Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Fashion Show Photography Analysis: Entry Level Camera Then And Now, How Far Have We Progressed?

So I stumbled upon this open fashion show at Nu Sentral (a shopping next to KL Sentral) and I thought why not stay for a bit and take some shots? As I was shooting the fashion show (which turned out to be quite a good one) I started to remember how it was like 8 years ago, in 2008 when I first picked up my entry level Olympus DSLR and was enthusiastically searching for and shooting free fashion shows in malls around KL. Boy oh boy, how far have we come?

Back in 2008, I had an Olympus E-520, an advanced entry level DSLR (the lowest level was the E-420), with ISO limit at 1600 and 3 AF points only! At ISO400, ugly noise starts to creep in, and I usually do need to shoot at ISO800 if I was not using an external flash, and with ISO800 the photographs normally lose plenty of details, looking soft, and lacks dynamic range. Oh did I say the ugly, intrusive noise? And the focusing was rather slowish, and what the hell can anyone do with just 3 focusing points to choose from? In addition to that, there was shutter lag, though minimal, but bad enough to miss critical moments. Hit rate was quite bad, I get less than 50% hit rate, and it was almost impossible to get critically sharp images with the models usually moving at super fast speed on stage. A year later I got myself an FL-36R flash, to aid in such difficult shooting situation, but it did not help that much either. I often get harsh output, and the recycle time of that flash unit was a pain to work with!

Shooting fashion show can be exciting, rewarding, yet extremely frustrating at the same time. It was a situation where I did wish I had a better camera, a camera that did not miss out so many shots!

Fast forward to 2016, today, shooting fashion show was a breeze. Ok, I shall admit one unfair advantage: I was using the PRO lens, 12-40mm F2.8. And back in my DSLR E-520 days, I used the basic kit lens as well as the 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 lenses, which did pale in comparison to what the modern PRO lenses such as the 12-40mm F2.8 and 40-150mm F2.8 can do. That aside, everything else I am about to say still remains valid, and applicable in the comparison on how much the camera system has improved. I was using the OM-D E-M10 Mark II and the 12-40mm F2.8 PRO lens for all my shots. Autofocus was instantaneous! It was so fast, there was completely no lag at all, and damned accurate too. I have 81 AF points to choose from, the AF points stretching out to far end of the screen. Half-pressing and then immediately pressing the shutter button got me 100% accurately focused images, again and again without fail. I got 99% hit rate. That 1% failure was due to my own fault. Furthermore, the ISO was set from 800 to 1600. Even at ISO1600, as seen in the images in this blog entry, there was completely no trace of noise, thanks to the new and more powerful processing engine Truepic 7, as well as an improved 16MP Live MOS sensor. I can shoot at ISO3200 on the E-M10 Mark II with images that come out cleaner than ISO400 on the old DSLR E-520,.and believe me, I am not exaggerating. The camera just works, and it has gotten sooooo easy to get technically good shots (correct exposure and accurate focus). Having a "What You See Is What You Get" Electronic Viewfinder was a Godsent, I can make sure my exposure was what I wanted even before I shot my images!

Also worth mentioning, having the 5-Axis Image Stabillization means I never have to worry about camera shake, and surely you know that the E-M10 Mark II is soooooo much smaller and lighter compared to the E-520?


Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Portrait of Carmen

A dear friend Carmen was participating in the Celebs and Blogger's Bazaar, sort of a like a fashion flea market for lifestyle and fashion bloggers. I was no where in the neighbourhood and decided to stop by just to say hi. Carmen was looking stunningly beautiful with her bright, Burgundy Red hair colour in contrast with the black and white dress she was wearing! A spontaneous quick portrait session ensued, and we decided to scout around the location for a nice, non-busy looking background to work with. We went up to the mezzanine floor and found that the entire floor was vacant, and there was a huge, plain white wall which looked just right for what I had in mind. The large window panel with afternoon sun was just the perfect side lighting I needed for this portrait, and we Carmen hit some simple poses and shutter started clicking away.

Carmen Hong is also an Olympus shooter. 
You can check her out in her blog at http://www.carmenhong.com or follow her on Instagram @itscarmenhong


Image was taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and M.Zuiko 25mm F1,8 lens, at very low angle.

Minor adjustments were made during post processing to balance the colours, as well as lifted the shadow around her hair to emphasise the brighter red.

