Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rock-Climbing Northern Thailand

Entrance to Windy Cave
Crazy Horse Buttress is the 'other' Sport Climbing area in Thailand.  It's near Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, located about 700km north of Bangkok.  It's less well known than Krabi to the South, but no less in quality.  In fact, if you are a moderate or beginner climber, this may be the better destination.  There are about 90 routes from grade 5 to 6c (the French system of grading is used here), and only one at 8a.  The remaining 25 or so routes are in the 7s.

Making our way in to the crag.  Groomed trails, nice huts to rest. leveled and clean belay areas.... All thanks to the CMRCA and it's volunteers!
The main driving force behind climbing at Crazy Horse is the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures on Ratpakinai Rd in Old Chiang Mai.  The climbing guide book, transport to and from the crag, bolting, climbing club and other services are set up by them.  It's your first stop if you are new to climbing here.
A class doing a Tyrolean Traverse across Windy Cave.  Brave kids.  It's a long way down!
The best time to go is during the cool and dry season from October til February.  It starts to warm up in March, but remains dry til about May, and is still ok for climbing.  A 60m rope will get you up and down most of the climbs, but a 70m rope is best and you will be able to link up one or two climbs with a short second pitch.   All routes are sport, and a rack of about 14 - 16 medium to long quickdraws should suffice.  Bring mosquito repellant.
68-year-old 'Doc' Kung making his way up the 6a Chimney at Tamarind Village
Best climbs to start off with?  I recommend making your way up to 'The Rooftop'.  There are three climbs there: a 5b, 5c and a 6a.  It's a great introduction to the area and the view from up there is great!
Kai Li starting up a 6b on Buddha Buttress
If you are staying in Chiang Mai and you don't have your own transport to the crag, you'll need to book a seat on the CMRCA shuttles.  CMRCA uses three songthaews, which are pick-ups with a cab for passengers.  A songthaew can take up to 10 passengers, so if you are concerned about getting a seat, book a place the evening before.  It costs 250 Bhat and comes with lunch.  Pick up is in front of the CMRCA at 0830 and leaves the crag at 1630 in the afternoon.  Transport takes about 45 minutes each way.
The strange and the wonderful... I have no idea what this is, but there are a lot of mosquitoes and bees in the area
 Where to stay?  There are a couple of guesthouses close to the crag, but options are somewhat limited.  Most people stay in Chiang Mai and shuttle up to the crag.  There are lots of places to stay in old Chiang Mai, depending on your budget.  Most will be walking distance to the CMRCA and lots of places to eat.
Kai and Doc having dinner at the night market in Old Chiang Mai

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Dog Named SanDeE

SanDeE with my wife, Laura, during happier times
Cancer sucks.  It doesn't matter if it happens to a human or a dog.  It not only sneaks up and robs one of life, it does it in a way that causes much pain and suffering.  And so it was with SanDeE...
Taking a break out on the trail
SanDeE was named for the color of her coat, but spelled after Sarah Jessica Parker's character in the 1991 movie, L.A. Story (Big S, little a, little n, big D...).  When she was a young pup, she would fall down a lot.  She fell off a ledge at the back of our house (which gave us a huge scare because probably a 10' (3m) drop) only climb back up shakily.  She also fell into our fish pond, and that's when we learned that Golden Retrievers are natural swimmers.  We suspected hip dysplasia,, and a visit to the vet confirmed this.  A couple of expensive surgeries failed to fix the problem, and on our regular runs, she would lag behind, eventually dropping out of sight, but always appearing a few minutes later, soldiering on and wearing her silly, happy grin.

We had bought SanDeE from a pet store who had obtained SanDeE from a local breeder.  When we informed them about SanDeE's hip dysplasia, they offered to 'replace' the puppy.  But with SanDeE's fate uncertain, giving her up was not an option.
Out for our evening walkie with the doggies
The years passed.  She loved to swim, and swam almost everyday.  In the fish pond, when we had a pond.  Then in a pool when we moved and had a pool.  She never really could walk for long, and eventually we settled on a routine.  When she'd had enough, she'd just stay put and munch on some flowers, and we would come around to pick her up on the way back.
Other than the hip dysplasia, SanDeE had the temperament and character of a perfect Golden Retriever.  She was brave, gentle, loved children and other dogs, and would comfort anyone in distress.

