I was interviewed on watch photography in yesterday’s issue of the New York Times/ International Herald Tribune – the full article can be found here. MT
You can download the final release candidate here. Notable changes are support for the Olympus E-PL5, E-PM2, Panasonic GH3, some of the new Canon compacts, a whole slew of lenses, and final support for the Nikon D600. Fuji owners are still out of luck, unfortunately. MT
…For those of you who might be a little curious about the person behind the site, the interview by Eric Kim can be found here. MT
Let’s start off with a bit of a definition: the ecosystem covers all of the photography-centric bloggers, reviewers, pro photographers with blogs, corporatized review sites, e-commerce sites that might have some reviews, rumor mills, niche manufacturers of little photo-related widgets, gadget websites that might cover photographic equipment, testing houses, subscription review sites, point-and-click review factories, brand forums, community forums, photo sharing and hosting sites, facebook pages for photographers, columnists, contributors and so on and so forth – anything that’s photography-related, offering an opinion, and online.
This post is going to potentially offend a lot of people, but in the interests of continuing transparency and trust, I feel it is necessary to fully clarify my position.
There seems to be a bit of schism that’s taken place over the last couple of years, as the photography industry has both matured and moved truly into the digital age: correction, the primary consumer market of the photography industry has moved into the digital age. By that, I mean that increasing numbers of camera buyers are actually spending the time reading and then relying on the opinions of a relatively small (but growing) group of reviewers and websites. What I basically mean, is that photography online is becoming very much like either the automotive industry or the hi-fi industry. (I can understand why it’s so important to seek opinions in the auto industry – a car is a large, long-term purchase and you’ll probably only own one or at most two at a time; curiously photographers tend to own dozens of pieces of gear, whose combined purchase price probably exceeds their cars.)
Everybody and their dog (and their dog’s trainer and groomer) have an opinion, and many become self-proclaimed experts overnight.
It’s now both easier and harder than ever to check credibility: the louder a person shouts – and there are some bloggers who shout very loud about nothing much, or worse, illogical nonsense – the more weight an opinion seems to be given. This ‘expert opinion’ becomes repeated, quoted, and taken as gospel – all when the writer probably hasn’t done a shred of research, or worse, said something as a throwaway comment. People who in the real world, are generally sensible and making considered, planned decisions, are now following the town crier with their wallets open and thousands of dollars in their hands. Worse still, major camera makers are encouraging this by supporting the people with the loudest voice – not necessarily the most factual credibility. Where has common sense gone?
Perhaps it’s a case of information overload; the more text we have to read, the less we want to spend time looking for it, and so the first item on Google (or maybe the second, too, if we don’t have any meetings lined up) is all we read. The writers get more and more popular, and it’s a self-destructive cycle. The problem for the camera makers is that in the short term, people will follow the loudest voice. Obviously, this helps to sell a lot of cameras, which is what the companies want. In the longer term, as consumers get more educated, they’ll discover the louder voices are often incorrect, which discredits the previously ‘expert’ loud sources – and individuals are less inclined to trust future claims, which will have a negative impact on sales. It seems that feast now, famine later isn’t a problem for most executives because this year’s bonus assessment is coming up next month, and somebody else will be the one in the middle of the future famine.
As a consumer, you’re spending a not inconsiderable sum of your hard-earned money on something. Make sure that you know yourself, and what you’re going to use it for, before trusting the opinion of somebody who’s never used the item in question for your intended purpose. Most importantly: give weight to the review according to the output, i.e. the images. If a reviewer writes badly but is able to produce stunning images, then chances are they have enough knowledge that their opinion is meaningful. Do not trust reviews with mediocre (or worse, no) images – this is an obvious sign that the reviewer has no clue what they’re doing, and probably doesn’t even know what the equipment is for.
As a manufacturer, there’s a natural inclination to support those who are blindly loyal to promoting your product, especially if it’s at the expense of other companies. Wake up: if you can’t see that using many products gives a reviewer if anything even more credibility, then you might run the risk of being caught with your pants down when your customers (or somebody else with an even louder voice) says something to the contrary. A case of the Emperor’s New Clothes you do not want.
Forums full of equipment-masturbating fanboys are probably the worst hotbed of this kind of activity: people with relatively little knowledge go to seek the company of other people with similarly little knowledge, to try and reinforce the validity of their purchases – sometimes at the expense of common civility, or just being openly hostile to any challengers. Wake up: there is no absolute right or wrong piece of gear, the very reason that there’s a variety is because there’s no such thing as one size fits all. I don’t need my choices to be validated by somebody else to be able to take a good picture – that’s stupid.