I'd say, simplicity works, each and every time! And I think I should do more portrait shoots.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Quiet Sunday, A Short Photowalk with Shaun from Brisbane, Australia

Shaun from Brisbane, Australia is visiting again and we had a quick photowalk yesterday. We went to Chow Kit, hoping to catch a glimpse of the old market building before it was being torn down. Fortunately the building was still standing, but now almost fully evacuated. It will be within days the demolition work begins.

We had a slow, relaxing walk and we shot anything that got our attention. I armed myself with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II and my most favourite lens, the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8. The focal length was familiar and comfortable for me to work with, and the lens, being so small and light, felt right at home on my hands.

Shaun visiting from Austtalia

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Fading Old Market, Chow Kit

At the time I fell in love with street photography (or more appropriately put, photography on the street, just so that I do not insult the "traditionalists"), I discovered this hidden holy grail of street hunting ground in KL, Chow Kit. I fell in love with the place instantly, and every single trip I made to Chow Kit has been fruitful, and I always came home with the SD card filled with photographs, many have become keepers from this wonderful location. Unfortunately, the original, old building of Chow Kit that houses a huge area of the market, and the surrounding lanes and storage locations will be demolished very, very soon. I was told by the locals that they were asked to evacuate the premises, and demolition work has already begun phase by phase. In one or two weeks time, the main building will go down.

When I heard the news, I did not exactly know how to feel. For many years now, I have spent so many hours camping, and strolling around these streets in Chow Kit, inside and around the main old market building area. So many wonderful shots, so many friendly faces and smiles, so many beautiful moments, now all that's left, are nothing but memories. I do feel sad, because I do not think there will be a place like Chow Kit else where in the world, this is truly a unique location, and strangely, it has defined the look and feel of many of my photographs I have displayed here in this blog. 80% of the close up strangers portraits that have become my favourites came from Chow Kit. The beautiful, diffused yet directional light in a relaxed, easy-going environment made it an ideal place for street portraits, and people in Chow Kit are just the friendliest of all KL streets. It is impossible not to be able to make good street portraits here.

With mixed emotions, I picked up the Olympus PEN E-P5 and the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 lens, and just walked casually around last Sunday, and shot a few images. Nothing specific I wanted to accomplish this round, just taking my time, in a way, to say goodbye to this place.

I don't think this blog will ever be the same if I have never found Chow Kit in the first place!

Dangling legs

Saturday, July 16, 2016

5 Reasons Why Olympus Micro Four Thirds System Is Suitable For Insect Macro Photography

I have written lengthily before about my shooting techniques when it comes to Insect Macro Photography, if you want to find out more about the equipment I use and how I get my shots, kindly read my post here (click). 

In this post however, I will not discuss about how to shoot, but rather why I find that Olympus Micro Four Thirds system is highly recommended for newcomers to photography who want to explore the world of insect macro.

Being the mirrorless system, Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras are generally smaller and lighter than DSLR alternatives. Adding useful features such as 5-Axis Image Stabilization, large Electronic Viewfinder and built in wireless flash TTL control capabilities, you basically have all the tools necessary to shoot extreme close up insect macro. The M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens offers a large magnification of 2 to 1 (in 35mm equivalent) which is plentiful of magnification for small insects shooting.

Image Credit: Tian Chad

Monday, July 11, 2016

KL Street Shooting - A Different Approach

I think it is crucial for a photographer not to just stay stagnant with one particular shooting style and not experiment with different approaches or techniques in photography. I have seen a handful of narrow minded photographers who think they are so sure of what they are doing and just fully concentrate on their own specific methodology. I do not think there is a single best solution when it comes to art, and we do have to constantly update ourselves, daring to try different ways of doing something and often the best results are the combination of multiple alternatives of approaching the same subject.

My usual set up for street photography is: OM-D or PEN camera with either M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 or 45mm F1.8 lens, and usually in full colour (because I love glorious colours). I would do close up portraits and tight composition of certain scenes, and I will plan my shots carefully with precise execution (having the focusing point at the exact location of the frame I want in focus and fervently adjusting the exposure compensation to get the right balance of brightness, etc).

For this particular session, I have done something rather different:

1) I used the PEN-F and activated the Monochrome Profile Control, using Mono Profile 2 for most people/usual street subjects, and Mono Profile 3 for buildings and sky scenes. 
The main reason I went all black and white in this session, is to eradicate the constant consideration and thought process that involves colour. This way I am simplifying my workflow to just focus on the subject, minus the distractions of colour in the frame.

