Massage gun – review for the Theragun’s knockoffs: What’s the benefits?

I have always been a very active guy. I won’t say I am particularly fit or anything but I always seem to have this extra physical energy to burn. If I don’t exercise for a few days, I get grumpy. A bit like when someone is hangry… Yes I know, “hangry for some exercise” doesn’t sound as cool as I would have hoped. I like challenging my body and maybe this energy partly comes from being addicted to the pain I get when I stress my body properly. Theragun, less so today, was once huge on their Instagram game. You would see the pro athletes and fitness model ad posing with this triangular device pounding their muscles every other post on your feed. I am sold on the better recovery better performance theory, although in my head – “definitely not for £275.”

Did some quick browsing on Amazon, there are hundreds if not thousands of this type of massage gun going for £50. At the end of the day, a vibrating ball-head is not exactly high tech.

Appearance

The first thing I found is that, the knockoffs massage gun is usually in a T-shape rather than the Theragun’s triangular shape. Most likely because of the patent issue. Although I find the T-shape works well, I can imagine the triangular shape with the battery leaning forward brings the centre of gravity of the whole device closer to the attachment head. That should give you a bit more control with the device and maybe less energy trying to hold/manoeuvre it. The triangular shape also gives you more ways to grip the massager so you may find it easier to massage places like your back. There are still knockoff models that have funny shapes to try to mimic that handling, but I can’t say for sure if they work just as well or just increasing the weight unnecessarily.

Percussion therapy

So the recovery idea is very similar to deep tissue massage like foam rolling or some other pain hell that your physiotherapists put you through, increase the blood flow to the muscle to carry lactic acid away and increase nerve stimulation to downregulate the nervous system (I guess it’s a bit like, make you suffer until you are a bit numb to it). But instead of sustained pressure, it gives a very frequent short burst of pressure to achieve the same results. It doesn’t hurt as much so that’s why it gets more praise from those of us who find it unfair to endure any more torture after the workout itself. Apparently, they are capable of creating up to 60 pounds of pressure so you should just float the device over the muscles and no need to apply any external pressure.

What’s the benefit

The main selling point is aid recovery. To be fair, I do find that I get less pain when I have been using the massage gun straight after my workout, especially in my legs after my running or cycling training. Although I seem to find a noticeable difference when I tried to only used it on one side of my body, I recently found out from my podiatrist that my right leg seems to be weaker than my left. So now I can’t be sure whether the difference is from the imbalance of my weight distribution or the miracle recovery machine.

Some also advertise the benefits of reducing stress levels. I mean isn’t it the definition of all massage products. I am not the type of person to manifest stress levels anyway so I can’t be the judge here, but I certainly don’t get stress out by the product so I guess it does its job?

If you look on Theragun’s website, they have this “protocol” for a few sport disciplines. They advertise the use of the massage gun for warm-up. Scientifically speaking it adds up, if the machine increases blood flow to that specific muscles group using mechanotransduction, it will achieve the same results as a traditional warm-up. But I would argue apart from warming the muscles, warm-ups are meant to get your heart rate up in preparation for the increased circulation demand, and the massage gun doesn’t do that. Or at least they are not meant to…

Verdict

I like the product idea. I always love a good massage, and instead of paying a therapist per hourly session, you have a portable massage on-demand kind of gig going on. But unlike the pros, I think for the majority of us mere mortal the benefits probably remain in the very superficial level of having a massage. I certainly don’t train like any pro athletes, their intensity isn’t something you can just copy, but I do train hard while I am at it. I don’t feel any significant difference in my recovery time or performance. Maybe when you are competing at the professional level, you will benefit from the marginal gains. If you are at that level, you are not taking advice from a dude on the internet, you are already getting guidance from professional physiotherapists and sports scientists. For the rest of us, unless again your wallet is an endless pit, getting the knockoffs on Amazon will be more than enough to satisfy the need for a good ol’ massage. 

Agfa Isolette III review: Compart medium format film camera that is still affordable

Some of you may know that I have got myself into this trend of film photography. A hobby essentially burning all my hard-earned money in exchange for some photo of my cat and some rocks on the beach. Although I am getting a lot of pleasure out of shooting full-frame (because, of course, my fuji is APSC), we all know this road only leads down one direction… inevitably, I want to shoot bigger format and the next sensible step is medium format. 

If you have searched for any film cameras or watch any YouTube videos about medium format film cameras, you will have definitely heard of some of the holy grail medium formats: The Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya 7, Pentax 67, Hasselblad 500c/m etc. They have been crowned kings for good reasons but fame comes with a high price tag. To find a functional copy of one of these we are talking £1000+. Yes, that’s nowhere near the price for a digital medium format camera but my wallet said films are not to die for… well, not yet anywhere. By chance, I came across an Agfa Isolette III, a clean and functional 60+ years old 6×6 medium format camera for sub £100. I got pretty excited, as they said, film photography is all about the film and not the box itself.

Appearance

Agfa isolette III is a folding camera. When not in use, the lens can be folded into the camera itself. The obvious advantage is that it can be very small compared to most other types of medium format cameras. With the lens folded, it is just marginally bigger than my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 body. It is so small that actually fit in my trousers’ pocket. As medium format cameras go, it is pretty insane portability. It has a small red window at the back for when you are winding your film to make sure you are at your correct frame.

