Monday, December 13, 2010

Honolulu Marathon 2010

The annual Honolulu Marathon was held yesterday so in the morning I walked over to Kapiolani Park and the finish line to take a few photos. Like the last time I took some photos in 2008, my favorite place was where the temporary showers were set up in the blocked off street right after the finish line with strong backlighting. You can see photos in my Hawaii/Honolulu Marathon gallery:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some good things in Photoshop Elements 9 but not in Photoshop CS2

There are some things in PSE 9 that I like that are not in PS CS2 and here are some of them. I am not trying to make a complete list because that is boring and I bet the Adobe website has info that is more complete. I will just mention some things that I discovered and are interesting to me. I am not mentioning things that both programs have.

1. The straighten tool in PSE 9/6 is much better than what is in PS CS2. In PSE I can quickly level a crooked horizon or other horizontal line, but with PS CS2 you must turn on the grid and then through trial and error rotate the image left or right by some guessed degree. Then when it is still not right go back and do it again. And again. And again. With PSE it is done in about 2 seconds. I have to say here though that even PSE is a bit lame compared to Paint Shop Pro X (PSP X). PSE only works with horizontal lines, but not vertical lines. PSP X works with both.

2. PSE 9/6 has a B&W conversion tool that is pretty good. It is similar to the channel mixer with monochrome checked, but the PSE tool has several built-in presets and you can add new ones. Plus, in addition to the red, green, and blue sliders it also has a contrast slider. Most of the time I can just quickly try several of the included presets and get something that looks good.

3. PSE 9 has several things (maybe in 6 also) such as a panorama tool, an HDR tool, and a few others. I used the panorama tool a few days ago just to try it out and it did a good job. Also, although you can let it do everything automatically it also has several controls you can use to try other things and also it looks like you can also turn off the auto stuff and have even more control.

4. There are several color correction tools that I don't recall being in PS CS2. For example, adjust color for skin tone, remove color cast, etc.

5. Smart brush tool and Detail smart brush tool look like they may be very useful sometimes.

6. The Spot healing brush has content aware fill functionality.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Photoshop Elements 9 vs. Photoshop CS2

After using both PS CS2 and PSE 6/9 for a few years I have found that the only things that I miss a bit in that are in PS CS2 but not in PSE 9 are:

1. The shadows/highlights function in PS CS2 has an advanced mode that allows fine tuning a bit more and I use that sometimes. The one in PSE 9 is the same as the basic mode in PS CS2. Most of the time when using shadows/highlights the default settings of the advanced controls in PS CS2 are all that I use so being stuck with those default settings in PSE 9 is not much of a problem, but occasionally I wish I could tweak them a bit. For me this is minor.

2. The PSE 9 curves function is more basic than the one in PS CS2. Again, most of the time it is sufficient, but occasionally I would like a bit more control. To tell you the truth though, years ago before I had shadows/highlights I often used curves to try to do that, but with shadows/highlights I find that I rarely use curves for that purpose now anyway. For me this is minor.

3. Many functions in PSE 9 work with 16-bit files, but some don't. Since these days I mostly work on photos for the web this isn't a problem for me though. For me this is minor.

4. Color management is more basic in PSE 9 than PS CS2. It is sufficient for my needs, but if you publish your photos in magazines, etc. then you probably want what is in PS. If you make lots of prints at home then you may also need some of the additional color management functionality in PS. For me this is minor.

Maybe later I will post about some of the things that are in PSE 9 but are not in PS CS2 that I like.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Photoshop Elements 9

A few years ago I got Photoshop Elements 6 and have been mostly using it since the ACR with it can open my A700 raw files, whereas my Photoshop CS2 cannot. I generally like it a lot, but it has many very annoying and frankly hard to believe GUI bugs that even the simplest freeware programs don't have. The bugs exist when run on WinXP, Vista, and Win7 64. I would have updated to PSE 7 or a later version if I thought those bugs were fixed. I asked about that a couple of years ago somewhere, I think on the Adobe forum, and was told the problems in a later version still existed and someone else reported that the Mac version was also very buggy.

Now that I have the Canon 60D the ACR 5.6 that works with PSE 6 can't open the 60D raw files so last night I decided to download the trial version of the new PSE 9/ACR 6.2 that was released fairly recently. Good news! It seems like all the GUI bugs have been fixed! I used it last night and then some more today and so far I haven't found any problems. I just use the editor and don't use the organizer so I can't comment on that. I see that everything looks about the same as PSE 6, but there are some new tools and functions that I will have to investigate.

