Apr 022013
 

More Leica in Asia photos by George Sutton

I recently had an opportunity to travel to Myanmar. It is just opening to tourists after being essentially closed since WWII. The military has governed (using that term charitably) most of that time repressing all opposition and otherwise living apart from the general population and controlling all the wealth. The rest of the nation mostly lives as it always has. Today it is one of the most impoverished nations in Asia but that only means a lack of material wealth, not the kind of desperate living on the street and scavenging in garbage dumps for things to eat and wear found in other places. We didn’t see beggars or people crushed by poverty. It is a fully intact society frozen in time in one of the richest Buddhist cultures anywhere (rich in a spiritual, not material sense). For now, taking a tour is unavoidable. The food is excellent but you have to know which restaurants to pick. Paying for anything is very difficult because credit cards are not accepted and US currency can only be exchanged for the local money at some places and they only take crisp new unwrinkled dollars. There are excellent hotels but getting a room can be difficult.

This was a photo tour led by a guy (Karl Grobl) who specializes in photographing Asian people particularly in remote areas or places affected by a disaster. He mostly works for humanitarian organizations but leads a few photo tours to fill his schedule. His style of shooting is interesting. He shoots hundreds of photos then sends them via the internet to clients who select shots to use and do all the post processing. It works best to shoot jpegs. Limited internet access and bandwidth makes it impractical to send raw files. He carries two DSLRs, one with a zoom telephoto and the other with a wide-angle zoom. He clips these cameras on each side of a belt designed to carry cameras. That enables him to quickly grab either camera and get a shot of any scene he may encounter. He currently shoots Nikon D3s because of its high ISO quality and ability to get a rapid sequence of shots. He has adjusted the camera to get the saturation, contrast and sharpening he wants in the jpeg then sends the batch as it comes out of the camera at the end of each day or as soon as he reaches a place with internet access.

I took a DSLR but shot raw. I also took a Leica M9 mostly to try it out and to see if it would work better in some places like walking around a city or village. It worked great in those situations. The DSLR was indispensable in many other places like inside dark temples, when a very wide or long lens was needed, or in rainy weather. I first tried the Leica in a market where I figured it would not be a big loss if the shots were not as good as the DSLR and ended up with some of my favorite shots of the trip. Some of those shots follow.

The first is of a lady who spends hours every day sitting before a statue of Buddha in a monastery. Buddhists don’t worship Buddha. They practice good karma because that is what enables them to live a better life in the next reincarnation and with enough good karma one can escape the cycle of birth and rebirth. They revere Buddha for teaching that and revering him is itself good karma.

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The next shot is of men making the alms bowls that monks carry to collect food. Lacking automation, these guys take lids cut from the top of used oil drums and beat them in the bowl shape with hammers. This is literally the main shop of the biggest bowl maker in Myanmar. Once the bowl is pounded out it is painted with a thick lacquer and fitted with a lid and handle made from bamboo.

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The next shots are scenes from a typical city marketplace. The old guy has just finished his morning soup and is enjoying a cigar watching a soap opera.

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The guy on the large tricycle is a typical delivery man. These are the equivalent of a delivery van in a modern city.

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The girl was probably on her way to school. The decoration on her face is a kind of wood dust made into a paste. For her it is makeup but for most people it is a kind of sunburn protection.

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The last shot shows a kind of truck used for just about everything outside the cities. I was told it is made in China. These haul people or other loads. The bed can operate like a small dump truck. This one is delivering people to a monastery in a small town in the center of the country.

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I hope you like them.

George

Jan 232013
 

titlem9world

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Postcards

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.

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Easier

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.

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Buzzing

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.

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Drybag

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.

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Streetlife

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.

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Monks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

May 032012
 

On the road with the Olympus OM-D

by Colin Steel – See his blog HERE

China, Part 1

Hey fellow photo travelers and camera addicts, welcome to the first of a three-part set of posts on my first trip to the Fujian coast of Southern China. This first post has two distinct themes; firstly, it focuses on my experiences on the road with the Olympus OMD, which has been very interesting, and secondly I am going to have a look at shooting pattern which is the primary reason to visit this part of China. I have had the OMD for two weeks now but this was the first chance I have had to travel with it to get to know it better in some diverse shooting situations. In some ways this was the perfect trip to try it out on as it poured of rain every day except the first and I got a chance to use it with a variety of lenses from my fave 14mm f2.5 to the 45-200 mm zoom. I also took along the new Sigma 30mm f2.8 and have a few shots and some thoughts on it as a newcomer to the M43 range.