One related trend that’s popped up and taken to the fore in the last year or so are the rumor sites: they serve an underlying malcontent insecurity amongst hobbyists who prefer to spend money on equipment in the mistaken belief that it will solve all of their problems and make them instantly better photographers. Worse still, titanically huge noises are made when the rumors aren’t as expected, and people forget that a) most rumors are intentionally leaked by manufacturers; b) nothing that might be released tomorrow will change your skill level or ability today; c) they’re rumors!!
What I really cannot understand is how people – and a lot of popular ‘reviewers’ fall into this category – can pass opinion on something that neither they nor anybody else have physically handled or used, and then treat this as gospel. Once again, the problem is that if something is repeated enough, and a sufficient number of people believe it, it becomes true.
But I’m probably preaching to the choir here: I don’t think the majority of my readers are under the illusion that practice and skill come second to equipment.
And that brings me to the crux of the matter: yes, cameras are now more than sufficiently prolific to be considered consumer goods (and with similarly short life cycles) – but ultimately, the pursuit of photography is about the production of images, not the collection of gear. There is nothing wrong with collecting cameras for the sake of collecting cameras*, or because you enjoy the designs, or for whatever other reason – just don’t confuse it with photography. It annoys me to no end when I’m challenged or criticised by people online, often hiding behind the anonymity of an ambiguous username on a forum, on something I’ve written that perhaps offends them because they purchased something I might have deemed to be slightly inferior to something else, or who insists on arguing a point that makes absolutely no difference in the real world. It is clear that these discussions are pointless, because a) you’re never going to convince a fanatic, but they can definitely waste a lot of your time; b) more often than not, they either haven’t posted a single image anywhere, or certainly none worthy of note: these are not photographers, they’re equipment fetishists.
*I highly doubt that anything mass produced and reviewed by every popular site on the internet is ever going to be collectible; there will simply be too many of them out there to appreciate in value – simple economics.
With that, I want to make some things clear about the principles under which I have so far and will continue to operate this site:
I am a photographer first, a writer second, and an equipment reviewer a distant third.
Everything I write about, I do so because it’s either interesting to me, or because I plan to (or already) use it in my professional or personal work. Time is far too limited for me to review things to promote them for manufacturers (several accusations) or bother testing extensively and reviewing a bad product. That is pointless, especially when I have to spend my own money to buy it!
My methodology is consistent.
I am a scientist by training, and know that a comparison with no baseline or repeatability or consistency in methodology is meaningless. I also know when the results are so close that the differences are within the margin of probable error, it’s impossible to call one superior over another.
If something seems off or unexpected, I double and triple check my results.
If there is a question in the results due to the possibility of sample variation, I will test enough samples to rule this out. The best example of this is the D800 and its focusing issues: I was accused of a) covering up the issue (!!) and b) crying wolf initially. I tested five bodies with a good spread of serial numbers variety of lenses; every single combination exhibited the problem. We can therefore conclude that there is a problem. If it had only been one out of the five, it would most likely be an individual sample defect.
I won’t ever post unedited JPEGs or similar images.
This is like making a judgement on a restaurant by eating half-cooked food. It isn’t giving the equipment a fair chance against other equipment, nor does it take into account the potential – and as a photographer, that’s what I want to have some concrete idea of. Would I buy a camera with crappy JPEGs but incredible RAW files? Of course, because I don’t shoot JPEG for the reason that I’m not maximizing the potential of my equipment.
I don’t do quantitative testing or pixel-peeping.
There are other sites that do this if you’re so inclined; however, sensor and camera technology has long past the point of sufficiency for the vast majority of uses, and even for those of us who make a living from images, our clients haven’t said anything about image quality for some time now (assuming of course you’re maximizing the potential of your camera). The fact that I need 3x higher a shutter speed to handhold adequately, or the fact that I can’t reach several of the major controls without contortion is far more important to me than the fact that the signal-to-noise ratio might be 5% better than its predecessor. One affects the way I work in practice, the other doesn’t.
I try to keep things relative.
In a previous life, I served as Editor and Contributing Editor to a photography magazine for over five years; in this time, I reviewed and used just about every major piece of equipment made; this totals some 300+ reviews. Using a variety of equipment both allows me to pick the best tool for the job, as well as have a good basis for comparison for one piece of gear against another. It’s of course impossible to use everything, but it’s also important to use enough that you can’t get called out for a glaring error.
