Monday, December 30, 2013

Random Portraits of Models with Leica X-VARIO in Shinjuku East, Tokyo

Leica X-VARIO @ 32mm. 1/400th sec F/4.5 @ ISO 400. Shot RAW, processed in CS5 & Photoscape. Shinjuku West. From left: Wendell, Diane, Leo

I know the Tokyo-X-VARIO project is officially finished and so I shouldn't be posting any more X-VARIO images unless I have a reason to. Perhaps I'm writing an article about street photography or a how to series, and these 'unused' images fit the article? Well, I'm not. I just love this series of images I took of these models (Wendell, Diane and Leo) and I couldn't see myself using it anytime soon so I thought I would post them now. I also thought it would be a waste to use these pictures on Instagram since there's so much detail. Even the above pic has been reduced from a 23mb RAW file down to a 1.9mb jpeg... I know, it's a shame. I posted a picture from this series during my Tokyo-X-VARIO project here, but I had extra images I wanted to use here's the rest of them...enjoy!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Street Photography 101: Having a Child-Like Curiosity when Shooting

Ricoh GR-D IV @ 28mm zone focused. 1/217th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 80. Cropped square. I don't even know how this child knew I was taking pictures as I was shooting from the hip. But I know he knew because even as he passed me he turned and gave me a look... Harajuku, Tokyo.

When I'm walking down the street and taking pictures, I know how to blend in well. I often will find a spot to shoot, hang around for a while and look busy for a few minutes, and then settle in and start taking pictures. Most people are so busy thinking about where they're going, or what they're going to do, that they won't notice me... except children. Children are easily 'distracted' by visual and auditory stimuli, and for some reason, they can sense a photographer or sense that a camera is pointed in their direction. It happens so often when I'm shooting that I realize it's no coincidence, and having this child-like curiosity is a positive quality that all street photographers should try to learn...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tokyo-X-VARIO: Final Look @ Leica X-Vario

X-VARIO @ 31mm.   1/15th sec F/4.1 @ ISO 400.  JR Yamanote Line, Tokyo.

Playing with a test camera in a city like Tokyo is a lot of fun... but all good things come to an end. I'm finally back home and now starting the daunting task of going through all my pictures. When you're gone for a month you tend to take a lot of pictures... thousands in fact (2583 to be exact, minus film rolls and iPhone pics). To get a good idea of a camera's characteristics of capturing an image, you need to do more than chimping (a sneak peak at back LCD screen). You need to open up the files and take a good look, trying to find specific qualities (not just resolution and colour accuracy) and image distinctiveness that make the pictures stand out. I did so with the Leica X-VARIO and I've come to appreciate the camera and the images I was able to create...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tokyo X-VARIO: Shooting Light in the Dark

Leica X-VARIO @ 28mm zone focused. 1/60th sec F/3.5 @ ISO 1600. RAW image converted in CS5 and cropped and adjusted in Photoscape. Shot in Sugamo, Tokyo.

I love shooting at night. I know technically its more difficult, but if you can get the exposure right, and you know how to shoot RAW and adjust later in post production, you can capture amazingly moody images of typically normal scenes. The reason? Light. Unlike daylight, where the light is coming from a single point, or on a cloudy day where the light is diffused and flat (and often boring), night allows for multiple light sources, direction, colour and shadows. But how can you use this to your advantage when shooting?

Tokyo-X-Vario: Shooting Bikes in Shibuya

X-VARIO @ 28mm zone focus. 1/500th sec F/7.1 @ ISO 1600.

I know the X-VARIO was never designed to be an action camera...and that's ok. But it doesn't mean we can't use it to capture action. That's exactly what I did when I decided to shoot bike riders in action in the trendy fashion district of Shibuya. This area is known for it's crazy pedestrian crossing (remember that scene in Lost in Translation when Scarlett Johansson crosses the busy intersection with the big screen of the dinasaur?) and lots of fashion shops, like the famous 109 and 0I0I (Marui Marui) buildings. I noticed something else: lots of super-cool cyclists!! 

While my wife went into the shops, I hung out on the streets to take pictures of guys (and gals) whipping past on their fixies, single-speeds, mamacharis, and geared bikes of all sizes, colours, shapes and styles. I came back a few more times just to take pictures, and you'll notice lots of pics from the exact same location of cyclists on my Instagram account. The point is I was shooting with two cameras that you would never associate with shooting action: Ricoh GR-D IV and Leica X-VARIO. Neither have blazing fast autofocus, nor do they have a true telephoto focal length, two things people think you need to shoot action. You don't. I've already posted pics of bike action with the Ricoh GR, so here's some with the we go!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tokyo-X-VARIO: Portrait of a Photographer

X-VARIO @ 50mm. 1/500th sec F/7.1 @ ISO 1600. Shibuya Crossing. 

I saw the coolest guy coming out of a taxi. He was a taller Japanese fellow, probably about my age and he was adjusting his scarf as he was readying himself to shoot with his super awesome leather-cased twin reflex camera. I wanted to introduce myself to him, but I was so busy looking for my business cards and scrambling with all my camera equipment, he started walking away and disappeared into the busy Tokyo crowd. I frantically chased after him into the Shibuya crossing, wondering which of 5 directions he could have gone to... I chose the North-East corner and headed that way but it was too late. He was long gone. 

