The Q&A post: answers, part I

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Jazz time – put some music on. This is going to be a loooong post.

From an earlier post where I opened the floor to the readers, here are the answers. There were some enjoyable ones in there I really had to think hard about; I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of questions submitted, but decided to answer pretty much everything with the exception of speculative or ‘what should I buy’ posts about equipment. There is no way to answer these meaningfully without understanding the output objectives and skill level of the person wielding it; give a skilled photographer anything and it’s possible to make a compelling image, there is also the recommended gear list, and if it’s not on there, then there’s probably a reason.

Lisa Osta: Hi Ming! Since you are a daddy now do you still think you will continue travel so much?
I want to say no, but the reality is the photographic industry in Malaysia is such a disaster that I effectively have no choice, and my main clients are all international now anyway. I will have to cut back a bit, and that will almost certainly mean fewer workshops for starters (which has already happened this year). $100 day rates and clients who want 30 extra angles for free ‘just in case’, anybody? I never fail to find it ironic that companies that sell goods for hundreds or thousands of dollars at 50%+ profit margins and would show you a boot and then the door if asked for a discount will nickel and dime their photographers over $50. But, there you go.

Paul McBride: Boxers or briefs?
That depends on how much space is left in the suitcase after packing tripod, prints etc…:)

Dennis: I’m interested in Cinematic style. Would you kindly give some instructions on what gear I should get, cost-effective 🙂 hopefully it does not restrict with fast primes only as I also prefer not switching lens
You’re either going to have to shoot wide, or use a tele zoom and place your subject very far from your background otherwise it will be difficult to get sufficient separation. The cinematic style obviously isn’t just about bokeh, but it is one of the key tools. You could also come to my Cinematic Masterclass in Hanoi in July, or have a look at Making Outstanding Images Ep.4 & 5 🙂

Caesar Martin: How does a photographer develop their own style? How did you develop your style/look?
You need to firstly be aware of what’s out there, and what style is – looking at plenty of images from anybody and everybody helps. Be aware of what you like, and look for commonalities. Your first few attempts are going to be copying rather than original; but if you can’t figure out how to replicate what you like first, it’ll be impossible to put it all together. Looking back, I was in this process until probably about 2010. I cover my own journey in this post on influences, and there’s a crash course to developing and processing for style in Making Outstanding Images Ep.4 & 5.

John: Do you think ETTR makes sense when you are not at base ISO?
Always, because of the way sensors respond, the cleanest/most information is always at the brightest end of the recorded tonal range. If you want a darker image, you can always make the raw file darker afterwards with no noise penalty and retain all of your shadow information; you can’t make it brighter without significant noise, color or tonality penalties.

Klifton Keplinger: You’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the most interesting locations in the world to photograph. If you lost all your images now and you were allowed the opportunity to photograph any subject or locale, at any point in history, what would it be? And then, if given the choice of any camera/lens combination to do it with (but only one), what would you use, and why?
That’s a very broad question – can I voluntarily throw everything away and then go to any point in history? Arguably, the great ages of exploration – Roman Empire, Renaissance – would probably be the most interesting, and not just because I’d be the only one to have photographs from that period. I would use three of something reliable, and a lot of batteries and storage. Besides, at that point, I don’t think it matters: those photographs would be unique, irreplaceable, and I could probably retire afterwards and photograph everywhere and anywhere I want in the now. 🙂

Linden Wilkie: 1. Where have you not yet photographed that you’d really like to?
2. Do you ever think about giving up all of your honed discipline and just going nuts – totally out there experimental with the camera? Just to see what might happen. Or, in other words, what do you do to shake it up?
3. What are your most urgent unfulfilled photographic ambitions?
4. Has expansion of the Thein family done anything expected, or unexpected, to how you view photography?
5. If something prevented you from doing photography, what would be next in line, career-wise?