Since I use it to prepare files for the web it isn't that important to me that some of the Photoshop stuff isn't in Photoshop Elements. It does work with my Neat Image and PTLens plugins though and that is important to me. If I was routinely making big prints or publishing photos in print then probably full Photoshop would be better.

I ordered PSE 9 from Amazon a few minutes ago. Good price, $66 for DVD, free shipping and no tax. Also, right now there is an additional $20 rebate so price is $46.

My thoughts going from Sony A700 to Canon 60D

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Canon 60D and here are some of my thoughts comparing it to the Sony A700 that I have been using for almost 3 years.

Keep in mind that I don't care one bit about brand so I will try not to be partisan, but I do concentrate on features and performance in the areas that are important to me. For example, I never shoot in continuous advance mode so I don't care if a camera is 3fps, 5fps, 7fps, or 10fps. I suppose 1fps (or even 0.5fps) would be good enough for me. :) Therefore, I don't pay much attention to this spec. I do like the camera to be quick and responsive though so that is probably related to whether the camera can handle high fps. I also shoot raw so don't care about jpeg processing options.

The 60D is almost exactly the same size as the A700, but it is a bit lighter:

60D: 755g, 145 x 106 x 79mm
A700: 768g, 142 x 105 x 80mm

Here are a few things about the 60D I really like compared to my A700 (that I have discovered so far):

- AF works well at wide angles! Hooray!
- Sleep mode works properly! Hooray!
- Fill-flash works well! Hooray!
- 3:2 LCD that displays photos using all the available space since photos are also 3:2
- Silent mode -- the quietest FSLR or DSLR I have ever owned
- Full-time ISO displayed in vf and it shows the actual ISO when using Auto ISO
- Quick LV and tilt/swivel LCD
- ISO 12,800
- Auto ISO to 6400 (can set maximum ISO)
- 60D gives 1,100 shots vs. A700 gives 650 shots with battery (according to Imaging Resource)

I have noticed also that the well-known red channel noise problem with the A700 that shows up as very noisy, mottled skies hasn't reared its ugly head with the 60D (or 30D and 300D before that). With my A700 the problem can be really terrible, especially when converting to B&W.

Something that is of no interest to most people, but is important to me is that Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus (the last time I checked) have multiple languages for the menu in Japan and everywhere in the world English is one of the choices. The Sony cameras sold in Japan have firmware that does not allow the language to be changed from Japanese. That means when I am in Japan, sometimes for extended periods, Sony is not really a purchase choice -- even if my camera dies or is lost. I had a long thread about this on dpreview in 2007 when the A700 came out and it is a mystery why Sony does it, but other DSLR makers don't.

It is interesting that at the moment Canon seems to have returned to the FSLR days in one way. In film days the sensor quality (film) and the lens determined the IQ so you were free to choose which level of SLR based on features, speed, robustness, and price. With the 550D, 60D, and 7D all having essentially the same 18mp sensor with the same IQ we are back to that. You can have any of these and have one of the others as a backup and the IQ will be the same.

Here are things that I have found that are different from the A700 and are not as good on the 60D, IMO:

- Can't zoom to maximum image magnification with one button press

This one is a bit annoying. Sometimes if I think a photo might not be sharp (not sure I got focus right, low shutter speed so not sure if there is camera or subject blur, etc.) then I like to be able to quickly zoom all the way in to check sharpness. With the 60D (same as 30D) you have to either press the zoom button over and over to get to maximum zoom or just hold it down and it will zoom in. It isn't as fast as the one button press on the A700.

- Focal length not shown on image info display

When you review an image with the option of displaying all the info (histogram, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.) it doesn't include the focal length. The A700 does. This isn't a big deal to me, but I did like that it was there on the A700. With the A700 you must press the C button to get that expanded info. Who would guess that? :) The 60D uses the INFO button.

- ISO settings don't wraparound

As you scroll through the ISO values it stops when you get to the highest ISO (or lowest ISO). Then you must go in the opposite direction to get to the other end. For example, if you are at ISO 12,800 and want to go to ISO 100 you can't just turn the wheel one more click. You must go backwards all the way through the list. The A700 wraps around. This one isn't a real big deal for me either since it is rare I want to quickly go from the high end to the low end or vice versa, but still it is a nice A700 feature.

- 1 memory setting

The A700 has three memory settings, but the 60D has only one. I never used the memory on the A700 so this is not important to me.

