Oct 31, 2012

First Speedlite "Test"-Shots

Getting my two Yongnuo YN560-II some 10 days ago, I did my first "real" remote, off-camera test shots last week in preparation for the Beijing Paulaner Oktoberfest on the 26th. Before showing you the results, here´s the first ever off-camera, remotely triggered flash photo taken (Gear: Fujifilm X100, 2 Yongnuo RF 603C, Yongnuo Speedlie YN460-II; Location: Wukesong Camera Market, District, Beijing):

First Off-Camera Flash ever fired, via X100
For our Oktoberfest-Shots, setup was done in our apartment entrance, with a white cupboard curtain as backdrop. This is what the scene looked like without the flashes:

Dark room, no flash
And here´s the results with one Speedlite setup in front of us, positioned slightly above our heads with an white shoot-through umbrella. The second speedlite positioned on top of the cupboard, firing downwards on the white curtain, built in 35mm diffusor and reflector both used:

See the flash difference ;-)
My Fuji X100 not being a perfect portrait tool with it´s 35mm lens, and given the small space, I did some cropping on the pictures later in Lightroom. Nevertheless, the difference in pictures is impressive, and makes me looking forward using my Speedlites regularely.

Finally, my girl´s "Dirndl" portrait
Greetings, Steve

Oct 26, 2012

Expanding my photo gear: Strobes

Last time I wrote about my expanded photographic possibilities by adding a Sirui Tripod to my (most basic) photo gear. Since then, my Fujifilm X100 and the Sirui 1205X proofed a perfect match, even I am hesitating whether I should have gone with the next larger tripod for better maximum height (vs. lower weight).

Even before I got my tripod, I was reading a lot about using Flashlights and especially enjoyed the "Strobist" Blog. But I never made the next step. Recently here in China, I came upon the Strobist 101 again by chance, and re-read the whole stuff - again, I was excited, but this time decided to get into it myself. First, I wanted to go with one of the state-of-the-art Canon EL´s or Nikon SB´s ("buy it right the first time"), but the Strobist got me hooked on the Chinese stuff, because I am actually living here at the moment, so why not by "local" ;-) Also, I found the price tags very compelling, so to be able to get into that Strobist thing with a lower initial investment.
Wukesong Camera Market - Jackie C.
Wukesong Camera Market - the other side
Lighting Shop 
Said, done - today I headed for Wukesong Camera Market on the other side of town, which was a good 1 hout trip per subway and walk. Against the warnings to not go there without a local, I decided to go for it, and see how my improved basic Chinese language skills would work out. This to be said, it worked perfectly well, together with some "sign language" and prepared iPhone screenshots of some equipment I was looking for, I was able to get all I wanted, at a reasonable price. Which is:
  • Flash: YongNuo Speedlite YN460-II (2x)
  • Wireless Trigger: Yongnuo RF-603C (3x)
It´s Twins!
Additionally, i picked up some real bargain stuff:
  • 42" Circle 5 in 1 Reflector
  • 16x22cm on Flash Diffusor
  • White "see-through" Flash Umbrella
  • 2,2m Flash stand with metal Flash/Umbrella clamp
Speedlite Set Up
and got my Flashes and Triggers equipped with rechargeable batteries:
  • Sanyo Speed Charger incl. 8xAA (eneloop 2.000mAH), and 10xAAA (eneloop 750mAH)

All together, I ended up quite exactly at 1.600RMB, about 205 EUR. For the Speedlites YN460-II I paid something like 60EUR for both, the Triggers where about 10EUR each and the extra stuff came between 1EUR (being the Umbrella) and 8 EUR (being the Stand). Status: Very happy, firing my first Strobe-shots!

Greetings, Steve

Oct 18, 2012

Training in China: Pulse Health Club

Since last week, I started to train here in China, of course using my Ambit. But let me start right at the beginning, which is how we found a proper gym / health club.

In Beijing there seem to be a lot of so called health clubs, but after following up on google, we got the impression that there might be a habit of some just collecting the membership fee and then closing down the facility, with the manager never been seen again. Furthermore, even some seemed quite interesting, the distance to get there was quite far. Last, the prices for health club / gym memberships here are at western level or higher, meaning that a 100 to 200 EUR per month is no exception.

We also found the Pulse Health Club located at the Kempinski hotel in Chaoyang District, which casually is just located a 3 minute walk from the workplace of my girlfriend, and a 10 minute walk from our apartment. After checking out the location, we signed up for a couple quarterly membership which was priced well at the lower end of the membership fee ranges we found, while the club itself is offering high quality standards (2 separate facilities, each with cardio and weight training area, a 15m Pool, Jacuzzi, Sauna, towels and slippers for each guest, free water and apples, of course showers with hair and shower gel, and nice good-english speaking staff).

