Decisive moments in film {portraiture|film}

turning heads
turning heads. Kodak ProImage 100, film.

I assume the general public already knows how to use an autofocus camera for decisive moments. While its super easy to do on a digital camera, its costly to use the same attitude on film.

Now lets learn how to do it with a rangefinder. It’s a lot easier with the rangefinder. Here are the 3 steps :-

  1. Focus on the subject, preferably at f2.0 or smaller aperture. You can focus at the “ground” or nearby object whereby the subject will be passing or at the subject itself if you are expecting a change in expression.
  2. Wait for the moment
  3. Press the shutter

Thats it. How does these steps differs from a normal autofocus camera?

In an autofocus camera, the focus kicks in when you half press the shutter, or you use the de-coupled autofocus button. Due to the way we shoot in digital, we cannot help but to re-press the button whenever the subject changes the expression or if he/she about to walk into the location that you want. There isn’t much thought required so you just focus on the subject and press multiple shots. When i said “we cannot help but to re-press” it has a lot to do with how often we depend on the camera and build that into a habit vs inability.

This is where a rangefinder comes in real helpful. Its essentially a dated mechanism for focusing that got replaced by SLRs. If you use it long enough however, you soon learn to think and be rewarded with its simplicity. It is both the slowest and the fastest autofocusing mechanism in the world.

In 100 shots i have taken with my rangefinder whether its the Leica ME/M9 or the Hexar/Bessa/M7 film bodies, i have maybe 2% of mis-focused shots. In my autofocus bodies, i have around 5-10% of mis-focused shots. This might sound absolutely ridiculous until you try it. I am going to keep that surprise as the reward that you deserve to receive for trying out.

Keep shooting.




Five night at tokyo {street photography | noctilux}

smoking corner

I am still in tokyo, my third day. One Film camera, One lens, the noctilux 50 f1. These photos are from my 2nd day, developed and scanned by Big Camera at Ginza, for around 1000 yen for both process. All the photos are shot at aperture F1-f2.8. I never shoot anything with deep dof, noctilux’s vignette seems to diminish a lot on film.


These photos are unedited, i am using Superia Premium Iso 400, i shot this photo using the hip. These teens are lighted only by the shops on the left and the street light. I took this at f2.

electric town

The black tones on this image is just, perfect. taken at F2.0


This shot was taken on my way out of the Fish market near Ginza where i took the first photo shared on top.

do it

Please visit the rest of the photos here at flickr.

5 real reasons why i shoot film in 2015 {portraiture}

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fuji superia 200, noctilux f1.

* All images here are unedited and taken using film on fuji Superia200 and kodak Porta160.

Often its the old school guys that pushes for shooting films. Folks that are caught in the past and never got the balls to seriously try digital. As a result of that we end up having all kinds of articles in the internet that is both misleading and silly. Sifting through the internet for gems and valid points from experience people who have done both and yet decided on film is like mining for gold in a ghost town.

I believe that before you can judge something, you need to either have divine knowledge in it or you have spent enough time to provide some authoritative opinion on it. Being ignorant or reactively being defensive is a fool’s mentality.

i am a firm believer in digital. I have subscriptions to LR and Adobe CC and i have spend countless hours perfecting my outdoor portraiture works both in editing and photographing. I could shoot manual 100% easily in almost any lighting. I have owned and used Sony a7r, Nikon D4, Sigma SD15 and various other cams during my course of photography. Ownership of premium gears is of course not a credible factor except for being a gear head. My last set of gears that i still own are the Leica ME/M9, Ricoh GR and the Panasonic FZ1000 travel cam.

And so i tried film…gave up few months ago…and i am back.

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fuji superia200, noctilux f1.

Here are 5 reasons why i have no plans to do digital anytime soon. I have one caveat to list here, that is, i am a hobbyist, i don’t shoot studio commercials, my commercials are outdoor portraiture.

1. film are for pros.

Pros as in using a camera and knowing what to set. I am not in the learning stage nor amateurish level where topics like iso, aperture and whitebalance are being learned. If you are starting out, i highly recommend digital. If you can’t take up any camera and shoot successfully in manual, i recommend sticking and using digital. I use 0 exposure compensation for all my images shot since 2013, if you don’t understand how is that possible, stick to digital.

If you have done all that. Welcome to film.

I am using a bessa R3m, which is a rangefinder, similar to my M9 except its 7 times cheaper.
Because it has a magnification of 1:1 i could open both eyes and just decides when to press the shutter.
I have like 500% less things to fiddle on the film camera. Just the shutter speed.
Films is less fiddling because you know what you want.

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fuji superia 200, noctilux f1

2. film sticks to the moment

There is no chance for chimping. You keep ur eyes open, you raise your alertness to the model’s or subject’s ever changing situation. You take the shot, wind the film, next. All the while, you are in the moment, u never left the scene.
When you are using film, you surrender the luxury of digital capabilities like replaying the shot and retaking, 5-100 fps (use a 4kvideo plz) and every click cost money.
Suddenly, your mind is more alert, sober and serious when taking the next shot. This only works on film.
When you have digital and even if you cover up the LCD or if you attempt to limit your shooting process, your mind is not stupid, it knows and you will shoot it like a machine gun.

