Thursday, August 31, 2017

Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT for Astrophotography? YASSS!

So yes, the Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 together with my GX7 can make some really awesome wide-field Astrophotography shots in a relatively small package.

ISO 200, 25 seconds shutter speed, and f/2.0 wide open for the Milky Way exposure. These are actually blended exposures, the other exposure for the house was taken using the same setting except that the shutter speed is about 8 seconds or so.

The exposures were processed in Lightroom, and then blended in Photoshop.

I must say I'm very satisfied with the result of this combination. Maybe I'll have a chance to photograph Northern Light again in the future, then I'll bring this lens along and get some awesome shots!!


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

DIY Focus Calibration Repair on Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 MFT

Dear all,

I know what you're thinking. You just received that shiny new Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 for your MFT camera, you're all excited and jumping in joy, you grabbed the camera outside, find some nice place to do some test shots, focused the lens, took the shot, got back home, and when the files are on your computer everything looks mushy and lack details especially on faraway objects at its largest aperture, no matter how you set the focus on the lens.

My friends, I am sorry to say that your Laowa 7.5mm isn't properly calibrated. The lens couldn't focus to infinity eventhough the focus marker goes to infinity and beyond. I had the same problem too and I know some might have the same problem. Not all of the copy of this lens have the same issue though, so if your lens produce an adequately sharp picture, your lens is fine.

But fear not, today I'm going to show you how to repair it yourself. I know, you can send it back to them for a replacement unit, or wait for it to get repaired by Laowa. I took a slightly more savage route and repair it myself. This post was inspired by an article about fixing Samyang 7.5mm FE lens that someone gave to me during a conversation in a forum(here's the link).

Before we continue, let me remind you that doing this can void your warranty, and there's a very high risk of ruining your lens very badly. There's also a very high chance that doing this will introduce decentering to your lens. I do not suggest you to do this if you are not confident enough to open a lens, sending it back to Laowa is a better idea, or alternatively you can ask a professional lens repairer around your area. I am not going to be responsible for your action should you do what I'm about to show you.

So with that out of the way, let's start, shall we. Here are the tools that you need:
1. A very good, sturdy, plus-shaped screwdriver.
2. A piece of paper(the usual paper for your home printer will work just fine).
3. A roll of double-sided tape.
4. A good lighting so that you can clearly see the screws and the holes inside your lens.
5. Flat surface, a table or something.
6. Rocket blower or similar, the one that you use to blow air into your sensor.
7. Micro fiber cloth, just in case you accidentaly touch any of the lens elements.

Basically, what I'm about to do is to add something in between the lens' rear element and its holder that connects to the focusing mechanism inside the lens so that there's an increased distance from the rear element to mimic added focus rotation on the lever to the direction of infinity focus. There must be a better way than this, but for now I am adding the distance by adding just pieces of thin layer of paper.

Step 1:

Put the lens on your table with the front element facing down. Remove the rear cap, and now you'll see the bayonet mount. On the bayonet mount, there are 4 screws that are holding the bayonet mount with the chassis of the lens. Remove those screws carefully. They are really tight, so be patient with them and do not use excess power as you may strip the screws and will make it harder to screw/unscrew them. There's an extra screw that screws-horizontally to the middle part of the bayonet mount, ignore that screw.

Step 2:

Remove the bayonet mount, now you'll see that the rear element is being held together by 4 screws that screw the rear element into the middle part of the lens that has something to do with the focus lever. Remove those 4 screws. Careful, avoid touching the glasses, they are difficult to clean. Ignore the screws on the outer part of this section, just remove the 4 inner screws that are holding the rear elements.

Step 3:

Once you unscrew those screws, take the rear element, flip it around so that the rearest element is facing down, and put it on the table. Put some microfiber cloth between the table and the rear element, so you can minimize the chance of the rear element gets scratched.

Depending on how bad your mis-focus is, you may need to layer the pieces of paper, or use slightly thinner paper. On my case, on the infinity mark, at f/2.0 only objects that are about 2 to 4 meters away are in focus. On the maximum rotation of the lens, only objects that are about 3 to 5 meters away are in focus. I will need to get at least to 4 or 5 meters so that it can reach optimal hyperfocal distance and get everything from that distance to infinity in focus.

In my case, a single layer of paper is enough. If your lens focus only to about 1 meter or less, then it's a good idea to stack multiple layers of paper, so cut more pieces or fold the 4 pieces so that they mimick stacked layers of paper. This is all just approximation by the way. If you only need the lens to focus a hair further, then don't use the regular home printer paper, use something thinner instead. You get the idea.

