Classic Negative Film Simulation (Changi Jewel)

I meant to post this weeks ago, but it was only recently that I managed to find time and get around to doing it.

I went to Changi Jewel for a mini photoshoot with a couple of my friends. They have not been to Changi Jewel and they wanted to take some photos of the place. Armed with my new Fujifilm X-Pro 3, I took some photos of this beautiful place, sticking to Classic Negative Film Simulation. Just like with previous photo session with my family and relatives during the Christmas gathering, I stuck with one film simulation and just shoot.

Classic Negative is really beautiful. I can understand why this particular film simulation is great for street photography. It has a certain look to your shots that captures the essence of the scene, without saturating any colours that might potentially pop out in the picture. Although I find that this particular film simulation is weak against greenery and natural foliage (other film simulations can capture green really vividly), Classic Negative is still able to provide a unique look to my photos. Although I have been to Jewel before to take some photos, previously with my Olympus camera, but coming here again and sticking to just Classic Negative provides a totally different look to the shots I took. Here are some samples below.

Changi Jewel, captured at the moment the sky train zips past.
People standing on the glass bridge, offering a magnificent view of the entire Changi Jewel grounds.
Order and balance.
Sun rays providing natural light into the dome.
My friend seeing Jewel for the first time. He is using the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II camera, exactly the same camera that I had before I made the switch to Fujifilm.
The lighting was absolutely magical on that day. Coupled with Classic Negative Film Simulation, it makes the shot even more magical.

What happened to my Canon 550D?

Sometime in 2010, I bought my first DSLR, the Canon 550D. I was 23 and in the University at that time. I loved the camera. I had it for 3 or so years before I stopped mentioning about it in my blog. So what happened?

My first ever DSLR, the Canon 550D

Well, long story short, my camera got stolen while I was backpacking in Europe. That was in 2012. I didn’t mention this before because it was partly a traumatising experience to have stuff stolen in a foreign country. But also it was embarrassing for me to admit that I lost something so valuable and precious to me. In addition, it was my father that bought the camera and to lose it was just heartbreaking.

However, during those years that I had it, I learnt a lot about photography. I took lots of photos for school events, as well as various school camps back in my university days. I forged meaningful friendships as a photographer, taking photos, meeting new people. So in essence, beautiful memories were made despite the fact that I was just a budding photographer.

Then I lost it all. I even lost some important and precious photos from the camera that I failed to upload in time before it got stolen. My 6-week volunteer trip to Tunisia was the last set of photos shot before losing the camera, thankfully, about 90% of the photos were already backed up to a notebook that I brought along with me while in Tunisia. The remaining 10% were never recovered.

The most amazing group of people that I met while I was in Tunisia for 6 weeks. I am so glad that I had this photo. One of the rare group photos we took.

I was in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My first city in Europe on my backpacking trip right after my volunteer stint in Tunisia. I was with a friend who flew from Singapore and met me at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I was tired, not from the flight from Tunisia to Amsterdam, but by being away from home for so long. I was looking forward to the trip but also at the same time yearning to go back home. I was a little home sick. I hadn’t been away for so long on such a foreign and far off country like Tunisia.

I had three days in Amsterdam. It was a fantastic city. I love the city a lot. The people are friendly, I enjoyed the lifestyle there. And there were many quirky museums to visit. Not to mention the red light district which was an eye opener. It was on the second day of the two week backpacking trip that my camera was stolen.

We had already walked a lot. I believe it was midday, we were getting tired and I decided to take a rest at a local Starbucks cafe. So I bought a cup of coffee and sat down by the windows to watch people go about their daily lives. It was soothing to watch the world go by. But I made a fatal mistake. My backpack, which I always carried with me contained my camera. I placed it on the floor, out of sight while I turned away to look out on the streets. In Singapore you wouldn’t give much thought to your backpack. It will still be there even if you are not actively looking out for it. But not in Amsterdam. Both of us were tired. We had let our guard down. Before we knew it, the backpack on the floor was gone. We were there for only 20 minutes at most. The cafe as I remembered it, was pretty crowded with many people coming and going. So when we realised that the bag was gone, I knew I had lost my camera forever. There was just no way to track it down and retrieve the contents from my stolen bag.

I made a police report, but there was little the police could do. I was scheduled to leave Amsterdam in a couple of days. I had travel insurance, which, combined with the police report made for a legitimate financial claim. But the final claimed sum wasn’t enough to completely replace a new camera. Besides, that whole episode was traumatising that for a while I associated photography to that terrible incident. And so, for a few years, I shunned photography.

Looking back, I did not resent anyone but myself. If I had given a choice I would save the photos over the camera at the end of every photo session of the day. I had some really important and precious photos stored in the SD card that I didn’t manage to upload to the notebook. Those photos were simply the last few day’s of my stint in Tunisia. Now they are completely gone forever.

As for the rest of my backpacking trip, I didn’t have my 550D to take nice photos of Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg or Prague, places that I went during my two week trip. I had to resort to taking photos using my iPhone. What iPhone model at that time, I couldn’t remember. But the pictures pale in comparison to what the 550D could potentially achieve, given the fact that smartphone cameras at the time were not known to take DSLR quality pictures.

But I don’t resent the fact that I got my bag stolen. It was traumatising, but I don’t blame anyone except myself. It’s a hard lesson that I learnt while I was overseas; always look after your belongings!

Camera gear downgrade?

So recently I wrote about how smartphone cameras are getting so good that, as a casual/enthusiast photographer like me, lugging a separate camera and lens during my travels is no longer an attractive option for me. Smartphone cameras has gotten so good that I feel it is no longer worth the effort in bringing all that extra gear with you just so you can take good travel photos when the device in your pocket can do an amazing job all on its own.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max camera is just stunning. The hardware, combined with software makes a killer combination in taking excellent photos whether you are professional or a novice in photography.

And so it pains me to have to consider downgrading or leave my OMD EM5 MII camera gear and lens behind moving forward.

The thing is, I still enjoy taking photos other than using my smartphone. The act of composing my shots and pressing the shutter button on a DSLR or MFT system is still an enjoyable part of photography for me, one that cannot be replicated on a smartphone. And because of that, I still want a separate camera that I can easily and conveniently bring with me on my future travels. I still want to take photos that are still superior as compared to those of a smartphone. Though the gap is closing in terms of image quality, the step up in image quality is still substantial when pictures are taken from a dedicated camera.

But what are the alternatives? MFTs are small, but lugging extra lenses can be a hassle. And good lenses are usually heavier due to the use of good quality materials (metal housing with extra glass elements)

Compact shooters are the next alternative. They are getting really good, especially the Panasonic LX 100 MII. I have been eyeing that compact camera for a few days now and was almost ready to pull the trigger, spending almost a thousand dollars on a smaller camera system.

The next best alternative in carrying a more portable carry that performs well, but with several shortcomings that, coming from an Olympus MFT user, is just a non-starter in pulling the trigger.

But for some reason, I cannot overcome the hurdle, this nagging feeling that I might just regret getting it. I think, I am so used to an MFT system or a DSLR, especially its comfortable handling that just holding a much smaller camera is something that I may not get used to anymore.

Sure, it’s compact but the size just makes it a little more difficult to handle. The Panasonic LX 100 MII, in this case has a number of drawback that I feel might impede me from truly enjoying the use of this camera.

Firstly, lack of in-body image stabilisation of IBIS. I feel that the Olympus MFT system with its IBIS is so good that I cannot tell the number of times the IBIS has helped me in getting good stable shots in low light settings. Without IBIS in this case, I don’t really know how shots will ultimately turn out.

The touch screen is also fixed in place, which makes getting shots in odd angles or from a height so much more difficult. The Olympus OMD system has a fully articulating screen, a feature that I complete take for granted until I handled the Panasonic LX 100 MII. The lack of such a screen is a huge negative for me.

There are other shortcomings like lack of weather sealing, and lack of the ability to change lens (this is a compact camera after all) which I can live with, because first of all, I don’t see myself using the camera is extreme weather situations and secondly, the lens attached the Panasonic is pretty good. It’s a relative bright Leica lens within a range of zoom that I am comfortable with; f1.7 to f2.8, 24 to 75mm equivalent zoom lens. Based on reviews, the lens is actually quite decent, and it’s almost pancake-like when retracted, portable enough to store inside a small bag or large jacket pocket.