But wait! What do I see? Another cool photographer. Completely different looking but similar. The same coolness and determination and in the zone, ready for the next great shot. The first thing I did was show him the Ricoh GR-D IV I was shooting with and asked if I could take a picture of him with my GR with his GR (image posted on my Instagram). Then I decided to shoot with the Leica X-VARIO but at 50mm equiv. This is when I really appreciated having the X-VARIO. The Ricoh GR is a great point and shoot, but not great for a proper portrait. The 50mm angle of view has the right distance to subject and the right amount of compression for a waist-up portrait.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ricoh GR: Zone Focus to Shoot Bikeriders

Ricoh GR-D IV zone focus. 1/710th sec F/2.2 @ ISO 160. Cropped image
It's not easy shooting moving action with a small point and shoot camera, or any camera that doesn't have a sophisticated autofocusing system. I'm too lazy to carry around my DSLR because of the burden of weight and space, so what can I do? Easy, I just zone or scale focus. It's scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually faster than autofocusing. Some of the greatest photographers who used old school Leica rangefinder cameras to shoot action depended on zone-scale focusing. This is how its done...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Daido Moriyama Helped Me Decide to Use My Real Japanese Name!

Hello everyone, 

I was watching a documentary on fellow GR photographer Daido Moriyama (in fact, we both started shooting with the original GR1 at the same time back in 1997!) and thought to myself: most Japanese photographers, artists, movie directors use their full Japanese names, so why not me? I don't know why I wanted to have an on-line psuedonym... I just thought it was funny and cool at the same time. I also grew up in Canada and everyone, I mean everyone mispronounced it!! The first day of every school year was a nightmare for me growing up. Even after 16 years, many of my in-laws still call me Taki instead of Take (ta-keh). Because of this I was a bit apprehensive about using my given full name online. The name Bigheadtaco came from 'Big-head Take', but I misspelled my name Taco because that's what I've been called many times, and its a play-on name from the band Bighead Todd and the Monsters.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: Sitting and Waiting at 50mm

Leica X-VARIO @ 50mm equiv. 1/500th sec F/5.1 @ ISO 1600, manual focus. RAW file, converted & cropped in CS5 and Photoscape.

I love it when I find a great background to use as the foundation of my image. It's like my canvas. Once I find it, I test focus, exposure, and then I just sit and wait for the right moment to come my way. It's like fishing in a way I guess... I'm fishing for never know what you'll get. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Upcoming Reviews and Articles and Posts

Fujifilm X-20 @ 28mm equiv. 1/170th sec F/4 @ ISO 200. Cropped.
It's been a busy few months for me. I have projects coming in from all different directions and new projects being piled on top of older ones. I even brought all my files with me to Tokyo for a one month trip hoping to catch up there; but I ended up with unexpected work while there as well! Sorry for anyone who is waiting for me to come out with a review or an article that I promised in the past but still haven't posted it. I am working on it, or at least have a folder with images and notes waiting to be worked on. I thought I would just list the things I'm working on and projects that are coming up to keep me organized and obligated, but also to let you know what's happening in the world of Bigheadtaco. Here we go:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ricoh GR-D IV: The Quick Street Shooter

Ricoh GR-D IV. 1/270th sec F/1.9 @ ISO 125. Scale focus.
Because the Ricoh GR-D IV is a very quick street shooter, I grab for it more than any of my other cameras. You can almost shoot without looking at the controls as you can customize it beyond default recognition. I had the Leica X-Vario and the Minolta CLE with 40mm on me, but I grabbed for my GR instead. Notice the depth of field even shooting wide open at F/1.9?! Not possible with a full-frame or APS-C size sensor. Check out my post that goes over how to customize the camera so it fits like a photographic glove around your hands. Have fun shooting!

More than 60 examples of my street images taken in Tokyo on Instagram taken with the Ricoh GR-D IV. Check it out here!

Ricoh GR-D IV: Night Photography in Tokyo

Ricoh GR-D IV. 1/32 sec F/1.9 @ ISO 400. Converted to B&W in Photoscape.
It's nice to have a powerful camera like the Leica X-Vario by your side when you want that great shot at high resolution... but shooting speed isn't one of its qualities. You need to have it around your neck and you have to be ready to shoot or else you'll miss the shot. Not so with the Ricoh GR-D IV. It's small, compact, but it's super fast when you need it to be. F/1.9 wide open but killer depth of field, and since the buttons are customized to your preference, it's ready to shoot when you want it to be ready. The above shot I had shopping bags in both hands but I was still able to get this quick image and keep walking...thank you Ricoh GR...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: Shooting with a 50mm Lens

Leica X-Vario at 50mm equiv. 1/1250th sec F/5.6 @ ISO 400. Shot RAW, edited in CS5/Photoscape and cropped

I find many people use their zoom lenses as a way to crop their image, and in some instances, it makes sense. You can't get closer, nor can you back up. But I find many don't really understand what a focal length does to the actual relationship between the subject and the foreground and background. When you zoom in, you are compressing the image, not just creating bokeh. As a general rule, a street photographer doesn't need a 70-200mm lens. That's for paparazzi. Between 28 to 50 is a good range for street photographers, even though a bit above or below this range is great for specific effects as well. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: Shooting Motion and B&W

X-Vario @ 70mm equiv. 1/30th sec F/6.4 @ ISO 3200. Handheld through a window. 
Sometimes you think a shot is impossible. You're tired. It's dark. You have to handhold a 1/30th of a second shot at 70mm with no image stabilization. But there's a really cool looking guy standing very still, obviously waiting for someone along a busy sidewalk. You know it'll be a great shot from the angle you have (upstairs at a McCafe in Harajuku looking down) if only you can keep the shot still. I took about 10 shots, but this one was the keeper. I'm happy I decided not to give up on the camera and its ability to capture the image that I had in my head. 

