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.


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Blogger Mango said...

Excellent video! Love how the pics turned out...

December 31, 2012 12:04 PM  
Blogger Thiago Medeiros said...

Thank you so much for the detailed BTS, David! I was waiting impatiently for the video, and I was certainly not disappointed. Congratulations for stading up to the challenge and happy new year!

December 31, 2012 12:06 PM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

Man, I'm SO grateful I'm not you.
I would have probably flunked each and every one of the assignments. O_O

December 31, 2012 12:55 PM  
Blogger Sando said...

Thx David for the cool video. Watched it and thought "Great, now I don't have an excuse to complain anymore, when shooting with my D700 and something isn't working as planned". I have a Yongnuo YN560 II and I have to say they aren't bad. I use it as a background light or a Rim. For these kind of things they work pretty good.

December 31, 2012 1:19 PM  
Blogger Christian Udarbe said...

Just watched the video! Excellent work there, David! I must say it is really inspiring how you conquered the odds with what little equipment you had. Pure genius!

Happy New Year, David!

December 31, 2012 1:28 PM  
Blogger Christian Udarbe said...

Just watched the video! Excellent work there, David! I must say it is really inspiring how you conquered the odds with what little equipment you had. Pure genius!

Happy New Year, David!

December 31, 2012 1:29 PM  
Blogger John said...

Dude, I wouldn't have wanted that assignment. I would tossed the Buzz camera in the can. :) Your pics turned out awesome, considering.

I hope you brought one of those bada$$ FUQ's home as a souvenir!

I loved the video, Happy New Year!

December 31, 2012 1:32 PM  
Blogger ohnostudio said...

That carved seal is now your "Chop" and you need to sign all of your documents with it ;-)

Good job David and Happy New Year

December 31, 2012 1:41 PM  
Blogger That Photo Guy said...

I liked the vid soo much it was amazing and, I like how your photos came out at the end. Of the challenge

December 31, 2012 1:52 PM  
OpenID Henry said...

Brilliant. As a beginner (flash photography) it was inspiring to see how you used the light to add depth to the pictures despite the "Infinity & beyond" camera.

Off to start reading Lighting 101.

Great job.

December 31, 2012 2:05 PM  
Blogger Paul Buckley said...

To Infinity and Beyond - Priceless!!!

December 31, 2012 2:28 PM  
Blogger Clive Chan said...

Very interesting to know that Alamby is behind the wit and humour of DRTV. Makes me want to meet her even more.

December 31, 2012 2:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Love both of the blogs represented here, but David, I am in awe of your Buzz Lightyear photos... After posting the power of this camera I'm sure they will be flying off the shelves!

December 31, 2012 3:17 PM  
Blogger John F. Williams said...

Have been anticipating the release since the preview was posted. Very cool and a wonderful video to close out 2012.

December 31, 2012 3:22 PM  
Blogger Patrick Smith said...

Awesome to see you on DigitalRev, man. Happy New Year!

December 31, 2012 3:42 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I was just watching the video and decided to pop over here. Nice work man!

December 31, 2012 4:04 PM  
Blogger Manu Sanju said...

Nice Work David .... Saw the great video now ...
You proveed that complaning about the tools is stupids work and if you know the right technique , and good artistic talents , then you wont blame on anything , and also gets the best use of available resource to get the best output ...

Hats off to you and Happy New year

December 31, 2012 4:27 PM  
Blogger Pogue said...

I like the way you approached the shoots - just solving the problems as they came up. When you waved at that snake to get its' attention did you realize it was venomous? Oh, and maybe you can get Nikon to change their charge tone to the one the Buzz camera was using. I thought that was kind of neat!

December 31, 2012 6:02 PM  
Blogger Coração said...

Man, THAT was fun to watch! I can only guess how it was to go through! Great stuff, great job and, BTW, where do I get that camera and that FUQ flash??? My 5 y.o. daughter laughted her lungs off with the video and is now after me to get the same stuff!!

