Feb 172014

Myanmar in Transition

By Nikko Karki © 2013



Adorned with thousands of temples, nestled in the Mandalay region of northern Myanmar, Bagan’s arid landscape has been preserved as if in a time capsule for the past 1,000 years. After remaining closed to the outside world, Myanmar is now open for business, bolstering Bagan as its flagship tourist destination. The children growing up in Bagan will witness unprecedented changes in their local economy and social landscape in the upcoming years.

How will tourism development in Bagan mirror Myanmar as a whole?

Now that the floodgates are open to flocking tourist populations, how will the region and its people react to an infusion of social and economic influences?

Hasselblad 500c  - Carl Zeiss 120mm f/4 - Kodak Portra film

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 01

Photographer’s note:

I went to Myanmar with an old film Hasselblad, a digital Canon DSLR and an open mind. I had heard warnings about the political past and chose to ignore the history as it’s clear the country is on the brink of a new era. During my trip, I felt a strong connection with the people who welcomed me with open arms. Traveling with only a small pack containing all my gear, I was free to roam around the countryside on foot, taking time to talk with people, observe and feel the strength and beauty of this incredible country. I’m so grateful to the people of Myanmar for this experience and hope to return again one day soon.

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 02

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 03

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 04

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 05

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 06

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 07

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 08

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 09

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 10

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 11

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 12

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 13

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 14

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 15

Nikko Karki © 2013 Myanmar Transition 16

Feb 092014

Munichs oldest cemetery with Leica M and Monochrom

by Andreas Cornet

Dear Steve, my name is Andreas and I live in Munich, Germany. I follow your great blog for about a year but so far did not post anything. My photographic life started some 11 years ago when our daughter was born. I started shooting with several Nikon DSLRs with growing fascination. My entry into the Leica world happened with the D-Lux 3 and the brand did a nice job in “trading me up” with a M8 via a M9 to a M240 and a MM right now.

For a long time already I had the idea to start a photographic project on Munich cemeteries. Steves recent article on post mortem photography and Jim Fishers great cemetery shots together with fantastic light two weeks ago finally got me going. I chose the “old south cemetery” in Munich which was founded in 1563 for the many poor victims of the pest epidemic. At that time it was “extra muros” – outside the city borders. No need to explain that this has changed with the growth of the city … .

In terms of gear I took the M240 and MM together with a 35mm Summilux, a 50 mm Noctilux, and a 90mm Summarit. I did not use 50 mm a lot in the past but since buying a used Noctilux 1.0 (not the current 0.95 version) this has changed significantly. Most of the shots you see are done with this lens, only few are 35mm or 90mm. However, I do not use it wide open only. I also like it very much at 5.6 or 8.

Great winter sun, several crows/ravens and some nuns going for a walk created an almost surreal atmosphere. Like a quite island in the middle of the city bringing back the past. I hope you get part of that from the pictures. Although I liked some of the photos in color very much I decided to transfer the M240 files to b/w using Nik Silver Efex. If you are comparing the M240 with the MM files (that’s what I did …) keep in mind the MM shots were taken a bit later with sun fading away already.

Next will be the “old north cemetery” as soon as the light gets right … .

Thank you and best regards,


Pic 1, M240, 50mm, f 5.6

Pic 2, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 3, M240, 50mm, f 1.0

Pic 4, M240, 50mm, f 11

Pic 5, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 6, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 7, MM, 35mm, f 1.4

Pic 8, MM, 90mm, f 2.5

Pic 9, M240, 50mm, f 1.2

Pic 10, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 11, M240, 50mm, f 8

Sep 222013

Cool Photo Road Trip – “Valley Of Fire” – Nov 15-17 2013


A couple of friends of mine are doing a cool photo road trip in November. Todd Hatakeyama and Jay Bartlett are looking for adventurous individuals who want to join them for this trip. It will be amazing with so many photo opportunities around every corner. The “Valley of The Fire” trip will take place from November 15th-November 17th 2013 and you can look at all of the details HERE at their site. I will not be at this workshop as I have other plans for that week (my Birthday week) but the last time  they went on this trip they had a great time and brought back many cool shots. How can you not when you are talking about a place like Antelope Canyon?

According to Todd and Jay, “There will be a lot of hiking, photography, arches, caves, and amazing colors. We’ll see as much of the park as we can in 2 days. Possible locations include: Elephant Rock, White Domes, Arch Rock, Fire Wave, Crazy Hill, Pretzel Arch, El Portal Arch, Piano Rock, and more.”

Todd has been on many of my workshops with me from Seattle to Vegas to L.A. (That he hosted) the Cruise in 2012. He knows how to plan a trip so if anyone wants in on this you can click over to their site to register. Cost is $500 for the trip. I wish I could make it!

Cost: $500
Includes: Round trip transportation from Rancho Cucamonga, shared hotel room, breakfast (Sat & Sun), snacks, bottled water, park entrance fees.
* If you are not from Southern California, you can fly or drive to Las Vegas and meet us at our hotel at noon to join the group.

Las Vegas locals $350 (not including hotel or breakfast)

Aug 142013

USER REPORT: Myanmar with my OM-D E-M5 by Suryo Widjaja

Hi Steve,

As I have been reading your past Daily Inspirations pages about Myanmar from few of your readers, I found different perspective of Myanmar through my lens. For me, Myanmar is a must visit country for Photographers before this country infected by Western’s culture ( like Thailand and Vietnam, soon Cambodia).

I went to Myanmar last January 2013, with other 19 photographers from Indonesia for Photographic Tour. Main reason to visit Myanmar at that time was for “Bagan’s Festival” which only happen once a year. It has been beautiful, inspiring, adventure 6 days of our life, seeing Myanmar like Indonesia back in early 80′s, very friendly people, safe, food is nice (but do not eat food and drink water from the street, they might not friendly for our stomach). Tips before visiting Myanmar: 1. Pack yourself with medicines: sore throat, flue & cough, 2. Bring Masker (keep you from dusty air, what you see in the landscape photos which have haze or mist, they were actually dust!), 3. Wear Sandals/ open-toe-slipper, because we have to take off our sandals to go into temples or sacred place, shoes will be inconvenience.

Every one on this tour was packed with heavy gear of “big guns”, few with Leica gear and fuji XE, I was packed with 2 body of OMD-EM5 (one body I borrowed from my brother-in-law), brought my 12mm, 17mm and 75mm, but most of the time i was in Myanmar, I set my camera with 17mm and the other one with 75mm. What you see in my Photos, most of them was taken with Oly 17mm F1.8 except for Close up portrait and landscapes, they were taken using Oly 75mm, for 12mm most of the time just stay in the bag. My motto for this trip, travel lite and took good photos! LOL.

All the photos were minor edited in Photoshop. Pull out the DR and color tone on the Adobe Camera Raw, adding little bit of effect on NIK Color fx.

Hope your readers enjoy these photos.

Warms Regards,













Jun 212013

Heading to the Palouse! Ready to Road Trip!

Hello to all and Happy Friday! I am about to head out to the airport for Seattle to meet up with Ashwin Rao because tomorrow we start our Palouse Road trip that will last all the way until Tuesday, and I can’t wait! It is going to be a blast with 14 of us and all kinds of amazingly beautiful photo opportunities. I am packing my camera bag now which will hold my M 240 along with a 15, 50 and 85. The X Vario is coming along so I can review it and I will be bringing the X-E1 and Touit lenses along with the little GR to see what it can do in the Palouse. So I will have a packed bag for this trip! For those of you who signed up to go along I have already e-mailed the itinerary but I will repost it below for you again and for those who may want to attend the next one (may do one next year) so you can see all of the fun you are missing out on, he he he.

I will be posting shots from the trip here over the weekend!


Saturday, 6/22 – Early AM

We’ll meet at Ashwin’s place at 5:30 am (yup, that early).

Make sure to organize your transportation to Ashwin’s home for 5:30 am, and do so ahead of time if you can. Yellow Tax (253-872-5600) and Orange Cab (206-444-0409) can both be called, as can any number of other services.

Ashwin will have a light breakfast (Coffee, snacks, fruit, eggs), on hand for the early start. This will be our first chance to meet each other and get settled for the trip

We will leave Seattle for the Palouse at 6:15 AM. Please make sure to arrive by 5:30 am, so that we can load vehicles (three full size SUV’s), confirm seating arrangements in one of our 3 SUV’s, and get everyone situated.

