Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guest Blog: Nikon Full Frame DSLR D600 Review: Part II

By TJ Xie

It’s been more than three weeks since I got my D600. I have been trying to explore its potential as much as I can. Lenses I use are 50mm f/1.8G, 85mm f/1.8G, 105mm f/2.8G Micro and Voigtlander 28mm f/2.8.

In this part of review, I will talk about the high ISO performance and show some sample pictures.

Before we start, here’s a summary of my experience with D600:

1. Auto ISO setting is fantastic

2. Higher shutter speed is needed to obtain sharp images

High ISO performance

High ISO performance does not rely solely on the camera itself. Instead, the lighting condition under which photos are taken matters more. In other words, under a low-light condition, photos contains more noise than those taken in bright lighting. As such, I thought a favourable place to test out the high ISO performance would probably be a museum where lights are dimmed. Then, I decided to visit the ArtScience Museum. There is an ongoing Lego exhibition named “Art of the Bricks”.

A bit of sidetrack on my camera’s settings. I set my camera to auto-ISO mode so that in aperture priority mode, the ISO value increases automatically when I need a slower shutter than a minimum speed of my choice. A nice feature I found on D600 is that the camera is able to set a minimum shutter speed automatically. By default, the minimum shutter speed is set to the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. For example, if I mounted a 50mm lens on the camera, the minimum shutter speed would be 1/50s. If I change the lens to a 85mm, the minimum shutter speed changes to 1/100 accordingly. In the past, I often forgot to change the minimum shutter speed when I changed a lens. This feature solves my problem.

As expected, the lighting was poor in the museum. Many of the shots turn out to have high ISO values. Here are some pictures with high ISO values:

ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 4000


The noise level is not visible by 3200. To me, even the last picture with ISO 4000 is acceptable. I shoot in RAW, and sharpness is always my priority, so I wouldn’t mind pushing the ISO all the way up to 6400 in order to get sharp images. And I will leave noise reduction work to my computer

Macro and walkabout

On the other day, I went for a walk in Singapore Botanic Gardens. The shots are mainly macro and walkabout photos.
For macro photos, because of the long focal length of 105mm, I was forced to use apertures smaller than f/8 to ensure sufficient depth of field. As I have described in Part I of the review, when the aperture gets smaller, the dust/oil spots becomes more obvious on the photo. However, since I’ve bought the camera, other than waiting for a solution from Nikon, I would rather find out my own solution. After a few clicks with the auto-retouch tool in Capture NX 2, the spots are not visible anymore. Here are some sample pictures for you to enjoy.






One annoying issue I have with D600 is that, when I set the camera to auto-ISO mode with the default minimum shutter speed, it appears that this shutter speed is not fast enough to prevent hand movements. This is not strange because with such a high resolution, small movements are likely to get exaggerated when the photos are zoomed in to 100%.

Again, I need my own solution. I would set the minimum shutter speed one stop faster in the outdoors or when the lighting condition is good, i.e, 1/100s for a 50mm lens. Thanks to the good high ISO perfornace, I have the luxury for the ISO value to automatically increase by one stop to compensate the exposure. Photos are now less prone to hand movements with the faster shutter speed.


It’s a great camera. I’ve not used D800 or D4, but for SGD2400, I thought I've got a good camera. I like it when my 85mm portrait lens is no longer so tight during framing, and when my 28mm Voigtlander is literally a wide angle lens now. The ISO performance is also a lot better than my previous D90. The only issue would be the occassional blurry images caused by the high resolution, but it can be avoided by using higher shutter speed.

Some people are still concerned about the dust/oil spot issue. My suggestion would be that if you mainly shoot portraits or landscapes which don't require a small aperture (if you understand hyperfocal distance, an aperture smaller than f/8 does't give you much more depth of field on a wide angle lens), this issue would be a non issue. The only scenario where this issue matters would be the macro photography. However, it can be solved easily.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moleskine App: Put Your Favourite Notes in Digital


If you are a person who likes taking notes, you would not miss the name of Moleskine. Moleskine notebooks have the classic hardcover with the elastic band attached. The notebook is the perfect companion for daily inspiration. Now it brings the same experience from the traditional paper notebook to a whole new digital form, the Moleskine Journal iOS app. 

The Moleskine app has iPhone and iPad version, but the experience of its iPhone version is rather limited, like other note apps, since the screen is small. The iPad version is much better, even on iPad mini.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sony RX1 3rd Party Lens Hood and Batteries

Since I've got my RX1, I have been looking for accessories to doll it up. I bought an orange soft button a few weeks ago but heck, it was lost because I didn't screw it on properly. I will have to go down to the shop again for that.. Meanwhile, because the original lens hood produced by Sony is too expensive (S$249!!!), I ordered a 3rd party lens hood from a HK vendor on eBay. Along with that I bought a battery package that includes two 3rd party batteries for RX1 and an external charger. Hopefully that will help the camera perform throughout the day. 


Sunday, March 17, 2013

BigWebStats: Check Out How Well Your Website Performs

As a blogger who runs a website from day to day, monitoring the traffic and other statistics of the blog is essential for me. I personally use Google Analytics for this purpose, as most of other bloggers do. However, I was asked to give a try on this web service: BigWebStats. So I had a look on it and it is pretty easy and great to use!

The website interface is clear. All you have to do is to input the URL you are interested in: it could be your own website, or any website you want to check out the performance. 

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Blog: Nikon Full Frame DSLR D600 Review: Part I

By TJ Xie


Why D600?