Tokyo-X-Vario: More Night Shots with Leica

X-Vario at 28mm equiv. 1/30th sec F/3.5 @ ISO 800. Manual focus and exposure

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tokyo X-Vario: For Serious Shooting Days

Leica X-VARIO at 30mm equiv. 1/250th sec F/4.1 @ ISO 400. Shot RAW, CS5 and cropped.

I was hanging out in Shinjuku West in the Yodobashi Camera electronics district when I saw these two guys sitting outside a Starbucks. Wow did they stand out. Not only were they foreigners in a sea of Asians, but they were dressed in white newsprint themed suits! I asked Wendell (left) and Leo (right) if I could take a quick shot of them and they agreed. Luckily I was already in RAW mode and didn't have to fiddle with white balance or worry too much about the exposure or contrast since I could adjust much of it in post production. That's the beauty of shooting RAW on a larger sensored camera.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: Shooting at Night in Ginza

Leica X-Vario at 28mm equiv. 1/15th sec F/7.1 @ ISO 1600. Leaning camera against light pole.

I thought I would continue testing the X-Vario at night to prove that it is possible to get great shots without having an F/1.4 lens or image stabilization (optical or sensor based). We use these types of specs as tools, but sometimes we need more than tools to get great images. In fact, sometimes limits help us to come up with unique solutions, and often we create images we would never have done with cameras with more tricks and specs. 

I like the mood of artificial lights at night, and how the direction of light is also very different from natural daylight. However, to capture this type of lighting correctly, you have to shoot at the right shutter speed. I find that shooting at night at super-slow shutter speeds is great for creating a sense of  motion. 1/8 to 1/120th of a second is best for painting this motion , such as moving cars or people. How is this possible with the X-Vario?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: Street Photography at 70mm

Leica X-VARIO. 1/1000th sec  f/6.4 @ ISO 1600. Shot at 70mm equiv
The X-Vario is a very powerful tool for street photography. Leica has chosen a reasonable focal range of 28 to 70 equiv, with 35mm and 50mm also labelled for convenience. I would say most Leica shooters are in the 35 to 50 range, but 70mm at F/6.4? Many like using telephoto lenses to create a shallow depth of field to isolate their subject, but there's more to a telephoto lens. I decided to give it a try and found it really useful for compressing images that have a background that progressively gets further away, such as buildings. Notice how the lens compresses the buildings, but at the same time, due to the small aperture, everything from the foreground to the background is in focus?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My First Day of Shooting in Tokyo: Finally!!

Ricoh GR Digital IV. 1/410th sec F2.2 @ ISO 320. Self Portrait.
Image of Leica X-Vario and Minolta CLE with 40mm F/2
I always carry all my cameras with me, but since I've been sick the past week and its been pretty cold here, I haven't had more than a few minutes here and there to take a few images. I've shot off a few personal images to family and friends, but no real serious shooting days. Today I escorted my wife to the local DAISO store and since she was going to be a while, I sneaked out and had my first real photo session. You have to be focused to shoot properly: manual focus, manual exposure, proper framing, perfect timing, etc. Walking with the wife carrying groceries and a hot tea in your hand is not conducive in getting great images. I finally had 30 minutes to get some serious shooting time in...I'll try and post the images tonight. My wife has dinner with a friend tonight so I think I'll be able to sneak off for 2 hours and get some night shots. Keep checking back for more images and happy shooting!


Tokyo-X-Vario: Shooting at Night Handheld

Leica X-Vario in AV mode. 1/20th sec F/6.4 @ ISO 800. Focal length at 70mm equiv
I've been in Tokyo for a week but I've only just started taking pictures with the Leica X-Vario. I was sick before I left Vancouver and I was sick when I landed, and I've been sick all week. I'm only now starting to feel a bit better so it's time to get shooting. The first thing I wanted to test was night shooting with the X-Vario. So many complain that with such a small aperture and no optical or sensor based image stabilization, shooting at night would be next to impossible. I didn't agree so I thought I would give it a try.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tokyo-X-Vario: View Japan Through a Leica

Image taken with Ricoh GR-D IV. 1/42 sec F/1.9 @ ISO 400

It's always been a romantic concept of mine to wander the streets of Tokyo with a Leica. I know I'm not alone as there are a few 'foreigners' in Tokyo who have become quite well known in the photography blogosphere as Leica photographers. I've been back to Japan many times, and I've taken a variety of cameras over the years: Argus, Minolta, Fujifilm, Ricoh, Pentax, Canon, Panasonic; but never with a Leica. 

But why a Leica? I don't know why really. Is it perhaps because both the Leica brand and the Japanese culture seem to both be entrenched in tradition, but at the same time adapt to the present without forgetting their past? Is it the red dot? Is it because of that movie with Clint Eastwood? Who knows...

Friday, October 25, 2013

Project X: Leica, Tokyo, Pictures, November

Taken with Panasonic LX-3. 1/30th sec F2.8 @ ISO 400. Ikebukuro Shopping District, Tokyo.

I'm finally going to Tokyo! I've confirmed all my dates and appointments for my upcoming trip in November, and Leica Canada has generously offered to loan me a camera for the month while I'm there. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to do a special photo project on my blog with Leica. I won't say which camera I'm taking with me, but if you go to my Instagram account, you'll see which one it is.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Leica M 240 with M-Rokkor Lenses

M240 with M-Rokkor 40mm F/2. 1/250th sec F/5.6 @ ISO 1600
Sometimes unforeseen circumstances forces unique solutions. My Leica rep graciously loaned me the new Leica M type 240 camera...but with no lens. I was hoping to get a modern, 6-bit, multi-coated, aspherical lens specifically designed to match the capabilities of the top-of-the-line Leica M body. No can do.The solution? I would use my long-term loaned Minolta CLE lens kit: M-Rokkor 28mm F/2.8, 40mm F/2 and 90mm F/4. 

By using these 30 year old lenses designed for film on this modern digital camera body felt a bit like putting 30 year old tires on a McLaren P1. Sure the tires will fit, but will it be able to optimize on the capabilities of this modern supercar, or will it hold it back? These made for film, made in Japan M-Rokkor lenses will easily fit onto the new Leica M240, but will we be able to see the true capabilities of this newly designed, CMOS sensored, full-frame body? Let's see... 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Upcoming Trip: Bigheadtaco Back in Tokyo!

Checking out apartments in Tokyo with my wife. Taken in 2010 with Panasonic LX-3. 1/320th sec F/2.8 @ ISO125 24mm wide equiv. Scene Mode: Pinhole
It's been a while since I've been in Tokyo. Between 2008 and 2010, I had been back to Japan 7 times: for vacation, for work, for family obligations. But since 2010, I haven't been back, again for different reasons and obligations. An opportunity has recently come up where I'll be 'stuck' in Tokyo for a few weeks, so I thought I would make the best of it. With my wife tagging along to keep an eye on me, I think I'll have a few moments a day to take pictures.

What cameras am I going to bring with me? I haven't decided yet, but I'm going to see if some of my contacts will loan me a camera for a month so I could do an in-depth review in dream? Leica M Monochrom with a 28mm. Or how about a Fuji X-Pro 1 with the 14mm? Ricoh GR? I'll let you know once I figure out what I'm going to bring, or what I can borrow for the trip. One thing is for sure, I'm not dragging my DSLR kit. More on this point later. For now, let's just say I wanna travel light and compact. 

More information coming up in a few days. I'll be finished my Fuji X-20 vs Ricoh GRD4 soon, and also my Leica M Type 240 with Minolta M Rokkor lenses review. Keep checking back for more pictures and reviews. Thanks for viewing.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Street Photography 101: How to Take Street Photos versus Stealing Photos

Fuji X-100S. 1/1300th sec F/4 @ ISO 800. Walking man in a hat and poster girl in a hat both giving me a glare. Subject out of focus due to wrong aperture setting. 
There are many ways street photographers can get great images. The romantic ideal is to walk around randomly and find the exact moment where subject and background come together serendipitously. This works about 10% of the time (or less), at least for me. Exact place, exact time, all by accident. Don't get me wrong, I still try and get these completely spontaneous shots all the time, and if I'm lucky, I'll get a couple after shooting all day. If I may suggest another way of getting a good shot, where one element is not by accident. I like to call the 'National Geographic' shot. NG photographers must get portraits of people within the context of their environment, as they merge the portrait with landscape or cityscape photography, very much like a street photographer. Once they arrive at their location, they immediately start scoping out great backdrops for their upcoming portraits. These types of images rarely happen by accident. What's the best way to get these types of images?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Upcoming Test: Ricoh GR-D IV vs Fuji X-20

Sony A-700 with Minolta 35mm F/1.4G. 1/80th sec F/4 @ ISO 320.
After testing so many super-cameras lately (Leica M's and Fuji X's) I was happily enjoying shooting with my trusty Ricoh GR-D IV. No it doesn't have a huge sensor (1/1.7") nor high megapixels (10mp), but it doesn't have to. It's my EDC (every day carry). It's with me everywhere I go. When I'm on a bike, in a business meeting, coffee date with my wife, or when I go to a concert, my EDC camera is always with me. When it came time to choose a new EDC after retiring my Panasonic LX-3, I had many to choose from. My top choices were: 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Fuji X-Pro 1 (ver 3.0) & 14mm F2.8

14mm F/2.8, 1/500th sec F/9 @ ISO 800. Shooting sports with wide angle lens and scale focus

It seemed unlikely a few years ago that Fujifilm would join Leica in the world of digital ILC (interchangeable lens camera) rangefinders. Many manufacturers have dabbled in rangefinders in the past, but since the 1980's, most have decided to leave it to Leica to rule as king in this category and move on to SLRs, point and shoots.and other mixed categories. In recent years, many manufacturers have decided to create rangefinder-ish cameras with electronic viewfinders (EVF) in the ILC market, but many still prefer having a real optical viewfinder (OVF). That's why many offer the ability to mount an external OVF via the flash hotshoe; although there's no ability to see any exposure info, no focus, or parallax correction. 