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kodak porta 200. noctilux f1.

3. film saves you time

This might sound really silly but its true. A typical workflow in digital goes this way.
– 300-1200 shots on a 2 hours shoot
– 1-2 hours just identifying which photo to use, simple tweaks
– 1-3 hours per retouching on each photo

A film workflow is :
– drive and pass to the lab (30 minutes?)
– goto nearest cafe and enjoy your coffee or go home

Today’s modern labs will scan and automatically upload to your google drive, you can collect the film negatives only when you need it. I do pay for the development and scanning, but it comes down to around USD 0.50 per shot. Time is always more expensive and precious.

The tones are so beautiful and i don’t even need to edit to tweak the image vigorously. (See 4 : film tones are awesome)

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kodak porta 200, noctilux f1.

4. film tones are awesome

VSCO dominates most of the picture editing apps today. In instagram VSCO is used more than any other apps added up.
VSCO attempts to deliver film-feel to digital and people just realized they love it.
When you shoot film, you get these awesome tones out of the box. In fact, i could not use any VSCO on any of my film images because the original is just so much better.

None of the images shared here were edited.

kodak porta160. noctilux f1.
kodak porta160. noctilux f1.

5. shooting film slows you down

Each click cost your something. Your “system” is aware of that and you will compose much more before you take that shot.
You will see more and get yourself out of the digital upgrade hell hole and insufficiency complex that the industry is selling you.
At this point of writing i am in Tokyo. I took 5 days off my full time job, to Japan. I came with one film camera and 12 rolls of film.

Don’t get me wrong here. Film is in no way superior to digital when it comes to output and clinical sharpness. It is however, a fantastic process and experience to get into.

The city of Ember {Portraiture|Noctilux f1}

Carbon & yosemite

The noctilux F1 continues to amaze me with its seemingly out of the world rendering. At the end one must ask, does the price justify the results?

the wanderer

Shooting with the noctilux F1 takes on a different kind of eyes. You need to pay attention to the background and to the formation of bokeh that might occur, often making your wildest guess as to what the results might be.

the wanderer’s stare

Using the M9/ME CCD sensor only adds surprises to the results. The M9 sensor is a bad performer in high iso, but with a F1, you only need to do ISO 250-400 max.

grace of light

I found myself torn between focusing on the model as well as trying to envision how the background bokeh might be. Its easy to lose yourself in either one and end up with average photos that focuses too much on bokeh or ignoring its possible distractions.

malaysia top barista, kfchan

Even the most mundane background produces a kind of art around the subject.


The noctilux is not a sharp lens by any modern top lens standard…

binary man

but it can render nothing that the modern lens have.


Then comes Noctilux F1.0 {Portraiture}



I’ve heard people paying crazy prices for lenses. But nothing is more ridiculous in price than the Leica Noctilux, trumped only by other limited edition of noctiluxes. The day came when i just have to have this lens and see for myself all the hearsays i have heard and the images i have seen about this lens. Is the legend true? Is its a lens worth spending usd 10k on.




Initially i went thru the same struggle that some folks did, should i go for the F1 or the new and modern Noctilux 0.95. After much consideration and the fact that i lost the bids in ebay, it seems fated that the F1 is the better option. For one, manufacturing of lenses have become so good and precise that we are getting just more and more of those clean, smooth bokeh images.

The F1 existed in the days when only the best craftmen and manual precision could produce the lens. It has some spiral feel to its bokeh and beautiful painterly colors that blends in the images.


As luck would have it, i got the lens yesterday thru ebay and decided to bring it to office. Later in the evening, i was surprised that Ramona dropped by the office and so it was an unplanned candid photo tryout at the nearby cafe.


Focusing on the rangefinder is not easy at all, its more like you can never tell if you focused correctly given the small margin for sharpness on the Noctilux F1. I am pretty sure this lens would produce super sharp images on the Sony A7/s lineup, but i only have the Leica ME and have no plans to acquire any further camera body, to me the search for camera body ended in one full circle when i returned to Leica.


I don’t find the size big at all, if anything i find it perfect for my use since i have small tremors on my hands and a good weight renders my photos less shaky. I read that some folks shoots the Noctilux at f4 or 5.6 and that is just pure silly. You don’t buy the noctilux to shoot it at any other aperture other than the biggest one, F1/F0.95.

There are also folks that claims you needed an ND filter to use on the noctilux, this is actually a rather subjective solution. I tried shooting in the morning today and F1.0 was fine even at 1/1000 in decent light. If you have to put your model or subject in harsh light whereby you can’t use base ISO and F1, i think you clearly have put the model in the wrong light.


