Film diaries: Watches and a Hasselblad

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Digital contact sheet of the negs.

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?

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Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system

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The Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau China special edition.

For a system to be able to serve as backup, it must fulfill one important function: the ability for me to continue working with it and delivering images if my main system should fail for any reason. And it should be able to cover all genres of what I shoot, without too many workarounds or compromises. The obvious choice would of course be to buy two of the same camera, but a) where’s the fun in that, and b) sometimes it’s also useful to have a different camera system to give you other shooting options not available from your primary.

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D for most jobs which do not require special purpose lenses (e.g. tilt shifts) or huge resolution; the Nikon D800E of course covers everything else. What I’ve found so far is that from a usability and image quality point of view, the camera has no problems delivering the goods consistently; the only exception being a peculiar lockup problem that only happens if you use the Fn1 button to zoom into an image after shooting, then hit the protect button if you’re in the screen with the zoom toggle slider on one side. Unfortunately that does seem to be part of my workflow, but I’m learning to avoid it.

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The biggest question, in my mind, was whether the system was a viable alternative to the D800E for doing watch work – rather important, given that this is the majority of what I do commercially. I acquired a Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro Elmarit (yes, a review is in the works) for this purpose. Suffice to say – the lens isn’t the limiting factor at all, it’s pretty darned awesome (and one of the better macro lenses I’ve used, actually).

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Although Olympus does have a wireless flash system (FL36R, FL50R and FL500R) which is IR-triggered like Nikon and Canon’s systems, I wasn’t about to buy another set of speedlights, and certainly not about to carry them around along with the primary system, too. Fortunately the Nikon SB900s I use have a SU4 optical slave trigger mode – with manual flash power, of course. I used this and manually set the output levels. Yes, it’s much slower than using iTTL and dialing in adjustments directly through the camera, but it works.

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All in all, as you can see from the images here, I think the results are pretty darned good – my client didn’t say anything about the file quality, or lack of it; the OM-D’s files interpolated very cleanly to 25MP and their required resolution.

Depending on what I shoot, I’ll carry the OM-D body and 12mm and 45mm macro lenses, or just the 45; the 20/1.7 rides along as a body cap. One nice thing is its ability to use the Zeiss ZF glass I’ll normally carry for my D800E via an adaptor, so I don’t even have to carry the 45 and 20mms if I’ve got the 50/2 Makro-Planar and 21/2.8 Distagon.

One note of caution – during my recent Hong Kong workshop, the camera decided to stop working in a very humid environment (light rain, probably 90-95% humidity) and didn’t come back to life again until being dried out in air conditioning and with a few blasts from a hair dryer for good measure – so they’re probably not as well weather sealed as they claim. It continued to work intermittently for a few days afterwards, with menus self-navigating (as though one of the buttons was shorted out) before working normally thereafter. Odd. MT

The Olympus OM-D in various configurations is available here from B&H and Amazon.

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Photoessay: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Latitude

Not a commercial job, but one of those watches I’d personally encountered once, a long time ago in 2003, but was unable to afford at the time. Nevertheless, it left an impression on me, and from the time I did have the money to spare, I’ve been hunting one down. The problem is that they were very rare to begin with – I believe just 150 pieces were made – and with a very unique and beautiful dial; consequently, they’re rarer than hen’s teeth, and I’ve only ever seen one offered for sale new, and a grand total of zero on the secondary market. On my last trip to the factory, I did ask on the off chance that there was an unsold piece or two in the stockroom; there wasn’t.

On the way back to Kuala Lumpur, I passed by the watch shop in the airport without a second thought; after all, I was late for my flight at that point and had to run. Something compelled me to take a quick look; in a display case hiding behind a pillar was the very watch I’d been searching out for years. Some hasty negotiation ensued – it was obviously a new old stock piece bearing the marks of rough handling, but still sold as new with warranty – they were nice enough to give me a hefty discount and an additional strap. My wallet was suitably lightened, and I just managed to make my flight.

It’s a small watch by today’s standards, but is very thin (and of course mechanical) and pairs perfectly with a suit. The original Reversos were double sided with a blank metal case back, ostensibly to protect the watch while its wearer played polo; these days they’re either used as a second dial for complications, or a canvas for an engraving or art piece. I’m thinking of getting a Hokusai wave enameled on the back, but I’m in no hurry; these things are like tattoos; once it’s on, it’s for life.

If this story isn’t an example of fate and patience, I’m not sure what is. It seems that good things do come to those who wait. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D800E, SB900s, AFS 60/2.8 Micro and Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar.

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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!

