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.

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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)

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GFX50s 45 F2.8 – Classic Negative Simulation / IG : sashaxuan (Forbes 30 under 30)
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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.

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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.

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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

Ergonomics

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.

If portraiture bores you, try doing it at night {portraiture | CCD}

malaysia top portrait photographer

Just wanted to quickly share two images i just took tonight.

If you feel that portraiture are beginning to bore you and you have been doing way too many portraits, try doing it at night.

Its a totally different level and playing field at night and the resulting images often brings a long lost smile to that photography kid hiding inside.

All images below are taken with Nikon CCD sensor camera at F1.4.  As to which camera it is, you will have to dig around my blogs to find out, i have been very vocal about how underrated this camera is, i bought three of them just so i have some assurance of its continuity.

 

malaysia top portrait photographer

malaysia top portrait photographer

 

The model is Amanda CME, also known as Mak3upQueen, you can find her on facebook and if you happened to be in Malaysia, do engage her makeup services for your model photoshooting.

cheers.

 

 

World’s most beautiful Leica M6 Part II {does it takes pictures?}

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M6 Dragon Y2000 Black Paint

Read Part 1 here

We have to ask ourselves whenever we try to justify our purchases. Especially one that comes from the red-dot company (cough*). The left brain begets us to explain, to sanitise our conscience through logic. The big question is “Why did you buy this camera, will you even use it?”. There is a thin line between a gear head, a collector and an actual enthusiast user that appreciates using the tool.

 

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Leica M6 dragon with 35mm f2 Biogon

When i bought the Dragon M6 limited edition, i was clearly stunned by its built and quality. I even blogged about this earlier . It has been weeks since i had the camera. All the early shouting and self afflicted propaganda to keep buyer’s remorse have subsided. I couldn’t allow myself to keep the camera in the box to just appreciate its aesthetic values, my views of collectors are pretty low in respect and using that same measurement on myself would make me a complete hypocrite.

A beautiful tool such as the Dragon M6 have to prove its worth and a camera is useless if it isn’t used to create images. So i took it out for a whole day shoot when my model friend and internet idol Stephy Yi Wen told me that she would be going to Korea for studies. I got myself some rolls of Fuji Superia 200 and Fuji Venus 800. I knew that i would be using the 35mm Zeiss Biogon wide open but in a room with only dimly available natural light coming in, the ISO 800 film would be handy.

 

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The Dragon 2000

If you happened to be travelling to South East Asia and passing by Malaysia, do get your films replenish and develop in Bang Bang Geng in Publika. With the pathetic level of Malaysian currency today, you could get a Superia 200 for USD 4 and scanning with development for USD 4.5.

Now back to shooting session. I noticed that there are indeed some improvement that M7 does have over even this Dragon M6. One of them being the iso dials you see behind the body, the M7’s iso dial is clearly easier to use and felt more robust. The other is the shutter dials. The Dragon’s shutter dial are more polished and looks great but turning the knob at each stop felt better on the M7. The M7 is after all a much newer camera.

 

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Immaculate finishing

The rewind knob is used slightly differently than how i imagined it would be. The Dragon’s knob needs to be lifted up while the 2 dots remains submerged to do the rewinding. I found myself winding for 5 minutes and getting nowhere initially before i realized that the knob needs to be lifted.

There are several aspect of the camera that made it a very inspiration tool for use. First, the body is slightly lighter than the M7, i would say almost nobody would buy an M7 or M6 without using it on a holster or case. The Dragon just felt perfect while the M7 felt a bit on the heavier side. This is of course a purely personal evaluation. The other advantage is that the Dragon only uses 1 battery as opposed to 2 on the M7, the mechanism of replacing the battery on the M6 is definitely built better than the M7s.  The 0.85 finder, delicious.

Enough about the camera, how did it do, i will leave some images here for you own evaluation.

recommended leica m6 for today
beautiful stephy. M6 dragon. venus 800

 

desire leica m6 dragon edition
Enlightenment. M6 Dragon, venus 800.

 

most desirable leica
Alluring. M6 Dragon, venus 800.

 

best film camera leica dragon m6
Stephy @ Sekeping Jugra. M6 Dragon. Superia 200

 

limited edition 2000 dragon leica
“There”. M6 Dragon. Superia 200.

Could i have gotten better or similar results from the Leica M7? Of course i could, don’t be silly :-). The Dragon M6 might be the most beautiful Leica M6 that warrants it as a collector item but it should by all means be used. The 0.85 works really well with the 35mm frame lines. What was you weekend shoot, did you try film? Do share some of your thoughts here.

Beautiful Portraiture at 35mm {portraiture}

Recently I have been shooting on both the sigma dp2x and the canon 6d digital. It’s Chinese New Year and the film labs are not open so i invited Stephy chang over for a session.

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Sigma dp2x

Sigma have amazing colors but highlights often blown easily. Despite what some die hard sigma fans will defensively tell you, it’s pretty much Sigma’s silly decision to put the AFE conponent into an otherwise usable camera.