Now cut 4 small pieces of paper about 0.5cm x 0.2cm, and put some double tape on one side. Put these 4 taped pieces of paper to the outer plate that has the screw holes on the rear element. Put them on the surface that doesn't have the screw holes. Make sure that all pieces of paper have the same uniform thickness, otherwise you could cause some serious decentering on the lens. Remove the protective layer of the double sided tape.

Step 4:

Blow some air with the rocket blower to the inner core of the main part of the lens, where the rear element should be, and remove any dust that might have entered that part of the lens. Now place the rear element back to its place, and screw the screws back together. After you add the pieces of paper, you might need to screw the screws more carefully.

Step 5:

Again, blow some air on the surface of the part of the lens where the bayonet mounting should be, and remove any dust that might have been there. Now place back the bayonet mounting, and screw the screws back together.

Step 6:

Again, blow some air on the bayonet mount and the rear element to remove any dust on it, and then mount the lens to your camera. Try the fixed focus and see how it performs. You might need to re-do the whole thing and adjust the thickness of the pieces of paper until you get the focus to focus properly to infinity, not "to infinity and beyond".

Alternatively, if you are lazy and don't mind innaccurate focus markers, you can just find the new infinity focus point and mark it yourself with a pen or scratch it permanently using blade. The way to do this is to focus on an object that is faraway, at least 5 meters away from you, at f/2.0. Mark the focus position on the lens at the point where your objects are at the sharpest focus. That's it! Now everytime you shoot, just focus to that mark, and you'll get anything from 5 meters to infinity all in focus.

I hope you find this post to be useful. Cheers and God bless you! :)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Using Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 MFT on A Trip to Northern Norway and Svalbard - A Review of the Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0

Hello all, sorry for the absent from this blog, I just want to share a quick new post about this new amazing little lens that got me so excited: Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 for Micro Four Thirds. At a glance, you can tell that this is a one-of-a-kind lens in the ultra-wide angle genre, due to the fact that it offers a really wide focal length, paired with a very large aperture that you never encounter on an UWA lens in any format and mount so far, without going to fish-eye teritory or aperture less than f/2.8.

The little Laowa 7.5mm f/2

To boot up, this lens delivers the equivalent field of view of 15mm in full frame terms, which is really wide, and perfect for stuffs like landscape, architecture, interior, vlogging, environmental portraits, and just overall wide-angle-ly stuffs. Coupled with f/2.0 fast aperture, it's now passable as an astrophotography lens, night landscape, and similar niche photographic genres.

This wasn't taken from the Svalbard and Norway trip, but it should show what the Laowa could do. Warning: the stars were added in post processing using stacked layer from another photo, but the rest are from the real scenery.

The size of the lens is really small. I mean, really really small. Smaller than the Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II kit lens that comes together with the GX7 when I bought it. It's no pancake, but it's smaller than most non-pancake primes for MFT. It is lightweight, but not to the point where it feels cheap and plasticky.

Laowa compared with the kit 14-42mm II from Panasonic

This is a manual only lens, meaning that there is no autofocus, there is no electrical contact to the camera body, and the user will need to set both the aperture and the focus manually by rotating the ring-levers for the respective functions on the lens. This lack of auto-focus and aperture may be a deal breaker for some, especially the auto-focus, but keep in mind that this is a wide angle lens. You can figure out the hyperfocal distance of the depth of field area for this lens, which is about 3 meters or 4 meters at f/2.0, and everything from there to infinity will be acceptably and relatively sharp. That basically means, just set the focus lever to infinity, and leave it there for the rest of your life, and you'll get sharp result, as long as your subject is at least 3-4 meters away.

Do you want bokeh? Here's your bokeh. I don't think I'll ever shoot bokeh stuffs with this lens anymore though, unless I really have to.

For a test drive, I took the lens on my recent trip around northern Norway to places like Honningsvag, Hammerfest, Tromso, as well as to the northern edge of the earth in the island of Svalbard where I visited Longyearbyen, Barentsburg, Pyramiden, and some other places around there. The trip required me to have a wide angle lens to photograph the sceneries, and my pre-ordered Laowa came just right before the trip.

Honningsvag, a lovely quiet little town that used to be a very busy fisherman center.