18th floor Pool

Additionally, there are offered free courses like Yoga, Pilates, Tae Bo, Latin Dance as well as paid courses like Kung Fu and Childrens Ballet (I think i will probably check out Kung Fu, though ;-))

In my first training session, immediately after we had done the inscription formalities, we went to the 18th floor facility to have a 20min swim in the pool, and afterwards checked out the cardio area, with me getting on the bike and my girlfriend checking out the cross trainer. The bike worked surprisingly well, with Watt-controlled manual programs as I am used to do at home. Each piece of cardio equipment has it´s separate TV screen, which I really got used to during the last sessions.

Additionally, Kempinski offers a free WLAN with really good connectivity also in the training area, so I used to add some Email and file checking after my morning training sessions regularly. With opening hours from 6am to 10:30pm, you can quite easily spend some time there all over the day.

NW view while checking Emails in the Lobby
Greetings, Steve

Oct 13, 2012

Extending my photographic possibilities

After a long time arguing whether I would need a tripod or not, I finally decided that it would be a valuable extension of my photographic possibilities. Especially the family shooting we did on our farewell weekend to China, some 3 weeks ago, where I used a tripod the first time, supported this decision. It was really nice to have serial shots with exactly the same framing, even allowing to copy - paste the crop data from one developed photo to another, and getting perfectly matching results. Furthermore, I got interested in doing multiple exposure pictures, making a tripos absolutely necessary.

Thus said, I figured out where to best buy photo equipment in Beijing during the last days and visited Ray!´s photo on Soho Old Town yesterday. Easier said than done, as Ray!´s is not a shop in the storefront of Soho building, but located behind a small entrance, hallway and stairs up to the first floor. When leaving Line 1 at Dawanglu station, Exit D, turn left and follow the shops until you see this:

Watch out for Ray!´s sign
I did manage to walk by twice, not knowing that I did have to look for a small entrance rather than shop windows. After you follow a short hallway and go upstairs, you directly enter the store.

Entering Ray!´s
As expected, I faced only very basic English language skills, making me use a strange mix of Chinenglish and gestures to communicate with the shop guy. A week before, i already had an eye on a Sirui tripod on Wangfujing Road, but with a price of 2.400kuai and a quite heavy weight, it was aluminium though, I decided not to go with it. Today, again I faced a bunch of Siruis, as well as a few Manfrottos and some Gitzos. As I wanted the tripod still to be portable, say during a days city walk, and shoot with the Fujifilm X100 only, i looked at some smaller sized travel-tripods, finally ending up with a Sirui TX-1205 Carbon. I had a direct comparison in weight to the same model in aluminium, and  I could feel the weight-difference already in the store. I also tried the bigger 2204 from Sirui, but was not convinced due to weight and size in folded position. So that´s what my "extended" setup now looks like, ready for the upcoming weekend´s photo sessions:

X100 & Sirui Dream Team
Big plus: besides getting some kuais off the initial price, I also got a very good exchange rate on my credit card, which made the 5% fee that is charged for non-chinese cards obsolete.

Even bigger plus at home: I found that Sirui prices back home in Europe as well as in the US are way above what I paid for, already including the G10 ballhead ;-)

By the way, Ray´s already had the Fujifilm EX1 in the store, besides the X100 and X-Pro, as well as a good selection of Nikons and Canons, including a bunch of 5D Mark IIIs.

Greetings, Steve

Oct 7, 2012

Keeping track in China

Recently I wrote about how I used my Suunto Ambit to get some pretty interesting flight informations
When we headed for Beijing end of September. But also after landing, the Ambit proved to be a valuable companion.

First, I did record our way from the airport to our apartment, which we can use for friends to visit later this year. Also, saving some main POIs like the the Community Center for Resident Registration helped to map out this points later on the map at home.

Lately, at the mid-autumn festival, we spent the afternoon in Chaoyang Park, having a funny boat ride on the Lake, which you can follow us on thanks to my Suunto Ambit track (it really did track perfectly, even our boat had a covered deck).

Chaoyang Park Boat Ride
Greetings, Steve

Oct 5, 2012

To China: Tracking My Way

Here we are, in the middle of Beijing for not even a week now. Inspired by DCRainmaker's Review I ultimately wanted to try the Suunto Ambit on our flight to Beijing. So I did track it right from the gate to somewhere deep into Russia by having the watch positioned close to our emergency exit row window. By doing so, the GPS signal was clear and the Ambit did a great job (see pics). Additionally, as we had the feeling it was quite colder during this flight than usually, I was able to check the Ambits Temp data, showing only some 11degrees Celcius in it's tracking position near the window. Fortunately, we got offered really warm blankets that kept us warm and cosy.

Departure from the Gate

Flight tracking

Somewhere over the West Siberian, I did a double check on our flight direction (I did definitely trust the pilot, but just wanted to be sure ;-)), again the Ambit helped out, and showed us flying directly eastwards. Perfect, so I could sleep calmly.

Going Eastwards

Finally, approaching Beijing city, I really was interested on the incoming plane's route (it seemed we were flying right round the city in the south), so I quickly tracked the approach and landing, and was proven right.

Approaching Beijing

On our flight to Beijing, the Ambit has proven to be much more than just a training or Mountaineering device. And I'd did so further on the streets and even waters of Beijing! (stay tunes for me to follow up on that)

Greetings, Steve