When we brought SanDeE in to see the vet, we had thought she had some sort of indigestion.  But no, it was cancer and the cancer was too advanced to treat and the vet advised us to put SanDeE to sleep.  It was a decision we were not prepared to make, and so we brought SanDeE home with a few days worth of painkillers.  When those ran out, we brought SanDeE back in and the vet was happily surprised to see her looking so well.  This time, we brought back two weeks worth of painkillers.
Santa and her reindeer.  Hehe... Doggies will do anything for their masters!
SanDeE lived for two more weeks beyond the initial diagnosis.  The painkillers helped, and in those two weeks, she had only four bad days.  Two of those bad days were right at the end.  She couldn't eat, not even her painkillers, couldn't move, and the last night she coughed up a lot of blood.  We spent her last day doing he favorite thing in the whole world: Car rides!  Each time we drove somewhere, we would open up the back of the SUV for her to experience something new.  New sights, new sounds, new smells.  She was interested, but we could see that she was in pain.

And when it was time to end her suffering, we kept SanDeE in her happiest of places, the back of our SUV while the vet did her work.  I locked gaze with SanDeE until she closed her eyes for the last time.
SanDeE, world's sweetest doggie, born 18 January 2003, went to doggie heaven 21 October 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tour de Timor 2013: The Magic is Still There!

Team Air Timor (Myself, Laura Liong, Anche Cabral, and Alvin Lim) celebrating our 1st Place Mixed Team victory after the 2013 Tour de Timor

The 2013 Tour de Timor is over!  How did it go?  Well, the 2013 Tour de Timor was marred by controversy even before the race started, as the original organizers were effectively kicked out and shut out of the event by the new race organizers, the Tourism Office of Timor Leste.  Given the uncertainty of the quality that the new organizers could bring to the event, many international racers did not come this year.  To top that off, local racers who had signed up for the race staged a protest at the start line, and refused to start.  That left only a small field of about 60 competitors in total who started the race.

Well, the fledgling organizers got a lot of things right, like the logistics.  The food was plentiful, toilets and showers were adequate, and our luggage was moved efficiently.  The organizers also engaged Russ Baker to do the timing.  Russ has been doing the timing for the Tour de Timor since it's inception, and the accuracy of his timing maintained the integrity of race standards.

There were a number of things that could be improved.  Communication is a big one.  Race safety is another.  In previous Tour de Timors, roads were closed.  In this year's event, some roads were closed, and some were open, only this wasn't communicated to us.  This was probably my most dangerous race by far, and I had a couple of really close calls, one of which was while squeezing pass a truck at high speed on a bend, and being surprised by a motorcycle, and then a donkey behind that! 

While water was plentiful during the ride, it was somewhat random, sometimes just handed to us from a moving SUV.  Position of Aid Stations could not be relied upon, and were often not marked. 

I get the feeling the organizers learn fast, as mistakes made during the first couple of days were quickly corrected, and improvements made in the following days.

Sure, we were lucky to get a good result this year, but what really makes the Tour de Timor special is the landscape and the people.  For me, that's what makes the Tour de Timor such a magical experience!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

3 Best Lenses to Take for Expedition and Adventure

If you have a M4/3 camera like the Olympus OMD EM5, or Panasonic G6, and are wondering what lenses to buy for expeditions, adventure or travel, you might find this post useful.  In general, I'll carry the following three lenses for expeditions and adventure.  They are light, versatile, and high quality. 

Wide Angle Lens
What I Use - Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0
The lens that's mostly on my camera is the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.  It's an ultra-wide zoom lens and I probably shoot 70-80% of my photos and video with it.  Wide angles are a staple for adventure photography because they allow you to get very close to the action and still capture background.  They also have great depth of field, which can be useful in outdoor situations where you may want to capture as much foreground and background detail as possible.

Option 1 - Olympus 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6
Sometimes I wish I'd gotten this lens instead.  It's lighter, more compact and cheaper.  It doesn't go out as wide, but has a bit more reach on the long end.  Personally, I prefer this focal length range of this lens over the Panasonic, but from what I've read, the Panasonic is a little sharper with a little faster aperture.  I don't think you can go wrong with the Olympus 9-18mm if you should choose this.

Option 2 - Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye
If your main lens is the 12-50mm or a superzoom, then you may feel that either of the above wide-angle options have too much overlap.  A fisheye is a great option, but one that you have to be careful not to overuse.  The Rokinon (aka Samyang, aka Bower) fisheye is a cheap option (about half the price compared to the Panasonic version) that you can throw in your bag and pull out for special shots.  It's very sharp, but the downside of this lens is that the aperture needs to be set mechanically on the lens (old style) and you need to focus the lens manually (which is no big deal on a fisheye because the depth of focus is so big you can just set the focus at 1.5 or 2m and forget it).

