Photoessay: A magic hour, part I

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A little while back, between meetings and a lull in the protests during elections…I found a magic hour early by the Kowloon side of the harbour. Almost completely absent of people, but with a clear, intense blue sky and strongly directional light that highlighted the geometric, abstract forms of the buildings around the Space Museum, Cultural Centre and Museum of Art. It felt like wandering around a giant child’s building blocks. Compositionally, each became an exercise in pure spatial balance; I didn’t see window or roof or wall so much as shapes of a certain visual weight that needed to be offset by other spatially opposed shapes of equal prominence. I felt them best presented in the midcentury, high-contrast monochrome style that Brasilia was first photographed in; the forms had the same sort of monumental weight tempered by idealist curves. Curiously, though I’d passed this location many times on my countless visits to Hong Kong, this is actually the first time I’d had the opportunity and the light to shoot here. I have to say it exceeded my expectations – and yielded more than just geometry, as you’ll see in part II… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, the Z 16-50 DX pancake and my custom SOOC picture controls.

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Prints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. Great stuff as usual. Regarding the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 I can see your attraction (I’m tempted too, but wondering if distortion correction etc would pass through the Techart to the Camera and resulting jpgs), but I’m guessing the new Z24-200mm might be the ultimate travel lens for the Z system, and will suit you too. I hope to get mine soon for my Z6.

    • Only one way to find out. The Z 24-200 looks interesting til you find out it hits f6 at just 70mm, which means it’s pretty much useless in anything but daylight, even with the Z’s stabilizer. Usable apertures are diffraction restricted and AF is likely to be not as positive. I had high hopes for this one too…but if I have to carry a second lens for when the sun goes down, I might as well have the 24-70/70-180 pair.

      • The 16-50mm hits f6.3 too but with a smaller portion of the sensor. I’ll probably combine the 24-200mm with the 50mm (or maybe 85mm), f1.8 for a pretty lightweight setup.
        I guess if anyone has tried the Tamron 28-75mm or 17-35mm on an alternate system the answer will be the same regarding my distortion concerns.

        • Not until much later in the range proportionally, and with that lens you’re expecting some compromises for size anyway. I think I’d be bothered by having only the 24-200 and aperture limits – but less so on the 16-50 in practice as I use that when photography isn’t my primary objective (if that makes sense somehow).

  2. Hi Ming,

    IMHO this is some of your most compelling architectural work to date.

    I’ve followed you for 6+ years and based quite a few buying decisions on your reviews. Would you consider writing a review of your Z mount lenses? I’m shooting weddings on Sony right now, but I hate the ergos, slow operation, shutter sound and buffer writing delay. 1st world problems, I know. So I just bought a Z6 + 50mm 1.8s to mess about with, and I love it. The 50 is unbelievable. Maybe too punchy for flattering portraits, but otherwise it’s blowing my mind & Ima itching for a switching. I’ve never really been a zoom guy but the 24-70mm 2.8s sounds like a convenient modern marvel, perhaps paired with the 85mm 1.8s….

    Thanks and please never stop.

    • Thanks. I’ve stopped writing reviews for the most part simply because they either attract a lot of bricks from fanboys or RTFM type questions, neither of which is a good use of my time.

      In short: I haven’t had any Z mount disappointments yet. Maybe the 24-70/4 kit is a bit weak in the corners, but the rest I’ve owned (24-70/2.8, 16-50, 50-250, 50, 85) have been phenomenally good to the point of being best in class for any mount. It pains me to say this as I was involved in development of the Zeiss Otus series, but the Z 50 and 85 are almost indistinguishable from the Otuses. I would would recommend all without qualifications.

  3. You have a great eye for geometry and light. I really like these high contrast black and white shots. For some subjects, I like creamy gray tones as well as deep blacks (like in well restored black and white noir films).

  4. percy seaton-smythe says:

    enjoyed these, very fine

  5. Bill Walter says:

    Great eye as always… a handsome set!

  6. A great set of stunning images. Thanks for sharing. Stay Safe.

  7. John Jørgensen says:

    Really great picts. I love what you are doing with shadows and highligts. Great dynamics, lines and shapes.

  8. Stephan says:

    Really cool pictures, especially for SOOC. Maybe I should invest in your picture profiles, especially since I also have the 16-50mm for when I want a really light lens on my Z7. I think this would be a great combo for shooting SOOC JPEGs because if I was after the ultimate image quality I would bring an FX lens in the first place.

    Any thoughts on the 16-50mm? I got it together with the 50-250mm kit lens and I am amazed by how sharp and well controlled both are, even on the edges of the image frame. Granted, I didn’t test them with lens corrections turned off but as long as the results are good I don’t really care what happens under the hood.

    In fact, I found the 16-50mm so good that I sold my 24-70/4 kit lens because for ultimate image quality I got the Z 24-70/2.8 S which I find outstanding and for a lightweight and small option the 16-50mm offers enough image quality compared to the 24-70/4 as long as you can live with about 20 MP resolution and the aperture restrictions.

