Twenty questions

I get a lot of email every day. Hundreds of messages are pretty common, actually. And a lot of those emails ask the same questions over and over, so I thought to save time for both myself and any prospective writers, I’d address some of these openly here. Firstly, thank you for all of the feedback, compliments and interesting discourse; I’m less appreciative of the long lists of ‘what should I buy’ questions: firstly, if you’re not specific in your question or give insufficient context and information, I can’t give you a recommendation – ‘i want to take nice photographs what camera should I get?’ is far more common than you might think (and punctuated that way, too). Secondly, the same basic courtesy that you’d give to somebody in person is appreciated over the internet, too. Whilst I do make an effort to reply every email I get, I’m seriously thinking about ceasing replies to rude and demanding people. Time is precious. An hour spent giving camera advice is an hour out of pursuing client leads or postprocessing commercial work or family time.

So, in no particular order:

1. What camera should I buy?
It depends on what you want to do with it, but is also completely irrelevant. If you know what you’re doing – and the fact that the question was asked at all in the first place indicates that you probably do not – then the camera doesn’t matter at all. If size is a priority, then look at the Sony RX100. If size and image quality/ flexibility, then the Olympus OM-D. If kids or moving objects, a midrange DSLR like the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D would work. If it’s image quality, then buy a tripod, some good prime lenses and the Nikon D800E. Frankly though, any of the cameras you can buy today at each of the levels – prosumer compact, mirrorless, entry DSLR, pro DSLR – are all far past the point of sufficiency for most users; those who require more will already know they require more. In the right hands, any of them can give great results. Education matters far more than equipment.

2. What lens should I buy?
Same question: what are you going to use it for? And even if you know what you’re going to use it for, what’s your style? A National Geographic reporter will use a 21mm for environmental portraits. A paparazzi will use a 400/2.8. Both are therefore portrait lenses. See the problem?

3. I have X. If I upgrade to Y, will it give me better pictures?
No, unless you’ve identified a specific deficiency with X that is improved with Y; and in every case, spending money – or just time – upgrading your skills will have far more of an impact than upgrading your camera.

4. Why haven’t you reviewed X/Y?
Firstly, this is a photography site, not an equipment review site. There is a difference; there are few good and plenty of mediocre sites devoted to being the first to fondle new metal. I acknowledge that the two are frequently inseparable because photography is a pursuit that is heavily influenced by one’s equipment, but I still think it’s important to know if you’re an equipment masturbator or a photographer. There is a difference. In most cases, I have to buy my review units with my own money. This means that I’ll only review things that are interesting to me, and I even if I do find them interesting, they’re only available when they’re available to buy. Sometimes, if I’m very lucky, I’ll get a loaner. I don’t review systems/ brands that aren’t familiar to me because I don’t have the experience required to do them justice and write a fair review, nor the time or interest to learn. Finally, I’m usually strapped for time. Running this site is secondary to being a commercial photographer – gotta pay the bills somehow.

5. How can I improve my photography?
This question is surprisingly rare. Firstly, it deserves a commendation just for asking. Practice is the number one thing; getting feedback is number two. Though it’s possible to figure out yourself over time what works and what doesn’t, the process can be made much faster by finding a good mentor – that could be your friends or peers, or me via the Email School. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but make sure you know what you changed and how it affected your picture. Look at lots of other people’s images to get an idea of what elements you like, and what you don’t; shoot some more and try it for yourself. Learn how to use Photoshop if you haven’t already; it’s like the difference between sending film to a minilab and using whatever auto-everything presets they’re using, or developing it yourself, frame by frame. Or perhaps eating McDonalds vs Michelin star – with the same ingredients.

6. How can I order your DVDs?
Firstly, the whole DVDs or individual segments (they’re recorded separately with different source images) are available online via my iPad app. Secondly, if you don’t have an ipad or would prefer a physical DVD, send US$60 (Intro to Photoshop Workflow for Photographers) or US$65 (Photoshop Flow for the Leica M-Monochrom) via paypal to along with your address and phone number for the shipping. Thirdly, if you don’t have paypal, send an email to and I’ll send over a credit card checkout link. Fourthly, if you live in Kuala Lumpur and would like to collect the DVD in person (COD) or pay via MEPS, send me an email. Thanks!

7. Do you have any upcoming workshops/ I’d like to register my interest for workshops
Yes; here’s late 2012/ 2013, dates TBC:
November 2012 – Introduction to wildlife, Kuala Lumpur – 1 day (late November, been and gone)
Feb 2013 – Possibly Kathmandu (5 days – 4 shooting, 1 review after days 2 and 4.5)
April 2013 – USA Tour: San Francisco, Boston, New York (possibly New Orleans too). Each 3 days – two of shooting, one of photoshop.
September 2013 – Europe Tour: London, Barcelona, Munich (possibly Prague too). Each 3 days – two of shooting, one of photoshop.
Please send an email to to put your name on the list. Each workshop is limited to 8 participants at the absolute maximum. If there’s demand, I’ll do two sessions. More information on past workshops can be found here

8. Is the D800 focusing issue fixed?
To the best of my knowledge, the new cameras I’ve handled recently do not exhibit this problem. There is a fix at Nikon for older cameras that involves recalibration of focus bank data; it’s a firmware only procedure and does not require disassembly or physical adjustment of the camera (at least that’s what I’m told).

