Monday, 23 February 2015

CHF Swiss Franc Appreciation & Impact to Watch Lovers

Will the independent brands feel the brunt a bit more for this? Well, maybe some more than others...
for those that don't move(sell) so easily, retailers may not want to hold too much stock pending assessments
of what they have to pay to restock from all the other more mainstream brands they carry
Why did the Swiss National Bank(SNB) take away the CHF1.20 : 1 EUR currency peg on 15 Jan 15 which it had in place since 2011(when financial markets were in turmoil and folks were buying up CHF as a safe currency and they didn't want it to skyrocket)? 

The SNB had been printing a lot of CHF and buying up EUR to hold the peg and the trigger was a potential further depreciation of the EUR due to suspected Quantitative Easing('QE') by the Eurozone. For info on what QE is about LINK [QE not to be confused with HRM Queen Elizabeth II yuh ;) ]. The short short version is the government printing money and buying local institutions' financial assets/bonds resulting in all sorts of bond price(increase), yield(decrease) and currency pressures(depreciation). A simplistic way to look at it is if they had maintained the peg, the CHF could be even more significantly undervalued vs other key currencies and they would be sitting on a lot of increasingly lower value EUR. 

The SNB's fears weren't unfounded as a little time later, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, has announced that he will pump €1.1tn at a rate of €60bn (£46bn) a month into financial markets until September 2016, in an attempt to prevent the fragile eurozone economy from grinding to a halt.

What has happened since? 

Wild swings in the currency. at one point in the day's trading, it's value had fallen by 40% which is crazy if u have ever traded currency to just CHF0.85443 : 1 EUR !! movements are normally talked about in bps(pronounced bips like how you say pips and is also called pip :) and stands for basis point which is 0.01% or 1/100th of a percent or 0.0001. It closed that day at a less crazy CHF 0.9941 : 1 EUR but still mind staggering. Now several weeks later, it's ranging in the CHF1.067-1.071 : 1 EUR range. 

What the... 

Watch Groups like Richemont and Swatch will have pressures to increase prices unless it can
be absorbed by their regular increase or if they haven't done their regular increase and can now factor this in 
Why is it significant for the Swiss and what does it mean for Swiss based watch companies with most of their production in Switzerland? 

Switzerland's economy is heavily reliant on making stuff in Switzerland [notice 'Swiss Made' on the dial of your pricey luxury watch? :) ] and selling 'em abroad. The exports of goods and services is over 70% of Swiss GDP. So if it gets more expensive to make stuff in Switzerland from the eyes of folks outside of it and wanting to buy Swiss goods, the cost of those goods go up. 

Hence most folks expect the watch prices to rise and some brands have had increases like Audemars Piguet (Regular increase in Jan 2015 and the increase to factor the CHF rise in Feb 2015). Rolex has not announced any change as yet as they aren't releasing stock to their dealers but will probably fix the price levels with the issuance of new stock to their authorised dealers. 

AP increased prices... Rolex is thinking hard about what it should be I think

Patek has very interestingly gone contrarian and decreased prices. yup all these watches are cheaper now
right move or wrong move? time will tell... their customers who bought just before the decrease should be 
upset though and rightly so
of note to me, especially coming from my recent comparos of the audemars piguet royal oak 15202 extra thin 40th anniversary piece and the patek philippe nautilus jumbo 5711 LINK1 LINK2 is that with AP increases and PP decreases, their price is now almost on par! AP at S$31,800 and PP at S$31,900. 

Same same... but different ;)

we'll see what the coming months bring for the other brands on price changes, impacts to retail or dealer discounts and the end consumer. cheers, raph

Fuji X100S & X-T1 Review

DISCLAIMER: Everything in this post, nay this site, is my point of view, unless we're talking about specs and for that, they are what they are. if i say i like the look of a processed image more than another, no one can tell me i am wrong as it's just a matter of taste and entirely subjective :) i am not a professional photographer but have taken my fair share of watch shots(see the rest of this site) and have had my watch pics in magazines. i am mostly a jpeg shooter and prefer to do minimal post processing. what is acceptable differs from one to another and what one shoots differs from one to another so this is just based on my standards and what i shoot. thanks. 