Fujian and Pattern

The Fujian coastline is famous for its shellfish, fishing and seaweed harvesting, and all along the coast there are intricate layouts of channels and bamboo poles along the beaches and estuaries. It’s these channels, sandbanks and poles that create the much sought after patterns and all it takes is the right vantage point, some half decent light and you have hours of interesting shooting on your hands. This leads me to my first observation on the OMD and that is that I found battery life not to be so great in extended use and I reckon it would take two to three batteries to get me through a full day of travel shooting. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to source spares in time for this trip so had to stop shooting on a few occasions when the juice ran out. I don’t see the OMD as any worse than similar cameras in this class but I did use the rear screen more than I thought and had several dawn to dusk days of shooting. Just pointing this out and I will be better prepared next time. As ever on a trip like this its always wise to have a back-up, particularly if you are using a small cam system like M43 and I took along a G3 and also a little Fuji F600 P&S.

Like many coastal areas, the weather in Fujian can be unpredictable and unfortunately for most of the trip we got caught in some really wet, misty weather. This is far from a show-stopper though, it just creates a different shooting environment and you have to get on with it. I think the second shot above is a very good example of this where the misty light forced a hi-key look and I think it worked rather well.

Before we look at how the OMD and M43 lenses worked in this environment a quick word about shooting these patterns from a technique and style perspective. Photography is hugely popular in China and there is a kind of style that is expected when shooting these scenes. For example, to the Chinese mind the landscape and nature should be large and any humans small by comparison. The conventional idea is to shoot down from on high, frame your subject entering from the bottom left and work to get the pattern interesting through either using the poles, sandbanks or waves. As I have written before in a previous blog, I think these location cliche shots are incredibly important but you should try to put your own unique take on it whether that be by varying the rules a little or using the light differently. Because of the poor weather I was forced to use a high key look and its worth mentioning here that its very easy to underexpose these so keep the exposures up to the right and don’t be afraid to use a stop or more of positive compensation. On the shooting technique for these I didn’t use a tripod but instead used the pistol grip I showed in the last post and this gave me an incredibly stable hold on the OMD which was mounted with the Lumix 45-200mm. I found this to be a really neat, stable shooting set-up for this kind of landscape photography and can highly recommend it. All you have to do is remember to switch off the Lumix stabilization on the lens and let the OMD’s marvelous in-camera stabilization do its stuff. It goes without saying that you should try to stay at sensible shutter speeds for what is a pretty healthy 400mm equivalent max zoom but I had few problems at 1/250 and lower if I was careful. I can’t recommend this set up highly enough, the zoom is a cracker and I enjoyed watching my travel companions lug there pro bodies, 70-200′s and tripods up to the vantage points while I had the tough little OMD and the small M43 lenses to carry :)

Here is the OMD looking rather splendid with the pistol grip and my favorite lens the 14mm F2.5 Lumix. This shot was taken with the Lumix G3 and Sigma 30mm which I took as a back-up camera and I have to say that I found its overall performance to be not in the same league as the OMD, but more on that comparison in the next post. The Sigma lens is an ok performer and pretty sharp but I didn’t find it as useful overall as I thought it would be. At f2.8 it sits a bit uncomfortably between the much more able 20mm F1.7 and lovely 45mm F1.8 Olympus.

Going back to technique for a moment, it’s also desirable to make sure your subject doesn’t overlap the darker background areas and try to show the full reflection if possible, just good compositional basics. Incidentally, I managed to download the new Adobe Lightroom4-1 beta release which has the OMD RAW converter so I had a go at the RAW files and I have to say they looked good and stood up well to the Hi-key work although the sunset shot above didn’t need so much because the light was the best we had on the trip and I set the OMD to shade white balance for that nice glow. Here’s a slightly different angle so that you can get a better idea of the overall scene from the vantage point.

One thing to watch out for when shooting late in the day is to milk the scene to its last as just when the light was going I thought the shooting was over but I noticed the fisherman going to spread the nets and managed to get a nice pattern as he moved into the arrangement. This is pretty low light stuff at a long zoom and the OMD 45-200 combo handled it with ease.

