Picture-perfect Paris – A weekend shooting in the streets – Fuji x100 Firmware 2

Hi gang,

Just made it back from a quick 3-day weekend in Paris. We were out celebrating my grandma’s 80th birthday with the family.
Paris is always a lovely city to come home to. The lights, the pitoresque streets, the Seine, the cathedrals, the bistros, the boulevards, everything really. You’ll just have to live with the traffic I guess. There is a reason world-famous photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Brassai lived here and contemporary photographers like Jay Maisel and Bill Cunningham keep returning here over and over again.

Looking at the Louvre

Looking at the Louvre

Evidently, cleared two days for some much needed street photography. Paris, like any major city in the world lends itself perfectly to street photography. I’m a big advocate of shooting the city or place you live in, because every aspect can be interesting. However, in order for your streetphotography to be interesting, your subject matter needs to be interesting. Subject matter, evidently, are the people or things you photograph. If you live in a place that has very few, to no people, you’re going to have a bad time for street photography. That being said, photographers like William Eggleston have had incredible careers photographing the mundane everyday life. But this post is about street photography.

Paul's backdoor?

Paul’s backdoor?

The thing with Paris, like New York, Shangai, or any other major city in the world is that no matter where you go, there is always something happening. Every corner, subway outlet, street there is someone or something interesting. Like they say, if you line up 10 bottles on the wall instead of 1, there’s ten times the chance to hit something.

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HERE, Paris, November 2013

As I said, there’s always something happening. When I’m in Paris I love to walk everywhere. Best thing to do is to take a map or open up Google Maps and locate ten hotspots in the city. Draw out a route you can follow. Why work like this? Worst case scenario, you’ll see the top spots of the town. Best possible scenario? You get some truly wonderful shots. Not of those hotspots, but of the people near them. Remember, human interaction will always best a standard picture of the Eiffel tower, no matter how pretty it looks. Remember, it is the people in your pictures making them.

Color Curiosity

Color Curiosity

We had lunch at the world-famous Café de la Paix, near the Opéra Garnier in Paris. This grand café as they call them is wonderful. The inside decoration takes you back to the roaring twenties. You can just too easily imagine yourself sitting there sipping some Veuve-Clicquot next to Scott F. Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Think a lot of golden arches, deep green velvet chairs, red benches and waiters in tuxedo’s. The works. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, take some time to sip an espresso (and not an eXpresso like you’ll see in a lote of Parisian cafés)
There is just something soothing in sitting there, sipping a delicious espresso, observing people and contemplating life. Sometimes, its the small things that count.

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A “café de la Paix” espresso

Red Chair, Café de la Paix

Another thing that’s lovely to do is strolling along the Seine river on the Bords de Seine. They close them down to traffic during the day so that people can stroll along there.

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One thing I looked forward to is testing the newly released firmware 2.0 for the Fuji X100 I blogged about in my previous post. After a large weekend of testing I can happily say that the upgrades are really worth it. The AF performance is crazy fast for the X100. It bothered me from time to time but I learned to live around it. Now, it’s just amazingly fast. The people that still complain are to me people that would never have gotten into photography in the first place if they had started 10 or 30 years ago. There was no AF 30 years ago. The first AF on the D100 was miles slower than the X100 is now so there is just no complaining to be done on this part.

White in Black

A nice addtion was the improved close-up distance without entering macro-mode. I don’t use it often, but when I need to use it, I realize it too late and have to remove my eye , enter the menu and so on. The thing is, they improved the distance by some 30% and that’s like enough most of the time. To me, that’s fantastic. The close-up shot of the espresso cup was made in this mode.

The Morning Shift

Sadly, as it often tends to be in November the skies were laden with rain and bad weather. It rained every.single.day. However, like the legendary Bill Cunningham says :”Rain changes the game completely. People who usually try to look their best walking about the streets are now to distracted by trying to escape the rain.” It creates reflections. Moody situations. Shadows.

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So that sums it up about. Amazing weekend, some good shots, saw Paris again which is always good. New firmware 2.0 of the X100 has been thoroughly tested and heartily approved.

Take care, and don’t forget to just walk out of the door. It’s half the work for street photography. The other half is taking your camera with you and observing life.

Cheers,

M

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Packing for Sri Lanka

Hi guys,

So I’m off to Sri Lanka for the next couple of weeks. Atlhough I’m a severe advocate of avoiding GAS-syndromes, and not overthinking your gear, that definitely doesn’t mean bringing the wrong gear, or not enough gear. You gotta pack for what you’re gonna shoot. For street photography, a single lens and camera body is more than enough. When you’re going on a long travel, far far abroad with very little shops that can help you in times of need, you got to think ahead.

I’m restricting myself to 1 backpack. My usual Lowepro Slingshot wasn’t going to be enough for this trip, so I used the Lowepro Fastpack 400AW. Incredibly pack that holds a ton, is waterproof and durable.

Sri Lanka is an amazing place. It’s relatively recently opened up to tourism after a 30 year long war conflict. It’s a little island right off of India and it’s name used to be Ceylan. It was a british colony for hundreds of years, and still is the official Queen’s approved tea-purveyor. It’s also home to some of the most amazing landscapes and natural attractions in the world.