Superzoom Lens
What I Use - Olympus 14-150mm f/4.0-5.6
The 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens from Olympus is probably the sharpest superzoom I've used.  It's probably the lens I like least, but one that is quite frequently on my camera.  I would say 10-15% of my shots are made with it.  Superzooms are very useful in expedition or adventure situations when your mobility is limited (like if you're on a fixed rope or belay when climbing, or on a kayak, or when you are just plain too tired to make a lens change!) or when you need big changes in focal length in rapidly changing situation (eg. you are at a crowded market place, capturing the scene with the wide end of the superzoom and, in a fleeting moment, need to zoom in to capture a face in the crowd).   If you are climbing El Cap, a possible two lens combination could be to use this lens in combination with a fisheye.

Option 1 - Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6
Panasonic's 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is new on the market.  For Panasonic camera owners, its a no-brainer:  Buy this version for the image stabilization which is built into the lens.  Olympus owners can use either superzoom because image stabilization is built into the body of the camera.  Take note that Olympus lenses zoom the opposite direction from Panasonic.  For me, the zooms on Panasonic lenses are more natural, and if this lens had been out when I bought my superzoom, this would have been my pick.  It's even lighter than the Olympus version, and has faster apertures across the range.  It's in short supply at the time of writing, and few reviews as to how it performs.

Option 2 - Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3
This is one lens I haven't used, but by it's reputation, it should be even sharper than the two superzooms above.  Technically, it's not a superzoom.  The focal length range starts from a very useful 24mm (in full-frame equivalent) wide angle.  That's wider than the above superzooms, which only start out at 28mm.  But the long end stops at 50mm (100mm in full-frame equivalent), which would appear to be useful for portraits, but the maximum aperture at this focal length is only f/6.3, which would give the same amount of background blur on a full-frame 100mm lens at f/12.6.

Prime Lens for Sharpness, Portraits and Low Light
What I Use - Panasonic 20mm f/1.7
The 20mm f/1.7 is great because being a pancake lens, it is very small and light.  Primes are very sharp and have fast apertures.  I use primes whenever I can in preference to zooms.  Because they are so sharp, they are great for capturing detail.  Their fast apertures also help to blur away the background, making them good for isolating subjects.   The 20mm f/1.7 is my default night lens, as the big aperture and focal length are useful in low light conditions.  On Panasonic cameras, there is a special teleconverter ETC Mode which extends the usefulness of this lens for video.  Essentially, ETC Mode multiplies the focal length by 2.7 times with no image degradation in video mode.  This means that if you are shooting video with this lens on a Panasonic body like the GH3, you can have a 'wide-ish to normal' 20mm lens that converts to a 54mm f/1.7 'portrait-ish' lens!  In a pinch, I'll use the digital teleconverter on my OMD EM5 to get a similar effect, although it doesn't work as well on Olympus bodies as there is some image degradation.  Take note that although the autofocus speed of this lens was ok on my GH2 body, it crawls on my OMD EM5.  There is a new version of this lens that is being released soon that should bring about autofocus speed improvements.

Option 1Olympus 45mm f/1.8
I really like this lens and use it every chance I can.  It's lightning fast to focus on my OMD EM5, super sharp and has a nice out of focus, blur highlights (bokeh), making it a great portrait lens.  When I can only carry two lenses due to weight considerations, I'll carry the 45mm lens together with my 7-14mm, and skip the 14-150mm.  As a three lens kit, I'll occasionally carry the 45mm instead of the 20mm in my travel kit, if I'm expecting to shoot some portrait stuff.  In general though, the 20mm is a more versatile focal length and makes it into my bag most of the time.

Other Prime Lens Options
In reality, there are a huge assortment of prime lens options that will do the job, including all sorts of legacy lenses that you can fit on M4/3 bodies using an adapter.  You'll need to manually focus and set aperture on the lens, but any of these could work depending on your budget, style and interests.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bali Rides

I've been around a bit for various types of 'adventure' trips, sometimes guided, sometimes not.  Every once in a long while, I'm lucky enough to find a top-class guide.  Ramang Kristian from Bali Rides is one of those guides.  Needless to say, we had a great trip.  The rides were great, transport and accommodation more than comfortable, and we were well taken care of with plenty of snacks and drinks.  Ramang showed us the riding around Bali the way only a local can, with hidden singletrack and bits of local culture and sights thrown in.

