Below is a summary of my two and a half day hanoi trip last month using a Samsung NX 300 interchangeable lens camera and S4 Zoom phone.

My previous time in Vietnam (http://julian.li/nam) was a more solitary experience. In this trip, there were 22 pro and amateur photographers flown in from Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong so the chances of others taking the same shots as me was high. The pressure was on, and it pushed me to be as creative as possible to shoot unique and not similar images as everyone else.

The smartphotography asia link will lead you to photos taken by other photographers who become my friends on the trip.


Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom : 1/6 sec     f/5.4     iso 125    100mm
An airport porter at Hanoi Airport waits next to images of two giants of literature (Ernest Hemingway and Honoré de Balzac), bizarrely advertising one of Vietnam's more famous exports. Its a testament to the effectiveness of the image stabilization built into the S4 Zoom that this shot is sharp at 1/6 second.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom   :  1/30 sec    f/5.4    iso 100    100mm
A couple walks along the banks of West Lake, a large freshwater lake in central Hanoi. Our hotel, The Intercontinental was based here, if you are deciding to stay in Hanoi I recommend this hotel with its very nice views of the lake. Again the image stabilisation does its job with this slow shutter speed by keeping things sharp.

Nón lá
Samsung NX300   :  1/13 sec    f/4.5    iso 800    18mm
A seller of traditional straw hats (Nón lá) in the old quarter of Hanoi.

the hair
Samsung NX300   :  1/15 sec    f/5    iso 3200    40mm
Random strangers on the side of the street. Hanoi is famous for the fresh Beer Hoi, and makeshift street-side pubs like this are common place selling it. The light was very low here, just street lamps illuminating from above, and since I was carrying just the small aperture kit lens bundled with the NX300, it forced me to go to 3200 iso. I think the slight loss in detail is a fair compromise for what would have been just a blurry shot if I used a more slower shutter speed.

Old Guard
Samsung NX300   :  1/25 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm

Cold Feet
Samsung NX300   :  1/20 sec    f/4.5    iso 3200    30mm
A couple parks their scooter in the old quarter of Hanoi whilst waiting for the rain to go away. Being quite a cold night, it was quite bizarre to see someone well wrapped up but without shoes.

Vietnam's Next Top Model
Samsung NX300   :  1/50 sec    f/1.4    iso 400    85mm

Due to rain, we went back at the hotel, there was a model Đinh Hà Thu from the TV show Vietnam's Next Top Model waiting.

This was a great opportunity for me to experience what its like to shoot a formal portrait, I borrowed a fixed 85mm f1.4 lens. Above and right shots taken handheld at 1/50 and 1/60 respectively, aperture wide open at f1.4. Lighting was just the single ambient overhead light in the hotel lounge which I found was effective in accentuating the model's high cheekbones. It was quite interesting for a change to not have to quickly capture my image at speed like on the street, and spend some time pondering on angles, lighting, and even asking the subject to move into various poses. It seemed like a leisurely way to photograph, unlike the sometimes adrenaline pumping feeling you get when chasing subjects on the street in secret.

Technically I was impressed by the sharpness of the 85mm lens (equivalent to 130mm in full frame) compared to the standard kit lens that I was used to, and the f1.4 aperture gave very nice background blur. The photos were saved in JPEG+Raw mode and its only now after getting home and viewing both files side to side on a high res screen do I see the superiority in capturing fine details that raw has over the JPEG.

On a separate note I now have high hopes for Samsung's forthcoming pro grade lens (16-50mm f2-2.8 S) that was announced recently, this wide aperture lens will make the NX300 a more versatile tool for low light street photography.

Samsung NX300   :  1/15 sec    f/4.5    iso 1600    18mm
After dinner we went back outside to shoot the streets, here a group of men start burning joss papers as an offering to their ancestors, I enjoyed the warmth from the fire as I temporarily shared this space with them.

a quiet moment
Samsung NX300   :  1/20 sec    f/4.5    iso 3200    18mm
A mother stops to answer her phone with her son looking on outside a shop selling large red birthday greeting cloths for elderly (over 70) Vietnamese.

