Wasabi Power Battery – Review

Wasabi power GX1

This was one of those posts that’s been in draft for a while now. I just checked my order date on Amazon and realized I bought this set back in May 2012. I’ve been using it regularly ever since so this is probably a good testament to how great these batteries are.

These are just third party batteries so there’s no in-depth review or technical analysis but I’ll just quickly focus on my experience with these batteries.

Initial hesitation:
I needed extra batteries for my brand new (in June 2012) Lumix GX1 but there were two issues that kept bugging me.
1. Expanding/exploding third party batteries – I read in a few articles about how power cells from knock-off battery makers or non-OEM manufacturers could either swell up inside the camera or just simply explode during use or charging.
2. Non- Functional battery power level indicator – The initial batteries that came out were not encoded with Panasonic’s proprietary ‘smart chip’ so some users reported that the camera will not display the remaining charge in the battery and so you might face an abrupt  shutdown while shooting.

Keeping both these points in mind I took the plunge anyway and was happy to find out that both issues were non-existent in Wasabi batteries. So far they haven’t exploded and both of them display the power level perfectly.

Wasabi power GX1 box

What I like: 
. First and foremost, the Wasabi packs in 1500mAh power as opposed to the 1010mAh in the OEM battery. This translates to more shooting time and there were times during my vacation when I didn’t have to charge them for more than a week.
. You get amazing value for money for the 30 odd dollars that you pay. The pack includes two batteries, one wall charger and a 12 volt DC charger that you can plug into your car.
. The charging unit is much smaller than the Panasonic one and it plugs directly into the wall so you don’t have the hassle of packing an additional 2-pin cable.
. The charging unit has a very simple ‘Red for charging’ and ‘Green for completed’ indicators that are more intuitive than the Panasonic’s Morse code indicator.
. The car charger is a handy thing to have but I’ve only used it once as most of the time I leave home with both units fully charged.

Where to buy it from:

I bought mine from Amazon for about 30 USD and then spend another 7 or 8 KD for shipping from NYC. This is the item as listed on Amazon [link]
They’re also available from Mr. Babu for 14.5 KWD which includs shipping so this is definitely a better deal. [link]

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fish Eye for MFT

Samyang 7.5 00

When I first bought my DSLR one of the lenses I thought of buying was a fish-eye lens. At the time a fish-eye lens from Nikon was prohibitively expensive and I gave up the idea of buying one altogether. Lately I’ve been concentrating more on my Micro Four Thirds setup and that’s when I found this Samyang lens. I contacted AAB World to see if they carried this brand and they turned out to be the dealers for Samyang as well. They were quick to loan me a test lens and I’ve been playing around with it the last couple of weeks. This post will focus on the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 and then I’ll add some photos taken with it over the week.

Samyang 7.5 01

Whats in the box:
The lens comes snugly packed in a plastic shell which keeps it from getting damaged during transit. There’s a leather (or leather-like) lens bag included in the box. There’s no separate lens hood since there’s a protective hood built on the barrel itself.

Samyang 7.5 02

The lens:

Its a fully manual lens, meaning there are no CPU contacts on the lens that communicate with your camera body and infact your camera will not even recognize that there’s a lens attached. On the Lumix you have to select the ‘Shoot w/o lens’ option in the menu before you start shooting.

It has an aperture ring marked from f/3.5 to f/22 and it turns easily with a solid click in each position. The focus ring is well damped and does not move from its position once you’ve set it to the desired distance. The lens can focus from .19 meters to infinity but I wish it had a marking for 1 meter as well. Overall the lens is very solid and feels like its worth twice its actual price.

The lens has a focal length of 7.5mm and in Full Frame or traditional 35mm format that would roughly translate to 15mm, which is really pretty wide. The lens is sold re-branded as Rokinon, Bower and Vivitar in some markets but essentially its all the same lens. They come in two colors; Black and Silver and in mounts for MFT, E Mount, Fuji Mount etc.

Its available at AAB Studio for KD 94.950 which is reasonable comparable to online prices and plus you get a local warranty too.

Shooting:
This is where everything you know about composition goes out the window. Due to the characteristic distortion on this lens the image will wildly vary depending on which axis you point your lens at. Using the conventional ‘Rule of Thirds’ concept may not always yield good results but that’s up to you to decide. I found that I preferred symmetry in some pictures while in others I didn’t. Using this lens is a lot of fun and a great learning experience. You can see the effect of tilting the camera in this short video that I took here;

Tips:
. This lens is ultra wide and has an angle of view of 180 degrees so make sure you’re not holding the lens barrel or your fingers will wind up in the frame. If you hold the camera too close to your body even your feet will be visible in the frame.

. If you’re shooting at higher apertures like f/11 or f/16 focus is not an issue and you can leave it at Infinity but if you’re shooting closer objects at f/3.5 then it would be wise to use the magnified focus window on your screen (if your camera has that function) so that your subject is in sharp focus.