2) I chose the 17mm F1.8 lens, providing an equivalent of classic 35mm perspective, something much wider than what I comfortably work with
This is not exactly a new experiment, as I have used the 17mm lenses (both the 1.8 and 2.8 pancake versions) quite frequently recently. While this is not my favourite focal length to work with, I find it challenging to myself to compose using 35mm classic perspective, and sometimes it does yield rather interesting results.

3) Instead of using Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, I switched the mode dial to Program. I decided to trust the camera on the metering too (Evaluative/Pattern)
Because, not having to think too much about which F-number and what shutter speed to use helps me not to obsess to much about the technical part of the photography execution, we are paying so much for modern cameras these days, I would think that the camera should be able to work for us and not fail us!

4) I left the ISO to Auto (with high ISO limit of ISO6400). Normally, I will change the ISO settings necessarily to compensate for varying lighting conditions.
The default monochrome profile 2 in the PEN-F added so much film grain that you cannot even distinguish if the photo was taken with low or high ISO settings. Furthermore, the highlight and shadow settings were pushed to the extreme by default, shadow -6 and highlight +6, effectively blowing out the highlight and clipping the shadow regions, crushing whatever available dynamic range in the photograph. It is good to remove yet another variable to think about as I was shooting.

5) Usually I would painstakingly select the focusing point (single point) but for this session, I left the AF to be fully controlled by the camera (activating all area) and turned the Face Detect AF on
I still would not recommend this for usual shooting (or anything that requires critical focus) but Henri Cartier Bressan said sharpness is a bourgeois concept, so...

6) I shot in JPEG. No RAW this time. Just JPEG and I set the compression settings to Large Super Fine. 

Fly

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Flirting with Legendary Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 Super High Grade Lens

To all my muslim friends and blog-readers, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri! Maaf Zahir Batin. Have a joyous, blessed and happy times with your family and friends, and may your stomach be filled with plenty of Raya goodies and amazing celebration foods! Stay safe everyone!


While I was digging through the hidden sections in the office I found more and more interesting items, some old lenses, and one stood out in particular: the Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 which was a Super High Grade lens for the now discontinued Four Thirds DSLR E-System. I thought, why not bring this lens, attach it to the latest Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, the PEN-F, and give it a spin?

The ZD 14-35mm F2 was a legendary lens, a much sought after lens for all Olympus DSLR users, as well as a bragging right for those who own the lens. While Olympus Four Thirds format has a smaller  image sensor in comparison to APS-C and Full Frame DSLR cameras, the 14-35mm lens at a wide constant aperture opening of F2 consequently bridges the gap between the larger sensor systems, considering the rival DSLR systems have only constant F2.8 zoom. While this effectively is only one stop advantage and may not carry that much advantage when it comes to shallow depth of field rendering, the extra light gathering ability of F2 vs F2.8 is still a huge benefit to have. Furthermore, the 14-35mm F2, being a super high grade lens (SHG), designed to deliver the best optical performance, and being razor sharp even shooting wide open at F2 was truly a God-Sent, considering all other competitor's F2.8 zoom lenses would require some aperture stopping down to at least F4 or narrower to accomplish similar sharpness and lens flaw control (chromatic aberration control, distortion, corner softness, etc) as the Olympus 14-35mm lens.

When I was actively using the Olympus DSLR cameras many years ago (I have the E-410, then upgraded to E-520, and finally had the E-5), I always had the lust for the F2 Super High Grade lenses (14-35mm F2 and 35-100mm F2). I never had the chance to use them, also never a chance with my lowly Malaysian junior engineer's salary can I afford any of these ridiculously expensive lenses. Now, imagine, the lens was right in front of me and I have full permission to use this lens! I know this lens may not be popular these days, due to the rather gigantic size which was disproportionate in comparison to the small newer Micro Four Thirds camera bodies, sporting a 77mm diamater filter thread! Nevertheless, there was that curiosity in me that must be satisfied, so my shutter therapy sessions have been fulfilled with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 SHG lens!

All images were taken with Olympus PEN-F and Zuiko Digital 14-35mm F2 lens (via MMF-3 adapter of course)

The 14-35mm lens is not a good match to any Micro Four Thirds body, as the lens is too large, and rather heavy. I would not recommend this lens for long hour shooting.