Wildling shoes Tanuki Niji review – the summer freedom made by Japanese paper

The past few weeks we have been getting some better weather with the sun coming out a bit more. Although it’s a bit deceiving in terms of temperature, with lockdown easing as well, it is hard to not feel the summer excitement. As I was looking for something a bit airier than my leather vivobarefoot, I came across this German brand – Wildling and their Tanuki Niji.

Appearance

The first impression from them is that they look fresh. From a colour versatility point of view, I am more of a white shoe guy than a black shoe guy, so I was naturally drawn to the Niji (Rainbow) rather than the Yoru (Night/Evening). Speaking of the rainbow, I do like the subtlety of how they place their rainbow. One, it gives the shoe a bit more interest but not ruining the overall simplicity. And two, it shows support in an “I respect people’s right” rather than the in-your-face “I am woke” way. Although it’s not their intention, I do quite like the fact here, in the UK, it also means “thank you NHS”. To finish off with the little red lace rings is just the cherry on the cake. 

You can probably guess by now that they took quite a lot of inspiration from Japanese culture into the shoes’ design. Perhaps that’s also one of the reasons I was drawn to it. With their outsole designed to be a bit like a pair of Ninja shoes and their choice of materials.

Material

This is probably their main selling point of the shoes. The upper of the shoes are made out of Washi fabric which is 75% paper. Washi is also known as Japanese paper or rice paper. Traditionally used for ink painting or to make Shoji screen. Wildling mixes it with polyester to form this extremely thin but durable and malleable fabric. It apparently has antibacterial property on top of being breathable and super quick to dry. I think it’s perfect for the summer months with the look and feel of a nice canvas shoe but with a bit more to it.

How it wears

When I put it on, the first thing I noticed was how much it hugs your feet. Thanks to Washi’s thinness, the feet-hugging cut of the shoe doesn’t actually feel restrictive at all but rather like a second layer of skin. It gives you the confidence that you are protected to roam and feel nature.

It comes with this “Hemp-flax fleece” removable insole, which comes in at 4mm thickness. They said it’s moisture-absorbing and temperature regulating. I find it to be an okay insole, nothing wrong with them but at the same time nothing that special. Unlike their Washi insole, which fits my lifestyle a lot better. As we can sometimes experience all 4 seasons in one single day here in the UK, the quick-dry property allows me to prepare for the eventuality that I would be wearing these shoes out and they decided to rain on me. Also, they come in 2mm which means even closer to the ground.

Because of its breathability and how well it fits, unlike my leather viviobarefoot which I tend to sweat a bit in, I don’t need to and I don’t like to wear socks with them. Plus the outsole is not constructed in one big slab, the shape gives the shoe that bit more flexibility to achieve the maximum freedom and ground feel. Or as they say – Wildness.

Things to consider before buying

First, they are white in colour. The snowy freshness will be gone as soon as it touches the floor. Thanks to their quick-dry nature, you can actually hand wash them to keep them fresher. But at the end of the day if you drop your Indian takeaway on it, just accept the fact now you have a pair of yellow shoes rather than white.

Secondly, which is a bit annoying for us now that Brexit happened, it is a German company. So when you buy from them, you will now have to pay VAT and/or import tax on them. Also, returns are not as straightforward as sending your ASOS back. If you get your size wrong, you might end up paying twice the stupid tax…

Verdict

Wildling Tanuki Niji, in my opinion, is a great summer daily shoes. They look clean with a dash of summery vibe. Versatile enough that you might even get away with the smart-casual style. Thin and breathable to keep your feet cool and dry. Because of the crazy UK weather, I would strongly recommend you getting the Washi insole at the same time as well so you don’t have to pay the shipping twice to have them shipped from German. 

Olympus AF-1 Super: The Affordable 35mm Film Point and Shoot Hidden Gem!

Recently analogue photography has been a very popular topic in the photography world, especially among the millennials and Gen Z. I am not going to dive into the reason for this, although might be an interesting topic for the future post. As millennials who take photos in my spare time, I can’t miss out on all the fun.

Point and shoot film camera has been very popular among film photographer. Given their small and compact size, you can always have one by your side. Their main purpose is to capture those day to day memories and film is one of those medium that almost makes you feel those memories. Along with the skyrocketing demand, the price for a decent film camera has also followed suit. I was in the market for a playful point and shoot camera at the time. And speaking of point and shoot film camera, Olympus MJU II and Contax T2 and always comes up in the conversation. Contax T2 is a very attractive little thing that carries an amazing 35mm F2.8 Zeiss lens. But after Kendall Jenner was seen using them, they cost about a kidney plus your sister’s dowry. So second option, Olympus MJU II with their award winning 35mm F2.8. They were fishing close to £200 as well which was still too much for me to justify. Okay… what’s the third option? That’s when I come across the Olympus AF-1 which carry the same 35mm F2.8 lens as the MJU II. With some luck, I managed to get a mechanically mint AF-1 Super off eBay for £30.

History and Spec

Olympus AF-1 Super is the upgraded version of AF-1 (or in the US, Olympus Infinity). AF-1 was introduced in 1986 as the first weatherproof automatic 35mm compact film camera hence the Japanese nickname “Nurepika” (wet flash). Then AF-1 Super was released in 1991 with some upgraded features such as 50cm minimal focal distance instead of 75cm, faster flash recharge, ability to disable the flash and 4 frames continuous shooting of  1fps (not really sure what it’s for, to be honest).

Review

Point and shoot cameras in Hong Kong is called 傻瓜機 – meaning idiot machine. It is true to an extent that point and shoot cameras are idiot-proof. Autofocus, auto-exposure, auto-flash, auto-wind and re-wind and autoload. Everything is decided for you, all you need to do is, as it says on the tin, point and shoot. With a few quirks, the more I use the AF-1, the more I like this idiot.

Appearance

AF-1 Super has this bubbly design to it, away from the boxy, hard-line style of the AF-1. Thicker and heavier than the MJU II but it actually feels really nice to hold. I like their sliding door mechanism. First, it means that less electronic components to move the lens in and out of the body and therefore one less thing that can fail. Second, it covers the viewfinder as well so you won’t embarrass yourself trying to take a picture when the camera is off. Third, it allows quick one-hand operation and always ready to go. Incorporating the essence of a point and shoot camera perfectly.