Our seven day trip had about 42km of riding, with about 600m of climbing each day.  Every trip is customized to the riders skills and fitness, so if you want to ride more or less, technical or easy, it's up to you. The video above should give you a good idea of the type of riding there.
Riding in rice fields with Mt. Agung
Bali is an island just east of Java, Indonesia, with a few active volcanoes.  The soil is rich, and the landscape is lush.  On Day 1, we started up on the crater rim of active volcano, riding the slopes before dropping down into the lava fields, finishing on the shore of Batur Lake, where we took a dip in a local hot springs.  Sadly, my footage of the lava fields and hot springs were lost.  I can only say that they were both very special and spectacular.
Fishing boat returning to shore after a night out at Amed, Bali.
Each riding day offered something different.  On Day 2, we finished our ride on the white sands of... White Sands Beach, where we took the opportunity to wash off the grime of the day with a quick swim.  Day 3 ended with a nice massage, courtesy of Bali Rides.  We had one rest day on Day 4, which we spent in Amed and took the opportunity to dive the famous Liberty Wreck.  We spent each night in a new location, and got to experience the uniqueness of a new place each night. 
Leaving the hotel in Sanur for the day's ride...
The last day was very special.  Although it was supposed to be dry season, we had quite a bit of rain during the trip, but the last day was super sunny, and the ride ended with a delicious BBQ at Ramang's beautiful Balinese house, cooked by Ramang's mum and sister, who were visiting at the time!
Google map of our first day's ride
The best time to ride Bali is during the dry season from June through September.  Contact Ramang at for more information.

Update 25 June 2016:
Updated with a new video I shot for Bali Rides this week.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Riding Mt. Bromo

Last week, a couple of friends (Chow Kok Yeang from Malaysia and Ramang Kristian from Bali) and I got together on the island of Java, Indonesia, to ride the volcanic trails of Mt. Bromo.

At 2,329 metres (7,641 ft), Mt. Bromo sits inside a caldera called the 'Sea of Sand'.  It's the most famous, but it isn't the highest or most prominent peak there.  Gunung Batok (or Mt. Batok) is the most prominent peak in the caldera, and the peak is easily confused with Mt. Bromo.  Gunung Semeru, visible a little further away, is the highest peak on Java.

The best time to go is during the dry season from August through November.  Mid-August, the transition between the wet and dry seasons, is the absolute best.  That's when the sand is still compact with moisture from the wet season, but the weather is dry and skies are blue.  I went last week, and was lucky with the weather that it didn't rain on us, but had some overcast and cloudy days so the views weren't as good.
Mt. Bromo is the one puffin' smoke. Gunung Batok is the big one to its right.
We flew in to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia, and from there, it's a 4-5 hour drive to Cemero Lawang, the base for exploring Mt. Bromo.  Cemoro Lawang is at 2217m, so although it's in South East Asia, it does get pretty chilly at night.There are a few small hotels and simple homestays in Cemero Lawang.  We stayed in one of the local homestays, but the Lava Cafe Hostel looks pretty good.  The food is decent at Lava Cafe and there's free WiFi.  Otherwise, there are a few small local eateries where meals $1 and up.
Meals start from about USD$1...
The riding itself was good.  The first day, we rode the 'Bromo Classic Track', which includes the 'Sea of Sand' through 'Teletubbies Hill', up 'Jembalong Hill', 'New Zealand' Trail, 'Kechiri Hill' and back down to the 'Sea of Sand' to Cemoro Lawang.  The second day was a fast downhill ride through various farming tracks; and Day 3 was the famous B-29 singletrack, which was supposed to be über scenic, but we got clouded in.  The video should give you a good idea of the type of riding you can expect.

My Sandman Hoggar fatbike is the near perfect bike for Mt. Bromo, not only because the additional float and traction was welcome on the sand or down the steep, slick, muddy trails, but the tough titanium frame proved impervious to scratches as the bikes were crudely strapped onto the back of a pickup. 
Some enterprising kids took our bikes down to the river to wash.  I guess child labor and environmental laws are different here ;)
We engaged a local guide at very reasonable rates, and although you don't need one if you have the GPX tracks and a GPS, it simplifies logistics as the guide can probably arrange accommodation and transportation cheaper than you can.  If you need a guide, I can recommend our guide, Anom, who can be reached at  Alternatively, Ramang from Bali Rides can arrange a high quality trip to Mt. Bromo for you. Contact Ramang at

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sony and Olympus Share To Share Technology

I just read on 4/3 Rumours that Olympus will be sharing it's 5-Axis Image Stabilization technology with Sony, in exchange for their Phase Detect Autofocus sensor technology.
Sony NEX-6 with 16-50mm lens
Interestingly enough, Sony marketing has gotten in touch with me and will be lending me an NEX-6, which has the phase detect hybrid autofocus system.  Combined with Sony's APS-C DSLR sized sensor, this should be capable of some superb quality pics, and I'm super excited to be able to test the NEX-6 and compare it to my OMD EM5 next month.