I find the 60D to be a nice upgrade from the 50D. I considered the 50D last year, but it was even bigger and heavier than the 30D and I didn't really want that for travel. Also, it had a reputation for not being so good at high ISO. Before buying the 60D the one issue that I was disappointed about it was that Canon removed MFA that was in the 50D. But, it seems like Canon may have done something to the 60D because there have been very few posts about FF and BF like are usually seen everytime a new body is released. There is lots of speculation as to what may have changed. Some think it may be that Canon has just tightened up manufacturing and testing tolerances or even that the firmware has been changed and somehow is often able to self-correct focus errors. Anyway, here is a long thread discussing it:

I can say that with the 5 lenses I have tried on the 60D I haven't had any problems with AF.

Also, from these diagrams it looks like the 60D is weathersealed about the same as the 7D:

Plastic lenses and camera bodies

I like the light, plastic lenses so much more than the old, heavy metal ones. The plastic ones just seem so much tougher and don't get scratched and scuffed up and the lighter weight is great. For my type of travel light weight is important too!

When it comes to plastic there are many types and qualities, but I am reminded that they are also used for motorcycle helmets, military helmets, football helmets, tennis rackets, skis, etc. instead of metal. Also, most military and hunting rifles now have plastic stocks.

Many years ago the thought of plastic camera bodies and plastic lens tubes seemed to not be such a good idea to me either, but since 1988 or so my opinion has gradually changed. These days I more or less prefer it. My new 60D has a plastic shell over a metal frame, but it is nothing like the 550D or A100 (and other low to mid range Sony bodies that I have held). It is really well done and if you don't know it is plastic you might think it is magnesium. I had a magnesium 30D before and still have my A700. The 60D looks and feels good. I take care of my stuff too so don't drop gear but, of course, none of us knows when an accident will happen.

The only camera I have ever had that had visible, but slight, damage was my Minolta XK bought in 1976. It was a heavy, metal camera. I had not used it much, but one time I dropped it about 2 feet onto a carpeted floor and it landed on the big finder. I don't know how it happened, but it got a small dent in it. It still worked, but it made me feel a bit sick for a few minutes. :) Over the next few years one corner got some brassing where the black enamel had worn off. I sold it on ebay in 2000 to a collector in Japan along with the box, manuals, everything. I took several close-up photos of the camera also showing the 2 places where it was slightly damaged so anyone bidding on it would know exactly what the condition was. My 7000i, 7xi, and 707si are still in good shape with just the shiny plastic a bit dull from rubbing on clothing and also just age. The 60D does not have shiny plastic.

In normal use occasionally the camera or lens might get small bumps on the edge of a table, chair, railing, corner of a building, etc.. Enough to sometimes dent, scratch, or scuff a metal lens, but I have never had any cosmetic damage to a plastic lens or body. The lighter weight is also very welcome to me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hawaii Five-O shooting in Waikiki

All day yesterday the new Hawaii Five-O TV show was shooting in Waikiki. I didn't know they would be here, but in the morning about 8:00 AM I was down at the beach and they were getting all set up. I hung around and took a few photos as they were doing some takes with the show's stars and lots of extras. Then late in the afternoon I was at the beach again and assumed they would be long gone, but they were still there shooting. The photos are in my Hawaii gallery:

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Canon, Tamron, Sigma superzoom comparison report

Last week I bought a 60D and the following superzooms (I also have other lenses):

Sigma 18-250mm 79 x 101mm 630g $479
Tamron 18-270mm 80 x 101mm 560g $629
Canon 18-200mm 79 x 102mm 600g $589

I like having a superzoom for walking around and for travel. You can see my photos here:

I will only keep one. I think I like the Canon and Tamron lenses the best so have pretty much eliminated the Sigma. The reviews of the Sigma are a bit worse and it is the heaviest also so that is another strike against it. I think the build quality of all 3 is fine for a lens of this type and price range. For a walkaround lens I do not want a big, heavy, metal lens. Actually, I wish they were all smaller and lighter! There was no lens creep for any lens when pointed down. Of course, when a lens gets older it sometimes loosens up a bit, but all 3 have lens locks. My 7 year old Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 still doesn't have lens creep though.

