A Short Break & Some Changes Moving Forward

I am taking a short break from blogging, YouTube and almost everything else for the next 2 weeks. That means no new blog post, no YouTube videos, and any other updates until early next year 2021. The break is much needed, and before I go offline I thought it would be great to catch up, chat with you beautiful people about how life has been for me in this awkward 2020 and also moving forward, I do intend to implement a few changes on my content and vlogging/blogging approach. 

For those of you who prefer to watch me talk while multitasking doing something else, here is the video version:

I have been posting regularly to my YouTube channel since July 2019, and I ensured I updated two new videos every week without fail continuously for the past one and a half years. I was actually impressed at my own consistency and how I kept up with these updates, despite some challenges that I faced along the way. For those of you who are not aware, it is extremely crucial to post as regularly as possible to YouTube to get the algorithm to work on your favor to grow the channel. 

What some people may not realize is how exhausting it is to have to come up with fresh content and ideas, week after week, and persistently filming new videos. Oh you have no idea what happens behind the scenes, people just easily assume that I spend 10-15 minutes talking in front of the camera and then just like that - BOOM there is a new video! If only life is that easy. From scripting to finally publishing a full video, sometimes it takes me more than a week. If it is a simple video, I can complete everything within a day or two, but if it is a full on camera or lens review, I will take several days or even more than a week sometimes to just thoroughly test the gear and get sufficient sample photographs. Only through the photographs I can analyse the performance of the camera or lens and plan what I want to say for my review. I am not like some other reviewers who touch the camera for an hour and start making a full video review, which tells you nothing about the camera's actual real life, practical performance. I shoot and shoot and shoot before I start talking. 

Oh don't even get started on the post-editing part. I am very new to YouTube and video production, I learn as I go. It takes me a lot more time to edit something as I have to find tutorials and learn it while I am doing it. 

My point is, I am tired. And I do need to have a hard pause. I need to breathe, and I need time to just figure things out, what works, what does not and how to strategize this channel moving forward. 

Do not get me wrong, I love what I do, from start to finish, in every single video, and I am always inspired and touched by the kind and warm comments from people who watch the video. I have very positive comments on how my videos helped some people understanding their cameras better, or some may not even know about certain features or tips on OM-D cameras until they watched my video. I am truly glad I have contributed in whatever small ways I can, and because I know my videos do have a small impact in the community, that I still continue making them and I thoroughly enjoy the entire process. 

But I am human, and I get exhausted. I just need some time off. 

Image by Van Ambruce Ligutom. Used with permission

The year 2020 has been especially weird for most people. My photography business took a huge hit. I guess there will always be a part of me that wondered how things could have been, if there was no Covid-19. 
I started going full time doing photography in the year 2017, immediately after I quit my day job in Olympus Malaysia. 2017 was the year I started to get my feet wet, I did get just enough jobs to get by, and I was still figuring things out. It took some time for the business to grow. The year 2018 was a better year and I was finally getting more jobs in 2019, and I can slowly see the business has become sustainable and I have returning clients who valued my work. At the start of 2020, finally, huge opportunities started to land - I have secured some relatively huge contracts. I genuinely thought to myself early this year, this was it, this year 2020 was going to be the year that the business takes flight. I was finally seeing the fruition of all my hard work, and that reality was so close within grasp. 

Who knew the Covid-19 pandemic hit so suddenly, without warning, and just like that, my entire calendar of shoot was wiped empty. The government implemented a full lockdown in March, we were not even allowed to step foot outside the house with the exception of emergency or getting essential needs (groceries, food, medical supplies, etc). All non essential work and activities were cancelled, no events, no weddings, nothing. We can't even walk freely at the park, you will get fined and sent to jail. We were forced to stay home, and obviously any photography business, or any business at all, took a huge dive. 

The lockdown was partially lifted in June, and we have multiple partial lockdowns happening again from time to time, with varying restrictions in place. I did get some jobs coming in, thankfully there was still some income, but I have to admit the horror - 2020 was the worst year for my photography business since I started out in 2017. I got the least amount of jobs, and the shoots that I had did not pay well. 

I should stop complaining at this point, because I know some people had it worse than me. I should be thankful that I still get to do what I love to do - photography. Some of my friends have to quit what they do, and did something else to survive. Some lost their jobs, some had severe pay cuts. Every one is struggling and there are no happy stories. 

I was fortunate to have started my YouTube channel way before the lockdown and just managed to grow it in time to generate some income by the time the pandemic hit. It was not much, but any small amount is still good to help sustain myself. 

I am extremely grateful to you beautiful people, each and every one of you who are here. I appreciate you just being here. I thank many who have generously bought me coffees and kindly contributed to my PayPal, those have helped me tremendously through these challenging times. You have no idea how meaningful it is to know that the community truly cared, and I do have people who support me and believe in me, and I will be forever thankful. I have said many,  many times, there is no Robin Wong without you beautiful readers! (or now, I should say audience, which encompasses YouTube viewers).

Image by Van Ambruce Ligutom. Used with permission

Moving on, starting fresh next year 2021, I do want to make some changes to my blogging/vlogging approach. I acknowledge that many of you come to my YouTube channel for tips and tricks on how to optimize the use of Olympus cameras and lenses, and also explanation on how some Olympus specific features work. Whatever tips and tricks that I know I believe I have shared them completely in my videos, and if you have been with me ever since my blogging days you will know I don't hold back. I share everything here. I am not saying I will stop making tips and tricks videos, if I have something to share, of course I will still make those videos. What I am trying to say here is - I need to move on from these type of content. 

I want my blog and channel to be even more photography focused. I want to discuss the core of photography, I want to shoot more and share more photographs. I want to talk about the process of photography and I want to bring you along my shutter therapy journeys. I am a professional photography, I shoot for a living, I also shoot just for the fun of it, my lifestyle revolves around photography and I want to share that joy with you as much as I can. Yes there will be still gear reviews (which photographer does not like gear?) but more importantly, I must emphasize on photography as the central content, moving forward. 