Fuji's move into the digital rangefinder market (I know technically it's not a true rangefinder, but read below in comments for further discussion) has had such an impact, we forget that this system is still pretty new. Fuji's first digital ILC rangefinder-like camera was the X-Pro 1 back in March of 2012. This X-mount system doesn't feel like it's just over a year old, with 4 camera bodies, 8 lenses (3 more on its way), and lots of after-market support. Like any new system, the X-Pro 1 had some issues when it first came out, but most weren't too critical...but some were. Leica had 60 years to refine and define their M-mount cameras and lenses, so I think Fuji has done pretty well for 18 months. Much of the improvements were a matter of firmware updates and not hardware changes, as the X series cameras and lenses are pretty solid. Fuji's latest firmware update 3.0 for the flagship X-Pro 1 is suppose to be one the most significant updates thus far, and I had the pleasure of testing it out with the super awesome 14mm F/2.8 lens, as well as the 18mm F/2. Let's see how this camera and lenses performed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ricoh GR: Why Use Custom Setting Mode?

Ricoh GR D IV: 1/270th sec F/1.9 @ ISO 80, Bleach Bypass. MY3 Setting custom profile.

Do you own a Ricoh GR-D IV Digital camera? How about the new GR, or any of the older models? Have you taken advantage of the custom settings features? Did you know you can control more than just ISO, shooting mode and your image settings? How about your focus distance? How about customize your jpegs image setting? I was too lazy to go through all the features until recently; and I thought I would share with you how powerful this feature can be for those with specific shooting needs. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Leica M240 with Minolta M-Rokkor Lenses

Shot with Ricoh GR-D IV. 1/64th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 200.

I'm excited to have the new M body to review for a week...except I don't have any M-mount lenses! Fortunately I have my brother's Minolta CLE kit on a long term loan, so I had 3 Minolta M-Rokkor lenses I could use: 28mm F/2.8, 40m F/2, 90mm F/4. How good are these lenses on the latest Leica M body? 

There are some issues using these lenses on a modern sensored camera, but you'll have to wait for my review for details. Out of these 3 lenses, the M-Rokkor 40mm F/2 is my favourite so far. Leica has no 40mm frame lines, so the camera automatically picks 50mm instead. I have learned to enjoy the LCD frame lines, as it remains consistently bright even when the light levels drop. Although you lose the manual frame line selector, you can go into the menus and choose the manual frame line selector and select any frame lines listed. 

I have the camera for one more day, so I'll be busy shooting all day tomorrow. I'll try and post a sample image soon. My review of the Leica M 240 should be posted sometime next week. Thanks for viewing. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Leica M 240's Red Dot Attracts Attention

Taken with Rioch GR-D IV in macro mode.1/500th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 125. Edited in Photoscape.

I was walking through my favourite alley testing out the latest Leica M Type 240 camera, when a barista through an open window yelled out: "Hey, you shooting with an M9?".  Yes, the red dot gets a lot of attention. He wasn't the only person who noticed the camera, although he was the second person to actually call out to me and ask. The rest just lustfully stared at the latest and greatest Leica camera body as I quickly skipped past...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Leica M Monochrom feels like film!

28mm F2.8 Asph. Elmarit. 1/1000 sec F/5.6 @ ISO 1600. 60% crop and edited in Photoscape.

A friend explained to me the difference between a device and a tool. A device is simply a complicated tool. If it fails to accomplish its task, we simply blame the device. A laptop is a device. Same as a modern digital camera.  When we fail at updating the latest software on our laptop, or our DSLR fails at focusing during a sports game, we blame the device. It's not our fault. The device has failed us. What's a tool? A hammer is a tool. It's simple. It's an extension of our hand. When we miss the nail, we don't blame the tool. We know the fault is ours.

In the world of photography, a manual film camera is as close to a photographic tool as you can get. It is an extension of our eyes and hands. Manual focus, manual exposure, manual film loading. If we misfocus, get the exposure wrong, or misload our film, do we blame the camera? No, we know it's our fault. A good tool doesn't fail us. We fail the tool.

If a Nikon F3 or Leica M6 is a photographic tool, and a Sony A99 or Canon 5D Mrk III is a photographic device, where does the Leica M Monochrom belong?  It's the most tool-like digital camera on the market today, in function, shooting 'feel' and even in the image 'developing' process. The fact the camera only shoots black and white adds to the nostalgic feel of shooting with an old manual camera loaded with Tri-X or Delta 100. The camera is simple in design and function and ability; but a very powerful imaging tool, as long as you know how to take a good picture! How good is this very unique M camera? Let's begin the review of the Leica M Monochrom...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Leica M Monochrom = Street Photography

Do you notice that our cars seem to drive better after we've washed it? Or how we physically feel better when we wear our favourite pair of jeans? Sometimes the physical objects we adore can affect how we feel, making us better at whatever we're doing. The Leica M Monochrom is exactly that, an emotional catalyst that changes how we feel and can improve our ability to take great pictures. 

