What defines small/medium/large formats, anyway?

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Originally published by yours truly in the April issue of Medium Format Magazine.

The use of any nomenclature of size already implies some degree of relativity. If a cellphone sensor is ‘small’, then arguably even APSC might be considered ‘large’. Yet there is a legacy expectation that medium format necessitates a recording area of at least ‘645’ (in itself misleading, usually being a bit smaller than 60x45mm at around 54x40mm or so) or larger. At some point – usually 4×5” – this becomes ‘large’ format. The digital sensor size of 44x33mm has challenged this somewhat, being much cheaper to produce than 54×40 (as low as a quarter of the price, due to finite wafer sizes, yield rates, etc.) whilst still offering about 68% more area than 36x24mm ‘full frame’.

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Photoessay: Pitlane

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A continuation of an earlier post but with the colour removed to focus solely on the homogeneity of the actions of all team members. Fundamentally, there is very little difference in what each team does, but it doesn’t feel that way simply because of the distraction and synchronicity of color and livery. I wasn’t attending on assignment (for a change) and so had the luxury of photographing a little more stream of consciousness and focusing on what was immediately interesting/ outstanding to me… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-120/4 VR and SOOC with my custom Z7 Picture Control profiles. I elected to go with the 24-120 on the FTZ adaptor instead of the 24-70S and 70-200/4 for a more convenient single lens solution.

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Photoessay: Livery

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Some color and geometry studies in detail from a GT3 race I attended earlier in the year; it’s been a very long time since I went to one of these things without a press pass and a long lens from the end of the field. But I did have pit garage access, which was nice; and compared to higher formulas the whole atmosphere is a bit more relaxed and nobody minds you shooting in the garages too much since the setups are all pretty much identical and there aren’t big dollars spent or at stake (relatively speaking, of course). It’s interesting just how much of the aerodynamic and mechanical details is camouflaged by the team liveries, though – just like all forms of advertising, the endless race to stand out by having ever more striking colours has resulted in a surprisingly homogeneous field where it isn’t easy to distinguish between some teams. It’s even worse when you have to cram a huge number of smaller sponsors on the car instead of one or two large ones. More than once, I had the feeling that I was watching some rather exotic birds of paradise – which I suppose is not a bad analogy for race cars in general… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-120/4 VR and SOOC with my custom Z7 Picture Control profiles. I elected to go with the 24-120 on the FTZ adaptor instead of the 24-70S and 70-200/4 for a more convenient single lens solution.

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Deja vu

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Spot the difference.

I had a rather strange experience at a local specialist photographic bookstore the other day – not just because the books were surprisingly affordable and heavily discounted*, but because I felt like I was looking at my own work – but shot by somebody else. It was almost as though there there was a lost assignment whose contact sheets I’d just discovered. Some color themes and specific subject matter may have been transposed, but for the most part, even those were the same: earthy tones playing off against greys-blues in skies or manmade elements, and a lot of heavy engineering. But those are the most minor of the similarities: it’s as though the underlying structure of subject elements and camera angles/ perspectives were very, very similar, too. There’s the same use of parallel orientation of cameras relative to subject ‘planes’; the use of contextual elements to concentrate framing; leading lines and repeated elements, and above all: a very strong emphasis on emphasis of texture both spatially and through lighting choices. Even the interpretation of color was pretty similar: a mostly faithful but ever so slightly cinematic bias (read: just enough hint of a WB shift to give the image some life).

*Books are heavily taxed in Malaysia; a phonebook with an European MSRP of say EUR39.95 will land up being easily RM400-500 – or 2-2.5x. This is a huge amount compared to relative average monthly income; 20-25% to be precise. Such taxes only discourage erudition; form whatever cynical conclusions you will – they’re probably correct.

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Photoessay: Enter the Abyss

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The most challenging types of watch to design is where there are already rigid expectations set by the genre – pilot, diver etc. – to go outside this requires either not meeting functional requirements, or producing something that takes some acclimatisation by the market. You want to avoid being different simply or the age of being different as this inevitably leads to issues of design longevity/maturity as well as functional compromises. Our interpretation of a dive watch has had the longest and most painful gestation to date – with conceptual explorations starting in late 2017, not long after the 17.01 was launched. It’s taken us nearly two years to make something we were happy with, and in the end – we have also decided not to go to series production because it came too late in the brand’s overall design cycle. Even if we committed now, we wouldn’t see product until the end of next year at the earliest, by which time other launches with our second generation design language would have taken place and leaving the Abyss feeling a bit out of place.