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Photoessay: Some Hublots (and, how to shoot watches on location with available light…)

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I was recently at a Hublot event – both covering the new Basel 2012 watches for fratellowatches.com as well as meeting the CEO and marketing people (it never hurts to network in this industry). I didn’t want to bring the lighting equipment, and the photos were for a blog – not commercial use – so I figured that I could get away with a lightweight rig. I used the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro, and available light. Most of the images were shot at ISO 1600 or above; even at larger sizes, they hold up pretty well. Needless to say, for web use, they’re fine.

But I digress – all I had was whatever lights were set into the roof of the showroom, and a dark watch display tray for use as a background. By tilting the tray and camera to look for the right lighting angles – sometimes to avoid reflections, sometimes to enhance them – I managed to produce a set I was pretty happy with, but yet manages to have a very different feel to what I normally produce in the studio. (They also have zero dust retouching, which you fortunately can’t see at this size – cleaning cloths are your friend!) Enjoy! MT

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Extended photoessay: A visit to manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre

For most horological afficionados, visiting their favorite manufacture is a necessary pilgrimage along the path. I’ve had the privilege to visit a few in my time, however living halfway around the world makes this a bit more of an expedition than is convenient. However, on my last assignment to Switzerland, I happened to have a free day, and the folks at Jaeger LeCoultre were extremely accommodating…

Enjoy the photoessay – it’s more of a story of how a watch is made, and a slight deviation from normal programming, but I think you’ll find it interesting all the same.

Images shot with an Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 20/1.7 and 45/2.8 macro lenses. Each image can be clicked on for a larger version.

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I was given this and a lab coat, presumably to keep out street dust (or perhaps add to the authenticity of the experience for some). Sadly, they didn’t issue me with any tools – perhaps for my own good.

That pass, gets you into here:

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Once past the obligatory heavy Eastern Europeans (presumably there to ensure you don’t leave with any watches you didn’t come in with), one is greeted by this sculpture a little further down the hall; signed by all of the thousand employees who work at the Manufacture.

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The old Manufacture, now the reception area and offices.

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Views from this place are incredible. It’s like working in a postcard.

Life of a watch starts in the prototype and R&D department; for understandable reasons, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in here – or even go in, for that matter. From a production standpoint, things begin here – in the parts fabrication department, where things are cut, stamped, shaped, machined, CNC’d, bent…

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The output of which can be seen here – Reverso case blanks, thousands upon thousands of tiny, perfect blued screws, and a whole bunch of spare gears (I believe these are offcuts that didn’t pass QC).

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Those cases marked in red (along with other parts) are then sent to the QC department, where a laser alignment rig checks that the parts are within extremely fine (think micron level) tolerances. You can see that rig at work here:

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Next up is finishing – parts are polished, grinded, striped, anglaged, perlaged, engraved, plated, and generally prettied up in yet another department. Two things surprised me: stripes and perlage are surprisingly fast to apply; polishing a Reverso case is not – in fact, it takes a lot longer than I would have imagined.

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Anglage.

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Rotor engraving.

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Setting microscopically small jewels; that pile of what looks like dust off to the top right is actually a pile of unset ruby bearing stones. Needless to say, it takes a microscope and hands of stone.

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Anchor setting room.

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Up some stairs, with a quick pause (note scenery) and through an attic doorway…

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…takes us to the haute horologie department.

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Don’t forget your protection. And those wrapped things at bottom left aren’t sweets, they’re earplugs.

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On a tray for visitors to enjoy as you enter. Sadly, no ‘Please Take One’ sign was to be seen anywhere.

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This part of the workshop is an incredibly quiet, calm environment; you get the feeling you’re in a high precision lab rather than a manufactory – which I suppose is pretty much what it is. You’ll notice that most of the employees are plugged into their iPods; the music and isolation help concentration.

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Assembling a Spherotourbillon.

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Ta-da! Look what I made earlier. This is possibly the only photograph to date with five of them in one place…

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Beginning to case up inside a negative pressure cabinet, so dust gets sucked out.

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Moving over to another bench, we find:

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The red and blue plastic is a protective layer to prevent scratches as the watches are cased, assembled, and final adjustments made.

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There’s also a Repetition Minutes a Rideau present – but not just any one, a blue one!

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It sounded great. I suspect the double case (the movement is actually based on the earlier limited edition series of 500 in pink gold) improves the tonal qualities of the chime significantly. It also looks absolutely stunning, though I’d gladly forgo the outer slide mechanism and just have the inner watch – apparently the inner case is about the same size as a regular Reverso GT, which isn’t very big at all.

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On the way out, we pass a Gyrotourbillon in final stages of regulation. The dial on the left (which actually looks complete) is a work dial, used for adjustment only. I’m told that it takes one watchmaker between 1.5 and 3 months to assemble one of these; the huge time difference is if after assembly, it doesn’t run to spec, then the whole thing has to be taken apart and the cage re-balance and re-adjusted.

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The gemsetting atelier is next.