Sadly, therefor, it also requires a vast spectrum of lenses. I’ll give you a rundown of what I’m taking with me here:

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Camera Bodies 

Fuji x100 : Why an x100? Those of you who follow my blog will have noticed that I’ve grown quite fond of this camera. Amazing lens, amazing sharpness, amazing high iso performace, amazing design and all that in a small package. It’s going to be perfect for when we go out, or walk around town and I don’t feel like carrying my larger, bulkier dslr. It’s such an amazing camera because it’s the first small camera that doesn’t feel like I’m trading off image quality to get a smaller package. I still have that amazing quality I’m used to with a dslr. It allows you to take those shots in moments that matter due to it’s ultra-silent shutter, That’s enough to get a place in my bag. I have no doubt whatsoever that this camera is going to get a lot of action in Sri Lanka.

The battery doesn’t get a lot of shots (300 approx) so I’m bringing a spare. Thankfully, the x100 uses an NP-95 battery. I won’t go into the whole generic/brand name batteries, but I’ve ordered a two-pack of generic eBay NP-95’s for 9.95$ (shipping included) and they get almost the same number of shots out than the 50$ Fuji brand battery. It’s a risk, but never had a problem.

I’m using the Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s cards with this one. The original firmware was a bit slow in writing images to cards so I chose Sandisk’s best SD cards. They aren’t cheap but their performance is amazing. Fastest cards there are from them, lifetime warranty AND you get their Image Recovery Software for FREE! If you’re a frequent blog reader, I’ve written about this software that saved my life in New York here 

Nikon d300S : Nikon surprised everyone by still having the D300S as their flagship DX dslr in the lineup after 4 years. It’s no wonder since it’s still an incredible performer, but with the rate camera builders devise up new iterations of roughly the same camera’s it’s surprizing. Mine is just over 100k clicks, and still works flawlessly. Travel photography is ony of the domains that actually benefit from the DX crop factor. I wanted to restrict myself to 3 lenses, and my longest is a 200mm which effectively becomes a 300mm on this body. It’s light, can take quite the beating and keeps on going. Perfect for travel photography.

I plan of doing a lot of timelapses there, and like many of their pro-level cameras the D300 has a built-in intervalometer. Super, super handy. I’m only taking one EN-EL3E battery with me, which will be fine for light daytime shooting since I usually get about a 1,000 shots from it.

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Lenses

Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6 HSM DC : This Sigma’s been with me for a long time. It’s one of the first lenses I purchased, and it’ still as incredible today as it was then. It’s been with me all over the globe from New York, to Paris, to Antwerp, to Thailand, to Vietnam, to Cambodia and others.
At the time of purchase, it was the widest lens available for Nikon. The only other lens available was the Nikon 12-24 f/4 as the 10-24 hadn’t come out yet. 2mm on the wide end of DX is important, because it turns into 4mm, so I chose this one. Never regretted it. Color and contrast are top notch, center sharpness at f/4 is amazing, so what does one really need else? I rented both 10-24 and 12-24 (not the 2.8) to compare them and see if I needed to upgrade but didn’t feel amazed. 10-24 is pretty much the same. 12-24 is slightly (marginally) better, and it has a fixed f/4 aperture which is way better but those 2mm’s are of more importance to me anyway.

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Nikon AF-S 28-70 f/2.8 ED :  A lens that really doesn’t require an introduction. Before Nikon released the handicapped 24-70 f/2.8 it was Nikon’s most professional mid-range zoom. It’s a gold-ring lens indicating the pro-grade. But lifting it once reveals its real pro-grade status. It’s a beast (which is also it’s nickname). It weighs in at about 1 Kg (for the rest of the world, for america that 2 pounds). Like all pro-grade lenses sharpness, contrast and color are top-notch from 2.8 (that why you buy the lens right?)
Nikon released the crippled AF-S 24-70 in 2007. Crippled? Yes, they removed the aperture ring from it. If you are a film shooter like me, this is critical, because now that lens is useless on 90% of film cameras. Reviews indicate it is marginally better on some aspects, but due to the abovementionned reasons, it’ll never be for me. For all the rest, it’s basically the same lens.

nikon 28-70

Nikon AF-S 80-200 f/2.8 ED : Once more, a lens that needs no introduction. Before Nikon revamped their ‘Holy Trinity’ lenses for digital, this one ruled the kingdom as well. The current version has some improvements I read, but not enough to make me switch. All you need to know about this lens is that it’s amazing in construction, color, sharpness and bokeh! Portraits taken at 200mm (300mm on DX) at f/2.8 are just out of this world, and that’s just what I need for a trip to a heavenly place like Sri Lanka. Like it’s 28-70 it is built like a tank, and it weighs about the same. Most of you might consider this overkill for travel photography, but the images and the bokeh you get out of this lens is out of this world. To me, it’s more than worth it.

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That’s it! Those are the 3 lenses I’ve taken with me. I made no compromise on image qualiy, as the 3 of them are top notch. When you are going so far, you only get 1 chance to get the shot, and I won’t let a little weight hinder me from getting that shot!

Accessories 

Nikon MB-D10 : Normally , I wouldn’t bother with this on a travel trip. It’s heavy (made of metal) and makes the camera even bulkier. As you know I like to travel light during the day to shoot, but this was a requirement specifically for this trip. I’m planning on shooting a lot of timelapses over a couple of hours, and that results in literally thousands of shots. Any series of timelapses are in between 3-4000 shots. I wouldn’t be able to get those without this battery pack and here’s why : This grip accepts 3 types of batteries : The standard EN-EL3e, 8 AA batteries and the Nikon EN-EL4A battery. That’s the most important part.

