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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Cheap and long: The Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G review

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A little while ago, I reviewed the other end of Nikon’s discount spectrum: the equally-a-mouthful AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR. Together with the equally plastic AF-P 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 DX VR G, these three lenses make up the antithesis of the usual professional ‘holy trinity’. They are not fast, they are not weather sealed, they are not built like tanks, they are not bristling with switches and cutting edge features, and they’re most likely to be the first thing any hobbyist getting ‘serious’ is going to upgrade out of their kit. Hell, they’re the most likely things to be given away as promotional loss leaders in said kit to begin with. Yet – somewhat unexpectedly, I find myself rather liking them. The 10-20 is a solid lens with some caveats, but unbeatable at the price. Today’s post will examine the AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G* – and it has even fewer caveats than the 10-20 and 18-55, making it honestly downright impressive. Read on if you feel like making your other glass uncomfortable.

*Nikon apparently couldn’t decide what to make, so we have in current production:
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX G (new)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G (new, this review)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 E VR G (new, FX version)
AF-S 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G (old, and barely held up on 16MP FX let alone today’s cameras)
AF-S 55-300mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR G (old)
AF-D 70-300mm f4-5.6 G (very old, very bad)

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Off topic: Why I started making watches, part II

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The unexpected: 19.01, November 2017

Continued from part I.

Our group wondered if there were alternatives. We started looking into independents, and for me personally, those who would be willing to entertain serious customisation without breaking the bank; this meant compromising on the movement side, but as it turns out there were still interesting alternatives to be had. Ochs und Junior took the challenge and gave me very simple (read: reliable) annual calendar and high accuracy moon phase watches, but more than that, forced me to adapt the design to be coherent with the immutable parts (cases, complication locations and indications, production limitations). Until this point, I was still designing; evolving both my movement conceptualisation skills and aesthetics. By now, I’d developed a coherent design language and over 50 watches (including movements) on paper; these watches would represent the first baby steps towards seeing them come to life. But first, the ornamental complexity had to go; design would be reductive instead of additive. It was an interesting process that forced me to really identify and simplify critical elements required for time telling and identifiable stylistic cues down to their bare minimum. The Simpleton and Celestial were the product of those experiments, and it’s probably clear that design elements from both made it into our subsequent watches.

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Off topic: Why I started making watches, part I

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The MING family, as of March 2019

It’s a fair question, and one I’ve been asked frequently enough to properly explain myself somewhere, for the record. I suppose it isn’t just something you pick up on a whim one day, nor is it something that even if you had a burning desire to do – can easily begin by submitting a CV to a headhunter. Watchmaking, in its purest definition, is a vocation – not a profession. You physically have to make something, and in the process of doing so (from scratch, of course) understand everything from engineering to metallurgy to physics to aesthetics. It is the kind of masochistic intellectual pursuit undertaken successfully by only the most dedicated, the most skilled, or the most masochistically insane. I am not a watchmaker in the pure definition, nor am I dextrously skilled, but I am fairly dedicated and probably also insane. After all, eight years ago (has it been that long?) I did quit the top of the corporate game to start all over again as a photographer. And now, not having learned my lesson, history repeats.

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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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Two cents off the soapbox

Alternative title: what’s actually new?

Following the recent hyped launches of the Panasonic S1R, Canon RF, Fuji GFX100, genuine pet eye smile AF tracking etc. – I’m finding myself looking at things from a fairly objective standpoint and asking how the industry is going to survive, let alone grow, in the long term. The simple reason is there has been fundamentally almost nothing in the ‘conventional’ camera market that allows us to do anything different from a creative standpoint. Before people take up their pitchforks, let me clarify several things…

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Photoessay: hard line

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Great light and crazy architecture one morning in Tokyo – best to make the most of it. I thought of hitting multiple destinations, but the truth is anybody who’s been to Tokyo will know there’s so much of interest architecturally everywhere that it doesn’t really matter where you go. I suspect this is because underlying land costs in Tokyo are so high that anything you put up on the site will be (relatively) cheap in comparison; unlike in other parts of the world where construction is equal to or greater than the real estate. Even straightforward buildings have a personification of that Japanese obsession for imperfection, and as a result usually sport one or more very nice details to break pattern. Okay, I just can’t help myself: I like graphic subjects. MT

With the exception of one image (D850), this series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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