The Garmin Virb Elite

Posted by Mark

garmin virb elite

I’ve never been a fan of the GoPro cameras so that’s why when I wanted to get an action camera a couple of years ago I ended up getting the Contour+ instead, it had some exciting features the Contour lacked as well as a slicker form factor. But, that wasn’t enough to overthrow GoPro since two years later, GoPro is still here while Contour collapsed last year due to financial difficulties. Now it’s Garmin’s turn to try and take on the GoPro with the new Virb action camera. Garmin are known for their navigation devices and this is their first attempt at an action camera so the local dealer in Kuwait passed me one to review.

I’ve had the camera now for around two months and I think I’ve got a clear idea of what I think about it. I’ve used it to record my bike trips, I’ve used it off roading in Lebanon and I’ve even tried using it as a dash cam. Generally I like the camera, it’s not perfect but it has some cool features that might make some people choose it over the more popular GoPros.

The biggest feature I think that will win people over is the durable water resistant rubber shell. The camera feels very well built and can take abuse which is why I wasn’t afraid of dropping it. Actually during this one trip the camera flew off my ATV while speeding on a rocky mountain trail. Not a scratch, not even on the lens. But even if I did scratch the lens it’s a cheap $20 part I could replace myself. Garmin wants me to put this camera in risky situations not be worried about damaging it and I love that.

Another great feature is the fact the camera has a large color LCD screen which you could use to help you frame your shots, for playback or to adjust any of the settings. The camera also has a large record toggle button similar to the one I used to have on my Contour camera which means I can turn on the camera and start recording by just moving the switch forward. Specs wise the camera can shoot 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps and for extra slow mo, WVGA at 120fps. It also has GPS, wifi, bluetooth and even ANT+ so you could connect it to your heart rate monitor or other ANT+ device and overlay that information onto your video.


[YouTube]

I think the biggest issue with the Virb is the weight of the camera. Because the camera is built like a tank it’s heavier than the GoPro and that might turn some people off. Also the majority of the footage I shot was coming out slightly underexposed and desaturated as you can see in the short video above. Finally the color of the device turned out to be problematic. The Virb I received for testing was white but after having it for a couple of months now and the abuse its taken from me the white now has a bit of a brown tint where it fell into the dirt and I had difficulty restoring it. Getting the black version would be the easy fix here.

The majority of the people interested in an action camera will most likely get the GoPro because thats the one everyone gets. But, that doesn’t mean it would be the best option for you. If you’re looking for a camera that can take some abuse or a camera in which you could overlay data onto your video like the speed you’re traveling or your heart rate, then you should consider checking out the Virb. The price of the Garmin starts at KD85 for the normal Virb or KD109 for the Virb Elite which is the one I tested.


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New currency on the way

Posted by Mark

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The Kuwaiti Air Force picking up their freshly printed money this morning at Newcastle

Posted by @lucyncollins, an airline pilot yesterday.

Thanks Ali


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Old Kuwait Postcards – Part 2

Posted by Mark

carlton-hotel-kuwait

A few months back I posted a collection of old Kuwaiti postcards which I had found by mistake on eBay while searching for something else. This time around I found a larger collection of old Kuwaiti postcards but I was deliberately looking for them.

phoenicia-hotel-kuwait

What I find fascinating about these old postcards is the fact they highlight important locations and buildings of that era, ones that are forgotten about or don’t even exist today. That’s why for this post I’ve highlighted these two specific postcards, one of the Carlton Hotel and the other of the Phoenicia Hotel. According to this old scan from a 1966 magazine, Phoenicia was the a beautiful place where you could experience the most beautiful days of your life. Good times, check out all the postcards below.

To purchase any of these postcards visit this [Link]


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Kuwait at Night by Daniel Cheong

Posted by Mark

kuwaitatnight

I’ve posted about the photographer Daniel Cheong on the blog before [Here] and I just found out that he has a section on his website with some beautiful shots of Kuwait at night.