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Nikon EN-EL4A batteries : I’m taking 2 of these bad boys with me. These are the pro-grade batteries that go into the D2, D3 and D4. They are stupidly expensive (listed at 175$ on Nikon’s website) but they get almost 4,000 shots in one charge. That’s right, that 4 times the shots a normal battery gets and that’s the reason I’m bringing them on this trip. They require a separate charger, which I hate because I’m going to be taking 3 chargers on this trip just because of that. However, these batteries will allow to let a timelapse run for a couple of hours without interruption, and that’s quite essential if you want quality timelapses.

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Sandisk Extreme 32GB SD cards : CF cards are dead. They were king when SD cards weren’t reliable/fast/large enough for our needs, but now every single one of those criteria have been filled. They are crazy cheap compared to CF cards and are actually more secure since the good brand cards (like Sandisk) are mostly waterproof. You don’t have the gazillion tiny holes where the connectors plug in. Also, no risk of bent connectors (something I’ve had twice). The advantages are plenty. Check out the test DigitalRev tv did. They plunged 2 SD-cards (1 generic and 1 Sandisk (not even Extreme) card) into an aquarium for 1 month and tested them afterwards. The Sandisk performed flawlessly, the other was dead.
I’m using the normal Extreme cards, not the Extreme Pro’s since they are cheaper, and the Pro’s are useless in my D300S.
As you know I’m adament about knowing the gear you have inside-out instead of upgrading and this is one of those things. The write/transfer speed of the d300S tops out at around 30-35mb/s which is largely enough for the Sandisk Extreme’s 45Mb/s speed. Using a 95 Mb/s card in this camera is useless. For the price of 1 32GB Extreme Pro card you can have 2 32GB Extreme cards. When you hear people say storage has become dirt cheap, this is what they mean. 1 32GB card like this will run you a measly 25$. Get 4 and be set for a couple of years. Enough said.

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Remote Release Trigger : Just a generic, no name trigger that allows me to have shutter speeds slower than the built-in 30 seconds max. Comes in handy when shooting waterfalls,or long exposures of say 5 minutes and such. Nikon has one, I believe it is the MC-30 and it is ridiculously expensive. It’s about 150$ and it does the exact same thing as 20$ eBay triggers, especially since most pro-level Nikon dSlr’s have built-in intervalometers. Seriously, I wouldn’t bother with the Nikon one. You can lose your eBay brand 7x for the same amount of money.

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B+W 110 ND Filter : This is a spectacular filter. It’s a whopping 10 stop ND filter that is so dark you can’t see through it when you hold it up to the sun. I find these to be the right price/quality tradeoff compared to LEE filters and such. It’s around a 100$ for the 77mm version, which is what I’m willing to pay for a filter. B+W make amazing filters that are free of color casts and such. It’s a winner.

b&w filter

VisibleDust 1.6 dust swaps and cleaning liquid : I’m not going to miss shots because there are some dustspecs on my sensor I can’t get of by blowing on it a bit. These weigh nothing and are great.

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BlackRapid Sport : Simply put. The best strap ever made. When my dslr has the 28-70 or so mounted it weigs in at about 2 Kgs, or 4 pounds. This would destroy your neck with the normal neck-strap. The BlackRapid makes your dslr feel like a compact camera. Enough said.

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Gitzo Aluminum tripod : Long exposures and timelapse only mean one thing : stability. This is tripod-only territory. This one is long and lightweight. For travel, I prefer an aluminum, ultra-lightweight tripod, not the kind you’ll find in most studios. It’s relatively small so I can strap it onto my backpack, that means no hinder at all.

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So that’s about it. It seems like a lot of gear, but 3 lenses and a couple of acces’ really isn’t if you think of it. Not bringing a laptop and such on this trip, don’t reckon i’ll need it.

Take care, and see you guys in 3 weeks!

Cheers,

Morgan

Street Photography is the hardest branch of photography / Cartier-Bresson still teaches us every day

They often say the juice has to be worth the squeeze right? We’ll it’s something I have found is quite true, but not applicable to street photography. If you’re going to live by that adage you will not succeed in your voyage into street photography.

I’ll start by discussing my first steps into street photography and where I am at on my path now. This will be a rather lengthy post, so if you’re in a hurry, mark it for ‘read later’.

My modest start in street photography started like many others during one of my travels I believe. I remember being fascinated by the differences in everyday street life around the world. Once you start witnessing specific scenes in foreign countries you really notice that you don’t have quite the same things at home. Is this bad? Not at all, because it’s this innate diversity that makes street photography interesting.

In the beginning I was lugging along my Nikon dslr, along with at least two lenses. I didn’t go out shooting very often because bringing all that gear was annoying and I couldn’t do it always, but I loved every single time I did.
I also remember vividly that that was the moment I began researching the subject. I bought books, watched documentaries, read stories. All the greats passed by : Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, McCurry, Erwitt, Frank, Meyerowitz, Maisel, too many to enumerate. I was fascinated. How had they managed at capturing such amazing street shots? I remember the first time I saw Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of the man sitting on the street with his dog and I was stunned. Everything was right. The geometry (notice how all the important lines in this photograph are long vertical ones? That’s no coincidence) is the pure joy of it Cartier Bresson has often said. And then there was the subject matter. That man and his dog, the photograph had not could have been timed better. Had he really stumbled upon this? I didn’t believe it for quite some time, arrogantly thinking that he had to have asked the man to stay like that.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man in the street with his dog, New York, 1932

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man in the street with his dog, New York, 1932

It wasn’t until about a year later and several documentaries that I realized that this had been a coincidence, and that this is one of the reasons HCB is the greatest street photographer of the 20th century. I learned so much thanks to him that I don’t know where to start. I’ll address some of the most often-heard criticisms about street photography to start.

