Monday, November 30, 2015

Clicked Her myriad Moods in Monochrome

Clicked Her myriad Moods in Monochrome
Meet my apartment neighbor. She is a kindergarten kid and we share a beautiful "hi uncle/ ta-ta uncle" relation. Most of the days when I return from work in the afternoon, her mom feeds her with a tablespoon while she carefully monitors what's going on below from the top of our fourth floor gallery. Often I miss waving at her but that's never deliberate. A couple of weeks ago, while taking the elevator I noticed her on the porch and instantly the shutterbug spree overpowered me. I took an u-turn, returned to my flat and brought my camera. Her golden nose ring along with those overtly expressive eyes had added some vintage and rural aroma to these portraits that reminded me of Bengali feature films of sixties! Have you watched Ray's famous movie- 'Pather Panchali' (Song of the little road)?
Clicked Her myriad Moods in Monochrome
Although I could capture her myriad moods in monochrome, my tiny neighbor insisted that I should click only after she puts on her make-up. So, I didn't trouble the angel much due to the fear of annoying a prospective volunteer model. Yes, even her mother was happy to tell how sincere her daughter is when it comes to posing before the lens. Black and white portraits are usually very interesting provided there is at least one contrasting element in the composition that is capable enough to draw a viewer's attention. Interestingly, a monochromatic photo story was the most visited post of this blog till few months back. I intend to shoot more of her black and white portraits. Keeping my fingers crossed  for the next high tide, i.e. the golden moment when three elements- her availability, mood and my clicking urge shall coincide.
Clicked Her myriad Moods in Monochrome
In case you're a newbie and desirous to click portraits of children, don't forget to bend down on your knees to get to their eye-level, make them enjoy your presence and very importantly, maintain a high shutter speed. Explore the black and white mode in your camera. Try to find out which compositions are getting better in monochrome. Shoot randomly, take ample photos and do not discard shots based on your camera display. I'll bring few beach photos (classic combo of sand, sea and the sun!) in my upcoming blog post. Till then take care and happy clicking.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Lenovo Vibe P1, with its rare aluminum and glass design is an extremely attractive looking smartphone, recently launched by Lenovo to target the mid-budget smartphone users and the model has been made available in India exclusively for online sale since the end of October. Despite its sub 16K (Rs. 15,999) price tag Lenovo Vibe P1 has enough elegance to be mistaken as a flagship model from any premium brand. Comparing with other smartphones in similar price bracket overall specifications and features of Vibe P1 are quite decent, if not overwhelming. As you already know me to be a photo enthusiast, naturally along with other things my purpose of a smartphone includes- clicking photos on the go. I believe I am not the only one who gives high priority to the clicking ability of his mobile phone. So, to give you some idea on what to expect from the camera optics of Lenovo Vibe P1, I'm reviewing its camera after using this set extensively for a week. This review will solely focus on the performance, features and image quality of the camera of Vibe P1. So, this is the exclusive camera review of this phone to cater the interest of smartphone photographers and in no way should be mistaken as a full fledged phone review. 

Since last few years Lenovo has been continuously launching its various smartphone models keeping in view of the market craze and few of its models (like Lenovo K3 Note) succeeded in striking a chord with the fancy of budget users. Despite its feature rich handsets, decent after-sales service (well, read it 'semi decent') and recognized brand name, Lenovo has somehow failed to touch the G-spot of the Indian smartphone market. Though not so apparent, reasons are many. Camera has never been a strong point in any of the Lenovo phones, and sadly, the manufacturer seemed ever cold to users' persistent disappointments with their smartphone cameras. On spec sheet, Lenovo Vibe P1 boasts of a 13 MP rear camera with super fast auto-focusing due to PDAF (Phase detect auto focus) technology, dual color LED flash, zero shutter lag (Wow!) and a fixed focus 5 MP front camera. Nothing anywhere Lenovo has mentioned about the type of sensor used in Vibe P1's camera units or the manufacturer of their optics. This invites the inevitable apprehension- Did Lenovo settle with inferior camera in Vibe P1 to keep the price of such a classy looking handset so aggressively affordable? Let's fiddle with the camera of Vibe P1 and see for ourself how good it performs.

Design and Ergonomics: Lenovo Vibe P1 is a fairly large phablet with dimensions 75.6 X 4.6-9.9 X 152.9 mm. The curved aluminum body tapering at sides and the uncanny 189 gm weight make its usage over palm pretty comfortable, but when you hold the same phone as a camera, be it in landscape or the portrait orientation, you'd struggle to find its perfect balance between your fingers and the extra weight will soon add up to make your fingers shaky. Slim metallic edges while capturing photos make you long for better grip. The transparent case supplied by Lenovo in the box is equally slippery and soon, you'll feel the need to buy a good quality silicon case for your Vibe P1 to get rid of the constant fear of dropping the phone. There is no dedicated camera button on the body but the volume rocker button at right can be set to act as either zoom lever or the shutter button. In any case chances are high you'll miss the presence of a soft physical button for camera shutter after composing shot with such a chunky gadget. Unless you have monstrous palms, whether you like it or not, capturing photos in landscape orientation in your Vibe P1 would engage both of your hands. Framing shots and playing with captured photographs is a bliss in Vibe P1 due to its 5.5" Full HD IPS display (401 ppi, 16M colors). In case you're wondering, this screen has fairly good viewing angles and manageable sunlight legibility too. Good things said, I have seen cheaper phones with better viewing angles and brighter screen.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Options in the camera app of Lenovo Vibe P1 are too limited to be desired by an enthusiast smartphone clicker.
Camera Operation: A gentle tap on the home screen camera icon quickly opens the stock camera app in Lenovo Vibe P1 and you'll be welcomed by a minimalist camera interface with predominance of 'Auto' mode. Quick launching the camera app is also possible right from the lock screen even if you don't have access to the phone. On tapping the right bottom corner of the display Vibe P1 would prompt you to swipe left for camera. Another alternative to click pictures instantly is tapping the volume rocker button twice even when the phone is locked and its display is off. This way you don't have the comfort of composing a shot or focus the required area, but, you can gamble on an otherwise missed opportunity or take few spy shots.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
The camera wants to do everything on its own. I wish it was capable for its intention!
Options in the camera app of Lenovo Vibe P1 are too limited to be desired by an enthusiast smartphone photographer. The camera wants to do everything on its own. I wish it was capable for its intention! The app features a row of icons (when the device is held in landscape mode) that includes- front camera switch, flash control and the HDR. On the right you'll find a column of options to review images, the virtual video, still shutter and shooting mode buttons. The shooting mode screen gives you limited preferences of capturing images in- Normal (the default Auto mode), Panorama or with preset Effects (Mono, Sepia, Negative, Aqua, Posterize, Embossed, Sketch, Neon). Opposite to mode button, on the other corner of the screen lies the settings button. In the settings menu you can choose aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, 1:1), set the photo resolution (Maximum, Normal), photo quality (Hyperfine, Fine, Normal), white balance (Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent, Cloudy), ISO (100 to 1600), metering method, video quality (Full HD, HD, 480P), timer (3, 5, 10 sec), strobe, activate grid lines, triaxial leveling, GPS, define function for the volume keys (Sound, Zoom, Capture) and choose the storage location. In Auto mode you can always focus by tapping on the live view image and pinch in and out to capitalize the digital zoom up to 3x. However, neither you can lock the focus nor the exposure. The front camera being a fixed focus shooter has more limited options and perhaps that's how the phrase 'bare minimum' was born. You might be excited to know that Vibe P1 lets you capture still shots while recording video. Other than the liberty of setting ISO values and tapping to focus this smartphone gives you no other manual control for camera.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Exposure and color production are fairly natural in good light.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Click on the image to check out 100% crop of the above photo.
Image Quality and Performance: 
Powered by Snapdragon 615 64-bit octa-core 1.5GHz processor and backed up by 2 GB RAM, Lenovo Vibe P1 is a pretty responsive smartphone in its class. In less than a second you can launch the camera from home screen and the same feat is possible on a locked display within a couple of seconds. Autofocus works acceptably fast in good lighting condition and focuses on the subject in less than a second. In daylight and bright indoor conditions shot to shot interval was well within a second and I call it decent for a smartphone camera. Surprisingly, shot to shot interval in 'forced flash' mode is very little too! I could capture around four shots in a small span of say five seconds. You can also set the camera in 'tap to capture' mode where your work is only selecting the area of focus in the frame and rest of the job is done by the smartphone. Tap to capture mode is neither fast nor reliable, just a hit or miss at best. All test shots in this review have been taken in maximum resolution (4160*3120), hyperfine quality, auto white balance and auto ISO. File sizes of my sample shots varied unpredictably from 2 to 6 MB.

