Monday, November 15, 2010

Digital limbo – how low can you go?


The digital revolution brought photography to a whole new level. With the advent of digital imaging, professional photographers are now churning out incredible photos never possible before with film. The race is now on the technological frontier, with professional photographers now having to balance artistic creativity with digital mastery.

But the digital revolution also brought on a very serious threat to the working photographers. Before digital cameras came on the scene, photography was the enclave of photography enthusiasts and working photographers. You need to spend a significant amount of time and effort to learn the concept of exposure and everything else required to get an image properly exposed on film.

Depending on the era you started photography, you’d begin by learning how to load your film and the basics of exposure. You’d learn the Sunny-16 rule, the composition rules and proper focusing techniques (including pre-focusing, zone focusing and hyper-focusing). You’d learn about the reciprocity failure rule when your long exposure mode came out all wrong, about colour correction filters when your images turned out cyan or red, about flash exposure calculation when you see blown out details in your flash photography. There was no Internet, so you got to read up books and talk to seniors who’d tease you to no end about your efforts in photography, before telling you how to resolve the issue.

If all of these doesn’t make any sense to you, it’s alright. You probably got into photography when the film cameras have auto-loading, auto-focusing and auto modes for virtually everything. Flash metering? Don’t cameras calculate everything already? We thought that was the golden age of photography, with the Canon EOS-1V and Nikon F5 ruling the roost. People would think you’re nuts spending US$2000 for a flagship SLR camera.

In the blink of an eye, digital photography landed on our shores with the arrival of affordable DSLRs such as the Nikon D70 and Canon EOS 1000D. Not only can the cameras do everything setting for you (truly “you press the button, we do the rest”), you can also see what you have just shot. That was truly the nail in the coffin for film photography.

But it turned out that film didn’t want to die alone, because it was dragging a whole strata of working photographers with it. Armed with digital SLR cameras, a whole new generation of photography enthusiasts popped up like mushrooms after the rain, perfectly capable of taking photos without much experience. Point and compose – the DSLRs churned out images that were the preserve of knowledgeable photographers. There is no longer a need to struggle to learn the basics of photography before you can churn out images that look great – the camera makes you look like a genius!

Portraits with shallow depth of field? Check.
Macro photography? Check.
Motion freezing sports photography? Check.

It wasn’t long before many of the new photographers got approached by companies who require photography services at a cheap rate. A lot of them didn't start out with the thought of offering commercial services, but somewhere along the way someone wanted a job done, and the photographer thought "why not? I've the gear, and it's a good chance to earn some additional income." They were not sure of the commercial rates (and neither could they command the kind of rates without a good portfolio). So the client got a great rate for the photography service, and the photographer earned some extra dough for his hobby.

It sounds great, but it really isn’t. Not for the freelancer, not for working photographers, and not for the client.

In terms of income, the downward spiraling rates spell disaster bad for full time professionals who have to contend with higher overheads today. Digital bodies usually need to be upgraded every 3 years, software is getting more expensive, and consumers are becoming more demanding (D.I everything!). Unwittingly the freelancers damaged the market for the professionals by charging lower rates just because they could (without having to bear overheads), not because they should.

Professionals now have to contend with a new influx of freelancers fighting for the pie, and they have to work harder for the money to move their skills upwards to avoid the lower end of the market. This is not necessarily a terrible thing, since evolution is a matter of necessity for everyone. Professionals now have to find a new niche for themselves, doing stuff which freelancers can not yet deliver the same quality. Survival of the fittest then…

For the freelancers and low-balling professionals, they'd learn quickly that charging low rates is not worth it. It only takes one nasty/demanding client or a job gone wrong to make them learn the hard way. A re-shoot or additional efforts quickly make charging low-rates a no-brainer – the low fees simply isn’t worth the effort to do all that work. But unfortunately, nobody likes to talk about their mistakes and failures, and so we have new photographers coming into the scene who low-ball the market again, and the cycle continues.

But what about the clients who try to get low-ball rates? They will get what they deserve, and the low-balling clients and photographers deserve each other! The client might find himself into trouble using a cheap photographer, when the latter fails to deliver the goods. He might get away with getting someone else to re-shoot, but if the cost of a re-shoot is very high, or if a re-shoot is not possible (like a wedding), that is problematic for everyone involved. That being the case, the client will quickly learn to use a well-trained professional who will be charging what he’s worth. And if the client doesn't learn his lesson, at least he will be good training fodder for the next low-balling photographer to learn that low-ball rates do not work out.

At the end of the day, nature will find its balance. There will always be low-balling photographers and clients, as well as photographers who are worth their salt and charges accordingly, with the right clients who appreciate their work. If you are a good photographer, charge what you are worth. Because clients who need and value your services will pay for your photos. For clients who low-ball you, forget about them. You won't miss them because they will not be worth your trouble. From my experience, clients who start off by low-balling your rates are usually nasty and demanding clients as well. Focus on sharpening your skills and gaining better clients, instead of going down the long and slippery slope of low-balling.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Create your own origami of Canon cameras

A couple of post ago, I highlighted this photographer creating his own film SLR camera from scratch, using nothing more than some raw materials and exceptional engineering prowess. For the rest of us who're mere mortals, it is probably easier for us to construct a camera from PAPER instead of cold hard steel.

