In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog December 3rd, 2011

2011 Floods, Bangkok Thailand/Amazon Kindle Fire Running Review/Japan Disgraces Thailand


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Feature Photograph *menu

Canon 1ds Mark II, 135mm F2L USM @F8 1/1250th ISO 100

A few weeks back my son and I were checking out a Midwestern countryside when we noticed a strange ball of color floating above the horizon. I’d never seen anything like it so I decided to stop and grab a picture. Already running through my mind were the beginnings of a composition. From our location all we could see was a ball of color and treetops, no rainbows, no explanation for the color ball, and other than taking a picture of just the sky or the sky and treetops there was no obvious composition available.

The decision was made to keep driving dead ahead until some kind of composition possibility presented itself. With only 10 minutes until sunset we knew there wasn’t much time, and sure enough with each passing minute the brightness and depth of color of this phenomenon was diminishing. Picking up the pace we hoped to find a suitable composition sooner, but we knew the increased speed might lead to us missing a slim opportunity.

Finally we spotted a tree in the distance. It wasn’t much of a tree, but this is the Midwest where a tree is often used as a landmark. We stopped with mere minutes to spare before the sun and our colorful phenomena disappeared forever. Grabbing the body with the most appropriate lens I quickly changed my settings to accommodate the lower light levels, braced against the car for extra stability, took a deep breath and let it out halfway, and then gently squeezed the shutter release. A moment later the sun dropped below the horizon and the color ball was gone. It really was that close.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 135mm F2L USM @F8 1/1250th ISO 100

I wasn’t sure if the exposure was close enough to show the color ball, and I was using my 7 year old body where the controls were in different places than my more current Canon 5d Mark II. Basically I let muscle memory take over and made the capture. I considered reviewing it on my rear LCD but the tiny LCD on this vintage DSLR is near worthless for meaningful preview. All considered I figured I’d find out when I arrived home and brought it up on the workstation monitor. I didn’t think about it again for a few weeks until I had a reason to offload the CF card.

With a small bit of cropping I straightened the horizon and showed the color ball almost directly over the lone tree in a field. I’m not sure what the blurry lines are coming from the ground by the tree? A small adjustment to the white balance, a bit more contrast added through levels, and a small amount of sharpening later I had the image.

I’m still not sure what the color ball is, but I decided I liked the composition of the lone tree against a cloudy skyline. The color ball adds to it, but I’m undecided if the addition is negative or positive. Your thoughts?

The second image is the same image, but converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I like this better, but the color ball blends and disappears.

2011 Floods, Bangkok Thailand *menu


KVW first made my acquaintance several years ago when he contacted me to see if I could take some photos of him and his fiancée for their wedding invitations. We made arrangements for the shoot and I had a lot of fun meeting and photographing a fun young couple. Periodically we kept in contact through email as KVW developed an interest in photography and I was happy to answer all his questions.

KVW has submitted other features, East African Photography Tour Part 1, and East African Photography Tour Part 2, both of which were hugely popular and helped others preparing for their own African photo tour. So when he emailed me during the floods and told me he has some images I knew they’d been good ones. I hope you enjoy them.

Great job KVW! Thank you for being so generous and sharing your fine work with the readers. If you have any questions about his trip to Africa or his photography you can contact KVW via email at: [email protected]

Thank you

Steve

This was when the area around Bangkok was still dry, in the Bang Bua Thong area. Ominous signs of flooding were already around. The detour I was forced to take to the office led me past this place.

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM @F8 1/250th 41mm ISO 200

On the 8th of November I decided to grab my camera and have a look around the MRT stations which were already affected by the flooding. When exiting the Lad Phrao MRT station this was one of the first signs that things were not normal. Half of the flood doors were already closed. Glad to see that they did plan for such an event when they constructed these stations. On your way out, the smell of water was already present way before reaching the surface.

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM @F4 1/25th 24mm ISO 400

From atop the Lad Phrao – Ratchadaphisek intersection.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F8 1/160th–1/3 EV 12mm ISO 200

Just had to take a picture of the road sign, just in case people wouldn’t believe this was actually Lad Phrao road!

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F8 1/60th+1/3 EV 12mm ISO 200

Only large pickups could pass. Small cars would never make it through the meter high water.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F8 1/160th+1/3 EV 24mm ISO 200

his lass was waiting right in the middle of the intersection, presumably for some truck to come and pick her up. Anyone want to come and rescue the maiden in distress?

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5 1/320th 180mm ISO 200


How to get to Lad Phrao? Well by boat of course!

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5 1/125th 100mm ISO 200

Motor cycle taxi drivers were having a hard time. Not many were willing to brave it through the waters on the back of a bike.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/400th 300mm ISO 200

Looking down Lad Phrao, it looked more like a river than a road.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/640th 300mm ISO 200

At least one person did not park his/her car on top of the flyover. Pretty creative.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5 1/400th 100mm ISO 200

The army was playing taxi, its trucks some of the few vehicles that could still make it through the water.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5 1/200th 70mm ISO 200

Kids made the most of it, playing and swimming and generally having a good time. Apparently the health risks had not been pointed out to them by their parents…

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/250th 200mm ISO 200

The only exit at Pahon Yothin MRT station that was still open. The MRT still stopped here, but getting out would be impossible without getting your feet wet.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F5 1/160th+1 EV 12mm ISO 200


Boats and trucks only, no other motorized vehicles could pass.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F5.6 1/250th 24mm ISO 200

The sun was slowly setting when I reached Chatuchak MRT. It looks very serene, and if you didn’t know that the water in the foreground actually hides the footpath, you probably would not see anything amiss in this image.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F5 1/500th 12mm ISO 200

Yet turn around and this is what you see; many men building a makeshift dike of sandbags. The main purpose was not to stop water, but to create a walkway between the MRT and BTS stations.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F5 1/40th 12mm ISO 200

The only way to make it (semi-) dry from one station to the next.

