UPDATE: Strobist was archived in 2021.
Here is what I am up to now.


My Visit With DigitalRev, or, What's Kai Wong Really Like?

Earlier this month I traveled to Hong Kong to be a guest on DigitalRev's Pro Tog, Cheap Camera series. (Full video and final pic edits below.)

Which meant I also got to hang out with the DR team, including Lok, Alamby, Theo—and of course show frontman/international sex symbol/Man of Mystery Kai Wong.

And you are probably wondering right now: what's Kai really like?

Kai Wong has been the face of DRTV for three years. The DigitalRev videos have already garnered in total over 100,000,000 views, (just one order of magnitude below Gangnam Style) bringing him untold1 wealth and fame.

So of course he brought along a fly set of wheels2. And suffice to say we saw Hong Kong in style—and at a very high rate of speed.

But is he really as witty as he appears on air? Is he so quick with a retort? Is he that funny? Well, yes. As long as he is reading his script properly.

The real wit/brains/whip cracking behind the DRTV team is courtesy the petite, lovely, Aussie-accented (when speaking English, but not when speaking Cantonese) Alamby.

(Photo by Kai Wong)

Typical3 exchange:

Kai: I don't think I can say that...
Alamby: You are not paid to think. Read the script I wrote.

Kai: But I can't SAY that! This is going on YouTube!

Kai: [Off-the-cuff series of supposedly improvised quasi-obscenities and double-entendres.]
Alamby: Thank you.

With Lok and Theo vacuuming it all up on DSLR video, and with a little lightning-fast post production, the crew is able to release three videos a week. Which is more frequent than I change socks4.

So when these guys invited me to Hong Kong for a guest appearance on their "Pro Tog Cheap Camera" series, I could hardly refuse. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I knew Kai Alamby would be creative.

The Video

Here is the video, which to be fair I did not see before writing this post. As far as the real-time reaction onsite, I barely remember as it all happened so fast. But I'll give my best shot (with self-grading) on the annotated BTS below.

Decoding Buzz

First off, we have to start with the camera. It is a Buzz Lightyear(!) camera, designed for three-year-olds. Which makes it perfect for someone of my maturity level. I knew absolutely nothing about it. Clearly, it was pretty obvious there were no exposure controls, full ambient-based auto, etc.

But I do know one thing is certain in life: If you look at the front of any P&S (or POS) camera, you'll find the aperture rating of the lens. This is a constant.

Well, until now. The front of this camera lens said, appropriately:

Okay then. No telling how I will control it (you can't) much less marry it to three "FUQ690" rebranded POS strobes. Manual (unquantified) and (unreliably) slaved. Perfect.

Snakes on a Plate

At this point I know nothing about the camera at all. No controls, auto WB that does not marry with external flash, 2 (very bad) megapixels. But the biggest issue, which I had not yet discovered was that the flash took 6-7 seconds to recycle.

That was secondary to the fact that my subject spoke no English (Hi, Zack!) and I no Cantonese. So naturally I attempt to communicate by praising/petting some of the wad of lovely snakes he is holdi… OhHolyShitThatOneIsACobra.

Come to find out they are ALL poisonous. That's where the supposed virility-inducing properties of the snake soup comes from.

So, no Cantonese, freaked out by the snakes, no idea about the camera, all happening so fast. Total failure. I get maybe three frames total where the strobes actually synced, and I was still flying blind on any settings. This camera like to let the ambient in no matter what. Plus, did I mention poisonous snakes.

Long story short, first shoot grade: F minus.

The snake master (a real thing there, apparently) quickly dispatched a poisonous virility-inducing snake. And if that was not creepy enough, the thing kept wiggling long after it was both beheaded and skinned.

Mmmm-mmm. And soon, lunch was served!

Kai and I both ate a few bites (very slimy/gelatinous) as I wondered just how much of a dosage of Viagra Soup I was consuming5. Not to let any go to waste, Theo and Lok gobbled up the remainder.

Bouncy Noodles

Next we were off to a place where they still make noodles the old-fashioned way, by bouncing up and down on a bamboo pole. (Which, BTW, does not convey any special properties to the noodles—taste, texture, virility, etc.)