1. The list is endless – Iceland, the US West Coast national parks, South Africa, New Zealand’s South Island again, the Australian Outback, certain parts of China, the alpine regions of Switzerland, outer space, underwater, inside the Bugatti factory, inside an atom…anything that I haven’t seen, I can almost certainly photograph.
2. Yes, I did and do. The more experimentation you do, the more things you can rule out because you know the results won’t give you what you are looking for. I don’t necessarily choose to show these because they are experiments, not finished work, and certainly not something I want the internet to pass judgement on (unavoidable). I will generally have an idea in mind, refine it to the point it’s executable, then try it until I’m happy with the result. Sometimes the results are a halfway house, sometimes they’re a finished product. If I’m looking for an open-ended challenge, I’ll introduce a limitation (e.g. focal length) or go somewhere I’ve never been.
3. Shifting towards fine art and print sales.
4. Other than having a lot less time to experiment, documenting little moments with video snippets and keeping private photos private, no.
5. Hard to say. Given that I slowly abandoned all of the other passions to do this, probably whatever would afford a decent balance between work, income and family. No point in spending more time in the office if you’re indifferent to what you do.

Iris: How do you profile your cameras such that you get the colours you want?
It isn’t something that can easily be described in text – because it extends beyond your camera and to your entire workflow including monitor and printer. Fortunately, I’ve been asked so many times I cover that extensively in Photoshop Workflow II.

William Rounds: Do you think a relative beginner to photography would feel comfortable in one of your Master Classes?
Yes, for several reasons. Firstly, I’ve had beginners before; secondly, the Masterclasses are tailored to the specific needs of the individual in a much more flexible way than Outstanding Images – everybody has their own objectives for the week and is given personal guidance throughout – and lastly, to ensure everybody has a solid grasp of the fundamentals beforehand, the Making Outstanding Images Ep. 1-5 videos are the pre-prep work. 🙂

Eric Hanson: For the 24-120. Could you take a few of the awesome photos from the article that look amazing at web size and show 100% crops to show where they fall down and where it might make a difference? At web size they look perfect…
Say you had to use the 24-120 instead of your wonderful lens collection. What specific limitations / drawbacks would occur. Loss of low light ability of course However for someone that likes to shoot stopped down.

A valid question. For some, this might be good enough even where I see flaws; and it’s hard to show a loss of acuity, but I think corner softness and CA are pretty clear in these two:
It’s mainly a question of transparency: all of those undefinable qualities that you get when your lens has very high transmission, and little information or light is lost. The 24-120 is a complex optical design which has to compensate for a lot of aberrations across a wide focal length range – this means you land up with distortion, lateral CA, vignetting, field curvature etc. – none of which you would see to such a great degree on an Otus. The upshot is the first thing to suffer is microcontrast; no matter how much sharpening or curving or dodging and burning you do, you can’t get this back.

Michael: How do you assess the quality of the lenses you buy? Do you bring a camera/body then assess your images in play back? Or do you bring them home first then assess them there, then return to the store if lens isn’t up to your standards? I can’t imagine how you go through several samples like you mention in your reviews.
I bring a known camera with me, and review on my laptop. I have been going to the same store for the last 10 years and between my own business and the referral business I give then, they’re more than happy to accommodate my peculiarities – normally I’ll warn them in advance I want to buy something and they’ll have several samples on hand for when I arrive. This is what I look for. For reviews, I look for imperfections that are asymmetric: this is the first giveaway that you’ve got a dud. I will try to get hold of a second one to confirm my findings, or if none exists, check with other people I trust. One of the reasons it takes a long time to do a thorough review (and so few people online actually have the experience or pride in their own work to do so) is because one has to really triple check findings before making any claims – especially if they are controversial or difficult to identify.