1. Street Photography is pure luck, there is no effort behind it.

Half of this sentence is correct. Street photography, in its purest form is 90% luck. 90% ? Why not a 100% ? Well because you have to make yourself receptive to luck. If you never leave your apartment, or house, you can have HCB’s own personal Leica, your photos will suck anyway. They’ll be the dullest pictures on earth.
Cartier-Bresson never hid behind the fact that street photography is luck. When asked about his famous shot of the man jumping over the puddle behind the Gare St. Lazare in Paris he said that the picture was literally pure luck. He hadn’t seen the scene, he had stuck his camera in a hole in a fence and snapped a few shots without being able to look through at the scene. He quickly adds ‘But everything is pure luck in photography”. He is completely right, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t putting in effort. If he had been in his apartment he would have never gotten that shot.

HCB, Behind The Gare St Lazare, 1932.

HCB, Behind The Gare St Lazare, 1932.

This is also one of the reasons street photography is the hardest form of photography. The incertitude of result. When you are doing a studio shoot where all of the elements (subjects, lighting, gear, etc) are in your control, the prospected output is almost always certain to a degree. You are the master of the scene, if something doesn’t work out you have nobody to blame but yourself majorly. This is not true in street photography. Each time you step out of your door with your camera, you are NEVER sure to come home with a worthy shot. That uncertainty is the single, hardest part about photography. Dedicating your time to something with no certainty of outcome. Would you get up early each day, dress, go to work without being sure if you were going to get paid? I don’t think so. Yet, this is what each street photographer faces each time they step out.

Take the following into account : Cartier-Bresson shot for about 40-50 years. His oeuvre is incredibly large, however he is perhaps known for a grand, absolute maximum of 100 images. 100 images is still an enormous amount, his most famous photographs must hover around maybe 20 images. 20 images. Yet he was a professional photographer for about 40 years. Can you imagine how he must have felt?

I often encounter people when talking about photography who ‘love’ street photography. However, they criticize it with the argument, it’s pure luck. Then I ask them how often they go out and shoot street photography. Then the large sighs come. ‘Pfff, I don’t know. Once a month, once every 3 months?” And when I see their images it doesn’t surprise me. The best pictures always come from the people who go out shooting often. Then you’ll hear them say “Yeah, but nothing ever exciting happens when I go out. If only I lived in Cartier-Bresson’s time, I would go out shooting everyday and I’d have fantastic images.”
The arrogance in these excuses really annoy me each time I hear them. It’s basically saying that HCB was a lazy, lucky photographer. He most certainly was lucky, but he also most certainly wasn’t lazy.

See, in order to be lucky, you have to put your mind and body to it. HCB travelled the world. He rarely spent a long time on the same spot. He would pack up his bags and go LOOK for interesting images. He didn’t merely await their arrival. You have to chase them.

Going back to our guesstimate that 20 of his images are world-widely known, and that 50 of his images are very famous. They have been shot during a 40 year-ish careerspan. That’s around 1-2 images PER YEAR.  That’s right. For every year or so he worked, he has one famous image to show. Could you live with those numbers? Are you willing to pay the price? Does this mean however that he only shot 1 or 2 pictures a year? Evidently the answer is no. He shot thousands and thousands of pictures. Can you image how many times he got out, shot pictures in the street and had nothing interesting to show for it? Also keep in mind that this is in the analog film time. Shooting, even useless shots cost you money. In the digital age, you can shoot 1,000 pictures for 0 $. Are you willing to do what it takes?

As I stated before, street photography is 90% luck and 10% effort. It would be foolish to think that famous street photographers never stood still. It’s impossible to always the shot after your first snap. Sometimes you have to try again. One thing I learned as a street photographer is that things, events happen in patterns and repeat themselves. If you see a scene, and a person walks in a certain way, with a certain gesture it’ll either happen again pretty soon, or it won’t ever. Most of the time however, events repeat themselves. That’s why you have to always be on the lookout. “Ce qui est important, c’est de voir” HCB said.
In an era sadly fading away, photographers had things called contact sheets. For those unfamiliar with analog photography, contact sheets where sheets of film on which small ‘thumbnails’ of your pictures where printed. Since no-one printed every picture of their filmroll due to the cost of that, they printed one contact sheet which showed them a reduced version version of all the pictures on your filmroll. This was a source of incredible information, since it showed you the different versions of a shot. You could see what the differences where, and guess as to why a photographer chose a specific shot and not another.

The MAGNUM photo agency released the contact sheets for a specific roll of film by HCB upon his death in 2004. That contact sheet was invaluably rich in information about his workflow. It provided us a certain insight into the masters mind. It also showed us something incredibly interesting. HCB’s famous shot of the cyclist passing rapidly through a street is incredible. The geometry in the photograph is amazing. All the lines work. Everyone thought his was a pure chance, a piece of luck. Once again, it was but only to a certain degree. The contact sheet showed us that HCB had tried some 10 times to obtain that shot. With other cyclists, passers-by, pedestrians and such. He then chose the best one out of all those other ones and it became this incredibly famous image. He rest of them never saw the light of day.