I am not allied to any brand, though I work with many of them.
The brands I work with are fully accepting of the fact that I do so with no exclusive interest, and because I feel their product is the best for whatever I happen to want to do with it. I have full editorial freedom over what I write. And yes, there are brands and companies (I think you can figure out which ones by elimination) that I do not work with because they insist on censoring everything written first. That completely defeats the point of having an independent review, not to mention undermining everybody’s credibility. Saying something is good when it really is good is fine; it’s when people say something is good when it clearly isn’t that problems of objectivity arise. You won’t see me saying much (if anything at all) bad about most things, because it if’s bad, I won’t waste my time using it, or potentially affect my relationship with the brands by posting something negative that might be later constituted as inflammatory.
If I don’t know something, I’ll admit it.
There are aspects of photography where my knowledge is next to zero – sport, videography etc – and I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ll also not pass opinions on something that I have no knowledge of, or no ability to support through fact or experience.
My opinion is subjective, but I do try to be as objective as possible.
The outcome of any qualitative assessment is open to interpretation; photography very much qualifies as subjective in this regard. It is impossible to completely remove any interpreter bias, even moreso when it comes to the aesthetic considerations of an image – yet this is the area in which I receive the least (almost zero) discussion and challenge, by a long margin. I’ve always strongly encouraged my students and readers to seek a second opinion and not make a choice solely based on what I say; what works for me may not work for you, and what I like may differ from what you like. Seeking the opinions of multiple credible sources helps you to build up a objective, balanced picture – and hopefully make a better decision.
The primary focus of this site remains the creation of images.
From day one, this site has been about the pictures, and the creation of images. Everything else is a tool, technique or enabler, nothing more. It is information for the reader to absorb, and in turn allow themselves to be guided or influenced (or not) as they choose in their photographic journey. I initially didn’t want to review equipment, but eventually saw that it was a necessary part of photography – because so much of the way we see and create is inextricably linked to the tools we use, it is important to have an objective view on these tools from the point of view of a person whose primary focus was images. Don’t get me wrong: I like a good camera or lens as much as the next person (probably more so because I’ve used enough crap to be able to tell the difference) – I just don’t and will never let it be the dominating factor.
One final point: above all else, I value integrity and honesty – it takes a long time and several lucky breaks to build up a solid readership; but only one or two mistakes to erase your credibility. The danger comes when the commercial value of being dishonest is greater than the commercial value of being honest; this site remains a labor of love and a platform for me to share my knowledge with the photography community, and is nowhere close to being my primary source of income. (I think in over the last three months I’ve made a grand total of $400 or so from referral fees; nice pocket money, but not even close to being enough for a decent lens.) This allows me to maintain a level of objectivity that is impossible for pretty much everybody else – and I intend to keep it this way. MT
One final reminder for Malaysians: Today is the last day to enter the Maybank Photography Awards. Lots of great prizes up for grabs – and yes, I’m judging.
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!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved
I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff I’m no longer using, which I’d like to offer first dibs to my readers; the list is below. Please note that the bags are local COD only within Kuala Lumpur, it simply isn’t worthwhile to ship them. For the other items, shipping depends on your location. Prices are in USD (inclusive of paypal fees) and RM (COD). Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in purchasing anything. And if you feel the prices are off – make me an offer! Thanks – MT
Apple iPad 1, 64GB Wifi US$300/ RM900
Condition – Nearly new; with box and adaptor.
Manfrotto 444 Carbon One tripod legs (no head) US270/ RM750
Condition – Excellent. Includes leg insulators and shoulder carry strap. Tripod is magnesium and carbon fiber, max height with column 157cm; 122 without; 4-section; rated to 10kg and weighs about 1.5kg. I believe this is the predecessor to the current 055 series.
Lowepro Slingshot 200AW RM150 Reserved
Condition – V Good. Includes all the dividers it came with.
Ricoh GR-Digital III US$350/ RM1,000
Condition – Perfect apart from one small rub mark on rear LCD coating. Otherwise, pristine. Box, manuals, charger etc plus spare third-party battery included.
Ricoh GV-2 external mini optical finder for the GR Digital (all models) US$100/ RM300 Reserved
Condition – Mint, boxed. Take it with the GR-Digital III for US$75/ RM250.
Olympus E-PM1 Pen Mini body only (plus the included mini flash) US$250/ RM750 OR with the 14-42 kit lens for US$350/ RM1,000.
