Friday, May 21, 2010

A Day to Remember - May 19, 2010

This has been a rather intense week for me and, I'm sure, for many Thai citizens alike.  The two-month long demonstration came to an end on Wednesday but it is far from over.  I will not enter into too much details here, but only to set a few things straight, with a promise to share a few photographs relating to this subject.

The two-month long demonstration rooted back further than the military coup in 2006.  Most international media, sadly, are only citing the coup as the cause along with wealth gaps which exists here and so are in many developing countries around the world.  The wealth gap did not just started.  It has been there for decades.  Some would say double standard treatment of the government is another cause.  That, too, is nothing new.  Double standard treatments have long been part of Thailand, no matter which administration or government.  (At one point Thai Airways, co-owned by the government, had separate check-in counters for government officials.) What many had completely failed to notice was that the coup itself was far less violent than what had happened here in Bangkok on May 19, 2010.

I am not a supporter of the airport closure, led by the Yellow Shirt group either.  I firmly believe that both sides love their country, however, one evil man and his servants had taken advantage of the Red Shirts for their own benefits.  Evidence can be seen through various videos that their leaders had given orders to burn down the city of Bangkok.  International media sees riots as a reaction to the crack-down, most Thais see them as planned terrorism.

In the last two months, the government had given all possible opportunities to negotiate and to peacefully end the protest.  These offers include three (televised) negotiations (which failed as the Red Shirt leaders refused to compromise beyond immediate parliament dissolution), at least two separate offers for re-election dates (where the soonest offer is dated for November 14, 2010), and the Road Map proposal to reform the country where the working class would be more fairly represented.  These opportunities somehow escaped the attention of foreign media, perhaps with exception of Al Ja Zeera network.  The Road Map was partially accepted by the Red Leaders who, at the final stages, made their final demands requesting guaranteed bails, safety, and complete dismissal of all charges against them.  How these demands are related to democracy is difficult to see.  What the international news agencies had failed to highlight was the Chulalongkorn Hospital raid by the Red Shirts.  They not only blocked the streets, entrances, and exits, but at one point hundreds of protesters raided the hospital.  Hundreds of patients had to be relocated to other hospitals around the city, not to mention the frightened nurses and hospital staff.  Such inhumane behavior is cruel and unacceptable, a polar opposite of their claims to have a peaceful demonstration.

On Wednesday, May 19, the government announced  it would secure parameters and close in on the demonstrators in order to reclaim the streets back.  Bombs and grenades were found along the tire barriers.  Soldiers were killed, and unfortunately so were some journalists.  As the troops closed in, three of the Red Shirt leaders announced their surrenders, immediately claiming it would be for the safety of their (red shirt) people.  At this point, they, themselves, disappointed many protesters who later became extremely upset.  That afternoon, reports started coming in that many banks, shops, ATMs, and shopping complexes were looted, destroyed, and set on fire.  Channel 3 (local TV network)'s building was set on fire by armed protesters while the TV staff were working upstairs, trapping them in the building.  Fortunately, a helicopter rescue effort saved many, as fire was extinguished after the protesters had moved on.  Central World, a leading shopping complex, was set alight soon after the surrender announcement.  Snipers and shooters were busy keeping the rescue and fire prevention efforts at bay.  Fire burnt for nine hours before any fire engines could access the area.  Finally part of the Central World building collapsed and the fire-fighters were able to control the flame later in the night.

This act of vandalism and terrorism are not impulse reaction, but rather an orchestrated one.  It is easily seen that structures whose property owners are related in some way to the former-PM's family have been left more or less undamaged.  Channel 3, for example, was heavily targeted likely due to the recent airing of the local celebrity's "I love my Father" (King, in this case) speech.  Convenient stores have been looted, phone booths and ATMs have been damaged.  News report showing footage of some protesters' bags, going through security checks by the military volunteers, with looted goods inside.  So much for democracy they're asking for.  Footage of Red Shirt Leaders encouraging their followers to burn down the city can be seen on YouTube.  They (yes, more than one) explicitly stated that if things fail, just burn the city down.  

Many thoughts went through my head that Wednesday night.  Having read many things about the Red Shirt movement, I knew before hand that this demonstration would not end well.  It exceeded my expectation, and by that, I meant, it's worse than I had expected.  And this is just the first of many more chapters....

Below are some of the images I had taken around the main protest site (from the old Panasonic LX3) during holiday period in 2008.  The most obvious change is the collapse of Zen Department Store, part of the Central World Building.  It will be missed by many.  For the most part, it will be remembered for what had taken place here on May 19, 2010.

[Note: Most of the images here were taken at the useful f2.0.  Some shots were handheld while others were shot with the camera braced on the handrails for stability.  These are JPGs straight from the camera! I became a believer in the LX3 and DLux 4 after that night.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another excellent Leica Blog with great photos

Ashwin Rao's blog has a nice collection of photos taken with his Leica gears including the latest Noctilux f 0.95!