It was here that I finally started to understand all of the things stacked against me with the BuzzCam. If I waited 7 secs, it would flash. Sometimes it would set off the other flashes. But often, they oddly did not sync.

Lok pointed out the shutter speed might not be slow enough, and suggested using an ND filter (just like Joey L.!) to alter the shutter speed.

This worked, kind of, and I was left to try to find an angle where nether flash would reflect too badly off of the faceted curve of the glass.

Grade: C minus. But at least I was starting to understand the camera and it's limitations.

Sealing Block

Next we went to a place where Kai (and later, Alamby) got to carve sealing blocks out of sandstone. This was a godsend, as Kai is a slow carver and I got to experiment over a length of time with the camera.

I was finally able to find out what it could (and, more accurately, could not) do. But in a low-light environment, I could at least tweak the situation to be able to see the slaved flashes.

The photo above is lit with two flashes as best I could, given the large amount of ambient the camera automatically exposes for by default. But the coolest thing from this shoot is that I now knew how slow the camera was, how poorly the slaves worked and how weak the Fuq690s were. Perfect!

But all was not lost. I got a sealing block hand-carved by internet demi-god Kai Wong that imprints the Chinese symbol for "flash":

But as for my photo...

Grade: C. I still felt like a blind man trying to describe an elephant when trying to decipher that camera. Just not enough info…

The Lambo

Next, we were to shoot a supercar. In full daylight. Given the fact I had to ND the already slow lens to slave the very weak Fuq690s, this was just not gonna happen.

So we pulled the Lambo into the darkest corner I could find and then lit a portion of it and also Tai, the driver. It was the only way I could think of to get the strobes to overpower the ambient:

I went hard and sculpty with the light here, simply because I had no other choice. They were all pretty much on full power and I had the BuzzCam ND'd to get a sync most of the time.

The thinking: ND the camera and hope it underexposes the foreground, at least; bring back the back fender, front side and driver areas with three "speed"lights.

Coolest thing: This Lambo is black. But it has a ($3,000USD) vinyl wrap that not only protects the paint but allows it to temporarily be any color he wants it to be. In this case, sunflower yellow.

I have had a little experience with wraps myself, but I had no idea at first that this wasn't paint. Pretty awesome, even if you can buy my own car for the price of wrapping this one three times.

Better yet, Tai let us have the Lambo for the rest of the week6, so we could cruise around Hong Kong in style.

Grade: A minus, just because I was proud of solving the problem of how to light a car in daylight with those awful flashes and a toy camera. I want that car.

Shaolin Monk

Even more than the pain of having to use the Buzzcam to shoot the Lambo, this one hurt. We only had him for a few minutes and I had to photograph him with a toy.

Given the bad-sync, slow-shutter limitations, I was forced to go for a static portrait. To get the FUQ690s7 to sync, the shutter had to be way to slow to stop him in action mode.

We had him go through a couple of motion exercises, but none of the frames (when they all synced) were anywhere near fast enough to stop him.

Lok, of course, got to shoot him with a 5d-Mk whatever, so I was not at all jealous. At all. And the monk was on a tight sked, so he had to run before we knew it. So I can technically say I have photographed a Shaolin Monk now, but … sigh.

Grade: B plus, just because he is such a badass and I could shoot him standing still for a bit.

Post Mortem

Hong Kong: eipc. So glad I got to go. Thanks so much to the DigitalRev team for the invite.

So, how'd I do? More important, how do you think you woulda done? Fun exercise, that.

And if Kai ever emails to invite you to "Pro Tog, Cheap Camera," absolutely do it.


1. The use of the word "untold" makes this item absolutely true.

2. This may not, technically speaking, be true. Just imagine him driving you around like a bat out of hell in a black Toyota minivan, commenting pithily nonstop as he taunts the speed cameras and racks up parking tickets and you won't be far off.

3. Possibly true.

4. Almost certainly true.

5. Enough, apparently. Kinda awkward, walking around Hong Kong for the rest of the week in loose cargo shorts. #JustSayin.

6. This is not true at all.

7. I think they were really YongNuos. Surprise.


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto