#580. Singapore and Penang with Sony’s E-mount

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Apr 07

Readers rejoice, as here is a second great article on photography in Asia by Adrian Turner. If you’ve missed it, you can read his well-received Travel Portraits article here. And now, here is part 2, sent in echo to a similar post featured here a year ago. Lovely photographs and interesting texte. Thanks for the super effort Adrian !!


Last year Dear Susan featured a rolling review of Fuji’s X-Pro 2 by Paul Perton whilst he travelled in Singapore and Penang. It piqued my interest because I had visited both places at around the same time as his article, and also because I had previously owned a Fuji X-Pro 1.

Some cameras can quickly feel like a trusted friend, others take time to earn your respect, but the relationship with my X-Pro 1 ultimately ended up feeling like a failed romance. I had been seduced by its beckoning dials and classic styling that reminded me so much of my much-loved Konica Hexar AF, but in the end it was a modern AF camera that failed to rise to the many challenges I’d given it.


Singapore Penang (c) 2016 A7ii + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 1/320s f11 ISO100


I had travelled through Singapore and Penang with my Sony E mount system. Looking at Paul’s pictures it was obvious that as well as using different camera systems, we also took very different photographs and had a different eye for a picture, so the photographs here are my response to his visit.


A7ii + FE16-35mm f4 ZA 0SS 1/320s f11 ISO100


I had first visited Singapore almost 10 years ago as a short stop over, but returning in 2016 revealed the pace at which parts of the city have changed. The new areas of the city on reclaimed land around the bay provide what have rapidly become some of the most iconic tourist views of the Singapore skyline. At night there is a kind of theatricality with lasers and light shows on the Marina Bay Sands hotel and at the artificial “Super-trees” in the Gardens by the Bay. Singapore often feels like it is sponsored by a large multi-national management consultancy, as it has a kind of corporate-sponsored artistry that is pleasant, but slightly plastic. It’s probably a reflection of Singapore’s role as a tourist hub in South East Asia, attracting all kinds of international visitors, and as the regional base for large multi-national financial service companies who do business in Asia.


A7 + FE16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 1/60s f11 ISO100


My Sony A7 and A7mk2 with its 24Mp full frame sensor may not have the attention grabbing 42Mp specification of its A7Rii brother, but it offers excellent dynamic range to cope with the high contrast light of daytime South East Asia, and the demands of night-time photography around the city. The new parts of the city offer an endless array of picture perfect views, almost as if designed to be photogenic, and it became a pleasure to walk around the bay in the evening. It brought out a new rigor in my photography, planning locations and then returning later with a tripod to capture views of some of the more recognisable parts of the city.


A7ii + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 2s f11 ISO100

A7 + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 20s f16 ISO200

A7ii + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 25s f11 ISO100

A7 + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 1/30s f7.1 ISO800

A7ii + FE 16-35mm F$ ZA OSS 13s f11 ISO100


Although often stereotypically thought of as “Chinese”, Singapore’s culture and religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, and the street culture and temples in different districts reflect this. The names of the areas give a fairly obvious indication of what is there – “Chinatown”, “Arab Street” and “Little India” – with different architecture and culture in each.


A7 + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 1/30s f7.1 ISO800

A7 + FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS 1/125s f11 ISO100

A7ii + FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS 1/30s f11 ISO200

A7 + FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS 1/60s f11 ISO1000


I normally use a Sony A7s for night-time and available light work, although in Singapore’s often sterile streets it didn’t get a great deal of use, apart from around the city’s “Little India” district, one of the few areas I found that had a genuine atmosphere, the small streets busy with locals who were mostly more than happy to have their picture taken.


A7 + FE 55mm f1.8 ZA OSS 1/80s f4.5 ISO100

A7 + FE 90mm f2.8 G Macro 1/100s f4.5 ISO320

A7s + FE 55mm f1.8 ZA 1/60s f1.8 ISO4000

A7ii + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 1/20s f7.1 ISO1250


Georgetown on Penang island couldn’t be more different to Singapore, as a large part of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The town is atypical of Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, as Georgetown is famous for being home to a large Chinese Malaysian community. It remains little changed from colonial times, and the architecture reflects a curious mix of influences, with rows of traditional Chinese shop houses and western colonial civic buildings. Since Penang has one of Malaysia’s largest Chinese communities, the island is home to Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in the country. It is situated at the top of a small hill on the outskirts of the city, and reached by an unreasonable number of steps given the island’s relentless humidity.


A7 + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA 1/125s f11 ISO100

A7 + FE 90mm f2.8 Macro 1/100s f13 ISO640

A7ii + FE 24-70 f4 ZA 1/60s f11 ISO160

A7 + FE 35mm f1.4 ZA 1/1250s f2 ISO100

A7 + FE 90mm f2.8 Macro 1/100s f13 ISO1600

A7 + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA 1/160s f16 ISO100

A7 + FE24-70mm f4 ZA OSS 0.6s f11 ISO100


Like Singapore, the local community is a mixture of Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu, so every street corner offers a different temple and matching street food. Along the quayside the coastal road is lined with Chinese wooden “clan houses” on jetties out over the water, at a main intersection is the city’s main mosque, and nearby is a thriving Indian community who are centered around another “Little India”. Again, the small streets were a treasure trove for serendipitous discovery, and my A7s came into its own at night as I used it for available light street photography and portraits.