The timing couldn't be better, I wanted to carry the Laowa for its wide 7.5mm focal length instead of the somewhat limiting 9mm of my Olympus 9-18mm, which was proven not wide enough during my New Zealand trip a month before this trip. The Panasonic 7-14mm that I have is wide enough, but it is larger and heavier than the Laowa, so it's not really my first-choice although it is sharp, has an AF, and could produce wonderful IQ. Just a few extra grams on the 7-14mm could add so much burden to my shoulder over a long period of carrying the lens in my bag, which obviously makes the Laowa a very compelling choice for this trip, for both its light-weight and wide focal length.

Inside the Hammerfest Church. The f/2 aperture helped me to get stable shot at relatively good shutter speed and low-ish ISO, so I don't need to rely on tripod.

I visited these places on the month of July, so there was a lot of sunshine. There's even no sunset on some places that I visited during that period of time! This is a natural phenomenon commonly found in Arctic region called midnight sun.

The settlement of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, with the sun in the frame. This was about 11pm in the evening!

The trip, while not emphasizing on landscape photography significantly, was nevertheless a good chance for snapping general travel photography pictures. That means cityscapes, landscapes, street photography, candid portrait, documentation, and other genres of photography commonly incorporated in travel photography. For most of the time, I had my Panasonic GX8 with either a 14-140mm or a 12-35mm f/2.8 bolted on it to cover most of my photography and video needs, but I also brought my Laowa 7.5mm which was bolted to my GX7.

Fisherman village near Honningsvag. Cityscapes like this easily fit into the 7.5mm field of view of the Laowa.

In northern Norway, the lens was employed many times to photograph many landscapes and cityscapes of the visited places. However, in Svalbard, the opportunity to photograph landscapes was more limited due to the fact that we were not allowed to wander alone and/or without a rifle in less-populated area because of the danger of polar bears roaming around. I was limited to photograph landscapes that were "readily available" nearby the settlement which did not require me to have a qualified guide and/or a rifle.

Camp Barentz, named after the founder of Svalbard or Spitsbergen. Even to photograph this scene, I needed to have a guide armed with both rifle and a flare gun to guard me from the danger of Polar Bear.

I was expecting this lens to be a full replacement for my current wide angle lenses in this trip, and with that in mind, here are some things that I found from using the Laowa lens for a few days.

What I like from this lens?

The thing is just acceptably sharp at f/2, but it starts to show some real magic at f/2.8. Stopping down to f/4.0 will give you the optimum result. The little lens seemed to be sharper in the center of the frame than in the edges or corners at its larger apertures, but the difference of sharpness between center and the corners are not that significant, so you won't be bothered anyway.

Spending a short fun time in Tromso, Norway.

Micro contrast is pretty high, and there's almost no chromatic aberration, at least on my copy of the lens. That means, this lens will generate a very high quality looking image without the need of too much post-processing in regards to contrast and lens-correction.

The scenery of Longyearbyen settlement. They have no sun during winter, and sun 24/7 during summer.

Distortion, while present, is not too bad for an ultra wide angle. It doesn't show up in your picture immediately, unless you shoot stripes or square patterns in your image. My Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 would show less distortion on the final result, but that's beause there is some auto-correction happening in the camera body. My Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 would do the same thing too. Keep in mind, the Laowa doesn't have that magical digital correction like the Panasonic or Olympus lenses, it's a full manual lens.

The city of Tromso, taken from above the hill of Storsteinen.

Build quality of this lens is good. It feels sturdy, there are lots of metal parts being used in the body of the lens, and there is no "loose" part jingling around in the lens. The manufacturer provides a small petal shaped lens hood that does nothing to kill the flare, but at the very least helps to protect the front element of the lens. I quickly replaced the hood with a more useful 46mm-58mm step up ring, so now I can use my whole array of 58mm filters that I can interchange between the Laowa and my other lenses like my 12-35mm, 14-140mm, 35-100mm, and 75mm.

Yeah, it takes filter now, so you can mount your filter holder and put some crazy NDs right there!

Speaking of the step up ring, the 46mm thread on the front of the lens means the lens now provides the opportunity for us to put filters on it. Say what you want about filters, but the ability to put at least an ND filter is a real bonus here. Heck, I can now put my old Hitech filter holder, and snap a Lee Big Stopper together with two 0.6 Grad NDs to create "the perfect landscape setup". No vignetting, no cow poo, just a real awesome filter setup. (By the way, a 105mm polarizer ring on the Hitech holder does show up on the corners of the frame, so I guess you can't really use a 105mm polarizer on a holder with the Laowa)

Typical scenery of Svalbard/Spitsbergen, very rocky, with very little vegetation, and lots of pointy mountain, hence the name Spitsbergen. I should have used a grad ND for this, but rather, I applied digital grad ND on post.

