It was my first time in China.
Our friends from Huawei flew us to Beijing as part of their media tour. After all the work was done, we were taken to some of the city’s most famous spots.
The HTC U11 used to have the highest-rated smartphone camera in the world — beating Google’s Pixel. But alas, the newer iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus proved to be more capable shooters and took the second and first spots, respectively. Ranking aside, join us as we take this handset’s camera for a spin.
Welcome to China as seen through the eyes of the HTC U11.
Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City
Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, which also leads to the famous Forbidden City. The area buzzed with tourists from different parts of the world; you see them walking, looking around, and taking selfies. To blend in, I switched to full-on tourist mode and quickly snapped one myself.
Thousands of tourists flock to the Square on a daily basis for its rich history — albeit with some unpleasant events. Being a communist country, surveillance around Beijing is tight. Hence, lampposts adorned with security cameras are a common sight around the city.
A few minutes of leisure walking led us to the entrance of the Forbidden City. For the unfamiliar, it was named as such since no one was allowed to enter or leave the place without the Emperor’s permission during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. This included the Emperor’s servants and wives.
China’s founding father Mao Zedong (aka Chairman Mao) has his photo mounted right smack in the middle of the entrance. Placards flank the photo with the words, “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” on the left and “Long Live the Great Unity of the World’s People” on the right. The above photo was taken using the phone’s panorama mode, hence the distortion.
The entire palace is made of exactly 980 buildings, all with a similar design exemplifying traditional Chinese palatial architecture. Structures are mostly painted in red with golden highlights, since yellow is the Emperor’s color. This combination of red and yellow brings a good contrast to the blue sky that the HTC U11 was able to distinctly capture.
The Chinese are keen on details which are truly evident when you wander inside the walls of the City. Every corner you see either has designs or symbolism embedded in them, like the tip of this roof with a dragon inside a circle. Apart from the craftsmanship and its significance, they are also good test subjects for our camera, as it’s able to bring out details and show a natural depth of field without any software assistance.
This photo shows good contrast between the highlights and shadows of the bronze artifact. You can see its ability to show details for the bright areas as well as the dark patches, meaning it can balance the exposure effectively even on Auto shooting mode.
It’s the same case for this beat-up motorcycle. Even with the subject sort of lit from behind, the U11 was able to maintain composure in the shadowy area of the front tire. Meanwhile, saturation on the Chinese flag stands out.
A good reference for color accuracy: Light colors and yellows maintain detail alongside neutral colors, shades of red are well represented, and cold blue sunglasses contrast the overall warm tone of the image.
The Great Wall
Our next stop was the Great Wall of China, which is about an hour bus ride out of the city. Like a dragon resting on the mountains, the Great Wall welcomed us with breathtaking views.
It was cloudy when we got there. The wind was blowing pretty strong, too. The gray sky created an overcast vibe and gloomy color, but thanks to the HDR feature of the U11, it was able to give the photo a livelier look by balancing the dark and light areas.
Again, there were lots of tourists taking in the sight of this Wonder of the World. Some of them were wearing brightly colored clothing that worked positively for our test shots, as they broke the prevalent green and brown color of the mountains.
Just a few minutes later, it started raining so we had to rush to one of the watchtowers for shelter. I quickly snapped this photo and the camera was able to show the contrasting areas with a fine gradient in between. The bricks also added an appreciated texture to the photo.
After the tour was over, we headed back to town to have a nice meal. It was also a good chance to shoot indoors with available lighting.
A natural bokeh effect was once again achieved by focusing on a close subject. Some digital noise can be seen here, but that’s understandable when shooting indoors with no extra lights.
With the camera’s large aperture (f/1.7), the U11 could achieve a natural-looking exposure with a shallow depth of field. This is why only selected parts of the flowers are in focus.
For me, balance in exposure and faithful color reproduction are the strong suits of HTC U11. During the time I used it for my trip, the handset’s camera was able to show details both in highlights and shadows without overcompensating. Colors were also rendered as you’d see them in real life. This could be a good or bad thing depending on the user, since some like the extra vibrance other phones apply to their photos.
Bottom line: The HTC U11 is a capable travel buddy that could replace your point-and-shoot camera for your out of town or international adventures.
[irp posts=”17685" name=”HTC U11 Review: Better than the Pixel”]
24 hours in Caramoan
Shot with the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE
Tucked in the easternmost part of the Philippines, one can find the beautiful Caramoan Islands. Known as the setting for the hit American reality show Survivor, tourists visit this place to rekindle their Survivor dreams.