That's right. PaperKraft.Net has posted PDFs of origami models of three notable Canon SLR cameras that you can print out using your desktop printer, and put together with nothing more than a pair of scissors, glue and plenty of time and patience!

You can download the artwork for the Canonflex, AE-1 and EOS 5D Mk II online at the following links:

Canonflex Part 1  (download)
Canonflex Part 2 (download)

Canon AE-1 Part 1 (download)
Canon AE-1 Part 2 (download)

Canon EOS 5D Mk II Part 1 (download)
Canon EOS 5D Mk II Part 2 (download)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Your Choice of Camera Says About You


Check out what photographer Gordon Lewis has to say about your choice of camera! This article first appeared on Shutterfinger.

 Glad that my personal choice of camera was safe from Gordon's criticism!  :)

Just as the clothes you choose to wear, the food you like to eat, and the people you associate with say something about you, so does the camera system you buy into. The following observations are based on close association with the various groups of camera owners and from having belonged to each group at one time or another. Those who belong to the “lacking any sense of humor” or “offended at the drop of a hat” groups are strongly advised to read no further.

Canon owners
You appreciate the benefits of owning a camera system that leads in cutting-edge digital imaging technology and that offers a wealth of body, lens, and accessory options for every level of photographer, from lowly consumer to top professional. You will switch to Nikon.

Nikon owners
You appreciate the benefits of owning a camera system that leads in cutting-edge digital imaging technology and that offers a wealth of body, lens, and accessory options for every level of photographer, from lowly consumer to top professional. You will switch to Canon.

Sony owners
You believe that Sony’s innovations in consumer electronics and video technology, its leadership in digital imaging chip production, its in-body image stabilization, and its use of Zeiss optics results in a unique design synergy and products of exceptional value—because that’s what it says in the product literature. You also believe in astrology, UFOs and the Easter Bunny.

Pentax owners
You’re the sort of person who would buy a $1500 DSLR body so your stash of thread-mount, K-mount and M-mount lenses from decades ago (collectively worth $75.00 at a flea market or yard sale) won’t go to waste; either that, or you’ve never heard of a Spotmatic, Pentax LX or Takumar, you just think you look cool sporting a day-glo red camera that takes real pictures. You think people are laughing with you, not at you.

Olympus owners
You’re the sort of person who buys North Korean beer, Peruvian underwear, and French cars, not  because you actually like them but because no one else does. When people question your choice of camera system you respond that Olympus images have a certain “soul” and that photographs are what matter, not the camera. You have no friends.

Leica owners
You know that no other camera other than a Hasselblad gains as much instant respect among the cognoscenti as a Leica. Although this relieves the pressure of demonstrating actual photographic prowess, it increases the need to be familiar with the subtle differences in visual signature between an Elmar, Elmarit, Summitar, Summicron, and Summilux. You are either stinking rich, living in your mother’s basement, or one lens purchase away from a divorce.

Friday, October 22, 2010

When technology meets tradition

You knew it had to happen. Steve Jobs said the iPhone 4 was akin to the Leica cameras when it came to quality, so it was only a matter of time before someone creates a marriage between the two icons.

Suguru Nishioka created a case for the iPhone 4 that resembles a Leica IIIf camera, by printing a realistic computer illustration on the case. Now this really takes the coolness quota up to the stratospheric level - I mean, Leica and Apple products are cool by themselves... so the fusion of the two products must be mind-blowing!

iIIIf iPhone 4 case


1932 II looking at iIIIf thinking "WTF??" ;)

All photos by Suguru Nishioka

You can order the iPhone 4 cases from, but do note that stocks are selling out really quickly and there's already a back order, so act quickly if you want to step up on your coolness quotient!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Building your own SLR camera

There are some of us who think that photographer per se is not challenging enough, and they would like to have total control of their photography. Apparently, shooting in manual mode and taking handheld meter readings is not considered "total control" for such exacting photographers. Neither is processing and printing their own photos. To proclaim "total control of photography", the idealists feel that one should... hang on to your horses - build your own camera!

Check out this French dude (probably a genius mechanical engineer as much as he's a hardcore photographer) as he gets inspired to create his own SLR camera from scratch. Everything is build from raw materials such as chunks of brass or stainless steel, and machined according to the plans that he drew himself. The only parts that he couldn't manufacture, and thus had to salvage from an existing camera, were the shutter curtain, screws and some ball bearings. Every part of the process was meticulously documented and explained, with interesting photos to illustrate the building process.

All photos copyright of the photographer

The end camera is crude and ugly, but it works 100% and delivers the goods! You can't help but be impressed by the determination of this guy to build a camera from ground up. If he runs a watch company, he would have received the much sought-after title of a "manufacture". Check out his creation process here:  (page 1)   (page 2)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nikon launches D7000 and two killer lenses!

