Off topic: Presenting the MING 17.01

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Many of you might be aware of my historical preoccupation with mechanical watches: it’s arguably what started me photographing seriously in the first place. Which is why after nearly two years in gestation (and just in this form) I’m very proud to present my latest project: the 17.01. It’s the first of a new line of watches designed by me, made in Switzerland and funded by a group of fellow collectors, but brought to life with the aid of individuals who’ve been in the industry for a long time. To avoid the bunch of cliches that are typically used during new watch launches: it’s an honest watch that tells the time reliably and has the benefit of experience behind it – nothing more, nothing less.

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Horological-photoessay: One of your own

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Today’s subject is a somewhat unusual one, and an esoteric one even for the horological enthusiasts in the audience. It’s not often that a creative sees the whole product gestation process through form design to photography to consumption; either it happens at the very small and private scale, or you work for Apple (or the like) in in a senior capacity. It takes a certain environment for that to happen. For me, this is probably the fifth or sixth time; several watches for various companies, and of course the MTxFF daybag. This design is a one-off for myself, made by a little company in Switzerland called Ochs und Junior that specialises in such customisations. I wanted something unusual, wearable on a daily basis, and visually interesting: that would have a bit of a chameleon personality depending on light (both direction and quantity). I think this is pretty clear in the images. This is an odd series from a purely photographic standpoint, too: though every set of images I post is subject to some degree of self-curation, here it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks of object or images: neither are really for mass consumption ūüôā MT

I wrote the full story behind this watch here, for Quill and Pad, in much greater detail (and probably more than most readers would want to know). Images were shot with a D810, 85 PCE and speedlights, and processed with Photoshop/LR Workflow III. I cover the basics of watch photography in a series of three articles, starting here.

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On Assignment photoessay and challenge: Making a $200 watch look the business

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Today’s photoessay-on-assignment-report hybrid comes courtesy of a regular client who both makes their own and OEM watches for other companies. They’re not a big name – you’ve probably never seen the brand outside Asia, if at all – and they’re certainly not competing at the high end, but they do have mass-market volume; it’s a very different sort of assignment to the kind I normally undertake in Switzerland. It doesn’t require much skill to make an exceptional watch made with no consideration for price look exceptional; the challenge there is making it look extraordinary – otherwise your photography has not added any value or even done the object justice. My¬†job here is very different: how does one make a $200-retail watch look like a $2,000++ one?

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Watch photography with the Olympus OM-D, and thoughts on its use as a backup system

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The Maitres du Temps Chapter Two Tonneau China special edition.

For a system to be able to serve as backup, it must fulfill one important function: the ability for me to continue working with it and delivering images if my main system should fail for any reason. And it should be able to cover all genres of what I shoot, without too many workarounds or compromises. The obvious choice would of course be to buy two of the same camera, but a) where’s the fun in that, and b) sometimes it’s also useful to have a different camera system to give you other shooting options not available from your primary.

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For the past couple of months, I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D for most jobs which do not require special purpose lenses (e.g. tilt shifts) or huge resolution; the Nikon D800E of course covers everything else. What I’ve found so far is that from a usability and image quality point of view, the camera has no problems delivering the goods consistently; the only exception being a peculiar lockup problem that only happens if you use the Fn1 button to zoom into an image after shooting, then hit the protect button if you’re in the screen with the zoom toggle slider on one side. Unfortunately that does seem to be part of my workflow, but I’m learning to avoid it.

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The biggest question, in my mind, was whether the system was a viable alternative to the D800E for doing watch work – rather important, given that this is the majority of what I do commercially. I acquired a Panasonic-Leica 45/2.8 Macro Elmarit (yes, a review is in the works) for this purpose. Suffice to say – the lens isn’t the limiting factor at all, it’s pretty darned awesome (and one of the better macro lenses I’ve used, actually).

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Although Olympus does have a wireless flash system (FL36R, FL50R and FL500R) which is IR-triggered like Nikon and Canon’s systems, I wasn’t about to buy another set of speedlights, and certainly not about to carry them around along with the primary system, too. Fortunately the Nikon SB900s I use have a SU4 optical slave trigger mode – with manual flash power, of course. I used this and manually set the output levels. Yes, it’s much slower than using iTTL and dialing in adjustments directly through the camera, but it works.

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All in all, as you can see from the images here, I think the results are pretty darned good – my client didn’t say anything about the file quality, or lack of it; the OM-D’s files interpolated very cleanly to 25MP and their required resolution.

Depending on what I shoot, I’ll carry the OM-D body and 12mm and 45mm macro lenses, or just the 45; the 20/1.7 rides along as a body cap. One nice thing is its ability to use the Zeiss ZF glass I’ll normally carry for my D800E via an adaptor, so I don’t even have to carry the 45 and 20mms if I’ve got the 50/2 Makro-Planar and 21/2.8 Distagon.

One note of caution – during my recent Hong Kong workshop, the camera decided to stop working in a very humid environment (light rain, probably 90-95% humidity) and didn’t come back to life again until being dried out in air conditioning and with a few blasts from a hair dryer for good measure – so they’re probably not as well weather sealed as they claim. It continued to work intermittently for a few days afterwards, with menus self-navigating (as though one of the buttons was shorted out) before working normally thereafter. Odd. MT

The Olympus OM-D in various configurations is available here from B&H and Amazon.

