An Autumn tour in Northern Xinjiang with my Leica M9P, Leica MP and Ricoh GR

An Autumn tour in Northern Xinjiang with my Leica M9P, Leica MP and Ricoh GR

by Wilson Chong

For the Han Chinese, Xinjiang used to be called the Western Frontier during the Han Dynasty. It was not until the Qing Dynasty (Manchu) renamed it as Xinjiang (the new frontier). Xinjiang has been and always will be a place where travellers is no stranger to it. One of the most famous traveller of course is Marco Polo.

Xinjiang is a muslim country, the chineswe called it Hujiang, which means Muslim Frontier. Although Uyghur is the majority nationality in the region, the second biggest ethinic group is Han, then Kazahj in the third place and to my surprise the Mongols is not even in the top five.

Northern Xinjiang are mostly populated by Kazakh and they are descendants of the Turkic tribes. Of course you will hear the occasional bombings and sometimes incidents happened, these are mostly concentrated in Southern Xinjiang in the Uighurs region. During my experience this September 2013, I see no troubles in Northern Xinjiang. Although in Urumqi, you will see highten security forces on the streets, there is no much signs of troubles. The security in the hotels are very strict and I would say I don’t feel I was in any danger while I was there even when I walk around in the city during the day. People are very friendly no matter what nationality. However, one word of warning, there are plenty of pickpockets and watch out your travel documents and money.

Urumqi City Skyline – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 1 - Ricoh GR

I joined a tour group which specialised in photo trips in Hong Kong for 13 days. One of the highlight of this tour was house riding 8 hours from Kanas Lake District to the infamous Hemu Village, where it was the old horse route to the village. Also, we got to go to Baihaba, but be warned again, since the village is next to the border of Kazakhstan (well, it is literally next to the border together with the Chinese Army barracks – of course we are not allowed to film or even pointing our camera towards it), foreigners are prohibited to visit. However, two of my friends were able to get it but again this was no guarantee as there were check points.

Horse riding into Hemu Village, Xinjiang – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 2 - Ricoh GR

Kanas Lake District – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 3 - Ricoh GR

Baihaba Village, Xinjiang – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 4 - Ricoh GR

Since there was no direct flight from Hong Kong, we went to Shenzhen airport and fly six hours to Urumqi. We only stayed for a day on arrival and one day before we return to Hong Kong. However, if you have more time, I would highly recommend you to explore this city more. This is also where we can stay in a five starts hotel. When we go up North, expect camp style accommodation but is clean and usable. However, the scenery is worth every money and your effort. I would say, it is a trip of a life time.

Lamb Skew – food is no problem while you are there.. – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 5 - Ricoh GR

During this trip, I had a hard time deciding what gear to bring. Should I bring my M Monochrom? However, thinking of the beautiful scenery, I decide to bring my Leica M9P, which I can always convert them into B&W after I return. Then I must bring second camera, The Ricoh GR was a strong candidate because it is compact, the 28mm is ideal for landscape as well as Street Photography, the APSC sensor would give a decent pixel to take quality image. More importantly, I would able to use the Ricoh GR in Urumqi or in situation where I need to be discreet. Bearing in mind it is a Muslim area and I don’t want to offend – However, I was proved wrong, people are nice and will to take photos but of course, the Ricoh GR is quick to use and fast that I won’t regret that I miss any photo opportunity. On an epic trip, I cannot hold back in bring my Leica MP. Why? I like films and during my father’s day, they do it with film and after such a trip, you skills will improve because of the pressure on you that there is no second chance. The film I choice was Fujifilm Fujichrome Velvia 100 taking into account I have to go through custom (ISO below 400?) and I will be shooting mostly in a bright daylight (keeping my figures cross that there will be no rain). So, I packed 40 rolls. Thanks to Japan Camera Hunter Film Case, I save a lot of trouble packing into my backpack.

There will be others trying to get the same shot… – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 6 - Ricoh GR

If you want more of the Xinjiang Photos, please visit my flickr page at:

Here are some of the amazing landscape in Northern Xinjiang:


Hemu Village


Sunset at Hemu Village – 135mm f2.8 Elmarit-M + M9P

PHOTO 7 - Leica M9P


Hemu Village during the day – 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar-M ASPH + M9P

PHOTO 8 - Leica M9P –

This is also where they filmed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Leica-M Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH II + MP

Fujichrome Velvia 100

PHOTO 9 - Leica M9P

WoLong Bay, Kanas Lake District – Ricoh GR

PHOTO 10 - Ricoh GR

People in Norther Xinjiang 

Lamb Skewers are more than 7 Eleven… – Leica-M Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH II + MP

Fujichrome Velvia 100

PHOTO 10 - Leica MP

They used to ride horses… now the Iron Horses, what they say now. – Leica-M Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH II + MP

Fujichrome Velvia 100

PHOTO 11 - Leica MP

Anyway, I would thank you Steve for posting my submission and wish you all the best! Looking forward to your reviews, reports and thoughts on photography!

