Why The A7SIII And OM-1 Is My Goto Camera For Portraits

sony A7SIII portraits
sony A7SIII Portrait
Sony A7S3, Voigtlander 35 f2.5 Color Skopar

After 7000 hours of doing portraits, I learnt a thing or two about doing portraits in natural lighting. I thought long about sharing my works with the public and the disappointing culture and algorithm on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook is just going down the drain the longer you use it.

When is the last time you see a post that changes lives in Instagram? I barely recalled any, tiktok however is not only saving businesses from failing but playing a much bigger role in getting the average Joe’s and Alice’s content shown to the community. The algorithm in Instagram and facebook is designed to only milk you as a photographer more money to boost your post to an audience.

Now back to portraiture and the gears I am currently using. The Sony A7SIII or A7S3 while being touted as a video centric camera, scores in spades in an area that eluded the marketing geniuses in Sony. It has the ability to use vintage lenses and brings out their character without destroying the representation of the image created is second to none.

Sony A7S3 Stills Portrait
Sony A7S3, Voigtlander Color Skopar 35 f2.5

What do I mean by vintage lenses? Lenses that are created using the film era optical formula would produce a different results when its hit a sensor with high resolution pixels where the micro-lenses would introduce both colour shifting and smearing on anything but dead centre. The optical design were made for film plane that would take in the light regardless which angle it comes in. Those beautiful M mount lenses, have you ever wondered why the mirrorless lenses are so huge when compared to these? Modern mirrorless cameras are mostly an afterthought coming from the DSLR era and lenses are telecentric in design due to the mirror and distance of the sensor from the lenses. It is only lately we begin to see compact lenses re-designed for mirrorless (eg Sony 24,40,50 trio FE) and other players like Nikon’s small 26mm f2.8

Sony A7S3 portraits
Sony A7S3, 40 F2.5 FE

I can say all new premium priced lenses I have seen in the last 5-6 years are super clinical. Images are flat, clean and flare-less and I am not sure why did we arrived to such a list of criteria as being beneficial for photography. In the cinematography world where things are 10-100x more expensive, they are embracing the opposite. Lenses with flares and characters are welcomed while clinical ones are shunned. How did the stills photography community got so wrong.

If you are TLDR, I have some of the points covered in this video, lots of images are shared here and its 1/3 parts of a video I intend to share highlights of lessons learnt from 7000 hours of portraits since 2011.

The 12mp on the A7S3 is just beautiful. I rarely get any issues on using any film era cameras except the really really wide ones and even those, you don’t have a better choice. Throw in a techart LM-EA9 and you can beat Leica out of the park with autofocus for M-mount lenses and boy does it focus fast!

One of the lenses that I am in love with is the Voigtlander 35 F2.5 Color Skopar. It produces images with tones, colors and character that is just gorgeous. I hope this lens don’t get discontinued like the other Skopars, else I would have to buy a few just to ensure I can use them for a lifetime.

Now I am getting to the interesting part. I sold off my Hasselblad X1D II 50C and got myself an Olympus OM-1. I will probably share the reasons behind in another blog post but the short summary is that I have come to stage where “luxury” ownership brings little to the table. A camera needs to fit in either of the following category :

  1. Ability to perform, output matters
  2. Enjoyable experience

It doesn’t have to fit in both roles and in many ways, it don’t need to else you will be searching for the “perfect camera” that don’t exist. I am sure out there, there are commercial photographers and studios what would welcome the Hasselblad, but for my type of shooting where outdoor dynamics and candid plays a huge role, it’s weight/speed/satisfaction is better served by my Pentax 645Z (most underrated MF since existence).

What does the OM-1 brings to the table?
Let’s see, computation photography, super small lenses and the only phase detect M43? Yes of course, but in my hunt for great lenses, I needed a body that can host a lens that all the previous m43 bodies have failed to live up to its potential. The Nocticron.

Olympus OM-1 portraits

Olympus OM-1, Nocticron

Again, I know this sounds odd but yeah, my priority in choosing a body is rather dependent on the lenses I want rather than the body itself. Nocticron is the closest thing I have to the Leica Noctilux f1 (which have characters far beyond its 0.95 cousin) and it auto-focus. Visually the character it produced are similar though I don’t understand how a n 45mm with 14 elements ends up similar with a 50mm with 7 elements.