Well regardless of brands and advantages, let’s just enjoy some of these images.

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Sigma dp2x

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dp2x on vertical portraits, 3 meters away

I have a lot of beautiful images taken by the canon 6D, it’s amazing how easy the common cameras are in delivering results vs sigma. There is this beautiful airbnb site “sekeping jugra” that allows various interesting scene with the play of light. If you happened to be in KL, do drop by this place or make it your accommodation.

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Canon 6d. Added grains

best outdoor portraits canon malaysia
Canon. Moving candids are easy on canon, impossible on sigma

 

stephy yiwen photography best photographer
Canon 6d

The sigma images are shot on 41mm and the canon images on 35mm. I am a fan of using non standard portraiture lenses focal length because I needed the outdoor scene for context . I find it often hilarious how some would travel far and shoot models on 85mm losing any relevant context to the images.

What is your favourite outdoor portrait lens ? I have once tried using 18mm for portraits.

 

Penang beach {portraiture}

penang best portrait photographer
Serenity

One of the unexpected nice location for photoshoot in Penang is this small opening at Babylon restaurant .

I have always strived for taking portraits that are natural with an element of candid feel to it. With the wind on my side and a close and happy model at the scene, the right recipe for a beautiful album that presents itself.

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True smiles, a rarity among portraits

Eilein Pang have collaborated with me for over a year now for her albums and her popularity and freelance jobs have grown too. Often we would chat about some local issues that are faced by the freelancers and the individuals that we could draw inspirations from.

She has never doubted my  constant preference to try new ideas on different mediums and gears. When I pursued film for the skin tones and organic feel she was pretty patient with the waiting period that her generation have never experienced before.

35mm penang best outdoor photography
Horizon

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Calmness

I will be visiting this place again if I visit Penang. Curious as to how the light would be at sunrise.  I hope you enjoyed these short series of images.

Vintage streets of Penang {portraiture}

On the last week of 2016, I visited penang, a northern state and island in Malaysia. Penang have a heritage site recognised by UNESCO for maintaining its vintage streets and architectural aesthetics.

My first stop was Lebuh melayu where I rented a room via airbnb. Two of my model friends visited me and I took the opportunity to do some albums.

Eilein @ Sekeping Pinang – fuji400pro, olympus 35uc
The street outside here looks like it’s stuck in the 1940s. Some shops have been converted to lodging and  cafes while the corner shops are hosting hawkers like stalls. These hawker like stalls are infamous for its local dishes.

Old stool – canon 35 1.4 L
Canon 35 1.4 L

If you travel to Malaysia, you have to visit Penang.  Rooms here cost a mere usd $50 per night , complete with breakfast. I wouldn’t mind the breakfast though, the food at the streets and cafe are so much better.

Elaine – canon 35 1.4 L

Just another 12 km away from the city you will reach Batu feringgi, a stretch of beaches for those beach lovers . I visited that part for some shots but in this piece I will just share images done at the street .

I took both a film camera and my canon digital with me . My pretty friends actually prefers digital since the results would be fast but nowadays film development in Malaysia won’t take more than 2 days.

Vintage streets – canon 35 1.4 L
Poses as a tourist – canon 35 1.4 L

There are plenty of specialise cafes as well, from ice cream centric ones to those offering own cakes. 

So walking in the humid and hot tropical streets here I have to occasionally stop by a cafe or two just to escape the heat and chat with my friends . 

Eilein – fuji400pro olympus 35uc
Eilein – fuji400pro olympus 35uc

I hope you enjoyed these images and visit Penang one of these days. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 4

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Art seller

Inside the walled city, i feel the fusion of urban commercialization with medieval haunting covering the whole place. It is as if two lovers struggling to keep the relationship alive and yet dances in harmony to the playing music.

I walked passed by a shop selling potpourri of trinkets only to be greeted by the next shop with hand crafted items and arts. Today is the first day in Dubrovnik and after 15 minutes inside this ancient city, i knew i made a big mistake.

I had only 7 rolls of film and about to finish up the 3rd roll.

(Do visit my previous chapters here : 1 2 3, this whole series is done completely in film)

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The oldest pharmacy in the world

As my family strolled along the main path looking at the shops and cafes, we noticed there are narrow paths between some shops and those paths are opens up smaller shops that array themselves along the corridors.

On top of these shops are actual residents living in almost apartment like setting. They are not allowed to renovate the outer construction to preserve the medieval theme. Most are available for rent and you could find them at premium prices in AirBNB.

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postcards

I didn’t want to buy any souvenirs since it is just day one and constant reminder that i am running out of film only leave me with two options. I could either switch to use the Fuji digital camera that Phoenix is carrying with her and that amazing 16 f1.4 in her green bag or i should try to find a shop here that sells film.

I went for the latter.

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Narrow walls

It is a vintage location with vintage look, feel and ambiance. Who in the right mind would prefer digital over film in Dubrovnik? Hahaha, that was playing on my mind as i turned on my “radar” as we tour the ground level.