35mm F2.8

The lens that the AF-1 Super carries is what attracts me. 35mm is a perfect focal length for day-to-day, documentary-style photography and is exactly what a point and shoot camera is for. Olympus won 5 awards in 1997 with this fast and sharp prime lens on the MJU II body. Although they are essentially the same lens, I think the AF-1 series have an additional protective coating at the front which depends on your view can be good and bad. One of the things I like about film photography is that not everything is tack sharp, so I almost welcome that extra layer. But I find in reality, the coating is only a potential threat and the image still as crisp as your fresh trimmed hairline.

The most important manual option – no flash

AF-1 Super is fully automatic from start the finish, but one thing that I picked Super over the standard is the option for disabling the flash. I don’t actually mind the hard flash look, it is fashionable at the moment for their nostalgic feel. But for example, you won’t want it to flash while you are shooting through a glass window or trying to be discreet for street photography. They also have an option for the less powerful “fill-in” flash.

Centre focusing

AF-1 Super autofocus only comes with centre focusing. It means it will only focus on things that you place in the centre of the viewfinder, AF-1 has a separate focus lock button while AF-1 Super doesn’t. It relies on half-pressing the shutter. Truth be told, the travel in this shutter button is pretty shallow, so it does take some finger control to keep it at that sweet spot… (Ummm… why does it sound a bit strange) In a couple of occasions where either I took a picture by accident or it refocuses and my subject turned out to be out of focus. It can get a bit frustrating but that’s part of the fun in film photography.

Loud film advancing

Don’t use this point and shoot to take photos of your baby or your struggle to get them to sleep will never end. AF-1 Super has probably one of the loudest film advancing mechanism out there. I am starting to think that as they were designed in Japan, it was to deter creeps sneak-shotting someone.

Verdict

Film photography is an expensive exercise with the recurring cost of buying, developing and scanning films. And with the price for film cameras skyrocketing while my boss won’t even give me a pay raise that at least keep up with inflation, entry for film photography is getting more out of reach by the second. With pure luck, I came across this hidden gem for less than £50. I did a quick look on eBay, the cheapest nowadays are asking for £70 with the majority of them going for £90-150. If you can look past some of its quirks like the loud film advancing mechanism and the CR-P2 battery is a bit awkward to find, it is one extremely adorable little camera. If you just want to dip your toes in the film photography world but don’t want to sell your house, this is a very solid option if you manage to find one around the £50 range. This camera still put a smile on me every time I get it out for a spin.

Vivobarefoot Geo Court: the most stylish barefoot shoe that fit every occasion

Ever since I got into the barefoot world, one thing that I am always on the hunt for is a stylish pair of barefoot shoes. There is no denying that apart from the most basic thing a pair of shoes is designed for – to protect your foot – it is also an essential part of your outfit. I don’t know about you, but I am the type of guy that pays extra attention to someone’s shoes. I will be walking around town quietly paying extra respect to a fellow human who is on top of their shoe game, “damn look at those retro AJ 1s”. My partner is very vocal about me being lame but I can’t help it.

In my line of work, I am on my feet, running up and down a lot. So I wanted a pair of barefoot shoes that I can wear day to day to provide maximum comfort for the whole day but at the same time, I am expected to maintain a certain level of professionalism so my sandal is out of the question. When I almost gave up my self-respect and settled for a dweeby pair, Vivobarefoot, a UK-based company, popped into my Instagram ad suggestion and rescued my fragile dignity (sometimes cookies do good deeds too, people). Their Geo court’s minimal yet striking design language clicked with my taste straight away – add to cart.

Appearance

First and foremost, I really adore the two-tone design. Snow white upper with a teal blue heel. Paired with the sharp red logo, it provides the versatility of a white trainer but can also easily stands on its own under the spotlight and be the centrepiece of your outfit. Hands down one of the most good-looking barefoot shoes out on the market.

Source: vivobarefoot.com

Material

As I picked the white version, the fact that it features a full leather upper was brilliant. Anything that drops on it can be easily wiped away without leaving a mark. It also provides a degree of water resistance, perfect for the Northern Ireland weather where it rains, according to online data, an average of 213 days per year which is just under 60% of the time.

They also feature this bio-based BLOOM EVA insole which is a more sustainable alternative to the traditional EVA foam insole. I am not some sort of activist or anything, but recently I do find myself gravitating towards products that are good and, at the same time, make a conscious effort to be kind to the environment.

It is also extremely well built. I have worn my geo court almost every day to work for the past year and averaging about 10,000 steps a day. Apart from some superficial marks and scratches, the stitches are still intact and the outsole hasn’t shown any overt sign of wear. With the current wear and tear level, I expect it to go strong for another 2-3 years if not more.

Beginner-friendly

The Geo court comes with a 3mm hexagonal textured rubber outsole. It is very thin, light and flexible. Given how close you are to the ground, it naturally gives you some amazing ground feel. But worry not if you are only new to the barefoot game, you can start with the insole first. The nature of EVA foam is that they are soft and shock absorbing. Pair with a thickness that is also about 3mm, it gives you a total of roughly 6mm of cushion to start with. It makes transitioning into barefoot shoes a walk in the park ;). Take the insole out once your foot muscles are stronger and ready to embrace the barefoot world.

Don’t just build a business, start a revolution

Verdict

I think Vivobarefoot has not just made an amazing product, they have started a revolution. They have shown the world that barefoot shoes on top of the health benefits that come with, they can be good looking, can be versatile, can be sustainable. They have created a product that not only a barefoot enthusiast would like, but they have also managed to bridge the gap between “traditional” footwear and barefoot footwear. Make it easier for people to try and fall in love with barefoot shoes. I have been stopped, complimented and asked a few times about my Geo court and if they should try it. It is not difficult to see why there are more and more of this “V” logo around. And if you ask me if you should try them too? That’s a solid yes mate, I think you will love them too. 

SmallRig L-Bracket for Fujifilm X-T3 – Very good but the hunt continues

If you are anything like me, you are probably always on the lookout for accessories to compliment your tech set-up. I look at it this way – the accessories are the “personal touch” of the big tech items you have. Even though my Fujifilm X-T3’s shallow grip doesn’t really bother me that much as I don’t have big bear hands, I come across this Small Rig L-Bracket grip which seems to get a lot of positive feedback. L-Bracket… meaning I can attach my camera to tripod in portrait orientation without relying on the ball head? Thought maybe I give it a go myself.