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The two photos in this post are my favorite out of the bunch but you can check out the rest of the shots [Here]


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One eye on you

Posted by Mark

owl

One eye on you. A short-eared owl stretching and relaxing in a nature reserve in Kuwait. (© Mohd Khorshid/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

The photo above is one of the entries to the 26th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Check out some of the other entries [Here]


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Review: The Sony RX1

Posted by Mark

rx1

A few months back I started looking for a new digital camera to replace my aging Panasonic GX1. I had been using the GX1 constantly since 2012 and it was by far one of my favorite cameras I had ever owned. But, on one trip to London last year I carried my much larger and heavier full sensor D800 camera with me and I just loved the results. I realized the much larger sensor on the D800 allowed me to capture shots I wouldn’t be able to with my GX1, mostly very high ISO shots in very dim light. Because of the size though the D800 isn’t a very practical take everywhere camera and so I started doing my research trying to find a replacement for my GX1. Some of the cameras I considered were:

Fujifilm X-T1
Fujifilm X100s
Leica X2
Olympus OM-D E-M1
Olympus OM-D E-M10
Panasonic GX7
Ricoh GR
Sony Alpha 7R
Sony Alpha 7
Sony RX1
Sony RX1R

From the list above the only ones that ended up grabbing my attention were the Sonys since they were the only cameras on the list that had full framed sensors. Having a full frame sensor would mean I’d be able to capture a lot more detail, have shallower depth of field in my shots and most importantly have better dim light capabilities. In the end I opted for the Sony RX1 because of the size. One of the things I loved about my GX1 camera was the size and the RX1 was practically the exact same size except the lens on the RX1 made it slightly thicker (check the GX1/RX1 overlay visual below). The newer Sony A7 was tempting but since I already had a main camera (the D800), I needed a secondary camera, something small and inconspicuous to take with me on my restaurant reviews and when I traveled. The A7 was a lot more bulkier especially once you added the lenses.

gx1-rx1-size

I’ve had the RX1 now for around 2 months and I’ve already traveled with it a number of times and used it in various situations and I really really love it. It’s by far the best compact camera I’ve had. The camera has a full metal body and feels very solid, we’re talking Leica M series quality here without the Leica price tag. The lens is a really bright 35mm F2 Carl Zeiss, its fixed which means I can’t zoom in or out but that isn’t an issue since I was only using the 20mm lens (40mm equivalent) on my GX1 anyway.

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The RX1 has allowed me to take a ton of great shots and I’ve been carrying it with me everywhere I go. It has a lot of physical controls as well as customizable buttons so I always have quick access to my most used options. I love the way the camera looks and feels in my hand, it has a slightly retro look but it’s really understated which is how I love my cameras. Another great feature about the camera is the fact that the shutter is silent. When I turn off all the sounds I can take a photo in a quiet room and no one would be able to hear me take photos. It’s how I was able to take the photo of the guy sleeping on the car below without having to worry about waking him up. Finally the ISO capability on this camera is nearly as good as my D800. I’m so confident about the capabilities of the camera I have it set on Auto ISO with the max limit at 12,800. That’s how good the noise at high ISO is, I can shoot up to 12,800 and not have to worry about noise. Combine that with the bright F2 lens and there really isn’t a condition anymore where I would have trouble shooting in.

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I really can’t think of anything negative to say or highlight about the camera but I will bring up issues I had read about online and answer them here. Battery life, it’s not that great but that’s an easy fix, the batteries are very cheap, I bought two more and now carry three batteries with me. In the two months I’ve had the camera I don’t think I’ve ever needed more than one battery a day so even though battery life isn’t that great it’s good enough to last you a day out. Some people have complained about the focusing being slow. I don’t think its slow and only faced an issue focusing once and that was because there was hardly any light. I just ended up shooting in manual focus mode and that solved the problem. Finally a lot of people online complained about the fact the screen isn’t tiltable or the fact the camera doesn’t have a built in view finder. Both are good points but Sony built the most compact full sensor camera in the world so I’m sure they had to cut some options to keep the size compact. Personally I’m glad they kept the size small and instead released the A7 with all the extra features they couldn’t fit into the RX1.

rx1-sample-1

I can’t recommend this camera enough, the sensor and lens combo is just unbeatable and I can’t believe how small this camera is. The price is the only reason why not everyone is walking around with this camera strapped to their necks. Amazon sell the camera for $2,800 which is pretty expensive when compared to all the other compact cameras in the market. But, I personally think the only real competition is the Sony A7 and the Leica M series. The Sony A7 costs $1800 without a lens and another $800 for the 35mm F2.8. That brings the total to $2,600 for a larger camera with a lens thats not as bright. The Leica M series on the other hand costs nearly $7,000 without a lens. So when you compare the RX1 to the two the price becomes pretty reasonable. If you can afford the RX1 then get it, you’ll have a hard time finding anything else as good with the same form factor.


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Tour the Aladdin House

Posted by Mark

Last month I posted about the Aladdin House in Fintas along with a link to pictures of the inside. If you’re interested in visiting the house the AWARE Center has a tour this weekend. For more information click [Here]


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Old photos of Radisson Blu (SAS)

Posted by Mark

sasopening

I have a friend who recently started working at the Radisson Blu Hotel and he found a bunch of old photo albums so he asked me if I would be interested in flipping through them since he knows I like old photos related to Kuwait. There were maybe 20 large albums with a lot of random stuff but I picked out photos that I thought were the most interesting or at least ones that I could relate to.