At the top, my model has a film-type reminder on the left side. Some earlier models spot a depth of field indicator. The button next to it is the one to open up the camera and get the lens at the shooting position. Then the cold shoe, shutter button and the film winding knob at the far right.

There is a small thumb knurled wheel in between the shutter and the cold shoe mount. That’s for focusing on the uncoupled rangefinder. That’s the most important thing to remember on this camera, the rangefinder is uncoupled means, focusing (align the two images) using the knurled wheel through the rangefinder window doesn’t focus the lens. Instead, it gives you the camera to subject distance which you will then have to set at the front element of the lens to focus. Forgetting to wind your film or clock your shutter, the camera won’t shoot, but it will still shoot if you forget to set your distance and ruin a frame.

Lens

I lied earlier… In film photography, apart from the film itself, the lens obviously matters too. Those holy grail cameras we spoke about all have interchangeable lenses so you can pick and choose. But a folding camera doesn’t, given the restriction of an attached bellow. So you have to get it right when choosing the camera at the start. Isolette III was in production from 1951-1960. So if you think about it, the “youngest” model would still be 60 years old. There was a total of 6 different types of lenses used on this camera throughout their production years. My model was 85mm F4.5 Apotar Pronto. But you can get Pronto SV or SVS, or a Solinar lens which can be either 85mm F4.5 Synchron-compur or 75mm F3.5 Synchron-compur or Prontar SVS. The main difference, apart from the obvious focal length between 85mm and 75mm, are most lenses accept 30mm accessories but some Solinar lenses accept 32mm, and the fastest shutter speed on the synchro-compur is 1/500s, Pronto SV/SVS is 1/300s while my Pronto is the slowest at 1/200s.

After all those boring numbers, if you are still with me, let’s talk about how it performs. The lens is surprisingly sharp and contrasty. The wide-open aperture f4.5, just like any other camera lenses, are soft at the corners, but I like it contributing to the “3D look” you get with the medium format. Once you step down, and the lens has a red dot marking to let you know which aperture gives the sharpest image, the images it produces are fantastic.

One thing about shooting wide open at F4.5 on the Isollete though is that the rangefinder window is absolutely tiny. I have perfect vision (yes, I don’t need glasses unlike the other 90% of the Chinese population), but I sometimes struggle to align those two images in the rangefinder for focus especially when you have a complicated scene in front of you. Stopping down gives me the buffer I need to make sure my subject is in focus.

Also when deploying the lens out, be careful not to let the lens fly open. It can create a vacuum in the body and “suck” the film off the pressure plate and ruin your image.

Step to make an image

Apart from large formats, I think this camera comes pretty close to the definition of slow down photography. There are multiple steps to create a useable image.

  1. Put in some film (dah…),  wind it until you see the frame number on the little red window at the back and drop the lens to shooting position.
  2. Expose your scene with a light meter of some description. I just use my phone as it has not failed me so far.
  3. Set your aperture and shutter speed on the lens.
  4. Focus your subject and compose your scene using the uncoupled rangefinder
  5. Transfer the camera-to-subject distance indicated on the thumb knurled wheel to the lens.
  6. Clock your shutter.
  7. *Click*

Because you have to do a lot of fiddling back and forth, I find it easier to just set it up on a tripod and take your time with it. Or else you will be doing a lot of composed – change the setting – re-compose and sometimes mess up your focus or your composition because you moved.

ProsCons
Extremely PortableMore suitable for still life photography 
Fully mechanical – can be repair and no need for batteriesUncoupled rangefinder – need to remember to focus on the front element
Medium 6×6 formatThe viewfinder window is tiny
The lens is sharp when stopped down No double exposure setting
Can still be had for a good price (<£100) No interchangeable lens

Verdict

Film photography can be a lot of fun, the question is more about the fund. With film photography cameras’ price taking the elevator rather than stairs, it can make it less fun in some way. I am really glad I come across this little Agfa Isolette III and gave me the entry to medium format system. There are loads of them out there but keep in mind, the youngest model is also about 60 years old, mileage might differ. So if you come across ones that look a bit dodgy, just move on. If you have issues with your folding camera, the internet has crowed Jurgen Kreckel, the owner of Certo6, to be the king of the folding cameras in the UK so he might be able to help.

Google Pixel Buds review: Is it any good or should you wait for the A-series

After getting the Google Pixel 4a, Eva wants some true wireless earbuds to complement the set-up. I don’t blame her, I have been going on about how convenient my AirPods are. So with that, Google pixel buds are naturally the first ones that we look at. I am a true believer of the tech ecosystem, products made within the same ecosystem are optimised for native support and thus better user experience. Initially, we were patiently waiting for the Pixel Buds A-Series to come out given the £100 discount for minimal compromise. Then we stumble across Argos doing a deal on Pixel Buds for £109. The price difference suddenly is not that bad anymore, and with  Pixel Buds A-series still yet to come out in the UK, I pulled the trigger for the Pixel Buds. 早買早享受,遲買平幾舊 (a phrase where Hong Kong people love to use to justify their spending “You can enjoy it earlier if you get it early, but could save a few bucks if you wait for the price drop” so either way, we winning)

Appearance

First off, it feels very well built. The oval-shaped charging case is very lovely to hold. The size and matt finish is just right that makes me want to pick it up all the time. It gives me this odd satisfaction of holding a very smooth egg without having to worry I may crush it. It is so smooth that I sometimes find myself rubbing it on my face… wait what.

