In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog May 29th, 2010

Lessons From the Rubble/A Review, Lenovo x201s Thinkpad

South Africa Hotel Guide
Garden Court O.R. Tambo Airport Hotel
Southern Sun O.R. Tambo Airport Hotel
Courtyard Hotel Sandton
Protea Hotel Midrand

Thank you for your generous contributions. At the present time we have enough images to attempt our first mosaics but these are very time intensive and I'll need to plan a block of time to do these properly. I'm thinking the last few weeks in May or the first two weeks in June. Until then, any images you can manage to send in will still be used and will be much appreciated.

We are still accepting (and pleading for) images of children from SEA. No matter how terrible you think they are, please send them in anyway. These images will be used to complete a set of 3 high quality mosaics which will be sold to benefit the Karen and Burmese Orphans living in the orphanages and refugee camps. The more images the better, I can use all you have. Please take the time to go through your images for anything you think might help. If you missed the "No Place to Call Home" special, you can click on the link and read more about this. Thank you! [email protected]


Quick Click Links

Feature Photograph Photo Outing- Lessons From The Rubble Review, Lenovo x201s Thinkpad Photography News of Interest

Readers Submissions Readers Questions A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review Infocus Blog, Photo BlockT


Feature Photograph *menu

A few months back a client came to me with no experience in photography and impressed me with his willingness to learn. I wrote a blog entry about the experience here. One of his biggest worries was that once he left 'scenic' Thailand and ended back in rural Australia at the mine where he works, he wouldn't find anything inspiring to take photograph. I told him there are always interesting things to take pictures of, but that sometimes we must challenge ourselves. I've even written about such experiences / challenges here in this column. Well, it looks like Rod C met the challenge and came away with some great shots!

What looks like a barren piece of country in the daytime with little to offer in the way of decent light or interesting subjects takes on an entirely different look after sunset. I can tell he used his 12-24mm Sigma ultra-wide angle lens and was right up and almost touching the statue of the miner, that he had this tripod mounted for an extra long exposure, and that some sort of artificial lighting was providing the illumination on the statue and foreground. And look how interesting the row of streetlights becomes and how the tower in the back along with the tree makes a perfect mid-ground. The miner is the foreground, tower / derrick / tree / lights the mid-ground, and the sky and far tree line the background. All the components of an interesting landscape with fun and interesting light throwing deep shadows and great colors on for effect!

This second image is another attempt on the same theme, but while very good it doesn't reach the same level as the first image.

These images are significant because it's a wonderful demonstration that no matter where you are, how bleak things look, that if you use your imagination and take your time you'll end up with some interesting shots. In this case Rod's creativity is apparent, 1000 photographers in the same area at the same time probably wouldn't have pulled off these shots. But Rod was looking for the components of the composition I drilled into him during our workshop and boy did it pay off! Great job Rod!

Lessons From the Rubble *menu

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th 95mm ISO 250

This week I wandered around the Raptchaprasong district with camera in hand and I couldn't help but compare recent events to events from my past.

I was only a small boy during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. I remember my uncle the police sergeant warning our families to stay home and fortify our residences as he himself headed towards the worst of it. Los Angeles burned like never before. Later driving through the city it reminded me of the war zones I'd seen on television watching old war movies.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.5 1/200th 80mm ISO 100

At the time I didn't understand. I was only six years old. I only knew black people were angry at white people and this was the result. Why were they angry I wondered. I made it a point to find out during my later life acquiring degrees in sociology, working the worst jobs I could find, and even spending a summer picking fruit in the San Joaquin Valley alongside illegal migrant workers from Mexico.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/125th 95mm ISO 250

In 1992 I watched from my hospital bed a type of reenactment during the Rodney King Riots also in Los Angeles. Blacks once again were rioting and burning the city and for the most part went unchallenged save for some ethnic Koreans on the rooftops of their businesses armed with AR15's and shotgun. They worked long and hard for their small businesses and they were willing to die protecting them.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/125th 70mm ISO 250

This time I understood their anger, even if I felt in this case it was misplaced. No matter what I don't think even the rioters themselves will now agree rioting and burning a city is not a productive way to air their grievances. Still, most will tell you it was these primitive and senseless actions which helped bring their grievances to the table for meaningful discussion and change.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th 73mm ISO 125

I can't take sides on these recent events in Bangkok. I can't take sides because I can clearly see both sides have grievances and both sides have done much wrong. I'm reminded of small children fighting on the schoolyard only focused on the last few words said to each other before the fight. The history of their past and the hope for their future is lost in the midst of violence and the human need to physically and emotionally release their anger in the most violent of ways. Childish yes. With school children we can easily see these traits. When adults do the same we ignore them.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/200th 89mm ISO 100

Citizens of Bangkok turned out in droves to gawk at the burned buildings. In our modern times everyone was armed with a digital camera and / or video camera and they were making good use of them. I couldn't help ask myself how long the shelf life of their pictures would be and who they'd share them with. More importantly I wondered if they'd pull them out and look at them often during the coming political season when changes would first be possible?