No autofocus, no EVF with live histogram, no colour images, no 1 million dot LCD screen to check for focus? How can this camera possibly help us take better pictures? By its limitations, we are forced to use the M Monochrom as a tool and not a device (more explanation in my full review).  We don't depend on technology to take better pictures, we depend on our eyes and our hands... and the camera of course. This is where the Leica is a solid tool, it's dependable, focused, precise. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Upcoming Review: Fuji X-Pro 1 with 14mm

Fuji X-Pro 1 with 14mm F2.8 lens. 1/1000 sec F/11 @ ISO 1600, manual mode, zone focus

A few weeks ago Fujifilm Canada asked if I wanted to test the X-Pro-1 with the updated firmware 3.0. The main improvements are faster autofocus speeds and the inclusion of focus peaking. I said sure, but I asked for the 14mm F2.8 lens, as well as the 18mm F/2 lens. The irony is that these aren't the best lenses to test the improvements of the new 3.0 firmware, but the improvements were noticeable. The full details will be in my upcoming review. 

What I did really enjoy was using the 14mm lens. It's amazing, and I want to do a separate review of just the lens on its own. At 21mm equivalent, it's great for street photography. At first I thought it would be too wide, since I would have to be that much closer to the subject to capture their essence. However, as the above image shows,  the wide angle lens really brings in the surrounding environment as well as focusing on the main subject. The trick is to bring the subject in closer than usual (compared to 28 or 35mm lens) and make sure the surrounding is interesting as well.

I'll try to get my review up in a few days, but until then, keep checking back for more images. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and don't forget to comment or if you have any questions. I have a few more cool cameras that I'm reviewing now, but I'll keep that a secret...happy shooting!

Now Posted: Full Review of the Fuji X-Pro 1 

Public Chess Battles? Goto Van Art Gallery

Ricoh GR-D IV. 1/1000 sec F/2.5 @ ISO 160

It rains a lot in Vancouver. You sort of get use to it, especially when you spend time outdoors. I rode my bike to work for 6 years, and during high-school I had an early morning paper route. Rain or shine, you do what you have to do. Whenever anyone complained about the rain, I would always say: If you stopped doing what you were planning to do just because its raining, you wouldn't get anything done in Vancouver!

My hardcore opinion has changed recently as I spend more time downtown while testing camera equipment (upcoming review of Leica M Monochrom and Fuji X-Pro 1 with 14mm F2.8).  I see street artists painting masterpieces on busy sidewalks, public pianos throughout the city for anyone to play with, and street musicians on every other corner. More of a participatory activity, public chess boards left out for anyone to play is a great idea to encourage people to interact with others in a stimulating public forum. Where can you find these outdoor gamers playing on a concrete platform? 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ricoh GR D IV: Firmware Update Ver 2.30

Ricoh GR D IV 1/17th sec F/1.9 @ ISO 200: self portrait with sick beard

Ricoh is committed to their products, especially the GR series cameras. They understand its cult-camera status and treats it as such. If you can believe it, Ricoh has just released firmware update version 2.30 for the now discontinued GR Digital IV. What company prioritizes firmware updates for a discontinued camera instead of a currently available camera, the new GR? It's not just fixing bugs, but they've added 4 new features/functions:

1. Additional White Balance modes (expanded fluorescent lighting)
2. AF/Spot Focus added as custom Fn feature
3. Vignetting added to certain Jpeg modes
4. Target Selected function added to Macro button

Check out the full details on their global website:

Check out the full review of the Ricoh GR Digital IV here

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Upcoming Review: The Leica M Monochrom

1/250th sec F/5.6 @ ISO 1600 converted from RAW file

When my Leica rep asked if I was interested in borrowing the Leica M Monochrom, I got pretty excited. I've been wanting to hold this camera ever since it was announced, and I finally was allowed to test it for a week...and then I got sick!! Nooooo!!! I spent most of the week playing with it in my bedroom and taking self portraits. I know, pretty sad. 

I did eventually get 2 full days to shoot with it, including the above picture of Moustafa and Miles, students at the Vancouver Film School. Speaking of film, although this is a reduced sized image from the original 35mb DNG file, you can see how film-like the picture is. The Ricoh RAW files converted to black and white also look a lot like film, but the M Monochrom does it better...much better. It's safe to say, it's the most film-like images from any digital camera I've ever shot with so far.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Fuji X-100S is Stylish but Powerful

1/280 sec F/8 @ ISO 800 using Motion Panorama swept vertically and 120 deg

FUJIFILM Holdings Corporation, Japan 

The camera industry is fast moving and brutal. Trends come and go, and if a company invests in the wrong trend or stays in one too long, you can see your company exiting the photo industry, or merging with a larger firm very quickly. That's what happened in the 60s-70's when the Japanese SLR industry overwhelmed the existing rangefinder industry. Many European brands went out of business, famous brands (like Contax) were bought out by newer unknown companies (Kyocera), and even Leica had to team up with Minolta to create a success SLR line-up (Leicaflex was an utter failure). The same thing happened again in the early 2000's with the digital revolution, with household names such as Kodak, Konica, Minolta and Polaroid going from something to nothing overnight. Other companies seem to adapt well to changes, investing in the right thing at the right time, often leading the industry with innovative design and/or technology. Enter Fujifilm.