I am sure at this point some people will be asking - Hey Robin, are you still going to be an Olympus Visionary in 2021? Honestly, I don't know the answer. And to be blunt, I'd say, if they wanted me to continue to be a Visionary, I should have heard from them by now. I have not had any news, so seriously, if I were to be honest with myself, I'd say, I don't think I will be a Visionary any more. You know what, that is perfectly fine with me too!

I am truly honored and privileged to have become an Olympus Visionary for the past 2 years, the ride has been insanely fun and fruitful. I have met so many talented and amazing photographers along the way, I have travelled to some really fun parts of the world and I have contributed actively to Olympus, and I am extremely happy and proud of the work that I do as a Visionary. It was a chance of a lifetime, like a dream come true if you ask me, and I would not have asked for more. But I cannot be an Olympus Visionary forever, and I believe at some point, I do have to move on. Now may not be such a bad time!

Image by Van Ambruce Ligutom. Used with permission


Again I would like to thank you guys for staying with me, for believing in me, and for supporting me on my photography journey. I feel truly blessed to have the community standing behind me, and I am glad I can make content that does contribute something, even if it is something small. Shutter therapy must go on. 

I do have some surprises coming for early January, do stay tuned for that. I won't tell you what those are, if I did, then they won't be surprises, right? I am excited to share them with you, and I can't wait for 2021!

Until then, Merry Christmas, have a wonderful celebration during this holiday season, and I will see you again early next year!


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Mini Photo Project with Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS

Several months ago Olympus came to me with the opportunity to be featured for the Global PRO Gallery. The task was to shoot some sample images with the newly launched (then) Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens, specifically images that are not wildlife, animal or sports centric. I really appreciate the trust in my capability as a professional photographer and was honored to be selected to shoot for the PRO Gallery, unfortunately this came at the worst of times. Malaysia was under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all events were cancelled, no non-essential activities were allowed, there was very little I can do with the lens with so many restrictions in place. Nevertheless I did a mini project with the lens, and submitted my images, and thought it would be awesome to share them here. 

Here is the video version of this article, for those who prefer to watch, than read an article. 

Disclaimer: I don't own the Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm F5-6.3 IS lens, it was on loan from Olympus, about the same time I was reviewing the lens before it was launched. I had it for a while longer to do the shoot for the mini project, and I have since returned the lens to Olympus after that. All images were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, also loaned from Olympus. Ultimately the images were submitted and did not make it to the PRO gallery. 

Credit: Tang Chun Cheuh

Naughty Babe Dirty Duck - Abundant Porky & Duck Meat Goodness

Last Sunday, Jackie, Jaslyn and myself decided to get together to celebrate Jaslyn's belated birthday, and after a long discussion on where to eat for lunch (typical Malaysians) we went to Naughty Babe Dirty Duck. I think the name instantly won me over, sometimes branding is crucial and in this case it worked on me. Not only was the name playful, but it tells clearly what kind of dishes to be expected from the restaurant. I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to give the OM-D E-M1 Mark II some work out since it is not doing much these days, and I brought along the M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO since it was Sunday and I was in a very lazy mood. 

Here is a video that I did sharing about some practical food photography tips. This video was made a few months ago, in April if I remember correctly, during the full lockdown period in Malaysia. I was stuck at home, so I filmed the whole thing (my talking head shots) at the balcony. Situation now is not that much better either, though we are allowed to move around, I am still hesitant to do street photography or shoot if it was not a paid job. How I wish things can return back to normal soon. I thought sharing this video here would be appropriate since this post is about food photography, and you will find a lot of my previous food shots all compiled into that short video. 


Coming back to the Naughty Babe & Dirty Duck adventure I had with my friends last Sunday, the food was scrumptious! If you love pork and you love duck, this is a good place to explore within Selangor/KL area. I am no food expert, so I am not the best person to describe the taste of the dishes, or give a full review of the restaurant (I see a lot of "reviewers" trying so hard I cringe every time), so I shall just share what I can do the best - shooting some shots of the food that we ordered! 


Pork Tomahawk
Sous Vide Sakura Pork Tomahalk with Roasted Corn & Bacon Ham



Duckie Burger
Special Duck Meat Burger with bacon, cheese, blueberry mayo and potato confit


NBDD BBQ Pork Ribs 

Dirty Duck Linguine
Sautéed with onion, garlic & basil, with smoked duck breast sliced and truffle oil


I am not sure about you guys, but I love shooting food, especially when they are so well presented! It has become a ritual to shoot food before I eat them, which I think would be an annoyance to some people, but I am mindful not to take too much time. Of course it helps if you dine with like-minded people who also are as crazy as photography as you are, after all, if you truly are passionate about photography you will want to shoot everything and anything. The inner curiosity and appreciation toward anything beautiful and photo-worthy - food definitely qualifies. What better way to appreciate food, by taking a beautiful shot of it?

I have always shot my food pictures with M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 and 45mm F1.8 lenses, and I still prefer to carry them around since they are so small and tiny. However, I got to admit, I seldom use F1.8 wide open when I shoot food, and I found myself stopping down to F4 or narrower to achieve more depth of field - I want more parts of the food in focus and look sharp in my images. If I was shooting so close up to the food and have the aperture set to wide open F1.8, it will only be that 2 strands of noodles in focus, and everything else is blurred! That is not how food photography works, you want to reveal the texture, the glossiness of the oil, every little detail counts. It makes sense to shoot food with M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO lens, and if I do need that isolation and shallow depth of field effect, at 40mm zoomed in all the way, with aperture at F2.8 I can still get pretty blurry background. 

Do you enjoy shooting food as much as I do? I know the best part is to devour the delicious meal after the camera exercise. Do share your thoughts!


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Important Questions Photographers Should Ask Themselves

When it comes to improving photography skills, I find that a lot of newcomers are asking all the wrong questions. I understand that learning about your gear, how to fully master your cameras and lenses and get the best out of them is important, but photography is an art form and there are a lot of other important things to learn and consider, outside of just gear obsession. In this blog entry I want to discuss the more critical questions that you should be asking yourself, if you are a photographer and you want to take your game to the next level. 

