A Mini Milestone Achieved - 10,000 Subs on YouTube!

We have just hit 10,000 subscribers count on YouTube! Hurray!

Special thanks to all you beautiful people for the support. I started hitting YouTube more seriously back in July when I decided to post 2 videos per week, and was aiming to hit 10,000 subs by end of 2019. However, little did I expect, that goal happened much earlier, we are in September and it is now 10,150 subs and counting! I know for many 10k subs is not a big deal, especially when we live in a world where a 2 minutes video of a cat eating a corn can generate a million views. It may be a small step, but to me, this is a positive encouragement to drive me further and to strive to improve myself in the alien world of YouTube! Of course, all thanks to you guys for the likes, comments, shares and subscribing. 



Why YouTube?

I never intended to start or get serious in YouTube. However, I do admit that the world has moved on, photography blogs are losing popularity. Blogging or no blogging, I am still an active photographer, shooting both commercially and working on personal projects. YouTube seems like a great platform to reach out to an audience, and to continue to share my passion in photography. It is a place I can showcase my work, rant some ideas and share my skills and experience as a photographer. It is also evident that some techniques or explanation are better executed in a video format, than writing. It is easier to show how to take a portrait of a stranger through a behind the scenes video in 30 seconds, than writing a 2000 words article. 

Why did I not start sooner?

Blogging and doing a video are so different. In the blogging world, I don't have to show my face, and I don't have to speak. Writing is also easier to edit. I don't have to care about how I sound like, or if there is something in my hair, or if my face is in focus when I deliver a speech. I can write a blog entry anywhere, anytime, without worrying about lighting or camera battery levels. I was never comfortable speaking in front of a camera.

Furthermore, I am a complete noob when it comes to video shooting. I know not about the 180 degrees rule (slowly picking this up now) or how to create cinematic looking footage. Photography and videography are so different, now I need to think of a story-board, a script and B-rolls? Oh and also audio recording, because nobody likes to listen to poorly recorded voice speaking for 10 minutes long. There is a whole new world for me to learn, and I was just not ready to jump in yet. 

Image credit: Robert Evangelista

I released a video about the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Firmware 3.0 in June, and it did really well. I made the video because it was easier to show the new features in video, than writing them. The response was quite positive, and after making an actual video and putting it up, I thought to myself, I can actually do this! I did everything myself, setting up a camera on a tripod, recorded my own voice separately (to be sync-ed up later) and you know what really baked the cookie? I edited that entire video in Windows Movie Maker. Yeap, the noob in me cannot be more obvious. 

Seeing that it was possible for me to handle everything alone, with careful planning and much consideration, some time in early July I decided to pursue YouTube more seriously. I knew I was not ready but if I kept telling myself that I will never be ready. So I decided to just jump in and do it!
I decided to upload two videos per week, every Mondays and Thursdays. I have been consistent ever since until today. There were a lot of stumbling blocks, I made a few mistakes there and here, but hey, I guess those were necessary. And in about more than 2 months later, now, we are at 10,000 subs! I did not see this coming at all. 

It was not easy, trust me! At least not for me. 

I am a terrible multitasker. I have to take care of the camera that is filming myself speaking or demonstrating something. The first camera to shoot video of me stays on a tripod, usually at a public location, so the fear of someone snatching the tripod with a camera and lens on it was always present. For every single shot I need to reframe, re-focus, and adjust the exposure settings. Then I have to also think about what I am shooting, or doing while being recorded in video. This is the tricky part, normally when I shoot, I gave 100% concentration to get my shots, either street shots, portraits, macro or anything else, I do not have to worry about anything else. Now that I am doing video, all by myself, I have to care about camera settings on two separate cameras! 

Besides the camera on hand, and on tripod (recording video), I also need to record audio, and that was done on a lavalier mic attached to my shirt (quite obvious if you have seen any of my videos) and that mic goes to a voice recorder in my pocket. The audio track was recorded separately and I sync them up with video in post. Oh speaking of post-production, I have absolutely zero knowledge jumping  into this. I decided to use Da Vinci Resolve (since it is free) and I have to learn everything from scratch!

I have so much more to learn, it is a long, long way, but hey, I am able to reach an audience and share meaningful content through the YouTube platform, that itself is true, and is enough reason for me to keep going. I know not where this will lead me, but not knowing keeps it both exciting and fun!