Here’s the itinerary for the rest of the trip:


Saturday, 6/22/2013

We will have lunch at noon @ Eddy’s Chinese Restaurant in Colfax, WA. There, we will meet Ryan McGinty, our local host and guide. Ryan’s an incredible photographer, and if you want a taste of what he’s going to show us, here are a couple of links:




Photo session 1- after lunch, we’ll drive from Colfax to Albion, past Kamiak Butte, with multiple stops along the ways, including abandoned homesteads, “lonely trees”, and other such sites. We will ultimately make our way to the Steptoe Butte overlook for sunset and breathtaking views. Please make sure to bring warm clothes and a windbreaker for Steptoe Butte, as it gets quite breezy atop this panoramic Palouse viewpoint

We will have dinner@ Gambino’s in Moscow, ID

We will then make our way to our accommodations in the Palouse

Sunday, 6/23

We will have an early breakfast, around 7 am, at the hotel. From there, we’ll supplement with a Starbucks (or the like) drive by and meet up with Ryan McGinty.

Photo session 2: Southern Palouse. Visit the old abandoned Weber house, heading through Johnson for some nice rolling hill views and farms. Head to Uniontown and visit Canola fields in bloom as well. This will be one of the most scenic parts of the journey. Many burnt out barn and lonesome tree views to capture…. We’ll move through Moscow and photo a barn surrounded by lentils that is slowly collapsing.

We will have lunch at Sella’s pizza in Pullman, WA

Photo session 3: We will be crossing though Idaho and Washington multiple times to capture many sites. We’ll visit the town of Palouse during this time. We’ll also see a hidden windmill and a barn that’s broken through its center, off to Farmington. Then it’ll be back to the hotel for our first big photo editing session.

We will have dinner at Appleby’s

After dinner, we’ll retire for the evening, back at the Hotel


Monday, 6/24

We will check out of our hotel after having an early breakfast, around 7 am, at the hotel. From there, we’ll supplement with a Starbucks (or the like) drive by and meet up with Ryan McGinty.

Photo session 4: We’ll drive towards Palouse farms through wind farm. We’ll stop for a family farm & barn shoot (selling eggs, chickens). We’ll make our way to Palouse falls and visit some Snake River bridges. We may also do some Small town shoots along Route 12 and visit with a Camel in a field with horses.

Monday, 6/24 lunch in Walla Walla, location TBD

Photo session 5: We will stop by Waterbrook Winery for an optional tasting and shoot. After this, we’ll start our long drive back to Seattle, stopping as needed for stretch breaks and the like. Ryan McGinty will join us for our trip back to Seattle

Monday, 6/24 dinner in Seattle (location TBD, Uneeda Burger or Kaosomai Thai)

We will return to Ashwin’s house after dinner for a photo editing session, time permitting. Attendees may otherwise leave for their accommodations in Seattle. If you haven’t done so, please make sure to make your own travel arrangements (to and from Ashwin’s home) and accommodations in Seattle for Monday night.


Tuesday, 6/25

Here’s a treat. We’ll start breakfast at 8 am at the downtown flagship location of Seattle’s famous Top Pot Donuts. It turns out that Mark Klebeck, one of Top Pot’s founding members, is a huge fan of stevehuffphoto.com. Mark’s graciously offered to provide donuts and coffee to the group to get us started for the last day of the work shop, and he plans to meet the group for breakfast that day. How cool is that?!? Bring your cameras, as we may even get to geek out a bit.

Photo session 6: From Top Pot, we’ll make our way to Pioneer Square, the original site from which Seattle sprung up. From there, we’ll head to Seattle’s famous Pike’s Place Fish/Farmer’s Market for some morning photography on the street. We may consider a couple of other venues/locations, depending on interest, including the Olympic Sculpture Garden and the Seattle waterfront.

Lunch will be at Pike’s Place Market around noon.

Photo session 7: Urban stroll through Industrial Seattle and the Seattle Graffiti wall in “SoDo”

We’ll return to Ashwin’s place in the mid afternoon for our final photo editing session and a sharing session

Optional dinner and goodbyes at Brouwers Pub in Fremont at 6 pm

Remember, Breakfast and Lunch are included but dinner’s are not included. 

Packing tips:

1. Please pack light. That means just essential clothes and gear. We have 3 SUV’s and 11 attendees, plus Ashwin, Steve, and Bob Towery, photog/driver extraordinaire. We have long days on the road, so it’s best to keep things simple and not load up too much. Usually, a wide option, standard option, and long option are perfect…. depending on your gear and preferences. Tripods are fine too

2. Pack for warmth and unpredictable weather. Bring at least 1 windbreaker/shell and a fleece or similar sweater. A couple sites are quite cold; so make sure to be ready for that. It occasionally rains in the Palouse, so take care to bring a shell/windbreaker that can double as a raincoat. At the moment, the forecast calls for temperatures in the 70’s-80’s (high), with evening lows in the 50’s.

3. Please use Steve’s prior email, which was made up by Ryan McGinty, regarding gear to bring. A circular polarizing filter can be a lifesaver in the Palouse.

4. If you are travelling beyond the road trip, Ashwin can keep your gear stored until we return to Seattle for the last part of the trip. We’d prefer that the gear you bring is essentially 3 days worth of clothes. Comfortable walking shoes that you can take on trail are a great idea as well!

May 202013

Palouse Workshop Update and Special on “Beauties of Nature” workshop

Hello to all! I have some updates on my Palouse Road Trip as well as my buddies Todd and Jay’s “Beauties of Nature” workshop so for anyone looking to get in one either of these, read on..




This is going  to be so much fun!! It was sold out, but one guy backed out last week so I now have ONE seat open at $1500 with a private hotel room while we are in Pullman so you will have your own room. You can read details on this trip HERE and if you want this one last seat, let me know ASAP by emailing me HERE. We opened up 10 seats plus myself, Ashwin, our guide and a driver and nine are officially sold, just one left. Now is your chance. For those that have signed up and are all paid up you will be getting and e-mail TODAY with more details on what to bring in regards to clothing for the Palouse :)


The “Beauties of Nature” workshop with Jay Bartlett  - June 7th to June 9th 2013


The “Beauties of Nature” workshop with Jay Bartlett  - June 7th to June 9th 2013 - This is being put on by a couple of friends of mine so giving them a shout out as they are putting on one hell of a weekend workshop that I would love to attend (but I can not due to timing) and they have some seats left. Not only that, they lowered the cost for readers of this website by quite a bit. They put up a “Steve Huff Special” website with the discounts. Check it out HERE. You can see what I wrote about this event previously HERE.

They are offering quite the weekend with shooting known models and you will be put up in some super classy rooms in a beautiful environment. If you want to learn some skills with models and more, this is a great one to get in one and at the new prices, a great deal for what you get. Their main site is HERE.

Check it out :)

Mar 072013

Forgotten Friends, the ‘Year Old’ Camera – Fuji X10 by Colin Steel

Bangkok 1-1-7-2

Hey Folks, it’s been a long time since I had the energy to write anything here but I thought you might like to hear about a trip I made to Bangkok recently with the now very unfashionable Fuji X10. I am continually amazed nowadays at how quickly cameras come and go and it only seems like yesterday that I was eagerly awaiting the launch of this super-sexy little cam and Fuji’s nice ad campaign really had me wanting one. However, some major travel and expense came along at that time so somehow I passed it by but I never forgot the impact that the look and apparent usability of the camera had on me so when I got the chance of one recently for S$ 450 (US$365) I jumped at it, and believe me, what a bargain I got. Here is Steve’s review for those of you that may have already forgotten it :) Steve Huff X10 Review:

Bangkok 1-1-7

So just what exactly attracted me so much about the camera given that it was picking up some mediocre reviews and some folks were making a big issue out of the ‘white disk’ sensor problem? Well firstly, this is one beautifully made and designed camera, it just oozes quality. The black finish is very understated and with the lack of front logos, very discreet as well. The metal lens cap is something I thought I would dislike but it turned into a key feature for me. I usually put a lens hood on my cams only to protect the lens from knocks as I don’t believe in putting a filter in front of good glass. I quickly developed a workflow where I can whip off the cap, turn the lens to 35mm and start shooting very quickly indeed. which leads me on to the other key feature for me and that is the phenomenal lens which serves to switch on the camera and then manually zooms all at fast apertures if you want. I find that I have judged the ‘twist and on’ movement so that I end up spot on 35mm at which I can shoot at a reasonably fast f2.2 in low light. Really classy design, well done Fuji, none of that dreaded zoom hunting that plagues small camera.

Bangkok 1-1-8

One of the criticism I always read about with small cameras and M43 is that there is no great depth of field possible for blurring backgrounds, I am at a total loss to understand this, I want all of the depth of field I can get !!!! Take the above shot which was taken underneath a motorway overpass in the Klong Toey slum area of Bangkok and the light was not as good as it might look in the photo. I was very close to this guy and shooting at a wider aperture than my ideal for the shot in mind, but I desperately wanted to keep the people in the background at least enough in focus to be discernible, particularly the old guy with the little baby. I almost made it but this kind of shot would be impossible at wide apertures on a DSLR, I know it’s not what everyone wants but I think it’s really important to show context and other important elements that make the subject come alive.