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F5 1/80th 12mm ISO 200

From the top of the BTS station Mo Chit. Not sure what that motorcycle driver was waiting for. I don’t think many would still use that exit…

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F8 1/15th 24mm ISO 100

Entrepreneurial as ever, some make the most of it by supplying items that are in high demand. In this case, waterproof pants and boots to keep your feet and legs dry.

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM @F8 1/30th 19mm ISO 400

Looking down Pahon Yothin road provides this surreal image.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @8 1/125th 70mm ISO 400

Not sure what this guy was doing, other than attracting attention.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F8 1/10th 70mm ISO 400

Despite the floods, the busses continued to operate.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/400th 300mm ISO 400

Kitting up to brave the floods.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/30th 70mm ISO 400

Even during the floods there are still traffic jams…

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/80th 70mm ISO 400

People brave enough to get into the water to reach the bus.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/125th 300mm ISO 400

The water level at Mo Chit never did get as high as further up the road, but it was still enough to cripple any car smaller than a pickup.

Canon 40D, EF 70-300mm F4-5.5.6 DO IS USM @F5.6 1/160th 300mm ISO 400

Not sure what this guy was thinking when he parked and wrapped up his car…

Canon 40D, EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM @F8 1/50th 85mm ISO 400

The sun slowly setting over a flooded Bangkok…

Canon 40D, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG @F8 1/125th+2/3 EV 12mm ISO 400

Amazon Kindle Fire, Running Review *menu

November 15th, 2011 (local MST). Part I

They delivered it a day early.. dropped at my door before 10am. The plain brown box with nothing more than a 3×5 "getting started" card, a charger, and the tablet inside. Exactly how you've already seen it on line.

Unfortunately, I had arranged a visit to the optometrist this early AM.. needed to get my ticket okay'd and I was thinking about a pair of computer specs to sharpen things up a bit. But.. as a result of this visit they blew my pupils bigger than the moon. I drove home using two pairs of sunglasses, my own pair and that cheap pair they give you. I'm still not seeing well.. the last 4-5 hours have been uncomfortable.

So.. the new Kindle Fire patiently sat on my desk waiting for my eyesight to return. Once it did, it took all of 2 minutes to register my home wifi network, change the settings to my preferences (font size, reader background color, browser type (desktop or mobile), and more.. and I was cooking with gas.

Obviously I don't have enough time using it to have a thorough take.. but I can say each and every function I've used has been smooth, flawless in operation, and the screen (after adjusting font size, etc) very usable. I will be able to comfortably read books on this device, where my 4.3" HTC Desire smartphone was a type of last resort the Kindle is actually enjoyable.

I will be able to read magazines, but the Kindle isn't nearly as smooth with magazines as with books, because the books can self-adjust their format for each page, while a magazine only allows you to zoom in/out and them move around the page. Still, it's usable. I'd put PDF's in the same category as well as spreadsheets, they’re limited by a small screen size, but anything other than a full size desktop monitor would be.

Music.. it allowed me to put my 180gb of iTunes library in their cloud (for free), mark the music I want to always be in memory, and then clouds the rest. Sounds as good as any IPod too.

Browser.. wow. I like the desktop browser format the best, but this still means it's one page I can zoom in/out and then move around on.. like a magazine. Still, it's big enough to be usable and to easily update the sites I read regularly, but it's not a full size desktop monitor. Their "Silk" browser is hot, smooth, fast, intuitive.. very nice. In fact, the feeling you get from this device in any mode is "Zippy." It feels like a well spec'd laptop and not a tablet.

Amazon ordering.. hehe.. this is where Amazon wanted it to shine and it does. What a superb online shopping utensil! Checking past orders, tracking shipping, ordering new stuff.. very easy and totally intuitive.

Amazon Prime.. their videos, series shows, all the content they give you in their $79 a year Prime Membership. First, let me say I'd pay the $79 just for the free two-day shipping and $3.97 overnight shipping charge. I shop on Amazon enough to make the $79 the best bargain in town. But now with this Kindle Fire I get all their series shows, movies, specials, and it's very easy to use and very fast to start playing. And the quality is superb! Easily big enough to enjoy as a personal device. I can't wait for Amazon Prime to support my WD Hub for my big TV at home. This is a really nice service.

What you don't get? You don't get a camera of any type, not a still and not a movie camera and not an IP camera for video chats. I won't miss these at all. You don't get 3G mobile network access to watch the videos with, browse the web, and access the cloud. For me personally, I'm around a wifi network most of the time so no biggie. If I'm going to use this on a plane or be away from wifi for a while, I'll need to remember to 'load to local' the content I want to use during that time. You don't get the Apple store or the number of Ap's Apple has, but you do get the Amazon store which is second only to Apple and whatever aps I'll need I'm sure are available.