Samsung NX300   :  1/25 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm
Bicycles, mopeds, cars whizz by in the old quarter of Hanoi, a basic cross section of the types of transportation in this city. I had to be quick as they all traveled quite fast, thankfully 1/25 sec almost was fast enough to freeze the action and run back onto the pavement.

Samsung NX300   :  1/60 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm
one of the many night stalls selling bric a brac in the old quarter of Hanoi.

street food
Samsung NX300   :  1/20 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm

Samsung NX300   :  1/80 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    20mm
a clothes seller inadvertently poses just the right way as I pass

Samsung NX300   :  1/250 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm
getting to the end of a long night in the old quarter of Hanoi

Samsung NX300   :  1/80 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm

Samsung NX300   :  1/200 sec    f/3.5    iso 3200    18mm
The last shot of the night, it started to pour down, and thankfully the camera and kit lens stayed functional even though it was covered in water. Although I cleaned off the water from the NX300 body, I left the droplets on the lens to get this effect.

parking lot
Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom   :  1/20 sec    f/5.8    iso 100    135mm
Early next morning at Tam Coc wharf in Ninh Binh, a woman sampan rower, waits for the arrival of tourists who she will be taking along the Ngo Dong river. As you can see there are a huge amount of sampans parked, its best to get here soon and its rumoured that Ninh Binh will be classed as a UNESCO heritage site, which would create a increase in tourist traffic.

man made
Samsung NX300   :  1/100 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    52mm
Amongst all the natural beauty of the Nimh Binh landscape there were a few obvious concessions made for the ease of tourism like this giant square carved out the side of a hill to enable tourists a permanent place to disembark from their sampans.

Samsung NX300   :  1/160 sec    f/3.5    iso 100    18mm

Samsung NX300   :  1/100 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    18mm
The sampan were rowed at a very leisurely pace using leg power, our guy never even broke sweat or moved his hands paddling us up and down the Ngo Dong river.

Samsung NX300   :  1/25 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    25mm

I was speechless watching this old couple go speeding right past my sampan, I can only wonder what diet they have been eating their whole life. As a someone from a very developed nation, with the most advanced healthcare at my disposal, its a sobering thought comparing these active old timers to my own parents who have their physical ailments living in retirement.

Disbelief was compounded further when I saw an even older lady who must have been in her 70s rowing 2 young men (right). I just felt a sense of embarrassment and astonishment. Suffice to say, I will be looking to go on the rowing machine the next time I hit the gym.

tree of life
Samsung NX300   :  1/25 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    30mm
A portrait of my friend Bill who spent the whole trip helping me get the most out of the new Samsung camera in my hands, and generally looking after our group's welfare, making sure that none of the us were straggling too far behind.

Samsung NX300   :  1/80 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    55mm
A Vietnamese couple walks toward the tam coc boat wharf.

Samsung NX300   :  1/30 sec    f/5.6    iso 100    18mm

The caretaker at the Thai Vi temple built during the Tran dynasty in 1285 by Tran Thai Tong King. The pillars are made of monolithic stone.

He kept whispering the words "no money" to me and gesturing by rubbing his fingers together. I gave him a few Singapore dollars at which he looked at and asked me how much was that in Vietnam Dong. When I told him, he wanted to give it back to me.

Bich Dong Temple
Samsung NX300   :  5 sec    f/5.6    iso 800    18mm
Built in the 1400s and carved out of the side of a mountain this temple was well camouflaged into the rock. There was one solitary light illuminating the whole cave, so it was very dark. I did not have a tripod handy, so I improvised by placing the camera on a nearby rock to achieve stability with this long 5 second exposure.

Samsung NX300   :  1/30 sec    f/5.6    iso 800    18mm
A boy with knife plays at the bottom of the hill leading to the Bich Dong Temple. Shooting though the yellow bars, I wanted to create an unsettling effect from this shot.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom   :  1/30 sec    f/6.3    iso 250    189mm
Dong Hang Mua

477 steps leading to the top of Dong Hang Mua dragon mountain with my friends in the background arduously trudging up it.