Again, thanks all for making the 10,000 subs possible. Shutter therapy goes on!

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Dealing with High ISO Shooting on Olympus OM-D Cameras

One of the most frustrating things to see at online forums or any other photography discussions is how poor the high ISO performance is for Micro Four Thirds system. I do not challenge the physics that larger image sensor size will yield cleaner and better results when it comes to high ISO scenario, but I have never encountered a situation in both my professional and personal shooting environment where the low light capability of my OM-D camera is insufficient. Therefore, I thought it would be great to share some of the tips on dealing with high ISO shooting, some dos and don'ts when using the Olympus OM-D camera system. 


Before we dive too deep, let me remind you that we should not obsess with high ISO shooting, especially when it comes to personal shooting.  I can totally understand if you shoot commercially and you have to deliver shots to clients. For personal projects, don't let high ISO noise get in the way of your photography process. Noise or no noise, a great image is still a great image. Good photography has no correlation to high ISO noise. Focus more on the idea or emotion you are expressing in your photographs, the visual story-telling component. 

With that out of the way, let's begin!


DO NOT USE SILENT SHUTTER

When shooting at high ISO, silent shutter will amplify the visible noise in the images. I am not entirely sure why this is the case, but when silent shutter, or electronic shutter is engaged, the resulting image suffers more  degradation, with higher amount of noise grains and artifacts in comparison to normal mechanical shutter use. Furthermore,  in the shadow area of the image, there are ugly green color cast that appear as patches and blotches which are very difficult to correct or remove in post-processing. These ugly green blotches are not present when normal mechanical shutter is being used. I'd only advice to use the silent shutter when absolutely necessary - shooting a piano recital for example. In other cases when shutter sound is not a concern, using the normal mechanical  shutter will ensure you better high ISO results. 

ISO6400 image, intentionally underexposed to exaggerate noise bahaviour

Crops from previous image.
Left: Normal Shutter, Right: Silent Shutter

ISO6400, intentionally underexposed to exaggerate noise pattern

Crops from previous image.
Left: Normal Shutter, Right:Silent Shutter. Notice the ugly green cast/patches in the shadow area.

HAND-HELD STARLIGHT SCENE  MODE

For JPEG shooters, there is an interesting multi-shot noise reduction mode built into the camera that can be used to help reduce high ISO noise significantly. You can find this feature "Hand-Held Starlight" under scene mode.Unfortunately, E-M1X and E-M1 Mark II do not have scene modes, Olympus decided to exclude them in these cameras. For all other OM-D cameras, such as E-M10 Mark III, E-M1, E-M5 Mark II, you can make use of this mode to get much cleaner results. Once engaged, the hand-held starlight mode will capture 8 separate images consecutively and then merge them all into one composite image to significantly reduce the noise in the image. This works because high ISO noise pattern is random,  and same noise grain does not exist in the same pixel location in every image captured. Sampling 8 different images, there is a high chance to selectively merge areas with clean pixels, hence resulting in a better image. Do take note that this method, like any other in camera composite modes, only works with static subjects. 

ISO3200, underexposed 

ISO3200,normal shot

ISO3200 crop, Hand-Held Starlight mode


DO NOT UNDEREXPOSE

This is a general rule of thumb when it comes  to low light shooting, not just for Olympus cameras, but also applicable for all cameras. Underexposure leads to less information captured in the shadow region, lifting the shadows in post-processing will amplify the noise in the image. It is very crucial to get the exposure right during shooting especially when shooting high ISO.  It is also recommended to slightly overexpose the image to get cleaner shadows, but do be careful not to clip the highlights, as highlights may be difficult to recover at high ISO shooting as well. Shooting discipline is crucial. 

SHOOT IN RAW

If you do not shoot RAW, you should definitely start considering RAW if you have to deal with a lot of low light situations. Shooting in RAW allows the camera to capture as much information as possible in a single image, and these data can be stretched and recovered in post-processing. JPEG information is limited, and camera does internal noise reduction process which does a good job at minimizing noise, but at the expense of useful detail as well, resulting in often painterly, mushy look. Another important aspect of shooting in RAW is the ability to correct the white balance with no consequence to the image noise. Shooting JPEG with the wrong white balance setting will be disastrous when correcting the colors, introducing ugly noise in the mage.  Shooting RAW and doing effective post-processing will almost guarantee better high ISO images. 