December 31, 2012 7:49 PM  
Blogger ISO 1200 Magazine said...

Amazing David, the most anticipated video last year for me .

Time ago I read an article that explained how to attach an optical slave trigger for hot shoe mount flash + trigger to the Pop-Up flash on your camera.

This DIY system could help you next time to use your PocketWizard :D

Here is the image

Happy New Year!!!

December 31, 2012 8:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A really professional job. Impressive! I thought that for a split second you were going to heave with the snake dish. I couldn't have done it.

December 31, 2012 8:07 PM  
Blogger Jim Danvers said...

" ... whoa - that's a cobra!" lol!

Fun stuff... :)

December 31, 2012 8:10 PM  
Blogger Egon Kuster said...

Love the video very fun and informative.

December 31, 2012 9:07 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

I thought this was absolutely proof "It's not the camera; it's the photographer".

Given the tools, the images are really pretty good. Just one question. Were you allowed to post process any of them?

December 31, 2012 9:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great work David as so happen I was traveling in Hong Kong during Dec 2012 and Jan 2013, I'm looking forward to visit the place you have been. For sure to try out some snake soup, it is very good for your body and joint if you have arthritis. It does taste like chicken!

Wayne Lam
Vancouver Photographer & Cinematic Videographer

December 31, 2012 10:11 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Very cool. Kai and Team are Awesome. One question... Where was the court yard portion of the video shown in the trailer where kai made some bungee cord reference?

December 31, 2012 11:43 PM  
Blogger frederick said...


To infinity and beyond....

January 01, 2013 12:24 AM  
Blogger Shoot said...

Well done David. I don't think I could have gotten the same result. I have been to Hong Kong many times and always enjoy going there and shooting...

January 01, 2013 4:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Birks said...

The flashes were absolutly Yugonous. I own one. It's funny to see a knock off of a knock off wannabe Speedlight.

As you know David, it's a "fun" cheap little flash to play around with, but don't try anything "real" with it.

January 01, 2013 7:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The YN 560s are really not that bad. I have two that I use for background lights and the have been very reliable as supplements to my 580EX2s. For real frustration try my old 420EZ which has a built in 5min cut off. It can't be changed and is certain to fail during your best shot.

January 01, 2013 10:51 AM  
Blogger Ki Price said...

Great video , Happy New Year wish you guys do some workshops in London.

January 01, 2013 11:01 AM  
Blogger Fettaugraphy said...

No need for expensive tools. Happy new year to you and your family David. Thanks for all of the geat posts in 2012. Looking forward to digesting your hardwork in 2013......minus the cobra.

January 01, 2013 12:08 PM  
Blogger xlphotog said...

The more I read, the more I kept picturing you as Bill Murray, in Lost in Translation. Could have done without the gelatinous ooze.

January 01, 2013 12:38 PM  
Blogger Paul Mason said...

Gah - I'm half way through watching "lighting in layers", and now I have that image from footnote #5 in my mind... ;-)

January 01, 2013 1:10 PM  
Blogger Andy Y said...

Excellent video, this is hilarious. The photos turned out great. Glad you had fun in HK, I am going back in March.

January 01, 2013 2:26 PM  
Blogger nixs said...

Great stuff. What is that backpack?

January 01, 2013 2:42 PM  
Blogger Gavin Jackson said...

Great video, good to see you finally return to your roots - none of this silly Hasselblad + Paul Buff nonsense.

I'd like to see more of this stuff - the "high quality" toilet paper light mod was the best bit.

Did they let you go back with proper gear?

January 01, 2013 7:19 PM  
Blogger Jason McLemore said...

That was an amazing video. One of my favorite DigitalRev pro features to date. You stood up to a very daunting task.

January 01, 2013 8:58 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I really enjoyed that video and the rest of the post. So glad you could squeeze one more in before the end of the year.