John Keegan: Your question: Really love your “neutral and natural” style and would love to try processing my raw files to this style. I am not a LR user and I know you process your images in LR, so I am not looking for your preset or anything like that, but wondering if you could walk us through the thinking you have when you twist the dials so to speak so that those of us that use other RAW processors might be able to apply similar thinking to help us develop images in this natural, neutral sort of style.
Thank you. However, I don’t use LR, and there are no presets: it is impossible to have a one size fits all for every different situation. Each image is post processed individually. The logic is straightforward: get as much information as possible into your capture – both resolving power, noise and exposure – then make a flat but color-accurate file in conversion, to which I’ll apply curves for global adjustment and then dodge and burn for local adjustment. It’s covered in Photoshop Workflow II.

Mike Stewart: Have you ever considered or been offered a product development position with a camera company? As I agree with 99% of your recommendations for product improvements outlined in your reviews, I would love the option to purchase a Ming Thein edition Nikon / Canon / Leica / Ricoh someday. Along these lines, what parts would your “dream camera” consist of? i.e. which format, sensor (size and model), lens (fixed or zoom), AA filter or lack thereof, phase-detection or contrast detection focus system, etc.
I have done some development work as a consultant, but typically far too late in the process to make any fundamental changes. Camera companies look at photographers as a channel to promote their product blindly, not as a means to innovate. I’ve been asked many times if I would sell my soul for XYZ, but that’s about it. As for the ultimate camera, it doesn’t exist – of course – but I think it wouldn’t be far off a mirrorless development of the D810.

Xpanded: You can become the CEO at any camera maker – which one do you choose, why and what are your plans for the company?
None of them. They Japanese brands all carry far too much baggage in the form of corporate cultures that cannot innovate and marketing that’s unimaginative at best, cliched and downright plagiaristic at worst. Leica is stuck with legions of existing expectations and is almost a victim of their own success. Hasselblad is dead and has lost the respect of the photographic community. Phase One and the other MF companies don’t have the scale or budget to support a wider audience, and you go around in circles. I would start my own.

Rainer: What do you think, will the normal DSLR mirror view finder survive? I personally doubt it! The EVF’s are getting better and better, and showing the photographer under all light conditions the real image!
Logically, I agree that EVFs are the way to go – of course we can always have better resolution, response time and dynamic range. But it’s been a long time since I lost an image due to EVF lag, or being unable to focus or see. If anything, optical finders pose a much bigger challenge when it comes to high resolution sensors and lenses. However, the reality is that people will buy whatever the companies make, ‘pros’ are paid to promote and marketing tells them to buy because like it or not, there aren’t any choices otherwise. Remember that engineering decisions are made business-first, not function-first. That is precisely why the current state of the camera industry is a bit of a disaster at the moment.

Marco Venturini Autieri: The photos you post on your blog all have the same visual style.
Besides technical Photoshop recipes that you may use in the post processing to achieve this look, how would you describe in plain English this look of yours?
E. G. : deep shadows, desaturated, intense reds…?
In other words, I would like to see how you translate in plain words what is probably a complex mixture of sliders and parameters. And no, I am not talking of how to achieve the look in Photoshop. On the contrary, I am simply interested in a final-plain English description of the look.

That’s a good question – I almost wish you’d asked the Photoshop recipe, because that would be easier to answer! I suppose it’s something I find I can visually recognise when the light conditions and subjects are conducive, and what to do with postprocessing – i.e. it requires both elements at capture and afterwards – I would say tonally rich, but transparent. A bit like the impression of oil paint, or velvet, or something with physical solidity and texture.

Suresh Pathy: I have been a long time lurker on this site, a colleague of mine came on your course in Melbourne and had great things to say.
My question is regarding how you colour balance for brown skin. As an Indian, I have had great difficulties with getting it right for our skin tones, I do not have the same issues with my caucasian friends in Australia, but have great issues with my own family.
I was reading an article recently regarding how it was originally set up in the world of film was set up using a person called Shirley, and this white skinned person remains the standard for colour balancing. My monitor is calibrated, as is my printer, colormunki system. It seems bizarre that it is not so easy to colour balance for my own skin colour. I would assume that you have similar issues with your country and peoples, how do you deal with this?

