Thursday, February 25, 2016

Threesome Awesomeness

I have been going through my old photographs published on this blog to construct a coherent photo story to tell. That process of editing is going to take some time, and as curating a large body of work is never easy. Nonetheless, I was inspired by recent photography friends, such as Raja Indra Putra who painstakingly spent a lot of effort and time to shoot and arrange his photographs in consistent and cohesive themes. My first attempt of such categorization was in my recent series "red" where I found plenty of dominant red photographs which was an irony because red has always been the colour I tried very hard to avoid. 

"Three" is another rare occurrence, since I normally have very simple rules for composition: one subject with one plain background. One story, or one idea to get across. I understand that strong photographs are much more complex than this, and I should push myself to evolve beyond simplicity as my main philosophy in photography. Nevertheless, it was a fun process finding all the "three" photographs and believe it or not, NONE of these photographs were planned or arranged in any manner, I merely spotted and found them as they were. I think that is the beauty of photography, both in the sense that you can choose to create a photograph entirely out of your own visualization, or the complete opposite, you go and find opportunities and shoot them. 

Three Foreign Workers

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reasons Why I Love Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 Lens

I had a very specific objective to achieve last weekend, to answer a popularly asked question sent by readers via emails as well as in the comment section of this blog: how does the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake Lens compare to the M,Zuiko 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ? I went to Petaling Street and wanted to shoot these two kit lenses side by side and do a full blog entry on advantages and disadvantages of having either one lens. All went according to plan, until I arrived at Petaling Street and discovered that I have accidentally left the 12-50mm lens back at home. I think it is a sign that I had too many things going on in my head and I do need to slow down a little. 

I had the new Olympus PEN-F with me, and I thought why not just shoot on the streets as usual, and digging into the camera bag I have brought along my favourite M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8, which I have then made a quick decision to shoot with for the rest of the morning. No matter what lenses I use on the street, I always fall back to this beautiful medium-telephoto focal length, and 45mm just fits my compositional vision almost perfectly. I fully understand why some people would find this lens to be a bit too far for comfortable framing, but when that tight composition works beautifully if you plan ahead and work with it!

Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 on the PEN-F

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Red

I think the rarest color that I have in my photographs, is red. I am probably consciously avoiding this color, as it is very striking and at times, too distracting from the main subject of the photograph. I have been trying my best to exclude red objects or backgrounds in my photographs but I am starting to think that might not be a good idea after all. I have met many new photographer friends who opened up my mind to possibilities of finding beauty in the world of bolder, and brighter colors. 

I looked through my own collection of photographs and found not many with dominant red color. However, here is the thing: the few that I have found throughout a year or two of my own archives, I actually do like these strong, red images very, very much. 

The interesting fact: the photos in this blog were taken with Olympus XZ-2, E-P1, E-M5, E-M1, E-M5, E-M5 Mark II, E-M10, E-M10 Mark II, Panasonic GM1 and Fujifilm X100.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Olympus Monochrome Profile Control

So I finally had some time to sit around and have a closer look at the new Olympus added features into the PEN-F: Monochrome and Color Profile.

I fully understand that many do not see these new features as anything significant. Same was said about the Art Filters, which was first introduced in a Four Thirds DSLR, Olympus E-30 in 2009. Similar feedback was given back then from the general online photography community: photographers do not need Art Filters, they would rather shoot RAW and do extensive post- later in their computers, which provided a lot more control over how the final image will look. Part of me did agree with that, and honestly I was not exactly a fan of Art Filters either.

However, many, many years later, can you honestly tell me of a camera model from any manufacturer, from their entry level to semi-pro level DSLR or mirrorless camera, that does not have any kind of "Art Filters"-like feature? If the Art Filters was a bad idea in the first place, if it was not successful, why did almost everyone else out there copy this idea? And bear in mind this all happened even before Instagram became mainstream and took over the world of smartphone photography.

Yes, we can see similar pattern repeating itself: so Olympus dared to include more "creative options" features in their new camera, PEN-F, that were purely based on in camera processing.

Here are my thoughts.

I do not need those features. In fact, I always rely on Olympus' superb color reproduction, straight out of camera, and I rarely did modify the original color balance. The Olympus colors are already so good that I almost feel it is a crime in itself to do any excessive alteration. For black and white images, I am fairly comfortable with my own way of processing my images to achieve a certain look.

The interesting thing about these new Color and Monochrome Profile is that: these features are fully customizable. They are completely the opposite of the Art Filters: with the Art Filters you have no choice, you are stuck with whatever the one click setting does to your images.

These Color and Monochrome Profiles Control are not Art Filters, I see them as an EXTENSION of in-camera customization of how you want your images to look and feel. 

In this blog entry, I shall explore the Monochrome Profile only, and share how I find it useful to my black and white photography.

By default, you have 3 options, Monochrome Profile 1, 2 and 3. Monochrome Profile 2 simulates classic black and white film, and I was told it was customized to look and feel like Kodak Tri-X. How close the final outcome looks like Kodak Tri-X, I am not the best person to tell you with my zero experience in film photography. Monochrome Profile 3 simulates Infrared Red Film. Monochrome Profile 1 was at neutral default, and you can do your own customization. You can override any of the settings in any profiles and save as your own preset.

All profiles are fully customizable, and you can control the following settings:
1) Highlight & Shadow Control
2) Film Grain (off, low, med, high)
3) Vignetting (corner shading)
4) Color filters with intensity control (eg. red filter to create deeper, darker skies)

These are my own settings:

1) +3 Highlight, -4 Shadow, +1 Midtone
I generally want my images to look high in contrast. I am ok with slight overblown highlights and black shadows. Nonetheless I still want my images to look balanced, and properly exposed. The default Profile 2 has +6 highlights and -6 Shadows, which is too high in contrast for my own taste. I toned down the high contrast look a little.

2) Film Grain OFF
If you love the look of film grain then you are free to add as much grain as you like. These are actual grains scanned from real film, and overlaid onto the final image. I have never understood the fascination for film grains and I am sure modern photographers hate the look of high ISO noise. I'd rather turn them off.

3) Vignetting OFF
Vignetting, if done correctly, can enhance an image. However, I have seen to many poorly vignetted images that it has become repulsive at one point, I decided not to add vignetting to my own images ever again. This is purely personal and if you find it benefits your style, go for it. You can control the intensity of the vignetting too.

4) Color filter and intensity applied variably from scene to scene. 
Now this is actually the most powerful and versatile part of Monochrome profile, you can change the tone and contrast of the image, and add plenty of drama by using the right filter in the right decision. If you want deeper and darker tones, use the opposite color filter: red filter will create darker skies, green filter will create deeper skin tone. Likewise, use similar color filter to brighten the color tones: yellow and orange to lighten the skin tone. In addition to that, if a certain filter applied looks too excessive, the effect of the filter can be toned down, if needed (3 level adjustment). 

Blue filter, +2 intensity, to counter the brown leather strap, creating deeper color and emphasizing on the texture of the strap. For some reasons, I have left the Film Grain setting to HIGH for this image. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

High ISO Shooting with Olympus PEN-F

If you have not read my full review on the newly launched Olympus PEN-F, kindly read Part 1 and Part 2, as this blog entry serves as an extension to my earlier review series. 

I have noticed several complains about my photographs, especially those taken in low light conditions and used as samples in my blog review purposes. These complains claimed that I was shooting in favorable lighting condition which was not representative of actual practical camera use in real life shooting circumstances. Further to that, I was accused of intentionally showing the good side of the low light capabilities of the camera by only showing good looking images. These good looking, clean high ISO images taken with Olympus cameras in my review entries could not be replicated by them in their own shooting in difficult lighting. 

Before I go on, let me make something clear here: if the lighting is crap, not matter what you do, no matter which camera you use, no matter how powerful your camera's high ISO capability is, you will still produce crap images. Lousy lighting produces lousy images, no matter how bright or how dim the light is, that is just a universal rule of photography, and a huge part (some even say the most important part) of photography is to understand, and know how to use good lighting in photography. When I shoot for review purposes, why would I want to show lousy images? My images may not be award-winning or "national geographic" worthy, but with my own best effort and ability I will make super sure that I do my best and use the camera to it's best potential. Why would I expect less from myself? 

Of course I can go on and on writing down my reasons and justifications on what I do here, and why I do things in certain ways, but that would be unnecessary and I feel no need to defend myself further. What I am more interested to do is to bring the camera out and get some shutter clicking action done. And that was what I did precisely, with the intention of pushing the ISO to it's boundaries. 