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.5 1/200th 70mm ISO 1000

If history is any indicator they won't. The pictures will become lost files on their computers, forgotten about when they upgrade their systems and the events of the last few months will move way back in their minds as nothing more than some distant unpleasant memory. I'm guessing this will be the case because every year since the coup we've had "protest" season, and each year not a single politician faces up to the challenges of much needed change.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F2.8 1/200th 70mm ISO 320

There are so many models throughout the democratic world for the Thai's to choose. So much history to learn from. But every Thai I've talked to concerning this mess tells me the issues are "uniquely Thai" and foreigners could never understand. The solutions history has taught us which work everywhere else in the world, won't work in Thailand.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F2.8 1/200th 75mm ISO 3200

I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask "why not?" And if any Thai cares to answer I'll write down their answers of what makes these issues "uniquely Thai" and these would be the first issues we must first agree will not be part of our discussions. Obviously, these are the issues getting in the way of progress so they should not and cannot be entertained in any sort of meaningful discussion. Every negotiator knows there's a time to step past the fluff and get down to the issues that really count and forgot about the build up. Now is this time. If being "uniquely Thai" is impeding social progress them stop being uniquely Thai and fix the problems.

Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm @F5.6 1/200th 17mm ISO 200

The streets are empty and small pockets of people and the lone car is all you can see on this normally bumper to bumper packed street. Again, I'm reminded of movies I've seen showing the aftermath of different disasters.

Canon 5d Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm @F5.0 1/200th 16mm ISO 200

Normally you'd never stand in these streets looking at your camera without paying attention to the traffic. Normally this road is six lanes deep in bumper to bumper traffic. These are not normal times.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F3.2 1/200th 53mm ISO 250

Across the road the theater and Big C is also burned out.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th 120mm ISO 400

Down the road a bit I run into thousands of broom and mop wielding citizens scrubbing their streets and coming together in a peaceful and productive manner. Can this really be Bangkok? I look closer and notice everyone is more or less faking it. They seem to be there more for the news cameras and photo ops than for the good of the city.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th 115mm ISO 600

Everywhere you look there are gawkers and pretenders. I wonder where the politicians are. All this destruction and not a single politician? Even the police and military seem to be keeping a good distance from the wreckage.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F2.8 1/200th 170mm ISO 400

I suppose it was mostly a social event and perhaps that's what the city needs. A grand social event bringing people together for a common good, to put their bad feelings aside, to let bygones by bygones and work together for a better future. Unfortunately I didn't see a single Red-Shirt or a single Politician involved!

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F3.2 1/200th 28mm ISO 320

Another cleaning party outside Gaysorn Plaza.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F2.8 1/200th 24mm ISO 320

This lady was trying to temp the crowd to join in and clean.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5 1/200th 150mm ISO 100

Close by a military post is barely manned and the soldiers there seem to be resting and relaxing.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th 100mm ISO 125

And immediately next to the military post is a small gaggle of police who appear to be taking all of this in stride.

If history is our teacher, Thailand is in for some really dangerous times. I doubt we'll see much until next year, much depends on if elections are held and if any real change takes place. I fear the Thai people aren't up to the challenge of meaningful change and if they aren't, then the events of the last few months will pale by comparison to what will come.

What they're not accepting.. is that people without enough food to eat, without adequate medical care, without the opportunities of quality education and subsequent employment.. that if they then strip their last vestiges of hope for a better future.. (their vote) then history shows they have little to live for and would rather die fighting for change then maintain the status quo.

This time it was mostly public and commercial buildings. Trust me when I say it can easily become residential areas and apartment buildings. And that once that commitment is made it will be next to impossible to stop. Change needs to come to the poor and disenfranchised and it needs to come now. And I'm not talking only about the poor northern regions of Isaan. We also have the insurgent south to deal with. At least a bombing or killing happens every single day in the south. The future is already here.. we only need to look at it and understand it could easily move to Bangkok.

A Review, Lenovo x201s Thinkpad *menu

Introduction

It's not like I needed another laptop, with 5 in the house already you'd think I have enough. But laptops to men are much like shoes to ladies. We need a certain style and size for each type of activity or we end up with too much or too little computer, which if you use a laptop often this can become a real annoyance.