The Sigma has micro-HSM (fake HSM), but AF seems to not be any faster than the Canon which doesn't have USM. The Tamron AF is a half-step slower than the Canon, but still seems okay. I don't typically use servo AF mode, but a couple of days ago I shot some bodyboarders using servo mode using the Tamron. It was able to keep up and it was interesting to see it constantly keeping the subjects in focus as they got closer. My A700 and 18-250mm could not do that with servo mode. I would always use single-shot mode with the A700 and got most in focus. I also tried focusing on something very close and then something at infinity to see how long it took with each lens. I did it several times. Also, focusing in a more typical situation of subjects at distances that didn't vary so much. All seemed acceptable to me for things I typically photograph. Both the Canon and Tamron AF was pretty quiet. The Sigma didn't seem any quieter. For me, AF noise is a non-issue for all 3 lenses. Focus accuracy was fine with all of them. I have been using the Tamron and Canon the most after I decided I probably wouldn't choose the Sigma. Both the Tamron and Canon focus accurately and without hesitation or hunting in most conditions. Even indoors they both worked well -- except when I tried focusing on my toes in an almost dark room (200mm, ISO 6400, 1/6 second, f5.6) and both could not focus. I didn't really expect them to, but I just wanted to see if one would and the other wouldn't. :-) My A700 + 18-250mm also could not focus.

Tamron advantages: lighter, includes lens hood, and rate IQ slightly better, 6 year warranty, 70mm longer focal length, better lens cap (don't need to remove lens hood to put on and off), slightly higher macro magnification

Canon advantages: Canon lens (no worries about future compatibility), AF a bit faster, at 200mm lens length about 23mm shorter than Tamron at 200mm

Note, tested the Tamron and Canon on the same 50D body (15mp, 1.6x) so, I think, the results are better for legitimate comparison purposes. The test of the Canon used a 50D, I think, but the Tamron was tested on a Nikon D300 and D90 (12mp, 1.5x bodies).

Note, my Tamron 28-75mm that I bought in 2003 works fine on the 60D, 30D, and 300D. I think compatibility problems are rare with Tamron. I don't know if it is true, but I have heard that Sigma reverse engineers the protocol/interface, but Tamron licenses it.

I also checked to see how the aperture changes as you zoom:

18mm f3.5
28mm f4
40mm f4.5
60mm f5
100 f5.6
220mm f6.3

18mm f3.5
24mm f4
40mm f4.5
50mm f5
80mm f5.6

18mm f3.5
22mm f4
35mm f4.5
50mm f5
75mm f5.6
135mm f6.3

I am not a pixel peeper or measurebator so I have just been taking photos with the 3 lenses on the 60D and looking at them on the computer. No big surprises. They all are okay. I have read several reviews of the lenses and they are good to get the nitty-gritty about optical performance. Of course, we all want the optical performance to be good and when choosing between 3 very similar lenses we want the best of the 3, if possible. As we all know a superzoom is a compromise, but the Tamron and Canon both are acceptible.

By the way, I said that I quickly decided I like the Tamron and Canon lenses a bit better than the Sigma. One reason was because the Sigma was the heaviest, but the main reason is because in reviews on dpreview the Sigma was rated the lowest optically.

For example, dpreview said this about the Sigma sharpness compared to the Tamron:

In a fashion that's almost stereotypical between the two brands, the Tamron certainly appears to be consistently sharper, and has a rather more effective stabilisation system.

Also, dpreview rated the Sigma, Tamron, and Canon like this:

S 7.5, T 7.5, C 7.5 Build quality
S 8.0, T 8.0, C 8.0 Ergonomics & handling
S 9.0, T 9.0, C 8.5 Features
S 7.0, T 7.5, C 7.0 Image quality
S 7.0, T 7.0, C 7.0 Value

The Tamron was rated higher than the Canon and Sigma for Image quality.

Plus, the Sigma does not have HSM, it has micro-HSM (fake HSM). You can read about the difference between USM/HSM and micro-USM/HSM here:

I shoot raw. Lightroom 3 and DxO have lens profiles for the lenses that will automatically correct/improve the optical quality. I don't have either software now, but may get one of them.

I haven't made a decision yet because I want to use them a bit longer, but I am leaning to keeping the Tamron at the moment. Yes, I would like the best points of each of the 3 lenses all in one, but that never happens. So, one is left trying to decide which trade-offs one can live with the best. Now that Tamron has released their new 70-300mm with USD (USM motor) they will probably at some point update the 18-270mm with it, but no one knows when. It will almost certainly be heavier too.

After I bought the 3 lenses I discovered, coincidentally, that Tamron has a $150 rebate on the lens. Cool! With the Tamron rebate the price is $110 less than the Canon and since Canon needs a separate lens hood the price is actually about $150 less. If I decide to go with the Tamron then this is icing on the cake.