Nikon has (finally) released the successor to the aging D90. The new D7000 slots into the mid-tier ranking of the Nikon DSLR hierarchy, promising performance with a new 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and a faster 'Expeed 2' processor. One of the key highlights is the inclusion of a magnesium alloy body, which until now was only reserved for the higher-end Nikon body. This is interesting because while Canon has been systematically shifting their mid-tier bodies (such as the EOS 60D) downwards in terms of features and specs, we have Nikon actually moving the other way up by including better build for their mid-tier bodies. The Nikon D7000 features a high res 920k 3" LCD and Full HD 1080p 24 frames movie recording capabilities. Looks like the Nikon camp has unleashed a powerful challenger this time round…

Another interesting development comes in the form of the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G. This wide-angle prime lens holds 10 elements in seven groups, including one aspherical glass element, and incorporates Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for quieter auto-focusing, along with Nano-Crystal coating to reduce flare. It will definitely be a welcome addition to the camera bags of street photographers, journalists and portrait photographers looking to capture street photos and environmental portraits in low available light.

And finally, Nikon has also updated its 200mm F2 VR professional lens to Mark II. Although the optical formula remains unchanged, the new AF-S Nikkor 200mm F2G ED VR II utilizes the second generation of Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology (VR II), as well as the company's proprietary nano-crystal coating to reduce ghosting and flare.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I hate camera straps

Let's get this out of the way for once and for all - the traditional camera strap doesn't work most of the time. It is made to be worn around your neck with the camera in front of you, and probably designed by a chiropractor, because that's who you'll be visiting if you use it for long periods of time. Given that a mobile phone can be a weighty pendulum on a lanyard, who actually wants to hang a heavy DSLR around your neck the whole day?

Some people actually sling it over one shoulder, only to see the camera crash to the floor when one is momentarily distracted. I find the traditional camera strap very useful when I wrap it around my hands when shooting, but never for carrying the camera around hands-free.

There are a couple of different variant designs on the camera strap in the past years, and two of the most interesting ones are the Y-Strap and R-Strap. Both straps run diagonally down your body supported by one shoulder, and the camera rests on the opposite hip. The weight is on the shoulder and not on the neck, which makes for comfortable wear for longer periods. The camera slides up smoothly along the strap to your face, guided by the length of the strap.

So if you're not happy with the traditional camera strap and want an alternative option, check out the Y-strap and the R-Strap. I like the fact that you're not advertising a huge DSLR on your chest that screams "I'm a photographer!', which means you can probably get closer to your subject without them noticing. Just watch out when you walk past tables - you definitely don't want your precious lens or camera meeting the corner of some sturdy benches!

The Y-strap

The R-strap

Monday, August 30, 2010

The photojournalism of Brian L.Frank

I was browsing through the works of various photographers when I came across this Vimeo video showcasing the works of Brian L. Frank. Brian is a photojournalist whose work in Mexico has been recognized by Photographer of the Year International, The National Press Photographer's Association, Photo District News, and The San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association.

If you are into street photography, be sure to check out Brian's stunning pictures. His sense of timing and composition is simply astounding, and it's interesting that he said he'll sit and wait for an hour or two for things to fall into place, once he finds the suitable location and lighting.

"It's almost like fishing," he said.

The quiet zen of photography

For some people like David Spielman, photography is a therapeutic process, offering your mind a sea of calm amongst the rush of our daily lives. And to that intent, David prefers to shoot rangefinders and still uses film, because he likes the process of picture creation that way. For most of us using electronic DSLRs, computers and mobile phones everyday, you might find beauty and peace within the mechanical cameras and the tactile feel of film.

Slow down, see and observe, and then click off a frame.

Enjoy this short video clip!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Russia looks like in 1910

Ever wondered how things look like 100 years ago? Street documentary has been one of the crucial tools for historians to look at social changes through the years, so the common snaps on the street or of your family and friends may serve to be important evidence of our current lifestyles more than a hundred years later!

Photo and copyright by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii went on a huge a photographic survey of the Russian Empire, supported by Tsar Nicholas II between 1909 and 1910. He documented various Russians, from leaders to peasants. You might imagine crummy black and white photos, since the photos was like 100 years ago. But you'd be very surprised to learn that the photos are actually in colour! The photographer used a technique to make quick successive exposures using three coloured filters, which can then be combined later during printing to create colour photographs. Because the original negatives were monochrome, they were very stable and did not suffer the colour fading that you associate with old colour photos. You can read more about the digichromatography process if you're interested.

Take the time to check out the works of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, and I assure you it's well worth your time. It's like a time travel machine, as you view Russia a century ago, as if the photos were just taken yesterday!

Click here to visit gallery.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canon launches EOS 60D and slew of lenses!

Right after Nikon's announcement of a DSLR body and a slew of lenses, Canon found it fitting to announce the launch of products of the same magnitude! With the much-anticipated (and much-leaked) EOS 60D, Canon has a couple of interesting lenses in the line-up as well!

The new 18MP EOS 60D features a more compact body than its predecessor and uses SD cards, differentiating (and perhaps lowering its position within the family) from the EOS 7D. Interestingly, it scavenges parts from other bodies, utilizing the 3" LCD (107k) from the EOS 550D and the autofocus module from EOS 50D (perhaps not to usurp the "AF speed-king" position of 7D). It does however share the same video capability as the EOS 7D (very clever positioning of features).

