Here is a recent photograph of me taken days ago by the awesome Jo Quah.

Looking at the photograph, you can tell that:

1) I have a new camera bag. It is a Manfrotto shoulder bag, a smaller version just enough to fit one small DSLR sized camera (such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II) and one or two more small prime lenses.

2) We had a photowalk. It was in the morning and what a fun and productive shutter therapy session!

3) I always stop when cats appear. I immediately drop what I do and pet the cats. They always gravitate to me. This time, I gave the cat a command to "sit" and the stranger cat actually obeyed! I was shocked myself. There is just something about playing with cats that I find on the streets to be fun, therapeutic and relaxing all at the same time.

4) I don't always wear shirts with prints or patterns. I prefer plain, basic shirts with no logo or any details. Just simple and blank, with different muted colors. I do explore brighter color options these days. Wearing a striped bright blue shirt was a rarity for me.

5) I probably need a haircut.

6) We were in an area where the remnants of the election campaign flags were not completely cleaned up yet. You can evidently see the banners and flags of different political parties in the background.


8) I am obsessed with red shoes.

9) For street shooting I don't use neck straps anymore. I much prefer shorter wrist/hand straps. The reason is sweat. Malaysian sun is cruel and unforgiving. Sweating so much during a photowalk makes wearing a neck strap of any kind uncomfortable. And if you don't wash it often it will smell badly too.

10) Nothing makes me happier than doing shutter therapy, petting random cats and spending time with friends shooting together and having overpriced coffee after the photowalk. I find joy in simplest things and I appreciate that I am still able to enjoy doing so.
During the recent long weekend I had some time to catch up with some friends. We initially wanted to hang out at a audio library cafe where we can sit down and sip overpriced coffee and sample some incredibly expensive headphones that I know I will not be able to afford ever. I found out that the audio cafe was closed on the day we wanted to go so we had to find an alternative location. Bean Brothers was just a few minutes drive away and this was my first visit.

When I first entered the venue I knew I have fallen in love with the interiors immediately. It has an unfinished construction look with modern industrial appearance. The slab from the first floor has a huge opening. I took some shots and sent them to other friends, and one of them commented how the opening looked like as if a meteor has run through the cafe!

I can imagine how amazing this place would have been to test out a new camera or a new wide angle lens. The uneven lighting added interesting characteristics to the images. Nevertheless, it was supposed to be a day out spent with friends so I decided to leave the camera behind, else I would spent too much time with the camera ignoring conversations. I did have the Motorola G5S Plus with me, so the smartphone camera with a default wide angle has to do the job for the day. All images were shot with Google Camera (mostly with HDR+ enabled) and edited in Snapseed.

Today I experienced a horror I have not since 2008, I unintentionally left the camera battery in the charging dock at home without carrying out any spares! Not letting that push my shooting enthusiasm back even the slightest, I whipped out the ever-ready budget friendly entry level smartphone, Motorola G5S Plus that I have grown to like so much and decided to do something with it on the street with my friends today. You see, the cool thing about the dual camera module setup of the Moto G5S Plus is that one of the cameras has a true black and white (monochrome) image sensor, stripping off the traditional RGB filters. Having a "true B&W" mode itself is an exciting feature for a photographer like myself who does love black and white photography, and I have not had the much needed nudge to test this feature out extensively. Now that my main camera was battery-less (and basically useless), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see what the "true B&W" mode can do.

But first let's do a blurry selfie...

Jo Quah staring at me shaking her head in the background

I did not really have anything particular in mind and I was not doing a review, so this was just a casual outing with trigger happy snapshots. I pointed the smartphone camera at anything that I found interesting and joyfully clicked the shutter away. There is something about stripping all the colors away and have everything fade into shades of grey that makes street photography more thrilling, you get to see things differently. The vision focuses more onto the subjects rather than processing on unnecessary distractions that are caused by colors throughout the frame. While I shoot dominantly in color for my own work (as shown on this blog) I do sometimes convert my shots to black and white. I rarely just turn on the black and white mode and do a full series of monochromatic shots. 