On the contrary, my Panasonic 7-14mm doesn't have filter thread, so I am forced to stack layers of images and post-process them to mimic a long shutter ND filter. That forced me to buy the Olympus 9-18mm which has the filter thread, but the lens is frequently not wide enough for my kind of landscape photography. So thank goodness for the filter thread on the Laowa lens.

Hammerfest panoramic, stitched in-camera using the GX7. Even sometimes 7.5mm is not wide enough, but thankfully I could panorama this scene easily in camera.

Ironically, I have to confess that I did not use my grad ND nor my Big Stopper that much during the trip. But still, the fact that there's a filter thread on the Laowa gave me that "peace of mind", knowing that I could quickly grab those filters with the Hitech holder and quickly install them on the Laowa if I really need to.

Environmental portrait of me with the little town of Honningsvag behind me.

What I don't like from this lens?

No autofocus. This means you have to rely on 1) hyperfocal distance 2) manual focus assist and 3) smaller aperture to get tolerable depth of field on your subject. I do wish that this is an AF lens, but then it's a wide angle lens, so I can getaway with focusing it to hyperfocal and get everything in acceptable focus. This means I should focus it to the maximum focus lever rotation which is on the mark that's a little bit beyond infinity.

The Laowa being bolted onto my GX7. Thankfully, the GX7 does have some manual focus assist features that helped me getting precise focus with the Laowa.

Things to note here: at f/2.0 it will make anything that's about 5 meters away from you in focus, and everything beyond about 20 meters away will be in "acceptable" focus, but not perfectly tack sharp. I don't know if this is a defect, de-centering, or if it's just the nature of this lens at that aperture. At f/2.8, it displays perfect focus from 5 meters away to about infinity. At f/4.0, it will render the perfect sharpness across the frame from at least 3 meters away. So during the trip, I did most of my shooting at f/2.8 and f/4, unless I really really need to shoot at f/2 for indoor documentation or other low-light situation.

Ultra wide environmental portrait of me with the city of Tromso behind me.

With that in mind, one might pose a question, can we still use the Laowa at f/2.0 for Astrophotography? I will need to do further test on this matter, since I don't have a clear night sky in these last few days. Also during my trip to Norway and Svalbard, the sun was there all the time 24/7, so I did not get a chance to do astro at all. However, judging from the fact that f/2.0 only produced an acceptable sharpness at infinity, it may potentially cause less than satisfactory result for Astrophotography. But looking at what it produced on my test shots so far, I think I can still do it, albeit with heavier post-processing techniques to regain sharpness on the stars.

What is so-so?

Flare is kind of in-between. I don't find it to be that distracting to be honest, unless you are shooting into a strong light source really often, in which case, you might going to encounter some large-nasty-circular flares on your photos that can be anywhere from the edges to the corners of the frame.

Enjoying a good morning in Tromso. Notice the flare on the lower edge of the frame. That's what you get mostly when shooting with a strong light source in your frame.

I do shoot a lot of sceneries with the sun itself actually in the frames using the Laowa during the trip to Norway and Svalbard. And when there's a flare showing up in the frame because of the sun, all I did was simply adjust the composition and angle a little bit, and the flare disappeared, with no significant change to the overall composition of the particular frame. As I said, most of the flares were present at the edges of the frame, so if I was unable to change the composition at all, I can still crop a bit and get the flare cropped out, so it's not really that big of a deal for me. At the very least, I can say that the flare in this little Laowa lens is more controlable than the flare in my Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0, even when the Panasonic lens is mounted onto a Panasonic body, because the flare in Pan 7-14mm shows up more in the center area of the frame rather than on the edges or corners like the Laowa.

Crop it, and the flares are gone. Taken near Camp Barentz.

There's also a hint of vignetting, especially on larger apertures like f/2.8 or f/2.0. The vignetting can be easily corrected in post processing, using Lightroom or similar software. However, I somehow don't get bothered by the vignetting because I like how the vignette somewhat helps the viewer to focus more on the center of the image, where the main objects are usually placed in the frame. However, please keep in mind that I am one of those guys who always add a hint of vignettes to the images, so there's that.

The ghost town of Pyramiden. An ex-Russian-miner community, now abandoned. Notice the vignetting, it helps to get your eyes to focus on the landmark instead of the edges of the frame.

Final words?