What really differentiates the new EOS 60D from its predecessor is the articulating (or pivoting) LCD, which allows users to compose from various angles not traditionally possible by looking through a viewfinder. It's the first time a Canon EOS feature a rotating LCD, which Nikon and Sony already have launched in their DSLRs. It will be interesting to see how this revolutionary (for EOS series) screen go down with Canon users. More importantly, the launch of the EOS 60D has shown a fundamental shift (along with the introduction of the EOS 7D) in product positioning against Nikon and Sony.
Canon L-series of lenses have always signified exceptional performance, although most people will readily relate the red ring to expensive pricing and fast aperture lenses. That's why it exceptionally surprising (or shocking) to see that Canon is releasing a EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM lens, which has a aperture range one would relate to a consumer lens. Canon states that it's positioned as an "affordable" L lens, but seriously this lens really seem out-of-place in the L-series line-up. I'm sure this lens can deliver uber-sharp performance, but I can't imagine the board-room discussions and internal controversy when they decided to label it as a L-lens. It sounds good with ring-type USM motor, weatherproof construction, and a 4-stop image stabilization, but one should always remember that the L-program is very much a marketing initiative as well as a technical classification. Labeling this lens as a L-series is a mistake in my opinion, but we shall leave it to history to judge if Canon is right.

Leaving disappointments behind, Canon launched an interesting lens in the form of a EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM, which is claimed as the "world's first fisheye zoom lens to offer both circular and full frame images". Turn it to the 8mm focal length, and you'll get the signature circular fish-eye effect on a full-frame sensor. Turn it towards the 15mm setting, and you're looking at more conventional rectilinear wide-angle images. It's a very interesting lens, even though I'm not sure how many people will actually need such a lens. Get ready for a slew of fish-eye images… argh!

Canon has always excelled in super-telephoto lenses, and I'm sure sports and wild-life photographers will be excited to hear about the updated EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II and EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM lenses. More than superficial updates, the new lenses feature completely redesigned optics as well as the latest IS technology. The new EF 400mm lens is 28% lighter than its predecessor, thanks to the use of magnesium alloy construction.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nikon lets the horses loose!


Nikon launches new entry-level DSLR, and four new lenses

You know what the say about the weather. It’s always calm before a storm. So when Nikon kept silent for so many months, you’d expect something to burst out from the gates of Nippon Kogaku! It turns out that the Japanese giant has been busy, with its optical department hard at work churning out four new lenses! And the popular Nikon D3000 received an update with higher resolution and HD video recording…

The new Nikon D3100 features the same user-friendly interface with a Guide Mode, making it easy for a novice to learn photography as if there was a instructor by the side. The difference is that the new D3100 features an updated 14.2MP sensor, full HD  (1920x1080) recording, as well as the popular Live View mode. All-in-all, a nice update to bring the entry-level model up to speed with the competitors.

The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS is one of my favourite lens, delivering sharpness and versatile mid-zoom range in a compact package with image stabilization. And this has been missing from the Nikon line-up for the longest time! And now Nikon has launched the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, making it possible for Nikon users to enjoy a useful mid-range zoom without worries about slow shutter speed. Personally, this is really great news for FX format Nikon users. But guess what? It’d be perfect if Nikon launched a 70-200mm f/4 VR to match it as well! Ahem…

The NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D IF has always been a legendary lens in the Nikon community, delivering superlative portraits. But it was getting old in age with the classic formula, and the autofocus speed meant that it did not excel in sports photography where it’s high-speed could really help in achieving high shutter-speeds. So here comes the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G powered by Silent Wave Motor for fast focus speed. The successor also features a totally new optical design as well as Nikon’s proprietary Nano Crystal Coat for rich colours and high contrast. It’s 9-blade aperture diaphragm will also help in delivering uber-smooth bokeh for portraits. I only wished that Nikon has thrown in VR as well to make this a killer portrait lens!

For travel photographers who secretly wish for a Nikon super-zoom to fit their full-frame Nikon DSLR, (and always casting envious glasses at the DX users with their Nikon 18-200mm DX), your wish just came true with the AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR! It has everything you need for travel: a wide zoom range, ED lens for great quality images, VR technology for steady shots, and a minimum focusing distance of just 50 cm. Sounds yummy to a travel photographer who just wants to stick to one lens!

And finally, the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is designed to be a matching pair with the 18-55mm kit lens, starting off where the kit lens stops at 55mm and going all the way up to 300mm (it’s actually 450mm considering the crop factor!). Silent Wave delivers quiet focusing, while VR makes sure you get nice shots despite your shaky hands.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Joys of medium format cameras


We all love the tale of David vs Goliath, where the underdog trumps the favourite against all odds. The truth in life is - size does matter. The bigger is usually the better option. Try driving a Mini on the road with Landrovers and Hummers all around you, or get into a gun fight armed with a pistol against a sub-machine gun - you get the picture.

In photography, the smaller cameras are more agile, as in all our examples. But in terms of sheer power, nothing quite beats a larger format camera, ceteris paribus. The larger the film area (or sensor size), the cleaner the image and the better the enlargements will be. Traditionally, a lot of commercial images used for billboards or posters are shot on medium or large format cameras, and even with today's pow-wow 35mm DSLRs excellent image quality, some of the professionals still opt for medium format cameras to deliver that extra edge, especially in controlled environment shooting where speed is not of essence.