First Impression

Maybe I will get some hate here but I am under no illusion that the quality of Chinese product can be hit or miss. So when I received the L-Bracket, the quality surprises me, in a good way. The wooden grip is smooth, the metal part feels solid and there are no rattles in or around the screws and joints. I know it doesn’t always correlate, but the L-Bracket has some weight to it that makes you feel a bit more sturdy.

Likes

Smooth grip

I know I said the shallow grip doesn’t really bother me but from time to time, you do notice you are using a bit more finger grip strength which can be a bit tiring. So when I put on the SmallRig, it fits so well into my palm that I was actually taken aback slightly. The deep grip fills in the gap between the curled fingers to keep your hands in a nice neutral shape and distribute the weight evenly.

Landscape – Portrait mount 

L shaped and ARCA Swiss compatible allows me to switch the camera from landscape into portrait orientation quicker. One of the issues that I have with a ball head tripod is the limited position for portrait orientation. So getting an L-Bracket solved that little annoyance I had for ages.

Magnetic screwdriver

The built-in flat screwdriver attached to the bottom of the bracket using a magnet is also pretty neat. Screws can loosen over time with tiny vibrations, a built-in screwdriver is pretty handy for tightening them and works great with the adjustable side plate as well.

Multifunctional side plate

Their side plate provides 9 mounting holes allowing accessories attachment such as a cold shoe adaptor for external microphone/monitor for videography. So you can fully kit out the X-T3 to adapt your style of work.

Almost…

            Also their adjustable side plate

The adjustable side plate was one of their selling points. It was designed for cable release, tethering and accessories mounting. In reality, the camera strap attach point actually got in the way of the side plate so I had to extend the side plate out slightly to accommodate it. Just as I appreciate the small detail of the built-in screw drive, this slight misfit bugs me enough to annoy me.

            Can’t reach the shutter button

Remember how I said I have dainty hands? Yeah, with the bracket installed, it feels really nice to hold. However, once I need to reach for the shutter button to take a photo, I find my hand having to really stretch and twist to reach for it.

Verdict

SmallRig produces some good quality camera accessories and this L-Bracket is no exception. Mirrorless cameras tend to have a slimmer profile and one of the complaints about X-T3 is their shallow grip. SmallRig L-bracket gives a much deeper grip to improve the camera handling. The L-shaped design allows you to quickly switch from landscape to portrait on a tripod and also act as a camera cage for more accessory attachments. It is certainly one of the best accessories you can get for your X-T3 if you have big hands and find it awkward to hold your camera. Unfortunately for me, although I really appreciate all of their side benefits, my hand is just a bit too small to reach the most important button of the camera with the grip installed. Re-packaged, box sealed, return label printed and the hunt for accessories continues…

M1 iPad Pro: Calmed down after the hype, maybe it’s not for us

When the M1 iPad Pro was announced on the 20th of April, I was so hyped because I was trying to upgrade my 2016 MacBook Pro set-up. iPad Pro supporting the Apple Pencil with the processing power of a laptop? Yes, please. Once I have calmed down from the excitement, I gave this new iPad some thought – is it really the one?

M1

Let’s be honest, M1 in an iPad Pro is nuts. When Apple announced their latest processing chip in the Mac Mini, MacBook Air/Pro November last year, they had the consumer tech world losing our mind. With their second-to-none performance and energy efficiency, it makes very little sense to even consider buying Intel Window laptop at this price point. Now they have taken a step further and put it into their iPad Pro. Fully committing themselves to “Your next computer is not a computer”. 

In reality, A12Z bionic chips in the iPad Pro 2020 is more than fast enough for any iPad apps on the market. The chip is not the limiting factor here. Unless they start allowing us to run professional-grade apps such as Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro or Xcode on iPadOS, the even faster chip is like giving a few more millions to a billionaire.

Display

The new 12.9″ iPad Pro has the all-new mini-LED display which carries the spec of Apple’s £4600 Pro display XDR. 1600 nits peak brightness, 1000000:1 contrast ratio, 2500 local dimming zone and P3 wide colour gamut. A display that sets the new standard for portable devices for professional use. More accurate colour for photo/video editing and colour grading.

In reality, unless you are getting paid to edit/colour grade and needing the best of the best tool on the market, an average Joe like me and you probably don’t need it. Certainly not needed for those selfies on Instagram or dance battle on Tik-Tok.

Storage and RAM

This year is the first year that Apple let us expand the storage up to 2TB in an iPad. And for the 1TB and 2TB version, they also come with 16GB of RAM. If we put the over-charging aside, it is some seriously good news for those productivity powerhouses with their main device being an iPad Pro. A bigger storage option means you won’t need to carry an external hard drive/SSD with you all the time and higher RAM means more apps can run in the background.

In reality, the majority of the apps running on the iPadOS is optimised for 6GB RAM. An upgrade to the 8GB of RAM is a welcomed gesture to give the device a small boost. But how on earth is an iPad Pro going to utilise 16GB of RAM…

5G

Personally never need the cellular option in an iPad. Although, if you are one of those people in a coffee shop that always has one sip left of your pumpkin spice latte in your mug so no one can judge that you were already sitting there for 5 hours, you might appreciate this new up and coming cellular option to keep you steadily connected for those hours, continue to ignore that poor ol’ granny trying to find a seat to have her cappuccino.

Never buy a tech product based on the promise of future software updates

Should you get the M1 iPad Pro?

iPad Pro has never been more like a laptop until this year Apple decided to put their laptop-standard processing chip into it. The hardware in this year model, for a tablet, is absolutely mind-blowing. But the limiting factor has never been the hardware. Even the previous models, iPad Pro is always at the peak in terms of hardware and benchmark performance. The true limiting factor that is stopping a lot of people to fully migrate to using iPad Pro as their main computer is iPadOS. At least till this moment, iPadOS is not designed to be fully run as a laptop. Don’t get me wrong, they have come a long way. Having multi-tasking, mouse and trackpad support, better file management system etc. It can certainly go head-to-head compete with a lot of ultra-book on the market and out-perform the majority, if not all, of them. But by adding so many “Pro” features like the XDR display, 16GB RAM, thunderbolt 3 port etc, Apple is clearly making a statement here that they want this iPad Pro to be a computing beast rather than an email-writing, note-taking and YouTube-watching device.