A7s + FE55mm f1.8 ZA 1/100s f1.8 ISO100

A7s + FE35mm f1.4 ZA 1/60s f5.6 ISO10000

A7s + FE 55mm f1.8 ZA 1/80s f2.8 ISO1600

Aii + Zeiss Batis 85 f1.8 1/30s f2.8 ISO640

A7s + FE 16-35mm f4 ZA 3.2s f11 ISO100

A7 + FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS 1-30s f5.6 ISO1000


Towards the end of my time in Penang I received an unfortunate message that an old work colleague had died. The next morning I asked a local friend where I could go to commemorate my lost friend. In the mixed up world of Penang, my Indian friend from a Catholic family took me to Georgetown’s largest Hindu temple on a hill on the other side of town.


A7 + FE24-70mm f4 ZA OSS 1-400s f11 ISO100

A7ii + FE24-70mm f4 ZA 1-30s f4.5 ISO320


All my E mount cameras performed mostly flawlessly, with rarely a hiccup in the heat and humidity. One issue is continual problems with dust spots on the sensor, due to the lack of a mirror and the short flange depth, so I always carry a blower brush and a sensor cleaning pen. Another problem can be condensation forming on lens elements or the sensor cover glass when moving from indoor air conditioning to the high humidity outside. It’s often best to give your equipment time to acclimatise when going outdoors.


A7 + FE35mm f1.4 ZA 1-640s f1.4 ISO100

A7ii + FE 16-35mm f4 ZAOSS 6s f11 ISO100


I hope that my “riposte” to Paul’s photographs shows that equipment matters less than photographic style, interests and personal “vision”. Singapore in particular brought a greater rigor to my photography, which resulted in both a change of style but also a greater emphasis on precision and quality. In Penang I reverted more to my usual serendipitous wandering, but brought some of that I had learnt in Singapore to how I approached some of the places I visited. Photos in this item have been processed from raw using either Sony Image Data Converter or SilkyPix Pro v7 / v8. As some of these photos were taken for stock use, they are processed to taste for impact rather than realism.


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  • Michael Demeyer says:

    Very nice set and commentary. Personally I lean toward the elegance and craftmanship of the Singapore architectural images, but that’s more a statement of personal interest than of absolute quality of the work. It’s a good testament to your abilities that you could change your way of seeing and retain a high level of performance.


    • Adrian says:

      I fear that there is a certain irony that my article has been posted in the same week that Paul’s article about “un-destination photography”. Mine is very much about the destination, and the photographs show several of what are probably the “must see” views of Singapore. I agree with Paul that there is a kind of tyranny of tourism, photography and the latest “must see” destination, which stifles creativity and produces “me too” images. I really appreciate you comment of “elegance and craftsmanship”. Although my pictures probably don’t offer any unique views of a very well photographed city, they became an exercise in formalism which I felt brought the best of my style to the subject.

      I also appreciate your comment on consistent performance. One of the dangers of photographing a wide range of different subjects – travel, street, physique sports – is that you become a generalist “jack of all trades”, but fail to master any of them. Photography requires a balance of technical skill and artistic flair, but my photography has a “simple” style where I tend to concentrate on the technical rather than the artistic. To master a craft, it is necessary to become fluent in the technical expertise needed, so that it becomes second nature and can be done without thought, allowing focus on the artistry. I am certainly a long way from technical mastery, and am still understanding my own artistic style, but I think we should all aim to grow and develop both technical skills and our artistic “vision”, in our quest for mastery.

  • philberphoto says:

    Wow!What a cracking set of pictures! Congrats, Adrian!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Stunning photos, Adrian – I’ve tracked the changes in Singapore for over 50 years (since the Brits left in 1965), and what they have achieved since then is amazing. No free ride on natural resources, a huge handicap at the starting gate, and it’s all been done through planning, grit and determination. You’ve captured where they’ve got to, perfectly.

    • Adrian says:

      I’m too young (relatively speaking!) to have any knowledge of most of that! My mother has friends who were stationed there during or after the war, but generally report they didn’t particularly like it there because it was slightly dull. I do feel it’s a place that never really let’s it’s hair down – the Esplanade arts centre by the bay is beautiful but I can’t imagine many sweaty rock concerts in back street clubs happening anywhere! For a visitor it’s agreeable because it’s clean and safe and has excellent infrastructure, but I do feel that has come at the cost of a certain freedom – some of the Government’s more strange and draconian rules are well known (e.g. Chewing gum), but I still find it astonishing in 2017 that such a supposedly “modern” place still criminalises same sex relationships, for example. It’s pleasant, and often stunning in parts, but I don’t think it’s as modern and progressive as it likes to appear for the tourists, and I’m not sure I would want to live or work there.

      Thanks for your kind words about my photographs. I could have made a selection of pictures just taken around the bayside area, but felt that would be rather boring and not show other sides to the city.

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