'poised' [X100S, A=2.8 ISO=200 S=1/80" ]
original pic size is 4896*3264 and i have resized it to 800*534 here. 
original settings for this pic: A=2.8 ISO=200 S=1/80"
and crop from around the centre at 100%
another original pic from this set resized to 800*534 here. 
original settings for this pic: A=2.8 ISO=200 S=1/75"
and 100% crop not from the centre but close to it
so after reading loads of rave reviews of the fuji x100s and none more entertaining than this one by Zack Arias LINK and some great pix and thoughts of it here LINK i decided to rent it from camera rental centre LINK which has a pretty sweet deal of renting it for a week for S$67. this is great to find out just how good it is and if i want to spend $ to pick up one used which is going for about S$700-900 on clubsnap forums right now[feb/mar 2015]. oh and after the X100s rental i also rented the XT-1 to see how it stacked up to the X100S and if it could be a replacement for my current gear.


all the settings you need... well except iso... 
not so for the X-T1 which has most everything you might need to shoot on easily accessible dials

Other gear i own for taking pics(in order of ease of carrying): 
- Phone Camera: iPhone 5s 
- Compact: panasonic lx7
- Micro four thirds: Panasonic gx1 and 20mm f1.7 (a wonderful pancake lens) & a kit zoom [in mar 2015, added the 45mm f2.8 leica panasonic macro lens ]
- DSLR: nikon d90 and range of lenses [key ones being Nikon 35mm f1.8D and Nikon 105mm f2.8D]

i took some shots and some head to heads of the Fuji vs the gx1 and d90 over the course of the rental windows to draw some of my conclusions. most of these comparo pics aren't shared as they're not great and boring static shots. anyhow, some of my preferred shots from the X100s follow.

tea for two
(note: i am not buddhist just that i chanced upon a Buddhist temple)
see food
have a break
art imitates life
lovely Diya, meter maid
original pic size is 4896*3264 and i have resized it to 800*534 here. 
original settings for this pic: A=2 ISO=400 S=1/100"
and 100% crop not from the centre. this is a bit soft at f2
but still pretty good. u can pull the number from the plate
a stroll (af didn't do the job for this or it could be me :)
why can't i ever get a cab? 
original settings for this pic: A=5.6 ISO=200 S=1/480"
and 100% crop not from the centre which looks pretty sharp to me

Key Personal Findings - Plus
  • The sensor is pretty amazing to me. sharp, great amount of details captured and high ISO shots are very usable. very good dynamic range and the noise with NR turned down low on the camera produces usable to me 3,200(native) ISO pics. Actually the 6,400 is quite ok as well which is pretty cool. 
  • It's almost totally silent. It won't make a racket for both the focusing and taking shots. the electronic shutter is silent but is subject to rolling shutter considerations. can be used in quiet places and where u don't want a loud sound when taking pics(eg concerts, libraries and such)
  • 35mm is a great fixed focal length to me :)
  • good lcd screen, ovf and evf
Minus (or stuff if they added would make this an immediate buy)
  • BIGGEST MINUS: AF is not the best(doesn't hit the mark all the time) or fastest [Understand the X100T has the fastest accurate AF vs X100S and XT-1]
  • fixed focal length is limiting but we already knew that picking this up... 
  • the exposure dial gets moved easily. i bumped it a few times and was wondering why my shots were over or under exposed each time... 
  • when in auto, shutter maxes out at 1/1000 for f2.0 which is not too good and requires you to turn on the ND filter in bright sunlight. i may have not learned all the settings though so this might be an issue that i could have rectified going through manuals and menus. [upped to 1/32000 in X100T which is kinda overkill but if you want to shoot the sun wide open :) ]
  • no display of the enlarged focus area on the optical viewfinder [Introduced in X100T as ERF]
  • Wifi to smart devices [Introduced in X100T]
  • there's a bit of a lag with the evf so what you take may not be what you get but you can use the ovf if needed [Understand the X100T has minimal lag]
  • not pocketable for this(and the XT1) ~ if this could be miniaturised to fit a work pants pocket it would be off the hook! A LOT of folks out there recommend the ricoh gr if size is a main consideration for an APS-C sensor camers. [what i don't like about the Ricoh GR just based on what's out there (i) not too hot AF in low light (ii) may be a bit too wide (iii) heard the jpgs aren't that great which is a problem for me (iv) not pretty like the X100T ;) ]
Other Considerations & Conclusion
  • Interchangeable lenses would be a bit of a stretch and having a range of cheap & fast & light & excellent quality primes ;) - I guess the X-T1 is meant to be this but it is lacking in some respects vs the X100 series impo]
  • Touch screen & touch screen focusing, LCD that can flip all over :)
  • What is great about this camera is that it makes you want to go out and do street photography. DSLR gear will just give people more cause for concern. this is small and silent.
  • It makes me want to try the X-T1 which is why i went out and rented that and that then made me think about the X100T... 
ISO Test: My GX1 at 1600 
vs the X100s at 3200... they look almost the same