If you just want an iPad that does what an iPad already does well, like simple computer task, drawing/note-taking with an Apple pencil, I don’t think this year model is for you. Instead, Amazon is doing a very good deal on the 2020 iPad Pro which will satisfy everything you will want an iPad to do.

But if you are hoping this to be the ultimate mobile work station for you? I would hold out for now as well, at least until the 7th June WWDC event. With what Apple has done with this year iPad Pro, I find it extremely hard to believe that there isn’t any ambitious iPadOS plan in the pipeline to utilise all these powers. They might even let the iPad runs a modified version of MacOS on the iPad Pro seeming they are essentially a laptop with a touch screen and Apple Pencil support. But as a wise man once said, “Never buy a tech product based on the promise of future software updates.” 

Apple Spring Loaded event: Killed it with the M1 iPad Pro with XDR display and more…

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about iPad Pro vs iPad Air 4 because I have wanted to shake up my computing set up for a while. The flop about the March event actually makes me even more excited for the true, one and only April event. All I can say is, Apple delivered above and beyond. There are 3 main product updates: iPad Pro 2021, iMac 24” and the AirTag.

iPad Pro 2021 – tablet market killer

This is official. Apple has shut down all other competitors in the flagship tablet market. Here are the major updates:

1.    M1 chip – 8 CPUs, 8 GPUs and 16 neural engines.

With the A12Z bionic chip that was in the iPad Pro 2020 or the A14 in the iPad Air 4, their performance was already head and shoulder above any tablets on the market. This year, while I was fully expecting it to be A14Z that would be a slight improvement on the A14 chip in the iPad Air 4, Apple decided to slap their MacBook Pro processors – M1 chip in it, truly committing to their claim of “your next computer is not a computer”. We will have to wait till sometime in May before we can find out the benchmarks, although I don’t expect the M1 in the iPad Pro will be as powerful as those in the MacBook Pro. Due to the thermal side of things, Apple will most likely have to tune down the wattage of the M1 to fit in the slim body of iPad Pro and maintain the 10 hours battery life.

Source: Apple.com

2.    XDR display (mini-LEDs) on 12.9” – peak brightness of 1,600 nits, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 2500 local dimming zone.

On the 12.9″ version, Apple put in their new mini-LED display. Although it is still an LCD tech display, the numbers are absolutely mind-bogging. Up to a peak of 1600 nits of brightness, they group the mini-LEDs into 2500 local dimming zone that achieve a 1000000:1 contrast ratio. That is the £4599 Pro Display XDR in the 12.9″ form factor with a starting price of £999.

Source: Apple.com

3.    Thunderbolt – supports up to 40Gb/s data transfer.

iPad Pro 2021 is the first-ever tablet that supports Thunderbolt 3 technology. With their insanely fast data transfer speed, you can use it to drive the Pro Display XDR at their full 6K resolution. With their already amazing inbuilt display, it can be the ultimate set up for content creators.

4.    Ultra-wide front camera with “Centre Stage”

Having a 125˚ field of view and using machine learning, the new iPad Pro improves the video conferencing experience by keeping the subjects always in the middle of the stage. It also works with people walking in and out of the viewing angle as well. Auto-tracking webcam has been gaining market for the past year when more people are working from home with Zoom meetings turned into everyone’s daily lives. Apple’s integrating the software solution into the new iPad is most welcome.

Source: Apple.com

5.    Support 5G in Cellular version

Although 5G technology is still yet to fully mature, Apple for the past year has been emphasising 5G in their new devices so it is no surprise that they integrated it into the iPad Pro. I don’t need it in my own workflow and 5G support here in Northern Ireland is shoddy, to say the least. But if you live in big cities like New York or London and need a mobile network on your iPad, this option will future proof your workflow.

iMac 24” – Old Macintosh Colourway

Source: Apple.com

Apple also renewed their long over-due iMac. Although similar overall dimension, a thinner bezel means a bigger screen. The most impressive though is their 11.5mm thick screen. Let that number sink in for a minute… 11.5mm is about the same thickness as my iPhone X with a case on. Even a 3.5mm headphone jack has a 14mm plug. Apple managed to fit a whole desktop system into an 11.5mm casing thanks to the M1 system-on-chip configuration.

That’s how thin the new iMac will be

They come in 7 different colour, silver and the same 6 colours on the old Apple logo – Green, Yellow, Orange, Pink, Purple and Blue. To fit with the pastel look, they also changed the bezel from black to white and come with a set of colour matching mouse and a magic keyboard that has the new Touch ID as well. Personally, I am not really sure about the new design. I don’t understand the massive chin thing. Surely they can just make it slightly thicker and get rid of the chin. I understand it is technically impressive and the unboxing would be an amazing experience. But it is a desktop, after all, you are not carrying it around so after a while, who cares if it is 11.5mm or 20mm thin…. I hear people say it is good for office work where people have a place for their post-it notes. But is that it? I mean you have your colleague’s back for that exact purpose too. I guess that’s why I am not in the designing business…

AirTag – perfect add-on to the Apple ecosystem

There were numerous rumours that Apple has been developing their own tracker, AirTag, for some time now. And in this Spring Loaded event, the highly anticipated product is finally announced. Although there are companies already making these type of products, Tile, Chipolo and SmartThings to name a few, you can always bet on the perfect execution and integration from Apple. With the tight integration of the “Find My” network and the Precision Finding feature (available on iPhone 11 or older), it is difficult to ever lose your personal belongings again. And in case they were stolen, the Lost Mode makes tracing the whereabouts of the item possible. With millions of Apple device on the street, any Apple device that came to the close proximity of the lost AirTag, you will receive a “last seen” notification. You can also set it so anyone with an NFC enabled device will be able to get your contact info by tapping it against the AirTag.

Verdict

In the event, Apple also put out some mid-season refresh such as the purple iPhone 12 and updated the Apple TV to support 4K plus a new remote control. It is indeed a spring-loaded event. Of all the news, I am most excited about the new iPad Pro with its insane processing power and the XDR display. Finally, a tablet that truly honours the “Pro” in the name. With the direction where the iPad Pro is developing, it only makes senses that professional software like the Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro X and Xcode will be supported on the iPad Pro soon. That might be solely my wishful thinking, but if Apple decided to do so, I am sure it will be the final nail in the coffin for all other premium tablets on the market.

