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!