Isolating myself from the world

It’s been awhile where I felt everything around me seems to be noise. Noise of people talking loud, noise of people playing music and video on their phone in the public, noise from buses and trains I ride daily, noise from everywhere, anywhere…

“I had enough!”

That’s exactly my thought, and perhaps is time to look for ways to relief myself from all the noise. Wireless noise cancelling headphone seems to be the only choice to me as they offer great active noise cancellation, passive isolation with over-ear ear cup design, and long lasting battery life that can last me throughout the day.

Few months ago I had been searching high and low for a pair that fits my needs. Beats Studio Wireless 3 seems to be a no brainer choice due to its W1 chip that paired easily with any Apple devices that I owned. I know a lot of people complaint about its sound quality, but I’m actually okay with it. But the comfort and build quality seems really subpar.

Bose offers Quiet Comfort 35 II which is the most comfortable headphone I had ever tested, but it’s sound quality is just… not great, or should I say doesn’t suit my taste. Sony WH-1000XM2 is the closest rival to the Bose, although sound quality and noise cancellation does perform better than the Bose, but it’s not comfortable to wear, especially for people who wear spectacles like me. Other wireless earbud that offers noise cancellation simply has very short battery life for me to even begin to consider them. In the end, I stopped my search and declared that I shall live with the noise pollution… and then came the Sony WH-1000XM3.

Sony WH-1000XM3 was released awhile ago and soon demo unit came in the store. I quickly pay a visit to the nearest shop and gave it a test run. I was generally impressed with the improvement and hence pre-ordered one. Since then, I had been using it almost daily here in the hot and humid tropical country of Singapore, and here’s my humble impression on using this headphone together with my other gears such as iPhone, iPad Pro and iMac.

Disclaimer:

  • I am not audiophile. My daily driver prior to this was Apple’s AirPod.
  • I have not use headphone in long term before as I had never been able to find one that fits me.
  • I spend half of my time working in the office, while another half of my time visiting site and meeting customers.
  • I commute on daily basis via bus and train, walking on the streets and occasionally travelling overseas on plane.

With that aside, let’s dive into my experience of using it. Connectivity is key for wireless headphone, but this headphone only rocks Bluetooth 4.2. Despite that, the connection has been fairly stable and I had not experience much interference and zero drop off. Of course it would be good if Sony includes Bluetooth 5.0 here, oh well. One issue with the headphone is the lack of multi devices support, basically you will need to manually disconnect from one device before you can connect to another one. Hot swapping is not available, hence I am using this headphone on my iPhone only at the moment. A big step down from my AirPod but I think I can live with it for now.

Another important aspect for wireless headphone is battery life, and I can assure you that you need not to worry about it for this headphone. Solid battery life as advertised, perhaps the best in its class. Quick charge via USB C port is also available if you need emergency top up.

The overall build quality of the headphone is very solid and nice. It does look like it will last me for awhile, but the smooth plastic surface on the ear cup can attract quite some fingerprints from my sweaty palm, and I can foresee minor scratches will develop as time goes by. I would much prefer the older design with rough leather-like texture on the ear cup. Another concern is the faux leather headband, not sure how well will it hold up against abrasion in long run. Overall, there isn’t much of plasticky and “screeching” sound when you move it around, which gives an overall more premium and satisfying feel to it.

Currently there isn’t any waterproof feature on this headphone, it would be good to at least have splash proof design as often I will commute in the rain, it’s good to have a peace of mind that my headphone will survive some drizzle. The overall weight of the headphone is okay, of course if Sony can shave another few grams off would be even better.

The fit and comfort is miles ahead of the previous generation. I managed to get a pretty good fit and it doesn’t clamp on my face, ears and spectacles too much until discomfort arise, although I do need to make sure it is put on at the exact sweet spot to avoid adjustment later on. However, in the humid climate of Singapore, I still sweat around the ear-cup area when I’m not using it in air-conditioned environment. I believe Bose has better overall comfort, but this headphone is very closely match indeed. The inner ear cup does heat up a little after long period of use, but it’s not causing discomfort to me. The touch control also work as advertised, and I do not have much problem with it at all.

This headphone is certainly not as portable as the AirPod, but it does allow me to rest it over my neck at times, where AirPod will require me to put them back into the case to avoid dropping them. Being a headphone, it has the bulk that I need to get used to. For instance, I need to be more aware of my surroundings before turning my head around to avoid bumping into something. Also, compared to AirPod, this headphone does not have the feature of auto pause music when you are not wearing it, which I kinda miss.

In terms of audio quality, my first impression was: “Gosh… I finally managed to hear all the notes and rhythm from my song collections!”. Out of the box the audio quality was okay, but after tweaking the equalizer a little, you will get pretty much an amazing sounding headphone for most genres of music. However, that’s not the case for video. There’s latency when watching video, voice will came across a tiny fraction of second delayed from your video. Argh… this is where the AirPod really shine with it’s W1 chip. This headphone support LDAC codec, which is Sony’s high quality music file transfer protocol via bluetooth. But as Apple user, this is meaningless as we can only transmit AAC codec via bluetooth.

And last but not least, the noise cancellation performed superbly. I managed to listen clearly to my music at volume of around 15-20% as opposed to 50-60% when I’m using my AirPod. Thanks to the noise cancellation, most of the noise pollution has been blocked off from my ears. Impressive, or perhaps magical. But just to be clear, it doesn’t completely silent the world around you like you would have imagined, it’s more like suppressing them in order for you to listen to your music. So once noise cancellation is on and music playing… you will hardly hear noise from the outside world. There are a lot of customizations that you can do on the noise cancellation, but I just leave it at maximum cancellation most of the time.

All in all, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a great pair of wireless noise cancelling headphone that really worth the price. Hopefully I can get used to or work around some of the quirks of this headphone and make full use of it. But honestly, deep in my heart I’m still waiting for technology advancement on noise cancelling earbud. If the day of long battery life, true wireless noise cancelling earbud arrive, I will probably go with that instead of a headphone. Till then.

Style vs Spec

Day after day, more and more products are gearing towards “lifestyle” products that are essentially blend into your life, making it apart of your routine, something that you can’t live without, something that resembles you, something in style that fits your personality, look and character. It’s not hard to see these products are getting more attention and sales as compared to “traditional” products that compete with specifications and reliability.

An easy example that can be drawn will be Apple. Apple had never produced any products that are superior in terms of specification. However, people used to say “it just work” on Apple products, and that their design aesthetics adhered to what they are looking for: simple and minimalist. Apple has a huge crowd of followers, and I’m one of those who purchase their product, though I don’t classified myself as their cult follower as I don’t appreciate every single thing they produced.

In the world of photography, it has always been a race of superiority in terms of specifications. With every product launch, you will only hear about how many stops of dynamic range, how many frames per second, how large is the buffer, how fast the camera auto focuses and so on. There was once a megapixel war, followed by mirrorless versus DSLR war and so on. Much of it still revolves around the technical aspect of the product. Well, it’s hard to deny that as we are actually talking about a rather technically engineered product here.

However, there were those who seek to breakthrough and go the other way. Leica was one of them. Their camera has never been “the best” in any class of specification that you can think of, unless you are saying highest price is one of the attribute you are looking at. But still, Leica managed to develop a cult of followers that believes in their philosophy and approach in photography, hence they are able to continue to survive until today. Moderate specification that command premium price tag and yet still able to sell. They are selling “feeling” and “lifestyle” more than anything else.

Another company that kind of follow this approach was none other than Fujifilm. Their camera has long been accused of copying Leica’s rangefinder design. Seriously, looking at the X100 series and the X-Pro series, it’s hard for people to say they are not. Fujifilm has never been the “best” in any of their specification. They were late in the digital camera business, they were late in the mirrorless craze, but yet, they managed to develop a group of cult followers that believed in their “passion for photography”.

My point of view is, Fujifilm has been pretty successful is differentiating themselves and building their own group of followers. They started off with retro design on their camera bodies, differentiating their camera with “X-Trans” sensor technology, adding in dials that provide tactile control resembling those from the film cameras and so on. They did gathered quite a lot of interest, but in order to continue to grow further, apparently it’s not enough.

Sony on the other hand has always been a company that focus only on specifications over form and functions. Sony cameras in particular has always been leading the edge in some key development areas, particularly those surrounding the imaging sensor. A7 has revolutionized the mirrorless camera line by bringing full frame sensors with it, followed by the recent launch of A9 which wiped out most of the advantages that DSLR holds against mirrorless. Their camera has never been a looker, but their performance will keep you wanting to go back for more.

It’s been pretty clear that lately Fujifilm has emphasized more on specs lately and started to detour themselves away from their retro-ness. They started to adopt top plate LCD, they talk more about specification than anything else, they started to venture into videography business for their X-series camera line-up and so on. It does make business sense for these decisions. However, the current state of of products from Fujifilm makes me feel that they are not sure where to go. The GFX and X-H1, to some extent are good initiatives from Fujifilm to grow their product lines. But the fact that they tried to innovate but at the same time still kind of afraid to let go of their retro styling, makes the GFX and X-H1 look just weird. I believe they could have just gone all out with both of these camera and ditched all the dials if they were to incorporate the top plate LCD, just make them with futuristic design to differentiate from the existing retro styled offering. I believe they had built a strong enough cult followers for their retro cameras, is time to move on with something more modern that opens up a new market segment for them.

It seems to be that all manufacturer has bowed to specification over style. Even Leica has been busy with a slew of “modernized” camera like the SL, CL, TL and Q. It remains the be seen whether this will be the way moving forward. I would really want to see if any manufacturer can strike the balance of the two (the Hasselblad X1D is pretty close in my opinion, but I have yet to see or try one in person for myself to comment). Anyway, I’m just contemplating on this while I’m thinking about where should I move on next in terms of my photography gear. Style or spec? Let’s wait and see what else 2018 has to offer for us. Till then.

Between the Line of Film and Digital

Dakota Crescent. Shot with Sony A7R Mk II. RAW files edited in Lightroom.

Recently I had noticed something when I switch between shooting film and digital camera. When I shoot on film, usually I will end up with a roll or two rolls of films after each walk, and I will get them developed by a local lab and once done, I’ll scan the pictures, clean some dust spot, follow by minor adjustment on level and curve and that’s about it.

When I shoot digital, I’ll probably start by selecting good pictures from all I have shot, then edit them to taste. I’ll probably spend more time experimenting things like HDR, playing with colours and HSL, deciding whether to convert one to monochrome and so on.

Dakota Crescent. Shot on Fujifilm X-Pro1. Straight out of camera JPEG.

Based on the way I work on film and digital, there are a few notable differences that interest me:

  1. Obviously, I will end up with less picture and, in a way, more keeper when shooting film. Less picture means less to be processed.
  2. There will usually be a gap from the day I took the shot until the day I get the processed film back in my hand. Hence, I’ll have some time to “cool down” myself before processing them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Usually I will process the digital files very soon.
  3. I’m more lenient when it comes to flaws on my film picture as compared to digital. I can accept some degree of out of focus, or some minor dust or scratches on them. But when shooting digital, I’ll try to strike for “perfection”.

Reflecting on both mediums, it seems that shooting digital is a more “tedious” and time consuming process for me, and it certainly defeats the purpose for those who wanted instant sharing of their works on social media.

Dakota Crescent. Shot with Zeiss Ikon and Ilford Pan 400. Scanned and slight adjustment in Lightroom.

I certainly enjoyed the process of shooting and editing my film pictures more. So does it mean I should shoot more on film instead of digital? The easy answer is yes, as instant sharing isn’t really something that I really need. But why don’t we look at it from another angle, can I simplify the digital process to be as close as the process I have while shooting film?

Perhaps it’s possible, and that’s something I’ll try out and see how things unfold eventually. Shoot with smaller capacity SD card maybe, be more critical on the shot I take, let my pictures sit for awhile before working on them, don’t be too fancy with post editing and so on. Sounds about right. Hopefully by simplifying my digital workflow I will get to focus more on shooting instead. Till then.

Personal Project: Photobook on my Japan Trip

I have completed a personal project for this year, which is to publish a photobook about my travel experience in Japan. Technically speaking, this is not a travel book, nor a photography book, it’s a bit of both with some writings from me that share some of my thoughts, feelings and emotions while travelling to the land of the rising sun.

I would like to apologize that this book was written in Chinese instead of English. I’m more comfortable to write in Chinese, as I felt that I can express myself better through this language. Nevertheless, I’ll try to translate some of the writings and share through this blog in the future.

I had made similar books before this which incorporate my very own writings and photographs. I like to write and share about things that I learn, my opinions and so on. I like photography, and I like to travel. Hence, this book was born by merging my interest in these three activities / hobbies.

For those who are interested to check it out, please feel free to click on the link here to download and read on your own leisure. Hope you enjoy this book of mine. Thank you and have a nice day!