The magnetic lid gives a very satisfying click. I noticed the lid is slightly heavier than one of the AirPods’ charging cases. Depends on your personal choice, I prefer the flick and click I get from my AirPods… I can’t see why it would matter in your purchasing decision though, I just want to mention it for fun.

Unlike the A-series that are coming, there is only the black and white version. I enjoy the contrast and the resemblance of a panda, making the pixel buds that much more likeable.

Now, you do have to get over the fact that they look like a pair of Mentos sweet in your ears, but guess it is still better than the AirPods which looks like 2 hanging electric toothbrush heads. 

Battery life & Fit

You will get about 5 hours of continuous listening time and about 24 hours more with the charging case. Those numbers are pretty standard, on par with the AirPods from Apple. 

The integrated soft silicone wing tips slot perfectly in Eva’s ears and give her a comfortable and secure fit. But for me, it can create this odd feeling in my concha during a long period of listening, which is not sore but just a bit uncomfortable.

The Pixel Buds comes with interchangeable silicone ear tips to give a better seal for sound isolation. Like the AirPods Pro, they have integrated the venting system to prevent the eardrum sucking feeling but that also let in quite a bit of ambient noise. I mean you can argue both ways, to give you a better spatial awareness and open up the sound stage or ruin your peaceful lo-fi vibe in the coffee shop. It is actually not that bad compared to my AirPods where there is no seal at all, but worth keeping in mind as they don’t have active noise cancelling in case you might want a pair that has better passive noise-cancelling capability.

Sound quality

Google is very proud of their customised 12mm speaker drivers. And to be fair, the sound quality of the Pixel Buds is actually pretty respectable. One thing I notice straight away is the clarity. The layers are nicely separated and not muffled into a big mess. The vocal performance is crisp and clear. But the bass is rather disappointing. I am not a Beats by Dre kind of guy, but the lack of bass is a bit abrupt in the Pixel Buds. It is like looking at a painting only half-finished. But luckily, since its release, Google has updated the software and included the “Bass Boost” feature in the EQ setting. Properly utilising their big driver to push those low frequencies, now the Pixel Buds sound so much better. Not only does it add in that little oomph that it was desperately lacking, but it also makes the whole sound more complete, smoother and more syrupy to listen to.

Touch functionality

I find the control is quite intuitive. One tap to play/pause, two taps to skip, three taps to go back, long press to activate Google Assistant. Pixel Buds also have swipe for volume control which A-series lacks. What I find a bit annoying though is how sensitive it is. Unlike my AirPods that the touch area is quite small and you have to be quite purposeful to control it, the Mentos size earbuds give a massive target for any unwanted touch input. For example, a hug from Eva usually pause or skip my song or trigger Google Assistant. Or adjusting the earbud position, Google Assistant will almost certainly creep in for some action.

Nice touches

Details are important! Google has put in some nice touches on software support. Like the hands-free “Hey Google” to activate Google Assistant, Fast Pair on Android to mimic the experience of seamless pairing with AirPods on iPhones and the Attention Alerts that automatically lower the volume if it detects emergency sirens or baby cries.

Pixel Buds vs Pixel Buds A-Series

Pixel Buds A-Series were set to be released in June. But till today, you can only join the waiting list on the Google store in the UK. It is set to be released at £99 compared to the full price Pixel Buds of £179. A-series actually have very minimal compromise compared to the regular Pixel Buds. No wireless charging care, no swipe for volume control and no attention alerts and no wind reduction on call clarity. If you are getting them at full price, those are not really a compromise for a price difference of £80. But if you are quick, you might still be able to grab yourself the regular Pixel Buds of £109, only £10 difference for a few extra convenient features.

Verdict

Same as the Google Pixel 4a, on paper, it might not be the most impressive wireless earbuds out on the market but I really enjoy the sound quality produced by these little things and the satisfying case completes the whole experience. 

Although truth be told, I don’t think it is a straightforward recommendation unless you are like me and have some kind of ecosystem issue. Sitting at £109, what Pixel Buds have to offer are certainly a very good value for money if not the best at the moment. However, some issues might be a deal-breaker for some. For example, I find the fit differs from person to person and only lucky in my case that the earbuds are for Eva and they fit her very well. I personally have not experienced the connection issue described by so many yet, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. I would give it a 7/10 on the recommendation scale with the discount and a 5.5/10 at the full price of £179.

Fujifilm X-Pro 1 review: How is the 10 years old camera still getting so much attention in 2021?

If you have read the previous blog or seen some of the Instagram photos, you might have seen the new addition to my Fujifilm family, the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. But why go after a camera that was released back in March 2012, almost 10 years ago? It’s all rooted in my exploration of film photography. Films have this unique, nostalgic aesthetic that provokes the feeling of “the good old days”. I enjoy the colour rendering of the film but film photography is a dangerous game. We are talking about £10 a roll, with developing and scanning costs on top, let alone the price of a film camera these days. It adds up quickly. So I was intrigued when people are raving about the first-gen X-Trans sensor renders colours like film. For £200, I did not regret pulling the trigger.