Luckily the snakes weren't "poisonous" after all, or you would have ended up dead or ill after eating one. They may have been "venomous" but that's a different word with a different meaning! ;)

Happy New Year and all the very best for 2013 to you, David, and to all readers of 'Strobist' everywhere.

Good Light,


January 01, 2013 9:01 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


No idea. They blindfolded me (may as well have) and we drove to the spots.


It was no picnic for me either.


It's a Gregory Miwok 18. LOVE that daypack. I have logged almost 3,000 miles on foot with it.


Yada, yada, yada. Greetings, noob.

January 01, 2013 9:05 PM  
Blogger Jesse Warren said...

Interesting that Alamby is the brains behind the operation...always thought she was just a cute sidekick.

January 02, 2013 4:19 AM  
Blogger Emiliano Leonardi said...

HA! That must've been fun!
I like how people come up with simple yet challenging projects!

I hope you really had fun!
I'm sure you did...
Cheers from Germany!

January 02, 2013 7:38 AM  
Blogger Sean Flaherty said...

I laughed out loud at the laser sound after each shot. Priceless.

January 02, 2013 4:07 PM  
Blogger Heather Nilson said...

That was so much fun (to watch, anyway). As to how I think I would have done in your place: I bet I would have failed to get anything to sync at all. If I managed that, I'd have camera and/or speedlights aimed at something irrelevant. That's based on the fact that I've given myself an "F" on some Lighting 102 assignments, even though I have excellent instruction (thank you) and all the time I need. Sigh. I'm glad you enjoyed Hong Kong!

January 02, 2013 5:53 PM  
Blogger wraith said...

Wow, the only thing better than reading your walk-throughs about how to solve lighting problems is actually watching you sweat it out (ahem, I mean) think creatively real-time.

However, the absolute best aspect of this challenge with venerable snake masters and monks was hearing that little laser blaster after every shot! Pew-pew-pew-pew-pew!


January 02, 2013 6:57 PM  
Blogger Heipel said...

Seriously, a remarkable challenge that you nail, David. Every photography school should give such assignments! This did make me very hungry to see what you would have done with the snakes and the monk with your own gear!

January 02, 2013 10:31 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

LOVED the video and thanks for breaking it down for everyone. Not surprised you produced some great images with the toy camera. Have you been working out??

January 02, 2013 10:35 PM  
Blogger palaboy™ said...

Saw the video on Gizmodo website and found it very interesting. I love just how you make something out of nothing and solving the lighting problems when catching those moments. Great job...

January 03, 2013 4:36 AM  
Blogger D.Meds said...

So nice lovely invitation comes from long time waiting where Kai will call for David to confirm the infinity and beyond capability of strobist community and its leader so lovely photos and real shooting scenes but the snakes quivered me how could you taste them ? :)

January 03, 2013 8:07 AM  
Blogger Photo Shoots said...

I think so!

January 03, 2013 7:25 PM  
Blogger Shanx said...

"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."

Is it possible you could have set the flash to a repeating flash/stroboscopic mode (did it have such a feature?) and just shoot normally without worrying about syncing? That way, you can keep a higher shutter speed and eventually one of the images will have the flash, if you use a high enough Hz.

January 03, 2013 11:39 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

David its a pity you forgot the 1st rule of speedlight / trigger issues - try new batteries.

A fresh set of NiMH would have made all your sync and recycle time issues go away.

Yongnuos recycle just as fast as the big name flashes... very fast with good batteries, very slow with flat ones!

January 04, 2013 4:48 AM  
Blogger Yugo said...

Amazing, David. Thanks for showing us how a pro can make great art under time pressure with terrible gear!

About that Shaolin monk - since you had a slow shutter, did any of the action shots come out with a cool motion blur? I imagine it would be akin to using first curtain sync.

January 04, 2013 1:43 PM  
Blogger Thats Not Right said...

You were brilliant. Now I know why I can't take a good picture. Got to dump the Nikon and get a Buzz...Oh and a Fuq.

