Independence Day Drive

Patriotic display

Patriotic display of Malaysia and the State of Johor flags

31st August is Malaysia independence day and it was last Monday. On late afternoon that day, I decided to go for a drive to Pontian to shoot sunset and some wildlife if possible plus whatever that grabs my attention.  I am trying to familiarise myself looking at the trees to find interesting image for the camera sensor if the forest is not.  A practice session in scrutinising a bland landscape for an exceptional image.

Pontian is the southernmost region of mainland Asia but the honour for the southernmost place belongs to Tanjung Piai (Cape Piai) and it is gazetted as one of the places to go for a tour in Johor.  Not far away across the Tebrau Straits lies Singapore, linked to Peninsula Malaysia by a causeway and a bridge. A quick check on the weather, it was forecasted to be 15% cloudy, but then I forgot to check on one other thing, that is the tide.  Last I saw there were a group of otters swimming upstream into the river when the tide was getting low but on this trip when I reached Sungai Rambah, the tide had totally ebbed and the birds were very few and far away.  That left me with just the landscape and the sunset.  Anyway, I did stop by the pineapple field on the way to the small town of Ayer Baloi and at Sungai Ayer Baloi for some snaps though.

Note:   In this region, you are never short of clouds.  The problem is, there are too many of it. If it is not above, then on the horizon.  Also on a glance, the sky may look clear but there’s probably a thin layer of it.  As a result, it is hard to get dark blue sky even if you use a polarizing filter.  I easily get very dark blue sky in Mecca without using any polarizing filter on a wide-angle lens.

My Thought On The New Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary

The old and the new Sigma super telezooms

The old and the new Sigma super telezooms

I should say that on many occasions, I am not patience enough when snapping shots .  This is due to the fact my early experience in photography hinges on covering events, namely weddings.  I try to present a story without much or any manipulation of the subjects unless it is a pose shots.  No problem at all in getting sharp images because the maximum focal length that I use at that time was 135mm for half body and head & shoulders portraits.  Eventually, I learned to shoot quickly and be done with it without the subjects knowing my action in advance.  Now that bird photography is one of my favourite subjects, I have to slow down and not getting too excited because photographing birds require a totally different approach.

The Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM, that’s quite a mouthful, is the lens of my choice after some reading and consideration.  It is sharp when I’m relaxed and just trying it out, but on my outings, very few turned up good.  I have to admit that I’m quiet new to bird photography, thus I may still be lacking in techniques and experience.  I have yet to try using hide and/or give tips to the birds, that is food in return for pictures which I am sure that I can get good results but I am not going in that direction at the moment. Hence, I always wonder what could be wrong with my way of shooting or that I am missing something.  I have no other lenses to compare until I got hold of the new Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary.  Just after one initial outing, my heart fills with satisfaction when I review the images on the computer screen.  I now know the reason why and am sure about it.

Being the successor, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 has many improvements over its predecessor. On paper, it has focus limiter, more reach, zoom lock, sharper image and programmable via Sigma USB dock, but on trial, well…I like the taste of the pudding. It is faster in focusing and less hunting, quick and snappy stabilisation and a much more silent motor.  Even the lens hood has improved.  It is much more thicker, the locking mechanism is now a ring and the hood attached to it.  This makes the mounting end of the hood stronger and harder to flex.  Many have complained about the thin and flexible hood of the 150-500mm lens detaching, mine decided to jump into the sea while I was in a ferry shooting at the terns following it.

Unedited image of Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary converted and resized into Jpeg through Faststone

Unedited image of Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary converted and resized into Jpeg through Faststone

My only critic is that the base of the tripod collar is short, resulting in less grip in holding down the lens with the camera attached and extra care must be given to hold it and not to let it slip while holding.  All said and without doubt, Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM is a good lens but Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary is better. Probably Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport DG OS HSM is the best of them all.

Tip For Long Lasting Tripod & Light Stand


If your tripod or light stand costs a lot of moolas, you don’t have to worry, it should last.  This tip is for the average tripods and light stands and those below average aka cheap.  It comes from my own experience dealing with both items.