But Caramoan is more than just a Survivor destination. It’s home to white and pink sand beaches and tropical activities such as diving, swimming, snorkeling, and spelunking. To get to this paradise, you must take a sixteen-hour drive from Manila.
When we arrived, my friends and I opted to do island hopping for one day to see what Caramoan has to offer. I brought the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE — my favorite midrange smartphone this year — to capture my travels for the day.
Perfect summer weather
Caramoan, like other tropical destinations, is prone to rains and storms. Thankfully, we started with a fine, sunny morning. There were no hints of rain clouds and gloomy skies so we were permitted to roam and go on an island hopping tour.
A day won’t start without a selfie. Before we hop on a boat, we took a selfie under the sun to show-off the blue sky, and of course, us.
Tip #1: When in a tropical destination, make sure you’re wearing appropriate yet fashionable clothes. In this case, I wore a yellow tie-dye sleeveless shirt that I can easily take off should I decide to dip into the water.
Contrary to my previous island hopping tour experiences, the view we had here was kinda gloomy. The sea looked silky as it was enveloped by fog, just like a scene taken right out of Pirates of the Caribbean. While my friends were sleepy, I took advantage of taking photographs since the view will be the same for at least half an hour.
Tip #2: If you’re not exhausted, observe and soak up the surroundings. Everything is picture-worthy, only if you know when and how to.
Our first stop was Guinahoan island, where the popular lighthouse is located. You need a ten to fifteen-minute walk before you can reach the summit where a magnificent view awaits.
Tip #3: Never forget your sunblock and if possible, bring a shawl or anything to cover your skin from the harsh sunlight.
I know, I know. We all want to visit the beaches, but this scenic landscape of rolling hills and greenery is too beautiful to give a pass.
Tip #4: There are no trees or any shade so it’s a must to wear your favorite sunglasses whenever you want to have a photo-op.
Of course, there’s a high chance you’ll end up taking the same photos in the same spots with everyone. It’s important to be creative, even when you travel. While I have inspiration for the photos I want to take, it’s best to explore the area and look for a different perspective to be different. As you can see, my friends and I decided to have our photos taken in different spots so our photos wouldn’t look the same.
Tip #5: If you want a fresh take on your Instagram photos, maybe try adding foreground and forget using portrait mode. Swear, it does wonders especially when you have a scenic background.
We headed to Manlawi sandbar where we were greeted with floating cottages. This sandbar appears only when it’s low tide, hence, the water is chest-deep for those who are swimming.
Our group rented a cottage — which was part of the packaged tour — where we could eat our packed lunch. We decided to bring reusable plastic containers we have from our homes so we can clean and pack them after. While it’s hard to steer away from plastic use, we did our best to keep the place clean and bring our trash with us wherever we went.
After lunch, we’re ready for another island adventure. Being in a tight space, I wished my phone had a wide-angle selfie meant for group photos like this. Nonetheless, we still tried taking a photo or two with my short arms.
Tip #6: I know selfie sticks are so 2015, but it’s additional safety precaution when taking your photos. Imagine if you accidentally dropped your phone in the water!
While on our way to the next island, I stumbled upon beautiful limestone cliffs and rock formations. Caramoan is like a combination of El Nido and Boracay — filled with limestone cliffs, white and golden fine sand, and blue seas.
Tip #7: Use 2x zoom (or more) to find a suitable frame for a scene you want to capture. It helps especially when the boat is a little bit far for you to take a photo.
One of my favorites, Matukad Island is a heaven for beach lovers. There’s fine, white sand everywhere, where you’d rather stomp around barefooted and roll over than go back to city pavements. Since this trip is actually a birthday celebration of a friend, we brought Survivor props and played a game.
If I could go back, I’ll be sure to add this island to the itinerary again. I spent a lot of time running around, sitting, and rolling over in the sand. Life is really better at the beach.
This place is majestic, especially during the golden hour. Wherever you look, it’s instagrammable. If taking photos isn’t your thing, you can sit around and ponder about life since it’s peaceful and relaxing.
Tip #8: Wide-angle modes are your friend when it comes to scenic landscapes. Don’t hesitate to use them!
The sun is going down and we need to get back to the port before the seas get crazy. But before we arrive at the port, the boatman and our guide dropped us off at a small cove with mesmerizing rock formations.
