Archive for the 'Gadgets' Category

A Cycling Photographer’s Review of the Samsung NX300 Camera

As an official photographer for

My first digital camera, was a point-and-shoot which was small, beautiful, took decent pictures. As enticing as they were, I’ve never really turned to the Digital SLR cameras. Why? My logic was that if it’s too clunky, there’s a high chance I won’t be taking it out.

In recent years, with the advent of mirrorless cameras (I prefer the moniker EVILElectronic Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lens), this gap between portability and functionality has pretty much narrowed. Throw in these camera’s unique feature to use almost any available camera lens out there as long as you have the right adapter, and you’ll pretty much have killer system to tinker with.

Being one of the first to enter the marketplace, my first EVIL camera was the Sony NEX-5. Since cameras are only as good as the lenses you’ve got, I slowly built up a collection for any occasion. Since then I’ve upgraded to the NEX-7, which has a ton of features I’ve yet to fully master.

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to shoot the living daylights out of the Samsung NX300. Frankly speaking, I knew Samsung largely for their computer displays, smartphones and tablets, but to get a camera by Samsung took a bit of getting used to.

So how did it fair?
The first thing that struck me was how much was stuffed into a camera in this S$1,000 range. The Samsung NX300 has:

• 20.3-million-pixel, APS-C CMOS sensor (pretty high!)
• DRIMe IV image processing engine (processes images decently fast)
• Hybrid AF system
• Dual-band Wi-Fi (tons of connectivity options, especially to smartphones)
• 3-inch rear tiltable LCD touchscreen (borrowed from the Sony NEX)
• Supplied with full version of Adobe Lightroom (this I love!)

I consider myself an intermediate-level photographer & geek, where I know the basics (e.g. shooting at night without flash), but I won’t know every setting on a camera. As part of the Samsung Singapore NX300 campaign, I was told to showcase the NX300’s fast shutter capability through my cycling adventures.  I’ll run through the process by which I conduct my shoots, just to let you understand the ease of use and versatility of the Samsung NX300.

Thrills & Spills at Tampine Bike Park (181 of 188)-2

On a typical weekend, I’d plan with my cycling buddies on where we’d go. Sometimes it’d be off-road on a trail, sometimes urban exploration, but all the time there’d be some form of movement. This is where the impressive rate of 8.6fps in continuous shooting mode, and 1/6000th shutter speed really takes the cake. Below you see a low-res compilation of my buddy Jason Teo jumping a ramp at Tampines Bike Park, with each shot fairly bright and detailed.

Sunday spent in Adobe Lightroom, tweaking and dramatizing high-speed photography from the Samsung NX300 #samsungsgnx300

Here’s a full shot of Jason killing it…

Thrills & Spills at Tampine Bike Park (132 of 188)

My Typical Workflow with the Samsung NX300
Now I’d be taking a ton of shots each time, and along the way, I might want to instagram a few shots instead of waiting till I get home for post-production in Adobe Lightroom. The magic of smartphones nowadays are the amazing array of photo-editing suites available for our touchscreen devices. In particular, selecting Wifi mode on the Samsung NX300 lets me connect to my smartphone in numerous ways, from remote controlling the camera, to transferring selected or backing up all shots for easier viewing.

Once transferred, the raw pictures from the NX300 were typically sharp enough, so what I do is to “tweak reality” by evening out the high and lows (bright and dark) areas of the shots through a free yet powerful photo editor called SnapSeed (iOS / Android). Once satisfied, I then pass the image over to Instagram where I can apply the typical set of filters for dramatic effect. Should my buddies be keen to have some photos, I could then Whatsapp them straightaway as well.

Once I get back home, I’d typically do a once-over on the raw images. The Samsung NX300 gives a good baseline of photos for me to work with, often allowing me to accentuate the key aspects of a particular photo with little loss of detail. If the shots are worth the trouble, I’d spend an afternoon selecting and tuning the photos in Adobe Lightroom. Otherwise it’s a simple case of sorting through iPhoto to save time. All my photos then get shared on Facebook and Flickr, which serves as my online backup as well.

Now as the camera has a dedicated wifi mode, I can actually save all these steps by sending photos directly onto my social networks from the camera itself. If speed of publishing is key (e.g. working for a newsroom), the ability to send images directly, even through email, is god-sent. An on-screen keyboard makes this practical. I must say that Samsung NX300’s touchscreen is the most responsive I’ve even used on any camera, perhaps a page learned from their smartphone and tablet industry. 