Last but not least, think again. For a relatively acceptable price, you get a small, lightweight, compact, wide angle(NOT FISH EYE) with truly wide focal length, with an aperture larger than f/2.8. This was UNHEARD OF in the MFT world. Granted, it's a manual lens, but adding auto-focus will probably: 1) add more weight or 2) increase the price or 3) compromise the sharpness or 4) 1-3 all of them together at once.

Lightweight lens means more fun. I can now discover fun compositions like this one using the Laowa lens. This was taken near the city center of Hammerfest.

So for me, all of those great aspects of the lens really outweights the small few negatives that plagued the lenses. I really think this lens is a great product. Though it's not without flaws, it's a product that pushed the boundaries of lens design and manufacturing to a more forward direction(eventhough it's just a manual lens).

Typical scenery of northern Norway region.

As the trend of larger and heavier lenses as well as bodies continues to happen in the Micro Four Thirds format, this lens reminds us back to the original philosophy of MFT: small, lightweight, sharp, and high quality.

When the words about this lens came out in the rumors and forums, I was really really excited. It was all that I want from a wide angle lens. Now that I have it, though it's not 100% perfect, it really meets all the expectations that I have for it, and I am having fun shooting with it as well as really become inspired by the lens. In my experience, it performed well enough during the trip to Norway and Svalbard, and I will surely take it on my next trips.

Again, the fisherman village near Honningsvag, but from a different angle. Walking around trying to discover new landscape compositions is no longer a burden to me, thanks to the lightweight Laowa lens.

Overall the Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 is a great little lens that invirogated the Micro Four Thirds world once again with a forward-thinking, boundary-pushing product. I hope you find this review to be useful. Thank you for reading, and God bless you :)

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Product Photography using Strobist/Off Camera Flash Technique, Video Tutorial

Hey guys, just wanted to share a video of me explaining how I did some of the earlier strobist product photography shots that I did. I created this video to further show my perspective on how the whole photography process from start to finish.

In the video, I went for the "low key" look which means dark background and high contrast look on the images. This helps to create that interesting visual "pop" on the images to capture the attention of anyone who looked at your photos.

I photographed 3 different kind of products of different size and texture, so that you can get a feel of how the technique will apply to just about any small product that you will photograph. I used my trustee GX8 with the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens to do the whole thing, as well as to video myself on some parts of the tutorial. For the semi-top-down view of the photography process footages, I used my LX100.

The main thing that I want to emphasize here is that you have to experiment and repeat until you get the best result that you are looking for. By moving things around and change the settings a little bit on both the camera and the flash, you will gradually alter the look of the image a bit, and after a few repeat and observation, you will surely nail the look that you want.

Here is the video, I hope you enjoy the tutorial, cheers and God bless you :)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

8 Months with the LX100, What Do I Want From the LX200?

Hello people, today I want to share my experience on using the Panasonic Lumix LX100 for 8 months, as well as what I think the successor of the LX100, shall we say LX200, should be.

As a little background to the story, I originally purchased the LX100 because I was having a real tough time trying to nail a environmental portrait strobist-type pictures under a harsh, bright, sunny day, because my other cameras can only sync at around 1/250s, which means I have to close down my aperture quite small, around f/8 or f/11, which at that point the flash will have to be fired at a very high power.

The LX100 was the solution of that problem, and it solves the problem rather nicely. And I bought it, originally, solely for that purpose only. I can now fire at 1/1000sec and still have the flash sync to the camera using radio triggers, and now I can shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 insted of on f/8 or f/11, which makes the pictures look nicer too with the shallow depth of field effect. Combined with the fact that it has great 4/3 sensor as well as nice optics, it produces some of the most stellar strobist environmental portraits that I've ever taken.
But now that time has passed, I found myself to be using the LX100 for so many other things besides strobist environmental portraits. It is now acting as my everyday carry camera(EDC), and since it is always with me all the time, I rarely use my smartphone for taking picture anymore.

There are many other things that I really love with the LX100. The great 24-75mm optics with large f/1.7-2.8 aperture really makes it a great all around camera. The dedicated control dials for the shutter, the aperture, and the exposure compensation are really nice too, I can set things even before I turn on the camera, which is really nice. The picture quality is great, the AF is relatively fast though not always accurate, and the video is just superb. It is really superb, and with the addition of 4K, it really is the perfect travel video camera. Low light, while isn't great, is doable as long as I don't go above ISO 1600. It really is a photographer's compact camera, but with great video features.
For 8 months, I traveled with it, carry it in my EDC bag all the time, and I can now safely say that this camera is an "almost" perfect EDC camera for me, both for stills and for video. I really enjoyed the stills and video results coming out from this camera, the images and video footages look very nice and professional. It's now a real extension of my hand, and whenever something interesting comes up anytime, I can reach the LX100 in my bag to document it when I don't have my big boys within reach(the GX7 and the GX8).
However, nothing is perfect, and the LX100 is not an exception. Now that the LX100 is already 2 years since its original launch date, I really think it's time for Panasonic to come up with a nice follow up for the LX100. Maybe it'll be called LX200? And Panasonic got the chance to make it right this time, and make it even closer to a perfect camera.