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game Рincluding Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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

Photoessay: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Latitude

Not a commercial job, but one of those watches I’d personally encountered once, a long time ago in 2003, but was unable to afford at the time. Nevertheless, it left an impression on me, and from the time I did have the money to spare, I’ve been hunting one down. The problem is that they were very rare to begin with – I believe just 150 pieces were made – and with a very unique and beautiful dial; consequently, they’re rarer than hen’s teeth, and I’ve only ever seen one offered for sale new, and a grand total of zero on the secondary market. On my last trip to the factory, I did ask on the off chance that there was an unsold piece or two in the stockroom; there wasn’t.

On the way back to Kuala Lumpur, I passed by the watch shop in the airport without a second thought; after all, I was late for my flight at that point and had to run. Something compelled me to take a quick look; in a display case hiding behind a pillar was the very watch I’d been searching out for years. Some hasty negotiation ensued – it was obviously a new old stock piece bearing the marks of rough handling, but still sold as new with warranty – they were nice enough to give me a hefty discount and an additional strap. My wallet was suitably lightened, and I just managed to make my flight.

It’s a small watch by today’s standards, but is very thin (and of course mechanical) and pairs perfectly with a suit. The original Reversos were double sided with a blank metal case back, ostensibly to protect the watch while its wearer played polo; these days they’re either used as a second dial for complications, or a canvas for an engraving or art piece. I’m thinking of getting a Hokusai wave enameled on the back, but I’m in no hurry; these things are like tattoos; once it’s on, it’s for life.

If this story isn’t an example of fate and patience, I’m not sure what is. It seems that good things do come to those who wait. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D800E, SB900s, AFS 60/2.8 Micro and Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar.

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game Рincluding Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

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

Photoessay: The C3H5N3O9 (Nitro) Experiment ZR012

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Despite being completely unpronounceable, this watch is just plain outright cool. The brainchild of Max Busser (MB&F) and Felix Baumgartner (URWERK), it is the first watch to use an eccentric planetary transmission system for the timekeeping mechanism – i.e. the same geometry as the Wankel engine. (Curiously, there’s only one ratio of inner to outer satellite that actually permits the three distinct chambers to be formed; any other ratio doesn’t seal at all). The minutes are read off the red tips of the upper ‘rotor’, with the hours on the level below. There is no seconds indication, but there is a power reserve on the back of the watch.

I believe these are the first photos outside the official press release, and I was told that the watch is a working production prototype – which means non-final parts and finishing, and some potential tool marks in places as befits an engineering experiment…

Many thanks to Ian Skellern at C3H5N3O9.

This series shot (hastily) with a Nikon D800E and AFS 60/2.8 G Micro. It wasn’t a commercial shoot, so please excuse me if I missed a spot or two. All images can be clicked on for larger versions.

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Photoessay: The Maitres du Temps Chapter 3

This watch was an early production prototype photographed for my client, which is the Manufacture. [Puts on horological hat] It’s an interesting piece because it carries clear DNA from its creator – Kari Voutilainen (the dial) – whilst at the same time retaining the brand’s own DNA (the rollers). It’s a substantial but not oversized watch at about 42mm in diameter; contained inside are time functions, small seconds, date, synodic moon phase indication, day/night indicator and second time zone display. The latter two functions are hidden under panels on the dial at 12 and 6 that retract slightly into the plane of the dial and rotate out of the way, activated by the button concentric to the crown. The button at 9 advances the second time zone display (under the panel at 6). You can see the action of the panels in the final two images. Maitres du Temps is an interesting brand because it collaborates with famous watchmakers to create the various ‘Chapters’ – they do have an in-house execution and assembly facility headed by the noted Andreas Strehler, but each project always lands up different because it carries the DNA of the master watchmaker in charge of the project. Chapter 3 looks nothing like 1 and 2; they were of course designed by completely different watchmakers. Personally, this piece is by far my favorite – I think of it as classical, with a twist. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D800, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and several SB900s. As always, clicking on an image brings you to the Flickr landing page, from which you can view a larger version.

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Photoessay: The Speake-Marin Immortal Dragon

One of the more unusual watches I’ve photographed, the Immortal Dragon is both immaculately finished on the dial and the movement – the watch has both serious horological pedigree (being from the atelier of highly respected independent watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin and some pretty unique aesthetics. The dial was hand-engraved in relief by master engraver Kees Engelberts, and the watch is a piece unique destined for the Asian market in honor of the current lunar year of the dragon. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon with Leica M-F adaptor and multiple speedlights.

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Opening night of my joint exhibition with Jaeger Le-Coultre and Leica

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Last night was the grand opening party for my exhibition of fine art watch photography at Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pending any unforeseen changes, the images should be up for the next month on the first (Adorn) floor, and were co-sponsored by Jaeger Le-Coultre and Leica. Some images from the launch party follow.

For my KL readers, I’ll also be on radio – a short interview – on Friday, 4th May at 1.45pm on BFM 88.9. For everybody else, there’s a podcast on bfm.my. MT

Sorry, no POTD today – was trying to rush these out for today’s post.

Some images courtesy KH Yeo (D700, 24/1.4) and myself (M9-P, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE).

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POTD: Transparency

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Benzinger Skeleton. Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro.

I love and hate the idea of skeleton watches. Seeing your wrist hair through the dial isn’t so fun; but being able to see the movement definitely is. This shot is a play on the transparency of the watch – you know it’s there, but at the same time, it isn’t. MT