And by the way, because of the new announcement, the iPad Pro 2020 is now on sale for £643 on Amazon. If you don’t need all the Pro features and A12Z is good enough for you, save yourself £100 while stock last!

Xero Shoes Genesis review: Strip back to basic and embrace the root of barefoot

Xero Shoes was the first barefoot shoe company that I came across when I was researching for some compact alternatives to fit into my backpack for travelling. I was going to Cyprus for a lovely sunbathing holiday and wanted to bring a pair of sandals with me that won’t take up much space in my bag. So as every homo sapiens nowadays do, I asked google about some minimalist sandals and that’s when the spiral started.

Xero Shoes is a barefoot shoe company founded by a couple in America, Steven and Lena in 2009. After experiencing multiple injuries from running, they came across the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and started DIY their own Huarache shoes. Initially for themselves and some members of their running club, but soon took off into a business with a fan base across the globe.

Genesis

Genesis is their Huaraches shoes. One of the most minimalist shoes you can find on the market, literally a paper-thin sole and a long string that strap the foot in. In barefoot shoes, this is possibly the barest of them all. Xero Shoes called their Huarache “Genesis” because it is their founding product and I found it fitting for myself as it introduces me to the world of barefoot. £39.95… although might not be the cheapest for a pair of sandals, given their unique position in the market, you will find it difficult to get another quality pair in this price range.

Appearance

I really like its minimalistic rustic look. Just a paper-thin sole and the black cord version I picked makes it look like I am merely having some decorative straps on my foot and not wearing shoes at all. It comes in 4 different colour cords so it goes well with most colourful summer outfit, keeping you cool and free.

Compact and flexible

It kind of goes without saying, majority of the barefoot shoes are flexible. That’s the whole point of them, to mould to your feet rather than the other way round. And the Genesis are so flexible and minimal that they can roll up into a tiny ball that fits into the palm of your hand. It is one of the main selling points to me that I always have a pair of sandal ready for the beach without taking much too much space in my bag.

Amazing ground feel

They called their thin sole FeelTrue® rubber outsole. Comes in 5mm, might not be one of the thinnest of sole out there as you sometimes see company boasting about 3-4mm sole. But from my experience, it feels much thinner than 5mm between you and the element. Although thin, they are extremely durable and have saved my feet from so many sharps on the road. If you are an experienced barefoot junkie, you would appreciate that ground feel of these.

But also because of that, it might not necessarily be the first pair of barefoot shoes I would recommend to everyone out there looking to try barefoot. It takes some times to re-adjust from “normal shoes” to barefoot. So don’t be like me that the first time wearing one is on holiday walking long distance. There are different brands of barefoot shoe companies that are slightly more protective that can ease you into the barefoot world.

Adjustable strap

Improving upon the Huaraches, the Genesis strap has an adjustable system that makes the sandal hug your feet better. By tightening or loosening the heel straps, you can adjust the whole shoes to fit your desire comfort thanks to the looping mechanism on the side rather than having multiple straps like the traditional sandals. With the strap having some elasticity to it, after finding your perfect fit, you can slip on and off them very easily. In reality, I found adjusting to having the perfect fit is a bit more faffy than it initially seems. A small adjustment to one tag at the back actually makes quite a significant change to the whole shoe tension. Ideally, you want to have a good tension so the shoes don’t turn into a stupid flapping swim fin scoping up every little thing on the floor, but at the same time, you don’t want it to be too tight digging into your toe webs. From time to time, I still need to re-adjust it just because I don’t feel I get it quite right.

Verdict

Xero Shoes’ Genesis is deeply inspired by Ramárui’s Huaraches shoes. I love its compactness and minimalistic design that strips it all back to the most basic of shoes – the sole ( 😉 ) purpose is to protect your feet from penetrating injuries by rocks and debris. Their FeelTrue® sole, although protective, gives you a truly remarkable ground feel that all barefoot enthusiasts cherish. It is very comfortable once you are used to wearing barefoot shoes, but you might want to ease yourself into the barefoot world before doing any serious running and walking in these!

Fujifilm X-T3 review: Is it still relevant in 2021

Photography is one of my many hobbies. I still remember the day getting my first “proper camera”, a second hand Canon 500D off my dad’s old work colleague many years ago. It was a very light, beginner DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera which I learned all the photography basic with. A camera which ISO 400 was its very limit. Trying to take a photo with anything higher than that was like trying to watch a TV with a broken antenna. Despite that, for the 10 years I had with it, it was more than enough for my skill. But recently, with the mirrorless market maturing creating an ever more compact and capable camera, I wanted to treat myself with an upgrade with better portability and the skills that comes with a new camera.

Skill in photography is acquired by purchase, not by practice.

(or is it the other way round?)

Fujifilm launched the X-T3 back in 2018. By that point, Fujifilm has a reputation for making gorgeous cameras that also pack with great performance and X-T3 was no exception. Although only sporting a cropped sensor, it holds itself so well in the market that has often been used to compete in the “budget full-frame” market. 

Specification

Let’s get the boring list of spec out of the way:

  • 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS 4 with a primary colour filter.
  • 20 fps shooting with AF (11 fps with mechanical shutter)
  • 30 fps shooting in 1.25x crop with electronic shutter
  • 425-point hybrid AF system
  • Improved tracking AF and Face/Eye detection
  • 3.69M-dot electronic viewfinder
  • Dual SD cards slot
  • 10 bit 4:2:0 H.265 internal video capture
  • Internal F-Log capture
  • Three-Axis tilt screen
  • USB-C connector which also allows for charging the battery

That’s about the gist of it… Even a nerd like me gets bored after this. Essentially it’s a camera that comes with loads of impressive goodies that is enough for hobbyists and amateurs. Nowadays cameras are so good that the decision of which cameras system to pick boils down to the user experience (which we will get to) rather than spec alone.