You get a feeling of real quality. The gorilla glass is strong and less reflective than normal glass, there is only an on/off button, everything else is done by touch screen, and the only port/button/whatnot other than the single on/off button.. is the mini-USB port for charging and transferring content.

I'll know a lot more in the coming days as I use it.. but I can say without reservation, other than an Ipad, this is the best tablet I've used with the most intuitive and useful feature set. And let's be clear, it's not an Ipad. It's a $199.00 Amazon Kindle Fire. If you don't need the cameras, 10 inch screen, and 3G.. the Kindle Fire is without question the best deal going and sits alone from any competition. I’ll be updating this running review as I use the Kindle over the coming days. Check back for more updates.

November 16th, 2011 (local MST). Part II (part I below)

Now that my eyesight has returned..

Email Client: I added my email accounts which was pretty much straightforward. Normally I use Outlook 2010 as my email client which also keeps track of my calendar, contacts, and more. My email servers are private servers from SecureServer and compatible with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP.

Web based accounts like Yahoo, Gmail, Live, and others keep your emails on the server accessible through a browser client provided by the email server. We’re all probably familiar with Yahoo Mail or Gmail browser clients? Your emails will stay on the web based server until you delete them.

SMTP/POP3 are what you’d normally use with an email client like Outlook. Outlook takes the messages off the server and puts them in your local client (Outlook) and you have the option of telling the server to keep the read email messages for a certain length of time. Keeping your emails on a local client like Outlook allows you to process your emails off-line, or refer to them when off-line, and then send or receive the messages once you go online. Full featured email clients like Outlook serve as virtual file cabinets for all your emails and your archives if you wish.

IMAP protocol because necessary when mobile phones became able to retrieve emails from the email server. A mobile device such as a phone and many tablets are IMAP capable only and allow a user to receive ‘copies’ of their emails from the email server without taking the messages off the server. They remain on the server until deleted via a web based or SMTP/POP3 client, or automatically via a time based deletion (i.e. delete all older than 2 weeks)

Email servers can allow all client types, web based, SMTP/POP3, or IMAP, or a subset of types. Because they work independently and differently from each other, it’s possible to use a server which supports all three client types across a wide variety of devices. Home computers, laptops, mobile phones, Blackberries, Iphones, Ipads, Android devices, and more.

Free email servers like Yahoo or Gmail normally only allow web based access unless you purchase a premium account and then they’ll allow SMTP/POP3 and possibly IMAP. ISP’s also provide email server accounts or you can purchase your own if you own your own domain.

The Amazon Kindle Fire supports both SMTP/POP3 and IMAP clients. The default installed email client can support multiple accounts (up to 25) of all or a mixed SMTP/POP3 IMAP variety. This enables you to use the Amazon Kindle Fire as you would a laptop computer, or as you would a mobile device. Or both at the same time. Your choice. I like this.

I use I'm not yet sure if I like the already installed email client, but if not I'll check out a few of the hundred or so available on the Android Market Place.. which are free. I had nine email accounts to setup which took about 20 minutes.

Importing my contacts was another story. I use Outlook 2010 as my email client, calendar, contacts, etc.. and the Kindle requires Vcards. Outlook doesn't export batch Vcards, just CSV, excel, Word files, and individual Vcards. A single contact per processing step can take a long time if you have a lot of contacts.

There are many Vcard Outlook plug-ins available online and it didn’t take long for me to find one which batch processed all 610 of my contacts at once. Minutes later these Vcards were imported into my Kindle and my contact list was transferred.

Pictures are easy. No matter what resolution, size, etc.. just dump them in the pictures folder and they show up in the installed gallery which is nice enough. It auto-sizes, flips, twirls, stacks, and arranges your images every which way. Tomorrow I'll play around and find an ideal resolution and compression ratio for images on the Kindle.. which will allow you to maximize storage while still seeing a nice pretty picture with no artifacts.

Books. This reads Kindle books nicely. Love it. Still not impressed with magazines and PDF's.. I'm sure you can picture this: A book/novel.. is just a string of formatted text that can resize the font type/size/line spacing as you like.. and only X amount of data shows up on a single page. With my failing eyesight that's still more words, easy to read, than a typical paperback book page. So I'm okay with books. Because they're backlit.. easier to read than printed books. But a magazine or PDF is different. A page is a page no matter what you view it on, the same amount of information and pictures is on that page. They don't get broken down into more pages. So.. as you pinch zoom in/out.. to a comfortable reading level.. you can only see so much of that page at once. Mostly this is okay once you learn the format of your particular magazine or PDF.

Movies. Wonderful. No matter what I choose from the Kindle Prime service.. It starts right away and is HDTV quality. Nice sound too. You can dump torrent movies right in the movies folder with your PC connected to the Kindle and watch those too. I think they made a big mistake in not including a SD card slot, it would have made the Kindle immensely more useful as a video viewer for those who download torrents, which I guess would have discouraged users from paying the $79 annual fee for Amazon Prime. So maybe it wasn't a mistake. I suppose it depends on where you sit.

The weather channel icon is useful. All the installed aps are well chosen and useful.

The battery came charged and is still showing full bars. I'll eventually need to take the plastic off the charger and use it.

Network capability. The Kindle isn't "discoverable" as a network device, which is great for your security, especially if you dump your CC info on the Amazon shopping ap.. but is bad if you want to have a type of "public folder" like in Windows where you can wirelessly transfer files without the aid of a USB cable. Nitpicking I know..