I have also made a video on this topic, for those of you who prefer to listen to my voice while multitasking, doing other things at the same time. I am not here to judge, so I provide options. 


QUESTION 1: WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING?
The most common question that I get is - what is your camera settings for this image? How did you manage to capture this photograph? More often than not, it was the how, the technique, that most people are interested in, especially beginners and newcomers. I understand that technicalities cannot be avoided, but allow me to steer you off to a more important question that can make all the difference - what are you shooting?

The subject content in your photograph is the most important consideration of your photography. You must know what you are shooting. Most people don't pay enough attention to this and just worry on getting the shot, without knowing what they are doing in the first place. Deciding what to include in your photograph is the most important thing to do, and you should do that first before deciding how to capture the image. The problem with not deciding your subject first - your images come out looking empty, with no focus, no emphasis on important subjects, just random sunset, another landscape shot of the buildings in the city, another normal scene on the streets, another portrait of a beautiful model, but nothing else significant. 

Decide on the story that you want to tell, do you have an idea that you want to express? Or is that feeling or emotion that you want to convey through your photographs? Photography is a powerful medium to tell stories and you can use that to your advantage, if you know what the story is that you want to tell first. If you are shooting portraits, what is it that you want to tell about the people in your photographs? If you are shooting a location landscape, what is special about this location that you want your viewers to see? The "what" is a very powerful question that you must not ignore, it will make all the difference!

QUESTION 2: WHY DID YOU PICK UP THE CAMERA?
I certainly hope it is not due to peer pressure. My friend has one, I want one too. It looks cool to own a DSLR or mirrorless camera, let me get one, just because I can afford it. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I hope if you are serious about photography, you will evolve beyond these initial reasons. 

The worst trap that I have seen a lot of photographers fall into, is the FOMO (fear of missing out). They see some YouTuber celebrity use a new camera and they must own that. Oh wow that is a new shiny looking drone, let's get one. The YouTuber shows some nice drone footage, and everyone wants to be able to fly a drone and get that eagle's eye footage. But why? Why do you want a drone? Just simply because you saw another photographer doing it and you want to do the same?  You got some nice aerial shots with that new expensive drone, and that's it? What are you doing with the drone after that? Are you going to tell people that the reason you are doing photography is because you got influenced by that celebrity YouTuber who has 1 million subscribers? You have got to be able to think a little bit further beyond that, figure out your own reasons for purchasing any gear. 

Everyone comes into photography from different background, and picks up the camera and shoots for different reasons. Your photography may not be the same with mine, and that is perfectly fine, but you need to know your "why". Understanding yourself is the key to improving your craft. If your purpose of buying the camera is to capture precious moments of your newborn baby growing up, then you should be focusing your learning or skills on family portraits, or capturing moments. You need to have a genuine reason to do your photography, then you have a genuine room to grow. 

Answering Missed Questions from Rob Trek's Live Stream!

Several days ago I went live on Rob Trek's channel as a guest, and what a fun session that was! We talked about why I don't use full frame, a bit of my past as an Olympus employee, a bit of what we want to see in the future of Olympus cameras, and of course a lot of photography talk as well revolving photography projects, curation and how to be a better photographer in general. Rob is such a sport to have me on board, so special thanks to Rob Trek! As most live session goes, we could not answer every single one of the questions asked, so I have looked back at the chat log, and here I shall reply the ones that we have missed out!


My response will be in bold RED

Olympus/JIP Update: Changes To Imaging Business in Malaysia

Olympus Malaysia has just made an announcement on their official pages on the changes that will happen to the imaging business in Malaysia. In case you have missed the announcement you can go to  their Facebook post here (click). Considering that I am based in Malaysia and I do have quite a huge number of Malaysian readers, I thought it would be great to go through these changes and discuss them here in this blog entry, just to keep everyone updated. I have also just had an online meeting with the Olympus team last evening, I have been prompted about these updates ahead of the announcement today, so I shall share what I do know the best I can. 

Here is the video version of this article, for those who prefer to watch a video format instead of reading:
 

NEW BRAND CARETAKER: OMD WORLD IMAGING
The most important change to take note is, the Olympus Malaysia camera division will close down, and they have appointed an official distributor to carry on the imaging business. The sole distributor company is OMD World Imaging Sdn Bhd, which is fully owned by YL Camera. For those of you outside of Malaysia, YL Camera is one of the oldest, largest and most respected camera retailers in Malaysia. I have personally shopped there and purchased many items over the past few years from YL Camera. I cannot think of a better company to take over the Olympus brand in Malaysia, and I fully believe that they are capable of keeping the business running, and ensuring a smooth transition process. OMD World Imaging will full take over everything starting 1 December 2020, ahead of the timetable of Olympus being fully transferred to JIP. 

NEW SERVICE CENTER IN SUNWAY VELOCITY MALL
A few other important changes to take note for Olympus consumers here in Malaysia, the current official service center in Kelana Square is being shut down, and will be fully relocated to Sunway Velocity Mall. This new service center will commence operation on 1 December 2020. All the current repairs, servicing and any product issues will be taken care by the new service center in Sunway Velocity Mall, under OMD World Imaging. Full support and after sales services will still be provided, this is ensured during the transition process. 
New Service Centre Location:
V06-06-02 Signature 2, Lingkaran SV, Sunway Velocity, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan.
New Operating Hours:
Mondays - Fridays: 9:00am to 5:30pm
Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays: Closed

CAMERA & LENSES WILL CONTINUE TO SELL IN MALAYSIAN MARKET
The Olympus brand is not going anywhere, the sales of cameras, lenses and accessories will continue in Malaysia. OMD World Imaging being the official distributor is responsible to bring in the Olympus products into Malaysia, and then distribute to all the local camera retailers all over the country. If you already have a favourite retailer, the camera shop that you purchase all your Olympus gear from, you can still continue to support that retailer. 