Yes, the official name still has the word "film" in it, and yes Fuji still produces a wide range of really great films. Coming from the wholesale photofinishing industry, when I think of Fuji I think of their industry leading photo labs and photo paper, solid machines, solid paper. However, in the minds of most consumers, Fuji makes really cool looking digital cameras. What most might not know is that Fuji has a very long history of well designed and innovative cameras, including some very unique medium formats (the first autofocus compact rangefinder 645) and a full frame 35mm panorama cameras (re-labelled in N.America as a Hasselblad XPAN). 

What's trending right now in the photo industry? For the first time in history DSLRs are outselling point and shoots, completely changing the camera shelves at our local electronic retailers. How are companies adapting their R&D and sales focus amid this new retail landscape? Some have focused on the highest volume to survive (Canon has 56 DSLR kits selling at B&H), while others have ventured into new territory by creating new categories, such as  the mirror-less market, including micro 4/3, Sony's NEX system, and Fuji's X series. This new category of no more than 4-5 years old has exploded, and has lead to another new category: high-end, mirrorless point and shoots with large sensors. Welcome the Fuji X-100S. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Upcoming Review: The Fujifilm X-100S

1/500 sec f/5.6 @ ISO 800 and adjusted in Photoscape (DR, toning)

I've been working on my review of the X-100S the past few days and I've been comparing it in my mind with the other cameras I've recently tested. It's like when parents say they don't compare their kids with each other, we know its a lie. Yes, parents love their children equally, but they always have a favorite right? I happened to test the X-100S, Ricoh GR and the Leica X-Vario all at the same time, so each camera review is in relation to the other cameras I tested. Which did I like best? I like all three equally...ok, I'm lying! Of course I had a favorite. I'll reveal my favorite in my X-100S review. I can say though that each camera had their strengths (and weaknesses), and depending on the style of photography you shoot, you may choose a different camera over the next person.

I thought I would post this teaser for now. I scale focused this image (1.5M), cropped, HDR toned and converted to b&w in Photoscape. I had fun shooting with the X-100S. It's a solid camera, and I can see why so many street photographers have made the switch, and why this camera is sold out everywhere. Stay tuned for my full review in the next few days...

Full review of the Leica X-Vario posted here.

Full review of the Ricoh GR V posted here.

Finally, full review of the Fuji X-100S posted here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bokeh Test: iPhone, Ricoh GRD, Fuji X100S

I've been testing different cameras recently and I've been talking about depth of field and the importance of it in certain types of photography. The more the better if you're shooting food or products, especially if you're trying to keep everything in focus (which is usually the case). Let's begin by taking three different cameras with 3 different sensor sizes: iPhone 4 with a 1/3.2" sensor, Ricoh GR D IV with a 1/1.7" sensor, and the Fuji X100S with a APS-C size sensor.

I've taken the same image and tried to see how much of the food is in focus from front to back. I'm sure the waitress thought I was crazy, but hey, it's sushi. It's not like it's going to get cold! I focused all three images on the salmon skin rolls on the bottom left, and see how much depth of focus we can get by looking at the fruit in the middle, and the raw tuna and salmon on the top left. Alright, let's take a look at these pictures!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: Ricoh GR D IV still a Great Camera!

Taken with new Ricoh GR (V)

Why am I doing a review of a discountinued camera? Aren't people still reviewing old and discontinued film cameras, like the Ricoh GR21? I know, the old Ricoh film GRs are pretty much all cult cameras, but I reckon the recently discontinued Ricoh GR D IV will become one day soon. In addition, the GR D IV is now selling for $200-300 less than when it was a current model, and about half the price of the new GR V. So is the recently discontinued GR worth $400? It depends on your needs, but for me, I think it is, and this review is to explain why. Let's start with the pros and cons first:

-high quality construction, solid buttons and dials, solid feel.
-well thought out controls and ergonomics (single handed operation)
-the most customizable point and shoot, more than most ILCs
-advanced control over camera functions (manual flash control, white balance compensation)
-advanced features (level and tilt with calibration, skew correct, dynamic range, interval composite)
-amazing 1.23 million pixel LCD screen. It's enjoyable just looking at your images.
-advanced focus system: dual AF system, snap focus, dual shutter focus-type selector
-great jpegs and DNG RAW files. Highly customizable jpegs.
-really good battery life, compact charger, cheap and generic batteries, AAA back-up
-sharp lens even wide open at F/1.9
-super close 1" macro mode. Perfect for product and food shots.
-truly pocket-able, unlike GR V, which is only slightly bigger,but just a bit too big (for me)

-compared to big brother, small 1/1.7" CCD sensor (although there are advantages to small)
-VGA video (although for me, I could care less about video)
-expensive when it was a current model (although the price has dropped significantly)
-non zoom lens (although this is a matter of opinion. I'm fine with 28mm equiv for EDC camera)
-after turning on in play mode only, you can't jump into shooting mode. You have to cycle off! 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ricoh GR V: A Compact APS-C Monster

1/350th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 400
It was 1998 and my wife and I were about to embark on our honeymoon in Vegas, which would include a scenic drive to Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. I was already dragging 2 SLR bodies, 3 lenses, 2 tripods, and lots of film. However, I didn't have a point and shoot camera. I wasn't going to drag an SLR to dinner or a show, so I needed something that would satisfy my need for optical quality and image control, versus compact size. Enter the original Ricoh GR1. 