The Good

1.    Good looking

Fujifilm X-T3 is gorgeous. Call me vain, but if everyone is producing extremely capable cameras, the least you can do to stand out is to have a good design. Just like a Fiat Multipla is more than capable to take you from A to B, why did you choose to drive a BMW? From the shutter speed and ISO dials to the threaded shutter button and the aperture ring on the XF lenses, everything plays its part to complete the nostalgic look. A slim profile instead of a big chunky box also means the fashion-conscious like myself are more likely to carry about to take pictures.

2.    Physicals dials

If you have read some of my previous blog posts, you probably know that I am a BIG FAN of physicals buttons and dials. Especially in cameras, you put your face to the viewfinder leaving very little space to use your touchscreen. Having physical dials and NINE buttons that can be customised to your preference improves the workflow by a million miles. Shaving off those precious seconds fiddling with settings can mean getting the shot or not. Although I found the on-off switch can be bumped a bit too easily, especially while chucking it in and out of the bag. On multiple occasions, it ended up taking pictures inside my bag like stupid bum calling people.

3.    Film simulation

You can’t talk about Fujifilm’s cameras without mentioning their film stimulations. Analogue photography is making a comeback. People like films for their personality that the “perfect” digital photography lacks. Fujifilm was already a big player in the photography world even back in the film day, Superia, Pro 400H and ACROS 100 to name a few. So it is incredible that Fujifilm decided to incorporate the colour science of those popular films into their digital camera. With the colour already amazing straight out of camera JPEG, it makes post-editing much easier. They also allow you to fine-tune how the camera process colour in-camera to create different “recipes” to achieve different looks like the infamous Portra 400 and many more.

4.    Great autofocus and fast continuous shoot

X-T3’s autofocus is quick and snappy. With the new firmware update, it improves the eye AF, tracking algorithm and the fastest AF speed down to 0.02 seconds to be on par with the latest X-T4. Although it may still not up to Sony’s standard, I found it performs well enough for my shooting style as a hobbyist. Pair with their extremely impressive continuous shooting mode up to 20fps with AF and 30fps in cropped mode, I still haven’t found a scenario where I wish to have a quicker camera. But just like owning a fast car, you know the speed limits are 30mph, but it is always nice to know your Bugatti can go to 300mph just in case you need it.

5.    More than a capable hybrid camera

Now I have to put my hands up that I am not a videographer so I don’t know much about video capability. So let me regurgitate some of the specs like the 10-bit 4K and internal F-Log capture, which sounded like something a serious videographer would be impressed by. And if you don’t want to grade your footage in post, you can use their film stimulation to get remarkable colour straight out of the camera.

6.    X-Trans sensor performance on par with Full Frame

I know the direct comparison between APS-C and Full Frame isn’t fair, but Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensor is holding up extremely well against, say Canon EOS RP’s sensor despite the smaller size. Without diving into too many details, Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensor arrange their photosites in a slightly different way compared to the conventional Bayer sensor. Fujifilm said it reduces the moire effect and therefore no need for a low pass filter that degrade the image resolution. The result means greater perceived resolution than the number of pixels. In real life, their low light performance also seems to outperformance the RP’s.

7.    Wallet-friendly lens selection

When I was considering different camera system, I was really drawn to Canon’s RF lenses because of their sharpness and colour rendering. But it gave me a heart attack even just looking at the price tag. For example, RF 70-200mm F2.8 costs an eye-watering £2,700 and meanwhile Fujifilm “equivalent” 50-140mm F2.8 costs less than half the price at £1,300. They are both incredible lenses and even if you can convince yourself that the RF lens is sharper, how many of us in the amateur world actually NEED that pixel-peeping difference. I mean if you have a bottomless bank account, by all mean, but not all of us work that hard or that lucky.

8.    Compact

Oh, and did I mention being compact? One of my reasons for wanting to switch to a mirrorless system is because it offers a slimmer profile. APS-C lenses are generally smaller because they only need to cover a smaller sensor. For instance, the massive Fujifilm XF 50mm F1, despite having a larger aperture, is still smaller than the Canon RF 85mm F1.2. My philosophy is: the smaller the system is, the more likely I will be bringing it around with me to shoot more.

The compromise

1.    Full Frame look

At the end of the day, APS-C is still just an APS-C. So you don’t get that “full-frame look” with that shallower depth of field (although it is not strictly true).

2.    Battery life

X-T3 uses the NP-W126S battery quoted to be able to take about 390 shots in one charge. To be fair, the number isn’t bad. But to conserve battery life because of its small capacity, X-T3 goes into the energy-saving mode (dimmer screen and slower refresh rate) after a few seconds of inactivity. Sometimes it can be irritating especially when you are just looking through the viewfinder trying to compose your image when it drops off, although a quick half-press of the shutter button will bring it back to normal.

3.    Shallow grip

X-T3 doesn’t have the chunkiest of grip. To maintain its slim profile, the grip is actually fairly shallow which doesn’t give you much confidence to hold especially if you have a big lens on. However, I don’t find it much of an issue as some other users online. Perhaps because Fujifilm is a Japanese company with a potentially Asian-sized design, it fits my hand pretty well. If it is a cause of concerns, there are loads of third party camera grip out there that can easily tackle that.

4.    Screen not fully articulate

One of the main selling points of this camera is its video capability. However, it doesn’t come with a fully articulated screen which makes vlogging difficult without an external monitor.

5.    Complicated menu system

Although it is not the worst I have used *cough Sony cough*, but coming from Canon who boasts an intuitive menu system, I found it hard to navigate through the menu system at first. It ended up taking much longer than I would like to get all my setting right for my need.

Still relevant in 2021?

Last year, in the midst of COVID lockdown, Fujifilm came out with their X-T3 upgrade, X-T4. With added IBIS, fully articulate and higher resolution screen, bigger battery, even faster continuous shooting and Classic Neg and Bleach bypass film stimulations, it is no doubt an overall better camera than X-T3. However, if you look a bit closer, X-T3 may actually be a better option for most people.

