Feb 062013

Of Land and Spirit – Rural Thailand with an M9 and D3s by Lee Craker

I have been working on a project for a year documenting a small community in rural Thailand. The working title for this project is “Of Land and Spirit”.

I have found it fascinating to follow the cycle of the land here and the people who work it. In rural Thailand the land is life. The land provides for all physical needs of the people. Food, shelter and living expenses are all provided by the land. I also started to realize that the unique form of Buddhism practiced in rural Thailand is equally important to the people. Each day of a Thai’s life in this small community near Nakhon Nayok, Thailand begins and ends with this form of spirituality. Nothing is done without praying about it, consulting a shaman, or visiting a temple, usually all three. I found that the spirit and the land were impossible to separate. In rural Thailand one would find it difficult to talk about one without talking about the other. The farmers here are hard-working, up before dawn, and working till after sunset. The work is difficult and done without the aid of modern farming machinery planting, harvesting, and processing rice all by hand.

A woman farmer Sri, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nien, a local farmer plants rice in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand.


A local Buddhist Monk takes time for relaxation after a service in Nakhon, Nayok, Thailand.


Sri, a Thai woman farmer, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Rice Harvest

Swai, a local Thai farmer separates the rice from the stock. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Sri, douses water on her face in the fields after a long day in the fields.


This project when completed will take the form of an iBook and be available on iTunes.
As your blog is often about equipment, I’ll share some thoughts on what I use. I don’t limit myself to one camera. I like to use different cameras depending on what I am shooting. I try to find the right tool for the right job. I use a Leica M9 for its fantastic image quality, and portability. I use a Nikon D3s for its speed in capturing scenes where rapid focus and/or focus tracking is important, and for scenes such as the monk above where high ISO’s are critical. Also the D3s is the most weather proof my cameras and this sometimes becomes important in the fields. I use a Nikon D-800 for its ability to make huge file sizes which is helpful if I find I need to crop the image when being close to the subject is an impossibility, and the D-800 is much lighter than the D3s so it saves on the neck and back when shooting all day.
Thank you for your time, and looking at my work.
Dec 192012


Gear Acquisition Syndrome…Fighting the addiction by Emil Cobarrubia

Hi Steve,

My name is Emil and like many other readers out there, I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now and have been using it for camera gear reference and as a window to hear/see other people’s experiences. Photography is not my profession nor are my skills at capturing images are in any way “professional”. I’m actually very new to this medium. However, it is something I’ve grown to love and feel passionate about. It’s allowed me to discover wonders in things I would’ve normally overlooked.

After becoming a little intimate with the process of capturing images, one tends to hit the forums, blogs, and review sites to get a glimpse of other people’s experiences, advices, and of course, their equipment.

While wandering around these places, it’s hard not to come by such catch-phrases as “Bokeh!”, “Leica look!”, “AF speed”, “Retro-Design!”, and “Full Frame”! Boy, what strong adjectives these are. Of course they sparked my curiosity. I found myself saying, “Wow that’d be cool to have!”

Countless threads, forums, blogs, and reviews later….the hunger and temptation grew stronger. Everyone was talking about it…… how could I ever snap another frame without the Leica look and creamy bokeh?! How could I ever capture another image without the fastest AF?!

And so, this short reflection is about how I forgot what made me happy about photography and how I made a spiraling descent into what we’ve all come to know as Gear Acquisition Syndrome :).


Nikon D800


2(Day 1) - DSC_4438



One of the big decisions for me was waiting for the next Nikon full frame camera. I had my eye on the D700 for a while to replace my then-current D90. I loved the high ISO capabilities the D700 showed and hoped that Nikon’s successor would have the same level of ISO capabilities. Then came the announcement of Nikon’s behemoth D800 with talks of even outdoing the D700 in terms of ISO. That was my chance and calling. The preorder was in and I finally had my first full frame camera. I mounted the Nikkor 24-70 and love it dearly…. but man….. is that thing heavy!

 Leica X1




I had a backup camera, or at least a camera to compliment the SLR, since I had my D90. This camera was the Leica X1.

I remember looking at images from the Leica X1 on this site for the first time and was simply floored by the quality. I just couldn’t believe that this little machine was pumping out images similar (and better) to my then-current D90. The lens had great character, files looked amazing in B&W, and to top it off, it physically looked like no other digital camera out there. It was a fun tool to use and more importantly, I was able to freeze memories that were dear to me. And to be honest, the AF didn’t bother me because I wasn’t shooting moving subjects. If anything, it forced me to put a little more thought into the image I was capturing…..something I wasn’t doing with a SLR. Truth be told….. I was happy.

But being happy didn’t stop me from roaming the forums, review sites, and comparison videos to learn more about my new X1.

I wanted to hear other people’s experiences with the camera, see what they thought about it, see what other images the X1 had produced. And in doing so, it’s not unlikely to come across criticisms.

The more I read about how people were unhappy with the X1′s AF, low-res screen, lack of VF, telescoping lens, loose dials, the need to remove the handgrip to replace the SD card or battery, the shutter lag, lack of video recording… the more my brain was conditioned to dislike it. The delight I felt with this camera was replaced with a degree of regret.

“Did I get the right camera?”, “Is there a better one out there that offers better IQ, better AF etc. for less money?” were some of the questions I began asking myself.

And while there ARE valid and practical answers to these questions, the real question should be, “Why ask yourself such questions if you are, indeed, already happy?”.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes not as easy to come to this realization when you’ve become stimulated, curious, and excited.

Excited not about capturing your next image, but excited about capturing your next camera…….

Olympus OMD EM5

8(Day 19) - DSC_5617


The OMD could’ve been the answer to the X1 for me: approximately the same size, Muhammad Ali-like AF and continuous shooting, cirque du soleil-image stabilization, HFR EVF, metal construction, weather sealing, customizable controls, tilt-able touch-screen LCD, kitchen sink, butler, tax accountant etc. It really was a night-and-day difference compared to the X1. Micro 4/3 has also came a long way and started becoming close, if not equaling, to the quality of APS-C sensors. It really is a knockout.

With all the OMD’s positives and breakthrough features over the X1, for some reason, I never got attached to it.

I did end up missing the IQ of the X1. Not to say the IQ of the OMD is bad… it’s very good actually.

IQ became my priority and so, around the Fujifilm corner, word of a new firmware update came rumbling about. An update that actually made the X100 into completely different camera than when it was released. Some have claimed to rarely never miss a shot with the new AF and that the SAB problem was discretely addressed. Well….curiosity got the better of me once again and I was excited about capturing the new camera and not the next image.

The OMD? Returned.

 Fuji X100

10(Day 34 - Sept 3) - DSC_5743



The experience I had with the X100 was sublime. Being a late adopter, I had no experience with the issues some have mentioned (i.e. slow AF, sticky aperture blades etc.). I felt as if this should’ve been the one I got in the first place…. instead of the X1. It had a built-in OVF/EVF which is actually quite fun and gave a very unique shooting experience. The AF, after the firmware update, was much faster than the X1 (yet a little slower than the OMD). It was something I instantly connected to.

The one thing that sold this camera for me…..the colors. I found Fuji’s color rendering to be very pleasing. The skin tones were just wonderful. Another thing I loved with the X100 is how the lens renders lens flare when shooting into the sun. The X100 is a damn good camera and I can understand why people swear by their X100s.

Once again, I was happy and there couldn’t be another camera out there that could sway me from my X100.

But…..………What’s this I hear about some X-Trans sensor with no AA filter and a mighty 35mm f1.4 that gives some Leica glasses a run for their money?

The X100? Returned.

Fuji X-Pro 1


The X-Pro 1 + 35mm combo is beast. IQ was just a big fat “wow”. Another great camera which I adopted later on… post firmware 2.0. I didn’t experience the so-called dreadful AF speeds. One thing I did immediately noticed about the X-Pro 1 which was kind of annoying: While wearing polarizing sunglasses, the VF is black. Close to a deal breaker for me as I have prescription sunglasses and taking them off to see through the viewfinder……..well let’s just say I won’t see anything at all :)

Anyhow, like many others out there, the X100 was my point of reference when looking at the X-Pro 1. The VF on the X-Pro 1 was smaller than the X100, no diopter, OVF frame lines weren’t as accurate as on X100 etc. However, the X-Pro 1 did have some welcome features over the X100 such as the high-res LCD screen and the colors were just as good if not better than the X100. Noise was also a key difference and ISO 6400 is quite usable.

I know there are problems out there with RAW conversion and most will prefer the traditional Bayer pattern sensor for easier processing, but I feel there is some magic to be found in the X-Trans sensor.

So that’s it! I’ve made up my mind! I’m going to keep the X-Pro 1! It does everything the X100 does, and in some areas, better…..I just wish it was a little smaller…. you know….about the size of the X100.

The X-Pro 1? Returned.

Fuji X-E1 (taken with D800) – (from Steve: looks like the strap and button from my “Pimp Your X100 Article)


15DSCF1488 color mod

16DSCF1517 color mod


In the End

So I’ve went on to describe my experiences and how I felt with each camera, reiterating the pros and cons you all probably know by heart. Yet I never commented or mentioned anything about the photographs………..instead I chose to share opinions about the camera I was using. I’ve embodied the consumer and I hope to come back to reality and be thankful I even have something to capture a memory or tell a story with.

A fancier word processor doesn’t make a novelist a better novelist and a Steinway does not make a pianist a better pianist.

Hopefully, by writing this, it can bring light into the whole “gear acquisition syndrome” thing. I feel it all just leads to unhappiness, uncertainty, and money loss. We can enjoy photography without feeling obligated to get the latest & greatest.

With that being said, I’m keeping my X-E1. I love it and it’s helped me freeze the moments I wanted to keep.

Like Steve said, it’s a great time to be into photography and there are some great cameras out there…. Just don’t lose focus and let it take away the passion and energy…… unless of course it’s the new M or RX1……. Just kidding ;) !


May 212012

Crazy Comparison! Nikon D800 vs Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus E-M5

JUST FOR FUN guys, so please  - no getting bent out of shape! I have done those crazy comparisons for 2 1/2 years and I do them for fun and “just because”. Why? Because I can! Basically I take each camera and shoot the same scene, at the same time, using the same aperture (and preferably the same focal length or equivalent) and I convert the RAW files to check for things like sharpness, color, dynamic range, etc. I used to do this many years ago for my own personal curiosities so I started doing them here as well, and many of you enjoy them. Some of you hate them. But the good thing is, if you dislike these sort of things you don’t have to read it :)

Since I have the Nikon D800 here (which is a BEAST of a camera) along with a Zeiss 35 1.4 I decided to put it up against the Sony NEX-7 with the Zeiss 24 1.8, which gives the NEX a 35mm equivalent field of view. Basically a big brute of a full frame DSLR vs a small mirror less APS-C camera. Now obviously the resolution of each camera is different with the Nikon coming in at a whopping 36 megapixels and the Sony coming in at a not too shabby 24 megapixels. Note that I am not doing this to say “Camera A is better than Camera B”. I am showing this to give you guys and idea of what each camera can put out using these lenses and this scene. :) There are many NEX shooters who come to this site and there are also many curious about the new Nikon.

It is my opinion after shooting the D800 for a few days that for me..well, the size and weight of this camera is a bit much. Sure, it can take a serious quality photograph but so can a NEX-7, or Olympus E-M5 or Fuji X100. But then again, If you are a DSLR guy then this is one of those “Holy Grail” cameras so if you do not mind the weight and size and bulk and cost, then this camera is highly capable of some crazy delicious output.

I did find it easier to manually focus my NEX-7 and OM-D than the D800 as even with its big and bright OVF I found 20% of my shots were missed in the AF dept (even when using the confirmation dot). I never miss focus with the NEX or OM-D when using manual glass. I’ll go over all of this when I write about the D800.

I also am starting to think that 36 megapixels is way overkill for just about anyone. I don’t care if you are shooting for huge billboards, 36 MP is overkill. Period. These RAW files are 76MB and they make my iMac a bit sad. :) But again, with that said, for anyone wanting crazy resolution and full frame benefits, the D800 is indeed a pretty wonderful camera. But given a choice I would take a smaller camera anyway over the D800 because if I owned this beast I would never shoot it unless I was shooting something like a live performance for $$ or in a studio environment (and even then I would choose my M9, as I have in the past). Id never ever take this out for daily shooting anywhere when I have other smaller cameras that are really just as capable. You do not need this kind of camera for street, for snapshots, for your kids, for daily personal use or if you are just resizing for web sharing or making small to large prints. Period. But again, I will write much more in my D800 review coming soon :)

Also, coming SOON (this week) . A NOT SO crazy comparison. The Leica M9 with a converted to B&W image vs Leica Monochrom vs Nikon D800 converted to B&W! Stay tuned!

On to the images! Both were shot RAW and converted using the latest version of ACR. What you see here is what you get! No corrections were made to color but I was finding that the D800 was overexposing in almost every shot I took so I did adjust the exposure in RAW for that file.  All images were shot at f/5.6. The D800 had the $1800 Zeiss 35 1.4 mounted and the Sony had the Zeiss 24 1.8 mounted. Both giving a 35mm field of view.  The last image was shot with the Olympus OM-D but all I had with me was my little 12mm f/2 so that one is also included at the bottom. 

Click on each image to open the larger version with full 100% crop embedded. 


What do you think? I also shot one with the little Olympus but only had the 12 f/2 with me so wasn’t the same focal length at all.


and someone requested that I try to pull out the shadow detail here on the Olympus file. Not a problem at all :)

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