NEW SOCIAL MEDIA AND WEBSITE
One more important note - all the social media platforms, website and online store will be discontinued. OMD World Imaging will start new Facebook Page, Instagram account as well as new sites. Do follow the new links, because the old sites and pages will no longer be updated from today onward. They may even be shut down in near future. 



MY WORK WITH OLYMPUS MALAYSIA 
I want to talk about the closure of Olympus Malaysia's camera division. This affects me more than I'd like to admit. I was employed officially by Olympus Malaysia from 2013 to 2017, I have worked more than 4 years in Olympus, serving as their Product Specialist. My tasks were to engage customers on the ground level, organizing consumer events, photography workshops, product launches, touch and try events, as well as doing product training for everyone (staff, consumers, photographers, dealers), to engage photographers, media and take care of anything Olympus product related. I did enjoy my time working for Olympus tremendously, I have met many wonderful people, both from internal colleagues to the industry partners and friends. I have also learned so much from my time there, and have grown to be who I am today, largely thanks to my time in Olympus. 

Many of you may not know this, but I was sent to Japan for product training on a yearly basis. I have learned the trade secrets, understand the how the cameras and lenses work, the design and thought process of the engineers in making OM-D and Zuiko products - essentially these enabled me to be able to share my tips and tricks on Olympus products here in this blog and my YouTube channel. My level of product knowledge was unfairly higher than most people because of this exclusive training that I had access to, and believe me, I know a lot more secrets that I cannot even share here. If only you knew half of the things I knew, you will have a different level of appreciation and admiration for the Olympus brand. One thing I can say - Olympus is second to none when it comes to lens making, know-how and expertise in optics design, and overall lens manufacturing technology. You may choose to disagree with me, because you have not seen what I have seen, but if you have, I am sure you will see Olympus very, very differently. 

Therefore, it greatly saddens me to find out that Olympus Malaysia will exit very soon, and I will miss the people that I have worked with closely, and all the fond memories that I have had. It is one thing to leave the company, since I do still have a great working relationship with Olympus Malaysia, considering the fact that I am now an Olympus Visionary, but everything is coming to an end. I guess the saying is right - all good things do come to an end eventually. 

Here are some images of my ex-colleagues, the team that I worked closely with in Olympus Malaysia


OLYMPUS VISIONARY STATUS
During the meeting with the Olympus team last evening, the question about the status of Olympus Visionary program for Malaysia did pop up. We did not get a definite answer, and it is not up to Olympus Malaysia to decide this anymore. Whether the contract for my Visionary status will be renewed or not depends on the new company, OMD World Imaging, as well as JIP after they have taken over. Contractually, I will still be an Olympus Visionary until the end of this year. At this point of time, I don't know if I will still be one in 2021. 

There are two possible outcomes - the first one being the more optimistic one, JIP/New company will renew my contract and want me to continue to work closely with the brand as an ambassador, and after reviewing the contract and everything is agreeable, yes, I will jump in and continue being an Olympus Visionary, no second thought! I have been an Olympus Visionary for 2 years, and I think everyone knows that I am sort of the unofficial Olympus ambassador for many years before that. You all know how much I love the brand, and how much I love talking about Olympus products. 

The other outcome, which is not that optimistic, is the decision not to renew the Visionary contract, and honestly, that is also perfectly fine with me. I know a lot of you are deeply concerned and I am very thankful to have an audience that genuinely care about me and my well-being. But hey, I cannot be an Olympus Visionary forever! Also, I am not going anywhere. Just because I stop becoming an Olympus Visionary that does not mean I will stop shooting, or making new content. I am a photographer, it is in my bones to continue shooting, creating new photographs and share them here! I will be here updating this blog and my YouTube with new content, that is not going to change, I will share as much as I can, about Olympus products, about photography, and whatever that I think will benefit you beautiful people!

Of course I will continue to use Olympus. Considering the seriously of Covid-19 pandemic which I don't foresee going away any time soon, the photography business has taken a huge hit. I will be honest - I have no more shoots for the rest of this year. I did manage to somehow secure quite a few jobs earlier when the lockdown was lifted in June, and business was slowly recovering, but now the government decided to do another round of partial lockdown, prohibiting all events and gatherings, I basically lost all remaining jobs of the year, they are all effectively cancelled. Knowing that I have zero income from my photography business, it would be stupid to invest in a new system! The sensible thing to do is to continue to use my current Olympus OM-D system, to minimize cost to the business. The Olympus OM-D is more than sufficient for my professional photography work (I can't speak for everyone), and definitely it will continue to be more than sufficient for a very long time. 

So, Visionary or no Visionary, Robin Wong is here to stay, I will shoot, shutter therapy goes on, and you won't see me go away just yet!

That's all the update I have to share about new changes to the Olympus business in Malaysia, and also how I felt about the closure of Olympus Malaysia. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I cannot promise to have all the answers though!

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A Quick Street Walk With Kamlan 50mm F1.1 II Before The Semi-Lockdown

As I have mentioned recently, some parts of Malaysia is under partial lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19, Kuala Lumpur, where I am based is included. Technically the government did not forbid us to move about, and photography is not banned unlike the previous lockdown imposed from March to June earlier this year, where all movement or activities which were non-essential were completely disallowed. Nevertheless, it still feels uneasy going out, moving around if I do not have something specific or important to do, and doing street photography seems really selfish. Considering the frontliners are fighting their lives and knowing well, the government is this close at shutting down the country, with attempts of the current prime minister to declare state of emergency. Things are quite messy at the moment, so I thought it is best I avoid myself moving about too much. That means, no more shutter therapy for the time being. 

I did however have quite a few fruitful street shooting sessions just before the lockdown, and I managed to shoot with the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens which I thought was quite a fun lens to use. I'd probably not use this lens for anything serious, but for personal shoots, why not? A little manual focusing slows down the whole shooting process, and with the aid of focus peaking and magnified preview nailing sharp manual focus shots is not as difficult as most people would imagine. And I do like that the lens comes with so many issues and imperfections, which reminds me boldly that photography is not about perfection all the time, and I have to focus on the subject I am shooting, and the story I am telling. 

Here are the shots taken with Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II on my own Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. 

















Looking at the images I do miss street shooting, though this was only shot some time 3 weeks ago. As predicted, the original timeline of the semi-lockdown which was supposed to end on 27 October, got extended for another 2 weeks, and I won't be surprised if this keeps getting extended for the rest of the year, perhaps even stretching to next year. And if the new infections/cases keep rising, a full lockdown may be imposed again, and I dread just thinking about that. Locking down the country, restricting movement to control a disease is one thing, but the economic death that awaits down the road may not necessarily be a better alternative. Well, what do I know? I am just a photographer, and an ex-engineer. I don't decide the fate of the country, or how people live their lives. 

It is coming to one year since the first outbreak of Covid-19 late last year, and we are not even close at winning this fight. I am starting to wonder if we ever will. I am also starting to think about the future - will photography be still a viable profession for me to continue pursuing, if this pandemic is not going to end any time soon? It is end of October and I don't have any more shoots coming in for the rest of the year, and honestly I am not the only one facing this troubling "empty calendar". Many of my peers have shared similar woes. 

It was a dream come true, having made it as a professional photographer, with association with Olympus being their Visionary (ambassador), and I do acknowledge the successes that I have accomplished through my hard work, some luck, and I have many of you beautiful people to thank for over the years. I am truly grateful to be where I am today. If I were to rewind time, I would have done exactly the same all over again and would not change a thing. This experience has been incredible so far and I won't trade anything else in the world for it. 

However, realistically I am not the kind of person who crosses the bridge when I come to it - that bridge may not even be there, or may have collapsed. I need to start looking a little bit ahead down the road. So the big question is - can I survive being a photographer if the Covid-19 pandemic drags on for another year, or two?

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Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC - A Photographer's Review

I bought myself a new smartphone - a budget USD200 Xiaomi's Poco X3 NFC. This midrange phone has some sweet specifications - 120Hz refresh rate 6.7 inch Full HD LCD display, beefy 5160mAh battery with fast charging, latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G processer, 6GB RAM and 64GB internal storage. The main reason I decided to take the plunge was the incredibly affordable pricing of just under USD200, I got mine during launch from online retailer store at Shopee for RM799, with free shipping. The camera specifications are nothing to scoff at either - the Poco X3 features the latest Sony's 64MP image sensor. Since I have been using this Poco X3 for about a month now, I thought why not do a review for it's camera performance?

For those who prefer to watch a review in video format than read lengthy blog articles, here is a YouTube video review I made for Poco X3's camera. 


Some important disclaimers first. This is not a sponsored article and I have no affiliation with Xiaomi or Poco. I bought the Poco X3 with my own money, and it is my own smartphone that I do use daily for more than a month now. I am only reviewing the camera's performance from a professional photographer's point of view, and I will not be discussing other aspects of the smartphone. I am not a videographer and I believe other YouTubers or reviewers are more qualified to speak about the video performance. I will also not be testing the selfie camera because I believe we don't need the selfie camera and we can do without it in any smartphones. Stop making them already!

I have been shooting with the Poco X3 whenever I can, and I did bring it out for several shutter therapy sessions before the second partial lockdown happened in Malaysia (thankfully). I have tested the Poco X3's camera in several shooting scenarios - city landscape, close up food lifestyle shots, street shooting as well as night city scape. All the images shown in this blog entry were straight out of the Poco X3 with minor cropping and contrast tweak only. 

Poco X3 claimed to have a quad camera setup at the rear of the smartphone. I disagree. To me there are only two usable cameras at the back of the phone. The quad camera setup refers to: 1) Main 64MP camera 2) Ultra Wide camera 3) 2MP Macro camera and 4) Depth sensor. I just don't see how a 2MP macro camera is any useful in 2020, and we practically can't shoot with the depth sensor any way, it is ridiculously laughable how the marketing gimmick used by Poco/Xiaomi included these two as part of the camera setup. That left us with only two, truly usable cameras - the main camera and ultra wide camera. 

One of the key features of Poco X3 is the large 6.7 inch Full HD LCD with high refresh rate of 120Hz. 

Minimalist & Budget Macro Photography Setup - Anyone Can Shoot Macro!

I have blogged about my macro shooting technique several times now and I still use similar method to grab my insect macro shots most of the time. I do however experiment with different ways to achieve the same results, either by using macro converters or alternative lighting techniques such as LED light. The fun of macro photography is the many different options available to play with and there is no right and wrong - you just choose what works best for you. Obviously the most expensive option is macro lens, and most practical if you do a lot of macro shooting, but for those who do not do macro all the time, investing in a macro lens may not seem like a wise thing to do. Therefore, here is my suggestion for a minimalist and budget setup. 

As usual, I made a video to accompany this article, and in some situations, real life video demonstration is more effective than me typing endlessly here. 


There are two items required in this setup - a macro converter, the Raynox DCR-250 and a cheap, small, but powerful enough LED light. I was shooting with my own Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens. 

My humble setup - Raynox DCR-250 Macro Converter and Al-Cheapo LED Light, used on my own Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II + M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 lens

Mini Photo Projects - This Can Improve Your Photography!

I have not talked about doing photography projects much, but have been meaning to. Most people I have met in real life, or participants who attended my photography workshops will remember me bashing in the concept of doing projects to take photography to the next level. All higher level photography - large exhibitions, photography books or any other established and published photography work all come in one form of project or the other. Therefore it is beneficial to understand the concept of photo projects and how to apply it to our own photography. 

I made a video for those of you who prefer to hear me speak and let the video run in the background while doing other things. Here it is:

Photography projects can be a long term endeavour but let's not complicate things - I encourage you to start with mini projects. Any photography outing, even a short one hour photowalk in the streets downtown can be a good playing ground of a mini photo project. The main reason I highly suggest any photographer who take their work seriously to do mini-projects is to start thinking in series. I see too many photographers take wonderful images which stand out beautifully individually, but fail to form a larger meaningful body of work. Photography as a form of visual story-telling needs to be presented in a series of work, not just any one hit wonder that too many social media photographers aim for today. You have to start to think beyond what one photograph can do, and how a series can come together to tell a more complete and compelling story. 

Before I dive deeper into the concept of mini projects, let me demonstrate one which I did very recently. I went on a shutter therapy session with a group of friends to Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. In mind, I wanted to take this 2-3 hours photowalk as a mini project, with a series of 10 images in mind. I shall share how I plan the shoot, before and during execution of the images, as well as how I curated, arranged and sequenced the images to fit into the final mini project form. 

Images were all shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens. 

The opening image is a teaser image - it shows a prominent landmark in Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Twin Towers and also hinted that the location of shoot is very close to the city center. The opening image can be playful, it does not have to be linked into the main story immediately, and serves as an appetizer to start the meal. If you examine this image closely, you will also see the bit of Malaysian flag that clearly indicated this place inside Malaysia, and parts of a wooden house, typical scene of a village here locally in the background of the image. Within this single teaser, you know you are in Malaysia, not far from the city, in a village environment. 
 
The transition from the first teaser image to this second establishing shot is quite obvious - the Twin Towers in the background. Now you clearly see the wooden village style residential buildings, a common sight here in Kampung Baru. The defining look of this location is the contrast between old styled, wooden built homes with hulking concrete and steel skyscrapers in the background.  

Another establishing shot, showing more of the Kampung Baru environment. This time, besides the road, the greens in the background and some parts of the buildings, you also see some residents. I chose this shot because of the playful nature of the shot - the motorcycle rider has a friendly smile, a common kind nature of villagers here, and she had her kid in the cart she was carrying with the motorbike. 

We cannot talk about a location without it's residents. People make the place. The link between the previous shot and this one, is the resident of Kampung Baru. In this image, the man was making a very popular breakfast for Malaysians - Roti Canai. This type of flat bread was made fresh, hand-tossed, pulled and fried on the pan. While executing this shot, I patiently waited for the man to pull the bread and had the bread stretched out - building up energy for the coming shots. 

Still in the same theme of village residents - now we are amping up the energy a few notches up. I found this man riding his bicycle, another frequent type of transportation among the people here, and I chose to shoot him in motion. To express the movement I adopted the panning technique, slowing down the shutter speed to create the background motion blur. This movement energy peaks at the mid of the series of images I am showing, much like watching a movie, the climax or most dramatic part happens in the middle or toward the end of the movie. 

Riding on the same energy from the previous shot, and still on the same theme of residents, I had a shot of a jumping cat. Cats are residents to Malay villages, mainly because dogs are prohibited and considered unclean by Muslim religion practised here locally. Therefore, cats become the default go to pets for the villagers, and you will see a lot of pet cats roaming around. I found this cat on the tree and managed to capture the cat in mid jump - the high energy transition from the previous panning shot. And the green background showed some environment of this village that I wanted to portray as well. 

My set of images will never be complete without a close up portrait of a cat. And I found the perfect way to showcase a cat headshot and still stay on course with this mini project's story-telling. As I mentioned earlier, cats are residents here as well, and the collar tag showed that this cat was a pet belonging to a family nearby. I shot this image wide open at F1.2 to soften the background, and tone down the mood of the image, diffusing the energy, as we are coming to the end of the series very soon. 

Staying on the green theme, this image was important and I had a lot to say here - road safety in Malaysia needs a lot of work. You have a road sign covered by overgrowth of grass and bush, something which was not supposed to be allowed to happen. 

The final shot before my closing image - another image with important safety message I want to say out loud. Residents riding a motorcycle without wearing helmets, something that should be taken more seriously. Especially they had 5 people (though mostly kids) on one singular bike!


My closing image was quite a simple one, but it forms a circle to complete this mini project. This is the same shot as the opening image, but instead of having the twin towers in the reflection of the mirror, this time it was me, the photographer. 

From the captions I hope you can see how I curated and sequenced my images to form a series of images that make sense. 

A mini project allows you to focus your effort into a tangible final output. A mini project has an end-product which you can finally close, and move on, or continue to expand on another project should you choose to do an extension. There is a beginning, and an end to this journey, and you get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of this mini-project. 

I highly suggest limiting the numbers to begin with, there is no point going out on a photography shooting and then show a series of 500 images, that is pointless. It is not the quantity, but the quality that matters when it comes to photography, and having a mini project in mind, it guides you to find images that fit the topic or theme you have decided. Instead of running around shooting at random things, you have a mission and purpose - you are gathering pieces to be fit together to form a proper body of work. Sometimes, less is more, and finding the right image to fit the theme is the main challenge. I'd say for a short walk of 1-2 hours session, anything from 5-10 images for the mini project would be ideal. Anything more will be redundant and unnecessary. Of course if you are doing a one year project or documentary then you may curate your images to 50 or even 100 images in your set. 

What separates a great photographer from others? Curation. A great photographer only shows his best of the best, and knows how to hide his sub-par work. Approaching mini project, a critical component to work at is curation - how you select, cull, arrange and finally sequence your images into the final set of images for the mini project. I have shared my thoughts in the captions and I hope they do make sense and help you to understand curation a little better! How to learn curation? Go to exhibitions, read photography books! 

The great thing is - anyone can do a mini project, you can start yours now, and it does not cost you anything. It will change the way you think about your photography, it will push you to fight harder for your images while shooting and it will improve your approach to photography, and how you see photographs at the end of the day. Photography is not just about great visuals and shooting beautiful things, you can take your photography further by having something to say, expressing your ideas, emotions and message through your mini project. Your photography is your story!

So what are you waiting for? Start mini photography project now!

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Malaysia on Partial Lockdown Again

Today is the first day in effect of Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), a fancy term the government concocted as a less brutal way of describing a semi-lockdown they are imposing on parts of Malaysia. Sabah, Putrajaya, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur are all affected by this partial lockdown, and I happen to be residing inside Kuala Lumpur at the moment. I guess it is inevitable looking at the rising cases of Covid-19 and I am not here to question the decisions made by the officials. I do however want to discuss the impact of this movement restrictions on myself - how is this affecting my professional photography career at the moment, what is the consequence on my own personal well-being, and how is this changing my content creation schedule and posting?



The first lockdown, almost a complete lockdown happened earlier this year in March and lasted more than 3 months long. That did not do my photography business any good, since I was deriving my jobs mostly from on location shoots - event coverage, weddings, lifestyle products, casual portraits, a huge majority of my income are photography jobs that require me to be at a function or event. When all events, gathering, public recreational activities were banned during the first lockdown, that effectively obliterated any possible income I can possibly make as a photographer. It was not an easy time for me. Thankfully, I did have sufficient financial safety buffer to fall back onto, and the YouTube channel which I started a year ago started to gain traction and contributed a little to slow down the drain of cash flowing out. And of course, I have many of you awesome, beautiful blog readers, YouTube viewers and long-time supporters to thank for - the donations and coffee money seriously made a big difference and pulled me through those dark times. 

In June, the government lifted the lockdown and imposed a less strict movement control, allowing businesses to operate and life somewhat started to resume and we did almost achieve a little normalcy. Since events were allowed (with limited people and strict social distancing in place), weddings and other outdoor, public activities were no longer banned, my photography jobs started to slowly come back and I have actively been shooting from July till recently. I did not get as many jobs as I like, but it could have been a lot worse, and I was doing better than many of my peers. Some had clean, empty calendars throughout till the end of the year. I was thankful mine was starting to fill up. 

Then this second partial lockdown hit. Due to recent rise of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia, the government decided to implement CMCO on a few areas in the country, including the city I live in currently - Kuala Lumpur. This cancels out all public activities, events, gatherings - anything that needs more than 10 people, any recreational activity - all prohibited. That also means, whatever few photography jobs that I have secured for the coming month are all vanquished, just like that. What I was supposed to earn and save for the coming year end - Christmas - let's just say they are all gone. The government did say the semi-lockdown will be effective from 14 October to 27 October, but looking at the history on how they tell the dates, the 2 weeks period was never 2 weeks, it started from 2 weeks back in March and dragged on till 3 months long lockdown. At this rate, I'd say this second partial lockdown will last at least a month or two, if not longer. 

Financially I am less worried now, I did take in some jobs between July and early October and have saved up another buffer for this coming dry season, and I have the growing YouTube channel to supplement a little additional income. I am however more concerned for my own mental health. One very important thing that kept me sane all this time, you all should know this by now - Shutter Therapy. I need to go out and hit the streets, doing random photography with my camera at least once or twice a week (more if I have the time of course). With this new lockdown in place, the government did not specifically mention public filming, photography and videography are not allowed but they prohibit any recreational, non-essential activities. Being a responsible citizen, I think the best thing is not to wander the streets with a camera aimlessly. The last thing I want is a confrontation with the police which will end up with me in jail and a hefty thousands of dollars fine. 

I have also made a few content shooting in the public, including some videos which are waiting to be published. So for the coming week or two, there will still be regular posting of videos to YouTube, and do expect some fresh photography - one on street photography and another one on insect macro photography. Thankfully I managed to get these content before the public parks were closed and the semi-lockdown began to happen. I guess, from now onward, I have to make videos at home, either from my balcony (God I hate filming from that balcony) or from inside my room - which I have been doing more and more recently for videos that I need to push out very quickly, for example the update on JIP/Olympus announcement. I do see myself continue to make videos, content and publish them on regular timetable, that won't change unless I have something else more important to do. The content creating has also helped me a lot, giving me a purpose, connecting me with an actual audience, allowing me to do something that actually helps people!

I do have a lot of ideas for new videos and blog posts, as well as shooting projects. I have so much I want to do, and things were starting to recover and get better. Everything was returning to normal, then this partial lockdown came out of nowhere, completely turning everything upside down. 

I guess for now, all I can do is lay low, stay safe, avoid any outdoor photography and do whatever I can creating content indoor, inside the confines of my tiny bedroom and ride this storm out and hopefully, the storm will be over sooner than later. 

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are doing better than me!


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Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra Camera Review

Samsung packed in plenty of camera firepower in their latest flagship smartphone Galaxy Note20 Ultra, and I had the privilege to loan one and review the camera's performance. The Note20 Ultra comes with 3 camera modules: ultra wide angle, main wide and telephoto camera. Being a photographer myself I am genuinely curious to find out about the camera performance and I have been using the Note20 Ultra for more than 2 weeks, and I even brought it with me home to Kuching, Borneo for a one week vacation.


Important Disclaimer: The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra was on loan solely for review purposes from Samsung Malaysia and has been returned to them at the time this article is published. I am not affiliated with Samsung in any way, this is not a sponsored post, and Samsung did not ask me to do this review. I am testing the camera capabilities of the Note20 Ultra because I wanted to see how far a flagship smartphone camera has come. I am only discussing the camera performance of the Note20 Ultra. I will not be reviewing the video recording capability, as I am not a videographer and there are other more qualified reviewers to talk about the video aspect. I will also skip the selfie camera because, guys, we don't need the selfie camera. I believe smartphones should just get rid of the selfie camera, the world will be a better place without it. 

I am reviewing the Note20 Ultra from a photographer's perspective - many tech/gadget reviewers just gave a quick glance when it comes to camera performance in their smartphone reviews. Also, I have not see a professional photographer's review of the Note20 Ultra. 