By the way, I used to have a 30D and 300D and still have a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 and Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 in Canon mount. For the last 3 years I have been using a Sony A700, but Sony didn't have any new bodies that I am interested in so I decided to get a Canon this time. I will keep my Sony lenses though in case Sony has something interesting in the future. :-) Even if they do have something I like 2-3 years down the road I will keep my Canon mount lenses too. I have no brand loyalty. Nikon and Pentax have interesting stuff too and if I had some of their lenses already then I would consider them. As it is I only have Sony/Minolta mount lenses and Canon mount lenses though and don't really want to get any other mounts. :-)

Speaking just for myself, I have so rarely seen any of my photos that optical quality was the only thing keeping the image from being fantastic. Actually, I love this sort of lens because without it many photos I take would not even be taken. I know because I have used other lenses over the years and I get many more photos that I want to take and keep now than I used to because rather than having the wrong lens on the camera (or wrong film inside the camera) I can shoot at wide angle in one shot and seconds later shoot at a long focal length or anything in between.

Update: I decided to keep the Tamron 18-270mm and sent the Canon 18-200mm and Sigma 18-250mm back.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Canon 60D

I have been using a Sony A700 for the last 33 months, but I bought a Canon 60D a few days ago. I used to have a Canon 30D and 300D so this is not my first time to use Canon. I also have a few Canon mount lenses. At the moment none of the current Sony DSLRs are interesting to me, but I will keep my Sony mount lenses in case in the future they have something.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vietnam trip photos online

I have updated my website with new Vietnam photos from my recent trip there. They are in the Vietnam gallery (surprise!). There are also some photos from my previous trip there in 2000. The photos can be seen here:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Left Vietnam, back in Hawaii

I left Vietnam a couple of days ago after a month of travel and I am back home in Hawaii now. I have downloaded all my photos and am sorting through them now. Soon I will put some new ones on my website.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton

After Hue I spent a couple of nights in Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island and then arrived in Hanoi a couple of days ago. I think I will just hang around here for the last few days of my month in Vietnam.

Visited Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton in Hanoi yesterday. I stopped by there when I was in Vietnam about 11 years ago too. Much of the prison is gone now, but they have preserved one large section and made it into a museum.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I left Hoi An after 3 good days there and arrived in Hue today. Spent some time walking around The Citadel (the former emperor's city within Hue).

Being in Vietnam I am reminded of another time and long ago. Here is Country Joe McDonald with his Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die at Woodstock in 1969:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hoi An

I am 15 days into the travels and still have the same time left, so in the middle of the trip now. I arrived in Hoi An yesterday and will be here a few days. I remember Hoi An as one of my favorite places when I was in Vietnam some years ago. Much is still the same, but the old, historic part has become a UNESCO World Heritage site and the old houses have become clothing shops, art galleries, and restaurants. :-( It is also much cleaner now. That is all great for the Vietnamese because obviously they are prospering, but it gives that part of town the feel of many of the old parts of Europe. Before, that part of town had just a few shops, mostly for local people, and the occupants and friends sitting out in front cooking, eating, selling vegetables, etc. Fortunately, there is still plenty of that too, just not in that section of town.

I got up at 5:00 AM and then outside at 6:00 to get down to the river and market early this morning and spent 4 hours walking around and shooting. Got many good shots. Actually, I think I have gotten a lot of good shots throughout the trip. We'll see when it comes time to download them all and review them though. :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Arrived in Nha Trang today

Since last posting I again went down into the Mekong Delta for a couple more days, but to different places. Visited the famous and extensive Cu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war. Also, did a homestay with a family on a canal in the Delta. Cool. I visited the tunnels and did a homestay when I was in Vietnam last time too. Then back to Saigon and the next day to the old French colonial mountain resort town called Dalat. There are many hills in the town with a lake and looks a lot like a European village in Austria or France. Temperatures were nice and cool and a wonderful change from the heat and humidity in Saigon and the Delta. Stayed 2 nights there. This morning made the drive to Nha Trang and got here about 3 hours ago. It is on the ocean with a nice beach, although today is overcast with occasional drizzle.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I got my lens back!

Last night I got my lens back! I figured the chances were only about 5%, but they found the lens and brought it back to Saigon for me. I was sure it was gone forever and I would not be able to use it on this trip. Also, I would have the dilemma of deciding whether I would buy a replacement when I get back to Hawaii. I don't want to buy any more lenses for the Sony mount because the company's direction with their cameras is so erratic. They have a point & shoot mentality and don't really understand photography, I think.