Condition – Nearly new with third party spare battery, box, manuals, charger, etc.
Lowepro Compudaypack Polar Bear edition RM150
Condition – Nearly new. Includes all the dividers it came with.
Think Tank Urban Disguise 60, first version RM250
Condition – Excellent. Includes all the dividers it came with. Just noticed it was a 60, not a 50.
Nikon ME-1 shotgun microphone US$100/ RM300
Condition – Like new with pouch, box, manuals, warranty. Only used for one project.
You read that right: one million hits since inception in late February 2012. Things didn’t really kick off til mid-March, so let’s call it about six months. It’s been one heck of a ride since then – crazy at times with all the email, but rewarding with all of the new friends I’ve made, new things I’ve been able to learn from all of you and the feeling of being able to contribute something back to the photographic community. I honestly didn’t think the site would take on quite as much of a life of its own ever, much less in half a year. (Now if only I had a dollar for every hit, heh) To date, there are 350+ posts and over half a million words of content – some monster articles like the Camerapedia! and 10×10 tips take up 30,000 and 10,000 on their own respectively. I’m proud to say that this wealth of information is something that few sites can claim, much less that it was all generated by one individual in their spare time.
When I started the site, my aim wasn’t to be the most popular, or have the most reviews, or the most images, or provide a user community for a particular camera…rather, it was to do two things: firstly, share my experience of the transition from full time corporate to full time photographer; secondly, create something that I would want to read – something that had a bit of everything. It would be the thinking man’s photography daily – there are plenty of sites catering to other needs, but few to this niche. It would need to talk about more than just the gear (though the gear is of course an important enabler) – it would have to go deeper into understand technique, subject, and beyond; into understanding philosophy and the psychology of the viewer to enable to photographer to reverse-engineer the desired emotional response to an image. There some topics I still haven’t even touched – lighting is one of them – and some that I’d like to explore in more detail – psychological responses, and why we consider art to be art, for instance – and these are things I’ll cover in future articles.
I don’t honestly know where the site will go in the the future, but I do hope you will all continue to be a part of it – and if you have suggestions for things you’d like to see me discuss or cover, or ways you think the site can be improved, please share them. I can’t promise to be all things to all people, but I do promise to try to continually improve.
So, I would like to say a individual and enormous thank you to all of my readers, fans, subscribers, clients, partners, supporters, email school students, workflow DVD purchasers, competition entrants, rebloggers, groupies…without you all, none of this would have been possible, nor would it continue to be. You have my gratitude. Thank you again! MT
It really seems that sometimes, we get the short end of the stick on consumer deals in Asia – perhaps because there’s always somebody a bit lower down the consumer food chain than us who’ll happily pay a bit less for a slightly older model.
Backstory: I’ve been thinking about a waterproof compact to muck around with at the beach for some time, and then I come upon this on Amazon:
Panasonic Lumix TS20 Waterproof Digital Camera – US$137. It’s half the price of what I’d pay locally…except, they frustratingly don’t ship to Malaysia. Sigh. Anyway, I thought I’d post it for the benefit of readers living in the US who might be wanting to pick up one of these for the holidays.
On a better note, memory cards are on sale, too – these I will be picking up a few of. One can never have too much storage, especially with the D800E’s enormous raw files.
Sandisk Extreme 45mb/s 32GB SDHC UHS-1 – $33.60, reduced from $79.99 (again, we pay about $90 locally). Good for OM-D, D800 etc – I’ve got faster cards but don’t notice that much of a speed difference.
Transcend 32GB Class 10 SDHC – $17.99, reduced from $32.99. Normally I wouldn’t recommend a slower, older card, but these are the only ones I’ve used so far that don’t give me write errors in the Leica M9. The above Sandisk Extreme is NOT recommended at all for the M9, I’ve seen failures, corruptions and lockups on four different M9s and M9-Ps. There’s also a 16GB version here for about $10, but you might as well pay $8 more and get double the storage.
Full disclosure: It doesn’t cost you any more, but using these links to Amazon do give me a small percentage of your order value as a referral fee – which I hope will eventually contribute to running this site. (Last month was all of $65.00, so we’ve got a long, long way to go yet). For now and the future, I will only share interesting stuff that I myself will order. Thanks! MT
I’m not going to name names because anonymous allusions can’t be legally construed as libel, but I think it’s important that an open letter goes out to the brands/ distributors/ dealers – in a previous corporate life, we were always taught to treat a customer complainant as a gift: it’s an opportunity for you to interact with the customer, build a relationship and find out what aspects of your business’ operations require improvement. It’s also a way for you to distinguish yourself from the competition – recently, there was a scandal locally with KFC staff attacking customers who got angry after being informed that a particular offer had expired…that attack was videoed and on youtube fairly soon afterwards. Needless to say, that was not a good day for the company’s PR department.