If the rumor is true, then we look forward to more capable mirrorless cameras in the near future.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 OMD EM5 Tips I Wished I'd Known Earlier

My Olympus OM-D E-M5, with John Milich grip, simple strap, and oversized shutter button.
The Olympus OMD EM5 is one of the best loved micro four thirds cameras to date.  It's retro form, compact and weatherproof body, and a wide selection of high quality lenses have contributed to its popularity.  The camera is certain capable of exquisite image quality, but to tell you the truth, handling and using the camera have been a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I've learned some things along the way, and have come to terms with the camera.  Here are 10 handling tips I wished I'd known from the get go:
A wide selection of high quality lenses are available.  Olympus OMD EM5, 20mm, F/1.7, 1/3200, ISO 200.
This is my biggest performance issue with this camera.  Unlike DSLRs which use distance information, called Phase Detection, to assist AF, the autofocus of the OMD EM5 works only by comparing contrast of adjacent pixels, called, er... Contrast Detection.

As a default setting, I leave my DSLRs in a mode whereby the camera, using all of the autofocus points which cover the screen would seek out the closest subject, and focus on it.  This won't work on the EM5, because without using distance information, it won't know what is closest.  The camera focuses fastest and most accurately if I select a specific AF Point for it, and it's usually the center one.
If it ain't moving, the AF is spot on.  I focused the center AF point on the eyes, recomposed and shot this Monitor lizard in my backyard. Olympus OMD EM5, 100-300mm at 162mm, 1/320, F/4.6, ISO 320.
#1. I use a Specific or Center AF Point, not Multi-Area Autofocus.

Continuous Autofocus, by inference, doesn't work well either.  What happens with the EM5 is that the focus pulls in and out, until it gets something sharp on the selected AF point, then pulls in and out until it is sharp again, and so on.  A camera using Phase Detect AF can more accurately predict and track the subject, leading to more shots in focus. 
Single Shot Focus is fast, accurate, and at 9 frames per second, allows you capture the decisive moment.  Olympus OMD EM5, 100-300mm at 100mm, F/4.0, 1/200, ISO 1000.
#2.  I don't use Continuous Autofocus with the EM5, only Single Shot Focus.
One of the best tips I got was from a guy by the name of Bryce Bradford, who seems to be an Olympus Sponsored shooter.  He's set up his camera as follows:

Fn1 - Magnify
Fn2 - MF
Rec. - AEL/AFL
AEL/AFL Modes: S2/C2/M3

This allows him to separate the autofocus from his shutter button.  In other words, I can prefocus by pressing the shutter button as usual, then turn off the autofocus by pressing Fn2, wait for my subject to enter the field of focus, then fire away at 9 frames per second.  It's kind of an old school sports shooting technique, but it can work.
A little tougher to get the shot if it's moving.  I pre-focus on a spot before the action, then fired away when Sandy Maxwell entered my focus zone. Olympus OMD EM5, 7-14mm at 7mm, 1/200, F/4.0, ISO 200.
#3. Find a way to separate the Autofocus function from the Shutter Release.

The same applies to autofocus in video mode.  If you leave autofocus on, the camera will drift in and out of focus.  I prefer to leave mine in manual focus and set the Fn2 button to autofocus.  That way, I'll press Fn2 to focus, then press the shutter button to start shooting.  If I need to refocus, I either do it manually, or press the Fn2 button again.

#4. Separate the Autofocus function from the Shutter button in Video Mode.
I used single shot AF at 9FPS to capture slower moving subjects.  OMD EM5, 7-14mm at 7mm, 1/2000, F/4.0, ISO 200.
Ok, so I'm a newbie at video, and I thought by reading the specs that the camera shoots at 60 FPS (frames per second) at 720p (a reduced resolution).  It doesn't.  It only shoots at 30FPS, even at 720p.  Shooting 60FPS is useful for the times you want to do a slow motion effect in the edit.  At 720p, the video just doesn't look good, probably because of the low bit rate.   I struggled with video until I finally figured this out (doh!) and have come to terms with this limitation.

#5.  Shoot video only at the highest resolution, ie.1080i, but note that it only shoots 30FPS.

The power switch is badly located.  It normally takes two hands to turn it on.   Climbing and biking are my main sports and I sometimes need to turn on the camera, shoot, and return the camera to its case with one hand.  There is a way to turn it on with one hand, and you need to hold the camera against the tension of the strap, and flick the power switch on and off with your thumb.  With an add-on grip, this is much easier to do.

#6. Learn how to turn on the EM5 with one hand.

Another neat trick: At 9 FPS, you can do a 'hand-held' HDR.  Olympus OMD EM5, 7-14mm, F/4.0, ISO 200, HDR with Photomatix Pro.
The rubber eyecup comes off too easily, and the replacements are not easy to come by.  I'm on my second one.  Either use a little epoxy (which will probably void your warranty) to keep it in place or keep a very close watch on that eyecup.