The Samsung Note20 Ultra has 3 camera modules:
MAIN CAMERA
- 108MP 1/1.33 inch image sensor
- 26mm F1.8 OIS
ULTRA WIDE ANGLE
- 12MP
- 13mm F2.2 with 120 degrees Field of view equivalent
TELEPHOTO CAMERA
-12MP
- 120mm F3 Periscope Lens, OIS

Shooting With Olympus PEN E-PL1 in 2020

Those who have followed me since the earlier days will remember that I have an Olympus PEN E-PL1 and I still keep it till today. I have not used E-PL1 often, not when I got it 10 years ago, and I have probably not used the camera for more than 5 years. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the original PEN Lite camera, the first one considering now in 2020, there is already a 10th iteration - E-PL10 released. Therefore, I brought the Olympus PEN E-PL1 for a few shutter therapy sessions and see how I feel about the camera after the Micro Four Thirds system has evolved so much over the years. 



The Olympus PEN E-PL1 was released in 2010, as the first budget friendly Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera from Olympus, following the E-P1 and E-P2 which were positioned as the top, premium products. I did not need this camera, and I was already actively shooting with Olympus DSLRs at the time, I had both the E-520 and E-5, both I used for some paid shoots as well as my own shutter therapy. However, I was curious with what Olympus was doing, and I thought the mirrorless system had a lot of potential and I knew mirrorless would be the future. I bought the E-PL1 because I wanted to see how well a mirrorless camera can perform, while at the same time, DSLR was dominating that era. 

E-PL1 was quite a basic camera, with no built in electronic viewfinder, but has an attachment for external module (to be purchased separately). The E-PL1 used a 12MP image sensor, which was the best Olympus had at the time, the same image sensor shared with top of the line DSLRs E-5 and E-30. The E-PL1 was a stripped down version of E-P1 and E-P2, with less features, plastic build instead of metal and the camera had no control command dials, just buttons. The screen has quite a low resolution, and this was perhaps my biggest complain. The handling of the camera was not great, but good enough for a small and light camera, and the E-PL1 was indeed very compact during its time - a good alternative for me to have if I did not want to carry out bulkier DSLRs with me for my street photography. 



I recently brought the E-PL1 out for some street shooting. I was immediately reminded of why I did not use the camera as often as I should. The main reason - AF. The contrast detect AF was just not ready for a serious camera. The fact that Olympus aimed their PEN line cameras especially the earlier versions toward casual, lifestyle users instead of professional or serious photographers was obvious. The AF alone made the camera quite a challenge to use particularly in street photography environment. The AF hunts for about half a second or more before locking focus, which was sufficient to cause misses of critical moments that you need the camera to respond instantaneously. A lot of people still think that mirrorless cameras lag behind DSLRs when it comes to AF and I can clearly see where this misconception came from. The earlier days of mirrorless cameras did not exactly inspire confidence for the mirrorless camp, at the very same time DSLR's phase detect AF was miles ahead in terms of speed and accuracy. It took Olympus a few more years to speed the AF up and finally surpass what DSLRs can do in their E-M5 and E-M1 cameras. 

Obviously, I have missed a lot of shots using the E-PL1 on the streets, and that was okay really. I can see how enthusiasts and serious camera users would be totally disappointed with E-PL1, or any other Olympus mirrorless cameras in the earlier days. 

My other complain was the almost useless LCD screen. I think Olympus used a higher resolution LCD screen for the higher PEN models eg E-P1 and E-P2, and the E-PL1 had the inferior screen. The experience shooting with the LCD screen was not pleasant. It was not easy to check for critically accurate focus, and having unreliable AF to begin with, this made things even more challenging. Visibility was quite poor under bright sun too. I guess that just points to the necessity of an EVF, and subsequently most mirrorless cameras in the future have built in EVF. 







The 12MP image sensor is dated, and it shows in the images that I have shot. The 12MP image sensor was so far behind anything that Olympus currently has in their latest camera models. The dynamic range was extremely limited - I can easily get overblown skies even if I only overexpose by about 2 stops, and that is not enough in many situations. The RAW files did not have much headroom to work with, I could not recover much details both from the shadows or highlight regions. I am perfectly fine with the 12MP resolution, I thought that was plenty even for today, and yes the E-PL1 did produce really sharp and pleasing looking images with abundant details, contrast and very true to life looking colors. The kit lens 14-42mm (first generation) was good, delivering satisfactory results, and perhaps the less demanding 12MP sensor did not show much of the lens flaws. Of course things fell apart quickly in low light situation, even at ISO800, the images are quite bad already with severe loss of details and noise creeping in. 

It was indeed interesting to see how far Olympus has improved - take a look at the OM-D E-M5, that camera surpassed everything the earlier Micro Four Thirds cameras like E-P1/E-P2 by a huge margin. The newer 16MP image sensor not only packs in more resolution but it delivers much better dynamic range, high ISO performance and the RAW files were respectably good in recovering details. Furthermore, the AF has improved drastically, some photographers even compared the speed against Canon 1DX and claimed the E-M5 to be on par (single-AF only). Then Olympus included a built in EVF, 5-Axis IS, weather-sealing, magnesium alloy body, twin dials controls just like a DSLR, a tilt screen and touch screen operation (Olympus was the first to implement this) and it seemed like Olympus saw the future and brought the future to us. 







Do not get me wrong, I did get some good shots from the E-PL1 even shooting in 2020, and the camera is not half bad. It can still perform and deliver good results, but it is also difficult to recommend anyone to get this camera now. If you still have the E-PL1, and you are not doing anything serious with your photography, it can still be a capable tool and get you fantastic results, no question about that. However, if you are looking for a budget Olympus camera and you don't need the greatest and latest, the older cameras can be a good alternative. I would not suggest looking this far back into the era of E-P1/E-P2/E-PL1, if you can, start with the OM-D first generation cameras. Either E-M5, E-M1 and E-M10 from first generation, any of these would be superior and you get a lot more out of the camera, even if you have to pay a little bit more. The difference between the older 12MP image sensor (E-P1/E-P2/E-PL1) vs 16MP image sensor from E-M1/E-M5 is just too great. You also have to consider handling, EVF, as well as AF reliability! I really see no reason going that far back. 









Do you have an E-PL1 yourself, or have you owned one before? Do share your experience and thoughts!

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