Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shutter Therapy in Hoi An, Vietnam with OM-D E-M1

I spent the past few days in the picturesque coastal town of Hoi An, Vietnam. Finally, I managed to get some time away from work and just click the shutter button away, while doing that in a quaint, small and peaceful town. I have not had much chance to travel around and I really should have made more effort to explore South East Asia more, there are so many beautiful places, rich in culture and various tradition, all screaming photography opportunities to be discovered. 

I brought along Olympus OM-D E-M1 as the primary camera, an E-M5 as a back-up in case something happens to the E-M1, and four M.Zuiko lenses: 9-18mm F4-5.6, 45mm F1.8, 75mm F1.8 and 40-150mm F2.8 Pro. When I was walking around doing my shutter therapy, I did not bring everything with me of course, usually only one camera (E-M1) and about three lenses (40-150mm Pro stays behind, unless the extra long each was needed). E-M1 and the three lenses weigh less than 1.5kg, all fitted into a small shoulder sling camera bag, easy to carry around without feeling any strain on my shoulder or neck. In comparison to my older days with DSLR E-5 and the Four Thirds lenses, this new combination of E-M1 and smaller lenses made such a stark, huge difference in terms of portability and convenience. And with the 40-150mm F2.8 pro lens, the total weight comes to about 2kg only! 

Beautiful Hoi An, near sunset

Friendly Hoi An farmer

The shops and buildings are old, but with beautiful, traditional design, staying in tact. 

Boat is an important form of transport for the locals. 

The whole place of Hoi An was so slow and peaceful that even the street animals become lethargic

The Street Food looked devilishly delicious. 

Whatever this was, it has got to be hot and spicy

A sight not too common in modern days

I think everyone has a bicycle in this town. 

Hoi An is such a beautiful, small town! There really is not much to do in this town, and if you are not exactly into photography, I think it is easy to get bored. The town is so small you might just be able to explore all places within a day or two. Most of the important places were reachable within walking distance. Shops close quite early, and there were not many forms of entertainments or things to do at night. To come here, is to relax and unwind, and just take things slow, enjoying the scenery and eat all the delicious Vietnamese food. 

I find the people here very, very friendly and approachable. Most of them had no issues with me shooting their photographs, and the odd thing was I ran into more trouble shooting the street food than being stopped shooting portraits of Vietnamese locals. I am not sure why I was not allowed to shoot their food they sold by the street, considering how harmless that could be, and so many people actually selling the same thing, there really was nothing unique or special at all. When I was stopped at one food operator, I just walked another 5 minutes down the road and found the exact same thing and from the many choices I did manage to shoot the few interesting foods that I wanted to. 

The main problem with my time in Hoi An was the weather. It rained about 80% of the time, which could be frustrating. It was not so much of the rain that bothered me, but the grey sky, creating very ugly lighting to the scenery and everything I wanted to shoot. Having an E-M1 helped in the wet weather, and I was using the 40-150mm pro combo when it rained so I had a fully weather sealed system to walk around with. Thankfully the final day before I left, I was given half a day with good weather (it did rain in the morning, but it was fine from noon onward). More than half of the shots shown in this blog were taken in that final day, due to the better weather. 

The younger kids and teenagers were very cooperative when I was shooting them. They did not speak English so it was difficult to communicate, but always, always remember the universal language: SMILE. 

The younger ones were quite fashionable actually, a contrast to their parents' generation. 

Not sure why but they all had some strange attachment to caps. Maybe the sun was too harsh most of the time when it was not raining. 

There are stalls selling gigantic donuts. There are just too many of them, looking at how huge those donuts are, is enough to make me full. 

Just a typical scene of the streets in Hoi An. Always busy, with bicycles, trishaws, motorcycles and pedestrians. 


Trishaw is good business

Of all the food I have seen, I was most fascinated by the purple cake thing. 

I was just too full already, or else I would try each and every one of the food here!

E-M1 did superbly well as a travel photography camera. I almost never missed focus, and I used the electronic viewfinder most of the time. I started shooting when it was not even sunrise, thus it was quite dark, but the E-M1 had no issues handling focus, and surely was good enough to produce some low light shots. Same thing at night, I did some shooting in the night and was very pleased with the results. I brought the tripod along just in case but I found the E-M1 good enough to use hand-held, with the aid of 5-Axis Image Stabilization, wide aperture F1.8 prime lenses and of course, very usable ISO3200 and even ISO6400 shots. Check out the lantern shots below!

I brought along 9-18mm F4-5.6 (loaned from Olympus of course) and it was such a necessary lens if you do want to fit more into your one frame. I did anticipate that Hoi An would be so beautiful and I wanted to have some super wide shots, and I was glad I had the 9-18mm with me. However, I utilized the prime lenses, 45mm and 75mm most of the time. As usual 45mm F1.8 is my primary lens. I would have used the 25mm F1.8 but that lens is currently loaned out to a friend who is having a holiday in Australia (I am sure he is making great images with my 25mm F1.8 lens). For far away unreachable subjects, that 40-150mm F2.8 lens was a life-saver. On the whole, I had a complete system, and can you believe they all fit into the small bag and weighing just below 2kg!

At night, Hoi An is lit up with many lanterns. In fact, in certain times of the month (during full moon) the folks do come out together and light candles on floating paper boats to be released into the river. The lanterns added quite a unique character to this town. The street lighting was quite dim and far apart, hence the streets at night can be quite dark. That made the lanterns stood out even more. 