. Since its a manual lens you’ll have to keep in mind a few parameters like the Aperture setting on your lens, the ISO and Shutter speed on your camera body. Luckily I was able to use the exposure meter on my GX1 and managed to properly expose the majority of the shots in the way that I wanted.

There’s almost no limit to what you can shoot if you’re creative with a fish-eye as you can see from this [link] and here are a sample of the photos I’ve taken with this amazing little lens.

Fisheye Bridge

Fifth RingTraffic

Banking Complex

Warp Speed

Salmiya Tunnel

Prestige Avenues

Avenues Dome

Samyang 7.5 03

Final Thoughts: 
This is a high quality lens that’s both affordable and easy to use. Its compact dimensions doesn’t take up much space in your bag and you’ll always have it handy. I loved the lens so much that I’m actually going to buy the lens used in this review. Contact AAB World to see if they have this lens in your camera mount specifications.

Inside the Grand Mosque

Grand Mosque_02

During the National Day holidays a friend of mine arranged a trip for us to visit the Grand Mosque in Kuwait City. This was my second visit to the mosque and this time around I had a fish-eye lens in my bag to capture the enormous prayer hall inside.

Hajji Khalil Habash at the Grand Mosque

The guided tours are conducted by the group; “Western Perception of Islam” and our guide was a very knowledgeable gentleman by the name of Khalil Habash. You can see many videos on Youtube of the tour taken by tourists and here’s [a recent one].

The tour of the Grand Mosque is something that everyone living in Kuwait should take at least once. The rulers have spared no expense in creating this awe-inspiring and beautiful place of worship and it shows when you walk around the hall. Our guide, Mr. Habash, explained in great detail about the structure itself and its significance to both Kuwait and the Muslim world. We were a group of around 20 tourists from different countries and so the medium of communication was English.

Grand Mosque_10

This post contains photos taken with my D60 and also the GX1. On my first visit there I wasn’t able to capture the magnitude of the interior with my kit lens so on the second try I used a fisheye lens on my GX1 and that gave me satisfactory results.

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Wah Ji Wah – Pakistani Food

wah ji wah

After my previous post about Sarhad some of my Pakistani friends and colleagues suggested a bunch of different places for me to sample more of their traditional foods. The places include Shahi Qila, Tabaq, Wah Ji Wah and Al Mano wa Al Salwa. Since Wah Ji Wah was the closest place for me during the weekend I decided to try it out first.

It’s located near the first roundabout on Issa Al Qatami street in Salmiya and is hard to miss. I noted that they’ve got two separate dining areas; one for bachelors and a larger space for families. I was there for a takeaway order so didn’t look into the family seating area. The specials menu on the wall is in Urdu so you’ll have to ask the guy at the counter whats the special for the day.

My order:
Haleem, Chapli Kebabs, Mutton Karahi and Tandoori Rotis.

I guess Fridays are busy for them as I had to wait for about 20 minutes to get my order as there were many people ahead of me. After patiently waiting for my turn I sped off home to unpack the food and take some pictures before lunch.

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The first item I sampled was the Haleem and in my opinion it is better than I one had at Sarhad. It was thick, as Haleem should be, but it had a stronger flavor than the one from Sarhad. Its perfect as a sauce for your kebabs or just mop it up with your fresh rotis.

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The next item I had was the Chapli Kebabs. Now I’ve had Peshawari kebabs/Chapli kebabs before but each time they were in a different avatar. The ones I’ve had in India were either skewered or  grilled chunks of marinated lamb. This was the first time I’d had it as a flat burger patty. So I consulted one of my colleagues (I think she’s from near Lahore) who informed me that the Chapli kebabs at WJW are very authentic. So I guess this time I’ve had a proper Peshawari kebab and I’m happy about that.

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Finally it was time to try out my regular order at any Pakistani restaurant, the Mutton Karahi. The soft tender chunks of mutton in that spicy aromatic onion gravy was just perfect but some may not prefer the level of oil in this dish. I wasn’t too concerned about the oil and just considered it as lubricant to help slide down a mouthful of meat and roti.

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Now coming to the verdict, I’m not an expert on Pakistani cuisine but one of my well traveled friends commented that Wah Ji Wah serves the best Pakistani food in Kuwait. In my opinion the Chapli Kebabs were the star in my lunch. Based on recommendations, from some of my friends who are regulars there, the dishes to order are; Dal Maas (Lentils with meat), Karela (Bitter Gourd), Bindi (Okra) and Palak Ghosh (Spinach with Mutton). I guess I’ll just have to sacrifice my cholesterol levels in the interests of maintaining bilateral relations with our dear neighbors.

Wah Ji Wah
Phone: 25651027,  99392124
Menu: [link]

DIY Wall Hangings

My wife and I were decorating our new apartment this month and we wanted a large picture as a focus point on the living room wall. I wasn’t too keen on getting one of those generic photos from IKEA or Banta so we decided to use one of my own photos.

