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

The idea of the mini photo project was just to document people in the city during the Covid-19 times. Nothing fancy, nothing too complicated, just documentary, street photography style approach to get some shots, showing the reality we live in, through the marvellous Olympus 100-400mm lens of course. Most people would be quick to point out that such a long telephoto lens is not suitable for typical documentary work, and I'd agree, if it was during normal times. The main reasoning was that long lens will make the human subjects look distant in the photographs, and there will be lacking sense of intimacy. This effect, exaggerating the distance, showing that the subjects are far apart, and in between in each other, was exactly what I wanted to accomplish in my images. I wanted to show the physical distancing between people, that the direct effect of the pandemic has widen the spaces that we live in, between each other. I'd only invite trouble if I get too close to people with a wide angle lens, but shooting from a distance, putting intentional emphasis on the distance can create some interesting results. 

Secondly, I also want to compress the background dramatically, making subjects from far looking unnaturally huge. I want to flatten the perspective, and I want everything to look proportionate - straight lines being perfectly straight, and having a small slice of background to deal with in each photographs, further isolating my subjects. Most documentary approach would prefer a wider coverage to add context to the story, to establish the background, and let the surrounding mesh into the image seamlessly for better story-telling. By drastically reducing the background footprint, using such a long lens (we are talking about 400mm), I achieve the complete opposite, the subjects look even more on their own island, being totally cut out from the environment - something I want to effectively show in my mini-project. 

Lastly, I wanted some candid street photography shots. People often argue that using a 35mm lens, or maybe a 28mm would be ideal, getting close and be skillful enough not to pollute the scene, or alter the response of the people you shoot. There is so much you can do to be invisible. I am a 6 feet tall asian man, with medium built, and I don't think there is any way I can make myself invisible. Don't fool yourself into thinking people don't know you are in front of them shooting them with your camera, that is such a pretentious thought. Just be respectful and show yourself, don't hide yourself, or don't pretend to do something else, you are just being a prick. Using a long lens makes a difference, from such a distance, people generally don't care and are not even aware that you are shooting them. The candid shots are 100% candid. 

At the end of the project, I was not completely satisfied with the images that I got. I knew I could do much better, but I also knew the restrictions in place was not in my favour, and I have already over-extended my deadline given by Olympus. I submitted the shots and I was being completely honest with them - these are not good enough, I am only delivering them to show you that I was not fooling around, I did do my best during the time-frame given, and there was only so much I could make do with what I can in such challenging times. Their response was surprisingly positive and respectful, though ultimately the main reason the images were rejected was because Olympus did not want the images to have themes related to the Covid-19 pandemic, being a medical company. I was completely not aware of this, this restriction was not communicated to me from the start, but it was also not a big issue for me as I was not happy with the final shots any way. 

Now that Olympus is being sold to JIP, I am not sure what will happen to the PRO gallery. I am not even sure if the Olympus Visionary project will continue, they have not contacted me. 

I did, however, enjoy myself shooting these images. With the photography business taking such a big dive, and not much shoots happening due to partial lockdown (still now, here in Malaysia at the time of writing), having a tasked project was quite refreshing. I had a sense of purpose, and I had something to aim for. Though the final objective was not met, I still put in a lot of time, effort and energy to constantly being out there, finding shots, before curating down to these few images that I am showing here. While these images may not be PRO gallery material, they are certainly Robin Wong shutter therapy - good enough!

Being stuck at home most of the time, and the government imposing all kinds of partial lockdown restrictions to us Malaysians, this 2020 has been the year that I took the least number of photographs since the start of my involvement in photography. I am just thankful that I can still managed to do a few small photography projects that I personally find meaningful. I sure hope you have enjoyed the images I have shared here!

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  1. Hi Robin, a wonderful set of images as usual. I do think they lack the personal interaction that you so well with the shorter lenses. Enjoyed the write up, stay safe, stay well!

  2. I just liked them. Period. They show what that lens can do in the hands of a good photographer!

  3. I think many of us have struggled to find opportunities for photography this year, but these are still nice pictures, and the architectural shots help to make up for Ming no longer blogging (that being more his thing, perhaps).

    1. Ming Thein still posts regularly on his Instagram. Make sure you follow him there, some nice new architectural shots from him too!

  4. Can't imagine that a 100-400mm would be comfortable for 'street'... But some nice images all the same, luv the kids on the bike! Kids and Bikes are always a winner.
    ... What happened to the cats ??? LOL! (Cats are always a winner, as are dogs or any animal).
    Glad to see a post from you again. As always, I enjoy most every post, write-up, pics, and many comments. Here's a wish for a Happy New Year, many new adventures and progress in whatever direction you head. Life has many surprises. Even the less joyful ones have lessons to teach us. My Best, Yuri

  5. Good, thanks review. I am a photographer myself and am interested in various lenses, because they allow me to improve my pictures or bring something new to the pictures of my favorite camera, so your review of this lens was very interesting for me. I want to note that the photos you shared look gorgeous, and I think this is not only the merit of the lens, but primarily your professional skills as a photographer. I think you should post these photos on Instagram, where tens of thousands of connoisseurs of good photography can see and appreciate them! I often see there photos in good quality and I blurted out that they mostly have about 40 thousand likes! I'm sure this is because their authors are often buy instagram likes to promote them to the interesting section.