Equipment failure in the field: a practical challenge

For a trip back home this Chinese New Year I only packed one camera and lens – the Olympus E-P5 and M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8. Little did I expect the, now 7 year old, E-P5 to malfunction and leave me with a dead LCD screen (with the external EVF back in KL). A little testing revealed that, aside from the LCD screen, the camera worked perfectly fine. This left me with two options for my time in Kuching – turn to my smartphone or take up the no LCD, no EVF challenge and use the E-P5. I chose the latter and every single image in this article was taken without the ability to compose my scene.

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Monolumpur, part III: Robin’s take

When I started street photography, I gravitated towards black and white. It’s not difficult to figure out why, when you look at famous and successful street photographs from legends such as Henri Cartier-Bresson as nearly all prominent street photography is presented in monochrome. As I slowly developed my own style and vision I found myself drawn towards color photography as it more effectively represents the reality I capture. Nonetheless, the love for black and white has always been there and sometimes, I find it liberating to strip all colors away and go straight to the core of the image – the idea, the message or the emotion.

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part II

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Expand scale, pull out. Frame wider, environmental context. Continuation of testing, continuation of viewing my home city again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. This time, seeing if I’ve gotten the blend right: this set is a mix with the Pen-F, whose SOOC JPEG monochrome toning has been my benchmark for laziness thus far. I think I’ve managed to find something with the Nikon that keeps the overall global contrast profile, but manages to extend a bit more into the highlights for a smoother rolloff and less abrupt clipping. Shadow information is there, but has been crushed a little to fit my stylistic preferences. Even given there’s some selective curation here in light and sequencing – I think you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which… MT

This series was shot with an Olympus Pen F, 12-60/2.8-4 and Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part I

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Today’s set is an anonymity-bringing-scale field test around the old part of Kuala Lumpur (Robin’s usual hunting grounds, though I’m sure you’ll see we came back with very different material) of something I’ve been working on for the last couple of months: an attempt at tuning a universal monochrome profile to my preferred style for the Nikon Z7. Whilst the Z7 doesn’t have a direct curve adjustment in-camera, it’s possible to add your own if you use the ‘Nikon Picture Control Utility 2’ software. It takes the place of the contrast and brightness sliders (my guess, ‘contrast’ pushes down the midpoint of the curve, ‘brightness’ brings up the upper quadrant). However, be warned: it seems the mapping is much more aggressive than the input/output controls suggest, resulting in much more contrast than you’d expect, so go easy on the curve. The only explanation I can think of this is that it’s acting higher upstream in the processing chain than we are used to with a curve in post processing. This is a good part of why tuning a profile has taken so long; it also seems that you need to apply some d-lighting (Nikonspeak for fill) to get the right lower midtone luminosity. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results – and light was absolutely spectacular while I was shooting, which doesn’t do any harm either. Is the Pen F retired? If not yet, its days are certainly numbered. Now, on to the greater challenge of color… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Counterpoint: same subject, different eyes

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If you’ve attended an MT Masterclass, you’ll have spent at least one session shooting the same subject(s) under the same conditions with MT. I’ve found this form of learning through osmosis quite effective as it allows me to deconstruct images and figure out what went right or wrong ex post facto. I spent a good portion of MT’s one thousand kilometers with the 2019 BMW M5, riding along as passenger. This included the one stop where all the pictures for both our posts were shot. Given that we both shot in the same 30-minute window with virtually the same gear (Z7 vs Z6) and a similar shotlist in mind, I thought it would be interesting to compare both sets to find areas for improvement and ideas to experiment with next time.

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OT review: a thousand kilometers in the 2019 BMW M5

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A thousand kilometres (or five days, one long distance trip and some regular urban use) might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t that much time to get to know a car as complex and layered as the 2019 BMW M5, codename F90. It’s like a couple of hundred shots with a Hasselblad, or maybe an handful of tracks with a high end pair of headphones. A taste, an impression, nothing much more. I’m not a car reviewer by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I have the driving skills of somebody like Chris Harris; I merely have some interest and probably a bit too much obsession. For reference, I’m coming from a 2018 F87 M2 as my daily driver, on which I’ve barely passed the 12,000km mark and feel like I’m just about getting to understand it to the point of late night friendship terms, but not quite familial contempt. A description of the character in question thus follows.