I boughtthe cheap leather $9.95 case from Elsse (which is now $6.49) instead of the $39.99 case, and it works great. I ordered some screen protectors but they're not here yet. I ordered some screen protectors but they're not here yet.

At first.. I thought the Amazon Kindle Fire would earn it's keep by being a decent reader able to download eBooks and other Amazon content easily and inexpensively. It does all that, very well. But after a few hours with the thing I’m finding it's very competent with email, watching videos, listening to music, running aps, and more. Now I can see it's essentially a $199 pocket computer that can do all the browsing, reading, viewing, emailing, instant messaging, etc, etc, that I want.. in the background while I read. I think for many people who only use a computer/laptop for these things it might be all they really need. It is unmistakably an "consumption" device.. not a "productivity" device like a laptop or desktop computer would be.

November 22nd, 2011 (local MST) Part III (parts I and II below)

I’ve had enough time with my new Amazon Kindle Fire to be familiar with most of it’s functions and to decide where it places in my personal hierarchy of electronic devices. Read on to find out.

Last Functions Discussed

First, I want to touch on a few areas of function starting with Amazon’s included Silk browser. Amazon tells us by storing our most commonly used pages in their Silk cloud that we’ll draw less bandwidth in less time. So far they’re only half right. Testing by several top sites reveals there is roughly a 30% bandwidth advantage, but no time savings. In fact, the Silk browser appears to add about 40% to each page load. We don’t yet know if this will be improved through tweaking, which would make sense when you consider we now have millions using this cloud since the Kindle Fire’s introduction which wasn’t there before it’s launch. Time will tell.

Battery life is very good. We’re getting about 6 hours of video use and close to 14 hours using the eBook reader. It’s important to note that the battery is so large and draws so much power when charging, that the included AC adapter must be used to charge the device in any reasonable amount of time. If you try and charge the Kindle Fire through your computers USB ports you’ll need almost 24 hours.

The display is excellent. I love the speed with which it orientates itself to any position you set it in. There’s just a moment of hesitation. Color accuracy appears well matched to my standard SRGB image profiles. Any image I make for my website looks well matched on the Kindle Fire.

Value

The Kindle Fire is worth every penny of it’s $199 purchase price and I’m not surprised it’s breaking all sales records for tablets. This includes Apples Ipad and Ipad2. The Amazon Kindle Fire brings a combination of features and value unmatched by any other tablet. Yet, it’s not an Apple Ipad2 and it doesn’t replace a laptop computer. The Apple Ipad2 is bigger, more elegant, and it’s ap store much more capable. The Ipad2 also had 3g and cameras. But it’s also 4 times the price in it’s time configuration. Let’s be real, for the $800 price of a top Ipad2 you can get one of the new Ultrabook thin and lightweight laptops which blows away ANY tablet in function. For the price of a single top equipped Ipad2 you can get FOUR Amazon Kindle Fires. Value re-defined.

Is The Kindle Fire for You?

If you must have 3g and you must have cameras then the Kindle Fire isn’t for you. But if you need a very high quality 7” tablet with one of the best video and eBook content libraries available then maybe a Kindle Fire has your name on it.

Tablets by design are consumption devices. They’re designed expressly for you to consume content, watch movies, read books, listen to music, view images, browse the web, and shop online. They’re great for these functions. They’re not bad for receiving/viewing email, but they’re a major hassle to return more than a couple lines with. You can use any number of aps to open Word documents or spreadsheets, but I pity the person who tries to compose a full length memorandum using one. Their touch keyboards and small screens just aren’t up to the task. In contrast even a small laptop is a production device with it’s full size keyboard and useful bigger screen.

This is why you must ask yourself this question: “Do I need a consumption device, or do I need a productivity device?” "And am I limited to just one?” Some people will need both, some will only be able to afford one, and some will have their own IT department.

Is The Kindle Fire for Me?

Me? I’ll be passing my Amazon Kindle Fire to a family member. For the last 18-19 months I’ve grown used tomy Lenovo x201s. This is a 12.1 inch LED backlight 1440×900 display with a 2.13ghz i7, 8gb’s of RAM, and a 256gb fast SSD. It has a full size ThinkPad keyboard which is the best laptop keyboard period. With a battery life ranging from 5-10 hours (5 for video watching,10 for reading, somewhere between for production work) for the standard battery, a 2.4 pound weight, and a super tough water/dust/shock proof Kevlar coated case.. this just can’t be beat for my specific needs.

Whatever the function, this laptop does it better than a tablet. Any tablet. And it does it at a very light weight with a very long battery life and an amazing amount of power that puts many desktops to shame. A tablet must be carried, if this laptop of a tablet is in my hand, stuffed in my knapsack, or laying in my luggage, there is no appreciable difference in size or weight. But there is a heck of a difference in function. My Lenovo x201s is a productivity device and a consumption device. To date, it’s the perfect blend of form, function, and performance. It’s also 10x the price of an Amazon Kindle Fire. I’m willing to pay that price, but millions are snapping up Amazon Kindle Fires as fast as they can build them because they’re not willing or able to pay the entry price of such an amazing laptop. And this is the segment of the tablet market the Amazon Kindle Fire does better than anyone else.

Future Uses For The Kindle Fire?