Thanks for the compliments. For a formal portrait setup, I would use a grey card and since the rest of my workflow is color calibrated, it isn’t an issue. For situations in which you don’t have that flexibility, I find the problem usually lies in the red channel – either reducing saturation or luminance tends to help the most.

Vincent Angillis: What’s your take regarding shooting Black & Whites with a Monochrome cam vs a Color one ?
Is the new MM (246) the real Black & whites king vs f.i the M240 ?
Monochrom is supposed to give better grey tones and transitions.
They offer superb ISO performance.
I though they also offer resolution advantage thanks to the lack of bayer filter – but it might only gives that advantage at high iso levels (the curent demosiasing algorithm doing a great job at base iso).
In the end, even if there could be a better tonal response with a bayer free sensor, you’ll lose the flexibility of the TSL channel mixing to fine tune the black & whites of a color sensor (can be compensated using lens filters but not completely).
So maybe 2 conditions are needed for the M246 to be the killer tool: love B&W shots AND shoot in low light conditions ?
Thank you for your great blog !

All things being equal – photosite size and number – the pure monochrome one will have better tonality, more resolution, lower noise and greater dynamic range – it is measuring luminance only, not interpolating color from neighbouring sites. So, a M246 would be a technically better B&W machine than a M240, but not necessarily a D810 – there are simply too many variables here. I agree that I would personally prefer the ability to do channel mixing afterwards rather than be forced to use filters in-camera, but you are still going to give up low light ability and tonality. This is not a straightforward or cheap question to answer, and frankly, if you were seriously considering it, I’d invest a little and rent one first to see if it fits your specific needs and expectations.

Gerner Christensen: I would like to ask you which artists actually inspires you nowadays. You have touched before the photographers you felt was a source of inspiration to your own work, but have you got new sources of inspiring ideas to work along?
Would you mind also to elaborate a bit about where you think you are now as an artist and where you think you will go? Why and how?

Tough question. I think I’m inspired more by ideas than individuals; every time I see work that resonates with me, I have to admit there’s always something I feel I’d do differently – I suppose that’s a good thing. As to the second question – there are always ideas I want to try, am trying, and some work and some don’t. The Forest series is an example of those that worked; once I finish that I’d like to move on to exploring ways to represent the nonlinearity of time…

Christian Stocker: Theory: As digital camera sensor can not handle light coming from extreme angle’s of the lenses the same way than analog film can handle the light, there is some quality lost at the borders of the frame. Crop sensors which get only the middle part of light from the same ff-lenses can deal bettet with that problem.
43 System having adressed this problem with a system entirely developed for digital. Analog companys like Canon, Nikon might need to develop even bigger lenses to solve the problem (for ex. Zeiss Otus, Nikon D8xx). Systems like the Sony A7 can have a small Ff-Body, but the lenses for the same reason need to be big.
Question: As Fuji and Panasonic seem to develop a new sensor technology, which lets the light fall on the sensor with a smaller angle: Do you think this will make it possible to develop smaller lenses for all the ff systems, dslr and csc? So in the end all existing ff systems might get smaller and more portable?

Theoretically, yes – look at the difference between the size of M lenses (mirrorless) and DSLR lenses. The rear telecentric groups take up quite a lot of space, and complicate optical design considerably. It’s also worth remembering that the resolving power of digital is far higher than film of an equivalent area; this places significantly greater demands on optical design, too. An increased degree of correction requires more elements and usually a physically larger lens…

Daryl: Would you explain linear vs. non=linear response as it pertains to camera sensors or other areas in the photographic process? Also, you have mentioned that Nikon D800 has more shadow recovery while the D810 has more highlight recovery (or have I switched these around), could you explain further? Is this related to linear vs. non-linear response? Furthermore is ccd/cmos differences related to linear/non-linear response? Ming, I hope you can shed some light on this, I have never seen this addressed except on your blog, and it might be the missing link in order to further understand post processing of images.
Thanks Ming for your great blog.