Apart from sheer quality, one of the fun aspects of shooting medium format cameras is the joy of handling something mechanical. Unlike the DSLRs, the majority of medium format cameras still shoot on film (since digital backs are still prohibitively expensive for the hobbyists). That only adds to the joy of loading film (assuming you come from the film-era like me), which is a more tactile approach than loading a CF card into my DSLR. Furthermore, a lot of the medium format cameras are mechanical machines that click and clunk, quite unlike the zip and whirl of the electronic cameras today.

Need more convincing to try medium format cameras? Well... how about the fact that a lot of medium format gears are very affordable now compared to a decade ago, and you can get a good camera and lens for less than 500 bucks? And once you have a taste of the heavenly experience of viewing a medium format slide on a light-box, you'd want to run out to get a few more rolls of film!

So be sure to discover more about medium format cameras here at

Have fun!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is photography weighing you down?

Unlike sports like tennis and even cycling, where equipment have gotten lighter through the years with technological advances, photography seems to have gone the other way round. Compare the camera and lenses of yesteryear, today's gear seems absolutely humongous and outright unwieldy! If you are a car enthusiast, you'd know that an average car today weighs around 1.3 tonnes, compared to under 1 tonne just twenty years ago.

And since manufacturers seems adamant in packing in more weight, it's a good time to watch your back - literally. For serious photography enthusiasts, it's not uncommon to be lugging around bags weighing more than 5kg (11 lbs), which is akin to carrying a big bag of rice around! So what can you do to avoid contributing your hard-earned cash to the chiropractor?

Check out this latest article I wrote - "Is photography weighing you down?" about managing your equipment and gear out in the field. It's important not to mess with your spine - back-related injuries can last a lifetime!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Olympus - the spirit of innovation

When you think of SLR cameras today, most of us will think of brands such as Canon, Nikon and perhaps Sony. These brands dominate the majority of the market share with their popular DSLR models. But if you were an old-timer in photography, you'd probably be familiar with Minolta, Pentax and Olympus as well. For those who miss the old times, it was an exciting period where there were much more brands, and every one developed their products in a very different direction.

For those who recall, Olympus had very innovative products, thanks to a clever Japanese engineer named Maitani. He was like the Steve Jobs of Olympus, conceptualizing and developing new products that took Olympus into areas where no other brands dare go. Some of his most iconic products include the Olympus Pen, the Olympus XA and the Olympus OM (SLR) system. I remember being simply astounded when I first came across the futuristic clamshell design of the Olympus XA and the petite Olympus OM that fits right on my palm!

Olympus Pen
Olympus XA

Olympus OM-series

* Product images copyright of Olympus

Maitani's trademark seems to lie in miniaturizing products, since his designs for the cameras made them almost half the size of competitors. Legend has it that Maitani was in a public hot bath one day when a truck driver entered the bath. Before long, they heard a commotion outside and saw that the truck had caught fire due to a short-circuit. But because Maitani (and everyone else) did not have a camera, the moment was not caught on film. Maitani then resolved to make a compact camera so that everyone can always carry one with them, and the result was the Olympus Pen.

If you're an Olympus fan or simply fascinated with the exploits of this legendary Olympus chief camera designer, check out this Maitani website where his fans showcased his adventures and his work. Frankly, with such a colourful character, Olympus could do well engineering a marketing campaign revolving around the innovative spirit of the company. Are you listening, Olympus?

Check out Maitani's fan site at today!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Getting bored? Try HDR photography!

Bored with whatever you've been shooting? Perhaps its time to try out HDR photography! In case you haven't already heard, HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range". In simple layman talk, that means that you're capturing details in both the brightest (highlight) areas of the photo, as well as darkest (shadow) area of the photo. The end result can be spectacular like this...

HDR photography works by combining multiple exposures of the same scene into one single image, allowing the software to extract data from the various exposures and combining them into your final photo. To do that effectively, you should shoot the same scene at least three times - once at your normal exposure, once over-expose and once under-exposed.

Normal exposure

Over-exposed (2-stops) 
Under-exposed (2-stops)

HDR software then allows you to combine the sequence of shots automatically to generate the final HDR image. You should probably use a tripod to ensure that all three images are similar for easy matching. The thing about HDR photography is that much of the process is done post-exposure in your computer, but it is not as easy as it seems. There are many adjustments in the software that you can explore, and many of them will process the HDR image differently. You'd need to explore the software thoroughly to be good in HDR photography.

I've posted a link to a video which explains HDR photography and the software adjustments necessary for a good HDR processing. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sony launches trio of prime lenses


After wading painfully through Sony's terrible press release (which looks like it was written for amateurs by amateurs), it dawned on me that Sony has launched three prime lenses for its Alpha DSLR system, taking the total to more than 30 lenses in the entire range. The jewel in the trio must be the full-frame Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm F2 SSM, a relatively fast wide-angle prime made by the esteemed German optics manufacturer. Photographers should love the 0.19m minimum focus distance (great for dramatic effects) and a nine-blade circular aperture designed for smooth bokeh (out-of-focus areas). Focus should be fast and quiet, thanks to its built-in SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor).