I have bought and sold off the Nocticron before and it is only when looking back at all the images I have done, almost like a dying person seeing flashback of his life, I begin to appreciate what a gem this was and how underrated it was. I won’t be surprised its sold at lost even at retail price given the sum of its traits.

The OM-1 brings superior low light focusing, face detection, subject detection and all kinds of features to a dream lens.

Camera OM-1 Portraits Nocticron
Olympus OM-1, Nocticron
Olympus OM-1 images portraits nocticron
Olympus OM-1, Nocticron
Olympus OM-1 images portraits nocticron
Olympus OM-1, Nocticron

Now, if you look at the Nocticron name itself, there is only one(1) lens in the world having that label. Neither Panasonic/Lumix nor Leica ever released another lens with that label. It comes with an extraordinary long lens hood and that got my curiosity piqued, was Pana-Leica trying to hide something? Sure it did and thank goodness for it.

Olympus OM-1, Nocticron

It has flares and boy is the flare beautiful. I don’t believe in Leica glow, but this is just surreal. The flare is soft, golden and sometimes cast a vintage “defect” to a clinical world.

Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope to share more images on my next series.

Olympus E-M10 Mark IV 2021 Review, taking a bow

Olympus e-m10 mark iv 2021 Review

E-M 10 Mark IV, what a confusing name convention for the lineup of cameras in Olympus. When Olympus sold off its imaging unit, I decided to read-up on its lineup and and models history, almost paying the company the last respect. Those reading led me to inquire for a unit of the latest E-M 10 Mark IV from a local shop in Kuala lumpur. There are two reasons for this :

a. Almost nobody took a deep look of the E-M 10 Mark IV in 2021 whether in blogs or in youtube. It is as people are just interested to get a copy of it during the launch, write something surface level about it and left it. There are no users that used it beyond the first few months?.

b. I am curious, if this was the last camera you know you will produce before your dept is sold off, what would you do. This angle of thought, a fun conjecture, would take hold of my thoughts and I concluded that it would be worth exploring with an actual unit. I do own a PEN-F, arguably the most beautiful Olympus digital camera albeit designed with a cheap plastic battery door. (The only other camera with such a contrasting build and even worse quality battery door is the Nikon CoolpixA)

IV the dreaded number in Chinese culture, aptly taken by Olympus

How was the camera? I must concur it is the most basic digital camera I have seen since the Leica TL. There are 3 large dials that controls the mode, the aperture / shutter and the mode. The body reminds me of the Olympus film cameras that was produced before digital took over but in a much better build and heft (yes, those film cameras like om-10, om-20, om-30 produced by cosinas are more similar to this camera than the venerable OM-1, but E-M10 Mark IV has a borderline assuring quality that makes you second guess its position of an entry level OMD)

Natural flare, Olympus e-m10 mark 4, 17 1.8
Masks in Cafe / E-M10 Mark IV, 42.5 Pana

Overall the camera size and weight is just beautiful. Something that you will bring out and replace your Iphone. Thats about the best line of argument you can use to justify buying such a camera. M43 doesn’t have the DOF creativity that FF grants you, inferior lowlight quality output and there are better options out there like the new Fujifilm XE4 that is also entry level and minimalism approach. Fujifilm however is a company that sells presets as upgrades and I totally abhor such direction.

The video on this camera is far better than those from the Sony A6400 in terms of rolling shutter effect and that moves it above the entry level value. Locally I noticed that Olympus gears are being dumped by many hobbyist as they freaked out on Olympus exit news and if you ever wanted camera you can bring anywhere and yet have the option to change lens without bringing out a gunny sack, this is the time.

Multiple Exposure is as easy as ABC / E-M10 Mark IV, 42.5 Panasonic
Stunning colors, Olympus e-m10 mark iv, 42.5 Panasonic

In my previous blogs, I have shared on my decision to downsize my gears count, stop reading reviews and pursue the count reduction approach. I have never met a person that has more items and stayed happy, but I have met many that have minimal or singular items and extremely happy with it. If you were happy with A, you would not have bought B or C for that matter. A simplistic view of our desire mapped by kindergarten maths.

I am now down to the revered D3, 645Z and this E-M 10 Mark IV. A distinct use for each of them. On a final note, the biggest con I found on this camera, is the focusing is still contrast based and the AF touch focus is too big to be of any use. Perhaps Olympus still has that stubborn echo chamber team in place.