HCB, Paris. Luck isn’t always the key

Steve McCurry who is one of the most world renowned National Geographic photographers estimates he has approx. 800.000 negatives in his archives from his days as a film shooter. 800.000. How many pictures of him are world known do you think? If you are back in the 20-50 range you are spot on. His most famous image is the Afghan Girl but he’s made so many more amazing pictures. Are you willing to go to squeeze hard enough for the juice?

Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl, Afghanistan, 1984.

Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl, Afghanistan, 1984.

Returning on the subject of interesting images and people complaining nothing exciting happens where they live. You are wrong. If you’re not seeing anything interesting you are not looking hard enough. You have to see the interesting in the mundane. When you look at the work of great photographers like HCB you’ll notice that his most interesting images happen everywhere. It’s not because something is shot in India that it’s more interesting than a shot in Paris. That being said, part of HCB’s success is that he was EVERYWHERE.

As I stated before, he travelled extensively, and therefore managed to have pictures of all around the world. Once again, are you willing to squeeze hard enough for the juice?
Travelling, putting yourself in situations you are not familiar with increases you chance of getting ‘lucky’. It’s not a certainty in any way, but it won’t hurt. Travelling is also great when you’ve extensively shot your surroundings and are becoming ‘bored’ with it. Nothing like a change of scenery to reinspire you.

I’ll give you a few tips, pointers if you like to help you on your street photographic journey.

1. Don’t expect anything. 
Once more, if you are an impatient person, you won’t succeed. What’s that saying? If you don’t have any expectations you can’t be dissapointed.”This is why it’s the hardest branche of photography.Cartier-Bresson said ‘Il ne faut pas vouloir il faut esperer.’ This is not a guaranteed risk/payoff. My biggest problem with street photography is that I can’t be out there every single day and I know we I’m missing some amazing shots. Life doesn’t stop when you walk into your house. It keeps going and that’s what’s so amazing about it. You can hop in and out like a bus. This brings us to another point. As i said before, how many times do you think HCB went out in his 40 year career to capture those 100 iconic images?

2. Always be ready to shoot. 
Chase Jarvis said the best camera is the one that’s (always) with you. While he’s partly right, don’t read any excuse to be lazy into those lines. While an iPhone is great, it’s not the best camera. Printing out large prints based on the sensor won’t prove very good. Instead, always carry a small camera like a Canon GX. I myself always carry my Fuji X100 with me. It’s the most amazing small camera I’ve owned. It’s small, versatile, and the sensor image quality is amazing. It’s like having a miniature dslr in your pocket.

3. Don’t worry about the lenses , one is fine. 

The Fuji X100 has a fixed focal length of 35mm (equiv.). Has it stopped me from taking it out and getting amazing images? Evidently not. Don’t see it as a problem, see it as an opportunity. Train your eye. Work around the focal length. Fresh shooters tend to forget your feet are the greatest zoom you’ll ever have. Don’t hesitate and get in close. Capa said that if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. The man is right. And he was a war photographer. If you can’t afford a small camera, don’t let that put you back either. Just grab your smallest lens (like a 50 or 35) snap it on you dslr and throw it in your everyday bag. Get you kit so small as possible.

4. Even when you’re not shooting, train your eye. 

Fortunately eyes are not like cameras. Their dynamic range is amazing, they don’t need fresh batteries or cleaning. Even when you don’t have a camera, when you walk around look for interesting images. Frame them with your eye. You’ve got to make yourself receptive towards images. Wait for that mother and child. Doens’t matter you don’t have your camera, if a moment like that happens again you’ll be able to recognize it, instantly know how to frame it and shoot it perfectly.
Ernst Haas was a world famous photographer who also held workshop classes. One day he had two women in one of his classes and both were vivid Leica afficionados. Haas himself had worked for years and years with the legendary cameras and got quite fed up with the two of them bickering about which one was the best. He burst out saying : “Leica schmeica! It doesn’t matter which camera you use, the important thing is to see’

5. Get inspired. Find a theme. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with images you want to duplicate. Don’t think your streets are less interesting then HCB or McCurry’s streets? No, their pictures reflected their era. Do the same for yours. You won’t likely find a lot of women dressed in corsets or high hats in the streets, but that’s okay, you don’t need that. Just reflect your city or life through your lens. Clothes are objective, your vision is subjective. Put your mark on your photographs. What can also help is to find a theme. Zack Arias focused on people who were so obsessed with their phones and handheld devices they forgot the world around them that hadn’t stopped. The series is great and really shows something. It’s inspired. Do the same for yourself : find something that fascinated you and make a series of it. Be selective on the editing, and show your best images.

Conclusion

As a general conclusion, I’d say that if your images are to dull do something about it. Get of your ass, don’t be lazy, and most of all don’t be arrogant. You can’t expect something amazing to happen everytime you walk out of the door. Be patient. Be Impatient. Be ready. Always have a camera at your side.

Cheers,

MM

Fuji changes the game : The X100, X-Pro 1 & X100S

24? 35? 50? 18-200? 55-200? 105? 70-200? 180? X – Infinity? No more of that. For the last 10 years, ever since the dawn of (digital) photography, manufacturers and consumers have strived to sell/buy more gear, sometimes almost identical except for a couple of minor improvements.
“Hmm, I have a 55-200 but they just came out with the 55-200 VR and for a mere 250$ I can have that! My pictures are BOUND to be astronomically better right? Right? It’s newer so it MUST be better right? I don’t really need it but that’s OK, because my pictures will be better right?”

