Sunday, October 24, 2010

Break the Rules, Break Them All

Side Note: All photographs in this entry were taken with Olympus E-520 with Lensbaby Composer 2.0 (Double Glass Optic)

In modern DSLR photography, we have become so dependent on the surprisingly reliable technologies built into the cameras that it takes very minimal effort for the photographer to control the camera, and focus mainly on making the subjects happen. Focusing has become so blinding fast and accurate that it happens magically with just half press of a shutter button. Exposure automation have been popularized, and most photographers would shoot either in Programme, or Aperture Priority mode, that allows the camera to partially think for them. Usage of the camera has become more and more digital dependent, calculations done by the computer built in the camera, and lets just ask ourselves this: have we become all too dependent?

What if we encounter a situation when Autofocus of the camera would fail us, for example shooting through a badly scratched glass, or grill bars? Would we still be able to nail the shot by manual focus?

An empty can

Traffic Light

I would like to go back to the basics and fundamentals of photography. Ok, I know many of you will say, why not go right back to film manual cameras? Those are the most basic, and authentic photography origin, but lets just say for now I do not intend to reach that far just yet. A friend of mine, Dr Soon Ruey who flew in all the way from Sabah to join us for the Ledang trip last weekend, handed me a set of Lensbaby equipments. I was so excited about Lensbaby, and I was really looking forward to going back to basics in photography with Lensbaby.

The cool thing about Lensbaby is that, I can mount it on my Olympus E-520 body. Lensbaby is a tilt-shift lens, requiring manual exposure controls and full time manual focusing operations.

I have constrained myself to many rules while I do my shutter therapy sessions. I must get my photographs tack sharp, they must be all in focus. I must minimize the noise presence in my photographs, hence I shoot in low ISO settings. I did my best in producing well exposed and balanced image outputs. There were probably a dozen more rules that I would observe before I click the shutter button, mostly practiced by many photographers anywhere too. The cool thing about shooting with Lensbaby, it allows me some flexibility to break many of those rules.

We all love breaking rules, don't we?

Red, means Stop

By the roadside

Almost a century old

Stretched lights

Screw AutoFocus.

Many people have come to a point that they would shoot everything in the "machine gun" mode. Continuous drive in the camera with 8 frames per second, or was it the 10 frames per second the fastest for DSLR now? I do not care. If you are shooting motorsports, or a tennis player in action, I absolutely can understand the need for such high FPS. However, if you are just shooting a still flower, or an apple, and yet firing the camera like a rattling machine gun, something must be wrong with you. Why shoot possibly a hundred photographs of a same thing, since at the end of the day you come home and delete all save one or two which you would keep?

What a waste of shutter counts !!

What if you do not have continuous focusing, and heck, there is no Autofocus at all. You have to do MANUAL focus full time. Yes, that is what Lensbaby requires me to do.

I do not particularly enjoy shooting in manual focus, but it is something I challenged myself doing. I have become so dependent on the magical autofocus that happened so quickly and so accurately, that I never put any thought in focusing at all, leaving it all to the camera. Now, I need to adjust the focus myself, doing it by rough estimation. There were more misses than hits of course, and it was not my main objective to hit all my focus accurately anyway. The important thing is making my fingers work the focus, and seeing it happen through the viewfinder as you twist that focus ring, the feeling was just something totally exciting. It certainly was not convenient, but the thrill was there.

A beggar

A juice bar on the street

Daddy and I went for a walk on the streets

Eagerly, waiting.

Screw Sharp Photographs

I am very particular when it comes to sharpness. All photographs must be in accurate focus. Sharpness must be in tack, especially it comes to my favourite photography genre: macro. Resolution and details captured are very important. Getting my photos blur-free and preventing camera shake have always become the main priority, because a blurred photograph, no matter how much post-processing and editing you will not be able to recover the lost details.

However in this session with Lensbaby, I put this rule aside for a while. I allow myself to just focus on what I want to capture, and the way I want to compose my frames, rather than making sure the shots are sharp and in focus in the first place. I want to be able to think about other aspects of photography which are significant, instead of purely focusing on the few boring rules that I usually abide to. Yes, the photographs may not be razor sharp or purely in focus, but a I would like to tell you that a sharp photograph does not necessarily mean, a good photograph.

Lensbaby is not a sharp lens. In fact, it has many optical flaws. Using super sharp, almost technically perfect lens from Olympus all the time, it is something completely refreshing coming to Lensbaby, with soft output, and having chromatic aberrations and what nots. But seriously, are we just going to discuss about how sharp the lens is, how distortion free it is, and how "technically perfect" it should be, instead of going out and make photographs happen? I want to complain less, and shoot more.

A white head staring on the streets

I've got wheels.

Making food.

Happy Hour.

Screw HIGH ISO noise.

The world has come to believe that, if a camera A performs not as well as camera B in terms of high ISO shooting, camera A is a lousy camera. What a load of crap.