There is another Panasonic alternative the GX9. This is more closely related to the MFT system, with the ability to switch lenses but after comparing it closely to my current system, the overall weight and size is not that much different from my current Olympus MFT system.

It’s very similar to the LX 100 MII. It’s a little bit bigger and when paired with the 12-32mm kit lens, its actually very portable. However, when compared to my current Olympus MFT system, size and weight reduction is barely significant with more compromises along the way.

There are other options from other brands like Sony, and Canon, but each of them has its own shortcomings.

So in short I am so conflicted that I have called for a timeout in deciding which camera system to buy. I may not even buy a new one. Maybe I will just buy the Olympus zoom pancake lens for my current Olympus MFT system and call it a day. Who knows.

GoPro Hero 5 Session. The Next Best Thing to a DSLR or an MFT

Previously, I talked about how it pains me for having to ditch my MFT camera in my upcoming trip to Vancouver. As I am going to do lots of hiking (weather permitting) it is just not practical for me to lug or my camera gear to my hike. So the next best thing to not miss capturing the best moments there, I got myself a GoPro.

It was a pretty difficult decision to make, especially when deciding whether to get the Hero 5 Black or Hero 5 Session. Eventually, I settled for the Hero 5 Session. I initially had reservations about getting the Session over the Black. The biggest reservation was the fact that the battery is built in, and therefore cannot be changed once the battery is unable to hold a charge. But I really like the size of the Session. It measures just an inch on all sides into a small little cube and it’s more discreet than the Black. I don’t need a touch screen, a feature only found in the Black, and while the swappable battery is a major selling point for me, I decided that size and discretion is more important. This thing is so small that it just disappears, allowing you to record videos without being intrusive. Most of the features in the Black are also found in Session, with the exception of geotagging and higher pixel count when taking photos. But I can live without these features and at the end of the day, it doesn’t affect the quality of the videos. Both models perform just as well with Session at a much cheaper price point.

So I got it from Carousell. Apparently someone was selling it for only SGD380 instead of the usual retail price of SGD450, which is a nice discount to have.  I haven’t had any problems with it so far and I am charging the device as I type this entry. It is brand new and sold by a retail storefront at Kallang.

With the capture POV mount from Peak Design, that allows you mount the GoPro on your bag strap instead of wearing the chest harness, I can imagine shooting my hiking trips would be awesome.

Embracing photography once again.

Ever since I lost my DSLR a few years ago, I never made an effort to revisit photography as a hobby or maintained my passion for photography. I was heartbroken, when my Canon 550D DSLR was stolen from me while backpacking in Europe. It was my favourite DSLR and I just got the hang of photography. I was actively learning new skills in photography and applying them. Eventually my shots were getting better and I felt really comfortable around my DSLR. And then suddenly, it got stolen. Photography is an expensive hobby. So while I had insurance covered that partially paid the items lost while traveling, I happen to lose my passion for it. Somehow my passion got stolen from me as well.

Now, close to 4 years later, with some cash to spare, I started to relook and revisit the world of photography. For a couple of months I have been reading up on the DSLRs and micro four thirds that are out there on the market. I have been reading various reviews and technological advancements made in the world of photography as well as the latest trends. It took me a while to settle on a suitable camera for me to buy, but eventually, with great timing involved, I settled on the popular micro four thirds camera, the brand new Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II.

The picture you see above is the camera body and the new Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 14-150mm 1:4-5.6 II. This particular model is the successor to the midrange EM5 released several years ago with additional features found from their flagship EM1. It was released just mere days again from the time I bought it. I bought the body and lens together for a whopping $2,000. It’s more expensive than the Canon 550D that I owned more than 5 years ago.

For a short while, just prior to purchase, I was worried that this was an impulse buy. But I had been reading on photography for a while now and somehow, it felt right getting this particular camera. I knew photography already. So getting back into the fray wasn’t very difficult. Sure, I’d need to invest on a good tripod and an additional prime lens if I am up for it, but that can wait. The only biggest challenge right now is getting used to the new smaller form factor. The micro four thirds is essentially a mirrorless camera with all the features of a typical DSLR, except in a smaller body. Another challenge in which I will have to tackle along the way is getting used to the complex controls this camera has to offer. This is a totally different beast from the Canon DSLR. Choke full of features and buttons and menus that I need to navigate and remember to access all the features on the fly. But eventually I will get used to it.