Best regards,

Wilson Chong


  1. Really great stuff. Some of the Ricoh files almost look like old paintings.
    Still very detailed. You made the most of your “once in a lifetime” trip.

  2. Awesome set. Great composition, subject matter, and love the colour no matter what others say. What a fun, interesting, awesome set of pictures to look through. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love your photos and think the colour issues referrred to are a matter of taste -you might try reworking some of these if you wish and see how you feel? -I liked them as they were as dramatic as the landscape. I am curious to see you used a 135mm f2.8 Elmarit M to take your beautiful photo of the village.Is this the lens with the spectacles? I have one and it’s a nightmare to focus on my Leica M8 but does do a good job on certain subjects – I use it occasionally on a tripod. I would like to see Steve do a review of this lens as it can be had quite cheap and would focus no problem on the latest Leica M. Best wishes keep visiting and photographing exotic places.

  4. A few nice ones, but more people scenes, environmental portraits, street scenes, villages, less bold pp, less of the “usual framing” when having such a great travel opportunity would have been nice. Maybe taking one camera less on the trip would have helped mastering the gear?

  5. Nice photos.
    I find its easy to move the GR when I press the shutter release when I hold it one handed.
    I’ve thought of somehow extending the GR grip to fit better in my hand.

    Which camera did you enjoy shooting with the most? With the benefit of hindsight, which camera or camera and lens combination would you take of you could only take one.

  6. I for one really enjoy the colors on these, especially Sunset at Hemu Village and WoLong Bay. Would be happy to see more from you!

    • I agree about these exact two files. I am less bothered about the post-processing because I haven’t been to either place and can’t begin to tell you, the photographer, what mood the colors should evoke. No one tells Picasso to straighten out those crooked eyes or 70’s color film photographers to tone down that strong orange cast. You get what the artist gives you because that’s what they wanted you to have. if these were paintings you would never say use less red. The people are actually the least strong because I don’t connect with them. But I do feel an appreciation for the landscape. Cheers

  7. Wilson thank you for documenting our trip with every details! Look forward for our next one!

  8. A nice little vacation to somewhere completely fresh — thanks, Wilson!

    The ones with cobalt skies pinned to 127 are too much for me, but the colors in a lot of the rest remind of flipping thru an old National Geographic — I quite like it.
    The b&w from the Ricoh has nice tone & contrast for me.

  9. Nice set, would like to have seen more people portraits.
    I’ve been to Sinkiang and Eastern Turkestan when I crossed the Khujerab pass via the Karakoram Highway.
    One day I hope to visit these lands where my Hero’s HW Tilman and F Younghusband once crossed and explored.

    • Yeah, I’d have like more environmental portraits, too.
      Nevertheless these didn’t lose my interest.

  10. Like the film shots best. The Ricoh GR shots were processed a tad too much but I could tell you were trying to match the color punch of Velvia which is very hard to do. Still all are great shots.

    • I agree that the processing is distracting and distasteful.

      The compositions are pretty good though, and the subject matter is very interesting. Central Asia is such a vast place.

  11. I love “Sunset at Hemu Village” and all the Velvia shots. It completely explains why Velvia is so loved.

  12. That Ricoh GR is getting everywhere! And so it should, I love that camera, my poor DSLR is feeling neglected

  13. Nobody thinks the pictures are oversaturated and/or too contrasty?
    Alteast that’s how it looked like to me.

      • +1 Photos don’t necessarily have to emulate film either. Captures are created and processed with artistic freedom. Some of the greatist artists went against what was taught and expected.

      • This is not the mainstream of digital photography. Digital is capable of producing the most accurate photos ever made. Each person has his/her own style and if these wildly inaccurate and garish colors are what Mr. Chong and others want then fine. For me, and just me, the colors ruined the shots.

    • Great views of a place not many of us would get to see. Apart from the B&W and the film shots the rest have far too much pp for my liking, almost like Disneyland.

    • Couldn’t agree more, GregoryMac. The processing became the feature and you’re left wondering what the country really looks like.

    • Agree, too, about the over processing spoiling some potentially good shots. Almost posteriorisation in some cases! Nothing wrong with the composition, though – tantalising!

    • I think most of them look great. The sunset at the Hemu Village photo is truly stunning. Are they highly saturated and contrasty? Sure, but what is wrong with that. If the only job of a photographer were to capture a scene exactly as it appears then it wouldn’t be much of an art right? It’s all about the photographer’s interpretation.

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