VIGNETTES OF HANOI
BY DAVID TEO
WITH THE LEICA M10-P
Vietnam has never been a place I considered for a holiday - but when my wife, Winnie, suggested Hanoi as a place for our much-needed break, coupled with a side trip to Halong Bay, I welcomed the idea of exploring a hitherto unfamiliar country with the M10-P.
I had not done much research on this city built along the Red River, and so when we got off the Grab car, which ferried us from Noi Bai International airport to the heart of the Hanoi Old Quarter, I had no pre-conceived notions of what it would be like.
And what a place it turned out to be! The bustling streets filled with the incessantly weaving motorbikes and other vehicles, opened up like a book with stories waiting to be told. Seriously, I have not felt like this in a long time.
170km away from Hanoi lies Halong Bay, and our little side trip there was equally mesmerising - the lull tourist season bestowed on us a chance of booking an entire cruise ship exclusively for ourselves for a tour of the bay. It was filled with 1,600 limestone islands and islets covering an area of over 1,500 square kilometres. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
How anyone could cross the road is beyond me, so rampant are the vehicles, and how seemingly uncontrolled the chaos is with hardly any traffic lights, but one learns. And within a short period of time, my wife and I were traversing the streets with a zen-like grace taught by the denizens of the city (basically, just walk ahead coolly without breaking your stride and without stepping backwards - the cars and bikes will avoid you).
In fact, we went one step further by joining the traffic on Grab bikes – taking us on a whirlwind trip through the crazy Hanoi traffic. The photography opportunities were good, and the ride was awesome.
This place is an absolute dream for street photography, where people live their lives so openly on the streets - sitting, eating, and chatting by the sidewalks, a place where the ubiquitous motorbikes seem to use for transporting anything - from large families to cargo of any shape, form and size.
Amongst the many things we did on this trip, from seeing the cavernous interiors of hidden limestone caves (used as field hospitals during Vietnam War), to hiking along the trails of Cat Ba Island, and renting our own motorbikes, Hanoi provided us the rest and recuperation we had longed for.
While the entire city is rich in culture, and heavily steeped in history, it was the Old Quarter near the northern shores of Hoan Kiem lake that fascinated me the most. It is an area where I spent the most time - walking along the little streets lined with street vendors, quaint shops interspersed with cosy cafes, haggling merchants, and motorcyclists - lots and lots of motorcyclists.
And what about the Leica M10-P, you might ask? It performed admirably and exceeded my expectations – despite a lower battery capacity compared to that of the Leica M (Typ 240), I still manage nearly 500 photos on a single battery. This meant I never have to give battery life a second thought while out on the streets.
I was able to consistently push the files harder in Lightroom, particularly for shadow recovery, without the usual noticeable banding. The colour right out of camera is very pleasant and accurate, and I rarely had to do much correction, often just adding a bit of contrast. And with the Wi-Fi function, I was able to send photos from the camera to my phone for social media sharing, something which I took advantage of during the trip.
The quality of the files at higher ISOs is definitely a step up, given that I spent a lot of time shooting in the streets at night. The very silent shutter is immensely helpful in staying discreet and not disturbing my subjects even when up-close.
There are other things which add up to make the Leica M10-P so enjoyable to use, like the viewfinder which made focusing much easier, the touch screen which made playback and enlargements on the LCD screen so efficient, the ISO dial which allowed me to set the camera up without turning it on, and the overall slimness of the camera. - David Teo