The X100 captures colors and details perfectly, even in challenging light situations

It all got a little too hectic. You know it all gets a little bit too hectic when specific diseases are being invented for photography-related symptoms : GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. The pathology was that irreversible, endless need to buy new gear in the vain hope that it would dramatically improve your photography. That monkey in your brain telling you ‘buy this, buy that’ Who cares you don’t need it. It’s better, better I tell ya!” The cure? Simplification. The pharmaceutical company? Fuji.

Then Fuji came along. Before that there were the micro 4/3rd cameras. The idea was good, the execution not so much. Picture quality or image quality is decided by a number of factors, but one of the biggest factors is the sensor size. The idea of a mirrorless, interchangeable lens system in a small body was good, but the fact that they still used those tiny sensors really ruined the image quality.

Fuji noticed this, and intelligently avoided this trap when they were designing the X100, X-Pro 1 and X100S. The X100 features a APS-C sized sensor (that’s right, the same sensor size as in the professional Nikon D300S and such) and the X-Pro1 and X100S also have an APS-C sized sensor, though another one than the X100. That’s right, you read that right. You have (potential) DSLR quality in a tiny body. Why is this important? For street photography it is crucial, but not only that.

The sensor has no problems with straight and intersecting lines

The sensor has no problems with straight and intersecting lines

For decades Leica had been the unquestioned champion of photojournalism and street photography. Their classic, timeless designs and image quality were legend. Every self-respecting photographer had a Leica M-body and a 35mm f/2 lens. It allowed you to capture life without intruding.

Then the (d)Slr made it appearance. Through-The-Lens viewing was interesting, as it avoided the problems created by parallax, and it was literally ‘what you see is what you get’, which made photography easier. Lenses and accessories started sprouting like mushrooms. Minds became clouded. Which lens to take? Ah, the 35mm f/2 is sharp as a tack, but what if my subject is too far?  I don’t want to walk all that way! Are ya crazy? I’ll take the 55-200. Or no, wait, the 50mm. that’s also sharp. Hmm same conundrum.

Details are crisp across the image, even at f/4

Details are crisp across the image, even at f/4

And so people often went out shooting with 3 lenses, a battery grip, a huge bag, without ever being sure of getting a single decent shot.

Cartier-Bresson said it best :

Il faut etre receptif. Quand on veut, on n’obtient rien, il ne faut pas vouloir

You must be receptive.  When you want, you’ll obtain nothing. You just have to record life as it unfolds before you. And that’s something you can’t do when your mind is filled with noise. Which lens to use? Which aperture? Flash or not? Djeez this bag is getting heavy, maybe i should go home, i’ll try tomorrow.

Your mind is cluttered with noise, and as Zack Arias tells it, it should be filled with signal. Back to basics. Back to essentials. You, your eyes & mind and a device to record what you see. Doesn’t matter which device, as long as it serves its purpose. A camera with 3 lenses in a bag but none on the body won’t record it as well as one camera with a fixed lens. All the great photographers knew and know this. Ernst Haas famously said this. He once had two ladies in one of his workshops. Both ladies were arguing over which of their Leica was the better one. Haas, a longtime user of Leica, burst out saying these famous words : “Leica, schmeica. The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But you have to see” 

And that’s what signal is all about. Seeing.

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A large sensor means good ISO performance. The X100 performs amazingly.

Fuji got this. So they introduced the X100 & X100S. Tiny, beautiful body, fixed 35mm f/2 lens. It was made to be shot on the streets. It’s tiny, discreet and silent. You can’t fumble around and you aren’t distracted by different lenses, and whatnot. You focus on shooting. This thing is deadly silent. I’ve stood a meter away from people and shot them without them even noticing. And even if they notice, they mostly don’t care. Why? Because it’s not as menacing as a dSlr. You don’t have a big camera and lens staring down your face as a subject. That intimidates people, it does. I’ve noticed it during my street shooting. You literally see them thinking “What the hell is that guy doing? Why does he need my picture? He’s got professional equipment, he must work for some P.I company, or worse – the government.” It puts up a barrier between you and your subjects. Subjects are always best for photographs when they are at ease. Same thing for street photography. It really does make a difference.

First, the basics and the looks : It looks incredible. Fuji definitely borrowed a page from Leica’s M-cameras for the design, but who cares. Every dslr looks alike due to design requirements. Glad to finally see a more affordable camera with a nice design. It’s retro, it’s all metal/aluminum so you know it’s solid. The optional leather housing for the camera (LX-100 I believe) is gorgeous and really complements the camera. That brown leather just increases the camera’s beauty. It’s outrageously priced (150€ I believe) but you’ll find lower quality knockoffs on the internet if you’re into that. The stitching, material and overall quality of the Fuji case is pristine however. If you can spare the bucks, buy it. The top buttons, knobs and aperture ring are also made of this same metal. The clicks occur smoothly when you switch them, it’s a delight. The back however, isn’t as great. The buttons are relatively small. I have narrow fingers so it’s not really a problem for me, but I can easily imagine someone with fatter fingers having problems pressing the OK button.

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No mirror means no vibration. This was handheld at 1/17th of a second and it’s tack sharp. 1/17th!

This also leads us to one of the major drawbacks of this camera (because like every other camera in the world, it’s not a perfect camera. That doesn’t exist) : the menu is not well engineered. It’s illogical, you’ve only got 2 tabs and 4-6 pages of menu in each tab so changing a setting is highly frustrating. They partially fixed that with the X100S that has the convenient ‘Q’ button where the X100 has a ‘RAW’ button. This allows quick access to all major menu functions in the X100S. We can only hope that Fuji will put that function on the RAW button with a next firmware update (update : they did).

