The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part I)

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Following a couple of recent email exchanges I’ve had, I thought I’d tidy things up and publish them here for the benefit of the general readership. This is a list of what I consider to be the ultimate lenses, on their native systems (and irrespective of system, actually). Lenses also tend to have significantly greater longevity (especially if without electronics) especially compared to camera bodies; you could buy one set of Otuses and adapt it to just about everything now and to come. In that sense, whilst good glass is expensive – the long term cost of ownership is significantly less than cutting edge bodies, and given residuals are high, generally worth the investment.

Of course, what constitutes ‘ultimate’ is actually highly subjective; some value smooth drawing quality and tonal transitions over outright resolution; others require zero distortion or high color accuracy or secondary color correction. If anything, my personal preferences tend to lean towards resolution and microcontrast; I can accept some vignetting, distortion, secondary lateral CA (but not longitudinal) – because these are easy to fix in post. Field curvature, smearing, coma etc. are not. Not all lenses on this list are here because of technical perfection or MTF chart performance, either. On top of that, there are two lenses that are not system options, but included anyway because they deserve honourable mentions. There are probably also better lenses I’ve not used yet (and so obviously can’t include them). I’ve tried to give justifications where possible. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here we go.

**Items denoted with two stars are lenses I currently own. *One star, lenses I’ve owned. Links are to reviews or affiliate suppliers. Images shot with the respective lenses mentioned.

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Photoessay: a little urban entropy

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Things often start off perfect, or at least ideal. They seldom stay that way. But there’s no reason why the process can’t be reversed into redevelopment and renewal. It happens all around us; most of the time, it’s so common we don’t even take notice of it; sometimes extreme wabi and the right light does result in an interesting image, but there’s a fine line between hope and desolation, I think. This set is a series of observations during the course of my travels, made with that ideal of visual scrapbooks – the omnipresent iPhone. MT

This series was shot with an iPhone 6+ and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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How social media has changed the way images are viewed

That infamous dress. Credit to whoever it was who originally shot the image.

It seems that the more images are in the publicly visible, the less time and attention any one individual image receives on average. This makes sense, given that we’re continually being bombarded by media and there’s a finite amount of time for consuming that media. On the other hand, we’ve got a disproportionate amount of attention being given to certain images – that blue/white/gold dress meme above being a good example*. These images are not necessarily deserving of that disproportionate attention, either. I have a theory about both why this is, and why despite the world becoming an even more visual place – overall quality of images has gone down, and with it the ability to distinguish between chocolate and pig poo.

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Photoessay: Estuary

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One more set of images from the ‘Over Australia’ series. These areas were not actually the primary focus of the trip, but rather something interesting overflown en-route – and when you’re chartering a plane, you want to squeeze out every single photographic opportunity possible. What caught my eye here was two things – the rather painterly patterns created by the typically Australian orange sand and water interspersing with oceanic sand, and the way the transparency of the water changed with the angle of the sun relative to our position – everything from milky to glassy to almost nonexistent (the water wasn’t very deep). There were also semi-evaporated pools that became isolated at low tide, both leaving interesting rim patterns and interesting colors from concentrated sediment suspensions. These were shot at low altitudes (1000-1500ft) from a light aircraft with the doors removed. (A helicopter both wasn’t available or possible because of the distances required.) It’s somewhat more challenging than working from a helicopter because the aircraft never stops; you need to have a high enough shutter speed and good panning technique to prevent any sort of camera shake ruining the transparency of the images – worse as the resolution increases.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Spouses and photography

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I recently had a conversation with a reader with a question that honestly surprised me: “How do I hide my photography obsession from my wife?” I have to admit this one stumped me for a while: I’ve never hidden it from Nadiah, nor do I think I could even if I tried to – partially because I’m a really bad liar, and partially because for as long as she’s known me, even in corporate – I’ve always been a photographer first and foremost. But it does bring up some interesting thoughts around photography and spouses…

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Photoessay: Dunes

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This series of images was never intended to be shot: this might seem like an odd thing to say, but it was not the intention for this particular aerial sortie. We had the option to overfly it en route to the intended target (to be the subject of a future presentation) – and when you’re pretty much burning money as fuel, then you shoot every single thing you can. It’s not hard, since the subject matter and presentation is so different to what one normally sees on the ground anyway. Like the rest of the series from over Australia, we were around the Dirk Hartog Island/ Useless Loop/ Francois Peron National Park area, at about 1200-1500ft with the doors off a Cessna 207. No question one should not even attempt shooting dunes at anything other than the start or end of the day – whilst they might be steep, there just isn’t enough relief otherwise to bring out any texture or shadow otherwise. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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The concept of ‘visual weight’

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Heavy, but with light inside bits. Translation: transparency

We acknowledge that every medium of expression has its strengths and limitations relative to others. Yet our basis for discussion and understanding of concepts and ideas is very much a written/spoken language-based one, this remains our benchmark – more so when the concepts become more complex and less intuitive – or the opposite, so simple and basic they’re entirely intuitive and not at all logical. There are of course severe limitations of language when it comes to describing the visual properties of expression and composition, yet it’s usually easy for us to see when something isn’t quite right. Why, how, and what do proportions, weight, balance, composition and aesthetics have to do with each other? Is there a somewhat more objective way to handle these concepts? I’m not certain, but today were going to try.

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Review: The Olympus E-M1 Mark II

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I’ve had the chance to use a final preproduction (i.e. should be no difference to shipping units) Olympus E-M1 Mark II for the last couple of weeks, thanks to Olympus Malaysia*. The camera was supplied with the new 12-100/4 IS PRO and the 25/1.2 PRO lenses. What follows will be not so much the traditional ‘review’ as series of thoughts on the camera (hereby abbreviated to EM1.2); I’ve previously made my current position on hardware and reviews clear and will again state upfront that this evaluation is performed in the context of the images I usually make, not every possible photographic situation. There are some subjects I just don’t shoot, and it would not be very useful for me to comment on the camera’s performance in these areas anyway. With that aside, let’s proceed.

Important note (and you’ll see why, later): all accompanying images were shot handheld, and edited from camera JPEGs – there is no ACR support for the E-M1.2 yet. This of course means tonality and color will likely deviate from my ideal output intention. Images are clickable for larger versions. I’ll also be adding more images to the flickr gallery here.

*Though some people were apparently paid by the mothership to go to Iceland…

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Repost: Differences between eye and camera: practical implications

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Why is it so difficult to get sunsets to appear ‘right’? Read on for the answer.

Following the last two articles on rules of vision, it seemed very appropriate to finish the mini-series with this little reminder from 18 months ago…

Many photographs do not work. Subsequently, we find out they do not work because there is a difference between what you saw and what your audience sees in the image. Sometimes this comes down to lack of skill in translating an idea, but often it’s more subtle than that: the camera doesn’t see what we see, and we need to be both highly aware of that and how to compensate for it. Yesterday’s photoessay is a good example: it’s no big deal to make a monochrome image, but our eyes only perceive a lack of color under very exceptional circumstances. Yet it’s these differences that make some images stand out, and others not really ‘work’.

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Last day left to order the ultimate photographers’ daybag

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Quick update: the first batch of orders went out last late last week. Thank you to all for the strong support so far; there were far more orders than planned for, though we do expect to still ship everything by the end of November.

Please note that we’ll be closing the order book for the ultimate photographers’ daybag – designed by me, handmade in England by Frankie Falcon – tomorrow night. So, this is your final chance – please get your orders in here if you’d like one.🙂 Thanks! MT

Some images of the first and second batches coming together at the workshop care of FF after the break.

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