Simply put, it’s where output is not a multiple of input. Graphically is probably the best way to explain this, and it was covered in this article on dynamic range, the zone system, and HDR. In practical terms, what it usually means is that things clip to black a lot sooner than you’d expect, or never quite clip to white even though input brightness of the scene increases dramatically. The D810 is an example of the latter – at the brightest end, you may have to quadruple input brightness to get double the output brightness compared to the shadows, but the D800 will still respond the same way as in the shadows – double in = double out. This means more for capture than postprocessing because it affects both what is recoverable afterwards and what looks natural (i.e. smooth highlight rolloff). CCDs tend to be nonlinear in the shadows and linear in the highlights, CMOS sensors tend to be linear throughout with the exception of the D810, which is nonlinear in the highlights.

Peter Pietruk: 1. Which of your cameras brings you the most joy to use.
2. One for all your readers and which I am sure you will get several times, simply because it’s what interests many of us: You get a fixed budget (e.g. 1000$, 2000$, 3000$,) to spend on gear, assuming you have nothing to start with. What do you buy and why?=
3. For beginners: “Rule of thirds”: Great guideline or boring tool?, “Composition vs image quality?”
4. Are you having a great day?

1. I think joy has to be defined holistically, that is a camera which is fun to use but delivers disappointing files probably doesn’t qualify; nor does one that delivers great files but is unergonomic. There’s also gear which isn’t necessarily a camera per se, but still necessary or satisfying. And we have different moods that require different ‘hits’…so on that basis, I’d like to put forward the Zeiss Otuses for their perfection, the Arca-Swiss Cube for its precision and solidity, the Hasselblad HC4 prism finder for it’s enormous size and clarity, the Nikon F2 Titan for its mechanical refinement, and the iPhone 6 Plus because it is always with you and delivers more than you would expect.
2. It’s a subjective question because it also depends on your level of expertise. Assuming I know what I know: $1000, any of the entry level DSLR kits and a tripod. At $2000, a better tripod, a decent prime, and a flash. At $3000, a trip somewhere to shoot.
3. The rule of thirds is overrated and assumes the same shaped subject and aspect ratio frame to work. Composition first – image quality is much easier to refine.
4. Could use more sleep and a million bucks, but hey, who couldn’t? 🙂

Ionut Cirja: How did you build your success in photography?
It seems these days is not enough to take great photographs,
I’ve seen one milion fantastic photos coming from no-names and a lot of bad photos
coming from pro photographers.
You will tell me about good marketing and stuff like that,
but what steps should do an unknown photographer to get some exposure?

Actually, I’ll tell you it’s more down to luck than anything. I attempted to make photography a career three times in the past before now – and even so, there are weeks where I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to continue in this business. Poor images may be attributed to pros because they had clients who didn’t know what they wanted, or worse still, insisted that their creative vision was ‘right’ even if it was probably not the best idea. Amateurs shoot whatever they want for themselves. If you curate out the chaff, you can be left with some amazing stuff: the question is, what is the real average level? Can you make images at that level consistently, on demand, when you don’t feel inspired or when the light is bad or the subject is ugly? Aside from luck, there’s a question of delivering value, too: you must be able to give the client something they can’t get elsewhere. A nice photograph doesn’t necessarily have value if it doesn’t help to sell product or create the desired image. We also cannot ignore relationships: cold calls almost never go anywhere. But if you know the CEO, that’s a different question entirely. You have to remember that it isn’t the people at the bottom of the ladder making the decisions, nor are they likely to find you if you don’t reach out and offer something first. Lastly, I’ll add professionalism and integrity: don’t over promise, deliver what you promise, and remember that the world is a very small place.