Overall i am very happy and impressed with this Noctilux F1. Buying it via Ebay is pretty risky, but then there isn’t much choice since i cant really find a decently priced item in Malaysia. Is the lens worth it? I leave the images and my further upcoming project for your own evaluation.

r-L1002257 copy r-L1002267 copy

I hope you have enjoyed these images as much as i have made them. I am very lucky indeed to have own this perfect copy of V3, F1. All the best to your search.



Why you need a 1.4 lens for portraiture


The 1.4. Its a magical aperture for portraits. Traditionally folks wants to use 85mm for potraits, but in reality, ANY lens can be used for portraits. In this set that i am sharing, i am using the voigthlander 40 1.4. Its a cheap lens by any standard, you can find used around USD 300 and sometimes less.



With a 1.4 lens you can take low light using ISO around 400. The image above and the rest are done in a Starbucks cafe and you know how dim those lights are? Thats what a 1.4 lens can do for you. If you ever need those beautiful rendering of bokeh lights and portraits of your friends during ur night coffee time or when you just want to be alone in the cafe and think through your work. Grab a 1.4 lens. Its more therapeutic than coffee itself.



This set is unique because i shot these at night and right after a rain fall. Those lights you see surrounding Ramona here is magnified by the cold weather and humidity as well as reflection from wet surfaces.

I used the 40 mm 1.4 lens on the Leica ME. Love those CCD colors. But fret not, you could get good results using any camera of your choice, but the key point here is to use a lens that goes below the f1.8. The problem with today’s images is that there are just TOO many of them flooding the internet. The need to differentiate your images starts from the very choice you make from ur gears selection. A 1.4 lens is definitely higher in “rarity” than a 1.8 lens that most amateurs starts out with.

There you have it. My short answer to the title of this post, via images. Hope you enjoyed them and do leave me some comments 🙂


Fixing the vertical alignment on M6

The M6, arguable world best 35mm film camera
The M6, arguably world best 35mm film camera

The M6 have a slight vertical alignment issue. What happens when you have a camera that you going to use seriously for some shoot and it has a minor issue? I tell you how it feels, it feels like an itch that can’t be scratched!
So after looking up some popular local photography figures in town, i was served the advice of sending it to Germany or Singapore. Ouch.

I watched almost all the videos i could find on M6, Vertical alignment. For example :
Mr.John Wayne here have noted how he fixed the same problem using a tool that he fashioned himself.
2.Fixing M4,6,7 Vertical Alignment

You know what? These videos are almost useless, for me at least. They failed to understand that a layman with just some technical background won’t be able to understand the most simple and the most important question of all. Why does such a tool would work? Some enterprising chinese guy obviously saw this opportunity and is selling a similar tool for USD 64, its probably worth just USD 10 at most, but since its a specialized tool, i can understand why some folks would pay for it.

There are two (2) post that eventually helped me.
1. Diy Tool
The keyword here that really helped is the word “fulcrum”. I will explain later why this is the defining word in understanding how to tweak the rangefinder.

2. Mingthein This guy is a genius (literally without sarcasm) and he replied my mail and by saying that he didn’t even use that tool. This hint and (1) gave me all the answers i needed.

Ok, read this carefully. First you open the logo by pushing the letters “L”, the horizontal tail of “L” and then push “a” from clockwise. It doesn’t really matter which direction u push but push just slightly with ur fingernails or something plastic that won’t scratch your M6 body. Basically your are “persuading” the logo to come out, its just a tough sticker, but dont “pry” it or u will destroy that sticker. After pushing and relaxing for sometime in various directions, it will just come off.

Refer to the (2nd) video in the top, you will see how it looks like, a craggy hole and how the special tool looks like. It doesn’t bother to explain why the tool works, just looks like magic.

I am not going to tell you how to create a tool or what to use and its not for the faint hearted. I am going to explain why the tool works and why you don’t need the tool. Do this at your own risk, or send to Germany. These are written for educational and knowledge sharing.


Inside that red dot, you will see this horizontal “U” with a dot.
Basically u just needed to push either “up” (A) or “down” (B) using whatever tools. The official tool contains an insertion that will enter that hole and turning it does nothing except provide a “FULCRUM” to allow the metal to push (A) or (B). Thats it! I can’t believe how this was missed out in the videos and pretty much most of the posts i read. Looking at that tool you would think that the hole contains a screw or something, it doesn’t.

At the end, i did’t use any special tools or crafted anything special. I took ordinary stuffs that took me 5 minutes to create and pushed the right position.

For old rangefinders, the must have tip


The Kodak Retinaii is a rangefinder and an old one.
Sometimes focusing is very hard because the rangefinder square is small unlike the Leica’s M9.
After much cleaning up and reading, i came across this tip published in a rangefinder forum.

I tried it and…kazam! Focusing has suddenly improved dramatically. The tip is a very simple idea.
Cut a square black tape and stick it to the viewfinder, the size preferably should be near the rangefinder other “window” that you move to focus.
By blocking the main viewfinder with a corresponding square, when you move the rangefinder window, its so much easier to see.


Try it today, it might change the way you look at old rangefinder cameras. I tried it in low light and other scenario, it has my vote as the no.1 tip of all time for rangefinder camera.