Next: autofocus. The first firmware that shipped with the X100 was a disaster. Autofocus was the most frustrating thing in the world. Today we’re at Firmware 1.30 and things have greatly improved (update : FW 2.0 and it’s amazing). Unlike other brands, Fuji keeps updating this thing, which is amazing. They don’t sell you something and then never improve it. Now, this is a rangefinder-like camera, so you’ve got multiple options for autofocus.
You’ve got the amazing Hybrid Optical Viewfinder. This thing is the bomb. When I look through the viewfinder of my dslr I can’t help but cringe. So basic. So old. The hybrid viewfinder is amazing. It combines an optical viewfinder with real-time superimposed information like an electronic level. After you snap a pic, you immediately get a preview in the viewfinder. No more looking back and forth with your back LCD. I swear, this is the feature that has made me hate my dslr most. They improved the screen of the viewfinder in de X100S I’ve heard. Some still say it’s slow, I haven’t seen this as a problem. Evidently it’s not as fast as a dslr, but that’s normal. For the street shooting I do, it’s fast enough. Who knows, Fuji will improve it even further in firmware 1.40. Time will tell.

Image Quality : This is where the X100 really shines. The image quality is superb. The colors are rendered beautifully and accurately. Fuji used to make film, so they know what they’re doing. It just works. That translates into gorgeous in-camera JPEG’s. I still shoot RAW because in the end I want maximum control over my image, but I was blown away by the JPEG’s this camera produces. They are by far the best I’ve seen lately coming out of any camera. Even the D800.

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Noise-wise the X100 and X100S are no slouches. I usually set it to auto-ISO with a max of 800/1600 and minimum shutter speed of 1/60th. The fact that this is a mirrorless camera means I can get super sharp snaps at 1/60th. At 800 ISO the noise is irrelevant. at 1600 you’ll see it, and at 3200 it’ll be annoying but usuable. I’d rather have a grainy picture than a blurry one. As living legend Jay Maisel says on using low ISO’s : Your pixels will be fine, but your picture won’t! Make your choices, place your bets.

The only thing that annoys me profoundly and that hasn’t gotten better with the firmware updates is the battery life. It is horrible. You’ll get 300 shots tops out of the camera. The battery meter is equally horrible. A battery icon with 3 little stripes. When the 3 are lit, battery is anywhere between 100% and 50% of battery power. That is a HUGE difference. 2 bars lit, and you’re below 50%, 1 bar lit and you’re f$cked. Come on, don’t tell me you can’t make it any more accurate. Maybe not to the 1% accurate like Nikon, but at least put 5 bars or something. In any way, don’t use 1 bar to represent 50%, that’s just bonkers.
The upside to this is that Fuji uses the NP-95 battery that is NOT exclusive to this camera. It’s been out there for quite a while, so substitutes are cheap and plenty. For a day’s shooting (leaving the camera on) I recommend packing 2-3 batteries. They’re tiny, so no biggy.

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Geometry is everything

All in all this is a fan-tastic camera.
Is it perfect? No. Neither is the Nikon D3, D800, D4, Dwhatever. The perfect camera is a myth, like the coveted life-elixir. It can’t be built. Not now, not never because in the end it’s subjective to every shooter’s wishes and demands.
Is it for everybody? No, this camera takes getting used to. The viewfinders are quite different from what everyone’s accustomed to. Parallax will be new to a lot of users, and you have to learn how to ‘see’ the way the camera does. Once you learn how to see like the camera however, the images you’ll get will blow you away. This tiny package really, really delivers.

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Is it the perfect camera for street photography? Given the current state of things and available cameras I’d say it’s the closest camera to get there. It does away with the noise, and gives you signal. It’s tiny so you can take it anywhere. The best camera is the one that’s with you. It’s the one that enables you to record life as it unfolds before you. It enables you  to be discreet, to not intimidate people. It doesn’t set you back 10,000$ like a Leica.

Happy shooting

Back from the Cape!

Hi gang,
Writing this from the lobby of the airport here in Cape Town, South Africa. Spent an amazing 2 weeks here with family and friends at the Cape. About to board a 12-hour flight back home. Flew trusty British Airways. Always wondered what the pilots do during 12-hour flights during which you have 4-hour straight ahead lines. One of my best friends is a pilot, he keeps claiming to always be busy during those hours. We agree to disagree 🙂
Travelled light for this trip. 1 body , 3 lenses, lot’s of memory cards, batteries and a tripod. Shot the D300s for the video capabilities & highly-coveted DX-reach during travel photography.