GRADATION NORMAL

I generally recommend setting the camera's gradation setting to normal, because the "auto" setting will lift shadow areas, and this is not really helpful when our goal is to minimize noise in the image. I did suggest using "Auto" gradation in my optimizing dynamic range article/video lately, and that is strictly applicable when shooting at ISO200 and for the sole reason of boosting dynamic range shooting in JPEG only. When shooting at higher ISO numbers, 800 or beyond, using gradation auto will severely affect the noise in the image. 

I hope you have found these tips useful! If you have more to share, leave them in the comments below, sharing is caring!


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Olympus M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3 at KL Bird Park

Olympus released a lens with the longest zoom range for Micro Four Thirds earlier this year, the M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3. I have written an article about that on Ming Thein's site (click) and I won't repeat my findings here in this particular blog entry. Instead, I made a video of me discussing the important points from that article, and of course, showcasing an entirely new set of photographs. In short, the Olympus 12-200mm may not excel in any departments (certainly not a low light lens, not the sharpest, longest or widest) but it does own the title of the most versatile Olympus lens up to date!


Kuala Lumpur is currently blanketed by thick haze, as a result of forest and plantation burning in a neighbor country. The haze pollution got so bad that I could not shoot a building across the road without looking somewhat a bit out of focus. This is not the best scenario to test a lens, or take sample photographs for the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-200mm lens, hence the lack of wide angle shots. However, I did have a lot more wide angle sample in my article on Ming Thein's site, so in this particular session I emphasized more on getting longer shots. KL Bird Park was a good choice, as it was a small garden/park setting, and all subjects were shot within a near distance, negating the need to deal with hazy air.

My verdict on Olympus 12-200mm stays the same, image quality is on par with all other standard zoom Olympus lenses (14-42mm, 40-150mm R, 14-150mm) but longer range of zoom from 100mm and further does suffer a little loss of sharpness, which was to be expected from a super zoom lens. The images are still perfectly acceptable and usable, just manage your expectation and not expect a PRO grade lens sharpness (eg 40-150mm PRO or 12-100mm PRO).

All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro.















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Optimizing Dynamic Range for Olympus OM-D Cameras

It is not uncommon to hear people belittle the dynamic range capability of Olympus OM-D cameras, using smaller Micro Four Thirds image sensor, but you know what? I never had much issue with dynamic range captured by Olympus OM-D shooting with the system all these years professionally as well as for my personal projects. I admit Full Frame or any larger sensor will have better dynamic range, we can't deny the rules of physics, and surely Olympus has not broken those rules yet. According to DXOMark site, the E-M1 Mark II's  image sensor has 12.8 EV stops of dynamic range, which is respectable considering how much smaller the image sensor is. You can do a LOT wth 12.8EV, and I am doing this article (and a video of course) to share some important tips to squeeze the most out of your Olympus OM-D's dynamic range, whether you are a JPEG or RAW shooter. 


1. USE ISO200
ISO200 is the base ISO for all current Olympus OM-D models. Moving away from ISO200, either lower or higher, will result in loss of dynamic range. There are ISO L100 and L64, both artificial ISO numbers, faked by overexposing images shot with ISO200 and software processed to emulate the look or equivalent ISO100 and 64. Since they were overexposed by more than a stop in the first place, we already lose that much dynamic range advantage. Similarly, the higher the ISO number, the more dynamic range we lose. For optimum results, just stick to ISO200 or as close to it as possible. 

2. SHOOT RAW
This is quite an obvious recommendation, the RAW file contains a lot more data compared to compressed JPEG. Therefore, the information from the bright and dark regions can be recovered more effectively from a RAW file, resulting in a more balanced outcome. 

3. ENSURE ACCURATE EXPOSURE
Get your exposure right during the shooting process, this is crucial to ensure as much information is captured in both the shadow and highlight regions within an image. Severely overexposing or underexposing an image will have dire consequences. Highlight burns are almost impossible to recover, and lifting shadows will increase amount of ugly noise visible in the dark parts of the image. I find that slight over or under exposure can be tolerated, I have underexposed and overexposed my images by about 3 stops and can still successfully recover details during post-processing on RAW files. If you are shooting 5 stops underexposed... something is definitely not right with your shooting methods. 