Is that the end of the Kindle Fire for me? Not by a long shot. Since it’s introduction the Kindle Fire has been easily and successfully rooted. What this means is the Amazon modified Android operating system has been removed and a generic Android operating system installed in its place. When I get some time I’ll order a Kindle Fire, root it, install a generic Android operating system, and then turn it into a production device for my photography. I’ll use the excellent 7” IPS color display to preview images in live view, to bracket exposures for HDR, to bracket for focus, and to control my camera either tethered outside of the studio or for time lapse photography. The Kindle Fire’s duo-core processor and long battery life are ideal for these purposes.

I continue to think some enterprising individual could do quite well marketing a tablet aimed at and supporting photographers as it’s primary function. A small tablet like this could go almost unnoticed in most camera bags, it’s generous lithium-ion battery will stay topped up for weeks on end and once powered up will last forever. I’d like to see such a device with focus and exposure bracketing software, tethering software, review software for raw images, and viewing software when shooting video or setting up for macro shots.

A purpose built tablet could also serve as an Ad-hoc networking device during a shoot to send images back to a server or bigger viewing monitor. I have dreams that Quantum will interface their excellent portable flash products with a tablet to serve as a lighting controller. Imagine being able to control all the output level of all your lights, enable or disable just one or all your lights, to be able to set one light for ETTL and another for manual. And with Quantum’s Pilot or Trio devices this could all be done wirelessly.

There is no doubt in my photographic mind that a tablet such as the Kindle Fire could be immensely useful if properly configured as the ultimate photographic and lighting tool. Imagine such a device loaded with depth of field conversion tables with visual graphics. Model releases, print order, and all your other most used forms could be displayed, signed with a stylus, and stored in the device for later syncing to your office computer. The Kindle Fire is an excellent eBook reader, so keeping copies of all your camera and other device manuals for easy field reference should be obvious.

Will we ever see such a tool? Check back on Bangkok Images in a few months and let’s see how close I come just loading a $199 Kindle Fire with currently available aps. You might be surprised.

Last Words

The Amazon Kindle Fire is going to be very popular and we’ve already received word larger more capable versions are on the way while respecting the current emphasis on value. With over 4 million already sold there is zero doubt the Kindle Fire is a strong success. Check on the Kindle Fire’s sales page and with 2500+ reviews already in (more customer reviews than I’ve seen for any product previously) 1200+ give it five stars, 500+ 4 stars, and 300+ 3 stars. Very strong overall reviews!

I think the future of the Amazon Kindle Fire will depend heavily how fast Amazon is able to expand it’s content libraries. Content is king on websites so it’s no surprise content is king on a consumption tablet device. The faster Amazon grows it’s libraries, the faster Kindle Fire’s will fly off the shelves. With Christmas coming I suspect the Kindle Fire will be the number one gift under the tree this year.

What a superb overall effort. Only a company with Amazon’s resources could pull it off, assuming they also had Amazon’s vision

Photography News of Interest *menu

Is It Real Or is It Photoshop? Scientists Can Detect Digital Effects. Isn’t math great? Using a mathematical description of augmentations scientists can detect if a photograph is natural, or has been retouched. Okay then, the next question I have is do we want to know and why?

Record for any photo sold at auction set in NYC at 4.3 million. This image sure set the photography community on fire over the last few weeks as pundits debated the relative merit of a seemingly ordinary image and the record price it brought at auction. Andreas Gurskey is apparently an accomplished photographer and experienced photographers who have seen his work in person rave about it. What do you think is it art? And why did it bring 4.3 million?

Insane spectator does what it takes to get the shot at the Baja 1000. Kids, don’t try this at home. This guy is stupid on all kinds of levels and if you don’t believe me watch the video.

Not Photoshopped: Beam of Light Shines on Fallen Soldiers Miracle Dog. Watch for the light! You never know when it will enhance the image. This dog was rescued from an Iraq war zone and reunited with the soldiers family. This is interesting because this happened while a “20/20” crew was there doing a story on the dog, and the light broke like this as if to confirm the story.

Blind Photographer Creates Visionary Art. Craig Royal is a fine art photographer who has been a photographer over the last few years. He was born with vision loss. The challenges he overcomes to be a photographer must be incredible.

Camera Lost at Sea Returned with the Help of Social Networking. This is fun. Someone dropped their Canon DSLR overboard and thought they’d never see it or their vacation pictures again. A diver found it and searched for the owner on social network sites by posting images recovered from the memory card, ultimately reuniting the recovered DSLR with its owner.

Ridiculous Holiday Gifts: Solid Gold Gadgets. If you’ve ever wanted a solid gold 15 year old SLR now’s your chance. Nope, I’m not gonna say it. You can think the obvious for yourself. Merry Christmas.

A contributor to this site is heavily involved with biker events held in Asian venues. The Burapa event is huge, 20,000 – 30,000 people will attend with lots of music and entertainment. Last year one of the princesses from the royal family attended. Some of the biggest names in Thai music will be there. You’ll want to mark this on your calendar.

Readers Submissions *menu

Hello Steve, I'd like to know what your thoughts on these photo's are!

The first is not a HDR, It was taken at Sunset last Sunday.
The second was taken around lunchtime last Wednesday, it is a HDR.

Charles

Hi Charles –

These two are really well done. All your work has paid off. If you can replicate this technique at will, you’ll have a really valuable skill in your toolbox. The exposures look right, the colors are spot on, and they’re good compositions as well. Really nice.

Steve

Thank you for your comments, they are appreciated.
I don't have much time to take photos, but I read a lot at the moment and then try to put what I've read and learnt in the past to good use.