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I’m not a huge fan of gem set pieces (they showed me bracelet links for a Master Tourbillon, which when completed, would retail for around one million Euros – the entire thing was covered in diamonds, including the dial); however, this particular piece was pretty intriguing – it’s called a ‘chaotic’ setting, and you actually can’t see where the setting ends and the stones begin. They use around 200-240 diamonds of various sizes to cover a ladies’ Reverso case.

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We appear to have found the Atmos division.

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I actually found this portion quite fascinating, as you seldom see so many of these in one place – and more interestingly, so many vintages; there were clocks here dating from easily fifty years go. I suppose it’s one of the few products whose fundamental parts have changed very little over time. Interestingly, they still cure the balance suspension wire; except these days, it’s done with weights and electric current rather than horse urine and time.

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Oh look, a Klimt! In all seriousness, this was an incredibly stunning piece which I think few have been lucky enough to see in person.

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View from the employee canteen.

I did also visit the museum, but wasn’t allowed to take any photos. Suffice to say there are some incredibly rare and very interesting pieces in there. And while all the Atmoses are running, charmingly none of them show the exactly same time :) MT

I would like to say a personal thank you to Marina Shvedova, Janek Deleskiewicz, Cecile Tichant, Alexis Delaporte, Reena Tan, and all the patient employees whom patiently answered my endless barrage of questions.

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Photoessay: The C3H5N3O9 (Nitro) Experiment ZR012

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Despite being completely unpronounceable, this watch is just plain outright cool. The brainchild of Max Busser (MB&F) and Felix Baumgartner (URWERK), it is the first watch to use an eccentric planetary transmission system for the timekeeping mechanism – i.e. the same geometry as the Wankel engine. (Curiously, there’s only one ratio of inner to outer satellite that actually permits the three distinct chambers to be formed; any other ratio doesn’t seal at all). The minutes are read off the red tips of the upper ‘rotor’, with the hours on the level below. There is no seconds indication, but there is a power reserve on the back of the watch.

I believe these are the first photos outside the official press release, and I was told that the watch is a working production prototype – which means non-final parts and finishing, and some potential tool marks in places as befits an engineering experiment…

Many thanks to Ian Skellern at C3H5N3O9.

This series shot (hastily) with a Nikon D800E and AFS 60/2.8 G Micro. It wasn’t a commercial shoot, so please excuse me if I missed a spot or two. All images can be clicked on for larger versions.

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Photoessay: The Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Ultra Thin Moon

From the horological files. MT

Set shot with a Nikon D800E, several SB900s, the AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and one shot with a Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE via adaptor – see if you can spot which one!

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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!

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

Photoessay: The Maitres du Temps Chapter 3

This watch was an early production prototype photographed for my client, which is the Manufacture. [Puts on horological hat] It’s an interesting piece because it carries clear DNA from its creator – Kari Voutilainen (the dial) – whilst at the same time retaining the brand’s own DNA (the rollers). It’s a substantial but not oversized watch at about 42mm in diameter; contained inside are time functions, small seconds, date, synodic moon phase indication, day/night indicator and second time zone display. The latter two functions are hidden under panels on the dial at 12 and 6 that retract slightly into the plane of the dial and rotate out of the way, activated by the button concentric to the crown. The button at 9 advances the second time zone display (under the panel at 6). You can see the action of the panels in the final two images. Maitres du Temps is an interesting brand because it collaborates with famous watchmakers to create the various ‘Chapters’ – they do have an in-house execution and assembly facility headed by the noted Andreas Strehler, but each project always lands up different because it carries the DNA of the master watchmaker in charge of the project. Chapter 3 looks nothing like 1 and 2; they were of course designed by completely different watchmakers. Personally, this piece is by far my favorite – I think of it as classical, with a twist. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D800, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and several SB900s. As always, clicking on an image brings you to the Flickr landing page, from which you can view a larger version.

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Photoessay: The Speake-Marin Immortal Dragon

One of the more unusual watches I’ve photographed, the Immortal Dragon is both immaculately finished on the dial and the movement – the watch has both serious horological pedigree (being from the atelier of highly respected independent watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin and some pretty unique aesthetics. The dial was hand-engraved in relief by master engraver Kees Engelberts, and the watch is a piece unique destined for the Asian market in honor of the current lunar year of the dragon. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon with Leica M-F adaptor and multiple speedlights.

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POTD: If you thought one watch was bad…

…try dealing with the reflections off two!

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Sarpaneva Korona K3 Northern Stars. Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro

Photographs involving multiple watches require extremely good lighting control, assuming you are not going to be compositing images (and sometimes, you have no choice). What looks great on one watch may not look so good on the other, and vice versa. You also need to be very, very careful with positioning your subject – not least because they may scratch each other! I use a small bit of tape or paper to act as a buffer, tucked neatly out of sight. MT

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