#7. Watch that rubber eyecup.

A grip improves the handling of the EM5.  There are at least four different grips for the EM5 on the market.  The original Olympus HLD-6 Grip, which comes in 2 parts, and is the most expensive, but probably the best in terms of feel, but blocks the battery compartment; the J.B. Grip, which is the cheapest, lightest and offers decent grip; and the grips from John Milich and Really Right Stuff.  At the time I got mine, the RRS grip was not yet available and I bought the grip from John Milich and am really happy with it.  Both of these grips have built-in quick release plates, which is a must for me.  The only time the grip comes off is if I'm not carrying a tripod with a quick release, and if I need to go really light.
John Milich Grips for the OMD Em5.  The Basic Grip is the lightest and is the one I use.  It's the one on the top.
#8. Get a grip.

Built-In Timelapse Function
The EM5 will do timelapse without any other equipment.  Well, nearly.  With a couple of rubber bands to hold down the shutter button while the 'anti-shock' function is engaged, you have timelapse function with a limited set of time intervals.  The Anti-Shock function is really a delayed shutter release function and is hidden away in the menu under Custom Function E.  I can use regular rubber bands to hold down the shutter button, which allows the camera to fire one delayed shot after another.  I can use regular rubber bands which grip my oversized shutter release button, but you can make a fat rubber band out of on old bicycle inner tube if regular rubber bands won't work.  I store my rubber band by wrapping it around my 7-14mm lens, which is what I use to shoot most of my time-lapses with.

#9. Stick a couple of Rubber Bands in your camera bag for a lightweight Timelapse Solution.

The start and ending timelapse sequences in the above video were shot using the rubber band technique.

Image Stabilization
The 5-axis image stabilization in the OMD EM5 is alien technology.  It's game changing and there's nothing else like it on the market.  But if you think it works great for still, for video, its amazeballs!  I can attach the camera to my GorillaPod Focus, splay out the two lower legs, curl the top leg over the top of the camera to make a handle and, voila!... A steadycam!  Well, not quite, but quite good, and for no extra weight or complexity of setting up a steadycam.  For a go 'fast and light' videographer, this is a big plus.  If I'm out without the Gorillapod, I can squat down, lock my elbows on my knees, and get away with 'tripod-ish' looking clips.  It's that good.

#10.  Image Stabilization Rocks!  It's the main reason I'm still with this camera!
New Year's Eve, Phuket, Thailand. OMD EM5, 20mm, F/1.7, 1/400, ISO 3200
In Closing...
I think if you're happy with the AF, which excels for still subjects, this is an awesome stills camera for photographers.  For video, it's mixed bag.  On the one hand, it's got that amazing stabilization, and on the other hand, it's let down by no choice of frame rates.

For me, a great camera is one which 'disappears' when I'm taking photos, and handling is instinctive.  With the OMD EM5, I have to think a lot about setting up the camera for the shot.  For now though, the ability to go 'fast and light' is invaluable, and I've come to terms with the OMD EM5 because at the end of the day, I still come back with great clips and shots.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sandman Hoggar Fatbike Review

'Instagramed' pic of my Sandman Hoggar
Is a fatbike a snowbike, and if so, what is a snow bike doing on a sunny, tropical island like Singapore?

What's a Fatbike?
A fatbike is a bike with a frame and fork designed to use tires around 4" or wider.  It requires wider rims, hubs, and bottom bracket. 

The Fatbike is an Adventure Bike
My interest in fatbikes peaked when a friend of mine, Joe Cruz, toured the length of South America on a fatbike, the extra floatation and traction from his 4" tires allowed him to ride on trails that a walker would find challenging.  That opened up my eyes to the types of trails I could ride with a fatbike, and to the endless possibilites of where I could take it.

Joe Cruz riding his fatbike in South America.  Photo © Tom Walwyn.
The Fatbike is a Trail Bike
Then it occurred to me that a fatbike might actually ride quite well on the local trails we have here in Singapore.  Because of our population density, our trails are heavily used, and because of continued riding during the rainy season, the trails are badly eroded, creating steep, loose-rutted conditions and exposing slippery wet roots and rock.  As a bonus, a fatbike distributes the weight over a bigger surface, and skids less (depending on how you ride it) and so may possibly contribute less to further trail damage and erosion.

Enter the Sandman Hoggar
When my wife sent me a video of the Sandman in action (below), I knew I had found my fatbike.  Not all fatbikes are designed to be snowbikes.  Sandman designed their bikes from the ground up to be trail bikes.  My Sandman Hoggar is a titanium frame that is designed to use and comes complete with a front suspension fork designed for fatbikes.