Spec

Sensor23.6 x 15.6mm; 16.3MP (1.5x crop factor) APS-C X-Trans 1st Gen CMOS
Resolution4896 x 3264
ISO (extended)200 – 6400 (100 – 25,600)
Lens MountFujifilm x mount
Weather SealingNo
Shutter1/4000 to 30 second
Storage1x SD slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
ViewfinderHybrid multi-viewfinder (100% coverage in EVF)
Continuous shooting6 FPS
LCD screen3”
VideoFull 1080p HD @ 24fps
BatteryNP-W126
Weight400g (exclude battery)
Price at launch£1429
Price @ 2021£200-350 (depending on conditions) mpb.com / eBay

Construction, style and handle

Fujifilm X-Pro1 was the first of the “pro” line aimed at the high-end photography market. It is very well built with a full magnesium alloy frame. The magnesium alloy allows the camera to be extremely lightweight. It was a bit of an odd feeling when I pick up the X-Pro 1 for the first time and felt how light it was compared to my X-T3. It was not weather-proofed but they handle Ireland’s condition just fine with me.

One thing I am a bit puzzled though is the tripod mount location. It is right next to the battery compartment which is also where your SD card lives. With the mount being so close to the battery flap, if you have installed a tripod plate, you won’t be able to open the battery compartment to change the battery or SD card without taking the plate off first. That’s just unnecessary faff…

Style

One thing that the X-Pro line attracts me is its rangefinder-style design. The rectangular shape without the viewfinder hump makes the silhouette cleaner. The “showing your face while shooting” style do slowly grows on you. Something about showing your face makes you a bit more approachable and less intrusive as a photographer. One thing to remember though, it is a rangefinder STYLE camera, NOT a rangefinder camera. There is no rangefinder coupling to the viewfinder so you can’t manual focus with the OVF, you will have to switch to EVF to check if you are in focus. Although Fujifilm has made it relatively easy to do, just something to keep in mind.

Handling

Also, there are a lot of buttons at the back which made changing settings very easy. Although I am not sure about some of their placement. Such as the AF button for changing the AF point, is placed at the left bottom corner of the screen far away from somewhere you can reach with your right thumb for a quick selection change. Fujifilm also limits the customisation of the buttons. The up button is permanently set for “macro” mode and the left and right buttons are for shutter speed despite already having a dedicated shutter selection at the top. The only buttons you can customise is the Fn button and the down button which I have set ISO and WB selections.

As with all rangefinder camera, what you are seeing through the OVF is not exactly what your lens see because it’s off to the side. It creates something called the parallax effect. The effects are stronger when the subjects are closer to your camera. It ultimately affects your composition, therefore rangefinder is not for everyone.

This camera is created with photographer in mind. More specifically, street photographer. All of the features are photography focus. Even though it is capable of take video, it feels like more of an after thought.

X-Trans CMOS 1

One that has been regarded as “legendary” and “most film-like sensor”, the X-Pro 1 has the first generation X-Trans CMOS sensor. Compared to the “traditional” Bayer sensor, X-Trans doesn’t need the extra anti-aliasing filter which supposedly means it renders a sharper image. However, I am not after the “supposedly sharper” images because truth be told, I am not 100% convinced. If anything, possibly because of the low megapixel sensor, I feel the X-Pro 1 render images with this distinctive “softness” that I really like, more natural and less digital. 

Another thing that people rave about is the “film-like” rendering. I have to say, I am very impressed, so much so that I only shoot JPEG with the X-Pro 1. The colour, highlight from this sensor has this unique, natural roll off that reminds me of film. High ISO performance is of course not as good as the newer model, but that’s what I was looking for as well. Because of the X-Trans having a more random colour filter array pattern, the grain it produces has a more organic look to it and more comparative to film than the digital noise.

Focus

Autofocus

It is slow. We have come to expect split-second AF, eye tracking and all these advances over the years. So deprived of all the technological advancement, X-Pro 1 AF system is of course expected to be slow. Even with my XF 35mm F2, the X-Pro 1 takes time to focus and have to hunt a bit before deciding on the subject. When I had the 7Artisans 25mm F1.8 lens on, I sometimes find manual focus can be faster than the autofocus.

It is a bad point if you are after a “modern” camera that has all the fancy AF system, you shouldn’t be looking for a 10-year-old camera anyway. But because the AF is slow, it forces you to be slow and more intentional. It actually compliments the “film camera experience” even better.

Manual focus

As I said above, it is a rangefinder-style camera, not a rangefinder. Therefore you cannot manually focus with the OVF and have to rely on the EVF. The focus peaking feature is certainly welcomed, but unlike the newer camera that you can choose focus peaking colour, X-Pro 1 comes with the white line. It is very difficult to see especially in broad daylight. It is only helpful if you are shooting black and white or nighttime photography. Other times, the 3x or 10x focus magnifier which you can bring up by pressing the thumbwheel is much better to help with focus check.

XF lens mount

Fuji X mount is such a versatile mount. Fujifilm has already had decent selections of native Fujinon lenses. And with the popularity of Fujifilm grows and X-Mount opening up to 3rd party lenses for AF, there will only be more and more reasonably priced lenses that produce a tremendously amazing image. Apart from the AF lenses, MF prime lenses also complement the small camera body very well. In fact, you can adapt the vintage lenses from your film camera on the X-Pro 1, get the best of both film and the digital world. A slow film-like shooting experience, but don’t have to sell your kidney for film stocks.

Verdict

ProsCons
Rangefinder-styleNo weather seal
Hybrid EVFMinimal customisation on buttons
Legendary X-Trans 1 – a film-like colour and grainParallax effect from rangefinder style
Slow and intentional like a film cameraIn the digital world, it’s ancient
<£300 Video feature feels like an afterthought

In the digital camera world, 9 years is a very long time. The technology advancement can be light-years apart. Despite that, Fujifilm X-Pro1 stands in a unique position that we are seeing prices go up rather than down in recent years. With film photography being more popular again, X-Pro 1 has been identified to be the most “film-like” digital camera. From the image it renders with its X-Trans 1 sensor to the whole shooting experience with its rangefinder styling and tactile buttons and dials, it has the same attraction as film photography attracts the newer generation photographer. It slows us down in the manic world. Obviously, the film-like colour and grain rendering also appeal to the trend. To complete the feel, you can even find a 1GB SD card and limit yourself to 36 exposure. I find myself recently picking up the X-Pro1 more than my X-T3. It’s not because the X-T3 can’t do what the X-Pro1 can, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t always need the extra power from the X-T3, on my day-to-day life documentary work, I want to strip it back down to the bare minimum, enjoy the process and be more intentional.

7Artisans 25mm F1.8 APS-C Lens review: I wanted it to be good so much

Shooting Fujifilm has really got me hooked on prime lenses. Previously, I just like the idea of one zoom lens that is capable of a wide range of scenarios, no faff. But recently, I have been experimenting with my style of photography and the genre that I really enjoy is documentary photography. But not any fancy stuff, just the mundane everyday life. I started to slow down a bit in my photography, something film photography has taught me, to be a bit more intentional. I started to play with the idea of a manual focus prime lens. Something that forces you to be slow down, think before you smash that shutter button. I was looking for something compact, don’t need to be super sharp and a focal length that best documents life. That’s when I came across 7Artisans 25mm F1.8 for Fuji and started my love-hate relationship with this £79 lens for 2 months.

Appearance

This lens is very small. Even smaller than my XF 35mm F2. Full metal construction that makes it look and feel much more expensive £79. It has a silver ring at the front which makes the style even more fitted with the whole vintage look that Fujifilm cameras roll with. Two textured rings for focus and aperture selection. And it also comes with focus distance and scale markings.

Love

1.    Tiny

If you follow this blog, you would know that I love a good gear that’s compact. I want this lens to be “THE” lens for my life documentary photo setup, so it needs to be small enough that I am willing to bring it with me anywhere and everywhere. With it being a manual focus lens, it shaved off the size and the weight of a motor. It weighs in at 143g which is very light and makes it extremely portable.

2.    Nice styling

The one I got was black with the hint of silver right at the front. It fits so well with my Fujifilms that get a very high styling point. Although the focus scale markings can do with a little bit of work and just don’t use the lens cap.

3.     Short focus throw

There is no official figure I can find, but the focus throw is about 120 degrees if not less. It makes manual focus very quick from the closest of 0.18m to infinity in less than half a turn. Yes, at F1.8 the very shallow depth of field can make it a bit harder to focus, but I never have real trouble nailing it with focus peaking and the zoomed-in focus checking features Fujifilm has. That is if it is within its focus limits – I will talk about what I mean below.

4.    Dreamy image rendering

Should I use the word dreamy? It is basically a cheap lens that does not render a razor-sharp image. But that’s exactly what I like about it. For my day to day photos, I actually don’t want it to be too crisp and “too digitise”. These cheap lenses are like vintage lenses that give you a bit of character, sharp in the middle and soft at the corners. But these cheap lens softness areas can be a bit random as their QC won’t be something they boast about.

5.    About a 35mm focal length with a wide aperture

25mm with a 1.5x crop factor gives you about 38mm focal length which is close enough to 35mm. I like this focal length for my day to day because it is still a standard lens as in they are close to human’s eyes focal length, but just a bit wider than a 50mm. It gives me the ability to give the picture some context. F1.8 is handy in low light and also able to render some nice subject separation.

6.    Cheap as f***k

Oh, and did I say it this lens only cost me £79 on amazon? I have even seen it went for as low as £64 a few weeks after I got it. A lens that only cost roughly 6 rolls of Portra 400 film is absolute bonkers.

Hate

1.    Unclicked aperture ring

The focus ring and aperture ring are very well dampened and lovely to use. But I really dislike an unclicked aperture ring because I am a photographer, not a videographer. I don’t get the benefit of changing the aperture smoothly and quietly but I get all the bollocks about accidentally nudging it. 

2.    Poor quality control

Consider this is a £79 lens, there isn’t really a lot to hate. You could be saying, ‘mate it’s £79, what do you expect from “quality control”‘. I have to say for £79, this lens feels much more premium than £79. It is nice to touch, feels good to use and I like the images it renders. What really made me give up on this lens is the fact that both lenses I got cannot focus to infinity. I don’t have high expectations from £79 quality control. So when my first order arrived and I cannot focus beyond 5m, I thought it was a one-off bad sample with slightly off calibration. So I sent it back and get another one hoping it will be better. But unfortunately, the second sample also can’t manage to focus on infinity. I suspect it’s likely something to do with the focus plane not being calibrated properly in the manufacturing process. Could be a bad patch, could be I was unlikely to get 2 of the bad samples in a row. Either way, it got me frustrated enough that I cannot be bothered with it anymore. Other brands do 25mm F1.8 as well like Meike and Pergear which I might give them a go in the future.

Just would not focus on the bridge, and the “infinity” focus falls on the leaves and branches on the left

Verdict

7Artisans 25mm F1.8 is a really nice lens. It ticks a lot of boxes for me, compact, manual focus with short focus throw, good looking and have a bit of character in terms of image quality. However, the poor quality control frustrates me enough for it to become a deal-breaker for me. I order two different samples of the lens and both of them are not able to focus beyond 5m. It is such a shame because when it focuses, the image it produces is really up my street. If you are on the market for a cheap manual prime lens, it is certainly an amazing lens if it works. If you are the type of person that wins in lotteries and raffles, try your luck!

Google Pixel 4a review: The most under-rated mid-tier phone

Recently found myself looking for a new smartphone although not for myself but for my partner. Her Samsung Galaxy S7 edge finally gave up on her. Got it back in 2016, survived a million drops with only a small crack to the front screen, it decided one day to over-heat and stop working completely. Probably consider herself lucky that it didn’t explode consider Samsung’s reputation around the time when S7 is released (RIP Note 7). Given my favourite spent time is browsing the web to find tech gadgets, I was tasked to find her a new phone with fairly simple criteria: less than £400, reasonable size as girls have no pockets, take good photos and fast enough for her smartphone usage which is Pinterest and Whatsapp. So I got to work and decided on the most unassuming smartphone on the market – Google’s pixel 4a. Here is why…

Mid-tier phone

The mid-tier phone market, phones that are £300-500 mark, is arguably the most competitive and therefore the most colourful. Each phone sacrifice different functionality to compete in this field, creating a more dynamic and interesting range. Unlike the flagship phone market where they just put everything in: the latest chip, more camera lens and bigger and brighter screen. 4 phones caught my eyes: Xiaomi Poco F3, iPhone SE, Samsung A52 5G and of course the Google Pixel 4a.

Spec

 Poco F3Pixel 4aiPhone SEA52 5G
Price£289£299£399£399
ProcessorSD 870SD 730GA13SD 750G
Battery (mAh)45203140No mention4500
DisplayRefresh rate6.67” AMOLED120Hz5.8” FHD+ OLED60Hz4.7” Retina HD60Hz6.5” AMOLED120Hz
Release dateMar ‘21Aug ‘20Apr ‘20Mar ‘21

Why Google Pixel 4a

From the get-go, Pixel 4a does not stand out at all on paper. Not the fastest chip, not the best display, pretty small battery and not the latest phone available either. Xiaomi Poco F3 wins in literally every category, from the price to the hardware. They offer the fastest processor SnapDragon 8 series, the largest battery and an amazing display. But what pushes me to Pixel is the stock Android, amazing camera and the perfect screen size in a sub £300 package.

Review – what’s good

1.    Plastic build means light and no worry for cracked glass

The phone has a matt finished plastic back. It makes the phone very light. It also means there is no need for a phone case as you don’t have to worry about dropping and cracking the glass. I wish I am brave enough to use my iPhone without a case, but the thought of dropping it and having to pay the premium, I will just have to accept the inferior hand feel.

2.    Full-screen OLED

There are a lot of android phones that have a full-screen display with a punch-hole front-facing camera. It just makes the phone nicer to look at. Especially she is coming from the Galaxy S7 edge which had a big forehead and a big chin. Even I am super happy with my iPhone X, I can’t help but still feel jealous of the quality of the OLED display.

3.    Snappy UI

Stock Android is the best Android. It doesn’t have any junk 3rd party app dragging it down. It is smooth and intuitive. They also come with 3 years guarantee of Android updates.

I have not recently used a Xiaomi device, but I had a tablet from Xiaomi previously. Their UI is just too clunky with tonnes of unwanted apps installed on them. On top of that, the fact that Xiaomi is a Chinese company and having witnessed what the Chinese government is capable of doing, I am just not that comfortable with that idea. Hardware in all those 4 phones are more than enough for my partner, it is therefore down to the software experience. Samsung’s One UI is pretty minimal as well but there is no need for the extra spec that comes with that extra £100. She doesn’t want an iPhone as the forehead and chin are off-putting for 2021.

4.    Good looking

I don’t know what it is, but I like the square bump at the back of Pixel 4a better than the straight line camera module from the other phones. I have an iPhone X with has 2 lenses in the top-down configuration, but nowadays phones that have 3 or 4 lenses that also go top-down configuration just looks terrible in my opinion. Pixel 4a has only one camera so it shouldn’t need the square bump but I kind of dig the look. Minimal logo with a stealthy “G” that goes nicely with the matt black finish but have a hint of colour with their contrasty minty green/blue button, all very minimalistic.