Here's what I have in mind. The small size of the LX100 combined with great optics and a decent 4/3 sensor means it's a decent compact camera. 


It's supposed to be carried everywhere and make great stills and video. Combine the great controls and usability with great stills image quality as well as nice 1080p and excellent 4K video modes, and what you get is the "almost perfect " advanced compact camera. 


Almost perfect, not perfect.

Now that the market is travel photographers, enthusiast photographers, and casual videographers, it is almost inevitable that most of them will try to use the LX100 as an ultra decent vlogging camera, but unfortunately it is not capable of doing that. And that's a shame! Why?
Because it doesn't have any mic input and articulating touch screen that can be flipped! 
Okay no touch screen fine, I learned to live without that. But for casual video and vlog, you need the articulating flipping screen! And to not include an mic input jack on this great little video-able camera is just a plain stupid decision! Many companies make small travel microphone like the Rode Video Micro for vlogging, and the LX100 could have been the perfect match for this kind of accessories, but apparently Panasonic missed this opportunity 100%. And that isn't helped by the fact that the onboard mic sounds like garbage.
So maybe Panasonic wants to protect their higher end GH4, G7 or GX8 of course because they want those cameras to be their de-facto enthusiast video cameras, which makes sense, but in my opinion adding flipping screen and mic input on the LX100 won't eat into the GH4, G7 or GX8 market at all. People who choose these high end ILCs need these cameras to become their primary workhorse, while the LX100 is more of a decent complementary or travel camera rather than a full blown workhorse camera.
It doesn't mean that if you empower this kind of complementary camera with the same features as the workhorse camera it'll suddenly turn into a workhorse camera. The form factor matters, and the fundamental design of the body, the controls, usability, performance, as well as the ability to change lens can't be compromised. And thus in my opinion the LX100 should not eat those GH4, G7, or GX8 cameras.
I, for example, have both the LX100 and the GX8, and boy oh boy both these cameras have completely different roles. Assuming that the LX100 now have a mic input and articulating screen, I will still need the GX8 badly for what I do; The GX8 will perform much better and snappier on event reportage, serious photography session, and serious video production sessions than the LX100. It's a true workhorse camera that can't be replaced with something like the LX100.

So here's what I want from the LX200, Panasonic. Will you please listen to what I will say carefully, and consider these points carefully, Panasonic.

1. Fully articulating touch screen that can be flipped, like the one on the GX8, G7, and GH4.
2. Mic input! Mic input! Full blown 3.5mm jack, not the stupid 2.5mm mic input jack like the one in the GX8, that's just plain stupid. Headphone input would also be nice but not priority. Don't you dare leaving out the manual audio control in the software, Panasonic.
3. Better stabilization.
4. Better performing sensor. We need to push the low light capabilities of the camera.
5. To hell with the multi-aspect ratio cow poo! Give us full 4/3 sensor coverage with no crop.
6. 16MP is enough, 20MP will be better but megapixel isn't priority as long as it is sharp. Low light is more important!
7. Faster and snappier camera. The startup time of the LX100 is really slow and it's not helped by the fact that the lens retraction is also slow during startup, and the time needed to open the gallery is also slow. Give us mechanical zoom like your 12-32mm lens, or like Fuji X20, to hell with this crappy slow motorized zoom!
8. Better 1080p bitrate please, 4K as good as the LX100, and please give us Cine-like color profile at least if you don't want to give away V-log profile on your cameras.
9. Weather sealing, please, please, please?
10. Did I mention fully articulating touch screen?
11. Same overall size as the LX100, don't blow the size up too big like the jump from GX7 to GX8. Make it like the jump from GX7 to GX85.
12. Better EVF, doesn't need to be big, just give us a slightly smaller version of the GX8 viewfinder.
13. Built in ND filter, 3 stops or so.
14. To hell with the stupid iA button that I kept pressing on accidentally! If not, at least please give us the option to customize it into a regular Fn button.
15. Did I mention 3.5mm mic input jack?
I can tell that if the LX200 has all the greatness of the LX100 combined with all the points I mentioned above, it will have the potential to instantly kill the Sony RX100 series, the Canon GxX series, and even some low end DSLRs like Canon Rebels or lower-end Nikon for video(not for stills though, although if Panasonic work really hard on the still aspect, Panasonic will eventually kill them too!). It will not definitely eat into any of the advanced DSLR or Mirrorless market, though it will probably hurt the lower end mirrorless like the Panasonic GF or Olympus' lower end PEN-Lite market.