While in Bangkok I was able to speak to Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos about this very subject and he told me that he only ever uses two ISO settings with his Leica M9, 640 for daylight and 1250 in poor light, the reason for this was simple, he wanted to shoot at F11 or at worst F8 as often as possible so that he could arrange the elements clearly in his photos. I know this will surprise many people but I also believe that for a documentary style its better to shoot at smaller apertures if you can and the more depth of field the better.

Bangkok 1-1-9

While on the subject of Bangkok areas to shoot in, all of the shots shown so far were taken in the slum area of Klong Toey which is easily reached by train from the central areas of Bangkok. Although poor I found the people to be very tolerant and gracious to me at all times (even when they were very drunk !!!)

Bangkok 1-1-3

Back to the X10 and it’s not my intention to re-iterate a review of the camera as, given its age, its been reviewed many times by people better qualified than me. What I want to do is let you know how I found it in terms of usability for documentary style photography and I have to say that it performed better than I expected and I have grown to really like the camera. Although I mess about with and own many cameras, very few of them make it into the ‘loved’ category but this little beauty certainly has. It is one of the few cameras that I like to use with a wrist strap and it seems to fit perfectly into my hand and, as I said, I have developed a shooting workflow where I can have the lens cap off, turned it on at 35mm and be shooting extremely quickly. This is very important to me and that usability factor along with the manual control for exposure comp really makes this cam work for me.

Bangkok 1-1-12

Surprisingly for such a small sensor, the X10 handles difficult light really well and the dynamic range appears to be better than I would have imagined. I also mentioned the exposure comp dial and it works seamlessly with the rear screen to allow you to see the result of your adjustments. This isn’t unique to the X10 of course but is an extremely useful aspect of electronic screens and viewfinders. I used to use a Nikon D3 for just about everything I shot and I picked it up recently and was shocked at how stone age it felt with the DSLR mirror slap and noisy shutter.

Bangkok 1-1-9-2

I don’t use it often but, as many reviewers have pointed out, the Fuji cameras are really classy when it comes to balancing light when you use the in cam flash. Take the above shot for example which was just completely impossible without a little help form the pop up flash on the X10. I think you can see how very bright it was behind the couple but the flash dealt with it very nicely indeed.

Bangkok 1-1-2

One of the other criticisms of the X10 was of the optical viewfinder and its slightly narrow view and lack of any shooting information. For me I have found that I mainly prefer to use the screen to compose and that allows me to ‘grab’ shots like the one above where I see something that is going to change very quickly but I can lift the camera to above eye height, frame and shoot very quickly. It’s almost like using a giant rangefinder where you have complete visibility of everything around you but can frame what you want. The criticism of the VF is I think pretty fair but it’s not at all unusable and you quickly learn to trust the focus if you leave the focus point on centre and recompose so for me it’s no big deal. There is a somewhat strange effect here that I noticed in myself though and that is that I seem to adapt to the camera rather than have a totally fixed personal style. Let me try to explain, I also have and often use a Fuji X100 (another loved cam) but I very seldom use the rear screen and almost always use the viewfinder because it works so well. With the X10, whether its to do with size or whatever, I find that I use the viewfinder less and shoot maybe 75% of shots with the screen and I am entirely comfortable with this.

Bangkok 1-1-10

A final comment on the usability of the X10. Most of you will have noticed by now that I have shot all of these in a 1:1 or square crop. This is something that I struggle to be able to explain and it doesn’t always work as you lose the narrative effect that comes with 3:2 however, somehow I find that I can get nice tight expressive framing with it and I find that it defines the main subjects better for the way I have been shooting. With the X10, like many other cameras, it’s so easy to set the camera to square and compose that way on the screen safe in the knowledge that you will have a 3:2 RAW file if you get it wrong. In terms of shooting approach then, I set the camera on square, RAW + Fine jpg and the B&W film effect with a yellow filter. This wont work for everyone but it certainly produces the results that I am looking for and gives me the RAW insurance policy if I need to re-crop.

Bangkok 1-1-5

I would like to pull this together now and one of the things I hope this little article does is make people think about the ‘year old’ camera if they are thinking of changing gear. Its very clear to me that models are changing so quickly now that the previous models are just nothing short of extraordinary value. I have now seen the X10 for sale in Singapore used and in exceptional condition for S$ 350 (about US$280) and that includes the good quality fuji case that came with the camera !!! Similarly the X100 is down to S$700 (US$560) these are incredibly good if not great cameras and they can be picked up for the price of a cheap DSLR lens !!!!
Having said that, I am as prone as the next guy to marketing and my mind is already a whirl at the thought of new X20′s and X100S :) its such fun though to pay small money for a camera that can deliver great results for you. Just ignore the forum talk about image quality, lens sharpness and all of that guff, find a cam that you like to use and focus on thecontent, light and form of your shots, the results will be much more satisfying.
Bangkok 1-1-18
Well that’s about it folks. I am very pleased to return to posting and I really hope this was interesting for at least some of you. If anyone would like to see more in this style I have three free ebooks that can be downloaded from Blurb here Colin ebooks. The process is very simple, just log in (or create a free account) add the books to your cart, check out (remember its free) and Blurb will send you the link to download to Iphone or Ipad. I have found that the app looks better on the iPhone.
I have an upcoming trip booked to Sicily for the Easter festivals there and will be spending some time in Rome on the way back so I should have some more material and experiences to discuss soon.
in the meantime, safe travels and happy shooting.
Jan 232013


The M9 around the world – Part 1 – South East Asia

by Joeri van der Kloet – His site is HERE

In a previous post on Steve’s great website I talked about using the M9 for documentary weddings. Well, a few months ago I got married myself and ten days later we took a plane from The Netherlands to Hong Kong, where we would start our four months honeymoon. It took us half a year to figure out what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, but one thing was important: the journey was going to be a combination of both cultural and backcountry elements. We would start in the humid heat of South-East Asia, experience early spring in New Zealand on the Great Walks, get soaked and blown away in stormy Patagonia, see some street tango in Buenos Aires and finally get the last chance to discover Cuba, before it’s no longer Cuba.


M8 or M9?

Getting the right gear was almost as challenging as planning the trip. We had to pack a storm proof tent, warm sleeping bags, clothing that would be comfortable from -5 degrees to 40 degrees, pots and of course, a camera. A few weeks before our wedding, I sold my M8 and bought a M9P. Because I started using two camera’s simultaneously on weddings I needed something that resembled the colors and look of the M9 a bit more than the M8 did. I already knew by then that there was going to be a new M and maybe more, but still decided to go for it. I don’t regret buying the M9P at maybe the worst moment, but I do regret selling the M8, just because it is such a great camera. I particularly liked the crop factor, which made my trusted 50 just a little longer.


Gear and backup

From the very beginning I knew I was going to take both my camera’s on our journey, although it meant carrying loads of money in our bag. Doing the journey with one camera was not an option for me, because I did not want the take the risk of not being able to take any photo’s if the camera would be stolen or get broken. I’m quite realistic about the reliability of the digital M’s. It is not the same as the film M’s, simply because it has lots more electronics. Yes, it is sturdy, but the RF mechanism is also fragile. If you drop it, it will have to be realigned. Another reason to bring two cameras is the fact that my wife loves photography and is getting better with the rangefinder everyday. Finally, there’s a lot less lens changing when carrying two bodies. So this is what we took: the Leica M9 and M9P, a 35 and 50 summicron, a CV 21 color skopar and a ’69 Leica 90 tele-elmarit. We also took six batteries and loads of SD-cards. For editing and storing images we took a 13” Macbook Pro and a Lacie Rugged 500gB. We would leave the laptop and some other things if we were going on a trek to save weight. We both had our 70 litres backpack, not quite full and in the big packs we stuffed a small daypack, plus a handbag, which, in this case, were photo bags. My wife carried the Billingham Hadley small and I took the Lowepro Photorunner 100. While hiking, we’d leave our handbags and carry the camera’s in small P&S bags on our waistbelts. My wife used the Lowepro Utility Bag 100 AW and I bought the ThinkTank Speedchanger, which is part of a whole system of bags (which I don’t have). With all these bags we could carry our camera’s in a easy and safe way with us. In total our big packs were 15 kgs each, though without food for the treks. Not bad at all.

Part I: South-East Asia


We started in Hong Kong to get to know Asia in a slow and safe way. In Hong Kong you can either choose between the highly westernized Hong Kong island, or the more China like Kowloon. If you’ve never been to Asia before, this is the place to be.

Funny old camera

Staying in Hong Kong is running from the one photo opportunity to the next, at least, if you like street photography. There are must do’s in Hong Kong, but you might as well skip them and just wander around. Anticipating on cold, wet weather on the second half of our journey, I attached the original straps to the camera’s, which I regretted on the very first day. In a city like HK you just want your camera ready at hand, which means, hanging from your wrist. Now there is a second reason why you should visit HK. Some stuff is still relatively cheap! Artisan & Artist for example, is 20 to 30% cheaper than in Europe. Also, they sell stuff you can’t even find in Europe. One of the first thing we did in HK was buying a leather wrist strap and another funky leather strap made by Ciesta. In the US this brand is available, but in Europe, I never saw it. It is pretty good and costs less than half the price of A&A.