Thrills & Spills, with @jasonitchi and @_weili_ #samsungsgnx300

Versatility
Little things make the Samsung NX300 that much easier to use:

First, the kit lens that came with my camera was an 18-55mm OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) lens which is great, though the f/3.5-5.6 was probably a cost-saving measure. As you might know, the lower the f-stop the more light is able to go through a lens, though the price goes up exponentially as well. To be fair, the camera performed well under most challenging circumstances, which mean that if you invested in a better lens, this camera will truly deliver.

Second, the fact that I could charge the camera with a simple micro-usb cable, is just an incredible lifesaver in itself. If you ever travel and leave your charger at home (it happens!), this is worth its weight in gold.

Third, the sheer amount of wifi connectivity options. To be frank, I’ve not explore every connectivity option offered, but any geek will love the immense capability this camera offers. Besides remote controlling and backing up to my iPhone, I did manage to have to camera backup to my desktop computer as well, saving the need to plug in all the time. Furthermore, if you happen to have an NFC-capable smartphone (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Note II), tapping it against the camera apparently allows you to transfer photos with even greater ease.

Peekaboo Pugsley!  #samsungsgnx300 #surlybikes #cycling #singapore #sgig

Bottomline
Definitely value for money. There’s a lot of bang for your buck in the NX300 camera, and you can dabble to no end. The kit lens is sufficient for most users, still gives me wonderful bokeh under right conditions, but you’d do well to know that you can give this camera an upgrade with a better lens.  

Sony NEX-5: a proper camera for cyborgs like me

Unboxing Sony NEX-5

I’ve been waiting for a proper camera, one that gets as quality as a DSLR, without the bulk and bore. Sure there are micro four-thirds like the Olympus PEN series, but they just didn’t tickle my adamantium bone.

Continue reading ‘Sony NEX-5: a proper camera for cyborgs like me’

Pixeet 360: Create 360° spherical virtual tours on your iPhone!

Pixeet 360 iPhone app

While window-shopping on the iTunes app store for panoramic camera apps, I discovered a little-known 360° panoramic app from Japan called Pixeet 360. Quicktime VR experiences typically require expensive hardware, software and photographic know-how. Pixeet 360 leapfrogs all that by allowing anyone to capture and create these immersive experiences right on their iPhone.

While their app is a free download (iTunes link) for viewing panoramas, making your own immersive 360° panorama requires activating the app by purchasing their $79 fisheye lens. Add their shipping fee of around $15, and you’re almost at the $100 mark for generating instant immersive panoramic experiences. Depending on how driven you are, this might not be something you’d whip your wallet out for, so let me share what I’ve discovered… Continue reading ‘Pixeet 360: Create 360° spherical virtual tours on your iPhone!’

Social Cyborg upgrades: GoPro Hero Cam + Xacti HD1010

GoPro Hero Cam's Delicious Wide Lens!GoPro Hero Cam's Delicious Wide Lens!

GoPro Hero CamGoPro Hero Cam: Driving from Triads apartment to the airport. This exciting wearable camera is actually meant for extreme sports, so I’ll try to be creative in pushing it later. They’ve got tons of mounts for it, including ones for the helmets, surfboards, suction cups for race cars and so on.

I need to fashion a mount that clips onto the front strap of my sousveillance backpack. While it does great video thanks to its bright lens, I like the automated shooting mode which lets me automatically capture five megapixel fisheye photos every 2 or 5 seconds. Though I lose sound in that mode, it’s allows me to quickly browse through a visual record of where I’ve been and who I’ve met.

Don’t forget the latest firmware update which increases recording from 2gb to 4gb per file, as well as improving exposure in bright environments (e.g. snow). If you’re wondering how this camera’s been used in extreme sports, take a look at these nut-jobs! I got the basic GoPro Wide Hero 5MP camera from Amazon for $139


Sanyo Xacti HD1010: 300fps video test with Jerry & Shasha. This is a High Definition 1080p pistol grip video camera with several unique features, including interchangeable lenses, manual controls, and of course, high-speed video capture. I’ve got a few lenses coming my way so I can try more creative shots. I got this camera from Amazon for $349.

The cyborg has disappeared into the everyday…

MIT Wearable Computing Group
As seen in the Encyclopedia of New Media by Steve Jones (2002)

MIT wearable-computer researchers (1998). They were easy to spot. Today, with the proliferation of smartphones augmenting our lives in real-time/real-space, the cyborg has disappeared into the everyday.

