Twenty questions

I get a lot of email every day. Hundreds of messages are pretty common, actually. And a lot of those emails ask the same questions over and over, so I thought to save time for both myself and any prospective writers, I’d address some of these openly here. Firstly, thank you for all of the feedback, compliments and interesting discourse; I’m less appreciative of the long lists of ‘what should I buy’ questions: firstly, if you’re not specific in your question or give insufficient context and information, I can’t give you a recommendation – ‘i want to take nice photographs what camera should I get?’ is far more common than you might think (and punctuated that way, too). Secondly, the same basic courtesy that you’d give to somebody in person is appreciated over the internet, too. Whilst I do make an effort to reply every email I get, I’m seriously thinking about ceasing replies to rude and demanding people. Time is precious. An hour spent giving camera advice is an hour out of pursuing client leads or postprocessing commercial work or family time.

So, in no particular order:

1. What camera should I buy?
It depends on what you want to do with it, but is also completely irrelevant. If you know what you’re doing – and the fact that the question was asked at all in the first place indicates that you probably do not – then the camera doesn’t matter at all. If size is a priority, then look at the Sony RX100. If size and image quality/ flexibility, then the Olympus OM-D. If kids or moving objects, a midrange DSLR like the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D would work. If it’s image quality, then buy a tripod, some good prime lenses and the Nikon D800E. Frankly though, any of the cameras you can buy today at each of the levels – prosumer compact, mirrorless, entry DSLR, pro DSLR – are all far past the point of sufficiency for most users; those who require more will already know they require more. In the right hands, any of them can give great results. Education matters far more than equipment.

2. What lens should I buy?
Same question: what are you going to use it for? And even if you know what you’re going to use it for, what’s your style? A National Geographic reporter will use a 21mm for environmental portraits. A paparazzi will use a 400/2.8. Both are therefore portrait lenses. See the problem?

3. I have X. If I upgrade to Y, will it give me better pictures?
No, unless you’ve identified a specific deficiency with X that is improved with Y; and in every case, spending money – or just time – upgrading your skills will have far more of an impact than upgrading your camera.

4. Why haven’t you reviewed X/Y?
Firstly, this is a photography site, not an equipment review site. There is a difference; there are few good and plenty of mediocre sites devoted to being the first to fondle new metal. I acknowledge that the two are frequently inseparable because photography is a pursuit that is heavily influenced by one’s equipment, but I still think it’s important to know if you’re an equipment masturbator or a photographer. There is a difference. In most cases, I have to buy my review units with my own money. This means that I’ll only review things that are interesting to me, and I even if I do find them interesting, they’re only available when they’re available to buy. Sometimes, if I’m very lucky, I’ll get a loaner. I don’t review systems/ brands that aren’t familiar to me because I don’t have the experience required to do them justice and write a fair review, nor the time or interest to learn. Finally, I’m usually strapped for time. Running this site is secondary to being a commercial photographer – gotta pay the bills somehow.

5. How can I improve my photography?
This question is surprisingly rare. Firstly, it deserves a commendation just for asking. Practice is the number one thing; getting feedback is number two. Though it’s possible to figure out yourself over time what works and what doesn’t, the process can be made much faster by finding a good mentor – that could be your friends or peers, or me via the Email School. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but make sure you know what you changed and how it affected your picture. Look at lots of other people’s images to get an idea of what elements you like, and what you don’t; shoot some more and try it for yourself. Learn how to use Photoshop if you haven’t already; it’s like the difference between sending film to a minilab and using whatever auto-everything presets they’re using, or developing it yourself, frame by frame. Or perhaps eating McDonalds vs Michelin star – with the same ingredients.

6. How can I order your DVDs?
Firstly, the whole DVDs or individual segments (they’re recorded separately with different source images) are available online via my iPad app. Secondly, if you don’t have an ipad or would prefer a physical DVD, send US$60 (Intro to Photoshop Workflow for Photographers) or US$65 (Photoshop Flow for the Leica M-Monochrom) via paypal to mingthein2@gmail.com along with your address and phone number for the shipping. Thirdly, if you don’t have paypal, send an email to mingthein2@gmail.com and I’ll send over a credit card checkout link. Fourthly, if you live in Kuala Lumpur and would like to collect the DVD in person (COD) or pay via MEPS, send me an email. Thanks!