Friendly advice, don’t climb the rocks barefoot. It’s too painful but I endured it to get the pose that I wanted. After twenty minutes, we hopped on the boat to finally go back to the port.
My friends and I were staying in Magindara Guesthouse, a beachfront resort filled with airconditioned cottages to give you that relaxed, tropical vibe. The sand where we stayed at is fine yet brown, but the foamy, bubbly waves compensate. It makes for a perfect profile photo!
Fun nights at Magindara Guesthouse
The sun has finally set and we’re down for a night of drinking and fun moments to cherish. Luckily, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE can take decent photos using its front and rear cameras. You’ll never miss a moment to capture anymore!
Tip #9: Decent night shots are still a hit or miss. To capture better photos at night, find and lean your angle towards a source of light.
And before everything went south, we asked to take a group photo in front of our boodle fight. The whole experience in Caramoan was fantastic, made even better by my companions and the memories we made.
Caramoan is for the adventurous soul, and it’s a place I would come back to if given the chance. Luckily, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE was more than enough to capture all the memories of this wonderful trip. I can look back without regrets, and I look forward to the time where I’ll be traveling to this paradise once again.
All photos are taken with the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE.
24 Hours in Santorini
Where to stay, what to eat, where to take the perfect photos
Whether you’ve seen it on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Mamma Mia, Before Midnight, or in pictures on the internet, you’ve probably already fallen in love with Santorini before you’ve even set foot on the island. The white cave houses and blue domes have summer romance spelled all over them.
The island is paradise for couples, specifically honeymooners, but there are also plenty of things to do for those who are single and just want a different kind of relaxing sunny getaway.
Let’s start with what the pictures don’t tell you: Santorini is crowded and touristy AF. The key to enjoying your Santorini trip is finding the right cave house for you. There are plenty of options around the island, both in Fira and Oia.
If you want to save some money, Fira has the same white and blue accommodations, except you have to take a bus to Oia if you want to do all the things Santorini is famous for.
Oia is where you’d want to stay if you want to maximize your time in Santorini. If you have plenty of cash to burn, the top-rated accommodations in Oia will not disappoint.
Like any other tourist destination, there are hidden gems on Airbnb that are centrally located but are much cheaper. Thea apartment in Oia offers great views and the peace and quiet you need from a much needed vacation. Rates vary depending on the season with summer being the most expensive.
Mediterranean cuisine and fresh seafood are what you need to look out for when in Santorini.
Sunset Ammoudi Taverna offers various dishes with that day’s fresh catch. You can order fresh fish per kilo, and have them cook it a certain way. The different octopus and prawn dishes are delicious. The uni salad — which no one on the internet seems to be talking about — is to die for.
If you’re allergic to seafood, worry not! I cannot recommend Piatsa Souvlaki enough for their gyro, souvlaki, and kebab. It’s so good I forgot to take photos before digging in. Their offerings are reasonably priced for the serving size as well. The restaurant is hard to miss as it’s right by the Oia bus stop.
There are plenty of other restaurants that have stunning views like Apsithia, located at the main thoroughfare in Oia. The best seats are reserved for couples, and they refuse to join tables for parties of more than two people. Even if you’re going to Santorini with friends, come here anyway for the Greek burger, moussaka, fried cheese. Oh and their Wi-Fi was fast enough for a YouTube video upload.
Santorini offers one of the most beautiful sunsets not just in Greece, but in the world. I thought I’d get sick of it after seeing it the first time, but I didn’t. I took way too many photos from different spots because like what my favorite scene from Breaking Bad said, “Should we just watch one sunset? Or live just one day? Because it’s new every time. Each time is a different experience.”
Most tourists would wait for the sunset at the top of the stairs going down Amoudi Bay, but it’s actually even more beautiful past all the donkey poop, at the bay itself.
Although really, watching the sunset anywhere in Oia would be an experience of a lifetime. The direction opposite of Amoudi Bay, the view going down to Thea apartment is also pretty special as you can watch the sunset go behind almost all of Oia.
Actually, taking photos of and in Oia any time of the day would not disappoint. You’ll find plenty of spots without looking really hard for that picture-perfect moment with your SO, your friends, or just yourself.
Summer accessories are must haves when you go to Santorini. If you don’t have any or want more, there are a lot of great stores in both Oia and Fira that it would feel like a shopping mall at some point. Look out for leather sandals, straw hats, handmade bags, and flowy dresses to complete your summer getaway look.
