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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Medium format totally works for me. If you are looking for reasons on settling for one, here are my reasons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The year was 1958. The competitions were fierce. It is a take no prisoner stage, where every camera manufacturer did their best to produce the most reliable, most advance and beautiful 35mm film camera of all time.
The over engineered Leica M3 was released 4 years ago, the undisputed champion. There was no sensor war, no dynamic range, no fps, what can you possibly produce that can have an edge in engineering to offer the consumers?
Zeiss held a pep talk with the company, the engineers in particular needed to hear one. Something is cooking at the land of the rising sun and it is not going to be merciful when it arrives. How about we throw everything we can and create a camera that no man has ever imagined neither will the competitors ever be able to produce?
Zeiss created the Contarex Bullseye.
As history records the aftermath, the most beautiful camera in the world which was supposed to be engineered to a level of perfection that it needed no after service nor care, did not fare well commercially. It was more expensive than the Leica M3 and a year later in 1959, Japan sent its Nikon F into the world, obliterating M3 and every other rangefinder in existence.
This blog doesn’t promote GAS and I have been pondering on which camera to use for my 52 weeks project of One camera, One lens, I decided to pay homage to the Zeiss engineers effort and ideals and use this camera for this task. The fallout of this camera was so bad it literally killed the company.
The engineers lost passion and never produced anything significant in terms of camera bodies. The company went downhill after that. While this is not the absolute truth of exactly what happened, it is my narration based on the timeline and understanding of engineers in companies.
Why film? Why not just use the 645z and use that instead for the 52 weeks project? The reason is simply because of restrictions. Film development is still affordable here in Malaysia, we are looking at USD 4 for development and includes scanning. While they exist and the limits of 36 shots per roll is appealing for my objectives, this seems like a good direction.
The other reason is that I have decided to remove Photoshop and Lightroom from my workflow for this 52 weeks project. That is me showing the finger to this commercial company for their lethargic products and these subscriptions and megapixels marketing noises. Did you know that they parked their sales in IRELAND and you had to contact customer service to stop your subscription? No thanks.
Thus my 52 weeks begin. Come join the restriction, pick 1 camera, any camera, 1 lens and focus on photographing things that moves you, not the likes or public.
Here are some updated photos I took of the camera itself, it is a real beauty though that divine shell comes with a heavy history and cost.
One of the unique craftsmanship seen on this camera is that it has no light seals to be found anywhere, in fact the only foam you can find is at the mount near the focusing screen where it has slight contact with the mirror as it flips up.
The mechanism of flipping the mirror is not the ordinary design that we find in the dslrs or slrs of the golden age of film cameras. It looks and feel complex, whether this complexity translates to anything superior is pure conjecture.
Maybe some of you are like me, tired of reading reviews, tired of seeing SquareSpace ads, tired of looking for inspiration and instead landed on yet another YouTuber’s clueless images.
Tired of chasing for likes, tired of complying to Facebook and Instagram shitty screen estate for showing images and yet limiting your reach and audience? Sometimes we only need to take a good look at the mirror and ask why.
As a hobbyist, I have clear advantage over pros and I believe there are many like me, we enjoy photography but we don’t want to drag our passion into commercial stage. This is our exclusive area, a sabbatical escape from the daily business routine in our lives.
We create images and we share them so that others would see our work, enjoy our work with the hope that people could feel what we feel, see what we see. Sometimes we reached out to seek inspirations but instead we are greeted with gear reviews, messages about the inferiority of our gears and rubbish examples that are poor value for our time.
As time goes by, the challenge of doing a 1 camera 1 lens for a year is becoming both more attractive and meaningful to me. Limitation is a catalyst for creativity and a vote of protest from my soul towards all these noise coming from Brands, social media and the lack of appreciation of good work done by fellow photographers.
I have decided to share my images in Flickr and other platforms where images gets their well deserved resolution and display without all the shackles of compression and pursue of likes.
While I have not decided on the camera to participate in this challenge, I felt a strong peaceful confirmation whenever I think of this decision. I will be sharing a set of images each week on my YouTube channel just for people to enjoy looking at them to chill for the day and if you want to see the bigger versions, a flickr link is included in the description.
Every Week, 1 Set of Images for 1 Year, done on 1 Camera + 1 Lens
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I am at Tokyo now as i share this guide. The weird thing is that when i started to google for street photography in Tokyo, i ended up getting a pile of links that often provide…no inspirational photos, it is as if it’s written just for bait.
In fact, some of the most inspirational images i found are in youtube instead of the top links in google. Here is one example of a good youtube video .
Now that i been here for a week, i have a few pointers to share.
1. Visit the parks
By george, there are so many parks in Japan and parks are usually visited by both tourists and locals alike. By all means, its a great place to do some shoot.