So please Panasonic, don't screw this one up...

I hope that the LX200 will produce higher quality still image when compared to the LX100. It should have a better low light performance and the ability to resolve fine detail better than the LX100. Megapixel increase is always nice, but in my opinion there is no need to go really high on the megapixel.
I also really hope that people will be able to vlog properly using my version of LX200, and what they will have in their hand is the compact camera that can shoot ultra nice video, with option to add little microphone to improve their vlog quality.

Vlog is a huge thing today, and thanks to social media platforms trying to encourage more video contents in their veins, people now want to create and to record vlog, more than ever. 

No, I'm not talking full professional video production style with caged cameras on a rod with some follow focus rig and external monitor on an arm, but just a casual little footages taken with tiny little pocketable cameras that looks like nothing and can be carried everywhere, with decent video quality and the option to improve the audio on camera using external mics.
Let me tell you, I'm not really a brand loyal user. I don't owe any allegiance to Panasonic or Olympus or Sony or Pentax or Canon or Nikon. So if Panasonic refuses to listen to this suggestion, it's fine, and if some other companies end up making the exact camera with my version of LX200 spec above, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it no matter what the brand is. But since the LX100 is such a nice camera, I do have some faith that Panasonic does have what it takes to build my version of LX200.

So yeah, I really hope that my version of LX200 will become reality. Now please excuse me while I'm enjoying some down time with my beloved LX100.
I hope this post is informative enough for you. Until next time, cheers and God bless you :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Using Micro Four Thirds for Event and Commercial Photography

Hey guys, today I want to share a video that I just made, explaining all the gear that I carry for shooting commercial as well as event photography(and video too).

On a nutshell, I use Panasonic Lumix GX8 and GX7 as you may already know, along with Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 and Olympus 75mm f/1.8; each lens is attached to a single body and won't get taken off to avoid lens changing. Other lenses that I bring and might use are the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8.

I also carry speedlights, YongNuo YN560IV and YN510EX. For quick light modifier, I bring two Rogue FlashBender bounce diffuser for run and gun style portrait on the fly.

Other accessories includes my Apple Macbook computer, my LED light to replace one of the flash, and my audio kit which includes a Zoom H1 recorder and a Sennheiser ME2 lav mic.

I also have other gear that aren't included in my video. Those are my tripod, my lightstand, my shoot-thru umbrella, and some of my other lenses. Depending on the kind of shooting that I need to do, I might need to bring them. But most of the time, I can survive without those tool just fine, and that's why I didn't include them in the video.

Here's the video, if you have any question, feel free to comment here or in the video. Hopefully you'll find this video useful.

Thank you for watching, God bless you :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How I Shoot It #7: Strobist Environmental Portait, Tokyo Skytree

Hello everyone, today I want to share another "How I Shoot It" post. Today we will discuss my favorite type of photography: strobist environmental portrait. Basically, what that means is, you shoot a portrait with a scenery, and add some off-camera-speedlight(flash) to light the subject, so that you can control and expose the subject and the scenery separately.
Now why on earth do you need to do that? Have you ever encountered a back-lit situation, where the scenery/background seemed to look so bright, that if you expose for the background, the subject will look very underexposed, and when you try to expose for the subject, the whole scenery just looked totally white? Well, off camera flash is your answer to making sure that you have control over both exposures: the subject and the background.
Now you may ask again, why off camera flash? Because it will give that 3D look on your subject rather than the usual flat, harsh, fake look that you always get using on camera flash or built in flash. When the flash is fired from an angle and not straight forward from the camera, you'll get a very interesting sculpting light that will enhance the feel of your portrait subject. Depending on what you are after, you can make the light more dramatic by introducing shadows to your subject. This is done by severing the angle more to the side of the subject. But often times, you want the subject to look more toned down, and thus you might need to aim your flash from a slightly straighter angle. More on that here.
This kind of environmental portrait is actually very important to understand, because this could be the perfect technique that you might need when you are doing travel photography. You could photograph your loved ones using this technique and get an excellent, repeatable result, using just a camera, a lens, a speedlight, and someone to hold your flash.
Now, without further babbling, here is the picture that I want to share:
Strobist Environmental Portrait, Tokyo Skytree
This picture was taken last month on a trip to Japan with my friends. The huge tower behind me is actually Tokyo Skytree, a very famous tall tower in Tokyo. My friend actually took this picture(thanks Marsha!), and another friend held the speedlight to light me from the side(thanks Charlotte and Carissa!).
The key concept here is just a portrait with a scenery on the background to provide context of place and time. The Skytree tower provides the place context, while the afternoon sky provides the time context of the photo. This is a very typical travel photograph that you will take, and doing this using the technique that I will explain will actually help you take a better travel photograph compared to just your available/natural light environmental portrait.