Why Sandman. from Martín Campoy on Vimeo.

Aesthetically, my size small Sandman Hoggar has very pleasing lines, with an upward curving top tube that transitions seamlessly into the seat stay.  I'm about 1.7m (5' 7") with a bike inseam of about 31", and once or twice, the top tube has gotten in the way of a dismounting on extremely steep descents, but mostly, standover clearance is not affected. 
Sandman sponsored rider, Milton Ramos, admiring his Sandman Hoggar.  Photo courtesy Sandman Bikes.
Sandman worked out a 'racers package' for me where I bought the bike, without a lot of the beefier (and heavier) All-Mountain parts.  My complete Sandman Hoggar weighs 13.2kg (29.1lbs) with Husker Du tires, ultralite tubes, Crank Bros Candy pedals, XT brakes, Sandman racing rear hub, and ultralightweight KCNC and Mt. Zoom parts from Conticomponents and XCRacer.  It's a racy setup, and light for a fatbike, especially for one with front suspension.

The 90mm travel suspension fork is made in Germany by Answer.  It's an upside down fork that uses a 20mm through axle.  It's stiff as hell, but is a bit of a pain to set up.  It's still fairly new, and has a lot of stiction.  I'm still experimenting running it with different pressures.
Gabriele Incuria borrowed a Hoggar and won the hardtail class of the Italian Superenduro series. Photo courtesy Sandman Bikes.
How does it ride?
Local bike guru, Poh Yu Seung took it for a spin and had this to say:

"Carves at high speed, nimble at low speed.  Flowy and instinctive.  It really opened up my eyes to what a well engineered fatbike can do." 

It's a well thought out fatbike.  Suspension might not be that important if you are using a fatbike as a snow bike, but for a trailbike, it is greatly improves handling, and Sandman is currently the only fatbike manufacturer to design a fatbike using front suspension.  As such, the Hoggar shines on most technical terrain, where I'm likely to be riding more cautiously - that includes anything loose, wet, slippery or big drops.

One reason why the Hoggar feels so agile is Sandman's choice to use lightweight 47mm trials rims on its wheels.  Although narrower, these are much lighter than the typical 65mm fatbike rim.  The narrow rims have the effect of 'rounding out' the tire profile, somewhat reducing bad tire manners that can be found on 'squarer profile' fat tires at low pressures.  It turns out that I can use ultralightweight 2.7" DH tubes which further reduce weight.  Narrow rims reduce float, so these may not be the best choice on snow, but for dirt, these are great compromise.

I keep hearing that fatbikes are 'fun', but nobody could really tell me what that 'fun' meant.  Having ridden the Hoggar for awhile, I can say that 'fun' translates into more confidence, less fear.   There's more traction in the tires, which means better grip over obstacles, and much more powerful braking on steep and scary descents.  The increased mass of spinning fat wheels increases gyroscopic force, which means more stability.  More grip, more stability equals more confidence, less fear.
Sandman sponsored rider, Milton Ramos, leading a stage at the Titan Desert Classic. Photo courtesy Sandman Bikes.
Fatbikes don't do well on anything long, smooth and flat or uphill - like a road.  Those fat tires have a lot of rolling resistance.  This can be minimized by using higher tire pressures.  If there's any such thing as a 'fast' fatbike, the Hoggar is it.  However, in general, fatbikes are just going to be slower to accelerate and require more effort to maintain speed on the flats than a conventional mountain bike.

If the Hoggar has a weakness, it's perhaps on climbs where I need to move my butt forward and off the saddle.  Sandman won't release the Hoggar's geometry numbers, but the seat tube and head tube angles look fairly slack.  That's great for ripping it up, but combine the slack geometry with the increased weight of the fatbike and rolling resistance from the tires, and I find that I'm working quite hard when I'm climbing. 

The Sandman has another trick up it's sleeve.  You can buy a 29er wheelset for it.  Say what?  Yes, since 4" fat tires on a 26" rim have basically the same diameter as a 29" rim/tire combination, you can equip your Sandman Hoggar with a 29er wheelset.  The Sandman does require a 165mm rear and 135mm front hub.  This gives you the option to run a lighter weight rig for the times when fat tires are not needed. Sandman has a sponsored rider (Milton Ramos) and he's been racing quite successfully on a Sandman Hoggar running a combination of fat and 29er wheels.  Having both a fat wheelset and a 29er wheelset increases the versatility of this bike.  Essentially, by using two wheelsets, you have two bikes: a front suspension fatbike, and a 29er hardtail.
Milton Ramos racing the Sandman Hoggar using a 29er wheelset.  Photo courtesy Sandman Bikes.
If you can't afford a second wheelset, but want to put in some road miles with the Sandman, you could do it with a fat road tire like the 26" Schwalbe Big Apple 2.35.  Those tires fit fine on the Sandman's 47mm 26" rim, but will lower the whole bike a bit, and quicken the steering. 