    • Thanks! I bought it for the same reason: I have the 24-70/2.8 S for when I need ultimate IQ or flexibility, then the 16-50 the rest of the time for size and weight. It’s less packing volume than the M4/3 or APSC DSLR I used to carry, and not only is overall IQ better, but you have a pro body and controls. I also have the 50-250 for this reason. Might change this out for the forthcoming compact Tamron 70-180/2.8 if it’s any good…

      • Stephan says:

        I am very tempted by the Tamron 70-180/2.8, too. I’d happily give up on 20mm on the long end if I get a constant f/2.8 aperture lens that weighs about the same as the Nikon AF-S 70-200/4.

        But right now it doesn’t look like it will be released for Z-mount anytime soon.

        I hope that Sigma and Tamron will release their lenses for this mount in the foreseeable future. I am also very intrigued by Sigmas 45/2.8 compact prime. For hiking and landscape I’d love more compact primes with a modest aperture and good IQ. As great as Nikon’s 50/1.8 S is, it is neither small nor light.

        • Simple: there’s the teacart E-Z adaptor, which I’ve been using for the Loxias…I don’t see why it won’t work for the Tamron, too. Right now I have the 70-200/2.8 FL, and it’s enormous; the 70-200/2.8 Z doesn’t look any lighter or smaller.

          Sigma 45: not that impressive unfortunately, even on the FP…

          • Stephan says:

            Maybe I should reconsider my aversion against adaptors then. I thought that especially with a demanding 45 MP sensor the tolerances need to be extremely tight.

            A pity to hear that about the Sigma 45. I thought that it was a good lens based on what I’ve read so far (which isn’t very much to be honest).

            • The base lens is just as important, as are the adaptor tolerances. The risks are higher, but no inherent reason why it shouldn’t (or can’t) work. I had good results last night with the moon, a Zeiss-Hasselblad 250 Superachromat, Zeiss 2XE APO TC and Nikon TC17EII…yes, there was diffraction as expected at an equivalent f16, and atmospherics, but nothing to suggest a bad adaptor (despite there being no fewer than four pairs of mounts in there!

            • The Techart AF adapters for Z mount are wonderful. I have the E to Z like Ming, and the autofocus works wonderfully, though I have only used it with the Sony 90 Macro, not an third-party lenses but I see no reason why they wouldn’t work just as well.

              Also just got the recently released Canon EF to Z AF adapter because I have a couple Zeiss ZE lenses which, while manual focus, require electronic communication. I assume AF works just as well on it. I’ll probably pick up a Canon 40/2.8 to try it – they’re dirt cheap, quite excellent, and it would be a small, lightweight normal FL prime option.

      • Are you using the lens with the crop DX setting, giving it the 24-75 FF equivalent, or can you elect to shoot the lens with the FF (I would expect vignetting perhaps, but I did shoot my D600 with a DX 14-24 which was fine from about 18mm out)? Does the lens set that crop mode when mounted via the contacts, or do you choose it thru the menu? Great vision and images BTW!


        • The Z cameras auto default to DX crop of a DX lens is attached, so you don’t have a choice. You still have 20MP though, and the pixel quality puts it at or above the best of the smaller sensors (DX, M4/3).

      • Robert Asami says:

        My copy of the 70-180 just came in, adapted to the Z7 with the Techart. Quick thoughts relative to having used the 70-300 AF-P extensively until now:

        – Focusing speed is about the same in normal light, the 70-180 moves more hurriedly as light levels get lower, with a more visible snap-in transition.
        – Image quality is about as I’d hoped; no complaints wide open throughout the range, but I wouldn’t pit it against a native optic like the 70-200S. Not confident saying much more here yet.
        – Ergonomic balance is about the same as the 5oz lighter 70-300 since it’s not as suspended towards the front with the FTZ.
        – Barrel size is remarkably identical to the 70-300 without the FTZ attached.
        – Zoom turns the same way as Nikon Z, a little funny since Tamron had the chance to match the intended mount as they refreshed for mirrorless.
        – Stabilization was my biggest concern but delivers like native lenses; 1/20 @180mm is consistently sharp even with a bit too much caffeine this morning. For reference, ¼ was my low end of comfort with the 24-70 f4.

        • Robert Asami says:

          Forgot to mention an unexpected point – it doesn’t like to focus from distance (10ft+) focus down to MFD, increasingly so at the long end. Zooming out or turning the manual focus ring to suggest the near object closer into focus gets you there. Not having a dedicated Sony body on hand, I can’t confirm if this is an adapting issue or model-specific issue.

          Doesn’t seem particularly prohibitive in practice unless you have the rare use case of shooting the far side of a restaurant and must suddenly frame your partner’s plate at the telephoto end.

          • I think for most uses it’s sensible behavior given average subject distances. But it’s unlikely to be intentional and a consequence of the particular defocus pattern at MFD vs the camera’s AF array/ algorithm…

        • Thanks for this! Actually sounds pretty decent. How do you find focusing accuracy?

  9. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You have a remarkable grasp of architectural photography, Ming. Great photos!

  10. Mr. Thein, These are most wonderful photographs. So sharp and the lines that show order in a chaotic world. I love your work.
    Signed Greg from America

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