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May 26, 2008

Back from the Philippines

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 4:35 am
Pufferfish and soft corals on Ducomi Pier

I’m finally back from the Philippines and what a great trip that was. Being in the KLM aircraft was already a cultural shock with such a crappy crew.

Nonetheless, exception of this intense Dutch cultural shock the stay in the Philippines was awesome and certainly beats Sulawesi in term of reef richness especially as we have only been scratching the surface of it. Special thanks to our Pinoy friends: Doy Tan, Adrien Uichico (who also happen to manage the resort Dive Solana and has some absolutely amazing shots) and lovely Cris for her contagious smile.

When arriving in Manila, courtesy of Doy and Cris I had the opportunity to taste some locale delicacies such as pork cheeks, tuna stomach, raw squids and fish, chicken liver and other things I forgot but left me the next day with still a very distinctive taste in the mouth (I have to say I’ll pass on the raw squid next time or dip that in a proper sauce). Certainly worth doing again next time I’m going to Manila.

A couple of other interesting experience in a bar in Makati and a night in Dumaguete. It’s also very disconcerting to have that many girls giggling and telling you you’re guapo everywhere you go and not exactly shy. Good for the ego I guess. Will consider relocating to the Philippines later.

Our first week in Dauin was altered by the rest of a typhoon which in essence meant bad weather, choppy sea, bad visibility but the house-reef has enough critters to keep you busy for hundred of dives. The next week was much better with sun and good visibility (wide angle shots on the Ducomi Pier were taken with 20+m viz).

About the full KLM experience: No greetings when boarding the plane, appalling service where the hostesses would have happily throw you the drinks in your face, they throw more items on the floor than I have ever seen: water, bread, cans, juice, coffee, … and how shocking to see grumpy 6′ hostesses walking like farmers when you’ve been in the Philippines.

When arriving in Schiphol the train to Leiden was not working and was replaced by a bus service… little did they forget that people actually coming from an international airport do have baggages and it could help to have bus where there is room for baggages. Witnessing the NS staff chatting while retired people try to put their baggage in a bus and insulting them in return when people complain it’s a crappy service is beyond believes.

Quick summary of the underwater shoot-out with the D80

Filed under: Philippines,Travels — stephane @ 4:17 am
Pink Anemonefish

This was the first trip underwater with a DSLR rig. Needless to say it is quite a change compared to the Olympus 5050, not only by the fact I need to carry an extra 10kg of gear containing housing, dome, ports, lenses, strobes, arms, chargers, batteries and whatever spare parts which happens to always be the one you don’t actually need.

The case (Kata OC-84) with the underwater gear was about 12-15kg while my backpack was having the laptop, the lenses (Sigma 105, Nikon 12-24, Nikon 10.5, Nikon 18-135), the D80 and the Hartenberger torch.

On the list of notable points during this trip:

  • I forgot my Inon adapters in a bag at home and realized this in Puerto Galera. Thanks to Doy and Adrien, they sent me one pair from Manila and it arrived the next day.
  • Forgot to change the auto ISO settings and only looked at the pictures after the 2nd day. It was constantly picking up ISO 1600 when shooting (low-light focus), so needless to say that most pictures are all very grainy and not quite usable with a few exceptions. I switched later to put ISO 200 as a maximum in order to get some extra stops and save strobe batteries.
  • Getting used to the DSLR viewfinder underwater despite the magnifier takes a bit of time compared to the P&S live view on the LCD. It takes a bit of trial and error to do perfect composition, in extreme macro shot sometimes you shoot what you think is perfectly composed and you’re actually off and have 1/3 full of negative space
  • The Fantasea focus light does not quite have a sufficiently large beam and sometimes on tiny dark subjects I was fighting to position the beam properly. A larger beam and also a more flexible arm would be welcome.
  • The Sigma 105 macro with an Anthias wet diopter was great. The Sigma is however a bit slow to focus and sometimes a bit hunting in low light and focus on black or very dark object is next to impossible without larger focus light (see above). The 105 was giving extra range when shooting shy medium-size objects (think small cuttlefish) and the diopter was cutting the focal distance when doing close-up macro.
  • I missed the Nikon 60mm macro. I borrowed it from Bob from time to time and it is sharp and _very_ fast to focus. Per Bob’s recommendation only buy the old lens version and not the VR one as even with the VR disabled the focus is slow. The 60mm allows very close focus and is nice for full frame fish (I cannot fit a giant frogfish into the 105 for instance)
  • Wide angle was much more difficult than anticipated and had my share of surprise between bad focus, dirty dome on the corners, dome shade badly positioned (nice curves on the corner with the 10.5mm). Only did 5 dives with wide angle. 3 dives with the 12/24 on Apo Island (deleted everything) and 2 dives with the 10.5mm on Ducomi Pier (a few keepers)
  • The 10.5mm port is now stuck into the dome and need to find a key to remove it. I broke a low-profile pad on the housing while trying to unscrew it.
  • The Nikon D80 is hyper-sensitive for sunburst and not quite useless but is far away from the Fuji S5 rendition.
  • It takes time to get used to the dive being a ‘one-lens’ type of dive. With the P&S you’re used to switch between a macro lens, a wide angle or nothing with the subjects you encounter, here you mostly have to move on or be creative in a different way. Not much you can do when you’re actually next to a large green turtle and you have the 105mm on.

I’m contemplating going back to the Philippines end of this summer (low-season) for more practice :)

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