I am looking at building a new website to put my photos on and was wondering what your thoughts are on "Wordpress websites"

I was looking at either a JavaScript website or a css, but I've seen some nice WordPress websites.

Do you want me to put this question on your website, if so where do I post it to?

Charles

Hi Charles –

I’m happy to make comments.. sometimes it sucks when I have to be so negative for so long, but the truth with photography is one of those essential skills..  But it’s really great when you see it come together for someone ;like it just did for you.

You have many choices for websites. Do you already own your domain? If you’re only interested in posting image galleries.. you can do this VERY EASILY from inside Lightroom using no other software. You get a lot of choices in image gallery templates as well. You’ll need your domain and FTP login information.. and that’s it.

If you want to post images AND blog.. WordPress is a good option.

I hope this helps

Steve

I’d like to mention that everyone, myself included, is really enjoying the current trend of readers submissions. Everyone loves them, but remember we can really use more. I have only another week’s worth in my queue, so please take the time to put together a few images and words if you can and send them in. Thank you. [email protected]

Readers Questions *menu

In response to a question on a local Thailand forum: Am I better off with a used Canon EOS-5D or a new Canon EOS-5D Mark II and what would I gain?

I've had both.. still have the Mark II.

There are two sides. One side says a good photographer can make great pictures with any camera, and another side says the camera allows the photographer to make images to its level and no further.

In truth, this should be divided into two parts. Composition and technical capability. Where composition is concerned, any camera will do. It is true that exposure can and should be lumped in with composition and in this regard any camera with a higher dynamic range will allow compositions a lower dynamic range camera cannot do. This is absolutely true, you can point your camera in the exact same direction at the exact same thing, and with all else being equal other than exposure.. you'll get two very different pictures which include different elements of composition PROVIDED what you're pointing the camera at exceeds the capabilities of the lower dynamic range camera. I hope I said that in a way to avoid confusion, but you might have to read it twice.

On a technical level a newer camera has features an older one might not. Video, bigger review LCD, faster save times to your memory card, higher flash sync speed, just to name a few. IF these features enable you to make a composition you otherwise couldn't make.. then the technical aids the composition.

So of course both sides of this age old argument are right DEPENDING on what you're pointing the camera at.. And without a good description of what style of photography you wish to pursue no one can give you a meaningful answer. As a beginner you might not even know, perhaps you're thinking of family pictures of visits to temples or just 'all around' tourist type photography. Even then this is too vague, it will depend on light (time of day, weather, indoors/outdoors), subject matter, and more. So you need to be very specific. If you can't be specific, then just assume a newer better camera with significant new features will serve you better.. and then weigh that against the cost of both.

Significant new features. As a beginner how are you even supposed to know what these might be? Everyone answering might have a different answer. Someone with less than perfect eyesight might really appreciate the bigger LCD of the Mark II. Someone making giant sized prints or who crops to composition (a sloppy habit btw) might believe they need all 21mp's of the Mark II. Someone else into critical focusing (we all should be) might more appreciate the Mark II's ability to fine adjust individual lenses to the body. And the guy who was having trouble making rent last month might think they're all crazy spending 4-5x more for basically the same camera.

Used gear. I'm a big believer in used gear. You can save a lot. But you need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable concerning the gear in question or you'll end up with a hunk of junk you can't use. Know the shutter life expectancy and know how many actuations the used body has, and what kind of use it's seen. Professionals normally take good care of their gear, but they use it hard in all conditions. An amateur might baby his/her gear and it could be like new.. or through product ignorance they might have ruined the camera without knowing. Using the wrong fluid to clean your sensor, exposing it to very high humidity or rapid changes in humidity, cheap power supplies or a defective or generic battery.. or if they use it for hour long exposures which can really heat up a sensor. You need to know about the gear and what questions to ask the seller. Remember there is no warranty on used gear unless you buy from one of the better used gear stores (there are some good ones) who will give you a minimal warranty or sell you an extended warranty.

New gear. Drive it off the lot, lose 20% off the top. Maybe more. You're paying for more than new gear though, you're paying for peace of mind, a warranty, and the latest features and capabilities. If you can afford new gear then great. If not, it might be worth educating yourself enough to make safe used gear purchases.

Back to your question. The original Canon EOS-5D or the newer Canon EOS-5D Mark II in my humble yet experienced opinion? Keep in mind these cameras are separated by nearly 4 years of technology. In digital camera terms that's a lot of difference. There are significant improvements made to the feature set of the EOS-5D Mark II to include nearly twice the pixels (about how much you need to see a real difference), a larger brighter more accurate review LCD, greatly increased ISO availability with real life (perhaps a 2 stop) improvement in low light performance, a faster frame rate, AF micro-adjust, 3 custom settings which stores EVERYTHING, HDMI out, longer lasting battery, Auto ISO, sensor vibrator function to knock dust off the sensor, and new processors which really speed up how fast your data is saved letting you get back to taking pictures that much sooner. There's a lot more, pull up any technical orientated review from DPR or Imaging Resource and you'll find a side by side comparison. The EOS-5D Mark II was an important upgrade, it will be well covered in the blogosphere.