Although I always carried my camera on the wrist strap, there were a few exceptions. The outside temperature is quite high, as is the relative humidity. Most buildings have AC and Hong Kong people tend to use these machines on the ‘frostbite’ setting. Every time I went from AC to outside climate I made sure I kept my camera in the bag for a while, just to prevent condensation on the cold parts of the body and lens. It’s an easy thing to do and I never missed a shot because of it. Also, when I was not confident about our surroundings, we put our camera’s in our bags, just to prevent any unwanted attention. In general, just like on European streets, people don’t pay attention to you with your funny old camera and it was very easy to get people in candid shots. I had a few times that people saw me taking a picture and they gestured that it was OK, or not.


As already said, the best way to discover a town like Hong Kong is just to wander around. Because it was our honeymoon and not work, I never went specifically somewhere to take photo’s. I only took snapshots of things we came across. I must say: it takes some time to get used to this approach, but it also makes things easier. If you’re on the road for four months, you don’t want to be stressing about the best photographic opportunities and the best light. You just go with the flow and if the light is good, sure, take a little more pictures. Another rule I set for myself was that I would not take pictures of scenes that I also could get on a postcard. On postcards, it seems to me, you always see pictures of things as if they were placed in an ideal world. The light is perfect, there’s not a single tourist around and there is no rubbish. These pictures are the ones that people buy to hang on their walls. They seem nice, but actually start to get boring very soon. For me, a good picture tells a story. Something is happening, or something is about to happen. And that’s what documentary photography is all about. Not to show the non-existent perfect world, but to show the real world, with all its flaws and all its little stories happening around us.



Usually we used to walk around with our own camera that had either the 35 or the 50 attached. We almost never used the 21 and the 90. The 35 and 50 are, as far as I’m concerned, the lenses to go in big Asian cities. Also, during the day, we did not really swap camera’s, so I would start the day with the 35 and would do the next day with the 50, or again the 35. Not having to worry about your focal length makes it just a bit easier. All you have to do is watch things happening and if something interesting happens, frame it with the lens you’ve got.



After spending a week in Hong Kong we travelled by train through China to Hanoi, Vietnam. The journey was quite terrible. The train was dirty and we were disturbed a million times by the Chinese customs and police. Hanoi however, was love at first sight. This is Asia as it is supposed to be: colors, sounds, everything buzzing around, thousands of scooters and motorbikes, just overwhelming in every way something can be overwhelming to you. I found it hard to stay focussed and keep an eye for the interesting things, because everything around us was interesting enough. After a few hours of Hanoi we would return to our hotel, because we simply got tired of all these sounds and things to see everywhere. Like in Hong Kong, we used our handbags for the camera’s and only took a bottle of water, sunglasses and a hat with us. We swapped bags a number of times and I preferred the Billy over the Lowepro for easy access to the camera and for not looking like a camera bag. Walking for hours and hours, even with little gear, can be quite strenuous with a shoulderbag. The Hadley Small doesn’t have a padded strap, so we bought a separate padding for it, not original, but a lot cheaper, made by Tatonka. The big advantage of the Lowepro is the fact you can wear it as a hip pack as well and that is way more comfortable. Access to the bag is however less easy, since you’ll have to zip and unzip it every time you get something from the bag. My daily bag for assignments is currently the A&A ACAM 1000, which is quite expensive, but works well. It’s the only bag that features a compartment for three lenses where the size is actually right for small RF lenses. I wouldn’t use this one for traveling though, since there’s no extra space for a bottle of water and extra stuff. In the Billy, you can stuff quite a lot of extra gear between the padding and the bag.




We made a trip to the famous Ha Long Bay area, a unique landscape in the northeast of Vietnam. We booked a boat for three days, pretty cheap like almost everything in Vietnam. Here I used the 90 mm for the first time. With gorgeous rock formations in the fog, with just a little sun trying to break through, the 90 delivered the best results. My 90 is quite old, almost stone age, but man, it is sharp. It’s not expensive either; you pick one up around 300 euros. The 90 summicron has a smoother bokeh, but is a lot bigger, heavier and more expensive. From our main boat we had the chance to do a few trips in kayaks and being enthusiastic kayakkers, we got on board. The kayaks provided by our organization were not fitted with a rudder or keel, so they were extremely unstable. This was the first time I wished I had a somewhat cheaper and waterproof camera with me. The next day, when we made a longer kayak trip I didn’t take a camera with me. A shame, because we saw very nice things and off course, we didn’t tip over. There is a solution however: a German company called Ortlieb manufactures the best drybags you can find and they also include a few camera bags in their product line. If you know you’re going to encounter some serious wet conditions, it would be wise to invest in one of these. Of course, you could also put your camerabag in a drybag, but in that way, it takes forever to get your camera out.





After one more day in Hanoi we flew to Bangkok, already regretting we had to leave Vietnam. Bangkok is, as you probably know, far more westernized than Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience Asia. You just have to know where to go. Our hotel was situated in the middle of Chinatown and we had the time of our lives wandering around again. There is a route through this area, making it easier for tourists, but we just followed our instincts and ended up in beautiful narrow streets, no tourists at all, where we could see the Thai working and living. Trying not to disturb their daily lives we walked around very quietly, took only a few pictures, smiled as much as we could and everybody respected us walking around in their space. It was almost a spiritual experience, mainly because we hadn’t expected this beautiful streetlife and second because people were so incredibly friendly and were happy to give us such a close look in their lives. If you have only one or two days in Bangkok, don’t waste your time with sightseeing, just try to see some real streetlife.




The next day I got up early, because I wanted to see the monks on their daily march through the town. They walk around and collect food and other gifts that the Thai give them. After waiting a few minutes I saw a monk and I quietly followed him on his way, making sure I’d keep a respectful distance. Very soon, a local approached the monk and gave him a bowl with food. The local bowed and received a blessing from the monk. Afterwards, both went their own way. I was surprised to see no tourists at all, but figured it was still too early. I would not have wanted to miss this however. It was pretty amazing to see how the Buddhist monks are so much part of Thailands everyday life. The monks are respected by everybody, but lack the misplaced authority I often find in other religions.


Indiana Jones

We first planned on traveling to Cambodia over land, but decided to fly in, because it would save us two days and a lot of hassle and scams. Since there is just one company that flies from Bangkok to Siem Reap – our destination in Cambodia – we paid 600 euros for a one hour flight. After hearing another horror story from another traveler, we were glad we did it. Cambodia has only recently been ‘discovered’ by tourists and most only go to the famous temples of Angkor. Having only four days in this country we decided to visit the temples first and then see whether we had some time left for other things. In two days we climbed, walked and biked – we’re Dutch after all – in this magnificent area. Angkor Wat is the biggest and most famous of all temples and here you will see loads of tourists, but after biking thirty minutes there would be temples where we didn’t see a single other tourist. We really felt like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft – Tomb Raider was recorded in Angkor – and were absolutely amazed about the temples and the condition they are still in. Also, unlike Europe where everything is behind glass and fences, in Angkor you can touch almost everything. Photographically, there are loads of opportunities with structures, light, details and anything you can wish for. Here, we also used the 21mm to be able to show a bit more of the beautiful architecture. Like in all other places, nobody paid attention to our cameras.




Fisherman’s village

After traveling for almost a month in Asia, we felt one element still was missing in our itinerary: rural life. Wanting to avoid tourist traps, we booked a guided tour with a small ecotourism company to a small fisherman’s village. The boat trip to the village was quite long and wet, but when we got there, lunch was being prepared for the monks and everybody gathered around to enjoy it. We could have stayed there for a week, so much was happening. There were kids running around, gazing at those funny tourists, cats, dogs, nuns, monks, it was truly amazing. The funny thing about the village was that it is build on stelts of ten meters. Houses are relatively small, so all life happens on a few square meters, but still, everybody seemed to respect one another.


Bye bye Asia

After one month traveling, we said goodbye to South-East Asia, but we’re sure we’ll come back to explore more of this wonderful part of the world. Gearwise, I couldn’t have been happier with the M’s and the lenses we carried. I found it pretty easy to blend in and take the shots I wanted, although I stand out with my length, colour and – probably – behaviour. The fact that we could stow our camera’s and the rest of our gear in such small bags and walk around with it for a whole day only added joy to the whole trip. With 30 plus Celsius and humidities of 80% and more you don’t want to carry a heavy backpack with a DSLR. On the other hand, I saw lots of people walking around with Nikon 1′s, PEN’s, NEX and a few X100′s and X Pro 1′s. If I wouldn’t have been a professional photographer with all the benefits of buying gear and subtract it from the income tax, I sure would have used something like these small camera’s.