9. On a related note, should I upgrade from my APS-C/DX/D700 to the D800?
Only if you know you need the resolution. That’s the biggest gain, really. Do you frequently print larger than 20×30″? Are your images tack-sharp at the pixel level? What about your postprocessing technique? If the answer is no to any of those three, then go back and make the most of what you’ve got first. The D800/ D800E are capable of amazing quality, but also utter crap if not used with the utmost shot discipline.

10. What about D600 vs D800?
I’d throw D700 into the mix too. If speed/ sport are a priority, then D700. Low light is a wash between D700 and D600; what you gain from the D600’s slightly cleaner sensor and lower vibration shutter is taken away by the increased shutter speed requirements due to higher resolution. If ultimate image quality is your aim, then get a D800E – but make sure your lenses, support and computer are up to the task.

11. What cameras/ lenses/ flashes/ tripods are you using now?
In alphabetical and numerical order below. What I use is of course also what I’d recommend.
Gitzo GT5562 GTS Systematic with Manfrotto 410 geared head, or 468MGRC0 Hydrostatic ball head
Gitzo GT1542 Traveller with Gitzo 1780QR head
Leica M9-P
Nikon D600 (backup), D700 (reportage/ low light), D800E (primary for commercial work), F2 Titan (personal work)
Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G, AI 45/2.8P, AI-S 58/1.2 Noct, AFS 60/2.8 G, AFS 85/1.8 G, PCE 85/2.8
Nikon SB-700 x1, SB-900 x3
Olympus OM-D
Olympus ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8, ZD 60/2.8 Macro
Panasonic 20/1.7, 100-300/4-5.6
Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon; ZF.2 2/28 Distagon; ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar; ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar; ZM 2.8/28 Biogon; ZM 2/50 Planar

12. Do you have a favorite bag?
It depends on what I’m doing. I use a Billingham Hadley Pro as a day bag for a laptop, a camera and lens or two; a Think Tank Airport International as my assignment bag alongside a couple of large Manfrotto lighting grips/ tripod bags; a Kata LPS-216 DL for travel, or an assortment of Think Tank and Lowepro waist pouches for reportage work. There is no perfect solution here.

13. I’m using X/Y/Z filter, why can’t I get my images to look like yours?
Simple: filters are presets. And since every image is different, the presets will apply perfectly to precisely none of your images. The only way to get images that look like mine is by using my workflow – which requires photoshop optimization for each image individually. Perhaps a DVD would help…

14. How do I get my images to look like yours?
See #13.

15. Could you please critique my images/ comment on my Flickr/ Facebook stream?
If you want me to do it in a way that’s actually useful for you as a photographer, then I suggest you sign up for one of my detailed portfolio reviews or the Email School – send a message to for more details. By the way, Facebook is a really crappy way of looking at images because of the compression and terrible color space (probably as an artefact of compression, actually).

16. Do you teach watch photography?
For practical and commercial competition reasons, no. It requires a lot of demonstration, some custom-built equipment, advanced Photoshop skills, and it doesn’t make any commercial sense to train potential competitors – especially when what I can bill for training is a small fraction of commercial work.

17. Do you shoot weddings/ events/ parties/ etc?
You obviously have not read any of what I’ve written otherwise you’d know what the answer would be. Though I’ve been asked so many times that perhaps I should consider it…

18. Great photo! Can I use your image for…[insert something here]
I am a commercial photographer. This means I make my living from selling images. If you’d like to license it for commercial use, I’m happy to discuss rates. If you are linking for another site, it depends. If you are just using it for your own site, definitely not. But whatever the case, please ask first and give the appropriate usage credits. You wouldn’t go into a bakery and say ‘hey, nice pastries, could I take one for free if I’m just going to display it a bit but not eat it?’

19. Ever think about doing something (writing, etc) related to film?
Yes, but that’s going to take some time both because it’s film and because it’s been a while since I last shot film. But there’s a reason why I’ve now got an F2 Titan loaded with Delta 100.

20. How do you find the time to do everything you do?
We make the time for the things we enjoy. So long as I enjoy photography and writing, this site will continue to go on much in the same way it has in the past. When that changes, then I’ll probably suddenly find that I require a lot more than the four or five hours of sleep I’ve been subsisting on for most of this year. MT


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