So the X-T1 is next to have to put through it's paces... i got it with the 35mm f1.4 and the 18(f2.8)-55(f4) kit zoom over the Chinese New Year period so it's mostly family shots as i was too busy to do much of anything else other than house visits and reunion dinners and such. Some of my fave family shots with the X-T1 follow: 

Chinese New Year Family Shots: Wife and Sis
Chinese New Year Family Shots: Sis-in-law and Nephew
Chinese New Year Family Shots: Dad and Nephew
a pano i took on the weekend... it(or i) didn't take it well. small sized file and u can see lines(banding?) across the image
some lights for the heck of it
  • Lots of knobs on top for setting stuff which is great. stiff and some with locks so you won't knock any of them to different settings too(unlike the exposure knob on X100s) which is good.
  • Electronic shutter is silent (but there is a rolling shutter issue which interestingly i didn't get on the X100S). regular shutter is louder than X100S.
  • Wifi connection and app is very nice. i had some issues connecting initially but after 5mins got it up.
  • Good for non-flash portrait/people photography in good light.
  • Good for street photography to a degree... except for the focusing noise ~ tilting lcd and phone app control could help in more challenging shots though
  • Focusing is noisy unlike the X100S (and X100T)
  • Autofocus for me had a fair number of misses. This in bright sunlight. AF wasn't consistent and I am not sure if it could have been a body or lens issue for the rental set i got.  
  • Rolling shutter issue happened on a fair bit of shots I took and i have a fair number of warped shots(see an exaggerated eg pic below)
  • Sharpness and high ISO doesn't seem as good as the X100S 
  • the fast lenses are big. the small-ish pancake primes are the 27mm f2.8 (which is not as fast as the great lens on the X100S/T) and the more promising pancake 18mm f2 which costs Us$400
X-t1 rolling shutter... rolling rolling rolling...

My Conclusion
  • For me, the Fuji X-T1 wasn't as fun as the X100S and didn't feel special somehow even with the 35mm f1.4 prime and the versatility of the kit zoom lens. it feels like a lesser camera overall due to points above especially noting the AF issues.  
  • The XT1, in my view, can't match up to a do-it-all versatile DSLR that can do sports(bodies with blazing AF and good quality captures with high fps), flash photography(based on what folks have mentioned about it's flash system) so that takes out product shots, studio shots etc, wedding day photography with a lot of differing lighting situations. It is not a Canon/Nikon DSLR replacement impo and so the question is, is it a good complement for certain types of photography? For me the answer is 'no' especially considering the prices of getting the body with decent set of prime lenses. it will burn a decent hole in the pocket. just referencing b&h the price of XT1 body alone is US$1.4k. the 23mm f1.4 is US$749, pancake 27mm f2.8 is US$300, pancake 18mm f2 is Us$400. [unlike some pro reviewers who get free gear to keep after their reviews, i fall into the bucket of the majority of folks who actually pay for these things and have to assess the costs vs alternatives]
  • The X100T is most likely the Fujifilm camera for me as it improves on some of the niggles that i have for the excellent X100S but I'm in no rush to get one and will pick one up when they drop to a more wallet friendly price on the pre-owned market. Note: Retail price for X100S is S$1,599 and X100T is S$1,799 (not factoring any retailer discounts if any). For the X100S as noted, it's selling for S$700-900 in the secondary market. 
  • My advice(for this n most/all pricey camera gear): Rent and try it out and decide for yourself before u buy this vs gear u hv or alternatives u r considering. Everyone enjoys  different stuff when it comes to photography so give it a go before plonking down good money for it. [i will be renting the X100T at some stage to assess if it's a definite buy but no rush on this as i wait for prices to become more wallet friendly :) ]
i did do some walkabout shoots with the GX1 and the fantastic 20mm f1.7(which is just about work pants pocketable which is a HUGE plus for it) and i do like some of the results(some mixed shots of stuff) maybe i'll just stick with what i have and do a lil rehab for the bad case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) i seem to be afflicted with ;) 

