Monday, June 28, 2010

Why I Love Olympus Still

It is coming to two years now since I first held my first DSLR, which was an Olympus. Till this day, I have been shooting with Olympus E-System and have never looked elsewhere.

I am currently using Olympus E-520 DSLR body, coupled with 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 super wide angle lens, and a 70-300mm F4-5.6 long tele-zoom lens. I shoot mainly as a casual hobby-ist, and I categorize myself as a photo-enthusiast. Since I do not shoot for professional purposes, my current entry level DSLR-system set-up is more than enough to fulfill my shutter-therapy needs.

Love the blue skies opening up to the cityscape. The naturally "polarized" sky effect can happen with a wide angle lens.

A good example of why I like Olympus colors so much. You do not even need to boost the saturation, the colors just naturally come out to you.

A view from the top of the pedestrian crossing overhead bridge. One of the shortcomings of Olympus is the limited dynamic range. The shady areas on the left side have lost details which was not able to be recovered.

Why strain yourself walking around with a huge and heavy camera system? Choose Olympus !! You wont even feel a thing after walking the streets for hours.

Olympus lenses are known for their perfection, and this is evidently shown in their resistance towards flare. Shooting against the sun, with the hood removed and a cheap china filter attached, this was the best I could come out with. The photos still came out sharp from corner to corner, and the flaring was only very minimal.

I know I know, some of you may roll your eyes at me and say "oh no, not another round of brand-worshipping!". To cut things short, and minimize commentary notes which could sound entirely innocent but insulting at the same time to certain group of people who choose to see it the insulting way, lets just crop it down to points. Here are the reasons why I have chosen Olympus E-System, had many wonderful moments with Olympus and still love using it for two years now.

1) Colors - when it comes to blue and green, Olympus is the winner. The shades of blue rendered by Olympus is something to marvel at. I would not say Olympus produces the most natural (close to real life) looking photographs, but the overall color rendition has the "pop" quality.

2) Skin tone - Olympus is people friendly. The color tone on the skin captured and presented by Olympus is really pleasing and comfortable to look at.

3) Size/Weight to performance ratio - Olympus cameras and lenses are small. Like, really small compared to many other DSLR systems out there. I have the two lenses and one camera body sitting in a sling bag, weighing less than 2kg, and you could probably chuck an external flash into it and still weighs less than 2kg.

Pushing the shadow adjustment (gradation set to auto) to recover details at the shadowy areas at the row of shops towards the right of the frame. Under such high contrast areas, it is difficult to come up with a well balanced shot. Nonetheless, I am not so troubled by this shortcomings, since I can choose to do a Pseudo-HDR to counter the problem. Do note this was not a Pseudo-HDR shot.

Another lens perfection cringe I have over Olympus, would be how distortion free the lens is. There is negligible amount of barrel distortion (only those technical freak can make out of the distortion) but of course, perspective distortion still occurs as you shift the lens towards lower or higher angle. There are just times I want some distortion to add drama in my photos. That was mostly the time when the inner Anti-technical-freak of me speaking out.

Convenient store. Who needs 7-11 anyway?

I do wish I have a Fisheye lens for this shot !! The outcome would have been very different. Oh yes, I am coming back to my optical fetishes now, and one of them is the abandoned vehicles.

In some twisted, comical way, this scene truthfully paints how my life is right now. Being wrecked is an understatement.

4) Versatility - I can cover from a super wide angle of 11mm to an extremely long zoom end of 300mm. That is approximately 30x zoom range, with just two lenses. The extra wideness of the wide angle lens enabled me to add more creative perspectives to my photographs, and the long zoom allows me to reach to far places which would usually be restricted. With proper planning and execution, the photo-opportunities are endless with this deadly combination !!

5) Quality lenses - Olympus has been known to produce consistently high performance and sharp lenses. Yet the lenses do not cost a bomb. Many parties have rated Olympus lenses highly, and having used the lenses I must say it never failed to deliver consistently great images. Comparatively, Olympus lenses, especially the standard grade lenses (the one relevant to me, since I can afford the lower range) are priced much lower than other brands. Spend less, and you get more out of your lenses. What is not to like?

6) Reliability - This may not be an actual statistics, but just a very crude observation. I can safely say I have known more Olympus users than other brand users now. Even so, I hear more problems concerning DSLR cameras and lenses from other brands, having the need to be sent to the service centre for servicing and repair, at some cases, multiple times in just a course of the first year of camera purchase. I know this does not really equate to overall production quality, but hearing great stories of Olympus camera survivals (head over here for the stories), somehow gives me more confidence and assurance to go on and make that shot happen.