24 Hours in Paris with the Huawei P30 Pro
Go wide or go home
I’ve had my fair share of Euro trips in the past. Unusually, I have never set foot in Paris, France, considering it’s the most visited city in the world apparently.
Well, I finally got my chance recently. I have lots of tips to share to make your own 24 hours in Paris special. Considering how pricey this city is, it’s best to carefully plan with a budget in mind.
Tip 1: Check out Airbnb options around the outskirts of the central district. Here, you can find more affordable lodging in quiet neighborhoods such as this:
Paris is Airbnb-friendly unlike other cities in Europe. You and your host won’t get into any trouble with the law. Compared to a traditional hotel, an Airbnb has an advantageous home-style setup including a kitchen and dining area.
If you’re lucky, you could find a host who offers breakfast and travel advice around the area. Since these are private deals, you can learn more from the home’s owner after a successful booking.
Tip 2: Airbnb’s filters for specific lodging needs are more varied than ever. They assured my personal essentials like Wi-Fi, a private toilet, and an English-speaking host, in my case.
Paris’ train and bus systems are relatively straightforward. With the exception of a few confusing station names (since I can’t speak a single sentence of French), getting from point A to B is as easy as any other country with a decent system.
Tip 3: If you’re staying for a few days, purchase your all-day tickets the moment you arrive. At first, they seem pricey — around EUR 53 per person for three days, for example — but it lessens daily walks by miles.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Paris tour without seeing the Eiffel Tower up close. There are numerous angles to view it from. In my opinion, the above photo is the best; it’s a favorite of mine. It’s beside Palais de Chaillot.
Tip 4: France’s weather (and Europe’s, in general) is bipolar in spring. Bring a jacket and/or scarf even if it’s sunny when heading out.
The next big attraction to visit in Paris is the Musee du Louvre. It’s another short ride within the city center. It’s tough to miss. There are plenty of photo opportunities beside its pyramid. The pyramid also lights up during certain nights.
A regular adult ticket costs EUR 15. The museum includes the Mona Lisa and every other available artwork in the museum. It takes about 1.5 hours if you rush through everything. If you take your time, it might take a couple more hours.
Tip 5: While it’s generally crowded in front of the museum’s entrance, a sweet spot to take photos is to the side. Not much can get in the way between you and the pyramid. Plus, the lighting is better here around noon.
After going through multiple floors of artwork, you’ll eventually reach the Mona Lisa near the end. Needless to say, loads of people will always crowd around the painting. There’s no known off-peak hour, as far as I know.
Tip 6: The number of people — like the painting — is an illusion in itself. You may walk to the side (in my case, to the left) to get closer to Leonardo da Vinci’s work and take a clear shot of it.
If you’re a fan of The Da Vinci Code, you’d know why the spot above is special. No spoilers here, but do pass by this upside-down pyramid before exiting the underground level of the museum.
Continuing the artsy tour, there are fancy bookstores scattered around Paris, such as Shakespeare and Company, which is found in close proximity to what’s left of the Notre-Dame cathedral. Unfortunately, photo taking isn’t allowed inside.
What makes this bookstore special is the cafe found right beside it — a bit pricey, yes, but it makes for great IG-worthy photos like this:
Paris never lacks in photogenic locations. It’s best to be prepared to take out whatever camera you have. The P30 Pro’s zoom was useful in this case. Walking any closer was impossible because of the windowsill.
Tip 7: Paris’ dine-in restaurants are quite pricey. However, more affordable pastry shops are available in every major tourist location. Load up on local bread and coffee/tea while here.
Before the day ends, I highly recommend visiting the Eiffel Tower after sunset for its nighttime lighting. If you can wait till 10pm, a special light show from the monument lights up the Parisian skies.
Tip 8: Paris being such a tourist hotspot, an abundance of thieves normally lurk in crowded areas such as trains and landmark entrances at night. Don’t carry all your cash at once. Keep your valuables secured to your body or bag at all times.
Another notable nighttime shooting location is the Arc de Triomphe. While you could go here when there’s sunlight, the opportunity to take long exposure and HDR photos can’t be missed. The P30 Pro’s cameras also shine in this situation.
As always, there’s lots more to see around Paris that would need another 24 hours to cover. For myself, coming back is a must. Paris is as dynamic as the people who reside in it.
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