Vanity, vanity. E-M 10 Mark IV.
Orange, Olympus e-m10 mark iv, 17 1.8

For some inspirational use and images taken by this camera, I found this flickr user to be exceptional. You can see his gallery of images taken on E-M10 Mark Iv.

Alpha 1 , the ultimate Sony Camera

Here is the best advice to anyone who has been searching for this and reached here.
It is a 10 frame per second with the mechanical shutter and 30 with the electronic shutter. If you are just a hobbyist, you don’t need this camera.

You don’t need this.

Now share this page if you got a friend suffering from GAS.

If you lose sleep over this, get it at B&H Photo.

Medium Format As The “One” perfect camera for hobbyist, feat 645Z and GFX50s

I must admit, I have been flirting with this idea for a very long time for my digital preferences. It has been around 2 months now ever since I started my One Camera One Lens restriction on using the film camera for a year. The idea is not entirely new as other people including the popular blogger Eric Kim advocated similar discipline.

You can check out some of the videos here, released on a weekly and bi-weekly interval, ads free and non-sponsored.

Covid-19 threw a big spanner on my plans as travelling even between district is now prohibited in Malaysia as part of the conditional movement restriction order. So with not much opportunity to finish up the 36 shots a week and while immensely enjoying the peace of mind with this approach I looked at my existing digital gears and wondered whats the point of keeping all the gears. If anything after a year, I am probably so sold on this restrictive approach that I wouldn’t ever need them.

medium format fujifilm GFX and Pentax 645Z portratis
Medium format 45 f2.8 / IG : sashaxuan / IG : changelivesimages

I took this discipline one step further and of today, I sold off my favourite EOS-R, Panasonic G9 and dozen of native lenses that worked on them. I kept the films few bodies that can work with exceptional lenses still in my dry box like the Otus 55 and several M mount lenses.

The result? A massive decluttering. Not only is the dry box having spare space, I realize all the spare items that was needed to support the existence of those items are not needed too. I ended up with 4 extra bags, 8 filters no longer needed (should have given it free with the lenses) and the same detoxifying effect on my mind.

I don’t need to think which camera to bring out when I need to shoot. When I need the film experience, 50F2 planar + Contarex. When I need the digital, BAM, here take this medium format camera and this lens.

Medium format 45 F2.8. I am a big fan of candid and realistic representation.

Photography, in terms of its role in our lives can be categorized into (3) three categories. You are either a professional photographers and makes a living in photography 100% (you would need whatever number of bodies and lenses needed for your job and this article would be moot), semi-commercial work of which you could de-clutter and like me, you could be someone who just enjoys photography passionately.

For us, hobbyists that enjoy photography and not so much about collecting gears, having a discipline of going out and producing amazing images while connecting with the community is the ultimate objective. It is what feed our addiction, shutter therapy and the sense of being part of something much bigger in purpose than the routine lives we see daily that are deeply driven by commercial motivation.

medium format fujfilm gfx for hobbyist
Medium format 45 F2.8. Beautiful gradation of a simple indoor scene of a hipster cafe in KL.

Now, here is the thing. I brought those lenses and gears to a contact of mine, Jeff Speaker and told him, “Here i am taking my 1 camera 1 lens further, take these and give me an evaluation” . Having a conversation with Jeff and the difficult situation the camera industry is in (Nikon Malaysia just closed its door), I am am prepared to a reasonable value and have no illusion about their worth being used. This means I would convert all these gears and lenses in my digital inventory into 1 Camera 1 lens.

Jeff came back with a trade in proposal instead. The big but in this trade-in scenario is that I was prepared to just use my existing Pentax 645Z as I still have 2 good lenses with it and it would be contradictory to my goal and direction to acquire more gears. The 645Z I had is the one tool that I would bring out when I need absolute quality and assurance in getting the images I want. I even brought it out to two overseas trip and no regrets on the weight. You can see some of my japan images, a friend I met-up in Tokyo and my wife in Khao Yai sunflowers farm.

Jeff’s proposal however make sense and I brooded over it for 2 days and agreed to it. He has a pristine used Fujifilm GFX50s and a 45mm F2.8 lens traded in by a customer for Leica or something. Bottom line, two bodies, dozen of lenses including some manual ones that I used with the EOS-R gone, a GFX + 45mm in. It dawned upon me, I am now left with just medium format cameras, the 645Z and the GFX50s and in a few months I might reduce them to One altogether when the 52 weeks is over or treat the other as a backup camera given that the sensor is the same Sony 50mp.

Would I have been happy having downsized to just the 645Z?, you bet. The GFX50s brings me closer to my current habit of packing 1 Cam 1 Lens and having no subscription to Photoshop I was eager to just use the Film simulation (cringe worthy but a lot of joy on the similar approach in my film camera experience)

fuji gfx medium format portrait
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation / IG : sashaxuan (Forbes 30 under 30)
medium format portraiture fujifilm gfx50s
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation / IG : missjoycelish

Look, I understand Medium format is expensive. I am totally advocating that anyone reading my blog here, if you have a decent camera since 2015, it is probably sufficient for all your use. The entire idea behind #jointherestriction is to move away from reading reviews of new camera gears, click baits in youtubes by influencers that peddles “this camera is the best camera yet”, instead go out and shoot. Spend on experience.

We are in the Era of disposable images and where lifecycle of digital cameras is just 1.5 years and that shiniest object you have in your hands that is worth 10k today is worth 2k tomorrow. Any investor would tell you, that is the worst investment ever. Buy used cameras for your upgrades and spend the extra funds on education, travel and props setup. If you are looking into Medium format digital, the 645D, 645Z and Fujifilm 50s is now available in the used market at prices lower than the latest Full Frame.

digital medium format photography using fujifilm gfx and 645z
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation, Realistic Skin Textures

Medium format totally works for me. If you are looking for reasons on settling for one, here are my reasons.

Depth Rendition

I love the tonality and quality it produces. The current sensor is just 0.79 bigger than the FF sensor but the results are significant. Images shot have better depth rendition, this is an overused term that can easily be explained. Just take a picture with your phone and at the largest aperture take a picture of say a cup. Notice the background blurring just 2-3 meters away compared to 10 meters are the same, the is absolutely no “transition” of depth between those distances. This is something IPhone’s fake rendition will never solve, neither will Huawai or any of those simulated depth regardless of who sold their soul and publish misleading youtubes on such features, they look absolutely fake and almost like a cut-out board.

Larger sensors allows much smoother transitions between distances. I am not referring to bokeh here but the depth rendition. This is also where i feel that plenty of test images you read on dpreview are totally missing the point by shooting on objects in similar focal plane.

digital medium format photography on gfx and 645z
GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Depth rendition

It is actually harder to produce high quality lenses for m43 like Olympus and Panasonic than to produce one for the Full Frame cameras. If you put in a FF lens into a m43 camera you will notice it does not produce the same excellent results you see on the FF camera when you pixel peep, unless the lens is of exceptional quality. This is why M43 system is at a huge disadvantage. They need to produce exceptionally high resolution resolving lenses while keeping the price low because consumers always compare them to FF. When you view mobile phone photos at 100%, you see the pixel quality are mostly junk but when you view m43 images, they look similar to those you see on FF, this is by no means an easy achievement by the m43 to appease the consumer’s expectations. You can check out the LPM measurements on micro four third lenses like those pro series, they often have to resolve “double” what is expected of a FF.

Now what has that got to do with Medium format? The opposite is true, you don’t really need a very high quality lens to fit the needs of the large sensor to produce very high image quality. The 645Z 75 F2.8 is crazy sharp and beautiful contrast yet it only cost USD 700, the results easily rivals a Summilux costing USD 7000 or more.

645Z 55mm 2.8 / ig : changelivesimages / sashaxuan

Image Pop Quality

This is an observable quality that is closely related to Depth rendition. Often we hear magical stories on how lenses produces images that just pops. Its pretty hilarious if you try to nail down the reasons behind them, personally I feel often it’s just the use of wide aperture and the contrasting colors between the subject and the background but some of my own images, I could not fit that narrative while still being awed by the results.

645z medium format portrait
645Z 55mm 2.8 / mandaa.cme
645z medium format portrait
645Z 55mm 2.8 / mandaa.cme


As an asian, my hands are not as large as my western friends, but holding a medium format camera just works for me. The 645Z in particular has such wonderful grip and buttons placed perfectly that I don’t need to spend any time looking at menus. The Fujifilm GFX50s grip is superb and I love the simple physical buttons that I could find and use quickly. In a way I am a sucker for ergonomics, that is also the reason why my other 2 late cameras that I sold was the EOS-R and the G9, both are the best in its class for ergonomics in my opinion.

Bigger absolutely works for me, but not when it is as big as say a 67 Mamiya Rz or Pentax 67 both which i once owned and I felt had terrible ergonomics.

What if you don’t need a medium format camera?

I have done some of my best albums on both film and digital on FF and proud of some that I did on the m43. Did I mentioned I used to have tons of gears and been cutting down ever since until now. So you won’t miss anything, whatever you have now whether it is FF, m43, APSC, digital or film you could go out there and produce amazing images and you should be doing just that.

Weekly Photography Inspirations #4 and #5

photography inspiration and anti-gas

The day i stopped my Photoshop subscriptions, stopped reading any new gears reviews and lenses comparison, I found myself thinking more about the next theme, the location, the opportunities of creating art. Art that consist of outdoor and actual location, non-studio that captures not just the model or people in them but a real scene.

Amanda, professional make-up artist / @mandaa.cme

During this week I managed to wake up early and visit this road between two house. The owner took the opportunity to plant plenty of flowers at this road though legally, it doesn’t belongs to either side of the house. From such irrational need for plants and the risk of being removed by the local council, fate saw it fit to get them captured by yours truly.

Is that a drain pipe? Yes it is sir, it is as real as it gets.

Without Photoshop healing brush and clone tools, I didn’t bother to remove the pipes and dead petals from the images, since i was shooting film (you don’t need a film camera, just use what you have, if you really need one, just buy one and stick with it). When I sat down and look at the image, I began to appreciate the fact that they were there, those pesky objects, elements, but they are as authentic as nature is. It is what it is, minus Trump.


I envy anyone that is not staying in Malaysia. I envy everyone who has a camera and yet not living where the equator lines crosses. Do you know that in equatorial countries, our light quality totally sucks most of the time? When you have the spotlight shining directly on top of you most of the time, you get terrible light and for someone like me who enjoys available light and natural outdoor.

Don’t even start me on the flowers, BougainVillea is all you get, they are beautiful no doubt but the all year summer weather means the lack of other seasonal flowers and the trees here are either green or dead. D E A D, dead.

Large green leaves

One thing we do have going for us here are gigantic green leaves. It’s either rain or sunshine dear, so these plants grows and grows, I won’t be surprised if they are sewn as dresses for the uber sexy theme shoot.

I am digressing. This is my 4th installation of one camera one lens, truth be told, its one focal length, the 45mm f2 planar masquerading as 50mm. Why did Zeiss created the Contarex 50m F2 that is actually closer to 45mm and the same formula migrated to 50mm f2 modern planar on the M mount? I have no idea and you don’t need to google this up because it will lead to GAS and there is no such thing as the final buy.

Through the glass, a bakery in Petaling Street
@Irene.yfxp at a Cafe in Kuala Lumpur, Kloe

Overall I am very happy the results I am having so far. The lack of need to edit photos, heck i don’t even need to chimp. Editing took me like 2 minutes and that is because of the exporting folder workflow I have.

Brew a cup of coffee, sit down and enjoy the rest of the images in the 4th week of September + 1 week of October with music .

Full set of images available here for the 4th week of September / 1st week of October


Weekly Photography Inspirations #2 and #3

Since the last week of August, I have committed on using 1 Camera and 1 Lens by restricting myself to stop reading reviews, gears launches and instead just go out and shoot. You don’t need a film camera, any DLSR, m43 or mirrorless camera produced in the last 7 years will do fine.

I met a snag in the 1st roll itself, the Contarex Bullseye 50 f2 planar was showing back-focusing issues and I barely could get half the images in focus. As a result I had to find a 2nd body to try the lens on and confirmed that the first body which looks super new was faulty, there is something wrong with the mirror.

Do enjoy the images you can find them in the youtube here and a flickr link.

The first 2 out of 52 weeks

In these 2 weeks, I was sorting out issues from the missing spool (basically this film camera needed a spool to take in the film and the sellers omitted them) and backfocus issues. I visited a cafe with a friend Xiao Bai who works as an Interior Designer in Puchong to visit a new Cafe that have some japanese vibes.

I love the large window that the cafe use and most of the images is focused on that.

The 3/52 week

My friend Carol Lim, who is a top sales in the banking industry took the risk of betting against the weather and we drove 1 hour to a spot not far from Kuala Lumpur to do the shoot.

Although there isn’t any dramatic and sunset light, I felt the soft and low-moody ambiance gives the images a comfortable feeling of peace.