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toys of thrones

 

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charlie

When Phoenix and Sheryll got tired and decided to snack at a cafe (there are 1 at nearly every 10 meters away) i took the opportunity to walk up some of the visible stairs leading up to side of the city. Away from the main attraction you can see people going about their normal lives, doing laundry and chilling outside the window.

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the chef

There are all kinds of restaurants here and even at the higher level of the city if you walk up the stairs you will see smaller establishments. It does feel “crowded” sometimes in this city despite the vintage settings and i was really hoping to find a quiet spot to just take in the moment.

Next, i be sharing images taken at the wall tours and piers in the tip of the walled city.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, Chapter 5

Amanda kills digital {portraiture | film}

amanda
Amanda | mamiya rz67pro | fuji400H pro

Perhaps this picture will cause you to consider doing medium format film photography. Although i did a lot of nice sexy beach shoot with Amanda, this photo taken in a cafe on the Mamiya RZ67Pro with 110 f2.8 lens just raised the level to 3D literally.

The colors and tones are just so beautiful. Its mind blowing to think that one need to spend USD 2000 on puny FF digital nowadays when USD 400 gets you this amazing gear with plenty of $$ for film development. Awesome.

 

■ amanda ■ Sands {portraiture | ccd sensor}

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This is Amanda CME (fb,insta: mak3upqueen). I met her 3 years ago and last sunday we decided to collaborate. I shot this album using both film and CCD digital. Unfortunately film is still processing and not out yet, so do enjoy my digital version. Shot on the “lousiest nikon camera – ken rockwell” D3000.

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As much as i am eager to see the output from the 6×7 film i shot, these CCD output from my Nikon camera are just awesome. Amanda have done so much makeup for her clients, doing model poses is like a walk in the park.
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Hope you enjoyed the photos. I am the best portrait photographer in Malaysia, not commercially, but in my thoughts, reach out and passion.  Do forgive me for the arrogance 😉

Elaine + Eilein {Portraiture|Fujichrome}

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Elaine. 16mm f1.4. Fujichrome.

I gave in to the alluring temptation of trying out the FujiChrome film simulation. How did this happened? Ever since i sold off all my full frame digital cameras like the leica ME and Nikon D610, i had only the d3000 nikon, F100 nikon film camera, a FZ1000 bridging digital 1″ sensor and two M7’s, a Bessa R3m and a Hexar for my M mount lenses. So you can see its 90% film cameras.

Shooting film been great and i truly enjoy photography and slowing down so much. However there are some films that are no longer in production and as i scoured through the internet looking at the tones and feel of some of these bygones film, i came across discussions about Fujifilm’s simulation of FujiChrome.

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16mm f1.4

Fujichrome only exist in digital today, to be exact, it exist only as a jpg output on a digital Fuji camera. I resisted the idea of buying another camera since the whole exercise been done with and i could finally have “peace” 😉 but days of looking at the FujiChrome samples got the better of me. I went out and acquire a Fuji X-A2, the entry level Fuji, a M to Fuji adapter to use my M mount lenses and a 16mm f1.4.

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16mm f1.4. Shot at around less than 1 meter away. FujiChrome

It happened that two of my friends are coming down to Kuala Lumpur, two very attractive friends that is. So i took the opportunity to use the FujiChrome simulation and 3 lenses to produce some new albums. The lenses are 40mm 1.4 Voigtlander M(60mm on fuji), 28mm F2 Ultron (42mm on fuji) and 16mm f1.4 Fuji native lens.

The 16 f1.4 is an amazing lens. It could focus as close as 5 cm away and have shallow DOF for full body portraiture at a close distance.

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28mm f2.0 (42mm) Astia film simulation. Eilein.

I switched to Astia film simulation while using the manual 28 mm f2 (42mm) to see if it gets me what i want. I would say the results are good but i still prefer the FujiChrome tones. On the Fujifilm X-A2, i am unable to have the other film simulation like Acros but since the X-A2 is using a conventional CMOS sensor instead of the Xtrans II, i didnt need to waste time on my LightRoom, almost all the pictures you see here are cleaned up from its JPG instead of raw.

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28mm f2 (42mm) Astia film simulation

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40 mm f1.4 (60mm) FujiChrome

Just look at those beautiful FujiChrome tones. I can only wonder what if the film still exist today, how much more different can it be apart from actual film grains. Using 40mm f1.4 mostly for the rest of the images here, I realized that focusing on Fuji is easy and you can magnify a moveable focus point to aid in the focusing.

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40 mm f1.4 (60mm) FujiChrome

Eilein have a beautiful visage and a taller than normal asian nose bridge. Shooting her portrait from the side angle highlights her features while the interesting light at 8 am brings in some drama to the image.

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40 mm f1.4 (60mm) FujiChrome

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40 mm f1.4 (60mm) FujiChrome

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40 mm f1.4 (60mm) FujiChrome

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28 mm f2 (42mm Fuji) Astia film simulation

I hope you enjoyed this series of mine. Overall i feel that Fuji did a very good job bringing FujiChrome film simulation to the public though i believe it still looks very digital in comparison to my other actual film albums.