Small disaster averted...maybe

A few days ago I spent the night in Can Tho while in the Mekong Delta and in the morning I was in a hurry to get my stuff together in my hotel room so I could checkout. I accidentally left my Sony 11-18mm camera lens behind. :-( I didn't discover this until the next morning in Saigon though. For the last 2 days I have been trying to find out if the hotel staff found it and if so can I get it sent to me here in Saigon. The other complicating wrinkle is that I am leaving Saigon first thing in the morning. Well, the tentative good news is that this afternoon the hotel in Can Tho said they had found my lens and that they will give it to someone who is taking a bus to Saigon today (for other reasons) and that I can pick the lens up at 7:00 PM not far from where I am staying. I have my fingers crossed that all is well, there are no mistakes, and the lens is still in like new condition. I will know in a couple of hours, I suppose! Please, please!!!

Yesterday and today I continued wondering around Saigon with my camera. It is still very hot and humid so everytime I happen to be near my hotel I go in and take a cold shower. I guess that I have been averaging about 4-5 showers a day since I got here. :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My first few days in Vietnam

I just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon on Wednesday and it begins a month of travel in Vietnam. I was here for a month almost 11 years ago, but felt ready to return and, I hope, get some good photos. It sure is hot and humid here, not unexpected, but it has been almost 3 years since I was somewhere with this sort of climate (last time was Cambodia and Thailand) so my body is not acclimatized to it yet.

I took a few photos while walking around Wednesday afternoon, but it was the hottest time of the day so after an hour and a half (including a stop for a beer) I returned to my hotel for a cold shower and to relax in my aircon room. Thursday morning, early, about 6:00 AM I started wondering the streets. Of course, that early it is a bit cooler and most importantly there is a lot of morning activity to photograph. Then a stop for breakfast. After eating I was walking again and over a period of 30 minutes while walking in a park I was approached over and over by cyclo drivers hoping I would hire them to show me around. Finally, a guy that seemed particular easy going and whose English was a bit better approached me and I agreed to a particular route and price. We even wrote the price of 150,000 dong on a piece of paper to ensure there were no misunderstandings. From my experience you can do all of this and still at the end you discover you are dealing with a real jerk. Well, he didn't disappoint me. :-)

We rode around and stopped often so he could take a break under a tree, get something to drink, and talk with friends while I walked around to take photos. After 3 hours we were done and he suggested we stop at a little sidewalk place to have a "happy hour". I bought us each a beer and we talked some more. I noticed that planned or unplanned he had taken me to an almost deserted road with almost no traffic and no one walking on the sidewalk. Normally there are people everywhere in Saigon with many people walking along, bicycles, motorbikes, cars and a cacophony of sound. On this road on the edge of District 1 though it was quiet and almost deserted. I figured it probably meant nothing but I have traveled enough to know that this may not be a coincidence. Still, he was friendly and all seemed fine. Also, it was the middle of the afternoon. While we were sitting on the sidewalk drinking our beer he asked if I would write a note in a small notebook to recommend him. He had showed it to me earlier in the park and it had many comments from satisfied customers. I readily agreed and wrote a note. Then he asked me to go ahead and pay him and then he would take me back to the park where we had met.

When it comes time to pay you find out if you have an asshole on your hands. The moment of truth had arrived. I had a good time so decided to give him a 20,000 dong tip -- I figured he would appreciate that. I gave him the 150,000 dong plus the 20,000 dong tip and rather than be happy he became very agitated. He told me that I owed him 450,000 dong because the charge was 150,000 dong per hour. Of course, that was bullshit. We had very carefully gone over everything several times in the park. He had clearly pulled this scam many times because he seemed so practiced at the way he sprung it and the words he chose. With no hesitation I refused to pay him more. Guidebooks will tell you that in Southeast Asia people do not show anger and yell so you should also remain calm. Well, I can tell you that many times I have seen people in Southeast Asia angry and yelling at each other. Therefore, when this guy, his name was Tian, suddenly exploded and started yelling at me demanding I pay him the additional amount it made me angry too, but didn't seem particularly out of character for the culture. Be warned, guidebooks often have incorrect information. :-) I told him firmly and clearly that I would absolutely not give him anymore money. He had the 170,000 dong in his hand so I started to walk away. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back and in a very threatening way told me I could not leave. At this point I was beginning to think we may end up in a fight, but I stayed very firm and kept my eyes locked right on his. I told him to never touch me again and that he had two choices: 1) take the 170,000 dong or 2) we go find the police. He refused to get the police and told me they wouldn't and couldn't help me, but I insisted that I was going to find them and he could accompany me. He planted himself right in front of me and was very close blocking my way.