Sadly though, in Asia, the majority of companies tend to treat customers largely with indifference – the attitude seems to be ‘you buy from me good, you don’t buy from me I don’t care’ – not the best way to do business. Especially with complex, expensive product which makes the relationship part of the business increasingly important.
For professionals, it’s even more important to have good backup – if you don’t, and something goes wrong on a job, or before a job, then you’re up the proverbial river of brown without an outboard. I make system selection based just as much on the level of support I’m going to get from the company as the capabilities of the gear. It’s one of the reasons I stuck to Nikon even in the days when Canon had clearly superior sensors.
So, I’m going to tell you a few stories – good and bad.
1. Quality control, part one
Several years ago, I bought a lens that I thought was possibly the best lens I’d ever used. It wasn’t cheap, but then again it really delivered the goods: I could see precisely why you were paying that much. A friend wanted one urgently for an assignment; I sold it to him knowing that the dealer had a second one in stock. Big mistake: the second one was a disaster; it was soft until f8, didn’t focus smoothly, and worst of all, after just two days, one of the aperture blades detached and jammed the entire iris assembly at at f2 (let’s just say I wasn’t paying for an f2 lens).
No problem, these things happen – the dealer didn’t have any more, so he referred me to the distributor, who should be able to do a swap without issue – after all, the lens was effectively brand new. A call to my contact at the distributor – with them knowing full well I was editor of a photo magazine at the time – told me that I’d have to send the lens back to the manufacturer for repair, with them flat out refusing an exchange and actually accusing me of damaging it myself. They were totally unhelpful in resolving the problem at all. Excuse me? I want the lens because I need to make pictures with it, not a broken object so it can give me a headache.
Long story short: in the end, I never resolved the problem. I landed up complaining to the manufacturer about their distributor’s treatment of customers (more than the lens problem); I had to threaten to write a nasty column in the magazine detailing my experiences before I got any hint of an apology. In the end it came personally from the distributor’s international CEO, and I got so fed up that I took a refund from the dealer instead. I have still not found another good copy of that lens, incidentally – it seems that the first one was exceptional, and my friend is a lucky b******. I eventually sold my entire system and dissuaded other interested parties from investing in it.
2. Quality control, part two
Earlier in the year, I took delivery of a new camera from the first batch. It had asymmetric focusing issues. (I’m sure mention of that is enough for you to know exactly who I’m talking about now). The manufacturer’s local professional support arm was both responsive, and concerned: I told to bring it in straight away so they could do some testing, and so I could pick up a replacement. (The latter was especially impressive knowing that the cameras were in extremely short supply worldwide.) Two days later, I did – and the replacement unit, as well as the loan units, and demo units, all displayed the same problem. No problem – I was then given a loaner camera, which was the previous flagship – for as long as I needed. A month later, I was told a new batch arrived – but opted to upgraded to a slightly improved model, instead. This was a bit better, but still not perfect. I was eventually called and informed that a fix had been found, and I should bring the camera in. I was lent a new flagship for all too short a day before collecting my camera the following day, repaired and functioning as expected.
3. Quality control, part three
Very recently, I received a lens whose price was high, and performance not even close to a much cheaper competitor. Worse still, it wasn’t even as good as the previous copy I’d had (and no, it’s not the same lens from story #1) – it was only sharp in the exact center, very soft off-axis, and worse still, asymmetrically so. The concerned distributor apologized and swapped it out, with their division head personally delivering the replacement – now that’s service. Unfortunately, the second one also seemed rather off – it was consistently sharp across the frame, but there was heavy ghosting and double imaging. I landed up going to the warehouse and testing every single copy of the lens they had in stock – it seemed that batch had either one or the other problem (ghosting/ softness/ asymmetry). At this point, the distributor was both mortified and hugely embarrassed, promising to send the entire batch back to the factory and demand an explanation – it’s good to know that he wouldn’t sell them to other customers who might perhaps not be as picky about their optics as me. I was given a much more expensive lens of similar focal length in exchange, no questions asked. And allowed to pick the actual unit, too – let’s just say I’m convinced the one I’ve now got is exceptionally good. Outcome: one very happy customer.