They both use the same sensor and image processor, and with a firmware update v4.0 to X-T3, the autofocus system is now the same as the X-T4 as well. It means the gut that REALLY matters is the same. Colour can be manipulated in post, you can carry an extra battery in your pocket and if you are mainly a photographer, you won’t need the fully articulated screen. So it is down to how much you would pay for the IBIS. At the moment, X-T3 is ~£400 cheaper than X-T4. That’s equivalent to a decent brand new lens like the 35mm F2 or the pancake 27mm F2.8 and more options available in the second hand market. The 5 axial IBIS are said to provide up to an impressive 6.5 stops compensation. It can come in clutch in a low light situation when you don’t have a tripod with you. In my opinion though, unless you are that niche of photographer that constantly encounter these scenarios, I would rather crank up the ISO, deal with the noise in post and get an extra lens. Or just be more organised and bring a tripod with you for god sake…

Verdict

Fujifilm has absolutely nailed it with their X-T3. It was easily the best APS-C camera out in the market when it was first released back in 2018 and still holds true in many aspects despite the release of X-T4. There is really no bad camera nowadays, but Fujifilm created a product that provides a holistic experience to photography rather than blindly chasing that perfect sharpness or even higher resolution. You might be able to find a better still camera or a better-equipped video camera out there but it will be tough to find a better camera that can do both as brilliant as this gem.

With the X-T4 available on the market, X-T3’s price has since dropped and to the majority of the hobbyists and amateurs looking for a startling good deal, I would say look no further because this camera will make you fall in love with photography once again.

Barefoot is the new cushion: Why I ditched the big chunky shoes

Travelling around Europe was on my To-do list when I first come to the UK about 10 years ago. However, with study always taking priority (I have Chinese parents, surprise!) and the lack of funds, I have only been to 2 European cities before finishing university. So when I finally got a job and saved up some money, I started planning a getaway for a breather. Not wanting to pay that extra to check in my luggage, I wanted to pack light, I needed to pack light. That’s when I first come across barefoot shoes.

“High tech shoes, low tech feet” – Ido Portal

Devolution

With millions of years of natural selection, human’s feet have evolved with one undivided focus – to walk and run. With 26 bones and more than 100 muscles, our foot and ankle are engineered to propel us forward and act as part of the complex but efficient shock absorption system. However, once we have satisfied with our survival needs, societies decided daintier feet are more desirable. So the East had the Chinese foot-binding practice while the West have high heels and pointed leather shoes, we are all sacrificing our survival advantage in the name of “beauty”. Then we over-engineer our shoes to have more cushioning without realising we already have the best tailor-made shock absorption system for our body.

What are barefoot shoes?

Unlike other trainers or formal shoes, barefoot shoes embrace your feet in their most natural form. The wide toe box, zero drops and the incredibly flexible and indeed extremely thin sole are designed to provide protection against sharp stones or debris without compromising ground feel. All these encourage your feet to do exactly what they were designed to do. 

Benefits

1.    Compact

That was the main reason I was drawn to barefoot shoes in the first place. I need something that I can throw in my bag without taking up much space. Compared to traditional trainers, barefoot shoes have extremely flexible sole thanks to their thinness. They can be rolled up small or pack flat into any small corner of your bag.

2.    Improve posture

Zero drops meaning the front of your shoe is at the same level at the heel. With heel elevation, the human body naturally trying to compensate for the tilt by anteriorly tilting your pelvis and arching your back. Incorrect posture in a long run gives you a stupid amount of aches and pains, most commonly chronic back pain, knee and hip pain. With zero drops, your body doesn’t need to work as hard to keep you upright, less incentive to hold yourself in an awkward position. Subsequently, allowing an even load across all joints to avoid excessive wear and tear at one particular point.

3.    Balance and joint stability 

The thin sole allows “ground feel” and exercises the foot muscles. Our feet have a huge amount of nerve endings not unlike our hands. The ability to connect with the ground, give us stronger joint proprioception (sense of self-movement and position) and greater control of our own body. While on uneven ground, our feet will have to work harder to morph into different shapes to allow us to remain upright, it strengthens those small muscles in our feet and provides much better stability, hence the longevity of our joints. This argument is like you don’t wear gloves while performing intricate and complex tasks with your hands because of the loss of “touch” and dexterity, we shouldn’t deprive our feet the same if we expect them to constantly doing minute adjustments for balance.

4.    Hallux Valgus

Hallux – Big toe. Valgus – Pointing away from the midline. Hallux Valgus is a bunion, I just like to sound clever once in a while. It is a deformity of the big toe bending and cramping towards the 2nd toe. One of the causes is wearing tight-fitting shoes, essentially squeezing the toe into an unnatural position. The joint can then get inflamed and sore. Having a wide toe box, can help with relieving some of the pressure and reduce the risk of it getting irritated.

Downsides

1.    Takes time to get used to

For a long time, our feet have gotten used to wearing these tight-fitting, big cushioning shoes. Just like anything, you lose it if you don’t use it. It will take some time to build up those small muscles in the foot again. In my experience, your feet get tired and sore quickly at the start, but as you build up, you will find yourself able to sustain being on your feet for longer and easier than before.

2.    Less choice

Barefoot shoes are gaining a bit of traction in recent years as people become more aware of the theory behind the benefits they offer. There are indeed more companies popping up these days with more fashionable choices. But in a large scheme of things, there are still only a small pool to choose from and the “duck-feet” like wide toe box is not exactly commonly associated with the word “classy”.

Verdict

Initially, I just wanted a pair of shoes that can fit into my backpack without taking up too much space without thinking too much about it. People claim barefoot shoes provide plenty of health benefits such as better posture, better joints and less chronic pain. Although I wouldn’t bet all my money on them as the magic solution for your shitty backs or dodgy knees, I certainly enjoy the freedom, the flexibility and the minimalistic design these shoes have. Anecdotally, I do notice some improvement in my balance and sustain longer on my feet albeit that could solely be placebo/bias. Many barefoot shoes come with a trial period with a money-back guarantee, you have little to lose to try one on. 😉

black and white apple

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 4: impressive performance but should you wait?

iPads are head and shoulders above any other tablet in the market. I am certainly biased as I am knee-deep in the Apple’s ecosystem and a low-key fanboy, but most people acknowledge Apple’s devices are beautifully crafted and certainly powerful, whether it justifies the price is down to personal opinion. As the name suggests, iPad Pro is geared towards the professional market, packed in the top of the line features and mind-blowing processing power that they claimed can replace your laptop. But when Apple announced the iPad Air 4 in October 2020 only 7 months after the iPad Pro 2020 upgrade, it muddied the water, BIG TIME. Packed in their latest A14 chip, the single-core processing power even out-performed the A12Z chip in the iPad Pro. So which one should you get or should you wait for the rumoured iPad Pro upgrade just around the corner?

Spec

Let’s get the important spec out of the way

 iPad Pro 2020iPad Air 4
Display11” or 12.9” 
Liquid retina and true tone
ProMotion Technology
600nits
10.9”
Liquid retina and true tone
500nits
ChipA12Z: 
8 cores CPU 8 cores GPU
1.59GHz (boost 2.49GHz)
7nm process
A14:
6 cores CPU 4 cores GPU
1.80GHz (boost 3.01GHz)
5nm process
Storage128, 256, 512GB or 1TB64 or 256GB
Main Camera12MP Wide
10MP Ultra Wide
LiDAR
12MP Wide
Front CameraTrueDepth cameraFaceTime HD camera
ConnectorUSB-C (Up to 10 Gbps)USB-C (Up to 5 Gbps)
UnlockFace IDTouch ID
PriceFrom £769From £579

Display

The main advantage with iPad Pro is their ProMotion (as in “Pro” in “Motion” not like the supermarket sales…I know) technology. It is an adaptive refresh rate that can scale between 60Hz or 120Hz depends on the task at hand. So when you are scrolling through pages, they scale up to 120Hz to give that extra buttery smooth experience or when you are using the Apple pencil to draw to give you take low latency as if you are actually drawing using ink and pen and maybe some games that can take advantage of the fast refresh rate. But then drop back down to 60Hz if you are just reading a news article or watch a YouTube video to save you those precise juice to make your entertainment last longer through the day.

Although iPad Air 4 remains only 60Hz, the argument is that you won’t notice what you are missing unless under direct comparison. We have been using a 60Hz screen for years without any problem and surely if you are an iPhone user, have you ever sit there and think this screen is so laggy and slow? With that said, if you need that absolute minimal latency or you have an android phone that you are so used to 90Hz or 120Hz display screen, iPad might be your choice, so 1 : 0 to iPad Pro.

Chip

iPad Air 4 takes the latest A14 Bionic chip, with an industry-leading 5nm fabricating process allowing more transistors to be packed in and a higher frequency. It is not hard to see the A14 chip is just more advanced than the A12Z, and surely enough A14 crushed the A12Z in single-core performance. Although what is a lack in single-core performance, A12Z compensate by having more cores. 2 more high-performance cores and 4 more GPU cores to be precise. So iPad Pro still has an edge over the iPad Air 4 in multitasking power. What is surprising though is that despite having 4 fewer GPU cores, iPad Air 4 still managed to out-perform iPad Pro in graphic performance. Here is a link to all those numbers crunched by MacRumors. Unless you are a power user that requires every drop of CPU core performance like 4K video editing, “mid-tier market” iPad Air 4 out-powered the “professional market” iPad Pro in almost another scenario. ONE ALL!!!

Camera

iPad Pro has an extra 10MP ultra-wide camera lens compared to the Air 4. I am not judging, but walking around on the street taking pictures with your iPad doesn’t sound like what the majority of people do. So the fact that Air 4 has one less camera, in my opinion, is better. Get rid of the unnecessary thing to keep it cheap(er) – everything is relative…

Although the same argument cannot be used for the front-facing camera, iPad Pro comes with their TrueDepth camera also seen in iPhones for portrait mode and Face ID unlock. This TrueDepth can unlock your iPad both on portrait and landscape orientation which is very handy. iPad Air 4 only has the usual FaceTime HD front-facing camera which means no blurry background selfie or Face ID. Although nowadays with us all wearing masks everywhere, you might actually appreciate the Touch ID that is integrated on the top button more. So let’s say they draw on this one.

Storage

iPad Pro offers four different storage options to choose from, 128GB all the way to 1TB, but Air 4 only has two, 64 or 256GB. Let’s be honest, with today’s 4K movies and the million selfies you have, the 64GB option is a bit petty. But Apple notoriously over-charging their storage and no 128GB option, Air 4 quickly loses its price advantage. 256GB Air 4 starting at £729 which is merely £40 difference from the iPad Pro 128GB version. It is like giving you the option of either using a toothpick or a nuclear bomb to clean your house. This is where it kind of gets difficult in judging who comes out on top. If you only need 128GB storage, iPad Pro seems a bit more sensible with the many extra minor boosts for £40 extra. But if you are only a 128GB kind of person, do you really need all those minor boosts or should you instead use those £40 to treat yourself to a takeaway tonight?

Miscellaneous

Something good to know but unlikely to be a make or break deal to most people. Pro has a 600nits display rather than a 500nits in Air 4, they both use a USB-C connector but Pro offers transfer speed up to 10 Gbps rather than 5 Gbps in Air 4. There is a 0.1″ difference between the Air 4 and Pro 11″, and the Air 4 is 0.2mm thicker but 13 gram lighter.

Verdict

With the iPad Air 4 only released 7 months after the iPad Pro upgrade, Apple has quickly closed the gap between its mid-tier product and its flagship pro-level product. Some say iPad Air 4 is the true iPad Pro killer, but some also argue with their weird storage options, Air 4 is really a product to sell the most basic config. Pro.

Recommend:

If you want an iPad Pro but think the price is just slightly out of reach, iPad Air 4 is a very good alternative with minimal compromise. Faster chip, USB-C and support Apple Pencil Gen 2 that charges magnetically rather than sticking out like a giant lollipop.

If you have the money and require the top features all-round, iPad Pro, despite an older chip, is still a go-to choice. There are not many apps out there capable of challenging its processing limits. And if you require a bigger display such as a digital artist wanting a large physical canvas, you have no other choice but the Pro that offers 12.9″.

Think Twice

What I really think though, unless you need the iPad right now, you might benefit from waiting for a few weeks. Some rumours suggest Apple is going to release an updated iPad Pro in April. They all seem to suggest that this year iPad Pro will have the latest mini-LED display (at least in the 12.9″) and carry the chip with similar processing power to the M1 chip used in MacBook Pro/Air that has blown the whole computer industry away. If that is all true, it might worth waiting until then to either see some discount on the 2020 iPad Pro or get the best iPad Pro possible. 

Although how much you can rely on those rumours, you can look at Jon Prosser’s eyebrows and judge it yourself 😉