Stage Dance with Zuiko 50-200mm

I have come across this free for public event organized in conjunction with KL Festival 2011. The event was a mixed stage dance performance, lobbying together traditional, contemporary and modern dances in one spot to promote awareness of the public towards the local art and culture. The event was called GERAK (loosely translated to English as "moves"), and it was held at the auditorium at DBKL. The first show started on 20th July, and it will be on every night at 8.30pm until 24th July this Sunday. Every night, there will be different mix of dance performances, hence encouraging returning audience. It was my first encounter with such large scale, yet free event, and what better chance to test out my newly acquired Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 ED telephoto lens?

I was told by a good friend that sometimes, in order to develop our artistic sense, we should not just fully concentrate on one particular art category. Art exists, and lives in almost everything around in our lives. Therefore, to improve our vision and sense of art, we should immerse ourselves with more activities, to open up our eyes and our minds to see what is out there, broaden our perspective. Sometimes, we do get certain people who claim that they are "artistic" but they are only stuck in one specific genre of art they fail to appreciate and see all other beautiful things around them. This was a good opportunity for me to relax, enjoy the performance and shows, yet at the same time, have some mid-week much needed shutter therapy. Oh and I did mention how itchy my hands were getting to try out that 50-200mm lens right?

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 ED Mk1 (non-SWD)

Traditional Malacca Dance

After work, I rushed home (from Mont' Kiara to Bukit Jalil) to have a quick shower and grab my gear, before heading back out again to DBKL right in the middle of the city. I arrived early actually, and I got myself a good position. Lighting was good, in terms of colour mix and balance but it was rather dim. I find myself shooting at F2.8-3.5, yet having the need to push ISO up to 3200 to achieve adequate shutter speed to freeze motion. Dance on dimly lit stage, and high shutter speed was desperately needed. I chose not to use flash this time, and play fully with available light. Color balance was pleasing and comfortable to look at, but the white balance and skin tone were severely affected by the multiple colored strong spot light bouncing around all over the stage. Not the biggest issue, because the color casts preserves the natural ambiance and feel of "being there" on stage.

There were a total of six dances being presented tonight, spanning over a duration of an hour. I only chose some favorite shots from three dances, and displayed them here. The dance performance was surprisingly impressive, and I must say I enjoyed myself thoroughly throughout the evening. I did not really expect much when I entered the auditorium since it was a free event after all. It turned out to be rather entertaining, and the overwhelming cheers from the crowd agreed with me too. The dances were professionally choreographed and flawlessly executed on stage. The quality of performance was remarkable. There were some really astonishing stage stunts that got my jaws dropping and hanging low, momentarily forgetting that I was taking photos. Yes, it was that great that at the stunning WTF moments, I decided to just fully take the visual explosion of orgasm, bathe myself in it, and then comes the camera clicking later. Sometimes, we stay behind the viewfinder too much that we do not really enjoy one of the most important gift from God: vision. Hey, I was not media or the paid official photographer, I was there to enjoy myself !! It is not the end of the world if I missed a few shots.

Contemporary Dance: Nyoba Kan

On photography note, it was rather challenging using the 50-200mm in this session. I felt like my left wrist and thumb were coming off while shooting the dance !! It put a lot more strain on my left hand than I expected, and I must slowly learn to readjust my grip and holding posture to counter-balance the oversized and obviously overweight long lens. This should not be much of a problem, because I can usually adapt rather quickly. Although I was struggling not to strain my left arm too much, I did not find much issue holding it steady and prevent hand-shake blur.

This was a stage coverage or so-called event-shooting kind of photography. Therefore, you just have to shoot what was in front of you, and there is no way you can do anything to alter your photography subject. You have no control over the lighting, you have no control on how your subjects pose or move. All that could be done was to record and represent what was seen on stage as faithfully as possible through the final images. It is not something you create, but something you recreate through your own interpretation of what you saw from your vision. I like this kind of photography. Just like macro, it does not pretend to be artistic. If you fail to capture the moment, missing the climax of the dance arrangement or simply screwing up a shot, you cannot use the excuse "this shot was artistic, you do not know how to read it and see the art in it" to cover your own ass. This is honest photography. If you get it, you get it. If you miss it, you miss it.

The 50-200mm worked like a charm. It focuses a lot quicker than I predicted it would be, considering it was a non-SWD lens. The lens was a lot faster and more reliable than the old kit lens 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 mk1, and I must say, having the reliability really boosted up my confidence in shooting. In fact, I actually had too many favorite shots from this session it was difficult to choose and filter down just to fit what I wanted to show in one entry. I decided to cut down from 6 dances to 3 only, and even so, I have so many shots I was very happy about from each dance set of photographs. Success hit rate with this lens was extremely high, and I was simply impressed. Focusing has completely no issue at all, which was a huge relief, though I must say the SWD version would have been much, much faster. The real question is: is the AF speed and accuracy on this non-SWD 50-200mm sufficient for my shooting style and requirements? The answer is definitely more than adequate. It got the job done, and done very unanticipatedly well !!

Canting from Malacca

The sharpness of this lens, as I have mentioned in my previous entry, is incredible. The extra wide aperture of F2.8-3.5 allowed me to increase the shutter speed to freeze the rapid dance movements. I still needed to push up the ISO up to ISO3200 (most photos were taken with ISO1600), but that was fine. Noise is evident, more than usual I must admit in many of my shots because of many underexposed shots (my own fault, not the camera, I did screw up my metering somewhere). The objective of this particular shooting session was not to test out the high ISO performance of the camera, but merely the main purpose was a training opportunity for me to get used to the handling of this new lens, and accustomed to its focusing behavior and overall lens characteristics. Get to know your gear, before you can fully bring out its full potential. So far, the lens has done nothing other than impressing me more and more.

It was certainly a great evening out, having enjoyed myself watching an entertaining live performance. Oh my goodness, I am loving that 50-200mm more and more and more !!

If you are in KL, and you have not visited the GERAK event, it is still on every night 8.30pm from tomorrow until Sunday (24th July 2011) at Auditorium, DBKL. I will most probably be there for one or two more sessions, so do let me know if you are going !!


  1. Man, your lens is like more superior than my tele lens. Heh!

    And the second dance set, damn freaky and disturbing.

  2. Watch out for blowing the red channel (red colors turn to pink). :)

    Thank you for mentioning what honest photography is about. W 100% agree with you there! Too many people try to cover their lack of knowledge/skills with "artsy" post-processing etc.

  3. The second dance set (white pale monsters) is the best from this series. Very nicely done.

  4. Beautiful - and yes, scary as well. And your lens is tack sharp, you did a great job here. Maybe you should go and take photos of/for Siti Nurhaliza?


  5. Jason,
    Not true. If you want honest comparison, you should mount thet 70-200 to a more capable body, for example 60D or perhaps 7D (5D mk2 if you will). Then your lens will truly shine.

    helo Bartosz,
    Thanks for the compliments. People can get too deep into their delusion they can lose their honesty easily these days.
    The stage lighting was actually orange/read, very intense. In such situation, the color was reasonably well handled. After all, I cannot expect ISO1600-3200 to produce color separation as good as ISO200-400. Hence it is acceptable.

  6. Hello again Bartosz and Jason,
    Indeed the dance was scary, but it was quite meaningful at the same time. The cutting of the fabric that tied both girls together was the ending of the show.

    Hey Wllfgang,
    Thanks !! I have had a few opportunities to photograph Siti, but it was either I did not have my camera, or I was busy and away when she had an appearance.
    I shall stalk her ehehehe.

  7. by the way bartosz the shirt was pink not red. it was the warm lighting that deepened the shades of pink.

  8. Well Siti is beautiful - as are your photos, so you might be just the right man to take her photos during a concert or even a tour. Love her music, love your photos - so that would be a good combination.

    So yes, go and stalk her. Or talk to her agents, and tell them I sent you ;-)

  9. hello wolfgang,
    I will surely find time to stalk her!

  10. Nyoba Kan dancers are spooky!

  11. chong,
    that was what made them stand out from the rest!

  12. Hi there Robin!

    It is a good thing that you did not disturb anyone in the audience with the E-5's shutter clicks as the performance went on, I recall a friend being stared at by the audience as he shot away in a performance where the shutter clacked and it was not on drive mode.

    Anyway nice work once again and it was a pleasure to read! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work. :)

  13. Superb sharp nice images you got there, i wish i could also have that lens, i have the lighter 70-300..will i get the same result in those conditions?

  14. Helo Jaime,
    It was a full-on dance performance with really loud and powerful concert level sound system, hence the shutter sound was almost inaudible. I cannot imagine the horror that you have described, and I have not come to such situation yet, lets hope it never comes ahahah
    Thanks for the compliments !!

  15. Hello Enzo,
    Thanks for the compliments.
    70-300mm is very sharp indeed, but to match the 50-200mm, you will need to stop down the aperture to about F8, where the sweetspot is. In such dimly lit stage lighting condition, F8 is quite small and difficult to achieve enough shutter speed.

  16. Beautiful pics great quality.