Posts in Category: Travel


Gear Review: Manfrotto BeFree

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Sto. Tomas, Baguio City | Canon 5D Mark II | 24-70 F2.8L | Lee Filters | Manfrotto BeFree

If I bring my camera, I HAVE to bring my (a) tripod.

That’s sort of a hard and fast rule — albeit unwritten — that I’ve come to adhere to through the years. Being a landscape photographer by nature, you never know when an opportunity to capture a sunrise or sunset might arise, so my policy is to always be prepared.

These past few months though, my (along with my wife’s, naturally) travel dynamic has changed drastically with the addition of Amy into the family. Before, I could manage bringing the majority of our stuff with my trusty (but heavy) tripod in tow, but a baby changes things — now, we need to bring more stuff, and every ounce of weight off our backs is a welcome prospect.

While I ultimately wouldn’t have minded lugging along my trusty tripod up our recent trip to Baguio, it’s a good thing I asked around and Manfrotto was kind enough to lend me one of their BeFree tripods for me to bring along and review.

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First off, it’s small and it’s light. And I’m talking about the aluminum version, not even the carbon fiber one (I have some personal misgivings about CF tripods in general, but that’s entirely off-topic). Especially compared to the one I own, it was refreshing to have something so small and compact.

Small and light!

Small and light!

Since this was a loaner I just picked up, there was no manual, and I had no one to teach me to use it. But I figured how to set it up pretty quickly — the simplicity of the system was another plus for me. I also appreciated how easy it was to spread the legs out — there’s a knobby thingamajig you just twist to quickly adjust how spread out you want each leg to be. Just be careful, since you can accidentally realign the twisty things even if they’re spring-locked in place (although I don’t know if this was just because the unit was used) which could potentially upend your camera. Also, since this is a small tripod, it had more leg locks to make it more compact, which in the field translates into having to snap out more extensions.

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Twist this silver knob to change how spread out you want the legs to be.

The small ballhead that came with it gave me a bit of a pause, since I still shoot with a DSLR — which today, if you are wont to listen to mirrorless preachers, is “archaic” and “outdated” — but it managed to hold my 5D Mark 2 with a 24-70 2.8L Mark 1 pretty well and I experienced no issues like tilting. I also appreciated the simplicity of the locks for the ballhead and the stem — just one for each — which were also surprisingly stable and tight.

The mount took a bit more time getting used to, and I never got comfortable using the small plastic lock on the side that keeps the mount in place. I also got confused a lot by the main lock for the mount (does it go left or right?), which was a real (literal) pain to unlock whenever I happened to tighten the lock a bit too much. I was also disappointed that the main stem did not have a hook at the end where I could hang my camera bag for easy access to my stuff and better stability; while small, I feel this feature is especially useful in situations like shooting seascapes and you have nowhere to put down your bag.

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Cons considered, I’d still say I would not be sorry in the least to have one. My heavier tripod is still useful for rougher situations, but the BeFree is a great all-around travel tripod that wouldn’t make me think twice about bringing it (if I had one) when I go out. It’s easy to use, compact, light, and considering the brand, of good quality as well.

The Manfrotto BeFree retails for Php11,790 and is available at Henry’s, Colours Digital Foto, and Lazada. You can also visit Manfrotto Philippines to see their other offerings.

 

Imbayah, Banaue’s ‘Inuman na!’ and so much more

Filipino culture is by nature, colorful. From small gatherings and occasions like local barangay fiestas to the full-on, humongous, and production-value festivals the many of our provinces hold, there is the undeniable and irrefutable stamp of Filipino creativity and ingenuity.

But when you think about it, many of our local festivals that have been part of our culture for decades stem from our Catholic heritage and our Spanish colonization that lasted for more than 300 years.

This is where the Imbayah Festival in Banaue, Ifugao sets itself apart.

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Imbayah is a festival that celebrates local Ifugao cultural traditions, such as the thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. It’s also interesting to note that the name of the festival itself is derived from the Ifugao word for rice wine, bayah. Perhaps our penchant for calling out “Inuman na!” during special occasions has far deeper cultural roots than we realize.

Traditionally though, Imbayah was about the rising of status in the community and the more affluent members of society hosted the celebrations in their respective homes. In recent years though, it has been more of a celebration and means to remember Ifugao culture in general — while it has still a lot of ways to go in terms of tourist spectators, especially compared to the larger celebrations in other provinces, more and more people have braved the twisting mountain roads to catch a glimpse of this truly unique festival. In fact, Imbayah used to be held only once every three years, but has become very successful that it is now a yearly occurrence.

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Contingents from Banaue’s 18 different villages converge in the town proper, terraces, bringing with them their own tribal symbols. They dance, they compete in ethnic games, not so much as performances or shows for visitors — although visitors are most welcome — but as more of a remembrance of where they came from and what makes them unique as a people. In fact, a number of the competitive sports played in the ethnic games were used to settle disputes between tribes.

Another popular event of the festival is the wooden scooter race, where participants zip down the mountain roads from of one of the highest viewpoints of the rice terraces down to the Banaue town proper. These scooters have no motors whatsoever, with the racers relying on their deft maneuvering and the craftsmanship of their bikes to get ahead.

Ants

There are also several opportunities to further appreciate mountain culture — there are organized treks through the famed rice terraces themselves that visitors can take, or for the more adventurous, a trek to the village of Batad where even more majestic rice terraces await, and below them, the raging but beautiful Tappiya waterfalls.

It may lack the pomp and splendor of other festivals, but there is something profound about the Imbayah; it’s more than the top-load traveling, or the unique food (ants and kamote, anyone?), the strapping fellows in tribal g-strings, or even the ingenuity and persistence behind the beautiful rice terraces. It’s something pure, something largely untouched by our colonial history, something inherently and uniquely Filipino.

Scooter03 Scooter02 Getting there: You may opt for a side trip to Baguio City first and then catch a bus to Banaue, or take a bus straight from Manila to Banaue. This year’s festival is on April 18-22.

*This post was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Filipino-Japanese Journal. 

Travelogue: Taking the Train in Singapore

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I can only wish that the transport system here in the Philippines was as efficient as that of Singapore’s. The trains are on time, spacious, clean, alighting and getting off the trains are much more orderly (despite the massive crowds during rush hour), and all the stations go all around Singapore using interconnected terminals and interchanges. And for areas further out, there are buses (with designated bus stops) and those cool unmanned light rail transit systems.

We were able to borrow two EZ passes (good for most, if not all transportation in Singapore – not sure with taxis though, since we never rode one) so we were able to save the initial purchase price for the reloadable cards. And while there’s also a special EZ card for tourists, our calculations showed that buying the regular kind would be a slightly cheaper option, plus you get to have a souvenir of sorts.

You pretty much take the train to go anywhere, so don’t be stingy when you reload – SGD10 is the minimum, and a train ride will set you more or less somewhere between SGD1.50 to SGD2.00.

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It seems to be fairly common for tourists to get somewhat overwhelmed by the train system, which seems complicated at first – I know we were intimidated – but it’s actually pretty easy to figure out, and you’ll soon find yourself plotting the best train route to wherever you want to go. Most of the signs are also in English, so you won’t have too hard of a time.

While the system isn’t entirely perfect, in the way that nothing in the world can ever be perfect, it’s a pretty darned good system. I never felt the need to ride a cab (as opposed to here in the Philippines) and everything was efficient and safe. I really wish that someday, Filipinos can experience something similar.