Perhaps the most famous landmark in Burma, Shwedagon Pagoda has been a focal point for life in Yangon for a very long time – it has reputedly existed in some form or other for the last 2,600 years. It reached its current height of approximately 114m in the late 1700s after the most recent rebuilding as a result of multiple earthquakes. It is thought of as the most sacred location for Buddhists in Burma, with the relics of multiple past Buddhas housed within: the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight strands of hair from Gautama – the one traditionally thought of as Buddha. An exact replica exists in Naypyidaw (the new capital of Burma).
Nikon’s 80-400mm received a long-deserved update earlier in the year; it’s in fact had a complete overhaul and optical redesign. The original lens was Nikon’s very first VR lens, and body-driven to boot – the large front element had a reputation for pinching fingers between the protruding filter ring flange and the zoom ring (I fell victim to this on my first outing with it). It’s gone from being a 17/11 design to a more complex 20/12, gained Nano-Crystal coating, a shorter minimum focus distance (1.75m in AF and 1.5m in MF vs 2.3m), a silent wave motor and internal focusing, second-generation VR, and plethora of additional switches. Gone is the aperture ring, so you’re not going to be using this on a pre-command dial film body. The hood is also now a petal-type design with the same kind of locking catch as the 17-55, 24-70 and 70-200 hoods. It reverses for storage. Unlike the old lens, it’s also fully gasketed and weather sealed. It’s also more expensive; about $800 more, to be precise.
Another quarter, another batch of students graduated – I’m now accepting enrolments for the second quarter of 2013 for the Email School of Photography. So far, I’ve had 90 students in total, about 70 of whom are in various stages of completion. Busy? No problem, take your time. Here’s how it works:
I’ll admit that deep down, from the day I decided to buy the Hasselblad, I’d harboured a deep, masochistic desire to do this. During previous evaluations of medium format for my main commercial subjects, it didn’t really fit the bill: too difficult to achieve the degree of magnification required for watches, and digital medium format wouldn’t give me the width I needed for architectural work. It’d also be overkill for food photography in this country, given the current state of affairs*.
*I recently had a large corporate client ask for a portfolio and quote, then turn around and give the job to another photographer who quoted less and said ‘here, copy’. The results were crude because of harsh lighting and repetitively boring subject placement, but I suppose if they can’t tell the difference…perhaps I’m the one who’s got unrealistic expectations?
But hey, on film, for fun and in the spirit of creative experimentation, why not?
I think I’ve figured out a way to run the site running going forward, that will enable me to both keep it advertising and subscription-free. But I need the help of all of my readers to make it workable; so what I’m going to do is outline the plan and put it to the vote.
I’m going to start producing and selling consumer insights research on the camera industry.
Nikon has finally entered the large-sensor compact game (I don’t count the 1 series, which is a bit of an odd beast in that logically it’s all the system camera most people need, but not the camera that most people want.) The Coolpix A is a 16MP, 28/2.8 equivalent setup that’s built around a Sony DX sensor – an upgraded unit of the one in the D7000 and Leica X2, it seems. Unlike the D7000, and like the D7100 and D800E, this camera has no anti-aliasing filter. It’ll shoot full-fat 14-bit raw files at approximately 4fps, with a reasonably deep buffer. Focus is via a contrast-detect system, and there’s a fly-by-wire ring around the front of the lens for manual focus, plus two command dials – one on the top plate, and the other around the D-pad.
A continuously updated set of images from the camera can be found here on my Flickr stream.
I ended the last article on this note:
By far the most effective camera-for-when-you-don’t-want-to-carry-a-camera is a compact of some description; ideally one that’s small enough you don’t notice it, but is fast and responsive enough to react when you see something, and preferably be operable one-handed. I don’t want to feel like I’m carrying a camera. Of the dozens of these things I’ve owned, precisely none of them have fit the bill completely.
Advance warning: I’m going to butcher Hamlet here, or as close as I can to it. Modern English isn’t really suited to the meter, nor is technical photographic jargon. I’ve done my best.
MT: To carry, or not to carry – that is the question:
Whether ’tis more sensible to pack your camera
At only when the time and mood suits
Or to always be loaded for bear
And in preparation, bag the shot. To hear the shutter
The flow of pixels, the fizzing chemistry of halide
Whatever your medium. Tis a satisfaction
Confirmed by the rush of hits. To travel unburdened
With no magic box: ay, light of shoulder you be,
For who knows what frames yet unseen may lie ahead
The imagined torture of being able to see but
Unable to capture gives the photographer pause.
There’s the problem with going without.
For who would bear the unfortunate light,
The tripods and accessories, the TSA-man’s probe
The aching shoulders, the impatient spouse,
The ‘NO FOTO!’ shouted, and the frustration of
Lugging the gear without it seeing use,
When he might delude himself into making do
With just an iPhone? Whom but the most hardcore
Would insist on two bodies and four lenses?