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Coda: Guess the format

The previous post of course needs a conclusion; some of you guessed right and said cameraphone, but others were thrown off by apparent DOF and background blurring and other factors. There are very few giveaways: yes, it’s possible to have shallow DOF with a camera phone: ‘telephoto’ module, near subject, distant background; and computational bokeh options on subjects that lack messy edges and where there are clear transitions works quite convincingly. Perspective isn’t even limited now – given we are starting to see very wide and very long focal length modules on cameraphones. Dynamic range can be managed, and even larger sensors clip. Rolloff can be improved, but to be honest – I was deliberately a bit sloppy with the PP here to give the audience some help. I also left everything in monochrome: I find the biggest remaining give-away at web sizes to be color tonality and accuracy; DOF can be managed in either direction by choice, but you have to work very, very hard to get accurate color out of a small sensor. I suspect this is for a number of reasons: lack of individual sensor calibration and variation in the CFAs; early individual channel clipping due to dynamic range limitations.

But the point of all this is of course that at these (typical) viewing sizes: it’s pretty damn difficult to see any difference. The more ultimate IQ your hardware has, the larger in output size and higher in tonal gamut you need to go in order to see any difference. And given where we are today even with small sensors, I’m going to repeat the same things about sufficiency for 99%, self-awareness for the special needs of the 1%. Back the point most ‘photography’ sites choose to miss (and even readers here selectively interpret): by far the largest deficiency, area for improvement and limitation – for all of us – is the operator. Nice hardware might make shooting more pleasant, or motivate you to get out and use it: but ultimately you still have to make the image. MT

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

Photoessay: guess the format

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Or think of this as the first part of an intellectual exercise that will continue with an extended discussion in the next post. There are really only a few clues that decisively give away what format an image was shot on – and even then, many are lost merely in the process of preparing and displaying an image. This is because effectively every image captured has more information than we can view on most (common) output media. Yes, there are edge cases where the strengths of various formats/ systems (they’re not really separable) are necessary and make themselves seen, but those get fewer and fewer as technology improves as a whole. Curiously, what we photograph (i.e. the physical world) doesn’t change that much, if only because what interests us as humans doesn’t change that much…good luck with the guessing game! MT

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Review: the 2019 Olympus ZD 12-200 f3.5-6.3

Olympus has just released the M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3 which joins their current two superzoom lenses, the 12-100mm F4 IS PRO and the 14-150mm F4-5.6. The new 12-200mm lens has weather-sealing but is not positioned as a PRO grade lens. The existing 12-100mm F4 IS PRO (review here) is an exceptionally sharp lens for such a long zoom range. While the non-PRO 14-150mm F4-5.6 lens (article here) may not achieve the same level of optical performance as the 12-100mm PRO, it performs slightly better than basic kit lenses offered by Olympus, and has weather-sealing making it a great all-in-one solution. In this article, I want to test the newly launched 12-200mm lens and find out where it sits in the lineup.

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Robin’s take: Thaipusam 2019

Thaipusam is one of the largest festivals in Malaysia, drawing no less than 2 million people to Batu Caves in 2018. MT did a splendid job covering it in 2017 with the Hasselblad H6D-100C (photoessays here, here and a video here), shooting mostly in low light as the rituals start on the eve of the actual celebration. This year, I decided to brave the crowds at Batu Caves but was also intending to do things differently. Instead of punishing the camera in impossibly low light situations, I played to my strength by shooting during the day and utilizing the beautiful morning light.

MT’s note: I’ve covered Thaipusam on several occasions in the past, but tend to prefer working at night for both the atmosphere/drama and the lower temperatures (though it brings its own challenges in the sheer crowd sizes, light levels etc.) Had to sit out this year because of my back, but glad to see one of the team made it!

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