Our next destination will be New Zealand and we’ll be doing completely different things there. More to read in the next part.


Jan 222013


HOW TO: Wide Field Astrophotography With a Camera and Tripod

Shooting with the Sony RX1 and Olympus OM-D

By Chris Malikoff

Hi Steve, I’ve been enjoying your site now for some time. Your reviews helped me change my mind about my heavy DSLRs, and as a consequence, I’ve bought into the Micro Four Thirds system with an OM-D. I couldn’t be happier. Recently, I’ve gone and taken the plunge and bought a Sony RX1 based on your reviews as well. Perfect!

Having now dropped my Canon 5D Mark-II and 40D, I thought that my astrophotography hobby was probably over. It’s pretty-well accepted within the general astro community that if you don’t use a high-end Canon you should forget it. Astrophotography needs cameras with super-sensitive sensors that display great high ISO performance and very low noise characteristics. None of the mirror less cameras are ready, say the pundits. I say, in response, not true.

1) What We’re After

The secret of taking decent wide field photographs of our night sky is TIME, and lots of it. You need to expose your sensor to very feint light coming in through your lens’ aperture and let the sensor wells soak up as many photons as possible before writing the data out to the processor and on to your memory stick as an image. The only way to do this is by employing bulb mode and letting the camera sit there for up to tens of minutes at a time – depending on your intended object or part of the sky. Throwing a spanner in the works, unfortunately, is this little problem we have with the sky at night. It, and everything it contains, seems to revolve around us as the Earth spins underneath it on its 23 degree axis once every 24 hours. This poses a curious problem to the average photographer – how long can I expose an image for before the stars and my brighter objects, such as “emission” nebulae, start to show blurred trails in the photo instead of presenting a nice clear image? This depends on a number of factors.

2) The Problem

First: The quality of your overhead sky really matters, especially down near the horizon if you want to incorporate a foreground in your shots. By this, I mean that the more light pollution there is in your neck of the woods, and as a consequence your contrast ratio is low. This means that in city areas the night sky is so bright from light reflected off the ground due street and other lights, that you’ll have almost no stars in view let alone the lovely wisps and gaseous tendrils of something as beautiful as the Great Orion Nebula or band of the Milky Way. From a location that suffers from a brightly-lit sky, you can’t expose for long periods of time because you’ll only get a washed-out white mess as a result. The tip is to get into your car and drive away from the city – as far as you can. Typically, I use a 100 kilometre (60 mile) rule that says you should be no closer to a city than this to see an “acceptably darkish” night sky in order to obtain a decent result. The further, the better. I’m lucky here in Australia – we have a lot of room. In the southern hemisphere we also have an advantage over our northern cousins in that our position on Earth lets us look in towards the galactic centre of our Milky Way galaxy, rather than seeing out towards the thinner edge. This means that our Milky Way is generally brighter than that which you get to see in the north.

Second: The moon is your enemy. Depending on what part of its cycle it’s at, it can range from nothing at all because it’s below the horizon, a dim sliver of light to a full-blown angry ball of white light. A full moon simply paints the atmosphere in visible white light that, like the previous point, serves to wash you out. Download a moon calendar app for your mobile device or computer which can show you what nights the moon is at its lowest output – and the best is when it’s not around. This is called the “new moon”. This phase lasts for two or three days every month. You really,really need to try astrophotography on these nights to get a good result. The moon is pretty – but it kills your chances of capturing decent photos of the night sky.

Third: The Earth’s rotation. Herein lies a choice you need to make, as you can take two distinctly different types of image of the same night sky.

3) Type of Image – Your Choice

The first, and most common images taken by astrophotographers, are of star trails. All you need is a statically positioned tripod and a camera fitted with a remote release or intervalometer to give you long (one minute) exposures. Simply point the camera towards either the north or south pole, depending what hemisphere you’re in, and watch as long trails of light start to appear in your images as the Earth rotates. Bright stars literally draw circular lines of coloured light on your sensor or film as they move around your local celestial pole within frame. There is freeware available called “StarTrails” that lets you stack these one minute images together which joins the sixty-second trails together into a circular mass of lines. These are great images, but they’re not what I’m after.


I prefer to see a still set of stars that show the bright patches of iridescent gas that burns as nebulae in between. To do this, you need to be able to counter the Earth’s rotation by moving your camera’s lens around the pole at what is termed the “sidereal” rate. By mounting the camera on a device who’s rotating axis is pointed directly at your local celestial pole, and that rotates in the opposite direction to the Earth’s spin at EXACTLY the same rate, you can “hold” the night sky still. This device is known as an “equatorial” mount. Normally, a decent computerised equatorial mount will set you back many hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars. These are designed to carry a telescope payload that may or may not include a camera mounted at “prime” focus on the telescope. By using an equatorial (EQ) mount to place your camera and lens combination alone on, one can shoot the same patch of sky, literally all night, depending on the quality of the mount and how well it’s been aligned to the celestial pole in your region. There are usually, and necessarily, complex procedures involved in “polar alignment” that would take a few pages to explain. Unless your system is perfectly aligned with the pole, you will never see round stars appear in your long exposure images. Fact of life – nothing you can do except do the work.

Sony RX1 – 518 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800


4) The Equipment

OK – so I don’t have a gazillion dollars to throw at a full-blown telescope EQ mount, but still want to take photos of the night sky without any star trails in evidence. Answer – purchase a portable EQ mount designed to sit on a common tripod. There are several varieties and brands available, and these are a fairly recent addition to the astrophotographer’s tool kit. They range in price from three hundreds-odd dollars to just over a thousand if you buy all the options. The unit I chose is called the Vixen “Polarie” – made in Japan by Vixen – a long-time supplier of premium telescopes and mounts. The Polarie will set you back around the $400-500 mark, depending on where you are. Others are “AstroTrac (UK) for just a little more, and the new iOptron SkyTracker which will cost you a fair bit less. Quality differs, but they’ll all do the same thing in the end – spin your camera around your polar axis.

Vixen: http://www.vixenoptics.com/mounts/polarie.html

AstroTrac: http://www.astrotrac.com

iOptron: http://www.ioptron.com/index.cfm?select=productdetails&phid=0193c9ab-b455-4fb1-9534-ef192192a93f

Olympus OM-D on the Vixen Polarie


and the RX1…


Once you have attached your chosen device to the top of your tripod using a geared head or very solid ball mount, you need to do two things. You must point it in the right direction relative to the horizon, and then you’ll need to point it up into the sky to the right elevation so that the central rotating axis of the unit is pointing as close to either the north or south celestial pole depending where you live. In the north – you have it easy. All you need to do is find the Pole Star, Polaris. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polaris) This star is easy to find and closely marks the north celestial pole. All you need to do, with the Polarie for example, is use the sight tube built into the casing of the unit to sight this star through it. Lock your ball or geared head. Mount the camera and lens to the front of the unit on a second ball mount and point your camera to where you want to start shooting. Fire away. If you live in the south, as I do, then it’s a little more difficult. There is no star handily pointing out your local pole. You can use the optional “polar scope” to fine-tune which way you’re pointing after you use a compass (set to point to true south, not magnetic) and inclinometer (angle meter) to set the square faces of the unit in the right direction. If you’re in the south, then you have to know what your position’s latitude is, and use this to set the inclinometer so that you point high enough off the horizon to see the pole. I live in Sydney, which has a latitude of 34 degrees south. I set my inclinometer to 34 degrees and then set it against the front face of the Polarie so the it tilts back at 34 degrees. Then use the compass to point the front of the unit to true south. To do this you’ll need to know what the offset from magnetic south is for your area – it differs greatly depending on where you are. Use your smart phone and set it to show true, rather than magnetic south and it’ll work it our for you.

Olympus OM-D


OK – so we’re nearly there. You now have your EQ mount sitting on your tripod and its main axis is pointing at your local pole. You’ve mounted your camera on the rotating front ring and it’s pointed somewhere interesting in the night sky that you’d like to photograph. What next? You need to set up your camera and decide on a field of view. Tip: The shorter the focal length, the wider the image and consequently the less critical your tracking needs to be. The longer the lens, the more critical your tracking is. My ideal length falls in the range 24mm to 50mm. Any longer and it’s starting to be a world of pain. Don’t be tempted to stick a 300mm tele on, because unless you have one of those huge telescope-grade EQ mounts, you’re going to end up with fuzzy, out of round stars. There is a weight limit on these small EQ mounts of around 2.5kg (6-7lb).

Olympus OM-D – 304 Seconds – f/5.6 – ISO 400 – 24mm


5) Set up your Camera

Deep-sky wide field photos require exposure time. A few seconds simply doesn’t do it. You’ll capture a few of the brighter stars, but that’s all. You need to take exposures of two, three, five and even seven or eight minutes to get the “fluffy” stuff. Set, as a starting point, place your camera in full manual mode.