Ashwin Rao's Blog

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Best Just Got Better: Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH.

After a few leaks and rumors for the last few months, Leica has officially announced the new 35mm Summilux, featuring a floating element.  You be the judge on this one.  I'm perfectly happy with my 35 Summilux!

Visit Leica's website for The New 35mm Summilux.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Learning RF - The One Lens Approach

In the last decade or so, the main lenses used on my SLR/DSLR were 28-70mm, 17-55mm (DX), and 24-50mm.  I've also used 80-200mm and 70-200mm but they were simply too large and heavy to travel with me on holidays.  On the compact side, I've grown accustomed to wider angle too, thanks to compacts like Panasonic LX2, LX3, and Leica DLux 4.

I did not take long to decide that the 24mm Elmarit would be included in my lens line-up with the M9.  I wanted a more versatile lens that I can comfortably carry with the M9 and must be able to shoot in low light.  This would also be my 'default' lens that I will use 70%+ of the time.  After a lot of research and browsing samples on the internet, the 35mm Summilux seemed like the right choice for me.  The only doubt I had was the focal length itself since I have not shot at 35mm all that much.

So the 35mm Summilux became my learning lens with the M9 in the next few months.  I was forced to get accustomed to it since I will be my default lens.  I've read many suggestions that it is better to learn rangefinder shooting with the least variable as possible.  Working with one lens meant that I could concentrate more on the focusing technique, speed, learning the M9 metering, and focused on shooting as effectively as possible.  The 35mm Summilux let me do all that, in all conditions, bright or dark, be it people shoot or nature shoot.

Soon I got a hang of the lens, focusing, composing, and the old-fashioned metering of the M9.  This lens, despite its focus shift reputation, is very good indeed.  It's sharp wide-opened, and still delivers that three dimensional look the photos.  It's smooth to operate, and is not too large to carry (although some may disagree).  

So if you're new to rangefinder photography, or in fact, just photography itself, you will find that working with the least complicated gears and settings will let you concentrate more on photography itself rather than the equipment.  

Here are some photos taken during the early days with the M9 and the 35mm Summilux.  

Composing within 35mm frame wasn't easy for me because I'd been shooting with 24-28mm focal length most of the time.  Given some time and practice, the narrower 35mm perspective can produce very interesting result too.  These swings at the back of my house had always been seen as cheerful & fun objects.  However, composing the shot a little differently and processing it in black & white, this shot appears a little cold and rather spooky!

I wanted to see how well the subject can be separated using the maximum aperture setting.  Here the red leaf is optically isolated from the green surrounding trees. 

Carrying my M9 along to a local shopping complex over the new year period, I snapped this photo to see how well the background lights would be rendered at maximum aperture.  I'm glad I made the right choice with the Summilux.  It renders the bokeh in a true Leica style and it handles low light very well.

Manual focusing, with practice, can be just as quick as autofocus especially in low light.  Below are some of my early 'people shots' taken with the 35 Summilux.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Gear, Part I: Leica DLux 4

In addition to my Leica M9, I use a few other cameras for different occasions.  This is the first part of "My Gears", let's start small with the DLux 4.

This is my default camera.  I carry my DLux 4 with me almost all the time due to its versatility and compact size.  I love its 24mm perspective, the useful f2.0 aperture, and a long battery life.  (In fact, the Panasonic LX3 can do equally good jobs for much less money, but more on that another time.)  Just to be clear up front, I do not shoot RAW with my compacts.  I like to keep things nice and simple with everyday camera.  With intuitive controls and simple operations, the DLux 4/LX3 just works.  It allows me to concentrate on shooting, rather than fiddling with the menu.

I use the DLux 4 when I don't want to carry a camera bag with me although it isn't quite 'pocketable.'  It can fit in my messenger bag on most occasion.  The macro mode comes in handy when I do those fun food shots (for memory purpose, LOL) and other things close up. The little joystick on the back comes in handy when I need to change a few settings from ISO, aperture, white balance, resolution and even exposure compensation. I'm not a demanding photographer who needs the best image quality from my compact.  A compact is a compact so don't expect miracles to happen from a compact.  Over the last few firmware updates, the DLux 4 / LX3 have improved its focusing speed, white balance accuracy, and a little more.  Hats off to Panasonic and Leica.

My DLux 4 is fitted with a custom grip after a few close-calls of dropping it.  I'd like to keep it small so the bulky OEM Leica grip was out of the question.  I also keep the Panasonic Lumix 24mm optical finder on all the time.  It's great for landscape framing (despite being slightly inaccurate), and especially helpful in low-light.  Holding the camera close to one's face is still far more stable than the now-popular-shoot-with-the-LCD posture.  The optical viewfinder let me do just that.  The Luigi's wrist strap is carried over from my LX3.  I find it very handy to keep the camera on my wrist, rather than around my neck, when I shoot.

If you are in the market for a compact that works well in full manual, full auto, and everything in-between, give the DLux 4 / LX3 a try.  Here are some of my favorite photos from the DLux 4.