I have brought the Olympus PEN-F and shoot in some of the shittiest lighting conditions I have encountered. No, I am not trying to prove anything here, in fact there was no agenda here. I already knew what to expect from the image output of PEN-F, I have done exhaustive tests before. I am providing a whole blog entry of high ISO samples, and I know there are people who do want to have more of such samples to look at. 

From my previous reviews, I have concluded that the highest ISO setting I would go to is 6400. At ISO6400, PEN-F still produces good amount of details, while the default JPEG engine suppresses almost all traces of chromatic (color) noise, leaving visible, but not destructive luminance noise, which added structure and overall "sharp" look to the image. In fact, the image does appear clean, if you do not zoom into 100% close up view. 

1/100sec, F2, ISO6400, 12mm F2 lens

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More Adventures with the Olympus PEN-F

So I have a few days of Chinese New Year holidays and I have spent them all with plenty of sleep, catching up with friends, watching a few movies (I have caught Deadpool and it was FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!), read a book and more importantly, I have brought the new PEN-F out to the streets for some shutter therapy!

Unlike previous sessions of using the PEN-F, this time I was not shooting with it for review purposes. There were no particular objectives to be met, and I did not have a set of guidelines to follow, hence I was shooting any subjects that caught my attention, just like how I normally would on my weekly street hunting sessions. It was a different experience shooting with the PEN-F just for myself, and quite frankly I must say this is one great street photography machine. I had some small and fast prime lenses with me, M.Zuiko 12mm F2, 25mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8. 

Instead of my usual go super close and shoot tight portraits of strangers, I decided to step back a lot more this time, and use wider angle lenses. Always, always be experimenting with new concepts and compositions, and who cares if they don't work, you will never find anything new until you try them out!


Good Morning KL
Woke up early on the second day of CNY and shot this Sunrise scene. I was lucky that the weather was good, and I managed to capture the starburst effect!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The 35mm Street Adventure Continues

I have not had much time to shoot for myself lately. Since my return to KL (after a hiatus of about a month away to Kuching), I have been busy with all the reviews of Olympus latest products, the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens, and of course the beautiful, sexy PEN-F which was just launched about 2 weeks ago. I have spent most of my previous two weekends shooting for the reviews of the above-mentioned products and the remaining hours writing my blog review entries. 

Thankfully, I am having a short holiday of Chinese New Year celebrations, which is a huge deal in Malaysia. I am not celebrating this year, and will be spending my holidays in Kuala Lumpur. That also means, plenty of opportunities for shutter therapy and catching up on my much needed rest. The first thing that I did in the weekends to kick start the holiday was to spend an entire day roaming around the city with a 35mm perspective. I brought along the Olympus PEN E-P5 and mounted a 17mm F2.8 Pancake lens on it. I was joined by Ananda Sim, who is based in Melbourne, Australia but is currently home in KL for Chinese New Year celebrations. 

I have loaned Ananda the new PEN-F and he has put in a great deal of effort in penning his thoughts down. Do pay a visit to Ananda's write-up on PEN-F at his blog: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. 

Oh how I have missed the Olympus PEN E-P5. I only brought my OM-D E-M10 Mark II home to Kuching during my one month disappearance from KL. Now that I am back, I find myself drawn to the E-P5 for street shooting!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Olympus PEN-F Review Part 2

Important Notes:
1. I am an Olympus Malaysia employee. 
2. This is a user experience based review, based on my personal opinion which can be subjective.
3. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 3 Version 2 (unreleased at this moment)
4. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5. Minimal post-processing applied to the images, with slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were almost as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.


This blog entry is a continuation of Olympus PEN-F Review Part 1, so please do read the Part 1 before proceeding further. 

In Part 1 Review, I have discussed about the improvements of the new 20MP LiveMos Image Sensor in the PEN-F, the image quality of the new sensor in terms of overall sharpness as well as high ISO performance with plenty of samples and comparisons with OM-D E-M10 Mark II, as well as general handling and comments on the camera ergonomics and design. 

In this subsequent Part 2 Review of PEN-F, I will explore the following items:
1) Effectiveness of the Olympus 5-Axis Image Stabilization System
2) 50MP High Resolution Shot feature
3) Color Profile and Monochrome Profile Control