A) Focus: Set your ISO to 1600 or higher if you can. This is only temporary, and is needed to show you stars as bright as you can possibly see them in live view if you have it. Set your lens to manual focus. If you don’t have live view, set your focus to infinity as a starting point. With live view, you should be able to see these stars with your focus set to infinity. Adjust focus with live view’s zoom feature set to as close in as you can get. Canon gives you 10x, if you run an OM-D it’s 14x. You’ll see the star focus to a sharp point, with it becoming a soft disk either side of proper focus. Take it out of live view. Take a 10 second exposure. You should see sharp stars in your image.

B) Set your aperture to around f/2.8 – either via the lens or from a menu if it’s entirely electronic and fly by wire. Fast lenses are good here, as long as you don’t open them right up as you’ll start to see vignetting and/or spherical aberration creeping in. Stop it down a stop or two and just expose for longer. If you have a slower lens then don’t panic – time will fix it. I have an old f/4.5 tele that I use regularly and it works beautifully.

C) Switch on your EQ mount so that it starts moving at sidereal (star) rate – not lunar or any other rate that you may have on the dial.

C) Take a 30 second exposure. If you see round stars and no obvious trailing, then you’re good to go.

D) Now set your ISO value to around 400. Turn on ICNR (In-Camera Noise Reduction). This will help mitigate thermal noise in your image.

E) Set your exposure to 30 seconds and see what you get. If your camera can expose for longer than 30 seconds, like the OM-D at 60 seconds, try that. The OM-D’s brilliant “LiveTime” feature is phenomenal here. It will let you start exposing and you simply watch the image form on-screen in real-time. Brilliant for this job.

F) Now step up your exposures (if you don’t have LiveTime) to 60 seconds and beyond, with a cable or remote electronic intervalometer or release. I’ve managed 15 minute exposures with this setup, but you need REALLY dark skies to pull this off. Otherwise, you’ll start to get white-outs. Speaking of which, if you start to see this, simply decrease your ISO, step down the aperture another stop or two or reduct the exposure time. You’ll find a balance.

6) Final

Once you have a bunch of successive images of the same area, you can use any number of stacking programs, including Photoshop CS4 or newer, to stack them which results in better signal to noise ratio. This means that, by averaging-out the noise between stacked images, that you can push the levels of the image to increase the dynamic range – and suddenly your images will start to pop. That’s an entirely different subject for a different day.

Sony RX1 – 446 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800


Have fun – and post your images somewhere where we can all see them.


Chris Malikoff

Sydney, Australia

Oct 242012

Leica Monochrom Ongoing Review part 2.5. More thoughts on the camera, on Leica in general and many more sample shots from this unique camera. 

Part 3 is now up HERE!

It has been about a week since I have last written anything about the Monochrom. In part 2 of this ongoing review I wrote about the low light performance of the Monochrom as well as touched on the use of filters on the lens and in software while processing. In part 1 of the review I spoke about understanding the camera. Since then I have been shooting with the camera more and more and finding out that even after a few weeks of almost daily use I am not tired of seeing the gorgeous “Mono” files that come from this already “classic” tool.

I say already classic because as you all know, this is a black and white only camera body. Even if you come across a super cool scene in color, you can not shoot it in color. With the Monochrom it is all about “seeing” in Mono, something that I admit I am not 100% trained on just yet. Even so, I am having a wonderful change of pace shooting with it. It is like I have been transported back to a time without color film, color TV or color anything. Shooting this camera just feels nostalgic.

I have also been having some fun shooting with a Hoya R72 IR filter, and yes, it works giving beautiful results. Finally, I have been really enjoying seeing what Kristian Dowling has been getting with his Monochrom so read on to see a couple of IR samples as well as Kristian’s breathtaking and amazing images with this camera.

Let me get one thing stated up front..this camera is indeed overpriced. There is just no way on earth it is actually worth $8,000 US dollars to me (to you maybe). Yes, it has the gorgeous and classic Leica build and styling and the solid feel as well as the feeling you get when shooting with a classic rangefinder but it is $8000 for a body only and at this price it is in reality reserved for those with an upper end income, and I get the feeling Leica wants to keep it like this. Kind of sad that there are so many who are lusting after this but know deep in their heart they could never afford it. When you add in the cost of a lens it gets really outrageous and beyond the scope of 90% of shooters.

But this is Leica my friends and it is who they have been for many years and they show no sign of changing their ways though the new M is actually reasonably priced IMO for a full featured Leica M, and that is one camera that I am very excited about because if Leica nailed the IQ and usability then for some it will be the last M they may ever buy. For others that camera was the M9 and for some it was the M3, M6, M7 or MP. I am not sure that the Monochrom is the last M anyone would buy just due to the limitations of shooting only in Monochrom. Then again a Monochrom and something like a NEX-6, OM-D or Fuji X-E1 would be a good combo as well if you do not want to break the bank.

Back to Leica. Over the past few years Leica has changed a bit. I have seen them go from a small struggling company who were making many bad choices in the digital age, even bordering in bankruptcy at one point, to a company enjoying huge success and growth. They went through many digital growing pains and if it were not for the M9, Leica would not be where they are today. The M9 was THE camera..it was their golden ticket. This camera, the “golden child” M9, changed the whole world of photography because it attracted so many new Rangefinder users, and this was good. The M9P that was released as a “new” old camera did not even come close to selling in the numbers that the M9 did, and this could be an issue for Leica. With so many happy M9 users how many will jump to this Monochrom or the new M? The new M could sell less than the M9 or blow it out of the water sales wise depending on user reports and experiences.

With the M9, It did not matter if you were a pro or hobbyist, the reason for shooting these cameras was clearly for the passion, the fun, the excitement and the pride you got from using such a precision and well made tool. It also happened to deliver the most gorgeous and unique image quality of any camera at the time  when you used  the right Leica lens. Lenses like the 50 Summilux ASPH, 35 Summilux and 90 Summicron. The Noctilux and even the classic 50 Summitar. Yes, it was expensive but it was more versatile than the Monochrom because it shot color or B&W. So many stretched their budgets to buy one, and many fell in love with the camera just as I did.

Leica came back in a big way in 2009 and I am a VERY humble guy but this time have to admit that my blog..THIS blog.. was at the forefront of the M9 rush. It was my favorite camera ever and it stayed by my side day after day. My M9 review has had over 3 million views and I have had THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of e-mails over the past three years from those who have bought M9′s just due to my review and were sharing their story with me. I have heard heart warming stories as well as horror stories. Many Leica users flock here due to the my love of Leica and the images and stories shared by the many who submit their images. But I am the first to admit there are many cameras that can shoot beautiful photos and no one “needs” a Leica to do so. No..we do not need a Leica M, but many of use get so much pleasure from using one that in many ways, for some of us, it enriches our lives.

A bold statement for sure but it is true. I have met so many of you at workshops, events and all over the world and the one thing I see is consistent. There is a passion in those who shoot Leica that I just have not seen as much with other brands. Even though we can make gorgeous images with ANY camera, there is just something about a Leica that gets our hearts beating. A Leica may not be any better at preserving those precious memories than other cameras but to those who own one, it gives us something..something we may not be able to put our finger on exactly but it has some MOJO that other cameras can not match.

I admit to being in this group which is probably why I also am in love with the Monochrom even though I can get great results with any camera shooting B&W. So, is there a real difference between cameras when shooting in Monochom or converting color to B&W? That is what everyone wants to know, including me. Shooting a NEX-7 or OM-D can give you fantastic results but for those who have that love and passion and desire to shoot Leica it does not matter as shooting other cameras is nothing like shooting an M. So what is the point of  doing such comparisons? Well, there will always be those who hate on Leica and those who hate on cameras that are NOT Leica. There is always a debate in life no matter what the topic of discussion which is always good to have. After shooting other cameras with the Mono I have no doubt that anyone could get an award winning B&W shot with just about any camera out today, but I will compare them so you can see what the Monochrom offers over the others as everything is not as black and white as it seems. But this will be in PART 3 next week :)

If you have not yet read part one and part two of this ongoing Monochrom review then you should :) This is officially “part 2.5″ because part three was supposed to be the comparisons. I am not finished with those just yet so I added this in as an in between review post. After a while with this camera I am seriously enjoying it because it does have some serious charm. In past installments I spoke about how you can get any look you desire from this camera. Contrasty, flat, or however you like it. I also went around the internet and looked up over a thousand film images and after seeing some of the work from Kristian Dowling and his Monochrom I concluded that yes indeed, for me, this camera can easily and does easily take the place of any 35mm film. I will have those yelling at me over that statement but look at the key words..”for me”..it is what it is and nothing will change my mind. 

Would I rather save $6500 and buy an M6 and hundreds of rolls of film? Me? No because that would limit me to whatever ASA is in my camera. It would limit me to 36 images per roll. It would cost me quite a bit of cash to have all of those processed and scanned. If I scanned myself I would have to spend money on a very good scanner and spend hours per roll scanning. Then they would need to be tweaked anyway. For what I shoot and my style I just do not have  the desire to go through all of that again. Film has a special place, and I enjoy it every now and then but with this Monochrom available and in my hands I just would not go back to film except to shoot the occasional roll here and there.

A Quick Sneak Peek – Leica Monochrom vs Leica M9 at ISO 320 – Click for full 100% crop. OOC results are scary similar but noise is where it is at. THIS IS NOT FOR SHARPNESS! This was hand held, indoor low light. This is to show tonality and ISO at 320. ISO at 320 on the M9 = ISO 2000 on the MM. 


Infrared with the Hoya R72 FIlter

Infrared photography is something I have always been interested in but never really tried it when shooting film. I experimented with it years ago with a Sony F707 digital camera and again with a Minolta Dimage 7 but was never happy with my results. So why not try it again? Not all cameras can shoot IR and many photographers end up converting their digital cameras so that can shoot like this.

Many have told me that you can not shoot IR with the Monochrom but I had to try. I bought a couple of IR filters and the one that gets me the results is the Hoya R72. I bought one to fit my 35 Lux FLE and gave it a shot. One thing to remember when shooting with these filters is that if you focus normally with your Monochrom your image will be severely back focused. It is a hit or miss and you will also need a tripod. The key is to focus a few feet in front of your subject. I have not shot too much with this filter yet but hope to do more soon.

Greens to white :)

So the Monochrom is basically a camera that will appeal to a select few. A few who have the funds to sink into it as well as the hardcore dedicated B&W shooters who salivate at the thought of a B&W only camera that allows them to concentrate on their vision more than anything else.

Part 3 will be up really soon with comparisons between the M9, OM-D, NEX, etc. The Mono with straight RAW files and the others with converted color files. The M9 is easily capable to shoot B&W but the main #1 difference between the M9 and Mono is the noise levels. ISO 320 on the M9 looks like ISO 2000 on the Mono. This opens up possibilities for night shooting but how will the new M be with noise? With ISO 6400 capability the new M may be really good at 3200 but the Mono goes up to 10,000 and is usable at that speed.

Those who are interested in the Mono just need to know it is a back to basics as  you can get.


Some amazing Monochrom imagery by Kristian Dowling

Kristian and I have been chatting through e-mail for quite a while now and after he wrote the article about the Noctilux I was blown away with what he could do with an M. Just so happens he was out shooting the Monochrom as well and he has allowed me to share some of his images here. I am so itching to go take a trip with my Mono soon but Kristian is one of those photographers I respect, admire and hope to be as good as someday. You can check out his website HERE. These shots below are all MASTERFUL photographs.

Sep 102012

My 500 Mile, 38 Day Walk Across Spain with my Fuji X100 by Michael Fratino

Hello Steve,

Thanks for your great site and your real world reviews. Last March I embarked upon my 500-mile walk from St. Jean Pied de Port in France up over the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago Spain on the northwestern corner of Spain. This walk is known as the Camino de Santiago and has been traversed for over 1000 years by people from every walk of life. Last year Emilio Estevez made a movie (The Way) starring his father Martin Sheen describing this journey.

Since weight and space were my biggest concerns, I had to triple think everything I packed. I knew I wanted to take a camera but the idea of a P&S was out of the question and a DSLR was going to be too big and bulky. Last year I purchased the Fuji X100 when it debuted but was so disappointed with it that I sold it.

Fast forward one year and I began to look at the X100 again because of your posts on how Fuji corrected some of the issues with major firmware updates. I knew this was the camera I had to take because of its solid metal design, worked miracles in low-light situations, had mechanical old-school dials, had only one fixed lens and most important… it was quiet and discrete.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed. The camera handled itself almost perfect. The design of the camera is so robust that it survived wind, rain, mud, snow, hail and the rigors of it being used on a continuous basis. So much so that the emblems on the back of the camera wore off. I even dropped the camera a couple of times and it didn’t even dent the metal housing.

I only had two complaints about the camera. The first was and still is battery life. It is so poor that even carrying an extra battery sometimes didn’t even work out right. I had to make sure that wherever I stayed for a night that I was near an electrical outlet and that didn’t always happen (thank God for my iPhone!)

The other complaint is not really even one. For being so small and discrete, the camera drew so much attention from everyone I was around. Many of the Germans I met along the way thought I was carrying a Leica, others thought I was shooting film. Many wanted to just pick it up and shoot a few frames with it. One Japanese fellow was so taken with it that he made copious notes about it so he could purchase one when he returned to Japan. Almost everyone was blown away by the hybrid viewfinder, the ability to shoot in low-light and how silent it was.

For this walk, I carried everything on my back and stopped only for food, drink and a place to sleep. This walk took me 38 days through some of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen. But the walk was only half of it. The people I met along this path from every walk of life were just incredible. I took over 2500 pictures. At first I concentrated on the scenery but after a week or so I realized for me that this journey was about the people who embark upon it for all kinds of reasons. So, I decided to take portraits of some of the people who had some type of effect on me.

While the lens is not necessarily geared towards portraits, I had no problem using it for this purpose. I can’t even begin to tell you how liberating it was to have only one lens. It seriously makes you think about your subject and creative ways around any type of situation.

Attached, please find some of these portraits. I hope you like them and if you have any questions for me, please free to email me. On the technical side, I shot all images jpegs. I used to Photoshop to resize, correct brightness / contrast and to add vignettes. There is no retouching done to any of the images.


Michael Fratino

May 172012

To celebrate the release of the new Olympus OM-D I thought I’d take everyone for a trip down memory lane with a selection of snaps from my precious Olympus OM2n with the Zuiko MC 50mm f1.8 lens For those who haven’t had the pleasure of handling the OM2n, it’s a gem of a camera.

The OM philosophy was (and now is again) (in my own words) to create a high quality, beautifully engineered, precision photographic instrument with sharp quality optics in a compact size. The OM2n is certainly that.

The OM2n runs on a small watch type battery which lasts for years – this powers the (fairly accurate) meter and enables Aperture Priority operation, It’s widely available and isn’t one of the more sought out versions of the single digit OM series,That honour lies with the OM3Ti which is a fully mechanical camera and as rare as hens teeth!

The most advanced version is the OM4 and OM4Ti, these feature a revolutionary multi spot metering system which was and is highly regarded.

What I love about this camera is the fact that it looks superb and feels superb, strolling around the streets of London with it in my hand and around my neck, winding the film crank, and hearing the satisfying trip of the shutter, it attracts a lot of attention, it oozes class and sophistication, something Leicaman thinks is exclusive to him, but us Olympians know better!

The optics are also readily available, check out http://www.ffordes.co.uk who are brilliant when it comes to used camera equipment at bargain prices. I just love the Zuiko lenses, they’re small, compact, beautifully made and are a joy to use and focus smoothly, and most importantly produce crisp, contrasty pin sharp results (if you have decent eye sight as they’re all manual focus).

Well, if you’re used to Auto focussed fast DSLR’s with tunnel like viewfinders, or Micro 4/3rds compacts, or even Range Finders with quirky focussing – you’ll be surprised and pleased with using and playing with the OM series, with the HUGE bright View Finder (the only 35mm sized camera I’ve ever seen or used with a larger brighter Finder than this huge one on the OM is the peerless VF on the Contax Aria) the SLR design, and i’m going to get a LOT of flak for this, is better than a Range Finder design for making photographs and visualising – as you see what the lens see’s! (my personal opinions, so feel free to disagree).

For those purchasing the OM-D who have never used a classic OM – they’re affordable and worth investing in! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the beauty and bright view finder, and for those complaining that Micro 4/3 cannot get you the shallow depth of field an APS-C or full Frame gives you, well, the 35mm Film is larger than either, so you’ll get as much shallow depth as you like!

Anyway, is the OM series worth getting in this day and age? Yes it is, as for the price of a cheap digital compact you can possess a beautifully made SLR with tack sharp lenses, which will serve you for many decades to come.

Anubis, the British Museum, OM2n 50mm @f1.8. Fuji Neopan 400.