I love the 24mm perspective.  This is a out-of-camera JPG in black & white setting with minor tweaks in level (by Aperture).  

This is a low-light shot at Disney's It's A Small World ride.  The optical viewfinder came in handy allowing a steady shooting position.  (Shot at 1/20 sec., f2.0, ISO400.)

Another example of a situation where the optical viewfinder can help steady the camera by holding it in a conventional way.  (Shot at 1/13 sec., f2.0, ISO200.)

The DLux 4 and LX3 are among my favorites when it comes to color reproduction.  This photo illustrates how well it renders different shades in one single shot.  More importantly, it's an accurate reproduction of the scene, too.  (Shot at 1/13 sec., f2.0, ISO200.)

Thanks to its simple custom white balance setting and macro mode, I use the DLux 4 extensively to photograph food (for personal reference).  In fact, I can probably start another blog on food alone.   

Another photo showing its macro ability.  Shooting moving subject close-up requires pre-focusing.   

Last but not least, the DLux 4 (Titanium Edition) itself with Panasonic's optical viewfinder, Luigi's wrist strap, and a custom grip.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tackle the Learning Curve Early - How I Quickly Adapted to RF

The supply shortage of Leica M9, to most would-be owners, has been a real pain.  But for me, I took this opportunity to prepare myself for one.  Moving from 20+ years with SLR/DSLR isn't easy.  I've been spoiled by autofocus and Nikkor's AF-S lens, so going to manual focus was a big challenge for me.  Equally challenging was the financial aspect of not only the M9 itself, but the precious Leica glasses that produce all sorts of magic in the photographs. 

The timing could not have been better.  In October 2009 I started browsing the local used market while waiting for my M9 to arrive.  The first M-Lens that caught my attention was the 24mm Elmarit.  In last few years, compact cameras like Panasonic LX2, LX3, and Leica DLux 4 have spoiled me with wide angle perspectives.  Naturally, I wanted one for the M9 as soon as I saw it. 

So I bought the 24mm Elmarit in October 2009 and it sat in my bag with no M9 for a few months.  In late November, I decided to pick up the Olympus E-P1 and the M adapter so that I can use my 24mm Elmarit while waiting for the 'real thing'.  A little practice wouldn't hurt, I thought. Due to the small sensor size of the E-P1, the 24mm Elmarit becomes a 48mm lens when mounted.  The lens is just the right size although the E-P1 (with the Elmarit) weights considerably  more than the standard kit.  In fact, I even mounted the Thumbs Up on the E-P1 to help improve the handling.  (Thumbs Up could only go 2/3 of the way into the E-P1 hotshoe, but it stayed in place.)

The E-P1 and the 24mm Elmarit turned out to be a fantastic 'learning package' for me.  I had plenty of practice to 'see' the images first even before raising the camera, something I had not done since I stopped shooting films.  Manual focus on the LCD screen wasn't easy, but it wasn't difficult for me.  Focus throw on most M lenses are quite short and with a large LCD like the E-P1, it didn't take long for me to start shooting quickly. 

Below are some of the images from the 24mm Elmarit, shot as a 48mm on the Olympus E-P1.  All images shot in JPGs.  

My father, who used to photograph extensively, was especially curious about the E-P1 and the rather old-fashioned looking lens I had attached.  When I told him that the camera is made by Olympus mounted with a Leica lens, he was very surprised.

This picture of my wife made her exceptionally happy. Here I pre-focused (approximated the distance) and made a small focus adjustment before firing the shot.  

My daughter was playing around after breakfast during one of our trips to Hong Kong.  I took this shot pre-focused plus a quick adjustment when she momentarily paused behind my wife's back.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

The First Images

Here are the first few images shot with my M9.  Even before I collected my M9 at the end of 2009, I bought a used (mint) 24mm/2.8 Elmarit in October 2009.  This is one of my favorites focal length and the 24 Elmarit performed exceptionally well.  

This second photograph was shot with anticipation of my son's bicycle.  I like this shot because it shows a very different interests of my kids.  Again, the 24 Elmarit covered the scene nicely.

Hello, and welcome!

Time flies!  I've already been shooting for some 20 years!  It all started with bulk black & white films, loaded into re-usable cartridges back in high school days.  I never made it a profession despite a short experience as my university newspaper's only photographer.  Perhaps it is why I still enjoy shooting whenever there's a chance.  In this recent digital age, things have changed.  I no longer shoot black & white, and I was never satisfied with my digital work anymore.  I've gone through a few Nikon's DSLR in the past several years, both DX and full frame ones.  But it is never the same.

Recently I'm fortunate enough to acquire the latest Leica M9 digital rangefinder along with a few new & used Leica M lenses.  I decided to take the plunge since my Nikon gear became too heavy for vacations and short trips.  It's a decision I never regretted.

I will be sharing my experience with my first (digital) rangefinder along with images taken from my M9 and also some from my DLUX4 compact which I usually carry with me almost all the time.