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On-Assignment photoessay: gentle curvature

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On some assignments you sacrifice your favourite camera strap, pray to the weather gods to grant you favour and be prepared to shoot everything in a half-hour mad rush around blue hour if it all goes to hell. This was one of those: a last minute call from a long-standing client with barely a 2.5 day deadline to deliver completed, retouched images. Normally I don’t (well, can’t) accept assignments on such short notice, but I happened to have a free day and the subject was quite interesting. The only problem: weather up to that point had been really terrible; one camera strap later and I think we lucked out. All shooting was complete within a 12 hour window – including the night images (done late the previous evening) and aerials (the morning of). Light was good, winds were calm and a couple of aerial stitches were achievable – thankfully, as there was no physical vantage point for the angles the client wanted, and limited aerial vantage due to surrounding buildings and construction cranes. The building itself is quite unusually shaped – there are no real external straight edges which gives it a very strange feeling at ground/podium level, as well as a means to defeat site setback regulations at street level to maximise internal floor space. Not all of it was completed in time, so there was no chance to photograph inside the rooftop glass-roofed area, which judging from the drone – had pretty extraordinary shadows from the window frames and columns. As an aside, I personally found the results much more interesting in monochrome as they brought out key features and played real volumes nicely against projected shadows, but unfortunately those weren’t part of the client brief – perhaps for a future photoessay, though… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, Z7 and DJI Mavic Pro 2 and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Objectified

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I admit this set is a bit of a mixed bag. But sometimes we come across objects, things, miniature scene of texture and color that are too good to ignore and too incoherent to fit into any other curation. They’re not really bound together by anything save a transition of color and form; seeing at its most basic. Nothing a client will ever pay for, but you might notice a physical layout or quality of light that might come in useful later; especially if you shoot product or still life. They’re the little serendipitous tributes to light and the kind of thing that to be honest – only photographers and painters really notice or get turned on by. Like well-executed musical scales, the pleasure of execution is for the artist alone. No need to feel guilty, we’re among friends here. MT

This series was shot with a wide variety of hardware over about a year, and mostly post processed with Photoshop Workflow III

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Social media algorithms are limiting creativity and subliminally controlling your world view

First things first: there’s no image of any sort in this post, which is rare for me. It’s a silent protest against the fact that whether this link and thus its contents get disseminated to people who subscribe to my social media feeds (FB, IG, Twitter) and read or not is almost entirely down to some self-curating algorithms. The alarmist and provocative title are deliberate attempts to play the game (explained further on). It has nothing to do with whether you subscribed to my feeds or not. Only a small portion of the total population of posts or images published by people you follow actually shows up on your feed. This has been verified by several people and a simulation account I set up and subscribed to several sources; sure enough, at the start, you see a lot of posts from your ‘new friend’, but not long after – they virtually disappear. It isn’t because they haven’t been making content, it’s much more sinister than that.

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Photoessay: Mori

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Welcome to one of the most surreal manmade places you can imagine, in Tokyo, or anywhere (which is saying something): The Mori Digital Art Museum, on Odaiba out in Tokyo Bay. Covering a huge area inside a blackened warehouse hung from floor to ceiling with a velvety material that can be projected on, the entire exhibition is dynamic. Projectors seamlessly cover walls and sometimes floors, combined with motion sensors to interact with the audience to create a very strange simulacrum of nature. It’s almost like stepping into Avatar; the extent of the simulation is so complete you feel very disoriented in some parts (especially those were the floor itself is no longer flat). There are tactile areas (like the giant balloons, or projection lilypads) for the kids, and enough rooms and dynamism that you don’t suffer from deja vu even if you revisit the same location twice (which you inevitably will, because signage is kept to a minimum). To shoot – it’s something else, because you’re basically trying to photograph a highly contrasty and saturated projection across multiple surfaces. And because the images are dynamic – sometimes with serious speed – composition is challenging indeed. It’s also not as bright as it looks, so you’re landing up at very high ISOs to keep the projected images crisp and deal with light levels. Though the environment looks three dimensional, it isn’t; though the other people visiting are three dimensional, they collapse to two dimensional silhouettes because they are nowhere near as bright; in short: the whole thing is surreal. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – I tried using my custom Z7 Picture Control profiles, but they were off base in this strange edge case situation…

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Wider please, but on a budget: the Nikon AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR review

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Most of you know me for being at the bleeding edge of hardware and being able to deploy the difference – that was true at least until my back injury last year, which has severely limited what I’m able to carry for any length of time. It has forced me to look at things I would normally have ignored; for whatever reason, in this industry light and small is usually also synonymous for ‘entry level’ and ‘cheap’. But in doing so, I’ve found some surprising hidden gems: hardware that most people pass over at face value for lack of bragging rights or seemingly ‘obvious’ deficiencies. Be prepared to be surprised, I was. This will be the first in a series of el cheapo reviews.

When I started off with DSLRs, the king of Nikon wides – DX only at the time, of course – was the AF-S 12-24/4. It was a decent performer even on the 12MP bodies, but started to fall apart with anything much more resolving than that. Distortion was…spectacular and not easily correctable. It was also very much a prosumer build lens, with light plastic everything, the slower AF-S motor and a non-prosumer whopping $1200 price tag or thereabouts. Fast forward fifteen years and we now have a successor (there was also the AF-S 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 DX, which sits somewhere between the two in price, build and optics). It takes many things away: it isn’t as long (20mm vs 24mm); it has an even plastickier build – even the mount is plastic – and it’s pretty much a stop slower across most of the range. BUT: it is $280 or so, new, from your choice of online outlet, and has VR, the new fast AF-P pulse motor, and weighs just 230g. It even covers FX from 13mm upwards, though the Z6 and Z7 will auto-crop to DX and you can’t override this. If you are not a fan of long reviews, then just enjoy the images, skim through the rest, and click the buy link at the bottom of the post.

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