the eye
life finds a way

signing off then and hope this was of help to hobbyist photographers like myself :) cheers, raph

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Ronin Singapore Review Scrambled Eggs for some damn good eatin

OT Non watch post / Foodie post: Some of The Best Scrambled Eggs can be found around the Clarke Quay area :)

I was thinking of doing a head to head of comparing scrambled eggs breakfast sets from various places but decided against that as there are too many places(so many cafes pop up and many disappear in Singapore these days) that probably vie for egg champion so i will keep this simple. Ronin has, on a good day for the folks making it, some of the best scrambled eggs i have had(and i've had my fair share). At the end of this post, I have noted and will continue to grow the list of the places i have gone and tried the eggs and coffee at. All subjective views of course as u know what they say about one man's meat... 

note that sometimes the young cooks there may have an off day and the scrambled eggs might not be up to par as my first visit there when they were HEAVENLY, 2nd visit was so-so [eg the 2nd visit eggs would rank below toby's estate's eggs(see short short review at the end of this post] but i'm willing to go back to Ronin and try it again and again and hope for it hitting the high note of that first visit)

the place: 17 Hong Kong Street, Ronin's entrance is the glass door on the right of the pic
Oda clan perhaps... hmm... no signboard with their name on it, just the light on the side with a clan crest
grab the bull by the horns! i like this wire art piece hanging in there
and we come to the lovely food... first up the wonderful scrambled eggs with  good toast and 
hearty sausage & bacon... oh yeah
followed by brioche french toast with apple(i had my bacon on the side)... yummilicious
washed down with a wicked looking elixir...a mint mocha concoction called uhm 'wicked' :)
Menu for what else is on offer... may try the matcha-tone drink the next time
IMPORTANT NOTE: Bring cash as it's the only mode of payment there
some shots of the interior
a young and happy crew at work & pleased customers coz of the fine food and drinks :)
and we'll end of with one of my fave shots on my 1st visit when
scrambled eggs nirvana was served up on my plate

one of the reasons i may be going to Ronin again soon is because i rent cameras to try out from the camera rental centre which is just a couple of mins walk away from there. looking forward to a good meal from there again :) do give em a try if u're up for some good eggs but if they don't turn out to be ze very best it may be cause their maker is having an off day and definitely don't come blaming me as taste varies person to person :) come to think of it, it's better if u set your expectations low and if it's good to great that day than it's a bonus. cheers, raph


The above was compared to recently tasted eggs from: 

Category 1: Good eggs and will happily have 'em again if I'm there 
(i) Toby's Estate - Excellent scrambled eggs and breakfast set. Good taste of all elements on the plate and good texture for the eggs.  
(ii) Club Street social - Excellent scrambled eggs set with nice cheese in the egg and very nice rye toast bread. the pork sausage got the job done. 

toby's estate... very good breakfast eggs set

club street social... very nice... will try some of their paninis the next time
Category 2: I would order something else if i ever find myself there again 
(ii) Sarnie's - Pretty sad, watery and not so great texture to the scrambled eggs
(iii) Jewel Coffee - Over buttery and runny textured scrambled eggs. the toast is simple plain white bread toast. 
(iv) Common man coffee roasters - Tasteless with a not so great texture on the eggs. Pretty weak breakfast set that i didn't finish. ok coffee but i'd skip going back there... 

no... just... no... the plate had a layer of 'i don't know what' that had oozed 
out of what passes for food 

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