January 04, 2013 2:11 PM  
Blogger Nathan Shepard said...

I know you won't read this but I have to. None of those snakes are poisonous! Otherwise you wouldn't be able to eat them! Venomous is the word you mean to say and there was only one that was venomous, yes, the Cobra. The others were all ratsnake...completely harmless.

January 05, 2013 3:12 AM  
Blogger sitbonzo said...

I've not seen the video and am sure it's great. But, is it just me or was this a little wasted opportunity on their behalf. Sure, give a pro shooter a low end camera but at least something that is capable of doing the job. I know DH can shoot a decent image with a joke camera or even a pinhole camera but how good would it have been to give him even a halfway decent point and shoot and THEN see him rip it up. Personally, I'd give him a plate camera and some phosphorous. Old skool

January 05, 2013 3:13 PM  
Blogger frogham said...

Holy cow. That was intense. Snakes and a buzz light year camera. Nuff said!

Hobby Rocks!

January 07, 2013 11:33 PM  
Blogger George Quiroga said...

Magnificent. David you did an outstanding job withe the limits of each situation and the resources you were given. A true problem solver and a fabulous documentary on the process. Thank you David, Kai, and the rest of the DigitalRev team.

January 08, 2013 10:29 PM  
Blogger Pang said...

OMG amazing video and awesome job on the pictures! What a great opportunity to go to HK and meet the DigitalRev team.

January 11, 2013 9:39 PM  
Blogger Analia said...

This video should be dedicated to every person who has ever looked at a picture and said 'wow, you must have a really awesome camera!'

Luved it!


Analia :-)

January 19, 2013 10:00 PM  
Blogger Pablo said...

haha, "5d Mk whatever".

I watched the video the day it came out. I think they gave the worst cameras to their finest guests, including you David, and Chase Jarvis with the Lego.

At least Zack Arias got that old Kodak.

February 07, 2013 6:53 PM  
Blogger frederick said...


The stealth gaffers tape storage device is the unnoticed, sleeper tip in the video. Pretty good idea!


February 16, 2013 1:47 AM  
Blogger Kaouthia said...

"Come to find out they are ALL poisonous"

Poisonous and venomous are not the same thing.

Rattlesnakes are venomous, but you can eat them just fine.

Garter snakes are poisonous, but they won't kill you if they bite you, they don't even have venom.

February 17, 2013 5:37 PM  
Blogger Chris Stenberg said...

I just watched this video in its entirety, which is rare for me. Not only was it super entertaining, but I loved watching you solve the various problems with those terrible FUQ flashes. Brilliant work with the Buzz Lightyear camera!!

February 20, 2013 3:00 AM  
Blogger JP A. said...

Hi David,

being a regular on DRTVs youtube channel, I saw the episode quite some time ago, but just saw the blog entry linked by DRTVs Facebook page. Pretty cool summary, I really love your insights on the brains behind beloved DRTV. Considering the setup some of the pictures turned out absolutely awesome - lots of respect.

Keep up the good work, I'll be following this from now on.

March 02, 2013 6:48 AM  
Blogger Rachel Leung said...

"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." Is this true?

That note for "typical exchange" for what happened behind the scene, is that really true? Did Alamby really write the script? I don't think so. But just by posting this, you are ruining someone's hard work to write the script, especially when you are a renowned photographer! Your liking of that Alamby should not give you any privilege to put all the credits for the script for her when she didn't really write the scripts! Please think and be more responsible!

Because you are such a renowned photographer, I am sure that you are aware of the power of internet and quite a number of people will just believe that based on your comment! Is it justified that the script writer's credit is taken by Alamby when she did not write the script?

March 24, 2014 1:40 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I am joking. Kai knows I am joking. Lok knows I am joking. It's all cool. I promise.


March 25, 2014 8:45 PM  
Blogger Thats Not Right said...


Ah, the Internet, where everyone is pissed about something. You spend your whole day doing this?


March 26, 2014 9:08 AM  

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