This time I had a very specific purpose in mind. I've been tempted by the smart phone craze, and the netbook phase, but I just can't get over their tiny screens and keyboards. What I set out to look for was a sub 3 pound notebook with a 12 inch screen which would be both powerful and tough enough to use in the field to tether to my DSLRs for focus bracketing, exposure bracketing, and time lapse photography. As a bonus the battery should last a minimum of 6 hours and it should have WI-FI for use at restaurants and other hotspots.

The Search

I'm a long time Dell customer. I buy from their professional Small Business lineup and have been a loyal and happy customer for 15+ years. Unfortunately Dell didn't have anything remotely close to what I needed. Sony, HP, and a few odd brands had models a lot closer.. but the Lenovo x201s caught my eye.

Specifications

i7-640LM CPU @2.13ghz max in turbo mode at 2.93ghz (this is a ultra low power CPU)

4g of PC3-8500 DDR3 memory

12.1" WXGA+ 1440×900 LED backlit matte screen

Intel HD Graphics (can run an external 2560×1600 30" monitor)

320g 7200rpm hard disk drive

PCIe Mini Card with 802.11 a/b/g/n

Bluetooth 2.1

Ethernet Gigalan

Modem 56k V.92 modem

Full size Thinkpad keyboard

Ultranav Touchpad

Thinklight (illuminates the keyboard)

UPEK Fingerprint reader

TPU

Three USB Ports

5-1 Flash memory reader

Expresscard34 slot

Stereo Speakers

Microphone built in

2.5 pounds with 4 cell battery (6 hours of use)

2.7 pounds with 6 cell battery (8.5 hours of use)

2.9 pounds with 9 cell battery (11+ hours of use)

Mil-spec rating for Water/Dust/Shock

Operating System Windows 7 Professional x32

3 year warranty

$1399.00 USD's

What a beauty! The case is even carbon fiber reinforced plastic with a magnesium alloy base. This is one tough water, dust, and shock proof laptop!

Ordering/Purchase

I added this section because ordering a Lenovo x201s proved to be difficult. The x201s is not the x201. The x201 adds over a pound more weight and doesn't have the 1440×900 LED backlit screen. I really wanted the x201s. The problem was Lenovo didn't have it listed on their site despite it being their newest model!

A call to Lenovo revealed their screen supplier could no longer supply the excellent screens so they had to discontinue the model. The good news is that there are plenty of resellers who have then in inventory but you'll need to do some legwork and perhaps pay a premium over retail. I got lucky and found one at J&R Music at $100 under retail and placed my order.

At the time I placed the order I also ordered another Crucial Technologies C300 256gig SSD. SSD's greatly speed up computer performance and I thought a low powered notebook CPU could use all the help it could get. This adds significant cost to the total (currently $639) but I wanted all the speed I could get when working in the field.

I also included a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64. Why? For most office software Windows 7 x32 would have been fine. But for imaging software the x64 operating systems and matching x64 applications perform significantly faster. Besides, with x64 I can use the entire 4g's of RAM while with x32 it will only see 3.1g.

Delivery and Performance

The x201s arrived solidly packed and booted up with a 3/4 charged 6 cell battery. I played with it for a few hours and was really impressed with the speed. If I'd known it was this zippy I might have passed on the SSD. Windows performance index scores were:

6.3 (CPU)

5.9 (Memory)

4.9 (Graphics)

3.3 (Gaming Graphics)

5.9 (System Drive)

I installed the SSD and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and the scores were:

6.3 (CPU)

5.9 (Memory)

4.9 (Graphics)

3.3 (Gaming Graphics)

7.7 (System Drive)

Frankly I was stunned by these numbers. As an example, my fairly recent Dell Precision Mobile Workstation, 17" monitor, Core 2 Duo 2.53g, 4gigs, and the Nvidia Quadro pro 512mb graphics cost me over $3000 USD's and it's numbers are significantly lower on all counts other than gaming graphics. The mobile precision workstation is my "powerhouse" laptop I use for onsite work and during workshops. How could this little 2.7 pound laptop out perform it by such a wide margin?

I don't mind saying I wasn't planning on installing my imaging software on this computer. When I ordered it I figured it would be slow, somewhat faster than a netbook, so I'd just install my tethering software. I immediately made the decision to install my full suite of imaging software.

Setting up a SSD is hugely faster than setting up a mechanical hard drive. What usually took me days of feeding discs and waiting.. now took me just 3-4 hours. Soon I was done and had a fully operational laptop.

Screen

I've got to say the screen is ideal for photographers. They call it "anti-glare coating", but what it is, is matte. It's also LED backlit and it profiles out very nicely with a wider gamut than even my mobile graphics workstation. The screen is beautiful in all it's 12.1 inch glory.

Keyboard

The keyboard is perfect. It's full size and it's a Thinkpad keyboard. If you've ever used a Thinkpad before you'll know exactly what I mean. If not, let's just say it's the finest keyboard on any laptop made. Everything is widely spaced and easy to find by touch.

Touchpad/Track stick

The touchpad is small but surprisingly easy to use. I'm not sure if this is because mechanical or software improvements. The stick is very smooth too. Much better than my previous experiences with Thinkpad sticks. Scrolling works great and you can navigate around with ease.

Thinklite

This hardly deserves it's own paragraph right? I think this is a brilliant idea! It's just bright enough to evenly light the keyboard in a dark room and I find myself using it any time the light is dim.

Imaging Software

I use Lightroom 2.7, DxO Optics, Adobe CS4 Creative Suite, and tons of other imaging software. This unit runs all, even several at a time, with ease. Performance is spectacular for ANY laptop. You won't be disappointed with the performance.

Operating System and Drivers

If you're not using Windows 7 you should be. It's easily the best operating system ever made for a personal computer bar none. Even better than Snow Leopard. It's also very secure. Tests have shown how Windows 7 on a mobile platform increases the time it runs off a given battery so this is a good enough reason alone to go with Windows 7.

The Lenovo drivers are first class. One of the things you pay for with a higher end laptop is a more refined driver set. I work with enough laptops my clients bring, to have seen a direct relationship to the price you pay for a laptop to how well the drivers work. This impacts both performance and function. The drivers for the x201s performed without a single fault. The Bluetooth suite even installed my mobile phone with a single click, which then allowed me to connect to the internet with a single click via my mobile phone network. Other laptops I own all require special software which is flakey at best. With the x201s Bluetooth connectivity was rock solid!

Connectivity

The WI-FI, Bluetooth, Modem, and Gigalan all work as they should. I set up all four without a single glitch and they're fully supported by the included software drivers.

Ports and Connectors

3 USB ports on such a small laptop is as good as it gets. One is a high power port you can use to charge devices. The x34 card slot accepts my CF reader and works great. Headphone jacks work as they should. The only thing is seems to be missing is a HDMI output which is a significant omission. You can add optional WAN cards from your phone carrier.

Battery Life

My x201s came with a 6 cell battery. I don't use the power saver modes. I want my laptop to work at full performance and screen brightness 100% of the time. At full performance I get right under 4 hours of use from the 6 cell battery, and right under 7 with the optional 9 cell I ordered.

Summary

I have nothing but praise for this little powerhouse. Everyone who touches it immediately comments "it's lighter than my netbook" and when the open it and see the big 12.1" screen and full size keyboard they're impressed. But when they press the power button and get a 5 second boot from power off, and then run a few programs and see it's power.. they want one. Everyone wants one.

The x201s is TOUGH. There is very little if any flex in the screen, it's rock solid when closed, has impact zones throughout, it's water/shock/dust resistant and meets Mil-Spec requirements, and the hard drive is supported by rubber mounts.

It's also easy to pick up and carry due to it's blended shape and ergonomics. The x201s just naturally fits in your hand, your knapsack, your bag.. it's light and it fits anywhere. The matte-black finish cleans easily with Windex. It connects to anything. You can operate all day off a single charge.

The screen is bright enough to be easily seen in any type of light including outdoors. Really, I'm very impressed with the x201s. With it's small size and high power it will be replacing 3 of my other laptops.

If you're in the market for a sub 3 pound laptop that's both extremely tough and just as powerful with a full size easy to use keyboard, a beautiful screen, and will run all day on a single battery charge.. then the x201s deserves a serious look. It's a pricey laptop but well worth every dollar.

Photography News of Interest *menu

The Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS lens is the photojournalists best friend and has long become a favorite of serious amateurs. We love it for its quality and focal range and for it's tough build and fast autofocus. Canon released the update to it's popular lens and Digital Photography Review tests and compares it to the competition. Read thereview here.

Adobe Lab's has made available a lens profiler as part of it's CS5 suite and the soon to be released Lightroom 3.0. You can create a profile to correct for lens distortions, CA, vignetting and more and then share/trade those profiles through Adobe. Or, you can just use someone else's profile.

Topaz Lab's releasesit's newest Photoshop plug in to help reduce noise. Our testing team and Bangkok Images has been testing this product for several months and will soon bring you a full review.

