determine the lenses you would like to use.  The camera and lenses work together and are a part of the total image quality equation. You'll need high quality lenses to reap the benefits of whichever body you choose.  The choice of lenses is determined by how and what you shoot, and also by the format of the camera body (ie full-frame or crop sensor).  For my use, the lenses that I would choose for the D700 tend to be heavier than the lenses I would select for the D90, so weight plays a part in your selection of lenses too.

Nikon D90.  Image courtesy of Nikon.

Thirdly, after sizing up (and weighing) your camera and lenses, you'll need a way to carry it such that it is out of the way, and yet protected and readily accessible.  I like chest pouches and camera holsters.  Keep in mind that a crop-sensor camera like the D90 will fit into a smaller, trimmer chest pouch, while a D700 might require a more bulky holster.  If you're active, a heavy bulky bag gets more in the way than a lighter, trimmer one.

Here's how I would do it:
If I'm active, like if I'm hiking or climbing, I'll want a lighter camera that interferes with me as little as possible, and yet be easy and quick to access.  I might choose a D90 with a 16-85mm lens in a chest pouch, with a 10.5mm fisheye lens in a separate lens pouch.  I use the new Adobe Lightroom 3 to post process my images, and it has the ability to 'defish' my 10.5mm to make it look like an ultrawide lens, which extends the usability of this lens. 

If someone's paying me, or if the primary purpose of a trip is photography, and I'm not expected to be as active, I may have a standard photojournalist setup, such as a D700 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a D300 with a 12-24mm f/4 in a shoulder bag.

My advice?
Unless you already have your heart set on the full-frame D700, get the D90 first.  It will be easier on the pocket and easier to travel and work with.  If you find out that it doesn't suit your needs, you can upgrade to the D700, and still have a lightweight DSLR for more active pursuits.

... oh, and since there are rumors circulating that Nikon are about to replace the D90 (and maybe the D700) soon, it may be worthwhile waiting a little to see if the rumors are true :o)