The Sony 85mm F2.8 SAM represents the first full frame lens in the "Easy Choice" lens range, which are designated to be more affordable. "Easy Choice" is such a tacky and terrible marketing name, but thank goodness it does not appear anywhere on the lens! The full-frame 85mm is a traditional choice for portrait photography, and so the 0.6m minimum focusing distance (which Sony claims is the shortest in its class) should come in useful. At 175 grams, the Sony 85mm F2.8 SAM is extremely compact and light, although f/2.8 seems a tad slow for a portrait lens (compared to Canon and Nikon's offering of 85mm f/1.8 lenses).

The Sony DT 35mm F1.8 SAM is designed as a fast wide-angle lens for APS-C sensor DSLR only. At 170 grams, it's a compact and light addition to the camera bag, and it features the shortest minimum focus distance of just 23 cm, which Sony claims as shortest in its class. All of these lenses can be used on the NEX mirrorless cameras via the LA-EA1 adapter (manual focus mode only).  The 24mm and 85mm lenses will start shipping from late September at retail prices of €1,250 and €250 respectively, followed by the 35mm which will be available from mid-October at a retail price of €200.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photographers and Apple iPad - perfect partership

With the Apple iPad shipping worldwide, many photographers are scrambling to get their hands so that they can share their portfolio of works with everyone on the gorgeous 10" screen. But there's more to using the iPad as an electronic portfolio, as Jesse Rosten discovered. Did you know that you can shoot and transfer your files wirelessly to the iPad?

All it takes is an Apple iPad (obviously), a DSLR, an Eye-Fi card and an app called ShutterSnitch (US$8). Jesse Rosten shares the exact method on how to set-up your DSLR to transfer your photos wirelessly to your iPad as you shoot. It's great for viewing your photos on a huge screen compared to squinting at a small LCD behind the camera. And it's especially good if you're a commercial photographer who needs to show the client (and art director) as the shoot goes on, without having them stand behind you to check the shots.

The above is a video clip by Jesse Rosten showing how the wireless setup works. For the details on setting up the wireless transmission of images, visit his website at

Review of Leica X1


When I went to Sri Lanka recently, I thought it'd be a good idea to bring along the Leica X1 for a real world review. This compact camera features a full-sized APS-C sensor, delivering extraordinary image quality, for a camera that fits into your pocket! Couple that with the legendary Leica lens and brand name, and you'd expect the images to rock your world. Check out how the Leica X1 performed in Sri Lanka...

Sigma launches new 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens

If you own APS-C DSLR and you're bemoaning the lack of a image-stabilizer on your fast wide-angle zoom, you're not alone - or at least that's what Sigma thinks. For years, manufacturers (with the exception of Canon who has a EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS) have not heeded the pleas of consumers who want image-stabilizer on wide-angle zooms, perhaps on the rationale that users can get away with lower shutter speeds on such focal lengths. However, Sigma chose to listen to the voices of the customers, and they have launched the new Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens!

Off the specs sheet, the new Sigma ultra-wide angle looks brilliant. It covers an ultra-wide focal range, even more than the traditional 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses we're used to, and it throws in an image-stabilizer mechanism to ensure sharp images even in low-light shooting conditions. Other goodies include a compact dimension of just 3.6 inches, minimum focus distance of 11 inches (through the entire zoom range), new FLD optical glass, Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for quiet and high-speed auto focus, and a rounded seven-blade diaphragm for great out-of-focus background.

Interestingly, Sigma has chosen to launch the Canon mount first (at US$980), and subsequently for Nikon, Sigma, Sony and Pentax mounts in the coming weeks. A weird choice given that Canon users already have the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, and it's the other brands owners which need this unique configuration for their systems. Sigma has once again chosen their battle very carefully by delivering a niche product for the numerous DSLRs owners out there, instead of butting head-on with the camera brands by offering exactly the same focal length and aperture. And this has provided photographers with more options when it comes to camera gear and budgets. Sigma is indeed looking at the world through a different lens!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Eat your seafood, or else...


These burly fishermen will punch out your lights out. But seriously, most of us see our seafood as well... seafood! We assume that the fishermen caught them sailing in the nice seas, with machines hauling up the nets and all they have to do is sail the boat into the right waters, right?

Well... it happens that the right waters for some of the seafood happens to be really cold, frigid and stormy! Did you know fishing for Alaskan King Crabs for example, ranks as the most dangerous job in the USA (Wikipedia reckons that one crab fisherman dies weekly during the harvesting season)?

I came across the works of Corey Arnold, who did a really nice job of documenting life on board a fishing boat. The journalistic value of the photos is high, and you almost feel like you've been on the boat during the fishing trip. The icy conditions and the camaraderie among the fishermen were plainly brought across in the photos. And yes, these guys sure have a great sense of humor too!

Check out his works in "Fish-Work Bering Seas" section of his portfolio at now.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Underwater Project

There have been many great shots of surfers riding the waves, but it's much rarer to see the world beneath the waves. Check out the photography works of Mark Tipple, an Australian documentary photographer who captured the wonderful world of underwater photography in his new series "The Underwater Project".

Rays of sunlight bursts through the water in a spectacular fashion, creating a luminous cloud within the water, as the surfers lay suspended in motion while the waves roll above. The surreal scenes are captured brilliantly by Mark Tipple, who happens to be an avid surfer himself. Check out his stunning works of underwater paradise below...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sony’s new NEX cameras - very EVIL!