4. Software hiccups
On a previous assignment, one of the cameras I was using developed a software fault of some kind that caused it to lock up – that’s not good, but not so bad because every locked up camera I’ve had has always been rectified by pulling the battery. Most of the time, images aren’t lost, either. No harm, no foul. However, this particular incident resulted in the entire card being getting so corrupted that it would crash any Mac that tried to mount it – needless to say, image recovery software wasn’t an option. Worse still, all the images from one particular job were on that card – I was in the middle of the job. (In the end, I landed up submitting a mix of recovered images through forensic recovery, some reshot images and backup images from the B-roll. The client wasn’t happy because we didn’t have the first and best take; it was a large commission for an important client, whom I landed up losing because of this.) In these situations, a backup camera wouldn’t have helped because you can’t backtrack your steps and shoot everything again. Parallel writing might have helped, but the chances are that mirroring would probably have resulted in both cards being corrupted.
I understand that you can be extremely unlucky and have these things happen. But what I couldn’t deal with afterwards was the extreme arrogance of the manufacturer: whilst their employees were most helpful and apologetic, their MD flat out accused me of user error, and kept trying to change the subject. I offered to work with a software team to determine what the problem was so a firmware fix could solve it, but the offer was rebutted with the effective message of ‘we don’t need you.’
How on earth it is possible to create a card that has physically damaged sectors (but a perfect physical appearance) with a camera is beyond me. If I could fake something like that, I’d be a programmer, not a photographer.
In the end, I managed to get a replacement camera to reshoot the job which did have parallel writing and dual card slots, but that didn’t work properly either – it didn’t seem to be able to parallel write, and if you change the ISO immediately after taking a shot while the camera is writing to the card, then subsequent files wouldn’t save at all. You’d think this would be a fairly common operation, but I guess not.
Needless to say I do not use or recommend this camera brand for professional use, or any use where actually having images is important, period.
5. My bad
Pro DSLRs are mostly weather sealed. Mine was; I shot in monsoon rains without a hiccup. The problem came when I arrived back in my air conditioned apartment, and pulled the battery out to put in a fresh one – uh oh. A popping sound ensued, and some smoke came out. The charge indicator went from full to flat in a second. Turns out that the temperature differential created condensation inside the battery compartment, and that shorted out the camera. Still, after putting a third battery in (letting the camera dry out first, of course) everything seemed to work fine, except it wouldn’t save a file. I thought it might be the card interface.
I took it in to the manufacturer’s service department, where they accepted my credentials and issued me with a loan body. Three days later, they issued me with a quote – it seems they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with it, but the only way they could guarantee its continued future operation would be to replace pretty much everything but the outer shell, mount, prism and mirror assembly. This would of course cost more than a new camera! I elected not to have the work done, and wait for the camera’s successor instead (a matter of months). I was allowed to keep the loan body until that time – not at all expected or obligated, but a very thoughtful touch indeed.
6. I believe they call that dictation, not collaboration
I was asked to do a live watch photography demonstration recently; I would have to use a certain brand of watch, camera etc – which is fine – so long as I have the lighting equipment and diffusers I need. They expected me to produce live images like what you see in my portfolio – except I was told that I had to do it so a) the audience could see, and b) no Photoshop was allowed. I don’t know what they were smoking, but there’s no way you can produce a perfect commercial grade image without retouching; worse still, how would the audience see if all the action happens inside a light tent? I suggested streaming video from a GoPro positioned inside the tent (to minimize reflections) but they insisted it wasn’t possible because it was a competitor’s product. I was told to do it without the light tent, and far away enough from the watch that the audience could also see the watch.
Anybody who’s attempted microphotography of any kind will realize this is impossible: you now have zero lighting control, plenty of unwanted reflections, and worse still, what macro lens gives you 2:1 magnification and 50cm of free working distance in front of the lens?
I told the client it wasn’t technically possible; they threatened to use somebody else. I wished them luck. These are the kinds of clients that I try to avoid, because if you can’t pull it off, you’ll just land up making everybody look bad, including yourself.
7. A complete 180 turn
Many years ago, I reviewed a camera as part of my editorial duties at the magazine. It was a final production prototype, so the company was understandably a bit nervous about us publishing images – in fact, they wanted us to do a review with product images only, and no samples. That would obviously defeat the point of a camera review! I suggested that we would let them approve any images we chose to publish beforehand; they very reluctantly agreed.