I am really excited about this new camera. The potential is limitless. And I have renewed vigor in going out there, to different places and not just be a mere spectator anymore, but actually doing something active for the first time in a long time.

Meanwhile, I have revamped my old blog and used it to post some selected photos I shot using the new camera. You can visit them here. It’s still barebones, but hopefully it will eventually fill with beautiful shots using my new camera.

So I lost my DSLR in Amsterdam

After 8 weeks overseas, I finally came back home a few days ago. The 23 hour flight from Prague to Singapore via Dubai and Colombo was excruciating. I am not a fan of long haul flights, especially when you have lengthy layovers at various airports. The two weeks I spent in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin and Prague were some of the most remarkable places I have ever been to. I gained a lot of experiences. That goes without saying that experiences tend to be both good and bad.

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Canon 50mm f1.8 prime lens

The 2-day seniors camp gave me a unique opportunity to try out my new lens to it’s fullest. The new 50mm f1.8 prime lens that is suitable for portraits and taking photos of people. The verdict: This lens could be the best lens that money can buy after your first kits lens that comes with the camera itself.

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The depth of field is amazing and the bokeh is pretty good. I have read from various review sites complaining about the bokeh quality but in my opinion they are good enough for me. The main reason for the complaints stems from the fact that the aperture has only 5 petals, creating some rather harsh and sometimes, pentagonal bokeh effect. But such nitpicking is negligent here because I’m merely taking photos during camp and not wedding photos. The build quality is really cheap. Again I have read of users of this lens failing on them, rendering it useless after dropping or knocking on the lens on some hard surfaces. Since the freshmen orientation camp is 5 days long, I must be extremely careful when using the lens.

This lens has really taught me a lot about photography. For one, great photos can only be taken if you do some serious legwork. This lens is tough to use. With no zoom ring to zoom in or out, you have to walk around a lot to get that perfect shot. And when it comes to school camps, things can get hectic and busy. I think walking around a lot is the best way to take good photos. By exposing yourself to different angles and positions, you never know if you will get that great shot unless you walk about. Being a photographer isn’t just about standing there and playing around with your zoom ring. It’s about engaging the people around you and the things around you to get that great shot.

There is one shortcoming when it comes to prime lenses such as these. For one, taking photos in confined spaces is excruciatingly hard or may be even impossible. During the camp there are instances where the activities and games played requires large groups of people huddled together in tight spaces, making it difficult to shoot photos using that lens.

One great advantage to using this lens is that indoor shots are much much easier as the wide aperture setting allows more light to enter the camera.

With that, the great bokeh, depth of field, sharpness and wide aperture seriously outweighs the disadvantages in using this lens.

Certain things I need to improve on:

Firstly I need to be more flexible in changing the aperture when taking group photos. I noticed that when I stick to f2, I ended up having blurred portraits of people when standing at the back, i need to adjust the depth of field frequently and according to how the people arranged themselves in groups. If they are standing in line then that is fine, all of them will be in the same depth of field and all will look sharp. If there are people at the back and beyond I may need to increase the aperture so that all of them look great and sharp. In other words, I need to ease my bokeh “addiction”.

Secondly I need to adjust and use at least f2.8 to 4 in some cases to get the sharpest image possible when taking portraits. I noticed that I tend to get soft images at f1.8 to f2.

Thirdly I really need work on my stability when taking photos. The lens has no image stabilizer, and though the camera in Av mode would not drop the shutter speed to anything less than 1/60, I still tend to get soft image or slight blurring of images, especially when taking indoor shots where lightning conditions aren’t optimal.

I have never been this tired before during a camp. This lens is challenging but the effort put into it is well worth it if you can take great looking photos. I myself was amazed at what the lens could do and my friends appreciated the great photos taken, spurring me ever more to work harder to immortalise great memories through pictures.

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