But that dread of missing the shot,
The heavenly light, which transforms the
Mundane into the magical, frustrates the hell,
And makes us bring the f1.4s, and a flash
Just in case, rather than wing it and go blind.
Thus the anxious photocondriac in us all
At the least burdens pockets, usually bags,
Empties our purses upgrading, enforces visiting
Of the chiro and desire for just one more stop.
With this, I break down and hit order
Hoping this is The One. To the ‘Bay the others go.
O Hyperion, give me contrast but hold the range
My sensor is now but one-inch.
The second half of 2013 is approaching pretty quickly, and due to popular demand (several of the USA sessions were oversubscribed) it’s now time to start planning the next round of workshops. As promised to/ requested by many…September/ October will bring the Making Outstanding Images workshops to Europe. The question now remains when, and where? The format will remain almost the same: three days, a focus on photographic fundamentals, with a shift towards intensive image analysis and feedback cycles rather than postprocessing. As with my previous workshops, the price of tuition will be between US$1,700 and US$2,200 per person depending on the location and direct travel costs for the three days. Sessions will be capped to a maximum of 8 participants. Due to popular demand, I will also be adding a shorter one-day intensive workshop at US$500 per person for each location, for a maximum of 10 people.
Realistically, from a timing standpoint, I can visit two cities. And of course the best way to find out which two are in demand would be a poll…
Numerous testimonials from previous workshop attendees can be found at the bottom of this page.
I picked up my review sample from B&H on my first day in New York; I spent several days solidly shooting it alongside the Nikon Coolpix A, and the Olympus OM-D I normally travel with. Many of you are going to (and have already) ask why I didn’t review the X100s instead, all the more so given that the wide converter would turn the camera into a 28/2 equivalent. Short answer: there wasn’t one available, and it’s something I still hope to be able to try out at some point.
It’s not often that I’m forced to shoot with just one set of equipment for an extended period of time with no real recourse to my other gear. This trip – three weeks – has provided me with an opportunity to focus on the evaluation of what I did bring. I packed light this time – I knew I would be walking a lot, so I wanted to avoid a whole-day bag. What follows are some quick thoughts on how I thought things stacked up. MT
18/4/13 at 4.30pm – Corrected for autocorrect-induced typos; I was trying writing on my iPad on the plane home.
Though visiting Chinatown in the USA is somewhat ironic for a person from Asia (we do have Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur too; it’s just not that different from the rest of town); I did find it to be quite photographically rich – especially with San Francisco’s inclined streets. Between the Cantonese and interesting side alleys, it felt a lot more like Hong Kong than anywhere else – which is perhaps a consequence of the origin of the immigrants. More than that though, something about the atmosphere was rather conducive to the cinematic style, though it could also be because both times I arrived at the end of the day as the sun was setting and pouring down the east-west streets in a gloriously saturated manner. I sent my workshop students off to explore style with a few different assignments, mounted the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH on my OM-D via an adaptor and set off to grab a few frames from a movie.
I posted this image on the site’s Facebook page yesterday and received both a record number of likes, shares and responses/ questions – some doubting the authenticity of the image – so I thought it’d be a good candidate for reviving POTD.
Here’s the backstory: the image was shot out of an airplane window at 32,000 feet while returning from the USA tour; my wife was in the window seat and idly wondered if she could see stars, after the crew turned off the cabin lights for the night to encourage passengers to sleep (I suppose to theoretically help them get over jetlag). She stared for a while, acclimatising her night vision, and said there were quite a surprising number. I finished editing the batch I was working on, and joined her at the window. I could actually make out a very faint band of something running through the middle; I thought it might make an interesting photography experiment.
Continued from part one.
I’m wondering where the happy medium between the pro and amateur camp lies; the pro has to be both, and the amateur wants to be a pro (usually) – until reality intervenes. It’s too easy for pros to slip into the ‘shoot only for pay’ mindset, and lose their sense of personal style and creative edge – which is probably what made them successful in the first place. And by the same token, it’s easy enough for amateurs to get a little paid work here and there, and either be disillusioned about how easy it is to make a living out of it, or not realize that doing too much of something can take the joy out of things very quickly. (If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading my advice for photographers thinking of turning pro.)
The period of non-shooting got me thinking: I need to spend some time being an amateur, doing work for myself, and then find some way of linking that into my commercial work so that the two don’t diverge too far. I suppose there has to be commercial potential in the personal work that elements of style could translate over into something people would pay for. Or perhaps this is a load of bull: personal work should reflect the personality and thoughts of the individual, and those are never the same as those of the corporate, therefore making it impossible. The short conclusion is, I just don’t know. But I’d like to figure it out, because it doesn’t feel natural for me to be two different photographers most of the time.