I know, I know, the mirror sticking out is a big no no in this frame. But this shot meant something to me. I usually would stay away from security guards, police, or people with authority to avoid trouble, just one of the rules I observe on the streets. However, this guy called out to me from quite a far distance, and gestured in a way to beg me to snap a photo of him. I shot him from across a small road, and gave him a thumbs up as I moved along.
If you want to know how sharp the 70-300mm F4-5.6 lens is, lets just say it is sharp enough I can visibly read his full name, IC number, and his security identification number on that tag he was wearing, with the image zoomed in of course.

A backlit situation will usually render most shots useless, not only causing the front subjects to be dark, but also losing details and sharpness on the overall frame. This is not the case, and the background may be overexposed, but the front subject which is the main focus of this frame, came out pleasantly sharp.

An example of Olympus skin tone. Generally I just love Olympus skin tone.

A tourist. I would recommend using the Internet for information. And spend that RM50 on a really good few rounds of tantalizingly yummy mamak food instead of that lousy book.

7) Value for money - Some people justify their photography ego by spending on really, really expensive camera bodies and lenses. As for me, I am happy with my low-end DSLR system. Though it may lag behind in terms of all other things like ISO performance, AF speed and what nots, but I am happy to live with the shortcomings. If you have that extra RM10k to fork out for a professional set, then go ahead. I do not, hence I opted value-for-money system, which is the Olympus.

8) Awesome Straight of camera JPEG - For those of you folks who love things to just instantly pop out from the camera with minimal processing and editing, then Olympus may be just the best to offer in this area. Just randomly flip through any review site online, they all refer to Olympus JPEG as being the best, squeezing every single detail out of the sensor, with faithful colours and very accurate exposures. I have shot JPEG most of the time, and even the JPEG has incredible latitude when it comes to processing flexibility.

I like how the 300mm reach of the long zoom lens (600mm equivalent on 35mm format) can get me shots like this, without the guy wanting to beat me up with the broom.

A puff while lying on the walkway. Who cares if you obstruct people walking by, right?

Ok, I am officially a sniper, since I use a super long lens and shoot from quite a long distance away. Yes, I have always been good with that 4-6 sniper riffle AWP gun in Counter Strike. One shot, one kill. Pun intended.

I know my opinions may be rather personal, but hey, the bottom lime is, I have really enjoyed myself tremendously throughout my course of using the Olympus. In case you are wondering, no I was not paid to write this up. The camera system has become part of my lifestyle now, and it has greatly defined who I am, and I express myself freely through photography. Being able to do so has created an entirely new way of perceiving, and interacting with life. And I simply, love doing that !!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pudu, Encore

It was one shutter therapy session I have enjoyed the most in quite a while, and gladly I made it with two friends: LKM and Rustie, both Olympus users as well. We met up in front of Pudu Plaza for some light bites, and then attacked the entire area until close to noon. Thanks to LKM who drove, we were able to cover areas towards Bukit Bintang side, especially the backlanes opposite the currently-in-renovation Puduraya Bus Station.

The sky was clear, the sun was evil, and but that did not stop us.

You guys must be bored of my photos of sleeping homeless dudes on the streets, right? So I am presenting one in quite a different way.

For once, the vehicle I shot was not a mutilated, abandoned one. This is one proper, functioning, and still being used, motorbike. I like the slightly rusty looking paint job contrasting against the bright blue background.

Closed eyes. Even under bright, harsh morning sun, eyes can still be tightly shut. This applies to Malaysians, generally.

A big Hello !! I find people in Pudu area to be a heck lot more photographer-friendly, in comparison to other parts of KL streets, say Chow Kit.

Money eating machine. How could they be so cruel to kids.

Flying coconuts. It was interesting that the guy was already programmed to do what he was doing he could toss the coconuts while looking at me.

Pudu is the place for old folks to "lepak". The entire area is filled with them, and there is no other place having such abundance of old people if you are looking for them as your photography subjects.

Strings of water dropping from the edge of a metal cladding.

If you have not noticed until now, one of my many optical fetishes (besides cats, mutilzted vehicles, spiders, sleeping homeless people) would be water. I love water, in whatever form they may come in. (note: optical fetish is a phrase invented by Darryl, a colleague of mine)

Open burning. I love how the heat from the flames caused some ripples through the air.

Panorama shot of St John's Secondary School. It has been a long time since I did one !!

Uncle rider.

Early morning business.

Newspaper reading is a solitary task.

Poor chap. I think he lost more than just a leg.

The best moment to capture this shot. She can't open her mouth. "click" and run.

Apam balik. One of my favourite local "kuih" when I was a kid.

Yet another panorama attempt. Yes, I still do panos !! They rock.

Despite the lack of words in this entry, I do have a lot of things going on in my mind. I have spent a great deal of energy over the week expressing myself verbally to many around me, and that has unexpectedly drained my word-producing battery flat. I need time to just do things without elaborating too extensively. Therefore, shutter therapy is the best solution.

I do hope you guys enjoy the series of street photos I have been churning out these days. Do let me know what you guys think of them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Robe in the Wind of High

The unhesitant excuse.

The apparent uncertainty.

The appalling mask.

The unholy righteousness.

The bullet-proof vest.

The empty promise.

The shattered future.

The revolutionary futility.

The loud insanity.

The helpless sigh.

The Robe in the Wind of High.

Fare Thee Well.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

More Humans on Streets

A few friends have asked me how I did my street shots, and where I find my subjects. Therefore, it was quite a spontaneous session, with a few people tagging me along my shutter therapy session this week. I brought three friends along the usual street hunting places I have been to for the past several weeks, and showed them around the spots where I usually found my subjects. It was quite a fresh experience for me, because after a long, long time, for the first time, I was actually shooting with people. Yeap, I did my shutter therapy with friends this time, and maybe this was a start to something less depressing I would say.

Here are my humble shots from this session.

I just love how the kid and the dad were bathed in the golden morning light. It exudes a warmth and depth to the subjects, in comparison to normal flat lighting under cloudy days, or under shades.

A kitchen staff who suddenly ran out from the back-exit of a restaurant, and wiped her sweat off her forehead.

Busy serving morning breakfast to the fellows from the streets.

Usual morning market shopping, a scene which is unique to KL, or west Malaysians I would say. You seldom see trolleys being dragged around in Kuching, no.


I shot this dude from quite a distance away, and somehow he saw me. I guess having a 70-300mm long lens is not exactly blending well to the surrounding very much.

Morning chat. On my course of street photography (which was rather brief) people actually interact and talk more in the morning, rather than late afternoon. I guess people are generally friendlier in the morning.

In deep excavation. Maybe the answers of the universe can be solved somewhere in there.

Sleep tight. I think this was a new angle I tried on my sleeping subjects.

Finally, someone who truly enjoyed doing his job !!! Is that not a rare thing to find in KL?

I do not know why but my heart does ache a little when I saw them walking, very slowly.

We never run out of supplies, their availability is almost infinite.

A masked man and a pair of scissors, not a very friendly combination, don't you think?

Wow, what sharp knifes you have!! To better cut your throat with, my dear.

Nothing beats waking up to a cuppa in the early morning, don't you think?

A family, on a bench.

I think most kids spend their childhood, wasting a huge chunk of time to boredom.

Business on the streets.

No umbrella? No problem.

Two Olympuses, one Nikon, and one Canon.

The group was rather diverse, we had Nikon, Olympus and Canon. I was sure we were all looking for different subjects, although we were hunting on the same streets. The lenses we all used were all different as well, providing different field of views and perspectives. Nonetheless, we all wanted to have a great time, and enjoy street photography. The place I brought them to was not exactly a popular spot for normal KL shooters, because I do not spot many people carrying any camera of any sort here during my casual hunts. For some reasons, you find a lot of people on these streets doing a lot of things, and being there just to capture their actions, and facial expressions were something very, very fulfilling.

A little bit on the photography note. I used Olympus E-520 and Zuiko 70-300mm F4-5.6 super tele-zoom long lens for almost all of the shots in this entry. My aim this time was to get as close, and as tight as possible to my subjects, capturing their expression vividly. The long lens allowed me to do so without getting too close to my subject, and I was told that "hey you are cheating!!" My defense was to use whatever we have, and maximize its strength to deliver the results. I also wanted to grip their actions in my shots, and record what they were doing. Some of the shots have been converted to Pseudo-HDR for more dramatic output, bringing out details from the highlight and shadowy areas. On the whole I was quite satisfied with the shots this time, having more specific targets.

I do hope my friends had a great time on the streets, just as much as I do. Street photography is something that every photographer should try, if they have the chance to. I think there is so much to learn, and to explore !!! The opportunities and possibilities are endless.