4. ENABLE HIGHLIGHT & SHADOW WARNINGS
The camera is smart enough to be able to warn you while you are shooting - showing you areas that will be clipped in both highlight and shadow regions, all during live view either on LCD screen or through EVF. To enable this warning feature, go to: 
Menu --> Cogs --> D1 --> Info Settings --> LV Info --> Custom 1 --> Highlight & Shadow


HIGHLIGHT & SHADOW OFF

HIGHLIIGHT & SHADOW ON

GRADATION NORMAL

GRADATION AUTO

GRADATION NORMAL

GRADATION AUTO

The tips 5, 6 and 7 are applicable for JPEG shooting only, and do not affect RAW files. 

5. HIGHLIGHT & SHADOW CONTROL
This feature was first introduced in Olympus OM-D E-M5 back in 2012, and has become one of the popularly used and useful feature on all Olympus OM-D cameras. To enable this, go to FN2 button on your OM-D camera (if you have not reassigned the button to something else) and you will see the highlight and shadow graph appear on your screen.  Use the command dials to control it, the front dial controls the highlight while the back dial controls the shadow. Highlight can be controlled separately from the shadow, and they won't affect each other. For Olympus PEN-F and newer, you can also control the midtones, while the highlight and shadow feature is activated, press the "info" button to switch to midtones. To reset the curves to straight default/neutral, just press and hold the "OK"  button. 

6. IN CAMERA HDR MODE
The previous tip 5, highlight & shadow was stretching the dynamic range of a single photograph, recovering as much details as possible . Sometimes, in very harsh conditions, this is not sufficient. The OM-D cameras have built in HDR mode, which takes 4 images successively from underexposed to overexposed images to capture a huge range of information from shadow to highlight region, then compositing these images into a single, high dynamic range image. All this can be done in one click of the shutter button, but the camera does take several seconds to fully capture all four shots and compositing into the final image. I find this very useful for JPEG shooting. 

7. GRADATION AUTO
This is a setting activated from the Super Control Panel, to lift shadows in the image. It is also called "shadow adjust", and can make a big difference in producing a more balanced looking image in a harsh environment. 

HDR OFF

HDR ON

HDR OFF

HDR ON

Do you have other tips to share on maximizing dynamic range when shooting with OM-D cameras? I have heard some reports suggesting that using the high resolution mode (50MP high res) can expand the dynamic range captured by the OM-D. I have not tried this, hence I cannot claim it to be true. If you have tried this yourself, do share your experience!

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5 + 5 Street Photography Tips by Matti Sulanto & Robin Wong

Recently a dear friend Matti Sulanto made a visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I had the privilege to make a guest appearance in one of his YouTube videos about street photography. He asked if I could share 5 tips on street photography, I immediately jumped and said yes! I can talk about street photography for hours and hours long and you may probably have to stop me. We did a short walk around the central city area of Kuala Lumpur, stopping from time to time  to film the contents for his video. I thought the video came out quite well! One of my first few efforts to collaborate with another photographer on a video. As you all know, I am still terribly new to YouTube, so this is quite exciting for me! In case you do not know who Matti is, do check out his YouTube channel, he is an amazingly talented photographer from Finland and is now an active Lumix Ambassador. So there you go, a video with an Olympus Visionary and a Lumix Ambassador together, not discussing gear, but sharing photography tips and heaps of photographs! How about that?


Here are the 5 + 5 tips from me and Matti in no particular order.  If you want the full description, and also lots of sample street photos, please watch the video! This is Matti's  video, so it would be wrong for me to summarize everything in detail here.

1. Use simple gear
2. One camera one lens setup
3. Know your camera
4. Slow down your shutter speed for creative effect
5. Be alert and observe your surroundings
6. It is OK to miss shots, you cannot capture everything
7. Shoot first think later
8. Do not obsess over technical perfection
9. Street photography is not just about shooting people, it can be about other things too
10. Remember to have fun doing street shooting!


I had so much fun making the video, and I hope you guys have enjoyed watching it too. I am a fan of Matti too, and any photographer who willingly shares their knowledge and experience openly.


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