I wanted to use a telephoto lens effect to compress the foreground cow and background stairway. Since I was traveling light with just a basic kit zoom lens with no telephoto. The S4 Zoom with its built in image stabilisation comes to the rescue. Although it will never replace my old canon 70-300 lens + 5D setup, I'm impressed at the level detail and sharpness captured at 1/30 sec. All from a gadget that fits in the pocket and weighs 10% of the canon gear.

Samsung NX300   :  1/80 sec    f/5.6    iso 1600    18mm
One of the reasons I love to travel is to spend time to interact with locals. These shots were taken when I was alone wandering about, whilst my friends were climbing up the Dong Hang Mua mountain, I saw this guy with world weary eyes...I had watched him from afar digging a field with his friend and when he took a break, I approached and sat down next to him. We were watching the goats playing in the field, it was a serene moment completely quiet and devoid of wind. He muttered something to me as he started to light up his huge pipe a few minutes later, I smiled and said "photo?" he muttered something back. I took a few shots of the pipe, but it was his portrait I was secretly after, as I pointed the camera upwards he looked away not wanting to blow smoke in my face and thats when I snapped this shot.

floppy ears
Samsung NX300   :  1/250 sec    f/5.6    iso 1600    22mm
Portrait of 3 baby goats... it took me about 30 mins of following them and crouching down pretending to chew grass for them to pluck up the confidence to cautiously approach me and start bleating at me, thankfully out of the 50+ photos I took of them, I managed to get at least one shot of all 3 of them looking at me. The rest of the time, they were running, jumping, and nibbling at each other.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom   :  1/8 sec    f/3.1    iso 640   24mm
The day before, we were shooting one of Vietnam's Next top models, it was a good learning and first time for me to shoot in a formal portrait setting. But I don't adhere to the mindset that only models should be admired for their beauty, I see beauty every day in the people I meet, the people who walk right past and we take for granted. This is a portrait of one of the waitresses at the Wild Lotus restaurant in Hanoi as she was standing by waiting for our requests for food / drinks. The lighting was dim and caused the samsung S4 zoom to use a 1/8 sec shutter speed, but with the phone's image stabilisation, the shot is generally quite sharp, except for my subject, but thats OK as she didn't even know I was shooting her.

donations box
Samsung NX300   :  1/60 sec    f/6.3    iso 1600    40mm
woke up early the next day and observe a worker carrying the donations box from Temple of the Jade Mountain over the Huc Bridge at the start of the day.

Prey or Pray
Samsung NX300   :  1/15 sec    f/6.3    iso 1600    45mm
A woman prays whilst a tiger seems to be stalking its prey... enabling me to use some wordplay in the title. When composing my images I never have any title in mind as images are setup in the seconds taken to approach a subject and shot in fractions of a second. Its just pure luck really.


Looking back at my files in detail on a high resolution screen a month later, its apparent that the NX300 is a very capable tool, and more than a match for my old full frame Canon EOS 5D. The aps-c sensor when shooting raw, produces excellent images with minimal grain, and when grain does appear at high ISO, its quite realistic and film like. Its not all good though, samsung's engineers need to work on the NX300's JPEG processing at high iso. JPEGs have smudged details that loses fine texture in skin tones, almost like as if people are wearing a thick blanket of makeup sometimes. The solution is ofcourse to shoot in raw format which could be a barrier for new photographers who have never processed raw into jpeg.

The S4 Zoom phone that I used as a telephoto lens also was a revelation, its insanely effective image stabilisation enabled me to get me low shutter speed shots that in a normal camera setup I would never be able to keep sharp. This combined with the fact that its my day to day phone, and is designed to link up to the NX300 via wifi makes it especially relavent in this day and age where sharing photos by uploading to social media is all the rage. In conclusion, Ive high hopes for the future of this system, and can gladly say that I don't have to make image quality comprises by carrying a NX300 with S4 Zoom rather than my Canon 5D.

Thanks for viewing, any comments you have can be given to me via the below guestbook form, they will appear on my collated guestbook page (minus your email address as that will be hidden from public view). My latest photos appear on facebook as I seldom have time/energy to create new galleries like this on my website anymore.

Julian Li
Jan 2014

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