UPDATE: Mobile phones get cyborg vision (11 Aug 2009) by Michael Fitzpatrick, BBC. It’s about Augmented Reality.

Interview on CBC Business News: Examining eBooks

On 12th June 2009, producer @NishaPatel invited me onto CBC Business News to talk about the eBook phenomena. I think I talk a little slow for television, but oh well, that’s that.

I initially passed this opportunity to Dr. Alex @Halavais, whom I knew was in the process of digitizing his entire personal book library. He had given me great advice on the evolution of media industries from analogue to digital, specifically on how the book publishing industry is likely to mirror the course of music and movies industries into the digital domain.

Here are some questions from CBC News, as well as my responses:

1. Why are eBooks taking so long to turn mainstream?
Short answer: Aesthetic experience. Music and movies tend to be experienced same way be it analogue or digital (i.e. screens, headphones), while the experience of browsing a physical book hasn’t been replicated in the electronic form. I think we’re compensating by recognizing the new-found features of ebooks, including the ability to search within books and to carry along more books with us than physically possible.

2. Who are going to be the real losers here? Bookstores, publishers?
If we were to look at the demise of Tower Records, or the state of Blockbuster today, it’s quite certain that if ebooks were to take off, then the brick and mortar bookstores would be next to go. As much as we romanticize the loss of physical browsing, bookstores might have to adapt themselves around alternative aspects of business. I’m seeing many bookstores take the Starbucks route by turning themselves into The Third Place, which focuses the business on communal aspects of books, such as operating cafes, hosting author readings, and catering to book clubs.

3. Which device do you think will lead the ebook revolution?
I personally enjoy reading on my Amazon Kindle, as well as my iPhone. They compliment each other very well, and the convenience and comfort these devices bring to reading ebooks make them strong contenders as mainstream devices for the publishing industry.

If you’re interested to see why the Kindle and the iPhone rock for reading, check out this recent discussion I had with my fellow Kindle fans.

UPDATE: The RamblingLibrarian now offers his thoughts on ebooks as well.

Lunch with fellow Amazon Kindle users…

Over lunch at the UB Commons, Jim Milles, Kristina Lively, Joe Hsu and I chat about our Amazon Kindles.

We casually discuss our user experiences with each version of the Kindle, and make quick predictions on the future of books.

I couldn’t resist a family portrait of our entire line of Kindles…
Yay! The WHOLE Kindle Family

Mapjack.com wearable street-view rig found…

Mapjacker finally captured...

I recently discovered the high-quality street view experience of Mapjack.com, and learned that their virtual experience extended beyond the roads, and onto narrow alleys as well as even indoors.

That beats Google Street View which has so far been limited to vehicle-mounted panorama cameras as seen here.

Having heard that Mapjack’s street-view rig was wearable, I was determined to find pictures of their setup. After a bit of flickr diving, I hit the jackpot…

On the left is a photograph of whom I believe to be the “mapjacker” (hat tip warzauwynn). You see him complete with his wearable computer setup, overhead panoramic camera, video monocle, and a Playstation controller at his waist. Recently the military mentioned that game controllers make for ergonomic input devices. Here’s a closer image of the “mapjacker” captured by davidyuweb.

The capture even shows the junction he was at, so I went on Mapjack to find the actual panorama captured by him. Aside from a time difference between both images, I believe what you see on the right is exactly what was being captured by him that day.

As expected, Mapjack experienced the same ethical and privacy issues as Google. Just check out the images they had to remove from their trip in sin city Pattaya, Thailand.

If they ever need more cyborgs to capture the lay of the land, I’d gladly help! Definitely wish I could build one.

theorycast.55 :: Touring the Retro-Media exhibit @ UB

Talk about Geek Nostalgia! Walk with us in this 20 minute historic journey into memory devices lost and found.

Science librarian Ben Wagner gives us a tour of their new Retro-Media exhibit which features all kinds of recordable media over the past century.

Everything from computer punch cards, to floppy disks, to magnetic tape for data storage, to vinyl, 8-track, CDs for music recordings, to 8mm film, U-matic, laserdiscs for video media, and so much more.

The UB Libraries have put together a wonderfully comprehensive history of recordable media on the Retro-Media web site.

Twitter + Augmented Reality + Facial Recognition = Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Squidder's facetweet

While @briancaldwell of Squidder thinks that their latest creation reeks of “Big Brother / 1984” overtones, I beg to differ… it looks incredibly useful (and fun)!
Continue reading ‘Twitter + Augmented Reality + Facial Recognition = Nineteen Eighty-Four?’