7. Do you have any upcoming workshops/ I’d like to register my interest for workshops
Yes; here’s late 2012/ 2013, dates TBC:
November 2012 – Introduction to wildlife, Kuala Lumpur – 1 day (late November, been and gone)
Feb 2013 – Possibly Kathmandu (5 days – 4 shooting, 1 review after days 2 and 4.5)
April 2013 – USA Tour: San Francisco, Boston, New York (possibly New Orleans too). Each 3 days – two of shooting, one of photoshop.
September 2013 – Europe Tour: London, Barcelona, Munich (possibly Prague too). Each 3 days – two of shooting, one of photoshop.
Please send an email to mingthein2@gmail.com to put your name on the list. Each workshop is limited to 8 participants at the absolute maximum. If there’s demand, I’ll do two sessions. More information on past workshops can be found here

8. Is the D800 focusing issue fixed?
To the best of my knowledge, the new cameras I’ve handled recently do not exhibit this problem. There is a fix at Nikon for older cameras that involves recalibration of focus bank data; it’s a firmware only procedure and does not require disassembly or physical adjustment of the camera (at least that’s what I’m told).

9. On a related note, should I upgrade from my APS-C/DX/D700 to the D800?
Only if you know you need the resolution. That’s the biggest gain, really. Do you frequently print larger than 20×30″? Are your images tack-sharp at the pixel level? What about your postprocessing technique? If the answer is no to any of those three, then go back and make the most of what you’ve got first. The D800/ D800E are capable of amazing quality, but also utter crap if not used with the utmost shot discipline.

10. What about D600 vs D800?
I’d throw D700 into the mix too. If speed/ sport are a priority, then D700. Low light is a wash between D700 and D600; what you gain from the D600′s slightly cleaner sensor and lower vibration shutter is taken away by the increased shutter speed requirements due to higher resolution. If ultimate image quality is your aim, then get a D800E – but make sure your lenses, support and computer are up to the task.

11. What cameras/ lenses/ flashes/ tripods are you using now?
In alphabetical and numerical order below. What I use is of course also what I’d recommend.
Gitzo GT5562 GTS Systematic with Manfrotto 410 geared head, or 468MGRC0 Hydrostatic ball head
Gitzo GT1542 Traveller with Gitzo 1780QR head
Leica M9-P
Nikon D600 (backup), D700 (reportage/ low light), D800E (primary for commercial work), F2 Titan (personal work)
Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G, AI 45/2.8P, AI-S 58/1.2 Noct, AFS 60/2.8 G, AFS 85/1.8 G, PCE 85/2.8
Nikon SB-700 x1, SB-900 x3
Olympus OM-D
Olympus ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8, ZD 60/2.8 Macro
Panasonic 20/1.7, 100-300/4-5.6
Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon; ZF.2 2/28 Distagon; ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar; ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar; ZM 2.8/28 Biogon; ZM 2/50 Planar

12. Do you have a favorite bag?
It depends on what I’m doing. I use a Billingham Hadley Pro as a day bag for a laptop, a camera and lens or two; a Think Tank Airport International as my assignment bag alongside a couple of large Manfrotto lighting grips/ tripod bags; a Kata LPS-216 DL for travel, or an assortment of Think Tank and Lowepro waist pouches for reportage work. There is no perfect solution here.

13. I’m using X/Y/Z filter, why can’t I get my images to look like yours?
Simple: filters are presets. And since every image is different, the presets will apply perfectly to precisely none of your images. The only way to get images that look like mine is by using my workflow – which requires photoshop optimization for each image individually. Perhaps a DVD would help…

14. How do I get my images to look like yours?
See #13.

15. Could you please critique my images/ comment on my Flickr/ Facebook stream?
If you want me to do it in a way that’s actually useful for you as a photographer, then I suggest you sign up for one of my detailed portfolio reviews or the Email School – send a message to mingthein2@gmail.com for more details. By the way, Facebook is a really crappy way of looking at images because of the compression and terrible color space (probably as an artefact of compression, actually).

16. Do you teach watch photography?
For practical and commercial competition reasons, no. It requires a lot of demonstration, some custom-built equipment, advanced Photoshop skills, and it doesn’t make any commercial sense to train potential competitors – especially when what I can bill for training is a small fraction of commercial work.

17. Do you shoot weddings/ events/ parties/ etc?
You obviously have not read any of what I’ve written otherwise you’d know what the answer would be. Though I’ve been asked so many times that perhaps I should consider it…

18. Great photo! Can I use your image for…[insert something here]
I am a commercial photographer. This means I make my living from selling images. If you’d like to license it for commercial use, I’m happy to discuss rates. If you are linking for another site, it depends. If you are just using it for your own site, definitely not. But whatever the case, please ask first and give the appropriate usage credits. You wouldn’t go into a bakery and say ‘hey, nice pastries, could I take one for free if I’m just going to display it a bit but not eat it?’