Kid at the Beach, OM2n 50mm f1.8  Agfa Precisa 100


Coffee Break. Fuji Neopan 400 50mm Zuiko f1.8


Kids At the Beach, 50mm f1.8 Agfa Precisa 100


My Nephew Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Fuji Neopan 400


Street vendor and Donkey in a Sarai Alamgir slum, Punjab, 2009. (this is either the 28mm or 50mm) Agfa Precisa 100 followed by a village girl 50mm Zuiko f1.8 Agfa Precisa


Three is Company. Sheep under the full moon at dusk, Brecon Beacons. Kodak tri X 400, hand held. 50mm Zuiko f1.8 (cropped)

Mar 262012
Taking the Leica M9 Off the Streets and into the Wild by Louis Stevenson
Since sharing my experience with the M9 on the Overland Track in Tasmania, I was eager to take it out once again on an expedition, not only to gain confidence using a crazy expensive camera outdoors, but also to feed my soul with what I call “phototherapy”. You know what I mean, just holding your fave cam to your eye, composing, focusing and… Release! The world is beautiful again.
Destination:  Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, Malaysia. This time I was pushing it. A friend called me insane. Another said, that was the last of it. Because I was trekking upriver where 70% of the track was wet and one slip would cause a heart attack not even a heart surgeon could survive.
Weapon of Choice: Leica M9 + 35mm Summicron Asph. Wait the Cron?? Could have just brought the CV 35mm 1.4 or even the 28mm Ultrons since it proved mighty well in Tasmania. And its 5 times less expensive. Screw it, might as well go all the way! And as usual, the Panasonic FT3 waterproof cam for all-purpose shots. Read on to find out if the M9 made it out…
The terrain is uneven and slippery, with loose rocks covered with algae strewn all over the stream. They are not dangerous, but considering that I was carrying precious cargo, I was pretty nervous. 
Some areas, the water level could reach up to waist level with slippery loose rocks underneath. The slightest dip would be devastating! 
Sometimes a picture may seem mundane at first. But before you move on to the next one, try converting it to B+W, instant revival! This turned out to be my fave. 
I opted for the 35mm over the wider 28mm because the sceneries were mostly flanked by forests. Not so much vast landscape to capture. 
There’s some pretty cool climbing involved. Not difficult but can be dangerous due to slippery rocks. Always had a firm footing before whipping out the M9!
As for the Cron, I love the crisp and bright images that came out. I’m glad I made the choice to go ahead with the Cron. 
So did the M9 made it out unscathed? Or fell victim to every non-weather sealed camera’s worst arch nemesis: water. Safe to say that there were no fatalities, In fact, not a single scratch! Here are some precautions I took to ensure a dry and happy M9. Its all common sense really.
Wrist Strap. This turned out to be safer option than a neck strap since the M9 was kept in the cam bag when not in use. Carrying the M9 on your neck exposes it to water spray, bumps and tangles.
Cam Bag. Leave your Billinghams at home! I used the Lowe Pro Apex 120 Aw sling bag which was actually more than enough to fit both the M9 and FT3. I would recommend something smaller, but it did work well for me. Slung it high and close to my body for passing through waist level water.
Leather Case. The Ciesta case which comes with grip was essential. Without it, the M9 could easily slip off my hands.
Usage. 3 Golden Rules:
1. Keep it! I kept it even if it means taking 3 steps to another shooting position across water.
2. Strap on! Secured it to my wrist before lifting it out of the cam bag!
3. Stop and shoot!
So here it is, my experience of taking the M9 off the streets and into the wild. The only gripe I had was that it did not have a flash for taking shots at night when we camped over. Yes, sometimes I secretly wish there was an in-built flash on the M9 which most purists might deem an unholy thought. Nonetheless, the M9 is a good digital full frame option for such treks, and I dream that Leica would introduce weather sealing into the M10, better ISO, and in-built flash. =)
And as always, thanks to Steve, for this great site!
More pictures available:
My other Outdoor experience with the M9:
Mar 012012

Travel + Your Camera = Living

By Scotty Graham

Steve has had a great deal of travel articles on his site lately, so thought one more wouldn’t hurt. This is not a review of the Leica M9…just a fun article about my last trip to China during Christmas and New Years (with my M9 and family)…

Life is short. I know this, and you know it too. 2002 was TEN years ago!! Ten years!! Remember that song, “Time” by Pink Floyd? The words of that song have stuck in my head since my college days…


…And then one day you find ten years have got behind you

No one told you when to run you missed the starting gun

And you run and run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again…


There is nothing like travel to rid one’s “missing the starting gun”. If you haven’t done so yet this year, plan a trip. It doesn’t have to be a trip to a new country or to the other side of the world…it could be a weekend trip to the mountains or ocean, or a trip to a neighboring city to visit friends/family or just a day trip to a park…but plan one, and BRING YOUR CAMERA. Even planning a trip can be liberating. As they say on the Nat Geo Adventure channel, “GET LOST”…get adventurous and have a story to tell when you get back. That is living. If you do this often, the sun slows down and you won’t always be trying to catch up with it.


Travel + My Leica M9 + Family/Friends = A Ton of Fun = Living Life to the Fullest

I wanted to end 2011 with a trip somewhere, and I wanted to start 2012 on a trip. My destination choice was China…Yangshuo, China…located in the South of China. Good and bad choice. Good because it was low season, few tourists, relatively cheap, easy to get to (I live in Indonesia), and a great place for photography…bad because the weather completely sucked. It was cold and drizzly the entire time we were there…we didn’t see the sun for 10 days.

Photographically speaking, I was bummed (at first). Where was the sun? I knew it would be cold, but nowhere in my research on the net did I read it would be so hazy, drizzly and foggy. However, I am an optimist…I still went out everyday with my camera on long walks, and even managed to get seriously lost on a couple of occasions.

None of the photos below are HDR…hehe…Surprised?…AND no Photoshop was used. I did use Lightroom, and I used Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to create the black n whites.

Side Note: One of the things that drives me crazy with the M9, and I should have mentioned this in my last article I wrote about the M9, is how dirty the CCD gets, and how easily it gets dirty. My most used tool in LR is the spot removing tool, and now you know why.

If you go to this part of China, take the cruise down the Li River from Guilin toYangshuo. Well worth the money!! Incredible scenery, and I mean incredible! Unfortunately for us, we could barely see the “karst” peaks as they were shrouded in clouds all day…BUT, the clouds did make for some “mystical” photographs. I was told the best time of year to come to Yangshuo is between May and October. I am sure the place looks totally different in the Spring…will have to go back, I guess.

My daughter, Kayla, bored with all the rain…


Need a hotel recommendation? We couldn’t have been happier with our choice,  The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. It was located outside of the main town of Yangshuowhich meant taking a taxi into town, but it was so nice being out in the country. The scenery outside of our hotel was unbelievable, and the best part is you could walk out of the hotel and onto hiking trails to explore the countryside away from the tourists.

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The view from the front of our hotel


The charming little town of Yangshuo was just a 10 minute taxi drive away… lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Since the weather was so bad, the town was quiet. However, on Friday and Saturday night, the streets were packed with Chinese tourists…we saw very few foreigners…they were smart, I guess, and knew to come back in May.


Where are the customers?

Inside Lucy’s Cafe

Hard core shoppers only (like my wife)


The best part of the trip, for me, was getting out every day for long walks in the small villages near our hotel. Some of the buildings in the villages dated back to the early 1600’s. I had a photo walk every day, and it’s those walks that really make me feelalive…meeting the locals and seeing how the Chinese live their daily lives in rural China…great stuff!!



Taking photos of people in China is not easy. Here in Indonesia, people LOVE to have their photo taken, and they ask you to take their photo when you are walking around. In China, most people, especially the older people, don’t like to have their photo taken. I always asked before snapping shots of people, and most of the time, I got a nice smile, but a wave telling me, “no photo, please”…so, I would just move on. After a while, I just gave up and concentrated on the landscape and buildings…the three shots below were practically the only “people” shots I got the entire trip (except for photos of my family)…


a typical scene on the streets…men playing cards

this guy just happened to walk out the door when I was taking a photo of the wall and door.

This old guy guided me through a very old building in a remote village…I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he was very animated and proud to show me around. He reluctantly posed for me after I asked for a photo.

One thing I noticed quite often were photos and posters of Mao hanging in homes in the small villages I visited. I found that interesting and intriguing.


I would love to end this little article with a nice sunset photo, but…uh…no sun…so, here is one last shot of the incredible landscape of Yangshuo.



Hey, thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you all have a wonderful 2012!! Take a trip…or two…or more this year, and of course, bring your camera. Live 2012 to the fullest cause before you know it, it will be 2022.

Scotty is an expat Photography Teacher living in Jakarta, Indonesia for the past 17 years. You can follow him on Google+ or his photoblog at http://scottygraham.blogspot.com.

Scotty can be reached at [email protected]

Feb 132012

How cool is this? A 6X4 foot negative from a 35 ft long camera!

Wow, if I owned this I would be traveling the country with it and shoot portraits in every state I traveled through. It seems that is the plan for this amazing device as it will be going on a 20,000 mile journey doing just that. Pretty cool. Below in the video you will see a rendering of this “Eye of America” which is currently being used by a Mr. Dennis Manarchy who shoots still that he exhibits at about two stories tall. Many of you may have already seen this but for those who have not, take a look below!

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