Fast forward two weeks – on returning the camera and submitting images for them to okay, not only were they thrilled with what I did with the camera, but they also wanted to use the images for their promotional materials. Happy to do so – let’s talk licensing. Oh, sorry, they said, we’re not paying for images because it’s our camera. Um…does that mean a chef doesn’t get paid because it isn’t his kitchen? They replied that the PR value of being associated with our brand would be compensation enough. Okay, so would I get image credits? No. Could I at least get tear sheets to put in the portfolio? No. Could I list them as a client? No. Then how the hell would I get anything out of this at all?
In the end, I chose the worst images I could find from that set to publish in the magazine; I was told by several dealers that it was never a popular model (despite actually being a pretty good camera). I nearly switched systems to this after using it – but changed my mind completely after dealing with the company’s local management.
8. Take it first, pay me later, if you don’t like it, bring it back.
I have a trusted dealer here that knows I go through equipment faster than an alcoholic through a bottle of gin; I’m given trial periods, loans, agreed buyback amounts, no questions asked replacements for faulty gear, out of warranty service costs absorbed by them, preferential delivery for new stuff, freebies, and above all, excellent prices. This is unheard of in Southeast Asia, where the retailer is king, not the consumer. Needless to say, I’ve spent a small fortune here, and refer everybody who asks me where they should buy equipment. I’d buy from here on the basis of price alone, but my relationship with the owner and most of his staff means that it’s like visiting friends rather than doing business.
Moral of the story: be careful how you treat your customers, because you don’t know if the guy is going to be your next biggest customer, may not buy much but give you huge referrals, or even worse, run a moderately popular blog MT
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I was interviewed recently on photography for BFM 89.9 – listen to or download the whole podcast here. Damn it’s weird hearing your own voice recorded. MT
In the internet age, anybody who has an opinion is free to express it. They’re even free to promote it in whatever way they choose, to whoever they choose. And inevitably it’s the loudest people that get heard – though not necessarily are they the ones with the most valid or interesting things to say.
/rant on: Something has been bothering me, for the past few weeks. And I’ve just put my finger on it. Every time I post a camera or lens review, something odd happens. Traffic spikes, but so do the very polarized emails and comments: everything from outright praise that I find undeserved (though extremely flattering) to derision and people attempting to poke holes in every single portion of my methodology or opinions. I want to make several things clear, both for reviews going forwards and retroactively for things I’ve already written:
1. Everything is relative. If you don’t like my images, fine – nobody is forcing you to look at them. Same for my opinions. But one of the great things about the internet is that there’s so much free content out there that you’re at liberty to choose what you see and read. (What you believe is up to you). And even better, is that there’s always an opportunity to learn something because everybody has a different point of view. I strive to approach every comment and question with an open mind, because it’s entirely possible (in fact, likely) that somebody has thought of something I’ve overlooked. But at the same time, questions are fine, but if you’re going to be a critic, then at least have a clear logical support case for your argument.
2. I will never claim that X image is better than Y image on anything but a subjective, personal level. Remember, cinematographers like flare, but still photographers don’t. Same with certain soft lenses. Photography is subjective, and that subjectivity means that nobody is right or wrong for the most part.
3. For the other parts that are quantifiable – noise, resolution, color accuracy (but not ‘pleasingness’) etc – then scientific tests are always the best way to get a relative idea of whether A is better than B. But the observer must always remember that there are a lot of variables involved – some of which cannot be decoupled from the equation (like lens choice) and some of which are also not relevant to the question (lens choice does not affect noise performance!).
4. I run tests and reviews as practical exercises. The reviews and tests I write are basically a documentation of my own evaluation process to determine if a particular camera makes sense for me or not as a tool, and if so, what incremental advantage does it offer over what I’ve already got. It’s possible to always say ‘but you should have use the 50/1.4 Aspherical Super-Nonagon-Reproductar ED instead of the 50/2.8 XYZ Noname’ – yes, but that isn’t a real world choice for me. I don’t think about the equipment I don’t have, because I’m not going to make photos with it. And I’m certainly not going to go out and buy it solely for the sake of a test. It seems a lot of people get hung up over this and fail to realize that a) a huge amount of work is required to document these tests and b) I’m not paid for it. Worse still, it takes away from the time I have available to do work that does pay. If I compare two things it’s because it’s a real world choice I’ll have to face when looking into the equipment cabinet.