Not a huge fan

1.    The fingerprint sensor at the back

It is at a good place when you pick up the phone as your index finger are just there. But it also means you have to pick up your phone. You can’t do the lazy just glancing your phone on the table thing. Well, you can, just have to type in the bloody pin.

2.    Mat finish is slippery

My partner just doesn’t care about tech gear. Little attention is paid to where the phone is placed so the phone is on the floor more than in her pocket. With the matt plastic finish, it is even more likely for it to slide out of her pocket or drop from her hands. The back is plastic but the screen is still glass, so it is just a matter of time.

Verdict

Overall, I think Google’s Pixel 4a is highly under-rated. Because on paper they are not the most impressive one and in the sea of mid-tier phone, it is easy to forget. But for my partner it is the best phone – good price, good size, more than enough power and have an amazing camera that does wonderful things with just software.

Who I would recommend it to: if you want a smartphone that has a good balance of price and quality. Takes good photos without the gimmick fuss, good user experience, only need the phone for basic things like texting, phone calls and media consumption and a reasonable size phone that still fits in your jean pocket.

Who I would say look elsewhere: If you game intensely on your phone. You want the absolute best hardware for the money or you don’t like Android.

Holga 135BC review – What is this toy camera for?

While I was rooting around in my house, I found this little film camera that I have long forgotten about. I got it back when I was still in my junior years in secondary school in Hong Kong. It jogged back to the reason for me getting this camera … I was around 12 years old, only just started in my photography journey and still using my dad’s Canon PowerShot. During that time, the heavy vignette look was in vogue and Lomography was selling everywhere and created a cult. With about HKD $200 (~£20), I got myself one that comes with a flash and shot maybe 2 rolls of films on it. Due to the fact it was expensive to buy film and have them developed, especially for a school kid that only had £5 of pocket money a week, it ended up sitting in the corner on the bookshelf as a decorative display. It came with me to the UK and recently with me dipping in and out of the film world, I decided to put some film through it again. And boy, it reminded me of the purest of photography fun.

Appearance

Holga 135BC is a 35mm camera. It is all plastic, including the lens, the only thing that’s metal is probably the shutter thread, tripod thread and the hot shoe and that’s about it. And so, you guessed it, it is incredibly light. Fully mechanical and minimal settings. It uses a zone focused system where the focusing lens has 4 little diagrams to suggest roughly your focusing distance. 2 apertures, F8 or F11 shown as flash/cloudy or sunny, and 2 shutter speed, 1/100s or Bulb. And that’s it. It is designed to be a toy camera and I had fun with it.

Spec

Film35mm
Shutter speed1/100 sec or Bulb
ApertureF8 or F11
FocusZoned focus
Multiple exposuresBy not winding film forward
AccessoriesTripod mountCable release mountHot shoes

What I like about it

First of all, It was very cheap. It does reflect on the quality of the build where everything is cheap plastic but it was part of the charm. You know how you have heard any seasoned photographer said at least once “it is not about your gear, at the end of the day it’s just a black box.”? This is literally a box with a hole, nothing more. The beauty of this limitation is that it allows you to put down the thought of “what aperture/shutter speed” and focus on just creating.

Secondly, the unpredictability. Film photography in general has a little bit of this element in it. Every time you press down your shutter, unlike digital photograph where you can chimp, you only have a rough idea of what the image is going to look like until you have the roll develop maybe a day or two later. Yes, the more you practise, the more accurate that mental image will be. But this toy camera is a different story. The viewfinder is just a window above the lens, so you have to factor in the parallax issue. The plastic lens takes in light whatever the way they feel that day and you can’t even have accurate focus as it’s just 4 different icons at the top of the lens for you to guess your focus range. And depends on what film you have in it, with absolute minimal control, you will probably end up over/underexpose your film the majority of the time. That means you really can’t know for sure if your image is going to turn out right or not. But once in a while, I find it liberating. We all have this expectation where every time we go out to make photographs, we will end up with loads of good photos that we are super happy with. In reality, we don’t always get good results and we can come home with absolutely nothing. That’s very normal but the expectation, over time, can wear us down and make us forget what we set out to enjoy in the first place. I do still practise my photography with other “serious” camera. But once in a while, I will pick this wee thing up, the unpredictability allows me to just go out with absolutely no expectation at all. It sets your mind free to just take the photo without thinking much and just enjoy photography as it is. The excitement of getting your roll back from the lab is different when you have no idea what photographs you have made.

What I am not a fan of

Lomography’s toy camera earned their fame with the heavy vignette that comes with their plastic lens. “Heavy vignette” is just the polite way of saying the lens doesn’t cover the whole 35mm negatives so leaving the 4 corners un-exposed. Luckily my specific one is not too bad compared to what I have seen online. I enjoy a little bit of a vignette sometimes but that 4 black corner look is a bit too dated for me. It makes me cringe just like when I see those black and white images with only the red umbrella coloured in. If that’s your thing, go for it. The extreme of style is just not my taste.

Also, it is not THAT cheap when you consider I got my Olympus AF-1 Super, a second hand 30 years old point and shoot camera that are well-built with a sharp 35mm F2.8 lens, for only £30 from eBay.