Will it really make any difference to your photography? Yes. But without knowing very specifically what kind of photography you do I can't tell you if this difference will be significant or not. Did the Canon EOS-5D Mark II make any difference to my photography? YES. A professional tends to push the limits of their gear where amateurs often do not. I derived benefits mostly from the higher ISO low light performance, but I really appreciated the AF micro adjust. The bigger LCD is icing on the cake. I appreciate the extra pixels, but I'm still making great 20×24 inch prints from my Nikon D2H files which were only 4mp's.. The faster data saves have (often) allowed me to get back shooting faster, thereby getting images I otherwise would have missed. The battery was already good, more capacity is better but I didn't benefit much from this. I rarely take more images than a single battery can take in a day anyway, and a spare (should) be part of everyone’s standard equipment.

No one can tell you which camera is the better choice for YOU. Both are very good and both are capable of taking professional level photographs if you are. Both support the same lenses and many of the same accessories.

Bottom line should you get the newer one or not? IF you see yourself staying with photography as a hobby for 4-5 more years and IF you plan to make frequent use of your new camera, and IF it won't affect which quality lenses you're going to buy for this camera.. then get the new Canon EOS-5D Mark II. It's a great camera. So was the original Canon EOS-5D.

Good luck.

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

Last month when you read this I was enjoying the brisk fall weather and wonderful colors of the season and looking forward to the holidays. Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone and so has the brisk weather. Now we have cold weather. As I write this I keep glancing out the window because we’re supposed to get the first snow of the season and when it happens maybe I can turn it into a photograph.

The family has picked out new warm winter jackets, boots, and gloves. This last Saturday our Cobra was prepped for storage, put on a car dolly, covered, and pushed to the side of the garage making more room for our AWD Subaru which with its heated seats and all wheel drive is far better suited for a snow coated winter. Tomorrow Holland trucking drops off our new snow blower I ordered from Home Depot. Outdoor water facet covers have been put in place and the furnace serviced. I’m really starting to miss Thailand.

It is going to be a real challenge to keep the camera busy this winter, but I’m certainly going to give it my best effort. Hopefully I’ll have some fun images to share with you.

Speaking of which, please keep the submissions and questions coming in, without them I couldn’t publish this column. If you’d like help please email me. I’m more than happy to help you put something together.

I’m still establishing myself with environmental portraits and I’ve delivered some custom built workstations the clients are very happy with. I hope to deliver more next month. I enjoy building high-end PC’s and I’m delighted to have the review material. But more, it’s always great to listen to the enthusiasm clients express when experiencing their new workstation for the first time.

Some Bonus Pieces up on my site over this last month but not in this monthly include:

Infocus Blog, *menu

Actually Thailand disgraced itself, Japan just made it more obvious. It’s not the first time, most who have visited or lived in Thailand will tell you they do it over and over again. Countless coups. Political protests burning down shopping malls, shutting down airports, killing foreign journalists, and even shooting a popular general in the head. Victor Bout a convicted international arms dealer was arranged to go free at the highest levels instead of being extradited to their most loyal western ally the United States, thwarted only because the United States discovered embarrassing instances of corruption in the most unexpected places. Economic refugees turned back to sea with no food, water or means of propulsion which could only mean certain death for those onboard.

Most recently the Supreme Court upheld a 3 month suspended sentence and 55 hours of ‘community service’ for a university professor convicted of beating his wife to death! They called this wife beating “a crime of passion.”

Of course the professor who beat his wife to death isn’t a danger to others, in fact part of their justification for his suspended sentence is because his young children need him. He killed their mother in a supposed fit of rage, yet they say the kids are safe. Hell, the Supreme Court even stated the kids need him. You’d think they need their mother too, but she’s dead. He killed her. 3 months suspended, 55 hours of community service. Fair punishment for taking the life of a mother of three children? An elite rich urbanite.


(Copyright www.stickmanbangkok.com)

I could go on and fill volumes with such examples and maybe it would make a better musing if I did, but I’m sure if you have more than a passing knowledge of Thailand you can fill your own volumes. What I really want to talk about is the recent floods.

First, an observation: I’ve lived 23+ years in Asia, with big chunks of this time spent in Japan, Korea and Thailand. Something I’ve noticed in the Asian races is an overwhelming need to feel superior to other Asian races. The Japanese feel superior to the Koreans, the Koreans to the Chinese, Filipinos to the Thai’s, the Thai’s to the Cambodians. The list is long, and mostly circular. Is there really a winner? Today I’m going to declare Japan the winner. Why?

During the last year Japan has suffered massive earthquakes which brought on devastating tsunamis and the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. A 1-2-3 series of knockout punches that would have had any country down for the count. I’ve read perhaps thousands of articles about this subject, how it happened, why it happened, who was responsible, and how the Japanese reacted. Having friends still living on Honshu I received a running commentary on how it affected the locals and how they reacted.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmingly proud of the human race this would have to be one of those times. The nuclear workers who could keep the cores from meltdown stayed at their posts despite knowing they were receiving lethal doses of radiation. Why? Because it was their duty, and Japan was their country.

Many of the key executives responsible for these reactors took personal responsibility either through resigning, or regrettably by a symbolic ‘seppuku’ suicide. Their PM volunteered to resign but both his party and the opposition asked him to stay on because they needed him guiding their country through bad times, a change of leadership during a time of crisis would hurt their country.

But most telling were the long lines for food and shelter. With the weather dangerously cold and a crippled government response, Japanese citizens went without food, water, and shelter for weeks and then months. But as you watched the video footage of these lines you might have been surprised by what you didn’t see.