5. My conclusions are not drawn solely from the images you see. The images are there as examples and illustrations. There is no validity to base a conclusion off shrunken web-size jpegs that have both been compressed and color-converted down to 8bit SRGB. I don’t share full size raw files because a) they’re proprietary and b) it would be ridiculously impractical due to bandwidth and hosting considerations. I won’t write something unless I’ve seen it enough times to warrant mention – a single odd image could be down to any number of factors, including sample variation. If something however performs consistently better or worse than expected based on other pieces of equipment of similar specifications, then it’s worth noting. And I suspect that’s what makes a lot of people uncomfortable, because they may have put their money in the wrong camp.
6. Equipment is nothing but a tool. If one tool gives you more flexibility or capability than another, then use it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Grow up and stop wasting your time defending your equipment choices online as though they’re religious beliefs or life and death. If you like it, use it. If that makes you produce better images with camera A even though camera B has more resolution, then camera A is better for you. This is why we have literally hundreds of choices on the market – the camera companies are smart enough to realize that, and let the diehard fans fight to the death over it on the internet. Any publicity is good publicity, right? As a photographer, I only care about the usefulness of a tool. I will buy what works and be vocal about what doesn’t, because if we’re not, then nothing will improve or be fixed. Remember: by far the most important ingredient in a successful photograph is the photographer.
7. The litmus test is the image you get out of it. If the viewer spends most of their time looking for noise rather than at the subject, then I’ve failed as a photographer. Delivering a good image – something that pleases myself and my clients – is the end goal, not to produce an incredibly boring photography that’s technically perfect. That is not what I’m hired for.
8. Finally, my site is about photography, not equipment. If you are looking for community validation of your expensive purchases and expect to see results that show the most expensive is always the best by a clear margin, then criticize my testing methodology with no proof or credibility if I find otherwise, please go and find a suitable forum for that – there are plenty of them out there. But if you want to learn about how understanding the various elements of composition will make you a better photographer, or how human psychology influences our perception of color, then keep reading. /rant off. MT
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…v1.03 is now online for download here. It’s supposed to solve an extreme underexposure problem (which I’ve never, ever seen in >100,000 frames with three cameras) – but I suspect there may be some additional minor tweaks in there somewhere. Nice to see that Nikon’s still supporting it despite the age of the camera and it’s recent replacement by the D800…MT
Both of the prints you see in this post will be up for as a limited run. (These things help me keep the site running – creating content takes time I can’t use for anything else, and I really want to keep the site ad-free to maintain the picture viewing experience; also, it helps you decorate your walls
The print offer will be limited to 20 copies of each image, at 16×24″ (A2) printed on 20×30″ paper. Here’s the kicker: the prints will be done on 380gsm matte fine art paper, printed with 200 year archival grade pigment ink on a HP production class machine. The look of the black on the paper is indescribable – I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I knew I had to make some prints with this. There are no reflections anywhere, which means the image is so much more viewable. The blacks are dense and chalk-pastel like, with fine tonal transitions. All prints will be numbered and signed. (And no, there will be no black borders around the images in the final print).
The price for either print is US$550 net to me for the 16×24″, or US$300 for the 12×18″ size – including shipping worldwide via courier in a sturdy tube. To keep things simple, payment can be made via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org, which means you can either use your Paypal balance or a credit card.
Please include in the message field which image you’d like, plus your shipping address, contact email address and telephone number. I’ll email a confirmation as soon as I a payment from you. If you’d like multiple copies or multiple images, that’s great too – you just make one payment.
I’ll be closing the print offer in one week at the end of May, and shipping shortly thereafter. First come first served! Remember, these images will not be offered for sale again at this size. Thanks for your support everybody! MT
In case you missed it, or live in another country – here’s the podcast from my radio interview. And yes, I design watches too. MT
Like the title says – a gentle reminder for the Kuala Lumpur reader meetup.
Saturday, 5th May, 10.30am – outside Pavilion near the fountain. I’ll be the guy that looks like the picture of me in the ‘About + Contact’ page.
I’ll wait till about 1045 then we’ll head over to Starhill and I’ll give you a guided tour through the exhibition, then we’ll go get some food.
Please leave a comment below if you plan to come so I know how many people to expect/ wait for (sorry, forgot to do this in Singapore!) If you’re late or lost, then drop me an SMS or call to let me know – +60 17 387 6700 will find me.
Looking forward to meeting you all! MT
EDIT: For those of you in KL, tune in to BFM 89.9 at 1.45pm – I’m being interviewed on radio.