Returning to the flat, diffuse light issue for a moment, I see a lot of comments about M43 that criticizes the lack of DoF. I have to say that I am totally bemused by this and have found that I have ‘lost’ more shots (creatively) through having too little DoF than too much. I have many shots taken with my D3 and 50 f1.4 where I have nailed the closest eye but don’t like how quickly the focus falls off on the rest of the subject. Narrow DoF is without doubt a useful technique but I find that for travel use in particular there is more advantage in the M43 sensors DoF range, so far from being a drawback, and in this lower light, it is without doubt a very distinct benefit.

In any case the shallow DoF is there anyway if your technique is right as this G3 shot with the Sigma 30mm at f 2.8 shows. This isn’t even that fast a lens but any more shallow DoF and the photo would have completely lost its sense.

I don’t want to labour the DoF topic too much, but it is my personal view that this is simply not an issue with the OMD, a good lens and decent compositional technique will give you shallow DoF if you desire it for creative effect.

Shooting Vertical

I noticed that my travel companions didn’t shoot vertically very often and it was evident in many of the local images that I looked at that horizontal view was predominant. I think you have to be careful when shooting these natural patterns that you don’t get stuck in the conventional horizontal landscape view as many of the more interesting patterns actually emerge in the vertical. As always, it’s simply good camera craft to change your angle and view frequently and I developed a reverse shooting technique for vertical shooting with the OMD and pistol grip. I found that by holding the pistol grip in my right hand I could get a very solid hold and trip the shutter button with my left index finger. It sounds a bit awkward but if you are using a pistol grip give it a try to see if it works for you.

 

I personally really like this compressed vertical look that you get when using very long telephotos. It seems to look more elegant and interesting to my eye. You can compare these two vertical shots with the ones from the same scenes in shots two and three for contrast. I don’t think either view is better but I do think they are nice variations.

Finally on the subject of view and framing, don’t forget to try a different crop if it fits the subject, sometimes a 16×9 crop will enhance a scene for example.

Oh, and its also worth trying some variation on the editing technique, this is very de-saturated but somehow I like it.

 

Pattern is Everywhere

Since we are on the theme of shooting pattern, it’s not only during the location shooting that you need to be aware and its worth keeping a camera with you always on these trips. This is a real benefit of the OMD, its small, discrete, fast and easy to work with in use. The only real issues I had with it were a couple of physical niggles and I will summarize those at the end. I saw the following shot while we were waiting for our driver and caught the subject passing through the shadow pattern.

I really like this kind of shot and in many ways find this more interesting than the vantage point formula takes. Incidentally, if you are using the Lightroom release I mentioned, it doesn’t complete the conversion to allow the use of plug-ins so I couldn’t get this shot out to Silvereffex pro where I think it would have looked great. I ended up using a Lightroom plug in downloaded free and it gives a rather nice de-saturated look. I liked the scene so much that I had our driver take a portrait of me which is intended to reflect my frustration with the Chinese internet censorship that prevented me from getting to my own blog or any of the other photo blogs that give me my daily fix :)

Anyway, the OMD handled all of the contrasty scenes I threw at it with aplomb and there is no doubt in my mind that the sensor is a cut above the G3, it handles higher ISO better to my eyes and the RAW files seem to have more to them. There is no science to this from me but if you want to look at the detailed testing then I guess the DP Review one will satisfy you, personally I think it might be better to try one yourself or wait for more ‘real world’ takes from Steve and others who are more interested in how the camera works in use.

OMD For Travel Summary

Lets cut to the chase, this is an absolutely outstanding travel camera, it’s weatherproofing and sealing makes it ideal for the beach, rain and humid mist that is often encountered in Asian travel situations. It is very versatile and when coupled with the excellent Lumix and Olympus lenses can cover off everything from environmental portraiture to the long-range pattern shots shown in this post. I just love the above portrait of Mr Zhang Han Zhong, who is chairman of the Hui An photographic Society and an extremely nice guy.

