Saturday, June 27, 2009

May 25 Xiata 夏塔古道, horses and our yurt

Finally came back to where we will stay for the evening, still snowing. Some horses jst outside our yurt enjoying thier grass, and it is time for our dinner as well. Similar to what we have overnight in Lake Sayram, but bigger, our mass yurt gave us more room to play around but also much colder, this will be the coldest night we have to endure for this trip, would would learn this later.
Inside our yurt, we have our dinner, and working on managing the gigabytes of pictures took today. My Canon G10 ran out of its battery and I forgot that I can also use my wife G9 or my own Sigma DP-1 for the video clips. The battery power in my notebook computer just gave me enough time to off-load all the data, back up to the remote hard drive, review a little on Capture One - more on this later, and it is time for rest, wish we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.
Inside our yurt, some quick snap shot using Nikon D3 and the AF-S 14-24/2.8G ED superwide zoom.Although cold, my wife basically put herself inside the sleeping bag the entire night, but still manage to maintain her daily skin care.

Friday, June 26, 2009

May 25, Xiata 夏塔古道

An unexpected snow storm reminded us that it was late, and we turn to driving back to our yurt, to rest and of course, the dinner.
The strength of snow continue to grow, tempted, I asked Neo to stop and jumpped off the car, decided to walk back to our yurt, may be around 2km, so I can take some photographs along the trail. Of course, Nikon D3X was the choice, for obvious reason, its ability to withstand the heavy snow or rain, and the AF-S 24-70/2.8G ED lens, and good capability to retain high image quality at medium ISO - although I started to shoot at ISO 50 for the combination I need to record the motion of snow, down to 1/15s - 1/8s. The Nikon D3X is probably what I will call the ultimate still image capturing champ - more on this later.
Following images took during the snow, our Landcruiser, and my wfe Pook, and some postcard images........

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

May 25, our destination: Xiata 夏塔古道 and the majestic Mt. Khan Tengri 汗騰格裡峰

Finally here, in freezing temperature, from where we will be staying the night, we can barely see the majestic Mt. Khan Tengri 汗騰格裡峰, standing 6,995m - but it was regarded a 7,000-meter peak among mountaineering circles as its glacial cap rises to 7,010m. Khan Tengri is the 2nd highest mountain in Tian Shan, only after Jengish Chokusu 托木尔峰 7,439m, and only 16km between the 2 peaks.
I took a few pictures nearby our yurt, the one above, my wife Pook was covering herself in layer of everything to keep from unexpected cold, standing in front of the unfinished cabin, while we are waiting for Neo to negotiate with the post supervisor to allow us to drive into the valley for a more closer viewpoint of the mountain, cold is one reason, the available light is quickly fading the other. Without doubt, we did it, which eventually came out to be a great decision. We arrived at the viewpoint, set up the camera, fire off pictures. This one, taken with Nikon D3X with AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED, such a great lens, exhibiting the finest detail of the trees, mountains, fast moving clouds.....

I also mount the D3X, with an adapter, onto the true world class Carl Zeiss Super-Apo TPP 300/2.8, originally designed to use on 6X6 medium format camera, the brightest of its class, and I have no doubt it is also the best. An image below taken by this combination of best ends - the lens, and the camera. I have to say, this is such a great lens, may be its power of such high resolution can now only be fully appreciated by modern digital camera of such high resolution, from my Phase One P45+ (and P65+ later?), and the class leading Nikon D3X, showing no sign of color fringe and a true definition of what sharpness is. I must also say it is a shame that Hasselblad's own H3D series camera cannot make use of this beautiful and powerful lens, they did it to convert the CF/CFi/CFE lens, but please, figure out something.
The clarity this lens displayed is amazing, given such distance between where I stand and the top of the mountain.......
And few more shots for Pook around the valley. Have to pack, unexpectedly, here comes the snow in this early summer time, not because the D3X can't survive the snow, it sure can, but it is time to go.

Watch the video blog here...."Drive along Xiata old trail and Mt. Khan Tengri"

May 25, from Zhaosu 昭蘇 to our destination today: Xiata 夏塔古道

On approaching Zhaosu, we were hit by a light hail, something I am familiar with, something my wife didn't, so she was a little excited, although the hail did not take away her attention of beauty care, more on this later. I did some research from the internet after returning Bangkok to learn hail is not that unusual here in Zhaosu. We stop here for lunch, for some traditional Xinjiang noodle 拌面.
After lunch, we were again moving fast on the road to our desitination today - Xiata.
Clouds, rains..... it seemed our chance to take some nice picture towards late afternoon is slim. The atmosphere in the car is dim as the sky outside, also compounded by the news from Neo that the road to one of the highlight of this trip - Bayanbulak may be blocked due to road improvement, something happen often in Xinjiang, so we can only hope for the best, while I am between 1/2 awake and napping along the way, but even though, I still manage to snap a few pictures, still with the Nikon D3X and the AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED, the VR is indeed helping, as all shots, as most of the picture taken in this trip, were handheld.

And shepherds on horses tending sheep
On the way to Xiata, Tien Shan dominant the horizon
A short video clip - our bumping ride along Xiata old trail

May 25, Yining - Tekes - Zhaosu 伊寧 - 特克斯 - 昭蘇

After a good night rest, we left hotel early, stop by a small restaurant for breakfast, simple and delicious. I must admit by now, the "eat" in Xinjiang is quite enjoyable. The weather is not too good, besides the weather forecast reports the cold front from Siberia is moving down.....
Leaving Yining, we drove thru Tekes, an interesting town build to resemble the eight trigrams so it is also known as The Eight Trigrams Town 八卦城, first surfaced in the history back in year 1,220, this is a town of almost 900 years old. Too bad, in here, we drove thru heavy rain, did not stop for photography.
On apporaching Zhaosu, between the break of rains, we stop to take some pictures along the way, including a small terra cotta work, and I use Nikon D3X to take some pictures below.

Along the way, more yurt started to appear, lifestyles changes along the landscape, one a road side, we stop to take the picture of a yurt, recently pitched, a Kazakh girl and her mom, kind enough to allow me to take a quick snap of the interior of the yurt they live in, primitive, but warm like a real home. Outside their yurt, a baby cow just born......

Monday, June 22, 2009

Manage the gigabytes

I believed few would disagree for today's digital photography, it is measured in gigabyte. Especially when you yake on a trip to place such as Xinjiang, and tempted by endless beautiful landscapes, managing the storage is a challenge.
Me for example, for this 12-days trip, I took the following CF cards:
4 X SanDisk Extreme IV 8G = 32G
3 X SanDisk Extreme III 16G = 48G
4 X SanDisk Extreme III 8G = 32G
4 X SanDisk Extreme III 4G = 16G
2 X SanDisk Extreme III 2G = 4G
1 X Lexar 80X 4G = 4G
Total 136G on CF cards, I put the Extreme IV 8G for my Phase One P45+, only in the afternoon on May 28 at Bayanbulak 巴音布魯克草原 did I almost run out single 8G CF card, this does not say I shoot little, just that I shoot a lot on the Nikons, and more on this later. With the Nikon D3X, I place one Extreme IV 8G on one slot, and Extreme III 16G on another. With Nikon D3, I place Extreme III 8G for both slots. On few occasions, I ran out of memory of the CF cards installed in the camera and have to replace. But overall, I never use more than 1/2 of the gigabytes on CF cards I took for this trip in a single day shoot.
For my Canon G10 and Sigma DP-1, I brought along few SD cards;
2 X SanDisk Extreme III 8G = 16G
3 X Kingston 8G = 24G
1 X SanDisk Ultra II 2G = 2G
I put the Extreme III 8G each in the Canon G10 and Sigma DP-1, never a day I run short of the memory. So overall this gives you idea what's safe if one wants to prepare for their trip.
No, I did not use a common back up device, I use my Apple Macbook Pro as hub and main storage, and always back up to another remote hard-drive thru a Firewire 800.
I have a Sonnet ExpressCard installed on my Macbook Pro to read the SD card, also a moshi card reader for both CF/SD cards. I did it because I can simultaneously off-load 2 SD cards at the same time to save time. Likewise, as my Macbook Pro has both Firewire 400 and 800 ports, I also brought along 2 extra card readers - a 800 speed SanDisk CF card reader (faster means more efficient in portable power to me), and a 400 speed Lexar CF reader, also to simultaneous off-load. After archive all the data of the day, I then back up all the data to a remote hard drive of 500G capacity, thru Firewire 800 port. Then I format the cards to refresh all the useful memory.
My Macbook Pro was installed with a 500G Hitachi hard-drive, I have about 380G free space available before the trip, and when I return home, I off-load all the data to my home drive, a faster and larger archive hard-drive. I like to keep my Macbook Pro with as many free space as possible so I can run my applications more efficiently.
My computer battery power did allow me to do all these task, but not for the processing, all the processing of raw files were post trip.
During the 12-days trip, only when we overnight at a better hotel does allow me to run thru shots made during the trip and further charged up my computer. Most of the night, I can only do simple back up.
A side note for wireless mouse, do it - do not hesitate. Why? It is convenient, and it does not take away precious mobile notebook computer power, also, it frees up USB port.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Choice of portrait lens

Regardless which format I use, zoom or not, whether the lend offer a close focus feature is what I would go for. My own prefernce for portrait, specially the documentary type of portraiture like I did in this series of "Faces of Xinjiang", I want a tighter composition. Although with today high resolution camera like D3X, or for the same matter, Sony Alpha 9 and Canon 1Ds3/5D2, there is a lot of room to crop, refer to my other article on other blog - "Cropping medium format digital portrait". With a normal lens, the picture gives us a very nature perspective image, and this won't change when you crop the image, for example, you don't get the 500mm lens feel if you just crop 10% of the image taken from a 50mm lens, because the 500mm lens gives you an image with the dimension compressed, and 50mm did not. This is similar to the use of a 85mm lens, commonly referred to as a portrait lens - because it gives you a feel similar to natural perspective, more like a normal lens getting closer to the subject, so the picture gives a friendly, more intimat result.
And for the street, market, my pick is 100mm micro.makro lens for 35mm DSLR, as I will do with medium format with 120mm makro or sometimes 100mm lens, particularly the micro/macro lens, because it allows you to get close without the restriction of cloeset focusing of common lens. In this case, the VR capability for the Nikon AF-S 105/2.8 micro, is best for street portrait, at least it is for me, for my way of shoot. The 90mm or 85mm title/shift is also good, but for fast action and VR to give you extra speed in lower light.
And zoom or fixed lens? If I got the choice, certainly fixed lens. Why, because using fixed lens, my concentration can be on the exact comosition I need, so I have to walk/work to get the image I want, with zoom, one tends to stand still, simply zoom and fire off, you can also get picture this way, but to me, I also get lots of waste images from zoom. For zoom lens, I will cover in other article, it has its strength that fixed lens can't match.
Few more pictures taken with Nikon D3X + AF-S Micro VR 105/2.8ED.

May 24, Faces of Xinjiang, Yining 伊寧

After the first two days journey moving between mountains, over night at freezing wood cabin, and last night at the primitive but warm yurt, we moved to our destination today, Yining 伊寧, and tonight we will be staying at a hotel that I can finally organize the CF cards and back up to my portable hard drive - more on this later.
This afternoon, we were walking on the "Han Street" 漢人街, although most of the people and merchants, vendors are Uygur 維吾爾族人, afterall Xinjiang is Uygur Autonomous Region.
Took a lot of portrait of the Uygurs, and my choice of camera and lens is Nikon D3X and the AF-S Micro VR 105/2.8ED. Why? And why not! Micro lens in general is optically well corrected, overall better sharpness from corner to corner, and of high constrast, compare to nomal lens. And the most important factor is the the micro lens allow you to shoot almost in any distance. Yes, one can always use a telephoto lens to snap portrait from a distance, but the distance also shows on the picture, with a macro lens or macro lens, you get close, and the closeness shows on the picture. Nikon did a good job by introducing VR into this focal length, and I will without doubt to say the AF-S Micro VR 105/2.8ED is perhaps the best portrait lens available for 35mm full-frame DSLR today. Sony has similar offer with their in-camera stabilizer, while Canon, surprisingly, not an answer yet.
But now, let's focus on the faces of Xinjiang!