Who's the Sandman for?
I'll stick out my neck and say this is a near perfect trail bike for Singapore.   Our trails are also very short in length and we don't have big hills.  Our trails are also very loose, badly eroded, and often wet with slippery roots and logs, and no sticky mud.  

If you are the sort of person who dreads riding technical sections, give a Sandman a try.  However, if you are the sort of person who covets speed and loves being in the front of the pack; or who is struggling to keep up with the pack, this may not be the bike for you.  The Sandman is a great confidence booster, but comes with the cost of more rolling resistance requiring more power and energy to pedal.  

The Sandman is also a great choice for someone who wants one bike (but with two wheelsets) to do it all.  It can be a fatbike for the winter, or trail riding; and a 29er hartail for the summer or racing.

I love my Sandman Hoggar.  I love the way it looks, and how it rides on technical terrain.  I'm not fast and efficient on it, so if the ride is going to be long or fast, but not too technical, I ride my other bike.  If I had a second wheelset for it (ie, 29er wheelset), the Hoggar could be my only bike.

Sandman Bikes are available direct from
They come in sizes S through XL, and some models are available in a custom XS.

Disclosure: Although I paid full price for my Sandman Hoggar, Sandman did subsidize my shipping cost.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bullet Proof Your Coffee. It's AMAZEBALLS!!!

Taken with an iPhone 4s, edited on Snapseed.

How do you bulletproof your coffee?  Well, the exact recipe from the person who coined the term is here.  Basically, it's taking a double expresso, add an equal amount of water, add two tablespoons of unsalted butter, and/or a healthy portion of coconut oil, and then blending the concoction until you get a creamy head of foam, much like a latte.

Dave Asprey is the man behind the bulletproof diet, which is basically built on the 'Paleo' or 'Caveman' diet.  On a trip to Tibet, he tried Yak Butter Tea, which is what the Tibetans and Sherpas drink in the mornings for energy.  If you've never tried it, it's more like soup than tea, and is most certainly an acquired taste.  Instead of putting butter in tea, he used coffee, and the taste is much more palatable.

Fresh roasted coffee has natural oils, which gives good coffee its rich flavor and texture.  So the added butter (it has to be unsalted) just adds a creamy 'feel' to the coffee.  Adding coconut oil does change the flavor the coffee, and it may not be to everyone's taste.

Why bulletproof your coffee?  Well, Asprey says it can promote brain function, memory, and energy levels.  Asprey's idea is that you have this cup of coffee for breakfast, and nothing else, which kind of trains the body to burn fat for fuel.  If you can do that, Asprey says you'll lose weight, and it leaves you feeling lean, focused and energized.  It's an interesting idea, and I'm attempting to move towards it... slowly.  Although I've bulletproofed my morning cup of coffee (and enjoy it that way), I still eat my bacon, eggs, and a banana with it!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Nuns and Shwedagon Temple, Yangon, Myanmar.  Olympus OMD EM5, 7-14mm.
Am I a photographer or videographer?  I'm struggling to make the best of both, but although I have the equipment to shoot both, sometimes the moment to shoot occurs just once and I have to decide: Do I go for the still shot, or video capture?

Rarely do I get the opportunity to shoot both, and the above shot is one of those rare moments.  The video capture of the shot above can be seen near the end of the video below, from 4:50 - 4:54.  The pigeon flying across the screen makes the clip work in an otherwise static scene.

I think the motion capture offers a lot more than the photograph above.  However, it's a lot harder to get someone to watch 5 minutes of video, versus a couple of seconds to view the photo above.  

Myanmar Bike Trip from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.
In March 2013, I had the opportunity to travel with the Singapore Cycling Federation to join the Singapore National Mountain Biking team in Myanmar (Burma) as part of their preparation for the South East Asian Games later that year. This is a little video of that trip shot with the Olympus OMD EM5, Gopro HD2, and iPhone 4s.

Photos work better in the blog, plus I make some pocket money selling my photos.  But as a novice filmmaker, I don't get anything out of making videos, other than the fun and the challenge.  I don't want to give up one, but I'm not sure I can do both successfully.

If there's someone reading this who can offer up some pointers or techniques to shoot both video and stills, I would appreciate if you could  post your advice to comments.