The photo on top is of the hotel on opening day. I had chosen other photos from that day for them to scan but I didn’t get them for some reason.

Second group of photos I found interesting is the installation of the Kugel. The Kugel is a large 4 ton marble sphere that floats on water and before the hotels recent refurbishment used to located in the lobby. Originally I thought the Kugel had been there ever since the hotel opened but turns out it was installed after the 1990 invasion. The Kugel now is no longer located in the lobby but instead outside near the Viking Club entrance.

The second batch of photos that caught my eye was the damage done to The Peacock Chinese restaurant during the 1990 invasion. I had seen photos of the hotel after the invasion but hadn’t seen photos of Peacock before. If you’ve never been to Peacock, here’s my review.

clock

Finally does anyone remember Clock? I couldn’t find a photo in their archives of the restaurant when it was open just the one above taken after the invasion. I was young when it first opened in the 80s but I think it was the first restaurant to offer drive through in Kuwait. I used to see the Clock sign when going down the Gulf Road near Bid’aa and as a kid I found the concept of drive through fascinating.


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Virtual Tour of the Sand Sculptures

Posted by Mark

sandsculptures

If you haven’t visited the Remal Sand Sculpting Festival yet you can now take a tour of it without having to leave your house. A reader called Alex has created a virtual tour of the festival and you can check it out by visiting this [Link]


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A Photographic Journey Inside Qasr Al Salam

Posted by Mark

palace1

I love exploring abandoned buildings and from all the abandoned places in Kuwait the one I’ve always wanted to explore was Qasr Al Salam. Its the holy grail of abandoned buildings and the only one I could never get the guts to jump over the fence and explore (luckily I didn’t cuz it turns out there are two guards). After trying to get legal access to the site for what seems like forever, I finally got the approval thanks to Al-Diwan Al-Amiri.

Qasr Al Salam was a guest house that was built back in the 60s and hosted high-ranking visitors. Supposedly the first guest to stay at the palace was the Shah of Iran but I couldn’t find any source online to back that up. Actually, I could find very little information at all on the palace online. I know that Princess Diana and Prince Charles stayed at the palace back in 1989, but I can’t find the date it was built, who the architect was or even pictures. I’ve literally only found a handful of photos of the palace pre-1990 and nothing else. During the 1990 Gulf War the palace was destroyed and it never got restored and has remained abandoned for 24 years. That is until now.

Now some good news, unlike the rumors that have been circulating, the palace will NOT be getting demolished. Instead, the palace is going to be restored to its former glory and be turned into a museum. I saw 3D renderings of how the palace will look like when completed and it’s going to look very similar to the original with some minor facelifting here and there and addition of a new wing or two. The bad news is I can’t share the 3D renderings just yet since I’m still working on trying to convince them to allow me to post them here but right now I can’t.

construction

Whats even more interesting is whats going on right next door at the old flag square. The site is currently under major construction and I also got to see renderings of the project and I was just awestruck. There are four very angular buildings being built, an opera house, a music center, a theatre and a library. The buildings will be made out of titanium shells and will have no pillars at all on the inside. The landscaping around the project is also going to be nothing like anything in Kuwait as well and the best part is they’re expecting to have it all done and completed in just 18 months. Thats a timeframe fit for Dubai. I’m trying to get permission to share the drawings and renderings of this project as well and hopefully I will be able to by next week.

palace2

After getting briefed on the projects above I was taken to the Salam Palace to explore and take photos. The palace even though completely destroyed still had so much beauty left in it. The famous large chandelier that used to hang from the ceiling in the main hall had been dismantled and removed so I didn’t get to see it sadly. But a lot of the original mosaic, wallpaper, carpets and marble floor were still in place. One thing that struck me was the amount of colors used inside the palace and all very tastefully. There was a lot of colored glass everywhere and the mosaic in the main hall was a beautiful metallic purple color. There was a lot of carpeting everywhere but in places where the carpet was removed you could see the beautifully preserved marble floor underneath. It seems at one point in time the palace must have gotten a makeover and a lot of the marble floors were covered up in carpet. I took a lot of photos and I’ve shared them below. I honestly could easily have spent a day in there trying to document every single corner of the place but sadly I didn’t have the luxury of time on my side. I hope you enjoy the photos below and I’ll try my best to get permission to post the renderings next week.


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