I loved my Ricoh GR1. During that honeymoon, I actually put more rolls through that camera than the other 2 SLR's combined. I even started loading it with black and white film and used it for my wedding jobs, and many of those images became the most loved pictures of the entire wedding!

The Ricoh GR family has a short but prolific history, beginning with the GR1, GR10, GR1S, GR1V, GR21, GR Digital, GR D II, GR D III, GR D IV, and finally the current GR (V). What makes the current one so different than the past 4 digital GR's is that it has a much larger APS-C size sensor. Is this a big deal? It's a modern technological accomplishment, as the new Ricoh GR is the smallest APS-C sized compact point and shoot on the market.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Keys to the Streets: Public Pianos Downtown

Taken with Fuji X-100S, ISO 400 @ 1/2000 sec  F/5.6

I was walking along a busy part of DT Vancouver and I heard a piano playing outside. I thought to myself that this guy must be a pretty hard core busker to drag a piano out into the street. After listening to his bluesy playing for a while, I asked him how he got the piano in the middle of the city. He told me it was one of many public pianos left out throughout the city. Anyone can play it, as long as you close the lid once you're finished, and you share if someone else wants to play. What a great idea. Supposedly this project has taken root in bigger cities throughout the USA and has made its way to Vancouver.

The project is called Keys to the Street and its hosted by City Studio, a non-profit organization committed to making Vancouver a Green City. I don't know what that means exactly, but I guess they want people out of cars and onto the street more and partake in community activities, such as playing music publicly. I think its a great idea. I know if they left guitars lying around, people would just take them, so a piano makes sense. What's next? How about a harp? A double bass? Will this be competition to professional buskers? Do they mind some free competition? I think there's enough space for everyone to play music publicly. Rock on Piano Man!

Image taken with the Fuji X-100S. Check out full review here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Leica X Vario. Who is it really for?

1/1000 sec F/6.4 ISO 800 at 70mm equiv

Let me start off with a story. Imagine someone offered you a chance to test the new Porsche 911 Turbo S. As a German car fan, you're pretty excited. However, when the day arrived, they deliver a Porsche Boxster S instead. I mean, a Porsche is a Porsche, you wouldn't complain; but you can't help but be a bit disappointed. Back to my story. I was told I was going to get the Leica M 240 to review, and my anticipation and excitement was almost unbearable. When I was handed the X Vario instead, I was slightly disappointed. But a Leica is a Leica right? It's still made in Germany, and it's a brand new camera, and its the first in its class to be built. So with a smile I started my review. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Zone Focus Street Pics with Leica X Vario

On a previous post I mentioned how much I enjoyed using the Leica X Vario for street photography, and I meant it. I was gathering images to use for my upcoming review, and I realized I had too many street shots to choose from. In the end, I decided to post the overflow here for your viewing. Here are just some of the overflow...I actually have more!

All these images were taken using zone focusing, anywhere between 1.5 to 4 meter distance. Once you get use to eyeballing distance, it's pretty easy and fun. Just shoot high ISO (800-1600), stop down to F/5.6 to F/8 and make sure you're shutter speeds are 1/500th sec or faster. You'll be surprised how many good images you can get when you're not worried about focusing, or even shutter speeds and aperture.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wife, Leica X Vario, Fuji X-100S, Ricoh GR

Taken with Ricoh GR D IV @ ISO 80 1/68th sec F/1.9

My wife dropped me off DT today so I can finish my quick review of the Leica X Vario. As a thank-you, I took her out for breakfast at my favorite Acme Cafe. While waiting for our food to arrive, I decided to start setting up the 3 cameras for testing: Leica X-Vario, Fuji X-100S, Ricoh GR (V). Don't forget the camera in my hand that took this picture as well, the Ricoh GR D IV. This is exactly how our table looked before the food arrived. My wife is very understanding. Thanks babe. I still have the Fuji and the Ricoh for a couple of weeks, so this was a good-bye breakfast for the Leica. 

Below I've attached an image I took of my wife with the X VARIO before the food arrived. I shot it at full zoom 70mm, and as you can see, it makes a nice portrait. Even with this reduced image size, you can tell it's a sharp, sharp lens, and I love the Leica colours. Very nice indeed. 

Thanks to Eric Kerwin of Leica Canada for lending me the camera even before he could play with it himself. Hopefully I can have it back for one more week sometime in the future...

Check out my full review of the Leica X Vario here.

Check out my review of the Ricoh GR here.

Check out my review of the Fuji X-100S here.

Taken with Leica X VARIO @ ISO 800  1/250th sec F/6.4 at 70mm equiv