Verdict

Holga 135BC is a toy 35mm film camera. An all-plastic, cheaply build black box that takes pictures. It is like those plastic toys that pretend to be a camera. The build quality of the camera is unpredictable, the pictures that come out are even more unpredictable. But that reminds me why I loved photography. The simplicity of the camera takes away all the stress that you put on yourself trying to make the next masterpiece for your Instagram feed. It leaves only the purest joy of photography.  It allows you to be “unintentional”. Press the shutter because you want to remember that moment. 

One of my all time favourite photos is taken with this little toy camera

Fujifilm XF 35mm F2.0 review – The Best Lens for The One Lens Set Up

When I have switched my camera system from Canon to Fujifilm a while back, I was also looking to expand and experience my lens choice. Before when I was using my EOS 500D, I had the kit 18-55mm and 55-250mm as I thought a zoom set-up will give me the most bang for the buck. But as I transit to Fujifilm, I noticed they seem to have put a lot of focus on their prime lens collections. With choices such as the F1.4 lineup or their more compact counterpart F2.0 lineup, I am intrigued as they say a prime lens is usually sharper, faster and cheaper. After some internal debate, I picked the XF35mmF2 for its compact size, weather sealing, fast focus and close to 50mm full-frame equivalent focal length.

Build Quality

Kudos to Fujifilm, when you hold this lens in your hands, quality is the first thing that springs to mind. It is full metal construction, even for the textured aperture ring and focus ring. The aperture ring is smooth with a nice click to it. Same as the focus ring, it is well dampened but not too hard to turn. It comes with a small metal lens hood. I am not sure it actually does much in terms of preventing glares and flares, but certainly does a good enough job to protect the glass. Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of this tapering, stumpy design of the lens so the hood kind of make it balance a bit better. Although the lens hood somehow makes it a bit more difficult to put the lens cap on. I am just being pernickety here…

It apparently has 8 seals in the lens body to help makes it weather-sealed and still works in -10˙C.

Spec

Dimension (Diameter x Length)60mm x 45.9mm
Weight170g
Focal Length35mm (53mm Full-Frame equivalent)
Element/Group9/6
ApertureF2.0 – F16
Filter Size43mm

Real-world test and review

If you are looking for the kind of technical review that takes picture of a brick wall, pixel peep to tell you which part of the lens is sharp, how much vignette you get at what stop, I am sorry to disappoint. They just aren’t important to me in the real world use of the lens. Modern days lens are all very sharp, arguably too sharp. Vignette is usually auto-corrected by most software you use to read the RAW file. So why bother worrying about them, plus as they say – if you are pixel peeping to decide whether it is a good photo, it’s not.

Fast focus

Autofocus ability though, is very important. It is between being the masterpiece or epic fail. And it is one of the reasons I chose the F2 version over the F1.4 version. Fujifilm quotes the AF to be 0.08s. With my X-T3, the focus is almost instant and bang on target 9/10. I have rarely missed a shot because the focus is too slow. Although auto-focus is amazingly fast and quiet, the manual focus is not quite the same story. Like most other Fuji’s lenses, they are focus by wire which is essentially an electronic sensor. So they don’t have a definite endpoint on either end. And it’s not linear focus either, it makes fast manual focus a bit challenging as you can’t really have a “muscle memory” when the focus throw is essentially infinity. On top of that, they make this weird, loud, clicky noise as you turn the focus ring during manual focus mode which contrasts how quiet it focuses during AF mode.

Compact

The size of this is also one of my major considerations. Like all my previous post, I like a good compact system so I bring the camera with me more. With it being only 107g and 60x46mm, it might not be a pancake but it is small enough that it fits in my sling bag with my X-T3. The small size does come with a little bit of compromise though. The filter size is 43mm. It can be a bit difficult to find the right size filter, such as some of the popular diffusion filters like the moment’s cinebloom don’t come in this thread size and using a filter adaptor on this lens for let’s say, street photography, I find can look a bit awkward.

Depth of field

For a fast prime lens, bokeh is one of its attraction. The 35mmF2 actually creates some really nice separations. The bokeh balls are very gentle and soft so it’s not distracting at all. Although F1.4 will give you an even better separation, I am happy to trade that 1 stop for the weather-sealing and faster autofocus. I also love the clickiness of the aperture ring and it is not easy to be bumped.

Image stabilisation

The 35F2 doesn’t have optical stabilisation. If you have an X-T4, the IBIS will be quite clutch in a low light situation to let you handheld at a slower shutter speed. As I personally don’t mind some grain or noise in my photos, it hasn’t really bothered me a huge amount as I just crank up my ISO to compensate for my shutter speed.

Verdict

Fujifilm has really nailed it with the 35mm F2.0. It is more compact, quieter, snappier and cheaper than their older, best-selling lens 35mm F1.4. Every detail is well thought out, full metal construction feels premium, the different textured rings provide decent grips even in wet condition compliments with their weather seal property. With it costing just under £380, I would seriously recommend it to every Fujifilm X shooter out there. Although with the clicked aperture ring and the non-linear focus ring, it is a lens geared towards photographers rather than videographers. If you are already a prime lens shooter, you will understand what I mean by it is actually very liberating with the limitations that come with a prime lens. 

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.