I do not know why, or how the world decided that ISO performance is the deciding factor to determine which camera is better. Seriously, there are so many other things that should be considered: reliability and durability, usability in extreme situations, quality optics, user-experience with the camera, the signature colours, and so many more that I can list down and make an entire blog entry about. I do not care about having the best ISO performance, but I do care about having usable high ISO setting.

I decided to bring the Lensbaby out for a night street shooting. My E-520 was not exactly that capable in terms of high ISO shooting. In fact, its ISO1600 performs a lot worse than the new E-5's ISO6400. So there you go, I still whack the streets with ISO1600 with my E-520. Screw the noise. Screw the details. I just want photographs to happen. I have become sick of everyone complaining about noise and high ISO and comparing one camera with another. Ask yourself, when was the last time you pick up the camera, and just shoot without thinking about all these ISO mumbo jumbo? I seriously wish one day all camera systems will come to a point that ALL noise output is so minimal, it is negligible. Now, I wonder what would be the next thing that everyone would argue about to determine the best camera.

Potential customer


Tunnel-like path

Drooling at Lensbaby.

It was really fun shooting with Lensbaby. For the first time, I can feel how the lens work. Instead of pressing buttons on cameras, I need to manually change the aperture discs to set the F-number that I needed. Instead of pressing the shutter button halfway, I need to twist the focus ring, and confirm with my own eye through the viewfinder on the focusing. Everything requires human touch. You control the lens completely. You control your images. I like that.

I am still new to Lensbaby. I do think my photograohs here could have been a lot better, since I am still getting used to the tilt-shift concept. I will bring it out during day time, and do some shooting under the sun.

Lets hope there will be better photographs under the sun !!


  1. Hi, Robin
    I like your project ;
    “Break the Rules, Break Them All
    Screw Sharp Photographs
    Screw HIGH ISO noise.”

    You tell story’s.
    Your pictures tells story’s too!
    I forget to see the noise. I am looking at the story's.
    It must be the meaning of photograph.

    Have a nice day

  2. Just WOW - I have heard/seen about the Lensbaby before, and never seen the idea of it - but for sure - these are great photos, indeed.

    Thanks for that eye-opener.


  3. Hey Finn,
    thanks for the compliments. But please do not break the rules too often !!

    I broke it because I felt so fed up with people comparing cameras and judging it based on how sharp the lens is, or how noise free the camera is. Sometimes, photography is not about noise and sharpness, it is a lot more than that. It is more like a reminder to myself.

    Hey Mogens,
    Lensbaby is indeed a nice equipment to play with. It allows us to go back to the basics. Not exactly the tool for everyday, or serious photography use, but its good to remind ourselves the core of photography: artistic vision. Not the number games.
    Thanks for the kind words !!

  4. I don't think much of the Lensbaby. It's an effect like the four point star effect I used a Hoya filter for when I was in school. Do it too often and it becomes "seen before".

    However, you have that great empathy with your subjects and you are capturing Malaysian people and facial expressions, postures that are unique and so far until now, not shown to the world - we know how Westerners look like, we know how HK looks like but we are just starting to show off what Malaysians look like

  5. Hi Anandasim,
    I do not think of Lensbaby so highly either, but it is a tool to push myself to go back to basics, and really operate the lens by touch and feel. Something refreshing to remind myself that it is what and how I see things that truly matter. It is also to remind myself the most powerful weapon is the photographer, not the gear.
    Thanks for the compliments. There are so many streets in KL, and people are always there everyday. Yes, we need to show it to the world.

  6. May I ask a technical question - you wrote "handed me a set of Lensbaby equipments".

    Have you tried different models? and if so, which is to prefer?

    Thanks in advance


  7. Hi Mogens,
    I was handed the Composer 2.0 lensbaby, with plastic lens, double glass lens, and single glass lens. I only used the double glass lens for my shooting. In addition to that I also had the +4 and +10 close up filter.

  8. Hi Robin,

    nice photos. Have you considered on using it like a real tilt-shift lens, to get focus along a shifted plane, or to get parallel lines of buildings?

    Just wondered how difficult that would be with Lensbabies...

    Wolfgang (from Germany, Europe)

  9. HI Wolfgang,
    I would love to try the real tilt-shift lens. However somehow I feel that perspective correction would give a little bit of unnatural looking results. Naturally, even to our eyes, there is perspective distortion.

    Yes, it is really difficult to use a Lensbaby, perhaps I am not that used to it yet.

  10. Hello Robin!

    Ravin here, it was nice meeting you during the Olympus gathering last Saturday. Just wanted to say, great job with the street photography!
    Do check out our blog too,, for more of Sanjit's pics using the Olympus E-5 :)

  11. Hi Ravin !!
    Thanks so much !! I really enjoyed Sanjit's work as well.
    I will surely hop over to the blog. Keep those awe-worthy images coming.

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