You didn’t see fighting, pushing, or disorderly conduct of any type. You didn’t hear about looting, racketeering, or other forms of profiteering from these disasters. What you saw was a nation pulling together from their grass roots and leaning on each other.

Stories began to surface of young children given food, while hungry from not eating for days themselves, looked for the elderly next in line to give their portions to.. before getting back in line themselves. Still hungry, still cold, but nourished and warm from their acts of generosity and love of country.

Watching the Japanese brought tears to my eyes, you don’t get many chances in life to witness such unwashed giving, patriotism, and self-pride. From children. I couldn’t help to think back to my country’s most recent large scale disaster. Hurricane Katrina. Like Japan much good was done. Unlike Japan there was some looting, robbing, and profiteering. Not on a large scale, but enough to tarnish the pride I normally feel for my country.

Over the last month in Thailand we’ve seen unprecedented flooding. Not a tsunami, but a predicted almost gentle flooding of wide swathes of land starting from the north and working its way down through Bangkok to the nearest oceanic outlets. The process took weeks, like watching a slow motion train wreck in process. In more than one way. We’ve all watched train wrecks about to happen, knew what needed to be done to minimize the disaster, but our hands were tied and we were powerless to intervene. The flooding in Thailand was this way.


(Copyright www.stickmanbangkok.com)

Instead of coordinated swift actions we witnessed bickering politicians trying to place blame weeks ahead of the actual flooding. Instead of accepting responsibility we saw selfish power plays and a complete lack professional integrity from all sides. One infamous politician allegedly seized two motor boats donated for flood relief efforts. There was no centralized voice, no one the Thai citizens could turn to for reliable accurate information.

Instead, each television channel had some self-important politician giving their personal take on what was happening and what should be done about it. It didn’t take long to realize not one of these charlatans had a clue. It was more important for them to ‘one-up’ their opposition or even save face, than it was to provide timely and accurate information in the face of dangerous flooding which so far has claimed the lives of 500+ Thai citizens.


(Copyright www.stickmanbangkok.com)

You can almost forgive politicians, I’d guess someday we’ll learn most are genetically flawed and predisposed to serve their own interests before the interests of those they’re sworn to serve. What really set me back were the not insignificant number of Thai citizens who were either finding ways to profit from the flood victims, their fellow citizens, or who couldn’t resist bickering like school children.

I can’t remember all the reports which came my way, but it became obvious Thai citizens wouldn’t be emulating their Japanese neighbors. On a rather large scale Thai’s were looking out for number one, themselves. “Sea Lions” (Thai term) stealing from other flood victims, sporadic looting you could almost forgive, profiteering from necessities you’d regrettably expect as drinking water and instant noodles and emergency building materials skyrocketed.


(Copyright www.stickmanbangkok.com)

It probably didn’t surprise anyone when Thai automobile owners started parking their cars on flyovers, expressways, and anywhere they could find so their personal car might escape damage. These people didn’t care if they were blocking the roadways to emergency vehicles or causing accidents, saving their car was a higher priority.

Then there were the gangs with boats charging exorbitant fees so residents of certain areas could make it home, or to work the next day. This wasn’t bad enough, but when Army trucks came their way to help provide safe transportation the gangs threw nails and other obstacles beneath the water to puncture the tires and keep the Army trucks at bay so they could continue making profiting from their neighbors misfortune.

It was remarkable watching a distrustful populace actually interfere with flood relief efforts because they thought certain efforts were designed to hurt them so others could benefit. This is one of the serious issues with a society who thinks corruption in government is “okay”, in times of emergency when you really need the cooperation and trust of the public, you not only don’t have their trust, but you can’t have their cooperation either. So much so that fighting, shootings, and demonstrations were everyday occurrences at the sandbag and other diversion sites. Where did ordinary citizens get the dynamite used to blow up the sandbag dikes?

While the vast majority of Thai people were suffering from losing their homes and jobs to the most severe flooding in decades, a not insignificant number of Thai’s were actively seeking a way to personally benefit from their misery. Corruption is so common these illegal and selfish acts are taken in stride, as expected and almost entitled actions.


(Copyright www.stickmanbangkok.com)

It’s not unfamiliar to my ears to hear new expats or observant tourists compare Thai’s to school age children. Their inability to come together to solve problems, their propensity to let their tempers flare from losing face, their constant bickering and unreasonableness. The more you watch, the more comparisons you notice. These traits are the result of a culture which refuses to mature, a people unable to look outside their own fence and learn from others. But it’s not all bad.

From my years in Thailand, I know the ordinary Thai to be as generous, honest, giving, and patriotic as any people I’ve known. I can tell you story after story how a Thai befriended or helped me in a time of need.

These good Thai people are still with us, they most likely are suffering in silence and helping their neighbors while the corrupted citizens look after themselves. When you have a society so deeply entrenched in corruption that the majority of citizens accept this corruption as normal and “okay”, you have a broken country. You have those who do wrong, and those who feel powerless to effect change. They’ll even go so far as to make excuses for those who wrong them in their embarrassment for their country.

This is an easy win for Japan. 2011 was a terrifically bad year for both Japan and Thailand. Yet, Japan handled their crisis with a discipline born of courage and love of country, while Thailand handles theirs like spoiled children. In this specific comparison Japan is “ichiban” (number one), way ahead of Thailand in every important way. I admire Japan, I’m saddened for Thailand.

Until next time..