2. Make up your mind on what is street photography
Street photography should be about people. There should at least be a person in your image when you take that shot. Tokyo have all kinds of people and the good news is that most of these people are Japanese, so unless you are at some hot tourist spots, you have plenty of Japanese to fill in the frame.
3. Visit Ginza on weekends
During weekend, central Chuo Dori street will be blocked from vehicle access. This means massive human traffic will be roaming this section of the street and that is exactly what we want for street photography.
If you are not sure where is Chuo Dori street, you can also look for the Ricoh Pentax building and you are in the right area. Do visit the Ricoh building, they often host interesting gallery at level 7 (which u need to pay 510 yen) or access level 8 for Ricoh Pentax shop. Level 8 also showcases the various film cameras of Ricoh Pentax and the prices back then.
4. Time matters
You need to pay attention to the 9-5 working hours time. This is because you will be using the rails too and you don’t want to be caught sandwiched in carriage while you try go get to your destination. Also if you are there early before these hours, you can watch the crowd grow in numbers and anticipate what kind of shots to take.
I didn’t take any Shibuya crossing photos because i have no idea what else i could take that could be interesting, but hey, thats me, you should go ahead and visit Shibuya. Here are some i took but didn’t capture the essence of the crossings.
5. Watch the traffic section
I found myself often regretting putting the camera back into the bag when i am at the traffic junction or stop. Surprises lurks in every corner (or in this case, every stop) and you should get your camera ready.
There are also long trucks that can slow down and even stops at any junction because they have idols inside and doing a road promotion.
6. Be confident
Most japanese are friendly and live by the culture of being polite. Sometimes they can be camera shy and cover their faces when your camera is seen pointing towards them. During these whole week, i only had one old guy shouting to me “No photos!” at the Yakitori Alley near Shinjuku at night. Man, what a loser, if it wasn’t for bloggers that took and share photographs of their shops and grilled skewers, where did he think the customers came from. Duh.
Anyway, that was just one really isolated incident. Be brave and just shoot.
Sometimes you will come across these smoking areas outside malls and streets. These scenes often present good photo opportunities. So do loiter around these locations especially in the pre 9 am or after 4.30 pm time range.
7. Pay attention to Japan’s peculiar culture
Japan have a very different set of culture and we see this reflected in many activities. This picture for example was taken just outside Gotanda, a bunch of kids are cleaning up the street and tending the public ground.
Japan is also an ageing country, so you will see a lot of over 60 years old folks still working and sometimes it can be heart wrenching to see them and be reminded of your own parents. It can be shocking too on how much these old people could walk so much between the subways and stairs.
So that is my guide for Tokyo, keep in mind this is my 3rd time in Japan shooting around and as i learn new things, i would share them in new articles.
I wanted to write this piece after stumbling upon the story of this girl called Plaaastic. She died late last year, taking her own life after a series of what she would termed as being singled out by the universe for abuse.
(*all the images here are not related to plaaastic or anyone, they are taken by me for this illustration)
Looking at her instagram and content that she generates, i see a creative soul snuffed out of this world, an immature death. It’s hard to imagine how one can deal with a situation in life where you got betrayed by the one you loved, abused by parents, abandoned by friends, tried to stood up and reclaim her life only to be robbed on the streets.
Frankly after reading the part on her villain husband who was introduced to her by her photographer friend, i could only wonder, what an idiot he is.
This series of images is going to reflect the loneliness of such a life and the prison that one can be in. She is not alone, in the last few months, we have seen korean k-pop idols who took their own lives. One could never fathom the “why” but one could feel. I ended this series with a positive note, a hope and i hope those who feels trapped by these invisible walls, will find strength to stay on.
Glasses. A prison of the soul.
You called out to those who seems so near. Yet they can’t hear you, your pleas and your plight found no one. Many are standing so near and yet the icy glass makes them so far.
Do we often create invisible barriers by our own decisions? A few steps to the right, a few to the left, are those steps all we needed for freedom. Do we walk right into another layer of glass even if we escaped this one?
Draw strength by looking back! What if looking back we could only draw hurts and unlock hidden memories that are too painful to be held to our attention? What then, how can one continue the journey if every step taken in the past only draws us back to darkness.
Peace. What one took for granted, is priceless to some. Unattainable, remote, like stranger that does reply no matter how much we calls out to. Each waves that swept over us are waves of disappointment.
But, then, we realize something. We could be happy. What if we are not trapped, but we are merely worthy of harder challenges in life to move us further up.
What if those who are actually trapped are these same people over the other side of the glass? People who are complacent and happy without direction nor purpose. Celebrating around a little fire that they started, unaware of the reality of life on the other side. Unable to offer help, they became like the deaf and mute.
Life is not a series of chance and tragedy. Life is about free gifts that are given to us, breath given to this Universe so that we could play a part in it, to experience Love and His great plan.