One of the few entertainment available in Hoi An


MORE lanterns

Boys selling candles. ISO4000

This was an ISO6,400 shots.

The main place to explore in Hoi An was the old town, having many streets with buildings exhibiting very interesting architecture and people selling souvenirs. Within the old town there was a Wet Market, operating for the whole day starting very early in the morning, selling vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood and all sorts of other things related to a market. This place was usually very busy and full of people. I did not spend too much time here because honestly the market scene is quite similar to what I can find in Malaysia, much like my usual hunting ground, Pudu Market, KL. 

Hoi An is a fishing village, and you can find the locals out on the river fishing using some traditional methods. I did have some photographs of the fishing in action but they were taken in early morning with poor light (it was raining most of the mornings I was there, how unfortunate). I imagine the shots must have been quite amazing if I had some good light. 

About 5km out of the town (by taxi or rented bicycle, I took a taxi because I was lazy) you can find a few other places to explore. There were paddy fields (we have plenty in Malaysia, so I skipped the paddy field) and vegetable farms. The vegetable farm was quite a nice place to just walk around and witness how the locals did their farming chores. Watering the plants, sowing seeds, weeding were some of the recurring activities, done everywhere in the farm. They grew a wide varieties of herbs and vegetables and I shall shamelessly say I could not identify that many of them, considering I grew up as a city boy. It was indeed exciting to see where the food came from!

Bike Tour is very popular here.

Sowing new seeds

Can you tell what they are planting?

Very friendly local folk

Such a heart-warming smile!

Morning Activities

Taugeh and... ermm.. not sure what the white thing was

Morning Market People

One man's trash can is another man's seat. 

Some of the things I have learned about Hoi An:

1) Traffic Lights are useless. There were so few here, and in places with intersecting traffic, everyone just navigated through without hitting anyone. 

2) Almost everything is in 1 Dollar (USD). The boat ride would cost you 1 USD. The candle is also 1 USD. So are many of the fruits some of the desperate locals will chase you and try to sell to you. 

3) Happy Hour starts as soon as the sun rose, and extended all the way till late night. Happy hour applies to restaurant food, souvenirs and of course, bars and cafes. Not even sure what Happy Hour means any more. 

4) Never trust the taxi drivers. Always know where you are heading. I stopped at the vegetable village, knowing the beach was only about 1km away so I decided that I would walk to the beach after exploring the vegetable village. The Taxi driver argued that the beach was 5km away. Thank goodness I had Google Maps (and data) with me. 

5) Local food, is amazing. Like seriously I could not get enough!

Very young one

Not sure what is happening here. 

Hanging out at Hoi An

Boat Operator

Another take of the town, in monotone

Mobile generation

Fruit seller, selling on the basket on his motorcycle. 

Boy in an Alley

All in all, it was a blast for me, shooting and having so much fun in Hoi An. 

If you are looking for a quiet place to relax and just spend some peaceful time in, I do not think many places can beat Hoi An. And if you love travel photography, how can you skip Hoi An? Such a beautiful town both in day and night. 

I sure hope you have enjoyed the photographs! If you have been to Hoi An do share you experience. 

Have you been travelling with E-M1? How did your E-M1 do in travel photography? Do share your thoughts, I would love to hear from you, and I am sure many would benefit from your sharing too. 

I leave you all beautiful people with photographs of food I have eaten!!

Cam Lau, local noodle dish in Hoi An. Must try!

Fried Wonton. Very different from what we get in Malaysia (or anywhere else in the world). 

White Rose

Spring Rolls

Can you imagine all these for only USD7? Yes I paid in USD. 

The beautiful lady who cooked all the above dishes. I miss her and her food already. 

One day, I shall visit other places in Vietnam, and perhaps I shall return to Hoi An again!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

About High ISO Shooting with Olympus

I have noticed several comments, here on my blog as well on forum discussions, mentioning how it was almost impossible (ok, impossible is a very strong word, or simply put as "unlikely") the shots I took with Olympus cameras (E-M5, E-M1, E-M10) exhibiting so little noise, looking so clean when I was shooting at high ISO settings (ISO3200-6400). 

Before we step any further in this subject, I would like to clarify a few items. I never mentioned that you do not see noise in Olympus high ISO shots, and surely I also did not mention that the shots were "clean" and "noise-free". I always, always have been careful when it comes to touchy subjects like high ISO shooting, and I always mentioned my high ISO shots were "good enough" and noise was handled, or controlled well. Noise is present in image even at lower ISO settings, it is either the noise was smoothened out by in camera processing or too negligible to be detected with normal computer screen views. How tolerable the amount of visible noise in high ISO varies from person to person. I was perfectly fine with E-M1's ISO6400 ouput, but showing the exact same image to a friend, he cringed even at the sight of some luminance noise (which I was perfectly fine with since it did not add any destructive effect to the image, instead adding "structure" which looked nice, in my own opinion). 

I do have to reiterate that Olympus cameras CAN shoot very good images, and I shall put a stop at ISO6400 here. Yes we can go higher and still get away with usable images, but we all know there are other "higher end" cameras that can do better. The problem here is, many people thought that I somehow miraculously managed to shoot "supposedly" clean ISO3200 and ISO6400 images. 

ISO3200, Olympus OM-D E-M1 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens

ISO6,400, OM-D E-M10 and M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8