I hoped this wouldn't turn violent, but I decided that if this was going to then I guess it will happen and I started wondering how I would fare. He was about 20 years younger, maybe 2 inches shorter, but stockier. He was probably a kung-fu wizard though. :-) I hope he didn't have a knife. I also had my camera around my neck and started thinking that it would almost certainly get smashed and broken.

I told him again I was leaving and looked him straight in the eyes and said, "So, what are you going to do about it?" I wondered if this would be the point where he would turn violent. For the first time he got quiet and then looked down at the sidewalk. He was clearly thinking things over, probably thinking the same thing I was: Do I want this to turn into a fight? After a rather long delay he looked up and said he would take 200,000 dong and he would take me back to the park. I told him no that all he was getting was the 170,000 dong and he didn't even deserve the 20,000 dong tip, but I had already said I would give it to him so I wouldn't go back on my word. I told him to stay away from me and I would find my own way back. Although I didn't know where we were I knew it couldn't be too far so I walked until I found a road and turned to the left. Soon I was back in the heart of District 1 and about an hour later I found my way back to my hotel. I am sure he had pulled the scam many times and probably had been successful most of the time. He was good at trying to intimidate people. He failed this time though so I hope he hesitates a lot the next time. Although from time to time, especially in Egypt, I have had similar experiences, this one was probably the most intense. The world seems to be getting meaner. One misadventure in the can, I hope no more! :-)

Friday I left Saigon to head south into the amazing Mekong Delta. For the last two days I have been traveling mostly by boats on the river and watching and photographing all the hustle and bustle of life on this big river. Yesterday morning I took a boat going from Saigon to My Tho and then later on to Ben Tre. Had lunch at Ben Tre and did some exploring with my camera. By evening I got to Cat Tho to spend the night and this morning got up early to take a boat to the big Cai Rang floating market. I think I have gotten some pretty good photos. I got back to Saigon this evening and am glad to be in an aircon room again! It is so hot and humid here! I have been thinking about it and figure that maybe if I stay here 30 years or so then I might get acclimatized. :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Going to Vietnam

It has been more than 10 years since I went to Vietnam last time, but I am going again on Monday for a month of travel. I hope I can get some good photos! Here are a couple of photos from when I was there last time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4th of July Waikiki Outrigger Canoe Races, 2010

Yesterday for the 3rd year in a row I was at the beach in Waikiki for the annual Independence Day, 4th of July outrigger canoe races. You can check out the Independence Day gallery (in the Hawaii gallery) to see photos from the Waikiki Outrigger Races yesterday at the beach! There are also photos from 2009 and 2008:

Just like in 2009 and 2008 it was a lot of fun! When I shoot there I am barefoot and just wear board shorts. On the beach and out in the water up to my waist and almost to my chest a couple of times. Like in previous years my hands and camera didn't get a drop on them. Oh, I am good. :-)

It was a blast with all the boats launching and then returning, the crews on the beach, and the cheering fans. Also, children there too!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pan-Pacific Festival Parade

The annual Pan-Pacific Festival Parade was held here in Waikiki a few days ago. I met my friends Celia, Shunwah, and Erick on Kalakaua Avenue to watch the parade. It was good to see them again and it was a fun time!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lantern Floating Ceremony

Went to Ala Moana Beach Park this evening for the Lantern Floating Ceremony held on Memorial Day each year. It is good to be back in Hawaii. I was over waist deep in the water when I took this photo. :-) Forgot to take my wallet out of my back pocket so it got soaked along with money and various cards, papers, etc. It is all drying out now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I flirted with a Pentax K7

I flirted with the Pentax K7 this month and I thought some people might be interested in what I found. I got a fantastic deal for a new K7 + 18-55mm for US$855 with free shipping and no tax. I had been giving some thought to getting one to try out so when I saw that deal I jumped on it. Sadly, I returned it yesterday. The only reason I returned it was because compared to my A700 at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400 it was worse. In all other ways that I care about it was a very nice upgrade from the A700. A big bonus is that it was smaller so for travel that would be very welcome.

