eXtensions -Sunday 2 September 2018


Taking the Cameras out for Some Exercise: Planning a Quick Run to Mahachai

By Graham K. Rogers


With a delivery of film this week (10 rolls of Ilford Pan F Plus) and good weather on Saturday, so many good examples of photographs online, and no Motorcycle racing on TV this Sunday, I thought it was about time I took the cameras out for some exercise.


I intended to take the Hasselblad of course, but this time I wanted to use the 50mm Distagon lens, rather than the 85mm lens I also have. As well as 5 rolls of the ISO 50 Ilford film, I readied 3 rolls of ISO 400 Rollei film and a couple of Ilford rolls (ISO 125 and 400). Although I have a prismatic viewfinder for the Hasselblad, I have never really liked this and prefer the "waist-level" viewer, although I tend to bring this up to my eye.

Of course I also took the Nikon D850 and as I had not tried my Sigma 100-400 telephoto lens down at Mahacahai, that was my intended destination, although things did not work out quite as I had hoped. I go to Mahacahai 3 or 4 times a year and it is always vibrant. The telephoto lens should have given me some better shots of birds on the river - especially the egrets - while it might also have been useful at the mangrove plantation that I have yet to visit. The weather stopped that.


While it was fine in Bangkok on Saturday, a check of the Weather app suggested that there could be some rain in the early afternoon: that was spot on. Another app I find useful is LightTrac. For most of all the time I intended to be there, the sun was shown as in the south. Remember that for some of the year here, it is overhead, while for a short period each year, the sun is north of us, although it is high in the sky.

The odd thing is how fast the sun moves round, despite its high elevation and this makes the app useful some days, although heavy cloud evened out the light. This week, for example, most movement is between 11am and 2pm when the angle goes from 103° round to 260° with an elevation from 75°, up to 85° (12:15) then down to 65°. The angles and elevations may make a difference to photographs, necessitating a change of position.

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The trip out

Sunday morning was fine, with some really crisp sunlight. Experience tells me that what happens before 7am has no relevance to later in any day, particularly in the rainy season. I was ready in plenty of time for the 10:25 inbound train and wandered down to the station area where I took a few photographs with the Hasselblad: I wanted to use up some Portra film I had. I also took several with the Nikon and the Sigma lens. The train was late and it took a further ten minutes for the trip to the end of the line and back. While waiting I switched to the 50mm lens which I knew was better for shots from a moving train.


The carriages were unusually full for the mid-morning train and I noticed how the platforms were packed when the train disembarked at Mahachai. Not long before we arrived there was a train problem: although the diesel engines were working, power was not being generated it seemed. It took a smoky five minutes before there was enough traction to take us to the terminus. I wondered if this was a recurring problem that had caused the earlier lateness.


Mahachai and beyond

I switched back to the telephoto lens at Mahachai for some shots of the station area, then walked out of the station into the packed market streets. Although photographs taken with the Hasselblad were easy enough, the Sigma was clearly the wrong lens for the conditions in the streets, with may people walking slowly together, compressed by a few passing cars.


This meant I was unable to have any clear view of potential subjects. In the past, I have had some good results with the 85mm lens, which was at home) and of course the 50mm lens which I tried on the way back. I did manage one or two reasonable photographs.


I stopped in at the noodle shop I always use and was recognised by the owner, but there was none of the delicious chunky pork she usually has. When I asked she told me she had run out. I rarely go on Sunday, so I must make sure that midweek is pencilled in for next time: the streets would be quieter too. After eating, I walked along the remodelled promenade which is now of fairly sterile concrete. Thais have a habit of improving and modernising which usually removes what was attractive about a scene in the first place.


The tide was going out so there was a fast flow of water in the river that was also taking with it some of the water hyacinth clumps that clog waterways all over Thailand. The only benefit is that it makes a convenient mid-river landing spot for aquatic birds such as the egrets, although initially few were about.

The telephoto lens was not bringing me in as close as I wanted for the shots of the birds, so I tried the ferry and had a little more success, although I ended up culling most of the shots I took here and a little later once I had crossed the river.


I took several photographs of ships and fishing boats moored on both banks. Crossing the river allows a totally different perspective of course. On the Tha Chaloem side, I hired a pedalo from one of the guys I had used before. At 61 years old, there is not an ounce of fat on him and he is able to pedal the bike, its seat and me, with relative ease. As we pulled away, another driver I had also used in the past expressed some disappointment. After all, it may be the only income of the day, which is why now I always hire one of these guys to take me around.

As time was short, and the clouds were gathering as predicted, I just asked for an abbreviated trip: every time he suggested a temple or a building (all of which I have seen many time before), I waved him on until we arrived at a stretch of road by the river which gave me a clear view. I spent about 10-15 minutes here and then we moved on.

I had taken several shots with the Nikon plus Sigma setup while in the pedalo, but once I imported these to the Mac, I trashed most of them. The image stabilization, which is usually quite good, was unable to compete with the suspension of the pedalo. Perhaps I was being over-ambitious, but another lesson was learned.

One of the features of many town centres in Thailand is a clock, usually in the center of an intersection. Unfortunately, in another example of questionable modernisation, the dial with its Roman numerals has been replaced by a digital display: red on grey, which looks awful.

The trip back

The pedalo driver dropped me off at the ferry and I paid him, with a generous tip. A ferry pulled in and everyone moved to the landing stage. The bikes and pedestrians disembarked, but this boat was going out of service. Of course, the rain began to fall. It only took a couple of minutes for another boat to arrive, but I had raised my umbrella. By the time we arrived at the Mahachai side, the rain had stopped, but the clouds suggested more was on the way.


I walked back towards the station, but this time tried the 50mm lens. I learned another lesson about trying to shoot from the hip: I need more practice and only a couple of shots were worth considering. The trip back on the train was reasonable, but I confirmed for myself that this line is again in need of much maintenance, with speed restrictions in a couple of places and some heavy rolling at times. As the whole of this part of Thailand is part bog, the heavy rains this year are adding to the natural subsidence.

At home I spent a short while drinking fluids while the images were downloaded to the computer. I now tend to use a direct camera to computer link with the microB to USB-C cable and this is quite fast. All of the images were then exported to the SSD drive I use for the purpose of archiving. On the Mac there were 279 images (I had already deleted a couple of road surface shots) and once imported I deleted more than half, leaving just under 120 photographs. I will almost certainly delete some more as I go through some more close editing over the next day or so.



I learned a couple of lessons about choosing lenses for a given situation and showed myself that instincts may not always be right. I have used the telephoto lens in central Bangkok with relative success, but crowded streets mean that those close to the camera will block the view and a more flexible approach with the lens choice is better. 100mm at the low end meant that I did not have the view width to work effectively, something that even the 85mm would have given me.

In addition to the DSLR I also took a few images with the iPhone X, using Halide which gives me RAW images, although these are considerably smaller than those from the D850. I also used three rolls of film which I will have developed later. I will then scan the negatives. I find this more satisfying than having the shop do this. It is also more convenient as I am unable to use the disks these days (modern Macs do not have optical drives) and end up asking for help, when the Canon 9000F scanner does exactly what I want.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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