In good light, the primary camera of Lenovo Vibe P1 produces average image quality. Exposure and color production are fairly natural in most of the photos but images when viewed at 100% size showed clear lack of fine details which one can expect from a 13 MP sensor. Worst agony with Vibe P1's camera turned out to be the lack of an image stabilization system. You have to hold the smartphone real rock-steady (literally so) if at all you want to expect a blur-free photograph! Disappointingly, many times even at higher shutter speeds I failed to obtain sharp images which made me infer that beside incompetent hardware there's some software issues too with the camera of Vibe P1, and Lenovo should fix it with a firmware update as soon as possible. Despite capturing shaky images, thankfully other annoying problems like chromatic aberrations, lens flare, distortions, excess noise etc were hardly present in daylight test shots.
Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
In low light conditions Vibe P1 is quite aggressive in suppressing noise and it does so at the cost of picture details.

Lenovo Vibe P1 Smartphone Camera Review
Click on the image to check out 100% crop of the above photo.
In low light conditions if you keep the flash off, Lenovo Vibe P1 bumps up its ISO up to 2000 to capture a scene at shutter speed of around 1/10 sec (aperture: f/2.1). Auto-focusing takes its own sweet time (I was having high hope on its Phase Detection Autofocus technology for no good reason!) and seldom night shots are properly focused. At shutter speeds as slow as 1/10 sec you have very thin chance of capturing any sharp image without the much needed aid of image stabilization feature. Vibe P1 is quite aggressive in suppressing noise and it does so at the cost of picture details. But overall I would say this camera does a fine job in maintaining the balance between noise and noise suppression at such high ISO where even many of the compact point and shoot cameras sluggishly give up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again

Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again
You won't believe how handsomely tall papaya trees can be unless you get to see one of the papaya trees in our garden. Although others have kept up to their ancestors' reputation and grown as much as a papaya tree is supposed to grow, this black sheep has grown into a lanky monster (any idea if trees too possess growth hormone like things?) presently competing with our old coconut tree! Do not ask me its age or I've to give you a rough estimate of something between 3 and 5 years. Its papaya production has proven to be inversely related to its height. Funnily, as it stands tall among the green crowd now, whatever quantity of fruit it bears gets consumed in the free lunch service of the avian species of our neighborhood. Holy shit, we water the plant so that those fickle minded birds can eat, poop and most importantly, waste the major portion of that juicy yellow pulp (what a pity!).
Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again

Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again
These papaya stealing acts by mischievous birds can be spotted from our first floor dining hall windows and the best location to shoot the culprit is a small washroom window adjacent to the hall. Till date I've captured dozens of birds and squirrels from this sweet snipper point. This time I caught a Bulbul and a Cuckoo red-handed while they were plundering my much loved fruits. Come on, papaya is rich in Vitamin C and if you've constipation it can help you clear your bowel (yes, try it anytime risk-free). I wish these wicked avian thieves revisit my giant papaya tree many times more, especially when I am at home. You know the reason, right? Oh are you enjoying fireworks outside or lazily wasting your evening inside the cave? May divine light of Diwali spread into your life- peace, prosperity, happiness and good health. Wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali!
Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again

Avian Papaya Thieves caught red-handed again