Photos from Japan

Late last year, I wrote about returning from my trip to Japan and sorting through the 2000 photos I’d taken. I finished the job of uploading them to Flickr quite a few weeks back, but neglected to post the links here.

This is the entire set on Flickr, but you will see less as an anonymous member of the public, and a few more if you’re listed as one of my friends.

This is a ‘Best of’ set that I put together, with 150 photos in all (again, depending on your friendship status), which is much easier to get through.

This is a 94-photo subset of the main album focused on Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world.



Ryoanji zen garden

Hipstamatic – a new iPhone toycamera app

I was going to write about this on, but decided to contribute a properly useful review to the iTunes store instead. I am republishing it here for those not using the Singaporean App Store, in the hopes that it brings some attention to this rather exciting new camera app. My one sore point: it is sooo very close in execution to an iPhone app I wanted to have built earlier this year. A different concept, but maybe someday I’ll convince the guys at Synthetic Corp to take it up.



I discovered this app by accident whilst absentmindedly searching for the keyword “Holga”. The preview screenshots in iTunes don’t do it justice.

It’s also the first camera application I’ve seen with in-app purchasing, which made me quite wary of this being something I might become tempted to sink a lot of money into, unnecessarily, over time. Everyone else gives free updates with more features, why should this be any different? The answer might be that the app itself is very different. It features a polished user experience that almost puts a real, no-longer-in-production camera in your hands, and the quality of its image processing is superb – some of the best I’ve ever seen on the iPhone. Its creators no doubt know that photography geeks are more than a little bit vulnerable to buying new equipment for a camera they love, and in-app purchasing is a brilliant way to exploit that. What’s 99c for a new lens, 3 colored gel flashes, and a new black border on all your pictures? If only things were so cheap in the real world with Lomography and Superheadz products.

But freshly installed, one can get some brilliant results out of the two included “lenses” (film choice only affects the borders/frames, except in the case of the single B&W option available in one of the in-app purchase packs), but I’m willing to bet you’ll be so impressed with the whole experience that you’ll pick up one of the extra add-ons within a day. So budget for the price of the app (currently at $1.99, a so-called introductory price) plus 2 x $0.99.

More than any other photography app out there – and I have bought more of them than I’d have liked – this one gives you the feeling of owning a whole new camera. The UI design is a big part of this. You constantly see the front and back of the camera as you change settings and take photos. You have a tiny and inaccurate preview of your shot where the viewfinder is supposed to be. You don’t change the look of your photos by moving sliders or pressing radio buttons, you swap in visual representations of “films”, “lenses”, and “flashes”. Sure, it’s little different from any other photo app under the surface, except the results are up there with the best of them, but that surface gloss makes you forget Hipstamatic is taking shots through your iPhone’s camera. And the results back that up. Night shots taken with the “Jimmy” lens and the fake flash are soaked through with warm light, almost devoid of speckled color noise. It’s the kind of result you’d expect from a film camera that left its shutter open until the film was fully exposed. Marvelously rich and much more analog than you’d have thought was possible from an iPhone.

Moreover, like ShakeItPhoto before the last update, Hipstamatic doesn’t give you the option of processing photos you’ve already taken with some other app or the built-in camera module. I wouldn’t like to see this behavior in every app, but it makes perfect sense here and really sells the illusion of a unique toy camera with risks involved. You don’t get a safety shot, you just get the one you take, which makes every shot somewhat precious. It also gives you a bit of a heart attack when you’ve captured something you think might be great, and then the app crashes. It does this quite a lot when saving at the highest resolution of 1050 x 1050px, even on my freshly-rebooted iPhone 3GS. I’m hoping the next update brings more stability, but even so, this fully deserves a five-star rating today.

Void Deck Checkers/Draughts



Walking around Toa Payoh, I came across an area where groups of old men apparently gather to play checkers quite regularly, drawing audiences. I suppose it’s the local equivalent of playing chess in a park.

I talked to one of the regulars who, as far as my limited Mandarin suggests, told me that they were playing for several hundred dollars a game, and wagers used to run as high as $1000 in the old days. I didn’t see any piles of money by the board, so there’s no way of knowing if he was just kidding me.

These two men had the largest crowd of spectators, and continued playing long after the others had packed up for the day.


A couple more photos from earlier that day:



ION Orchard

ION Orchard front view

ION Orchard panorama

ION Orchard interior

Basement 3 & 4
ION Orchard interior

(Full photo set on Flickr)

I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow – I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.

The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.

Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.

High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.

I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.

When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.


As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.

Using an iPhone 3GS as a film camera

I got my iPhone 3GS a little over a week ago, on the 11th, and have been lucky enough not to get one that overheats or goes dead after a few hours. The WiFi reception isn’t as good as on my old iPhone 3G, but that’s another story.

My main reason for upgrading was the speed increase, and in that respect the phone has been everything I expected. I play a lot of casual games on it, and being able to start up and get into a level within seconds is something I’ll never take for granted. Even other handhelds like the Nintendo DS and PSP don’t always do a good job of loading quickly. Don’t even get me started on games that only let you save at predetermined points.

The secondary draw of the iPhone 3GS was its improved camera. With apps like Autostitch (a Flickr group I started is here) and ShakeItPhoto updating to support the increased memory/speed of the 3GS though, it may soon be my favorite feature. It’s not like I’ve never had a good camera on a phone before; my old Nokia N82 had a good, autofocusing 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. It was versatile enough that I tried using it as my only camera while on a short holiday. But it wasn’t a very lovable device – great hardware features bolted onto creaking, vintage software.

Because the iPhone does so much (takes notes, calculates tips, translates Japanese, tracks expenses, etc.), and gets pulled out of your pocket so often, it also finds more use as a camera. And with the right iPhone apps, you can do all your post work and upload the results to Flickr without even coming near a desktop. Some of my other recommendations: Photo FX, CameraKit, ColorTaste (outputs low-res photos, hopefully an update is on the way), Mill Color, and Camerabag.

Here are some photos I’ve taken this week, processed to look like they were shot with a film camera: noise, light leaks and all. (Unfortunately, these weren’t done on the iPhone.)

Starbucks mug macro

Mandy in the garden Mooks' Australian paraphrenalia Chili's Burger Canon Singapore Visitor Centre

Bintan vacation wrap-up

I haven’t been very good about uploading the rest of my holiday photos since the last post, but finally got around to it this afternoon. Here are some of my favorite non-people ones.
Resort Leisure Center Panorama
Pool Villa Panorama
(The above panorama was stitched together from about 20 photos; the two edges of the pool you see on the left and right were part of the same straight line. I have no idea what an equivalent wide-angle lens would be.)
Black & White
Martinis by the pool
Dragon cloud 20090328-P1000965