The story behind the picture: Tokyo Tower

During my trip to Tokyo in March 2016, I wanted to capture the Tokyo skyline under sunset. I planned for a few possible spots, and I decided to try out shooting from Tokyo City View at Roppongi Hills. I dropped by the viewing deck early as I wasn’t familiar with the area and would like to do some scouting before deciding where to shoot.

After looking around, I decided on my composition and planted my tripod and camera, getting everything ready and setup for the shot. For this shot I’m mounting my Leica M-P Typ 240 with Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH. No filter was used as I will be pressing the lens as close to the window as possible in order to reduce the reflection and glare. Additional dark cloth was used to cover the lens to ensure all lights were cut out from reflecting on the window.

The sky wasn’t promising being cloudy and overcast, but I’ll just wait and hope for the best. While waiting for sun to set, another young man came and sat beside me with his camera and tripod as well. I gave him a smile and leave up some space for him. After being quiet for awhile, the young man said to me: “This is probably the first time I saw a Leica mounted on a tripod.”

We laughed about it badly. Thereafter, we started chatting while waiting for the sun to set. He came from Thailand and he mentioned that he was surprised that a lot of Thais travel to Japan. We talked about photography as well, and after awhile, another guy stopped by with his camera and tripod and seated right beside us. He’s Japanese, and he asked us in Japanese: “Are you guys coming for the diamond light up of Tokyo Tower as well?”

The Thai was puzzled as he couldn’t understand Japanese. I do understand what he said, but was trying hard to figure out what is “diamond light up”. The Japanese man then show us the Tokyo Tower website on his phone, with details on the light up for tonight and when the lights will come up and so on. Apparently, that day was 14 of March, which was “White Day” or “White Valentines Day”. It’s widely celebrated in Japan, but not in my home country. And on that day, there will be a special “diamond light up” on Tokyo Tower instead of the usual one.

The three of us started chatting while waiting. The Japanese said that he came specifically for the special light up, and we talked a bit about where to shoot, what to eat as well. I’m acting as a translator in between, it was really fun chatting with someone unknown while traveling aboard. You get to see their views, and we get to share our interest in photography together. When the sun set and lights up, everyone got busy and started shooting.

It’s very interesting to talk to people from different nationalities, face to face about photography, about traveling. Although we do not know each other, but the common interest between us has managed to connect us together at that point of time. Lovely indeed, and when I think back on that moment, I still feel a bit of warmth in my heart. It’s a memory that I will cherish for years to come.

Year in Review 2015

This is going to be a long post to close the year of 2015, so please bear with me. This year marks the 5th year of my photography journey, and this year has been a roller coaster ride for me. A lot of changes in terms of gear that I’m using, and there are a lot of things that I learnt throughout the year.

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This year, I managed to get a real taste of shooting with a “real” film camera… the Nikon FM3A. I shot quite a number of rolls ranging from colour film such as Kodak Gold 200 and Pro 400H, to black & white film such as BW400CN, T-Max 400 and Neopan Across 100. The experience of shooting with film camera has been very enjoyable, and I get to understand more on the roots of photography, like how the classic metering system works, manual focusing, focus and recompose and so on. I also get to appreciate different types of film and their output, and to train myself to become more precise in executing a shot before triggering the shutter. Eventually, I have sold the camera off and yes I’m regretting on this decision.

The year of 2015 marks the beginning of my journey through the world of rangefinder. I’d always been curious and eager to try out a rangefinder, but the price of the camera has always put me off. It’s not cheap and I don’t feel comfortable to just asked for one from my friend to try and shoot for a period of time. There came the opportunity for me to buy over a Leica M9-P from my friend at a very attractive price. I bought it over, battled my way with the rangefinder and eventually fell in love with it. Later on, I decided that I “need” the better performance from the new Leica M Type 240, and so ended up selling the M9-P and got myself the Leica M-P Type 240. Actually both are brilliant cameras, but I’ll talk about it a little more next time on the story surrounding this change.