The OMD is also very robust and well put together, the only minor niggles I have were picked up by Robin Wong and others in early use and relate to the misting up of the EVF in damp conditions. I don’t really see that there is much Olympus could do about this and don’t consider it a design flaw as such, just try to keep water off it if you can and when it goes you obviously have to default to the rear screen. I found it helped to use a ziplock bag which I had to use in the rain as I didn’t have the weather-sealed kit lens. It also clears pretty quickly when it gets dry. On the subject of the viewfinder, be very careful with the rubber eyecup which comes loose easily and I nearly lost it a few times. I might pop a tiny spot of glue on the corner to hold it. I also took a S$7 small 7eleven umbrella with me and the OMD handles so well that I was able to hold the brolly against my shoulder and shoot at the same time. Take a white one and it can double as a diffuser or you can even shoot a flash into or through it.

I mentioned the battery life previously and it also takes a long time to charge the battery so I fully intend to get three as soon as they are available, just be aware of this if you are intending to travel with one.

Fujian Locations

In case you are thinking of making this kind of trip, the beaches shown are at Xiao Hao, Dong Bi, Sa Jiang and Qu Di. The trip I went on was with an old friend Vicky Yeow who runs her own photo travel company vickyphotographyworkshops and I can highly recommend her. Unless you are very familiar with the area you will never find the proper vantage points or interesting shooting sites, and its also critical to go at the right time for tides and so on. On the equipment front, a long zoom is essential and you may want to consider a tripod although I found my pistol grip set up and the superb stabilization in the OMD was just fine. I would suggest that the OMD Lumix 14 & 20 primes along with the 45-200 zoom and Olympus 45 make a state of the art travel set up that can take on anything.

 

Well that’s about it for this first post folks, I will be covering off more people orientated shots at different locations including the fascinating ‘Earth buildings’ in the upcoming posts and will also look more closely at the Sigma lens and some shots from the G3.

I feel I have been a bit lightweight on discussing the OMD here but I think that is simply down to the fact that it is such a good travel camera that there is really nothing to comment on other than how well it does the job when coupled with the right lenses.

I hope the somewhat unusual shooting of the pattern scenes with it have been of some interest and as ever I look forward to any comments or questions that you may have.

Until next time, safe traveling.

Colin

You can order the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at B&H Photo HERE

Feb 032011
 

Capturing Beauty in Asia with the Leica M9

By Neil Buchan Grant - See his Website

A little background

I have been making landscapes and travel images for 10 years, using almost every digital Canon from the Ixus to the 1Ds Mk III. In the past few years I had started noticing the special quality of images shot with Leica equipment. When I started experimenting with micro four thirds cameras I bought a Leica 35mm Summilux and a 75mm Summicron to use with a GF1. Even with this cut-down sensor, I was amazed at the quality of the images coming from these lenses. The resolution seemed endless and the look seemed to be in a different class. It was as if I had been eating omlettes all my life and suddenly I was given a souffle. I hardly used my Canon equipment for over a year. Becoming more intrigued by all things Leica, I soon came across Steve’s site and devoured almost every page. Finally, last year, I realised that if I sold all of my Canon gear I could just about afford an M9 and 2 more lenses, a 28mm Elmarit and a 50mm Summilux.

Eventually after what seemed like a lifetime (only 6 weeks in reality) the box arrived! Compared to even the mighty Canon pro bodies, the build quality and materials used lent the Leica M9 a truly ‘industrial’ feel. Even its shape had a strangeness I soon came to adore. I found the transition from AF to MF was a bit hit and miss for the first few weeks, but I soon got to grips with the rangefinder focusing. These first full frame images simply blew me away, they even surpassed those of my best Canon primes. In particular, giving a beautiful ‘organic’ look to the out of focus areas. The sensor seemed to hold a ridiculous amount of detail in the dark areas of pictures. I had not felt so connected with the sheer joy of making photographs since I had used manual SLRs in the late 70′s.

An early shot with the M9 and a 50mm Summicron at f2

A new direction

As much as I love the aesthetic beauty of good landscape photography, I had been wanting to make more people shots for some time. There’s something very powerful and mesmeric about a well shot pair of eyes that no landscape can equal. In the best work of this kind there’s a perceived connection which can induce the full gamut of human emotions, and for me anyway, reaches the parts that landscapes cannot reach. I discovered a web-portal called Model Mayhem where models of all levels of experience often seek out photographers who could help them develop their portfolios, in a reciprocal trade of time for images. This discovery was soon followed by a long-postponed decision to visit my brother who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia in South East Asia. The trip would last 3 weeks so I set about using the website to find models in Jakarta who would be interested in a shoot with what I fully admitted, was a novice in this genre. I had very few responses but fortunately just enough to plan a few definite shoots. Having a set budget I decided not to go for 20 nights in a 3 star hotel or to stay with my brother for the duration. Instead, my accommodation would switch from a selection of nights in five star hotels to a mattress on my brothers spare bedroom floor! Of course I co-ordinated the shoots to make the most of the plush hotels.

Sheila, the first model I shot in Jakarta M9, 50mm @ 1.4

My first shoot was with Sheila, a lovely 19 year old girl who’s portfolio was full of very edgy, high fashion shots using extreme make-up and black leather costumes. As the shoot was to take place in the refined surroundings of a 5 star hotel, I suggested she wore something classy. She turned up in a stunning long sequinned gown which it turned out, she had worn to her prom night. The M9 came out and I went to work with the 50mm summilux and a simple 42 inch reflector disk. I shot wide open for most of the session, the lens’s wafer thin depth of field seemed to be designed for this kind of work. The methodical procedure of focusing on the models eyes and recomposing for each release of the shutter, seemed to create a steady rhythm allowing the model to anticipate the next shot and adjust her pose for maximum variety. I found the better we got at this, the quicker I shot and a few times I had to take a break to allow the M9′s CPU to catch up, as it processed a stream of RAW images. Undoubtedly, a fast-shooting SLR would probably be a more common choice in a fashion or beauty shoot, but I was really enjoying the slow, sure pace of the Leica. When I stopped to show the model some of the results on the screen, her reaction was one of complete amazement that such incredible images could come from such a simple looking camera.

Angie, my second shoot, M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Angie M9, 50mm @1.4

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Adik M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Adik M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Adik M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Paradiska, M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Paradiska 50mm @ 1.4

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Finally, after years of trying (and more often miserably failing) to photograph reticent friends, relatives, girlfriends or wives, I was actually taking photos of someone who actually ‘wanted’ to be photographed! It was nothing short of a revelation! The nature and pace of the interaction occurring here was quite unique, I’ve never experienced anything quite as rewarding as capturing a fleeting look that could melt an iceberg. There were no awkward silences or embarrassing screams of “Yeah Baby!” I was simply engrossed in the challenge before me, confident in the knowledge that the tools I had chosen were up to the job. The hours flew by.

Kartika worked in a sports bar, M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Over the next few weeks, the M9 (and mostly the 50mm) helped me make some pretty ok beauty images (by my own novice standards) which I burned onto CD and gave to each of the 10 models I photographed. The models ranged from a very professional girl who arrived with 10 fine dresses, 5 pairs of shoes and 2 large men (one of whom was a qualified make up artist!), to girls I spotted working in bars who were clearly beautiful and luckily upon further enquiry, had a desire to be photographed properly. Although I speak no Indonesian, many Indonesians speak a little English and its quite amazing how effectively an iphone’s picture library can act as a communication tool.

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From the roof of one of Jakartas hotels, M9, 28mm @ f11, 2 minutes (B)

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This was my first visit to Asia. Its no understatement to say that I was completely enchanted with the people of Indonesia. Mention Jakarta to many people who have visited more popular destinations in the far east, and you may hear stories, gleaned on a quick stop-over, which could put you off visiting. But for all its traffic problems, pollution and the obvious chasm between extreme wealth and desperate poverty, Jakarta was a fascinating and exciting city. I very much intend to return there whenever I get the chance.

A bus drives past a mural of President Obama wearing a turban, M9, 50mm @1.4

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Caddies from one of Jakarta’s many golf clubs, M9, 50mm @ f2

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Waiting for a bus, M9, 50mm @1.4

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This was shot with a 75mm f2 @ f2 on a Sony NEX5

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Shot in very low light at dusk with M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Shot in very low light at dusk with M9, 50mm @ 1.4

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Doing around 25 MPH M9, 50mm @1.4

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Batavia Square, Jakarta M9, 50mm @ 1.4

As for the M9, it was a joy to use. I shot 5,000 images in 3 weeks using only one spare battery, I didn’t run out of power once. The sheer discipline of manually focusing each shot gave me a much higher rate of in-focus shots than with any of the auto-focusing cameras I have used. I was quickly able to employ manual exposure settings regularly, which freed me up to interact with the subject and concentrate on their expressions. The M9 is a total workhorse and at the same time a tool capable of incredible finesse. Thanks for reading my story and keep up the great work Steve!

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