I had two options, either get a framed canvas print or get it printed on foam-core and then make the frame myself. I’m always on the lookout for DIY projects so the latter sounded more interesting to me. I found this neat tutorial online on how to make one of these large sized pictures and mount it on a wooden frame. If you’re interested in doing something similar I’ve listed the steps on how to go about it;

1. Choose an original file. You can use a photograph you’ve taken yourself or any other source but its important that you use the original file in maximum resolution and at least 300 dpi, this will reduce the amount of pixelation in the final print. I was blowing up a picture (taken on my 5 year old Nikon D60) to 90×60 cms and and I was happy to see that there wasn’t much degradation in quality.

2. Once you’ve got the file for printing you can select between Canvas prints or Foam-core backed prints. I was already getting some prints from Artech so I preferred to let them do all the print work since I’ve dealt with them before.

frame 01

3. According to the tutorial in the link you can use wood strips to give the foam-core extra strength and rigidity. I didn’t want my frame to protrude too much from the wall so I went with a thinner wooden frame. I bought all the supplies from ACE Hardware; wood rafters/strips, sandpaper and caulk.

frame 02

4. Measure, cut and sand the wood frame to the size of your foam-core. I know a V-joint looks prettier than a simple butt-joint but it would not be visible anyway so I chose the latter method. Apply a layer of caulk to the strips and press them into place on the frame. They should set in about 30 minutes. Once the frame had bonded with the foam, I applied double-sided tape to 8 points on the frame and fixed it to the wall. I didn’t use nails or screws since the entire thing is very lightweight and I didn’t want to mess up the wall with more holes than necessary.

Including materials, this picture cost me less than 8 KD so this I guess this is a fun and cheap way to decorate your home with your very own artwork.

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Chevrolet Cruze 2014 – Review

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Last week I got the 2014 model Chevrolet Cruze for a test drive from Alghanim Automotive, Kuwait. They said I could use it all through the weekend and return it on Sunday which should give me enough time to get to know the car and give an opinion on how it performs.

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First impression:
To the untrained eye there may not be much to differentiate the 2014 model from the previous one but if you look closely you’ll find that they’ve changed the front fog lamp designs and the overall front look of the car now is inline with the new Chevy grills. I took a walk around the car to see if there was anything else that stood out as exceptional but it was the familiar Cruze that most people are used to.

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Sivamani and Stephen Devassy

Sivamani and Stephen 10

Ever since I saw Stephen Devassy perform live I’d developed a liking to his style of music and on-stage performance. So when I heard he was coming to Kuwait for another show I way trying to find a way to get tickets. Luckily a friend of mine gave me tickets to the event in Hawally park yesterday evening. Thanks James!

This was also the first time I’ve seen Sivamani performing live and the duo was pretty awesome. They played for almost 40 minutes and alternated between solos, fast and slow tracks and some highly entertaining duets. I’ve got some random clips of the night in the link below but I hope I can get my hands on the official video taken by the video crew.

Sivamani and Stephen 09

Sivamani and Stephen 08

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Sivamani and Stephen 05

Sivamani and Stephen 04

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Sivamani and Stephen 02

Sivamani and Stephen 01

RTC Electronics – Geeks Paradise

RTC page

This weekend I need to get some work done on setting up my home entertainment systems and this involved extending some cables across the room. I asked some friends about places to get electronics supplies and one friend pointed me towards RTC in Hawally.

The shop is marked in Google maps so it wasn’t too difficult to locate it. The shop entrance isn’t too impressive when you walk in but the surprise is when you walk down the stairs to the lower level. This place is every electronic geeks wet dream as you’ll find almost anything you’re looking for.

I was mainly looking for speaker wires, connectors and cable ducts. I bought all this and more during my shopping trip there. While my bill was being prepared I took a walk around the shop and noted that they’ve got everything from DJ lighting equipment, circuit boards, hobby kits, cables etc to all the tools you’d ever want to do you own DIY projects. The only thing I didn’t get though was a flexible cable sleeve that could accomodate the thick bundle of wires that exit my entertainment cabinet. I ended up using the IKEA RABALDER that I had left from previous cleanups.

RTC is the place to go if you’re looking for electronics supplies and I’ll surely be making a few more trips there in the next few days.

RTC home page [link]

RTC Electronics Corp.
Othman St. – Al-Trayji bldg – Magazine No. 5 – 6
Hawalli
+965-22623287
+965-22623286
+965-22623287
info@rtc-electronics.biz

Street Photography with the GX1

Shooter in the hallway

Shooting discretely with a DSLR is not something that can be done easily and that’s what I’m loving about the mirror-less system cameras. They’re great for Street Photography. On a recent visit to the Liberation Tower I was just shooting images of people on the tour and it felt great to capture random moments without drawing attention to myself. Here’s some of the better ones from the bunch.

Looking at Kuwait

Instagrammer

Composition

Communication