I shot 3 raw shots in my hotel room a few days ago with the K7 and A700 and ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400 (K7 v1.03, A700 v4, both with high ISO nr off). I used the meter readings for both and got similar histograms. The first thing I noticed is that at ISO 1600 the K7 needed a half stop more exposure and at ISO 3200 and 6400 it needed 2/3 stops more exposure than the A700. Since I only go to higher ISO settings when I need a faster shutter speed this immediately was a problem. Even with that additional exposure I discovered that the K7 had significantly more noise than the A700. I tried both ACR 5.4 and RawTherapee 2.4.1. RT was better, but better for the A700 too. I also tried Neat Image on the K7 images and with careful work improved them a bit, but it also improved the A700 images. Then if you consider that I really should compare the K7 ISO 1600 to A700 ISO 1200, K7 ISO 3200 to A700 ISO 2000, and K7 ISO 6400 to A700 ISO 4000 the K7 looks even worse. Just to reiterate, I am only talking about high ISO.

The camera and its features are really wonderful. Note, for other people very fast AF or fps or something else might be really important. I checked the things that were important to me and the only bad thing I discovered was the high ISO.

If the K7 had the Kx sensor or even the A550 sensor it would be really nice. For me though, I find that when I travel I use ISO 1600 and higher from time to time for people at night on the street, etc. so it is important. It sure was hard to return it, but I decided that even if I kept it I would end up picking up the A700 in preference for a trip and also that with the poor high ISO I wouldn't be motivated to buy any additional Pentax mount lenses. Maybe a K7 update will be out this year though and I bet Pentax addresses this one big shortcoming.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Back in California

I was up in Vancouver, British Columbia for a couple of months, but now back on the road again! Here is Mt. Shasta with a crown of clouds in northern California this morning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vancouver, British Columbia

I have been in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for the last week and expect to hang around here for awhile. Here are a few photos from the last few days. As usual, more photos are on my website:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Redwood National Park, California

After leaving Ukiah yesterday we drove up the California coast to Redwood National Park near Oregon. The coastline there is beautiful and so different than further south. Here are a couple of photos:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Santa Cruz, California

Yesterday was a lot of fun in Santa Cruz because I could meet some old friends after not seeing each other for about a year. Arrived in Ukiah up in northern California this afternoon. The drive north of the San Francisco Bay Area was good passing by many beautiful vineyards and wineries with wonderful weather.

Here's a photo from yesterday in Santa Cruz:

California Coast on a rainy, winter day

We arrived in California a few days ago and have been driving up the coast. Here are some photos from a couple of days ago when it was raining a lot as we drove the winding road that hugs the coast with the ocean on one side and rocky cliffs right up to the road on the other. There were many small rockslides and my car was almost hit by a rock that fell off the cliff and rolled onto the road right in front of me. Barely missed it.

So far have stayed in Bakersfield, Morro Bay, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.

More photos from the road trip so far in the New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California galleries:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

We have spent the last week hanging out in Las Vegas to recharge the ol' road trip travel batteries. :-) No interest in gambling, but Las Vegas is a convenient place in the west to stay for awhile.

Leaving Las Vegas today and next stop is California! Here are a few photos from Red Rock Canyon northwest of Las Vegas.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Zion National Park, Utah

After leaving Page, Arizona we drove west and went to Zion National Park, Utah yesterday. Lots of snow falling much of the way and in the park, but after emerging from the long tunnel in the middle of the park it was raining instead of snowing. Here are a couple of photos:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona

Yesterday we arrived in Page, Arizona. Here are a couple of photos at Horseshoe Bend:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Went to Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado today and am spending the night in Cortez.

Monday, February 15, 2010

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

On another road trip! Here are a couple of photos from White Sands National Monument, New Mexico:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Egypt, Jordan, Israel photos on my website now

The 4 weeks travelling in Egypt with short side trips to Jordan and Israel was fantastic! I have some new photos in the Egypt, Jordan, and Israel galleries on my website:

Please take a look!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Japanese Onsen

One of the great things about Japan is the onsen and the whole Japanese onsen culture. Whenever I am in Japan I always accept any invitations to go to one. My wife went to a new one with her mother while I was in Egypt and she suggested we go there today because it is an especially nice one. It also has a big room with comfortable recliners and individual LCD TVs that you can relax in between baths. Of course, besides the various indoor onsen pools of various temperatures they had several rotemburo (outdoors onsen). They have big digital thermometers next to each one and most were 41-43C, but one was 45C and another was 19C. The air temperature outside was about 6C. I didn't get in the 19C one.

We were there for about 5 hours and bathed and relaxed 3 times in the onsen and also I watched a movie on the movie channel. The Japanese do onsen better than anyplace in the world. Here is the place we went today: