11 Apr 2013

Trip to Paradise Island: Koh Lipe


We reached Koh Lipe on Sunday afternoon, after an hour and a half flight from Bangkok, another hour and a half bus ride to the pier, and the final hour and a half bumpy boat transfer to the island (seasickness pills recommended). We were a bit dizzy and tired, but the excitement of being at a remote island starting our long postponed holidays soon took over. We went to the guesthouse, rested for a while in the cozy, still bed, took a refreshing cold shower and, in an hour, we were all hungry and ready to eat and start our walk around the island. Koh Lipe is a rather small island located in the Andaman Sea, in the Southwest part of Thailand; it has only three main beaches and, as the day was slowly ending, we decided to start in the closest one to our guesthouse, aptly named Sunset Beach.

Stranded I, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Stranded II, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

We felt so relaxed and chilled at the quiet, silent beach, that we decided to just sit under a palm tree, and rest until the sunset came. There were not many people around, just a few drifters scattered around, so we felt we were all alone and enjoyed the chilly breeze and the deep calm that was precisely what we were looking for upon fleeing from the city.

Moored, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Minimalist sunset, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm


On our first morning in Koh Lipe we woke up late and had a generous breakfast. With full stomachs and spirits, we were ready to continue exploring the island. Now it was the turn of Sunrise Beach, facing East, the longest beach of the island. It was a tremendously sunny day, all blue skies and waters and random, silky clouds. The scenery looked amazingly beautiful, but the sun was very strong, so we spent more time protected in the shade than swimming or walking around. Sunrise Beach is a pretty long one, so we only covered the Northern stretch of it, promising to continue walking South next time.

Shades of blue I, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Shades of blue II, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Being so isolated and out of reach, Koh Lipe is not crowded and you can wander around the island relatively unperturbed. There are obviously tourists (and they seem to be growing fast in the last years, based on the fast developing and construction of more hotels and resorts that the island is seeing, with the consequences we can imagine) and there are also islanders doing their daily tasks (revolving mostly around tourism nowadays, as it is logical) but, all in all, the island feels very peaceful and serene, perfect for a few days retreat. 

Safe, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The cove, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

We went back to the hotel for lunch. I'm not very interested in food photography, at least not yet, so I have no graphical proof of it, but trust my word: food was excellent, specially seafood, as you can imagine in such an environment: fresh and delicious. After the meal a short siesta was mandatory, and soon we were ready for a late afternoon walk. The sun was still too strong and we had seen quite enough water already; therefore, and for a change, we decided to examine the interior side of the island, mostly covered by foliage. And so we discovered a very interesting, yet saddening place at the same time; a place that doesn't appear in the tourist leaflets.

Foliage tunnel, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Deserted I, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

A whole village laid, deserted and abandoned, in the middle of the jungle, in the Western wing of the island, the most undeveloped and virgin of it. This sight struck us, because we had seen how fast the island was growing to accommodate more and more travelers, and how prices and facilities were becoming more luxurious every day. We guessed this was probably one of the first resorts or villages that were built for the sake of tourism and, as the island developed later mostly by the beaches, was left behind, completely forgotten between the trees and weeds.

Deserted II, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Deserted III, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

For the sake of development, nature is always sacrificed. Without hesitation. And we are all guilty of perpetuating this by being blind, and lazy, and too attached to our comfortable, easy life. It's no excuse. It's a choice. Whether we like it or not, not taking action is our choice. With somehow somber feelings in our hearts, we went back to the guesthouse and had a quiet evening.


As promised the day before, we went back to Sunrise Beach, this time ready to walk all the way to the end of the long beach. However, as we were slowly walking South, we passed by a village where most of the native inhabitants of the island live, and we were immediately attracted by its sandy roads and its wooden houses. So we ignored the big beach for the second time, and strolled inside the small village to see how the islanders were dealing with their usual routines.

Elegant window, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Geometries, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

These people belong to one of the multiple ethnicities from Southeast Asia that are labelled as sea gypsies. They are originally Malay but spread all over SEA and now dwell in several islands of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Though the life in the island has been severely disrupted by tourism, they have naturally adapted to the new needs, but walking further inside their village one soon realizes that they keep their customs and habits intact, despite development.

The carrier, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The watchman, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The fireman, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Our last day was quickly coming to an end, and we wanted to enjoy another tranquil sunset before we had to leave the island the following day, so we headed back to Sunset Beach, once more, sat on the sand, and let the sun sink, step by step, while hearing the soothing sound of the waves. That's, no doubt, the perfect way to end the day with a smile.

Stranded III, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Looking back, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm


Our boat was not departing until the afternoon, so we still had a few more hours to walk around and enjoy the little jewel of Koh Lipe, so we returned to Sunrise Beach. A small long-tail boat had ran aground in the beach and a couple of kids were trying to refloat it, all alone. Even though they were very persistent and energetic, their sole power was not enough to push the heavy boat back to the water so, after taking a few stills from the distance, I approached them and helped them shove.

Wondering, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Trying, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending to this story, as I was still not enough to refloat the boat. But, luckily, a few other men eventually came in our help, and the task was completed successfully. The camera withstood a few splashes and hits along the way, but without issues; actually, I was breathless for a bit longer. 