What are EVIL cameras?
Known affectionately by their informal acronym, Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) cameras belong to a growing new class of cameras that sit between the slim (but functionally limited) compact cameras and bulky (and powerful) DSLRs.

Compact cameras are slim and great to have around for point-and-shoot photography, but they are very limited in terms of control and the lens cannot be interchanged. DSLR cameras are bulky and not something you want to lug around for casual photography, but they offer the ultimate speed and control, together with a host of interchangeable lenses to expand your horizon.

EVIL cameras incorporate the controls that photographers are used to having with their DSLRs (such as aperture and shutter), as well as the flexibility of having interchangeable lens. At the same time, the size of the EVIL cameras are much smaller than DSLRs because they do not have a reflex mirror. Instead, they incorporate an electronic viewfinder to allow users to view and compose their photos. Both in terms of size and functionality, they are smack in-between the compact cameras and pukka DSLRs.

The EVIL concept has just taken root recently, but there’re already of host of models in the category. The Panasonic GF series, Olympus E-P series and Samsung NX series are some of the cameras in the fray. Most of these cameras belong to the micro four-thirds sensor category, with the exception of Samsung’s NX10 which is using APS-sized sensor as well.

The drawbacks of the EVIL cameras include slower focusing than DSLRs, because they use contrast focusing instead of the faster phase detection focusing of DSLRs. In dark and low contrast situation, the focusing can be abysmal. In addition, the range of lenses dedicated for the EVIL system can be pretty limiting because these camera systems are still in their infancy.

For traditional SLR users, the concept of using a viewfinder to compose the photos is sacrilegious. Gone are the crystal clear view of a optical viewfinder afforded by the prism and reflex mirror, replaced by dark, dingy and pixilated LCD screens. The latest LCD screens on EVIL cameras deliver excellent resolution and results, but in bright sunlight the glare can make LCDs difficult to view. But to look on the bright side, EVIL users do not need to contend with dealing with vibrations from mirror flip.
Sony’s new Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5
Sony has just hopped onto the EVIL bandwagon with their new Alpha (α) NEX-3 and NEX-5 mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. And unlike most of their evil cousins (sorry… couldn’t resist the pun) the α NEX cameras incorporate a large14 mega pixel APS HD CMOS sensor APS size sensor, promising to deliver DSLR quality with ultra-compact dimensions.

Both the new Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 share many common features, including high-speed burst of full-resolution images at up to 7fps, and a high-performance 3” tilt LCD. The Sony NEX-cameras include a cool Sweep Panorama function that allows users to just press the shutter button and swing the camera side-to-side or up and down, and a high-speed burst of frames is stitched together automatically to create 23 megapixel panoramas with a 226 degree effective angle of view. Sounds cool even though I wonder how often I’d use this function.
Unlike its DSLR cousins in the Alpha family, the NEX-cameras are well-endowed in video functionality. The NEX-3 offers 720p HD video capture, while the NEX-5 delivers full 1080i AVCHD video capabilities.

I have stated time and again that a camera is only as good as the lenses it can use, and the Sony NEX system is definitely keen to avoid being stranded without a good lens system. The cameras are using a new E-mount lens system (groan), BUT they are compatible with α DSLR lenses with optional Mount Adaptor.

There are 3 E-mount lenses at the time of the launch of the new Sony NEX system. Most users will purchase the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom with image stabilizer, which comes in kit form with the cameras. For the most compact form factor, the 16mm f/2.8 pancake delivers a 24mm equivalent view, while being extremely small and offering a relatively bright f/2.8 max aperture. For those who want it all, the 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 superzoom with image-stabilizer is an excellent choice, even though it is so much larger than the camera!

My thoughts on the Sony Alpha NEX system

A compact form interchangeable lens camera with a large sensor sounds like a great idea, and Sony will definitely want to make a dent in the universe with their new foray into the EVIL territory (since it’s having a hard time against Nikon and Canon in the DSLR arena). The system sounds promising, but it is difficult to determine its potential without checking out its actual performance.

There’re several things that can potentially go wrong. Focusing speed of EVIL cameras has always lagged behind DSLRs, and sensor noise-control hasn’t exactly been the strength of Sony. I am not too enamored about the looks of the NEX system, given that the design looks lopsided (more lens than camera I’d say), and the styling of the grip looks like it came straight out of 1985. The handling is suspect, especially at longer focal length where users do not have the stability of pressing their cameras against their face as in the case of a DSLR.

However, if you’ve always been looking for a small form camera with a large sensor size and interchangeable lens, you can only choose between the Samsung NX10 and Sony NEX-system. Oh… if you’re feeling rich and do not need a interchangeable lens, do not forget the Leica X1 with its Leica 28mm f/2.8 lens!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

High fibre diet for polar bear

A camera-shy polar bear had enough when a group of photographers persisted in taking his photos and out-stayed their welcome. The bear charged towards the group which scattered into the safety of their vehicles, leaving their tripods unguarded on the ice. The polar bear then grabbed a tripod and made off with it, which greatly amused the photographers because he happened to pick the most expensive tripod - a  flagship carbon fibre model from Gitzo.

Credit Image: © National News/

Either the bear had good taste or he was told to go on a high fibre diet. Read the full report here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pimp your camera!