I'm really excited about this one. Sony has just released a mirrorless APC-S sensor sized 'pocket' camera even smaller than the smallest Micro 4/3's cameras. A bigger sensor, smaller body, a very interesting concept. So interesting that I have one on pre-order for myself. I suspect it will make an excellent knapsack camera and with it's 16mm F2.8 lens and DSLR sized sensor will make a very effective low light camera for night photography. A preview here and a review here.

Adobe Lab's releases Camera Raw 6.1 which includes the new lens correction module and the new RAW engine which greatly improves the low light images and more.

Canon just released a the new firmware 2.0.7 for their Canon 5d Mark II. You can get your upgrade here. I've already updated mine and everything went fine.

Readers Submissions *menu

Hi

Here is another batch of pictures from the big show.

6,000 motorcycles and about 20,000 – 30,000 spectators.

No uniformed police on the property. No problems.

The ride theme -"Ride For Peace". – all clubs all patches all friends.

Bart

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they'd like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]

Readers Questions *menu

Hi Steve, I'd like to know if you can help me. I've just setup a new desktop PC, Intel i3, mb is Asus p7h55-m pro with 4 bg ram and 2 W/D 16mb hdd, 1 x 500gb and 1 x 1,000gb. everything is good but when I plugged in my D-link wireless adapter, I can see my connection but cannot connect. When I go into to the dos prompt and type ipconfig, it tells me that it's disconnected. Do you have any idea how to fix or solve this.

I'm running Win XP, but I'm going to try and run win 7 on one of my spare drives and compare the 2 OS's

Charles

Hi Charles –

There are too many variables to even guess.. though many times totally unplugging the router/modem/switch and letting it sit ten minutes.. and then booting it up again will fix such things.

Really you shouldn't be running XP on that machine.. XP is antiquated and very insecure compared to Win7.. and Win7 has much better networking. You probably wouldn't be having these issues with Win7..

Steve

Steve

I have 500gb sata2 drive that I'm currently removing files from and transferring them to the new 1TB drive. Once that's done I am going to install win 7 on it and see how it goes.

What do you think of my new system. Intel i3, M/B is Asus p7h55-m pro with 4 bg ram, V/C is a Asus eah5570 1 gb ddr3 card and 2 W/D 16mb hdd, 1 x 500gb and 1 x 1,000gb.

Charles

Charles

It should make a decent system. You're going to find there's a huge speed difference between older hard drives and newer ones.. from 30mbps to well over 100mbps.. so the conventional wisdom of putting your system on the smaller drive might not be the best thing for system performance.

Also.. what 16mb W/D hdd's??

Steve

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review *menu

My gosh folks.. I've been so busy these last few months that it's actually negatively affected my health to a slight degree.. so I'm not on a concentrated effort to eat less, exercise more, and start getting out and about and out from in front of the computer! I think it will save my life.. :)

If you missed last weeks articleour new website is up and operational and the first weeks growing pains were both expected and helped to improve the site. We've made several changes including a "Thailand Photo Stories" section. You see, I'm a believer in the "if you build it, they will come" mindset. I've built a great place for you to post your photo stories. Now we sit back and see who comes. We even have a new logo you can see above.. :)

We've also been busy testing several new software products including a brilliant piece of software that syncs your Outlook email files (and any directory you specify) using "the cloud", and we'll be having a review on pano software soon too. We have several new pieces of hardware including a new Canon flash, Quantum flash products, a SSD update, and we'll be combining these items using "field tethering" for focus bracketing, exposure bracketing, and time lapse work in upcoming specials. Look for them.

Business has been way down because of the protestors. I've had two months worth of cancellations. No one wants to go to a hot spot to vacation.. too many other places to visit that don't have trouble. I expect things to pick up in the coming months though.

Infocus Blog, Photo Block *menu

Photo Block

No, it's not some type of sunscreen. It's like writers block but it's really photos. I'm having a bout of "photo block." I go out with my camera and can't find a thing to take a picture of, yet people all around me are snapping away like crazy. What am I missing? Is it clinical? It is contagious?

I'm guessing I'm having this problem because I can't clear my head. I've had so many things going on at the same time that I can't let myself think about composition and I surely don't want to go out shooting without thought.

Some people can't sleep when their head won't clear. No problem here, I haven't had time to sleep anyway.

So these next two weeks I'm dedicating to clearing my mind, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise, and learning to re-focus my mind back on capturing interesting photos.

To help I'm going on a trip. Just a weekend trip to start. I'm not even going to go far. I just need a change of scenery and a room without a computer screen. Room service would be nice too. Once properly relaxed I'm heading out, camera in hand, and seeing if I can find a cure for what ails me.

Wish me luck!

Until next time..