Table mountain, as seen from Signal Hill. Nikon d300s, Sandisk Digital Film, Sigma 10-20mm @ f/8.0

Shot a lot of street photography here. Streets are filled with amazing, interesting people. I keep finding people a bit boring in Antwerp lately. They’re al such comformists. They (almost) all dress alike, in the same style. People in Africa are way more extravagant. Exhuberant. They all dress in colour. It’s like moving through a lifelike painting. The canvas is surreal. That’s why I love heading out to Paris for a few days a couple of times per trimester.
Brought 3 lenses with me : the Nikon AF-S 18-105 VR f/3.5-5.6 for street photography. It’s not a very fast lens, but it’s sharp and since I’m in auto-ISO when doing street photography, doesn’t really matter. Like the 18-105 more than the 18-70 for the reach and sharpness. Opinions differ, but that’s my POV. Also brought the Sigma 10-20mm with me. This badboy is THE go-to lens when you’re going to step in building and such. Churches look surreal with this baby. The colors are amazing, and it’s sharp. After 7 years of lugging it all over the world, including the sandy beaches of Thailand, the wet lagoons of Vietnam, the moisty fields of Cambodia and such, it’s starting to show it, but I consider it like a soldier’s rifle. You want it to be dented and scratched. The markings of war.
Last, but not least : the Nikon 80-200 AF-D f/2.8. Wonderful lens. Don’t own the 70-200, but used it and optically they’re almost alike. This is not the lightest of lenses to carry around, but I didn’t mind. In my Lowepro backpack it didn’t bother, and shooting wildlife at f/2.8 gives that wonderfully, creamy bokeh that makes all the effort worthwhile.
Shot some timelapses as well during my stay at Knysna. Slept in beautiful lodges owned by Made, a person really trying to make a difference here in South Africa. She gets her water from her own borehole and purifies it ecologically. The lodges have this amazing view over the lagoon at Knysna.
Tripod is indispensable here. It’s a no-go territory if you haven’t brought one. Get a carbon tripod, they’re ultralight. Shot in Aperture priority mode, f/8 for sharpness and using the amazing intervalometer built-in the D300s and other higher end Nikon models.
A 12-hour long flight gives you time to get stuff done. Watched 2 docu’s about Cartier-Bresson, one of the masters of (35mm) street photography. Amazing that all these masters (HCB, Ernst Haas, Jay Maisel,…) share the same point of view concerning gear. They don’t give a crap about what gear they’re shooting. It’s all about vision. I’m preaching this as well. The sooner you detach yourself from the illusion that better gear will give you better images, your photography will improve.
Love Haas’ quote about Leica’s.
Leica schmeica. Any camera could’ve captured that image. What counts is to learn how to see
He said that to two women that attended his workshop and couldn’t stop preaching about the qualities of their respective cameras. Eventually Haas (who knew Leica very well) burst out whilst looking over their portfolios.
Gear is good. Vision is better. Repeat 100x times, then restart.
Passed through the ‘Seweweeksepoort’ in the main land. Translated that’s ‘7-week pass’. A route that carves through the deep mountains of the mainland. It’s called like that because it used to take up to 7 weeks to cross that patch. It’s hellish. There is a saying here that you can’t pass through it without having at least one flat tire due to the sharpness of the rocks that are the untarred road. We didn’t have one thankfully. The ‘Seweweeksepoort’ is a dead zone. The whole route feels like that disaster movie when the annoying character (who is about to die a horrible death) checks his cell and the cell reads ‘No Service’.
Beautiful landscapes though. Amazing rocks.
Also visited some wineries. South Africa has a huge cultural wine-heritage. Dutch settlers came here with French vines in the 1600’s and the fruit of their labor is delicious. Amazing estates, beyond belief. I’ve visited some wineries in my life, but the geographical extend of the South African estates is unbelievable. Huge would be understating it.
Also ran into some traffic jams whilst being down here. Although not the same you’d encounter anywhere else in the world…
All in all, Amazing place, amazing trip. Really recommended!
More soon!
Cheers,
MM

Long overdue tales from Amazing Asia – Part II | Cambodia

Next up was Cambodia. Cambodia was perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole trip. Cambodia surfaced recently in the news again, because the Khmer Rouge trials began last week. Aside from that horrible part of their history, it’s been one of the most amazing countries I’ve visited.

Cambodian National Flag, Nikon dSlr, Sandisk Digital Film

For those not familiar with the country, it’s situated right of Thailand and is somewhat odd-shaped.
What surprised me was the fact that this country, which had it’s population decimated under the Khmer Rouge-regime during the 70-80’s is eagerly making up for lost times by innovating and creating. It’s been estimated that as much as 2,000,000 cambodians lost their lives during this regime, making it the most lethal of the 20th century.

More after the jump…

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Long overdue tales from Amazing Asia – Part 1 | Thailand

It feels like a lifetime since I’ve written something down on this blog. Wait – it’s been a lifetime since I’ve jotted something down here. I guess it’s part of my love/hate relationship with blogs. I often put myself the arduous task of writing a post, when suddenly I start to doubt the effectiveness of it.

Does the internet really need another post about a lighting setup? Or another rant on inspiration?

I then plunge in this hate-relationship with blogging, and social media in general. Really? Tweeting about your omelets again? Oh, and you added a picture! Great, thanks for giving me an idea of what an omelet looks like, I was completely lost!

Then, there are these moments when I get back in touch with the love-part of social media. Interacting with people all over the world remains amazing, if you keep in mind that some 50 years ago textmessages were telegrams. Being able to learn so many things on such short notice remains flabergeisting at times. I caught myself thinking this when last week I realised official news was spreaded faster through the means of Twitter etc than normal papers.

And this being 2011, normal papers mean the online-versions of normal, traditional printed papers, who are starting to get dated.

Anyway, I’m ranting – which is paradoxically what I was trying to avoid, such is life – and need to get back on track. Thanks for hanging in there.

The last big trip I took was one that took me and a couple of friends through some quite amazing countries in Asia. We visited Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam. This also explains why this is a separated blog post in 3 pieces.

Temple rooftops in Bangkok, Thailand

More after the jump…

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