Greg: As a Professional Photographer and with the type of work you do I know you probably need the highest resolution and best performing camera you can get. BUT if you were just an enthusiast shooting for yourself [like the majority of us] what type of camera would you be using? Would it be digital or film or possibly both. I ask this because possibly the majority of people that visit your site are like me only enthusiasts, who sometimes get caught up in all the hype and “marketing” about the greatest and latest camera that we all need to have. I know it’s an individual thing but when is enough enough for the vast majority of us? Especially as it seems camera sales worldwide are either stagnating or falling. It seems the camera companies have no real idea what people actually need or want in a camera. Except of course “more megapixels” and more complexity. Whatever happened to simplicity?
I’ve been preaching sufficiency for purpose since the early days of this site, but it seems that everybody has gotten so caught up in the GAS it’s gotten lost along the way. It’s really difficult to say what that might be because I know what my purpose/output is going to be, and I know what tools I need. It’s important to remember that whilst a view camera might be great for architecture, it’s going to be completely useless for your kid’s sports day (and you might never shoot architecture or school sports, or vice versa). Composition and light are completely independent of hardware, and with the quality of today’s hardware – even phones – just pick whatever you enjoy using.

Julian Macedo: Your approach to photography is so well structured. Efficiency of line, light, subject. It is Bauhaus-like in its efforts to simplify and disintermediate the taking medium. You dislike evident use of processing or lens artifacts. Form follows function, not equipment.
Yet you use B&W extensively, which in the digital age is an extreme processing choice. And much photography, particularly personal work, is artistic expression. Discovery of new art involves testing the boundaries, and if necessary, breaking them.
My question is: Is Ming Thein an artist, or a photographer?

Thank you. I suppose many see it as cold and soulless, but I’d prefer to think of it as minimalist and essential – a sort of distilled formalism. Black and white only comes where color is distracting and light conquers all; to be honest, I do less and less now that technology has improved to the point where it is possible to replicate almost all of the subtle tonal nuances in a scene. Even a bit of color can be useful. Am I an artist or photographer? Well, I’d like to think I started out as the latter, but now use the medium to explore and convey ideas – currently one of transparency and the illusion reality vs perception and the fact that all reality is subjective and merely electrical impulse in our brains, via the medium of the Ultraprint – I suppose that and the fact that I do what I want rather than what I think will make me popular or successful makes me an artist…

Peter Gallagher: Your question: Your personal style seems to be one that depends on preserving highlIghts and allowing the darker zones to fall where they may. This produces, in your cinematic-style images, a lovely chiaroscuro. Do you (like those who play it safe by exposing to the right) habitually bracket your shots for exposure? Or do you take the risk that ACR will fix a marginal case? Has your practice changed over the years?
I too expose to the right – it enables the maximum amount of information to be retained, even if I’m going to make the image low key afterwards. The protection of highlights is a choice because of a) the way our eyes work, and not wanting to create anything unnatural that would draw the viewer away from the intended focus of the image, and b) using an important property of vision (low brightness/saturation/contrast = not prominent = not important) to again control the way an image is ‘read’. As for bracketing and ACR – I have shot enough frames that most of the time I know where the ideal ETTR exposure should lie, and will compensate or set manual accordingly before shooting. Sometimes you do miss a shot because of flashing lights or sources being suddenly covered/uncovered by moving elements; in these rare cases, if you really want that particular moment, ACR is your only hope. I’ve never bracketed as far as I can remember, because if you need a do-over, you’ve probably missed the moment. What has changed is exposing for maximum data rather than final exposure from the early JPEG and limited-latitude RAW days – there were odd nonlinearities then which meant that ETTR wasn’t always the best solution.