19. Ever think about doing something (writing, etc) related to film?
Yes, but that’s going to take some time both because it’s film and because it’s been a while since I last shot film. But there’s a reason why I’ve now got an F2 Titan loaded with Delta 100.

20. How do you find the time to do everything you do?
We make the time for the things we enjoy. So long as I enjoy photography and writing, this site will continue to go on much in the same way it has in the past. When that changes, then I’ll probably suddenly find that I require a lot more than the four or five hours of sleep I’ve been subsisting on for most of this year. MT

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. I actually found your site when I was looking for information of Ricoh GRD 3… it is sad to see that it’s no longer on the list of your gear (question #11).

  2. Hi Ming, I sent you an email a couple of days back about the email link for ordering the PS DVD. Wondering if you got the email; haven’t heard back from you. Thank you. Ravi Kumar

  3. Yeah, count me in for Munich!

  4. Great article. I noticed that you did not report having any zoom lenses for you FX cameras. How do you handle situations where you need to quickly (or safely) switch back and forth between wide and long? Do you use two bodies?

  5. You can do wedding under the subset of reportage…hahaha

    • And that’s how I shoot weddings on the rare occasions that I turn up for a close friend’s/ family member’s wedding with a camera, but I’m not going to try and convince people that’s the way to go…

  6. matthewdowning@netscape.net says:

    Hi Ming,

    WIll you please add me to the NY class list if I’m not already on it? And, do you have specific dates yet?

    I’m already looking forward to it. Thank you.

    Matthew

  7. Great article but might use some ‘substance’ in some areas (e.g. I’m now left wondering just what the D600 is useful for)
    Might I suggest you keep it as a ‘sticky’ (some form of faq?) on your website and add to it as you feel the necessity?
    Good reference data that shouldn’t be allowed to ‘disappear’ off-screen.
    But then again, you’d be making some forums on the web obsolete :-)
    With thanks

  8. Great article…….but how on earth do you manage on four of five hours sleep ??????????????

  9. ” equipment masturbator” – haha. I know the type, sometimes they briefly show up in reflection pictures.

  10. I have also learned from you to find humor in the subject and to have some fun in the picture process.

  11. Ming. You missed stating the underlying message of the majority of your blogs relating to photography. Take your time, observe but above all practice patience, or maybe I am reading that into your work, because I am so often guilty of failing to be patient.
    Great idea from Goetz though.

  12. As always, a well written article. However, I find the answer to question #13 (and #14) unsatisfactory… shouldn’t the answer be something like “you shouldn’t, you should pursue your own style.” We are not you, I understand that copying is a great way of learning, but I, for one, would not want my photos to look like your photos. I would be lying.

  13. Number 11: between ‘Panasonic’ and ‘Zeiss’ aren’t we missing a certain ‘Sony RX100′?! Awesome blog Ming…a great source of daily inspiration that both starts and ends my day! Keep it up..you’re not allowed to sleep! :)

  14. Mate, many thanks for your blog, but try to get more sleep! :-)

  15. Nicely done.
    I am happy to support the use of your PS DVD. Your workflow really is easy even for PSphobes.
    Now I must get around to completion of my email assignment…..

    Here’s another hand in the air for some great film B&W stuff, please soon.

    Regards
    Jon

    • Ah yes, I was about to email you about that :) Take your time though, the objective is to learn, not to finish quickly!

      Glad to hear the DVD is working out for you!

  16. When can I sign up for your USA tour in NY? Enjoying the App but why does it take so long for blogposts to show up there?
    Thanks again!

  17. It’s a tough life. :)

    20 good answers.

Trackbacks

  1. […] compact cameras to give you an idea. (Perhaps the most common but least photographically relevant question I get asked is ‘what camera should I buy?’ – it’s the photographer, not the […]

  2. […] compact cameras to give you an idea. (Perhaps the most common but least photographically relevant question I get asked is: “What camera should I buy?” It’s the photographer, not the […]

  3. [...] I get a lot of email every day. Hundreds of messages are pretty common, actually. And a lot of those emails ask the same questions over and over, so I thought to save time for both myself and any prospective writers, I’d address some of these openly here. Firstly, thank you for all of the feedback, compliments and interesting discourse; I’m less appreciative of the long lists of ‘what should I buy’ questions: firstly, if you’re not specific in your question or give insufficient context and information, I can’t give you a recommendation – ‘i want to take nice photographs what camera should I get?’ is far more common than you might think (and punctuated that way, too). Secondly, the same basic courtesy that you’d give to somebody in person is appreciated over the internet, too.  [...]

  4. [...] Twenty questions – Ming Thein | Photographer [...]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,978 other followers

%d bloggers like this: