Medium format street photography in Tokyo

medium format street photography

Is it possible? Of course. I would argue that one have been sold way too many times the excuse that you would fare better with smaller cameras, like the Leica.

Vivian Maier shot on a Rolleiflex, a twin lens system that is so much harder to focus and looks pretty weird when you have two lenses pointing at you. Back then people knew it was a camera and there is nothing in that form that contributes to her infamous photos.

Leica rangefinders are louder than most of the Olympus, Fujis and Ricoh GRs that exist in the market and probably the largest of them all. Still we have current credible photojournalist and photographers that swears by it for street use.

medium format street photography
The Introvert, Pentax 645Z, 55mm f2.8, Tokyo

The answer is really our own acceptance of what we are comfortable with. A medium format camera should not prevent you from doing street photography.

Kawaii / Pentax 645Z, 55 f2.8, Tokyo

If you prefer B&W cause it has more soul or captures someone’s soul (darn are we back in the dark ages) , a medium format camera like the Pentax 645z gives you beautiful gradation and smooth tonal dof transitions.

Metro 1 pm, Pentax 645z 55 2.8, Tokyo

Make your own decision. I personally had a lot of fun shooting and using a medium format camera like the Pentax 645Z for portraits and streets and I am convinced that the suitability of any camera is defined by you.

Pentax 645Z, the new beginning

Spending many days at home with nothing but work opens up dialogues and self reflection that one could not imagine are possible.

I have not been buying any new gears for sometime now. It has been an amazing journey and like a speech given at obituary, I spend nights thinking about life, work and what exactly ticked me all these years.

I believe in slowing down, that is why i bought, sold and re-purchased several Leicas and used many film cameras. I believe in the invisible driving force of inspiration having value above a spec sheet. I do not subscribe to majority pressure or impression without having tried the tool myself, one of the reason why I still kept the Olympus PEN-F despite the reviews.

Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm / Pang Yi Ling / Kawaguchigo Japan

But above all else, I have always believe that having too many gears, just like having many chefs, spoils the meal, in this case, the very journey of what I wanted to experience in photography. Ironic, contradictory and a struggle that I have faced ever since my first camera in 2007.

Photography should be just like a relationship, a marriage that you undertake with your partner and watch her grow old, together, till death do us part. This was the missing commitment that I struggle to bring in to photography as a result, my collection grew and my obligation to use them becomes a distraction.

Pentax 645Z street photography
Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm, Tokyo

As I pondered on each and every gear I bought, the images I created with them, the friendship that I found with other photographers, models and the conversations that took place. I came to a conclusion that I could very much be able to carry out this journey that I always wanted, a transition from using whatever tools I already have, to just using ONE .

The choice of tool will be the Pentax 645Z that I left at the corner of the drybox (its too big to fit in) and all my other gears will now be in hibernation mode. I would begin to give some of them away. There will be only reduction from this point on.

Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm / Pang Yi Ling / Kawaguchigo Japan

I know how silly this is going to be especially bringing that medium format DSLR into every genre that I enjoy doing including Street photography but it is what it is. The soul searching is over. This beast will be that “one camera” for building muscle memory and the defining partner in bringing out all my artistic visuals into reality.

As the world recovers from Covid-19, each one of us should discover what is essential to each area of our lives. If you are into photography, it is Marie Kondo time.

Portraits inspirations and photographers worth following

Youtube gave birth to many individuals showing their artistic talents online, some are good and some are talented video editors with no photography talents.

I found myself often mesmerised by images taken by street photographers of the old like Vivian Maier, Fan Ho and also those already established ones like Steve Mccurry. The younger generation of portrait photographers like Bella Kotak is also worth following.

Photography have undergone a lot of changes in this decade, the gears and tools that photographers use are also evolving. When we see some instagram profiles of people that have no popularity and body of work, we could also find inspiration there. Although I personally found mobile phone image quality to be nothing short of scam for still photography, that didn’t stop me from admiring the composition, work that could be found on Instagram of unknown but talented folks. (If you want really good image quality without spending a grand on crappy phones, check out cameras like D40x, D80, D200, they cost below USD 200 and out performs of any image quality you can find in Samsung S10, S11, future S20 or IPhone 18.)

While reading this site, I would be sharing images taken by me, mostly on cheap gears, if you are looking to de-gas yourself, you would find the ride enjoyable.

The problem I have found repeatedly is the lack of good photographers to follow on youtube. Often videos that I have seen add a few photos to support the content or review and while I could not deny that at first glance, the music, the presentation of the images was promising but I realized very quickly they are very mediocre images and the expectation of seeing something good turns out disappointing. It is as if a salesman were to show you a car and with lots of excitement in his showmanship but the car shown is in reality a plain worned out Hyundai, you could feel that you would love to agree with the salesman to justify his effort but you can’t.

ig: carol.limm, Nikon D200 / 35 f2

Let’s look at a list of people that I used to follow but no longer due to my own growth and understanding and some that I am following for different reasons.

Steve Huff

This is the guy that I found lots of nice articles on Leica. I got my first M9 after reading his blogs and posts. As time goes by, I began to see a pattern that every new gear seems to be his favourite ones and the content tailored for sales conversion. I am not contending on his sincerity as it might as well be true that each upgrade is the next best camera. The good stuffs on his page are about editing, where he showed how he got those straight building lines and portraits that he ran thru Nik Color Efex Pro.

A site to follow if you are looking for some reviews on high end gears and as a 2nd opinion, it is not a safe site if you are suffering from GAS 🙂

Eric Kim

What I love about Eric Kim is his articles on how to travel light. Those tips are gold and Eric is like an influencer of sorts when it comes to street photography. The images however are a bit too “normal” for my taste. What I believe one could learn from Eric is the courage and strategy he has when moving on the streets and you should then take images that moves you in your own way. Eric however like most of us, was found to be flip-flopping between his opinion, one day film is the best, the next day he is on Ricoh GR2 and perhaps he in candidly sharing his own progression in

ig: changelivesimages / mak3upqueen, Nikon D200 / 35 f2 / zero sharpening
ig: changelivesimages / carol.limm, Nikon D200 / 35 f2 / zero sharpening

Tony Northrup

This is one of the youtube influencers for photography. Tony together with his wife have probably steered more people towards Sony than any ads out there. The subjects that Tony chose on youtube are mostly click bait driven but he tries to make good of it by putting in personal opinion and stats that appeals to the intellectuals.

The topic he did on m43 is dead is one such controversial example and taking such a stand only means you are either very confident of the data you have or you have no idea how shallow you are. My own personal views on that is as uncertain as anyone else, I have Panasonic G9 with some cool lenses and I also have a Pen-F that I kept as a collection as one of the most beautiful digital camera ever made. Do I enjoy the G9, yes, it has one of the best ergonomics for me with decent quality. Am I investing in further lenses like the 1.2 for M43, no, APSC and FF are clearly the better options, mirrorless era is here and unless you are only doing birding, there isn’t much advantage at all.

ig: changelivesimages / missjoycelish, Panasonic G9, 25 1.4 Leica

Mattias Burling

Another influencer that I occasionally look up his youtube to see what else he is peddling on when it comes to gears that people no longer wants. This is the guy who I think is responsible for the resilient Ebay prices for Pentax Q.

In a way I appreciate his views and sharing on how these small sensors could be used to produce very good images, after all, 1/1.7 sensor is still bigger than almost every mobile phone’s sensor out there today except the Huawei P20/30.

However he will go on to show the same line of argument when it comes to Pentax MX-1 and I am sure other cameras like GXR or some obscure camera will come into his attention and ends up in a video. In short, if you are buying these cams, let me just make it clear for you, there isn’t anything really great about the IQ, it is just the sensor size being used and since today so much was compared with mobile phones, some people are perplexed that some 8 years old camera could produce nice images.

If anything, we should pay less attention to the sales pitch thrown by every mobile phone manufacturers out there on cameras. You can only squeeze so much from low quality data coming from that mobile sensor sizes.

ig : changelivesimages / mak3upqueen / Panasonic LX5 1/1.7 sensor

Ming Thein

This is a powerhouse nerd when it comes to photography. Todate there is no one who could express technical aspects of cameras and it’s output like Ming Thein. He was once appointed as the Chief Strategy for Hasselblad only to be shocked by the culture of the new management from China when DJI took over.

A short digression, does any country in their right mind knows that apps like TaoBao or Lazada is only promoting business one way to China and would eradicate local small retailers and infant industries? It is mind boggling how any government is having a blindspot on that. India is waking up with their rejection on Amazon’s entry despite the promise of billions by Jeff. I am not a fan of trade war, but every gov should be focusing on building the local industries and supporting the local small retailers.

I once paid for his lessons sitting in for 2 hours while he goes thru my images and providing feedback and exposition on light. While his street images are often judged as cold and soulless, his technical understanding and delivering product images like watches are up there with the best.

I have no idea why he roped in Robin ( a M43 supporter) to a site named after himself but there is much we can learn from MT. In recent months, his content no longer carries the “medium format is better” vibes since he is no longer with Hassy.

ig: changelivesimages / carol.limm, Nikon D200 / 35 f2 / zero sharpening
ig: changelivesimages / carol.limm, Nikon D200 / 35 f2 / zero sharpening
ig: changelivesimages / mak3upqueen, Nikon D200 / 35 f2 / zero sharpening

If you follow my instagram click into the models profiles and you will be surprised how good their own photos are taken by mobile phones. Those facts always keep me humble and the notion that we can learn from anyone, even models with a phone. Here is one example, Carmen a 22 years old student that I collaborated with end of 2019.

EOS R, is it worth it?

It’s September 2019 and you wondered if the EOS R is still a viable camera given that the Sony’s eye-AF is now the de-facto for autofocusing.

I came across the same question when I realized I have to either upgrade my apsc 6400 to A7III or another FF system.

I love the a6400, with the 30 1.4 it’s like a dream combo for general shooting including candid portraits.

EOS R with Otus 55 1.4

There is no good reason to change the a6400. I needed to upgrade it solely because now i know enough of Sony’s tech to make an informed decision on its eyeAF game changing feature.

I have several Canon lenses, a noctilux f1 from my Leica days and an Otus 55 that demands a FF body.

** For videos need, I have settled on m43, as much as I tried using m43 with the noctilux, the 4mm sensor stack glass is unsuitable for the M lenses ( Leica M9’s width is 0.8 mm). I m sorry to say this but m43 is in many ways a much weaker format when it comes to lower-light availability. Lower light scenarios which poses no problems to FF affects m43 image quality noticably. Unless u have a tripod.

EOS R with Otus 55, medium format look

The decision to go with the EOS R is based on my own long term observation of my character. Looking at my existing inventory, I always kept lenses that I considered legendary.

The Otus 55, Noctilux f1, 90 f2.8 summicron R, Zeiss 50 f2 Makro Planar are lenses that have resisted changing hands or traded in during my photography tools discovery.

If lenses are the main drivers to what I treasure in my tools, the mount and how that affect the images in the near future as a system, is important.

EOS R vs Sony

The RF mount now supports some lenses that I find to be amazing, 50 1.2 RF, 28-70 2.0 RF and 35 1.8 RF. Amazing? How?

It is in the way Canon tried to show the capability of the mount with novel ideas and the balls to pursue it.

Nikon launched the Z mount with a 24-70 f4? Really? That’s pretty lame.

Sony doesn’t have any lenses that I couldn’t find the equivalent in the DSLR world and those mount are as old they go. In a way Sony’s apsc was a more interesting line.

Thinking along this line, the EOS R is the system for me. I respect that Canon came out with 28-70 f2, a lens that is never seen before and the aged reviews of the 50 1.2 RF proves that the RF mount does delivers on its promise of great optical designs.

EOS R is the winner for me

Is the EOS R superior in anyway compare to the Sony A7iii’s lineup (A7R4 is available too) ?

Technologically, no. Nobody is.

The Canon EVF and hand held ergonomics however, are better. The colors are beautiful and the shutter sound is addictive. These small wins are good enough to make up for the loss in specs on paper.

Having said that, Canon has announced that there will be a firmware this month to ease the gap between the focusing technologies.

The Ultimate Camera and other nonsense {sharing}

what is the ultimate camera
the ultimate camera
Finding the ultimate camera in a connected world

AI is at our doorstep now. This post is about cameras, but first let’s take an honest look at how many phones have you changed for the last 5 years. Why did you changed them? Could you have held on to any of them and not upgrade to the new phone?

What has this gotta do with Cameras?

The recent news on Huawei got many of us thinking. Is it viable to continue using a phone that would have no more updates within the next 3 months. Truth is most of us might be very happy indeed if the current apps we have remain as they are and we just keep on using them. But the ugly side of the connected world is that our apps consistently fuel the need to upgrade itself or it won’t even run.

Take whatsapp for example. It refuse to run and force you to do an update. What if you are not able to update like what will happen to Huawei Phone? You end up with a brick.

red and green portraits
Red & Green Currency

Resisting the dependency on Sofware

I wrote about GAS and how i broke out of it here. While that is true for my film cameras collection, it was significantly harder when it comes to Digital. As of that writing on overcoming GAS, I had 4 cameras exchanges done on Digital and 1 on Film. While I have successfully stopped the film GAS, It took me a while to settle on the Digital. When I said exchanges, that is because I swap my camera instead of buying more.

I am digressing. Now what has the Huawei, Software updates have to do with cameras? If you look at the recent innovation on digital Cameras, it is beginning to reach the golden age of its kind, just as film did in the 1970s . We now see the inclusing of AI into the cameras, this is bad news in many ways. For those who are now beginning to see the picture, AI are firmware upgrades that adds extremely useful functionality to your cameras, so much so that the gap between a film camera and a digital finally have a wide gap.

The problem is that it introduces the same dependency cycle we had on the phones to our Digital Cameras and this is bad news. Somewhere along the line you going to have Cameras whose AI would not upgrade further unless you have a hardware upgrade to support it.

Take a look Olympus E-M1x direction and Sony A6400 and the Sony A9/A73 firmware upgrades. It is the future and at some point in time, greedy manufacturers will apply the update cycle trick into the cameras lineup as market share continues to go downhill .

What do you do when your market share are small? How do you increase sales? By upselling.

Find the golden line

couples communications, portraits
Couples communications

Here is the thing. If you read so far and you have no idea what was the big deal, well, your right, nothing really happened to your life and your photography. But something is happening to everyone else around you.

The latest Sony eye-AF with AI is putting disruptions to the concepts of focus points and practicality. Try it. I did and as much as I hated GAS, I came to the conclusion it was not just silly but ignorance not to use eye-AF for portrait shooters. This is not the eye-AF that we need to place the focus point at and wait 1 second or use a live-view. The new eye AFs are game changing feature that removed the need to even set a focus point, if you are doing portraits and it allows crazy tracking.

Candid portraiture photography
Smile your on candid camera

At this point, all the other manufacturers are scrambling to catch-up with Sony new eye-AF. That is the good news. What we can do is find a camera model that have good enuf AI tracking for portrait and before they start putting in kill-switches for upgrades. I know this sound hilarious, but the A7ii users ain’t laughing, they were all left out of the updates.

Remember Acros, Fujifilm simulation, its just a stupid preset and Fuji didn’t add it to their X-Pro and X-T1 users and only open it for users of X-Pro2, X-T2, X-E3, X-T20, X-H1, and X100F. A preset needs new processor upgrade? sure Fuji.

We have enough of this shit.

model portrait film presets sony a6400
Sony a6400 / Amanda

The ultimate camera is the camera that can continuously get free updates from its manufacturer without changing hardware. Since that is impossible, there is none.

There are going to be a backlash in all these, checkout Phoblographer hilarious post about ending up at Pentax door. I am not laughing at his choice, but rather I already know this is not going to last long, end of the day you just have to cut thru the noise and settle down.

Are Modern Lenses With More Elements Inferior?

One day I was happily googling about Otus to find out who are the other users out there that are happily sharing their experiences when I came across articles written by a guy called Yannick about how modern lenses are “bad” in comparison to older and lesser element lenses.

I am just going to cut to the conclusion here to avoid wasting anyone’s time or to stir up confusion.

1. Microcontrast is a ghost

Some folks swear by it that they had seen one and others have never. I tried very hard to see and read his description of the problems in his controlled test with no success.

After going thru a few listed examples and seeing nothing, I believe some folks are just seeing problems that don’t exist and are led by those same descriptions.

2. The modern image lacks highlight and tones in those examples.

The truth is lenses with more elements passes slightly lesser brightness. So maybe what u saw being compared is just a slightly lower exposure due to the extra elements and by no means lowering down the “tone’s”

For example I raised the exposure on the Sigma Art (right) by 0.39 in ps on a screenshot of Yannick’s sample and trying seeing the diff now? If anything, the right one is superior.

3. He grew wiser as he aged but those earlier assertions was left there tripping anyone reading them

If you read his latest blog, you still see that he starts to use more modern lenses now or that Fujifilm raw is superior or whatever. Lenses like Tamron 45 1.8vc listed in his recommendation page . Those elements are far more than the 6 that was praised so much on.

I have the 50 1.4d Nikkor and it was a nasty lens when it comes to certain background’s bokeh for portraits type of shoot.

But well, we are human and we all make mistakes. I shudder on some of the things I wrote on this blog years back or even images that I thought was “worth sharing”.

If anything his blog have beautiful images when he is not busy tracking microcontrast and I believe he is a very talented photog.

In summary. Don’t get caught up in it. Those modern lenses you have are awesome. Now go out and start shooting.

The Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review {Portraiture}

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review, Amanda CME / IG : marcus_low

Otus. The crème de la crème brand of the Germany’s Zeiss lens maker. My review focuses only on its aesthetic output for portraits and doing so using a DSLR and handheld.

All images shot here are done on Canon 6D MK II, Handheld, at wide open f1.4 except for snapshots of bags, camera setup itself done on phone.

We all know that story in 2013 when Zeiss launched the Otus 55 1.4, a standard lens type of focal length with a hefty price tag, some of us are quick to jump on the keyboard warrior pods while others sang praises with less than a day of using it.

I was one of them. When reviews started coming in with images of the Otus size, I was both baffled and intrigued. Baffled because of my own decision of using a Noctilux f1 (50mm) on a relatively small FF camera like the M9 or 240 tells me that it is not going to be a very practical lens.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portrait, Amanda CME
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

Intrigued because, knowing Zeiss, this is a solid company that don’t just slap on a price tag because “we can”. What magic lies in that lens to justify the asking price? Sure, we all know the mantras shared in every darn forum and page on “gears don’t matter” , while the background chants sponsored by phone makers whispers “Let us just stick to our Iphones and huaweis”, but for those in the know, you want the best with you when you can. Phones and it’s yearly bs about replacing DSLRS and Mirrorless are just marketing gimmicks. Each year more baals worshippers join the herds as commercials done using dslrs are put up to mislead the public again and again.

Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

The day finally came when I sold off the Leica M240. For those looking to buy your first Leica camera, let me just put it this way, the M240 produces one of the most boring, most inaccurate white balance on any of the cameras I have owned and tried and its a huge list in my last 8 years of photography. What it is however, is a very beautiful camera and feels fantastic at hand.

After I left the m240, I essentially left Leica as a brand I would continue to pursue in my journey. Next on my list, Zeiss. So when I got an offer for the Otus 55 1.4, I took it and started shooting.

Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 review
The Zeiss Otus 55 on Canon 6D Mk2

My main concerns and probably the same concerns that you will have

1.Will it be too heavy?

A Canon 50 1.2 weights 545g. The Otus 55 1.4 is 970g. It is not light but if you are looking for One Camera + One Lens and rule the world setup, this is it. I am a Asian guy, I don’t find it heavy and I am at 169 cm in height. I took it and walked with it the whole day and I feel its ok.

2. Is the size practical?

I would say this is an even bigger concern than weight. The good news is that the size can easily fit a small bag with the camera if you reverse mount the hood. If you want to carry the camera and lens with the hood in the normal position, then you will need a medium size bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 in a small bag x 300cm long

The red watch is a normal sized watch for the ladies so you can see here the small bag I mentioned is not “small like a wallet or jacket pocket” but it is a very common sized bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55, the One Camera One Lens Setup

3. How in the world do you manual focus accurately?

Aha! Let me share to you a technique I use just for this kind of setup. It is both practical, enjoyable and produce decently sharp results.

Here are some proof.

How to use manual focus on DSLR for the Otus 55 / Indoor / Handheld

And the crop results.

How to manually focus Zeiss Otus 55 1.4
100% Crop

So here is the technique and the criteria for using it.

  1. You will need a camera that supports Touch Screen (more on the whys later). On Canon this means 6D MK2 and newer.
  2. You must be able to turn on LiveView easily on the back of the DSLR
  3. You need a strap. The kind you hang over your neck and without too much elasticity.

You will need to stretch the camera out before you and have a bit of tension. This provides the stability to reduce handshakes that is needed especially for indoor type of shoot.

Press on the LiveView button, on the Canon 6DMK2, you can easily reach it using your right thumb while holding the camera with two hands.

COMPOSE! You do your composition now, ignore the focus point.

Press the Magnify button (or whichever button on your camera that allows you to select a focus point via touch). This is the reason why I insist that this technique requires touch screen, it makes the whole shooting process easy because you already composed your shot, there will be no recomposing.

Press the Magnify button twice (eg 6DMK2) or whichever button to get you maximum ZOOM. Twist that smooth focusing barrel on the Otus 55 1.4 and when you see the image is clear, just press the shutter, don’t worry about the image looking wobbly while being in the zoom mode.

So just to recap, you shoot using the liveview, compose first, click on the focus point, zoom in and manually focus on the zoomed-in image, press the shutter. All while having that tension between the camera and strap.

Marcus Low

What’s so great about the OTUS 55 1.4?

Now that we are done with the technique, let’s see why this lens is a must have for a standard focal length if you don’t mind manual focusing.

Contrast, Colors, Sharpness

The bokeh. I am a bokeh whore and there for a 50mm kinda portraits you will need bokeh. The Otus at 55 1.4 means you will have plenty of that, but who needs ugly bokeh?

Check out the ugly bokeh of some 50s that you have probably come across. Below is the 50 1.4 Canon USM.

Bokeh Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 vs Canon 50 1.4 USM
The model is beautiful (fb: colleen), the Bokeh is questionable

Now check out the Otus 55 1.4

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Bokeh
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Busy background but beautiful bokeh, Model Amanda CME

More examples of great COLORS, CONTRAST, SHARPNESS

Readers of my blogs will understand that I often prefer to demonstrate the points by picture instead of elaborate texts. So sit back and enjoy the images. Pay attention to the shifting tones between light and shadows, highlights and the falloff in depth of field rendering.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, 3D POP!

Check out the colors! Those living in Malaysia know we don’t have the best angle for good sun light, every bit of advantage you get from the lens helps!

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 DOF renderings / Melaka

When I first got the lens and took some shots, I saw something I didn’t find in my other lenses. Something subtle yet makes the images different. I found it hard to pinpoint the factors. I spent some time reading the technical details on Zeiss own site and took notice of the amount of work their engineers had to do to create this lens.

Flare is like none-existing, instead you get a kind of glow.

Otus 55 f1.4 portraits glow
Otus 55 f1.4 portrait. Flare becomes a glow / no-flash

I am so happy with owning this lens, although admittedly I didn’t come in with the launching price, I wished I owned this lens much earlier and I would have happily paid the price for admission. Sometimes, the timing in technological advancement and features are just not there to make this connection, for example, I would have failed in using this if not for the touch screen introduced on the DSLR like 6DMk2.

Otus 55 f1.4 review
Bobba tea anyone? Cheers to Zeiss

Thanks for reading. You will notice I did not add any affiliate links to BHPhoto/Amazon or anywhere, that is because I am not paid for writing these, just sharing from one enthusiast to another. – Cheers.