Think your camera is not bling enough? Can't bring yourself to glue some Swarovski crystals onto your camera? There's an easy way to pimp your camera and give it some personality! Check out the Gariz (not Garish fortunately) metallic plates for your camera! I think the stick-on for the compact cameras do look quite classy, although some people would probably think you stole the camera from P. Diddy himself.

The stickers for the DSLRs look quite daft though. But don't stop at your compacts - Garish, sorry I mean Gariz has stickers for mobile phones as well (yes, including the iconic iPhone). Just don't show Steve Jobs what you did to his precious...

Check out the Gariz website for yourself!

New Nikon 200-400mm f/4 launching soon


Nikon is set to launch a tweaked version of its 200-400mm f/4 VR by end of May. Featuring the same optical configuration and Silent Wave Focusing as its predecessor, the new AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II looks to deliver the same optical performance and speed. However, Nikon improved its stabilization ability by incorporating four-stop VR II image stabilization, and the new lens will benefit greatly with Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat lens coating for reduced ghosting and flare.

It will come at a price though. The AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II is expected to cost nearly US$7000, which squarely prices the lens out of reach for most but the most hardcore (and well-heeled) photographers. Who would buy such an expensive and huge lens? Nature photographers and sports photographers will certainly appreciate having the option to zoom at the super-telephoto range, as well as a relatively bright aperture of f/4 and enjoy the superlative performance of this ED lens as well (it has 24 lens elements in 17 groups with 4 ED elements!).
What other alternatives do you have to this Nikon? Perhaps you can look at the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8EX DG APO HSM instead, with its bright f/2.8 aperture and much more economical US$4200 price tag.  Add on a 1.5x teleconverter and you''ll have almost the same focal length range as this Nikon. You'll not get optical image stabilization (VR) with the Sigma though, which is a really useful feature on such a super-zoom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hong Kong and Vietnam gallery added!

Hi folks,

It's been a busy time for me, but hey... photography remains an important part of my life! These photos of Vietnam and Hong Kong were taken quite some time ago, but I've not shared them in the public domain as a collection yet...

The contrast between Hong Kong and Vietnam can't get any further... the slickness of the former British colony stands out against the war-ravaged past of the former French colony. The fast paced lifestyle of Hong Kong pits one another into working faster and harder than the person next to you, so you can really feel the buzz in every street of Hong Kong.

The charms of Vietnam appear immediately as you leave the airport, with quaint French styled houses lining the roads. Because each house is taxed according to the land area occupied, houses in Vietnam are built on narrow strips of real estate, and total floor area is maximized by building more levels. The Vietnamese are toiling hard to rebuild the economy after decades of war, and results are starting to show in the cities. But the charm of Vietnam remains in many parts of the country, and it is difficult to imagine such a beautiful country and wonderful people being embroiled in such a long era of conflict.

Visit my new photo galleries of Vietnam and Hong Kong at (click on the Gallery section). Leave some comments here on how you like the photos as well!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A day in the life of New York City

Check out this amazing video of New York City by Sam O'Hare. Sam did the entire project shooting on a Nikon D3, and that's all you need to know for now. So please watch the video before you continue reading!

Done viewing the video?

How did you think Sam shot the sequence? Most people would imagine that Sam fitted tilt-shift lens to the Nikon D3 and set it to record video, and then speeding up the video clips in post-production to achieve the effect in the video. But that would not be special, would it?

Sam O'Hare actually used a Nikon D3 for this project, shooting 35,000 NEFs at 4 frames per second! He then painstakingly combined them in post production and output the files as 1080p video set to music. If that wasn't crazy enough, he wasn't shooting with a tilt-shift lens. Sam actually shot with a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 lenses for all of the shots. The tilt-shift effect was all done in post frame by frame!

This is madness!
Madness? This is NEW YORK!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Photoshop CS5 - so what's new?


Photoshop CS4 was not all that hot, and Adobe knows it as well. Many photographers have criticized the software giant of churning out new versions of Photoshop too quickly and increasing the prices, without significant improvements in the versions. Worse still, Adobe received the short end of the stick by refusing to integrate RAW support for newer cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mk II for Photoshop CS3, in an apparent move to "convince" customers to upgrade. As far as we know, sales of Photoshop CS4 was not as spectacular as Adobe wanted it to be.

Now Adobe is back with Photoshop CS5. Has the company wizened up to the consumer's requests and are they listening to feedback? Well, it's difficult to say for sure without running through the software, but based on the list of new features, the new Photoshop CS5 certainly looks very interesting for those of us on the previous versions of Photoshop. Rob Galbraith has a nice summary of the new features in CS5, so be sure to check it out!

DSLR video used to film 'House' season finale

The status of DSLR video quality has been elevated to the next level with the breaking news that the entire episode of the season finale of the primetime medical drama series “House” was filmed with a DSLR. In an interview, director of FOX broadcasting Greg Yaitanes said that they used the Canon EOS 5D Mk II with 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses to film the season finale to achieve a “richer look”.

Greg loves the shallow depth of field of the EOS 5D Mk II, and felt that such a way of shooting is “the future”. The crew was shooting on 24p format and found the compactness of the DSLR ideal for filming in tight spaces. Most of the shots were done handheld or on a small format, instead of the traditional video stabilizers. Watch for it!