Doing, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

And that was it. Our trip was over and we had to head back to the city to resume our busy urban lives. We marched unwillingly to the beach carrying our bags, and the boat was already there, awaiting to expel us from paradise. That's probably part of the deal, I guess: small delicacies always taste stronger. Goodbye, Koh Lipe, we will definitely try to come back again!

The way back home, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm

1 Apr 2013

New lens: personal review of the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

This morning I finally bought my third lens, the one I had been longing to have since I bought the camera a few months back, the one that now covers the longer focal lengths that I could not reach before: the new Panasonic telephoto zoom, Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f2.8. I'm quite confident that the kit that I have built so far (the wide angle to normal zoom, the portrait prime and now this medium telephoto zoom) is quite complete and versatile and I will be shooting with it, without needing more lenses, for quite some time. So, having the glass in my hands but, more importantly, in the camera, how does it feel and how does it behave?

The hot spot, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @35mm

I started testing the wide end of the lens, 35mm (which, in FF terms, equals 70mm, having micro 4/3 cameras a 2x crop sensor). I am very comfortable with this focal length, as that is the longer reach of the wide zoom that I have been shooting with during these months and that, not surprisingly, has been my most usual focal length, much more than the wide end. Speaking in a very personal and subjective way, I see not much difference in the performance of both lenses at this same focal length: both render equally sharp images, with plenty of detail and latitude to get a wide dynamic range after some post-processing (I use Lightroom). I'm not into scientific tests and rather into real use of the cameras and lenses and, from this perspective, both are excellent. You can compare the above shot with the ones at this past entry here, sharing subject and tones, for a better idea.

Triangles, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @35mm

I have spent today's late afternoon at a small park that I discovered by chance a few days ago while passing by on the bus, because it is nearby my apartment and because it was unexplored ground, which fitted perfectly the purpose of my visit; new land for a new friend makes sense, I guess. But I didn't want to shoot just benches, bridges & branches again, and it was still early for people to venture into strolling, so I focused my attention in the few buildings that could be spotted through the fence in the outer perimeter of the park. One in particular caught my attention for its modern style, which was quite out of place in an environment like this. I took various stills of it from different perspectives and at different focal lengths, to see how all of them looked like.

Lines & curves, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @44mm

Pyramids, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @62mm

Bending, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

All in all, I felt the zoom performed effortlessly and beautifully across the whole range. There is no perceptible distortion at any focal length (I didn't apply andy perspective correction or cropping at all), and they all render very pleasing images, sharp, detailed and with very minimal vignetting at the corners. I have applied a slight vignetting myself in some of the previous frames, so to judge this point see the two pictures below, again showing how crisp and detailed the images from this lens turn out at different focal lengths (vignetting is slightly more visible at f2.8, but definitely nothing worth mentioning). Being 35mm my most used focal length in the wide zoom, it is no surprise that more than half of the pictures that I have grabbed today belong exclusively at 100mm.  

The Reconquest I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @68mm / f4

The Reconquest II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Finally I spotted some people, but they were outside the park, not far, but I couldn't simply jump over the fence to approach them or, in this case, jump into the water and approach them swimming, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to test how far I could reach with the lens, and also how well the autofocus and the O.I.S. (optical lens stabilization) performed at the longer end, where it is most needed. Note that all the pictures are handheld but, in such a sunny and bright day as it has been today, that is not an issue, as the shutter speed is quite fast most of the times, anyway. But still, how was the ratio of sharp images I could get?

Fisherman I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Fisherman II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

The images were consistently sharp and the focus very accurate, considering it was one point autofocus and we both were moving around. I had some misses were the subject turned out a bit soft, but I had a very high percentage of sharp images, and the O.I.S. did a very good job in stabilizing the image in the viewfinder, which helped a lot, even if I yet have to try manual focusing with magnification at that focal length. 

Any downsides? Every tool has flaws, and in my first hands on I have encountered mainly two: one is not a proper flaw of the lens, but of myself: starting at 35mm, I wish the lens could reach a bit further than 100mm; the change throughout the range is not that big and sometimes I wished I had more reach in the tele end, as I could not get closer with my feet and I was not able to catch small details of distant subjects as I wanted. But in the range that it covers, it is truly a very nice lens, nicely built and quite portable and light considering its nature.

Fishing net I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

Fishing net II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

The second flaw? This is indeed a problem of the lens, specifically of its O.I.S., but it only affects the video capture, not the stills, and that's why I have not seen many comments about it around the net. I thought it could be just my copy, but I have found a few videos of other users with the same problem and, after going back to the shop and checking a second copy of the lens in another body, the issue remained there, so I guess this is a widespread problem that not many have noticed yet, as it is not that visible at first sight: the matter is, when you shoot video handheld with O.I.S. ON, the stabilizer vibrates very minimally, trying to compensate for the movements, but does so in a very jittery, unnatural way, that is more noticeable in the corners (still present in firmware version 1.1.). You can see one example in this video here, but that is slow motion footage, therefore in 24fps the jitter is faster and more nervous. If you turn O.I.S. off, this jitter disappears completely, and only camera movements remain, magnified, of course, but logical. I really hope Panasonic pays attention to this issue and addresses it through a firmware update, as they did for a similar problem they had with the twin lens, 12-35mm (not my own, tough). 

The ascent I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm

But, all in all, at the end of the day, how does my first contact with the glass feel? Definitely, instant crush. I foresee a long friendship in the making here. Just look at that bokeh!

The ascent II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 35-100mm @100mm