Mark McDonald: Your question: If you had the opportunity to spend a day shooting with and learning from any photographer in the world, who would it be and why?
Technique isn’t something I feel myself missing, but commercial savvy definitely is – so my choice would have to be Peter Lik. He shoots what he wants independent of commercial demands and makes the economics work, fantastically well. I think many of us – myself included – want to know how he moves that volume and quality of work for that kind of money…

Igor Romanov: Is Nikon the first of the big or the one of the two bigs which is falling down/wont be existing in the near/mid term future (3-5 years)??? No real innovations and the only camera manufactuer/company producing solely camera, lenses and sport optics/binoculars!!!
No other product segments which could compensate the losses in the camera/lenses devision….

Scott: Sony is rumored to be rolling out a Pro model in the near future which will presumably address most, if not all of the remaining Pro grade gripes. Assuming they do and it does, do you think Sony could benefit in their quest to replace one of the big two in the Pro / High End market by naming this new Pro camera something other than Sony? Like Honda did with Acura and Toyota with Lexus. In other words, get the Sony logo off of the front of the camera and replace with something more eclectic or nouveau? I’d even take a kitschy name over Sony myself or how about RAPERE (Latin for seize or take by force).
I’m not sure I’d buy a RAPER over a BMW…in all seriousness, until there’s something concrete, there’s no point in speculating. And even then, I’m not sure it matters – you evaluate if the product is good for you, if so, great; if not, move on. The brand matters not – the camera is just a tool to make images with.

Mar: Hello Ming, thank you for the opportunity. What is “gross macro contrast”, and what is “microcontrast” in photography? Where do you see them when you are shooting, how do you include them in your composition, how do you post process for them?
Gross macro contrast refers to the distribution of the tonality across the entire image; if most elements/areas reside in one tonal zone (shadows/mids/highlights) then it is low contrast; if most reside in only shadows and highlights then it’s high contrast. Microcontrast refers to the tonal separation between adjacent areas at very small scales relative to the overall size of the image. Both types of contrast are a function of quality and direction of light, the color and texture of your subject, and the quality of your lens. Microcontrast tends to be more heavily lens-dependent because resolving it in the image is contingent on the lens being able to separate high frequency details of low contrast. You cannot really process for this other than small-radius sharpening. Macrocontrast can be adjusted by curves or levels.

Christian: If you could only use one focal length for everything, for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Well, it’s a good thing I will never have to decide, isn’t it? There is no one size fits all.

Juan: Do we still need a tripod due to development/implementation of IBIS (e.g. Pentax K3 II Series, Olympus OMD, Sony A7II) at all?? Esp. is it necessary/mandatory on trips / while traveling anymore???? So no need of carrying one…???
Mark Davis: Given (i) the continuing advances in high ISO digital photography and (ii) VR lenses, is it now possible to photograph the majority of city scenes (“street”, architecture, cityscapes) handheld? Most of us would prefer not to carry a tripod around with us in the city – a different matter I suspect for landscape photography, where precision framing, stitching and long exposures are common – so, can it be done successfully Ming? I get the feeling that many of your very successful city images are shot using a tripod. Please explain why?
It’s been possible for some time, actually. Whilst I do most of my work handheld, I actually use a tripod more often now than before. Some very good reasons are in this post, but in summary: image quality. Even though you can get ‘good enough’ quality handheld, why settle if you don’t have to?

Bill Royer: I have a Nikon D810 on which I like to use manual focus primes, such as Zeiss. Would like to have a focusing screen such as on my old FM3a to help in focusing manually, but would also want to maintain Nikon’s excellent auto focus for when I want it.
Did you find a focusing screen that would accomplish these goals?

After trying a lot of options, honestly, no. Not only were they very fiddly to fit, but none were accurate enough for consistency below about f2.4 or thereabouts. I’m using live view and an LCD magnifier instead, which is bulky but much better.

To be continued in part II.


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  1. Ionut Cirja says:

    Thank for your response, you confirmed some of my suspicions 🙂

    Have a good evening/day,
    Ionut Cirja

  2. Christian Stocker says:

    Thank you for answering my question. Also enjoying the other Q+A’s.