Basically, my principle in buying product is cheap and good, or as others say, best bang for buck.  The important things for me are function, built quality, performance and price.  No point in buying cheap but not good.  Those high-end tripods and light stands, you pay premium for not only the quality but also for the brand name.

Light Stand & Tripod with cracked locking mechanism

Light Stand & Tripod with cracked locking mechanisms

The tip is just a fairly simple thing to do, that is, don’t stress it when not in use. So, when in storage or travel, release all the locking mechanisms, free it whenever possible.  The locking mechanisms are probably made of plastic albeit a strong plastic and others may be of metal, usually not of a strong metal as in steel, considering the price paid.  Plastic will increasingly become brittle and constant stress on metal will weaken it.  When this happened, it will crack and later on break.  This applies for the clip-locking type only, as for the twist-locking, I don’t have it long enough but still, it can be stressed out and break especially if it is made of plastic. The other problem that I could think about is that the wedge/grip inside the twist-lock mechanism might lose its elastic nature after being held down constantly for a long period of time.  Probably, it is still a good idea not to tighten it so much when not in use. (Note: I saw a newer tripod with a single twist, might also be a good idea too just not to lock it while in storage or travel.)

That’s all about it, let it free, or in the case of the twist-locking type, let it loose.

Pentax: I Still Have A Spot For It


I started out photography with a Ricoh KR1 and its Rikenon 50mm F1.4.  After that I moved on to Pentax ME Super, MX and LX.  I still have the MX and LX bodies, its motor drive and winder respectively, plus all the K-mount lenses that I bought except for the Rikenon 50mm F1.4. Sadly I missed it now.

It is nice to know that the Pentax brand is now owned by Ricoh and keeping the Pentax’s name alive.  Kudos to Ricoh.   My present photography gear is now based on Canon, hence I seldom check on Pentax news only once in a while.  Just then I read that a full frame Pentax is coming out by the end of this year or early next year, I am thrilled.  It is my hope that Pentax will not price this up and coming camera like Sigma did with its SD1 originally but to follow the later pricing of the SD1, that is not pricing it too high so as to be able to penetrate the market.  All those manual K-mount lenses that I had will still be manual, I have no problem with it cause I’ve been through with it and can deal with it without any problem and that image stabilisation is in the Pentax body itself, surely is a plus.

Time to start skimping.

Some Pictures of My Second Trekking Up Mount Lawu

Mount Lawu as seen from Tawangmangu

Mount Lawu as seen from Tawangmangu

This time around, I’m with a group of friends and their families hiking up Mount Lawu and we spent a night at the summit plus another at Pos 3 (Post 3) resting area while on the way up.  Quite a group, ten people altogether including two juveniles.  That said, not all the adults are on the same fitness level, so extra night needed for rest.

It happened in early last June and we went up to the summit by way of Cemoro Kandang which is in the province of Central Java and came down to Cemoro Sewu in the province of East Java.  In reality these two track entrances/exits are roughly 500 metres apart thus Mount Lawu is divided between these two provinces of Indonesia.  My friend was told by the ranger at the entrance that the temperature at the summit could reach six degrees Celsius.  Of course we came prepared, only that our sleeping bags were rated fifteen degrees Celsius max and no sleeping mat.  Oh my, what a surprise we had.  Yes, we were noobs when it came to sleeping out in the very cold but lesson learnt.  We were lucky that the huts at Pos 3 and at the summit were vacant when we arrived, else it could be a lot worse more challenging.

Cemoro Kandang track is a long and winding dirt track through the forest.  It is low in gradient but definitely longer than Cemoro Sewu track, a steep, mostly clear open view path and paved with granite right up almost to the summit.  Just imagine going up the stairs of a 3265 (summit) – 1200 (Tawangmangu) metres skyscraper. There is a small pool of fresh water about 100 metres after Pos 3 of Cemoro Kandang track and a fresh water well at a place where there are a few small caves after Pos 5 at Cemoro Sewu track.

All-in-all, it was a delightful experience for me once again.  In retrospect, I just wish that my interest in astrophotography would have came in earlier, before we set-off for the trip.  Reading about Perseid Meteor Shower had opened up my interest in astrophotography and I am now wanting to try it out.  So, where can I get a used, good, sharp and fast wide prime lens? Sounds like I have to pay a little premium.


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