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And last but not least… the year of 2015 also marks the end of my 2 years journey with Fujifilm cameras. Yes, from X-E2 to X100S, from X-Pro1 to X-T1… I have sold them all (technically speaking I still have a X30, which belongs to my girlfriend). There are many reasons why I decided to do so. I still can’t seems to harvest all the greatness of Fujifilm RAW files, and the fact that new lenses are getting bigger and heavier were a big let down to me as well. Of course there are many other things which brought me to this decision, but most of them are just my personal opinion. I’ll talk about those next time in a separate post. For now, the only Fujifilm camera left that I might still be shooting with will be the X30.

Gears aside, I’m glad that I’d been shooting more frequent than the year before. Almost every weekend or every other weekend I’m out to shoot, to learn more about my camera, to practice more about what I have read from books or forum and to see things and visualize them in different perspective. Perhaps I’d planned too many projects with too little time to complete them. Anyway, I managed to complete a couple of small projects like the “50 Shots with my Zeiss Planar” and “Goodbye 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive”. The “to do” list is still pretty long, and I’ll see what can be done in the year of 2016 to materialize them.

The year of 2015 has been a fruitful year in terms of traveling and photography. I managed to cover Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara), Hong Kong and Cambodia (Phnom Penh), and I’m glad that I managed to grab some shots that I like from these trips. It’s always nice to be able to travel to some foreign places, it feels refreshing and gets you excited and wanted to just go out all the time to look, see, experience and shoot.

So what’s there for 2016? For a start, I’m planning to revamp my flickr account, though I’m not too sure how to do it, I’ll just try and see if I can keep them organized better. Blog post will continue over here, and I’m actually planning to shoot lesser for 2016. I’m toying the idea of revisiting my archive of images and relook into some of the forgotten gems and process them all over again. I have not been improving much in terms of post processing, hence I would certainly hope I can do something about it in 2016. Photo project wise, I’ll be downsizing and only be selecting a few projects that I’m really keen to work on. And last but not least, a lot of money has been spent on gears in 2015, so for 2016, I would like to spend more on developing my skills instead. I’ll probably grab some useful books or attend some workshops, we’ll see how everything unfolds. Besides that, hopefully I can embark on a solo trip as well for next year.

Gear wise, I don’t think there will be any major changes moving forward. It’s likely that I’ll grab a camera to replace my X-T1 as a AF-driven system alongside my Leica M System. Perhaps adding a film camera body if I can get something cheap to play with? Lens wise, at most I can foresee is getting a 28mm lens or “upgrading” one or two lenses in my current line-up. Otherwise, nothing much that I can think of for now. Oh well, we all know how the G.A.S. strikes out of nowhere, no one will be able to predict what camera you will be holding next anyway.

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All in all, 2015 has been a pretty good year for me in terms of photography. I learnt a lot, get to know a lot of new friends and fellow photogs, get to explore more places and above all, get to take some nice pictures that I’m happy with. Hopefully 2016 will be another great year ahead for me and my photography. Till then, Happy New Year.

Traveling with my Leica M-P

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I went to Hong Kong for a short trip earlier this month. It’s more of a relax trip than a photography trip. But of course, whenever I get to travel, I try not to waste the opportunity to snap some pictures as well. And I have decided to add some “stress” to my relaxation… that is to travel with my Leica M-P for the 8 days trip.

Traveling and shooting with a manual focusing camera may seems like a “mission impossible” to many. Yes, of course you are losing the convenience of auto focus, but that doesn’t mean to be the end of the world, or so I thought. So, I was embarked on a journey to find out the answer of whether I can actually survive traveling with a manual focusing camera. At the same time, I would like to see if I can crunch out pictures that are different from what I shot last year in Hong Kong.

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I brought along with me Summicron 35mm ASPH, Zeiss Planar 2/50mm and Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm f2.8. Basically these are my entire lens collection. Along the trip I managed to pick up a Super-Elmar-M 21mm ASPH to complete my lens collection. I traveled through streets, fishing village, hills and mountains and so on. I shot everything that interest me, ranging from streets, people, landscape and etc. with my M-P. I shot from wide open to f16. I shot with all the lenses in my bag. I tried to utilize every skills and knowledge I know about photography to plan and get the shot I want. In the end, I can safely conclude that: Yes, I can live with manual focus, even for oversea trip like this.

Of course there are some shots that are harder to take when you are shooting with manual focusing, unless your lens is set to hyper focal distance where you can literally just point and shoot. It just requires a little more effort from your end to pre-plan and visualize the shot, and wait for the moment to come. I do missed a couple of shots, either due to myself being too slow to react or I have dialled in the wrong setting/adjustment. Well, there’s no one else to blame other than… of course, myself.

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I’m carrying all the stuffs in my trustworthy Billingham Hadley Pro bag. Considering the weight of my setup:

  • M-P – 680g
  • Summicron 35mm ASPH – 255g
  • Zeiss Planar 2/50mm – 230g
  • Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm f2.8 – 225g
  • Super-Elmar-M 21mm ASPH – 260g

The weight of my full setup tops around 1.65kg excluding other accessories such as extra batteries, filters, shutter release and etc., and the fact that I can squeeze everything easily into my bag (there’s still room for water bottle!) has reassured my decision for investing in this system. If I were to bring my Fujifilm’s gear, I’ll probably ended up with the following items:

  • X-T1 – 440g
  • XF10-24 F4 – 410g
  • XF18 F2 – 116g
  • XF23 F1.4 – 300g
  • XF56 F1.2 – 405g

The weight of full setup will be around 1.67kg, similar to what I brought, but the size of the setup can barely squeezed into my bag. Well, end of the day is all about leveraging on compromization. If you want auto focus, versatility of zooms, you’ll lose in size or weight in return. As simple as that. Well, at least now I know that I have built up two very usable systems in my dry cabinet, which can cater to my shooting needs and change accordingly.

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My next trip will be re-visiting to Japan, but this time I’ll be heading to Tokyo instead. So which camera system should I bring along? Hmm… we’ll see 🙂

The Cult Of Leica M

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I have been shooting with Leica M recently. I am still trying my best to learn to utilize this camera fully. The more I shoot with the camera, the more I’ve been thinking about what’s so attractive about it that keeps me shooting, and keeping many other Leica user shooting with such a camera in the year of 2015.

I think part of the reason is because this camera is simply a pure photography tool, nothing more and nothing less. You get to control the three key elements to exposure, and you focus your lens manually. If the photo turns out bad, it’s all your fault but not the camera’s. You are in full control to create the picture you want. This may not be something that everyone used to, and that’s part of the reason why some people dismissed a Leica rangefinder. They prefer to have automation in assisting their photography.

I don’t think there’s a debate in either manual focus or auto focus is better. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The end of the day, it boils down to which method you prefer to shoot with, how much control you want to be in, how much you are willing to rely on the automation system. Same goes to the metering and exposure. However, with the release of Leica M Type 240, Leica has brought in more technologies to improve the user experience, one great advantage will the the availability of live view and the ability to use optional EVF instead.

There are people who comment that Leica camera is very discreet, people don’t notice you, you are more connected to the subject and etc. Sad to say I don’t feel any of those at the moment. Maybe they are over exaggerating, or maybe I just yet to experience it myself. Rather, I find myself focus more in creating the image itself, something I have shared before this. It slows you down and allow you to think through before hitting the shutter. In fact I find myself shooting lesser, not in terms of frequency, but in terms of output quantity. This is a good thing, where I am forced to improve in terms of quality, and my workflow has become much shorten and simpler.

Of course the experience of using a rangefinder is very much different compared to using other camera system. And this is a love it or hate it kind of relation. Rangefinder’s focusing with parallax error is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. You don really get the “what you see is what you get” kind of feeling as there’s only frame line approximation. Aside from that, I’m very much inclined towards rangefinder’s body and design versus SLR. I feel more comfortable with them. That’s why I ended up getting the Fujifilm X-E2, and subsequently the X-Pro1 and then the Leica M series.

To sum it all up, I agree that there are many limitations imposed by a Leica M rangefinder. However, these limitations are the very reason why I like this camera. At times, people need to get out of their comfort zone, get cornered to the edge of the cliff in order to have a breakthrough. We shall see what will happen in years to come, for now I’m happy shooting with my Leica M rangefinder. Till then, happy shooting 🙂