  3. ernie marton says:

    Great answer about which focal length to choose. Thanks again for the great site and your honest, informative material, even if it frequently does my head in.

  4. I see a couple of references to a new member of the family, but did not remember seeing you post any news about this. Last I remembered you were discussing this issue, but it seems like you have kept this under wraps (and I can understand why this would not normally be a subject for your blog). If the family has expanded, please accept my congratulations and I hope that all of you are doing well! And, you are welcome to edit/delete this post if you do not want to call any additional attention to the subject.


  5. just subscribing to this thread
    Always enjoy your posts, Ming.

  6. Given your extensive “walkthrough” on making images and post-processing them, any chance of a post dedicated to film-developing?

  7. lensaddiction says:

    So….commando then 😋

  8. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Off topic – on watches – because of your link “this post on influences”.

    I missed that post.
    There is not only a beautiful watch photo,

    but also a photo of a simply beautiful watch,

    a very rare thing these days, even among those you photograph
    (where, of course, technically and esthetically interesting watches are much more common).

    I quite agree, “The scavenger” *is* one of your best …

  9. Very interesting questions as well as answers. Looking forward to part 2.

    “Bill Royer: I have a Nikon D810 on which I like to use manual focus primes, such as Zeiss. Would like to have a focusing screen such as on my old FM3a to help in focusing manually, but would also want to maintain Nikon’s excellent auto focus for when I want it.
    Did you find a focusing screen that would accomplish these goals?
    After trying a lot of options, honestly, no. Not only were they very fiddly to fit, but none were accurate enough for consistency below about f2.4 or thereabouts. I’m using live view and an LCD magnifier instead, which is bulky but much better.”

    ^^This is the biggest issue I have with the current camera options on the market. Nikon and Canon are still not offering, and probably will never again offer, cameras that have decent focusing screens for manual focus. I’d love to use Zeiss lenses or my Leica R lenses on their full frame cameras, but really cannot without a better focusing solution. Live view and an LCD magnifier seems like a very cumbersome solution that really should not be necessary. If Nikon or Canon had models that shipped with focusing screens optimized for manual focus, I bet they would move quite a lot of that product. I can’t imagine that the cost difference from a production standpoint would be too huge. I’d certainly even pay a bit extra for that type of model.

    Or, they could put an EVF in and I’d be happy as can be. I don’t want to use zeiss or leica R lenses on micro four thirds because of the crop factor and Sony’s full frame options have compressed raw files and lackluster battery life. Sigh.

    • Sadly, even the focusing screens that were optimised for manual focus in the film days simply aren’t precise enough for the current level of sensor resolution. On top of that, there are optical design limits which mean you’re never going to get precise focus off-center, either – and focus and recompose only works if your lens has just the right amount of field curvature. EVFs or LV/Mag are the only way to go.

  10. William Rounds says:

    Thank you for your considered reply to my question. In fact, your consideration of questions and comments made by people who follow your posts has to be the best of anyone using internet to discuss photography, and may be the main reason people follow it, whether they are attracted to your style or not. I look forward to the day that a gallery near me exhibits your prints.

  11. Lots of fun! Your answer to Expanded about which camera company would you CEO, how about Samsung?

    • randomesquephoto says:

      Uhhh. Samsung has to be worse than the rest. Their innovation only comes in trying to attach a phone to their camera. And their ideas fade out almost instantly when the money isn’t there. I think. Like all Korean companies. The tech is there. But the patience is not. Falls into the same realm as Japanese or American companies. I think at least. No one understands that making an actual piece of equipment for photographers might just work. They need to include soccer moms. And retired ex pats in there to get an extra buck.

    • Nope, sorry. Having dealt with their people here and the way they view photographers, there’s a serious corporate culture issue – and with a company that big, it’s going to be a very big problem to change.


  1. […] final part of the epic. Find parts one and two here, the rest after the […]

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