Since the camera has a true black and white image sensor, by theory it should produce images that are superior in resolution and tonality. I expected the images to be crisp and full of fine, beautiful details. I anticipated the gradation from bright to dark areas to be more gentle and natural looking. 

While I did see the subtle advantages of implementing a full black and white sensor, having shot in only JPEG (no RAW mode available for this model) I was quite disappointed with the JPEG compression. The sharpening was badly added resulting in unnatural looking edges and the aggressive noise reduction smears any fine details, rendering the images looking like oil painting when viewing at high magnification. Of course at web-size the images look perfectly normal and we don't need to pixel-peep any of these shots but the photographer in me was extremely frustrated due to the fact that I knew very confidently the black and white camera has so much potential. The capabilities were all nerfed by one lousy JPEG engine. 

Huawei did a better job with their monochrome mode in P9, P10 and any other models with monochrom eimage sensor in one of the multiple camera modules. However, these Huawei flagship/high end phones also cost significantly more and were not in the same category as the Moto G5S Plus that I am currently using, so the comparison was not a fair one. 

To understand more about the "true black and white" mode, you may refer to my old blog post here (click). 

Jo and Chun making an appearance! Always awesome to shoot along-side similar-minded people on the street. Shutter therapy is meant to be shared and enjoyed together. 

Whoever said one selfie was enough?

The "true black and white" mode on Motorola G5S Plus was a simplistic approach that I felt could have been better in many ways. I would appreciate some sort of control instead of just being fully automatic at all times. I wish there was the ability to control the shutter speed and ISO as well white shooting in pure black and white mode, so that I can have some creative freedom in executing slow motion shots (panning, motion blur, etc). Shutter lag has always been a problem for smartphones, and I have missed some crucial moments because of my inability to time my shots precisely. The smartphone camera just reacted much slower and not instantaneously during the press of the fake touch shutter button on the touch screen. 

I am also not a fan of shooting in wide angle mode, especially not for a full series of photograph. Nonetheless, I can complain on and on or I can choose to talk less and start shooting. 

If you own a phone that has a black and white image sensor (in one of the dual or more camera modules) why not give it a try? Maybe you will love the outcome of the smartphone black and white mode and it is after all, a camera that you have with you at all times. 
I rarely talk about gear when I meet my photography friends, we usually hang out and catch up on the happenings of our lives or just go out have fun shooting together on the street. Therefore, when people start conversations about which camera is better or what lens is sharper I tend to shy away from the topic. You see, I need to know first how do the person I am speaking to view the camera? Is it: a) a photographer's tool that is used to create images and work of art or b) a modern gadget that pleases the craving for something newer and better.

Image by Raja Indra Putra

I have no issue with people wanting to upgrade cameras and lenses or if they are absolutely dominated by Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). I also have GAS to a certain degree, I am sure everyone who is a photographer has GAS, at different levels. 

There is a difference between discussing about gear productively versus endless obsession on the best of the best. 

I like to listen to photographers talk about their work, what motivates them to shoot, what are the challenges that they face during their shooting process and how they overcome them. Their choice of gear and the practical implementation of certain techniques help in getting the results needed, I learn from such stories and sharing. Or even stories of failures or things that the photographers wished they had done differently to obtain different outcomes. These are productive discussions about gear which I can add on to my own learning database. 

However, there are also the hollow talk about justifying an extremely expensive purchase of that spanking new lens to achieve that 3D look which other lenses could not. These newly acquired "gadgets" only shine for a period of time, and you rarely see these gadget owners shoot much and use their gear to the fullest potential. I sometimes find myself trapped in such discussions that internally I am screaming for help and find whatever ways I can for an escape. Who cares if your Canon lens is bigger and better? Who cares if Nikon has more dynamic range? Who cares if Sony is the ultimate camera for 4K video? Who cares how amazing the bokeh of your Leica lens is? I don't care about your "gadgets", show me your photographs, then we have a more interesting and exciting conversation. I don't get turned on by how new or how advanced your photography equipment is. I will get crazy thrilled if you are willing to share your thought process on how you go about your photo project and show me your curation process. 

Talking about gear is meaningless if you do not have good images to accompany them. That is the sole reason why I always emphasize on shooting sufficiently decent image samples first, before I start to sit down and write my reviews about cameras or lenses. Paper specifications alone isn't enough, they are good previews of what the camera or lens is capable of, but the proof is in the images. 

People may know me from my association with Olympus, but if you have met me in person and have spent time speaking with me, you will also realize that I rarely speak about Olympus. I consciously choose not to. I am not a walking advertisement of any brand. Me not broadcasting my love and passion for the brand does not mean I have no confidence or faith in using my products of choice. I am just comfortable that way and my focus has always been on shooting itself. The process of making photographs. Is that not what photography is? Instead of obsessing over gadgets. 

It is troubling how these people judge the camera by the merits of being a gadget - oh it does not have enough resolution, come on it is 2018, we need at least 50 Megapixels! Oh no, it does not have built in body image stabilization, that is the end of the world! The camera does 4K video but it is significantly cropped? That makes it a bad, bad camera and we can conclude that although we have not seen and tried the camera in real life, the paper specification alone is enough to condemn a camera. The gadget hungry crowd wants their latest gadget to have "EVERYTHING" in it. Dual card slot, a battery that last forever. And maybe some more, like making coffee and offer leg massages. 

A perfect camera does not have to have everything. 

The right camera for the right photographer just needs to have the right features and capabilities. Every photographer is different. Just because the camera lacks certain features does not necessarily make it a poor choice. Some can live with the shortcomings, some may look elsewhere for alternatives. 

A gadget is very different from a photographer's tool. 

A gadget may have everything on paper, but what is the point of fulfilling all specification needs if the camera itself was not built for professional photographers in mind? There are a lot of qualities that cannot be penned down on paper. How does the camera handle? How responsive is the camera? How does the shutter button feel when you press it? How quiet is the shutter? Do you like the color rendering? Does the camera feel right in your hands? Do you enjoy using the camera? Does the camera inspire you to shoot?

Having the highest megapixels, best dynamic range and high ISO performance and fastest AF and triple card slots cannot possibly satisfy all of the above questions. 

With all the hype of the latest launches leading to Photokina 2018, I think I shall pick up the pre-historic Olympus DSLR E-1 and have some shutter therapy sessions. 

What say you?

Have you ever wondered where I took my casual product shots and also some of the food shots I did during review of cameras and lenses? My usual haunt was the Espressolab at Nu Sentral which has been recently shut down, but I have a few other locations that I went to for my shooting needs. Of the these venues was Wizards at Tribeca situated in Imbi, downtown Kuala Lumpur,

The main reason I love Wizards so, so much besides the incredibly amazing coffee they made there was the fact that the place is always extremely well lit. The ceiling high glass panels allow abundant natural sun light to illuminate the very plain and white themed cafe. I would usually ask to sit near the windows for better light, and the white table surface is just perfect to isolate whatever subject that I plan to shoot. Lighting and background management are everything in shooting good product shots, whether they are shot professionally, or just for a lifestyle casual experimentation like what I always do.

I have not tried that many of their dishes yet but the Sally Bowles is definitely my favourite, as it contains all my favourite food in one bowl (salmon, avocado, sushi rice, seaweed strips, eggs).

To me, it may just be too much hassle to do a "studio" shoot for products, as my review style has always been very casual and light. I do not intend to pretend like I am a "PRO" level photographer, but that is a work in progress and I am more comfortable showing my work here as well as on Ming Thein's site with a lighter tone. Therefore, you will find my product images of items that I review taken on very natural looking environment with plenty of ambient light and clean background. Overpriced hipster cafes are just the perfect places to get these shots done.

Wizards look like a fantastic place for some casual quick portrait snaps. Maybe I should do a planned portrait shoot there, and we shall see what happens!