Photography is a hobby of mine. I shoot landscapes, events and street photography. There were a few constraints I had with my 3-year-old Nikon D90:

1) the 11-point focus system was too spread out for focus tracking;

2) the poor high ISO performance beyond ISO 1600 and;

3) zoom lenses are too heavy when I go travelling.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sony's New Flagship Smartphone: Xperia Z Review, Part II


After writing the first part of Sony Xperia Z review, I went home for a small trip, so it took a while to complete this second part. As I used Xperia S before, it didn't take me much time to get along with the phone. But I have to say that there is still a bit of switching cost if you happen to be an iPhone user like me. Xperia Z is equipped with Android 4.1.2, and I am sure that there is a scheduled update of 4.2 for this new flagship. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lightroom Tutorial: Create Your Japanese-Style Photos

It has been long since I last posted a Lightroom tutorial on how to retouch skin using Lightroom. I must say that I am no way near a pro-photographer, or advanced user in post processing. I only use a few basic techniques to fine tune my photos. And today I am sharing one of my very often used techniques: how to create Japanese-style photos.

What's Japanese-style photo? It is not something clearly defined. This photography style originated from Japan and is most popular in Asian area. In general, the photo colours are light and undersaturated. The picture is somewhat over-exposed and slightly out of focus. Compared to normal photography, it demands fewer rules and techniques. The photos create a soft and light-hearted feeling. Some good examples can be seen below.

 Screen Shot 2013 03 10 at 9 15 12 AM

So next, how can we render and produce pictures like this? It may require both pre-processing and post processing work. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sony's New Flagship Smartphone: Xperia Z Review, Part I


Before I got my current iPhone 5, I was using Sony Xperia S, which is the flagship smartphone of Sony by then. The reason I chose it is simple. The design is unique compared to other Android phones, both exterior and interface wise. However, in the end, I am not quite satisfied with the phone as it became really slow after use for a while. The short lasting battery could be another reason I gave up on Xperia S (though iPhone 5 is not much better). Now, the latest Sony Xperia Z is just released and it's an upgrade from Xperia S. Let's see what it has got to offer.


First, Xperia Z comes in even bigger size now. The phone has a 5-inch screen with a massive resolution of 1920*1080 pixels. That brings the pixel density to 441 ppi (pixel per inch), which is even higher than iPhone 5's retina screen, 326 ppi. The display is sharp and bright, and the contrast is high. I have to say, it is a pleasure to look at the Xperia Z's screen.


Compared to my iPhone 5, though Xperia Z is much bigger due to the screen size, it is almost as slim as the former (7.9mm vs. 7.6mm). 


Xperia Z is beautifully and well built in its exterior design: ports are covered so that they are hardly noticeable in daily use.Front and back are made of glass that is supplied by Corning. It is durable and resistant scratch. However, rather strangely Sony has put another layer of protector above the glasses of front and back. And that piece of protector is NOT scratch resistant, in fact, not at all. I have already seen small scratches on the protector. 


On the left side, there are metal contact point, which is used for connecting the dock accessories, micro SD slot and microUSB port. Xperia Z has an internal storage of 16GB and can be extended up to 32GB through microSD. As I said, the ports are well covered that even I took a while to figure out where the microUSB port is.


On the right side, there are volume control buttons, power key and the SIM card slot. The power key position is a bit different from Xperia S, and most other smartphones, which is on the top of the phone. However, it is quite comfortable no matter I grip the phone using my left or right hand, as it naturally falls under my index finger or thumb.


On top of the phone, it's the 3.5mm audio jack. I heard that the earphones that come with Xperia Z is good, but I have not tested that out yet. 


The camera has been upgraded from 12 megapixel to 13 megapixel. I will have a detailed review on the camera performance in the next post.


Front camera has also been upgraded to 2.2 megapixel. Now it's capable of shooting a 1080p video. 


As we have seen that all the external ports of Xperia Z are covered under the phone, it's all because of serving the great feature of dust proof and water resistant. By water resistant, but not water proof I mean, the phone may not be able to go scuba diving or swimming with you, but you can trust that normal splash or a quick dip in the water won't do any damage to Xperia Z. So I did a small test. I put Xperia Z under the water from a water tap, for quite a while. It is still functional, just as advertised. 

In summary, Xperia Z has made a step further in its hardware design: it's sleek and slim with water resistant and dust proof feature. The screen is large and such a pleasure to look at. Though the protectors at the front and back are something mysterious, they are neither resistant to scratch nor to finger prints. Other than that, I love Xperia Z and I am just feeling good when I grab it in hand.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Cybercrime: Time to Get Prepared

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Image Credit: The Verge

Suddenly it seems that the technology world is more vulnerable to hacking now than ever, at least it appears to be. We've heard the story that Twitter has been hacked, and then it's Apple and Facebook. And now Evernote, the software that provides online note taking and archiving, has just fallen victim to the hackers as well. Though companies have assured that there is no sensitive information leaked due to the hacking, it is hardly convincing for the customers to believe that their information is still securely stored at the server end.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Typesetter: Add Text to Your Photos

If you are obsessed with sharing photos on the go , you may sometimes find yourself in the need of adding text to the photo. Today I am introducing a great app that helps you on this. It is called 'Typesetter'.

The functionality of this app is straightforward, adding text on the photo. It provides some customization so that your ordinary photo could turn into some really artistic piece of work! Oh did I mention that it's free of charge? 

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Upon the launch screen, you could see a few sample photos that this app has produced. You can opt for taking a new photo or choosing an existing one to start your workflow.