Technical Details

Camera Setting

I shot this using my favorite camera ever: The Panasonic GX8, using my favorite lens ever: Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8. This was shot at f/8, shutter speed of 1/320sec, and ISO 100. It's all full manual, and it was based on a trial exposure that I took before hand of the scenery.


To be able to understand how to shoot using speedlight in bright sunny day like my picture above, you have to know the limitation of using speedlight in bright sunny day: shutter speed. Your camera can't register what your flash shoots above a certain shutter speed. This shutter speed limit is called the flash sync speed. This is what you need to know from your camera, AND you have to try to break that sync speed too and see if it really is correct.
In my GX8, the known sync speed is 1/250s, which means anything above 1/250s will cause the camera to not register the flash exposure. This means if you shoot 1/500s or 1/1000s, there will be some dark/black bars on your picture, caused by the shutter plane not moving fast enough to catch up with the flash. But I experimented with my GX8, and I found out that I can still shoot 1/320s without that black bar appearing, so I can safely say that my particular GX8 has a 1/320s sync speed(yes, I'm one lucky son of a beach hahaha!). Your GX8 might not behave the same way unfortunately, so you have to test it by yourself.
Moving on, I first checked the exposure of the scenery. To do this, I need to put the camera on full manual(sorry, no single automation allowed folks!), and I set the shutter speed to 1/320s. I then adjust the ISO and aperture accordingly until I find the right exposure or 0EV as dictated by the metering system of the camera. In this case, I was shooting on a bright sunny afternoon, so I want the lowest ISO possible. I then set the ISO to 100(it's the lowest ISO on the GX8, but not the lowest native ISO), and set my aperture accordingly until it reaches 0EV. The ISO and shutter speed gave me f/8.
After I took care of the ambient exposure, I started messing with the speedlight.I don't use modifier in this picture, except for a 1/4 CTO gel that is permanently attached to the flash, so I don't need to compensate the power for the modifier. I began by testing the flash exposure on my friend, with the flash positioned 1 meter away from her, at camera left, almost 90 degrees from the camera angle to get the most dramatic lighting on me as possible.  I started at 1/4 power, and then adjust my flash power from there. Took a test shot, apparently 1/4 power was too much, so I dial down to 1/8. I tested again, still too much, so I set it to 1/16 and it was perfect!
I then asked my friend to hold the flash, and frame my composition. Once I'm done, I asked my other friend to compose as I did, and then I posed and she took the picture immediately.
Composition wise, I want to have the Tokyo Skytree to appear very dominant in the image as a scenery, because it's the main context of place in the picture. I want it to fill the frame, while I want myself to fill just half or a quarter of the frame. I used 12mm on my 12-35mm, that is like 24mm on full frame. Anything wider than that will make the picture looks distorted, but anything tighter than that will make it difficult for me to get the whole skytree in the frame. So 12mm is a sweet spot in my opinion.
I tried to include foreground elements such as the roof of the building in front of the skytree, as well as the fence to enhance the picture a bit, so that the picture can have more elements that provide more context to enhance the Skytree. One thing to keep in mind, don't clip the top of the Skytree, clip just the bottom part of it, like in my picture. It looks better that way, trust me!

Post Processing

I always shoot RAW, just in case I messed up so bad in my image. Think of it as sort of an insurance. You pay a bit to cover the risk. In this case, you pay for a bit of storage space, but you'll gain very flexible images that are very tweakable and hopefully repairable when you messed up.
Thankfully, this image is already near-perfect and is very close to what I have in mind. Also, since we are using speedlight, there isn't much thing that needs to be done in the post processing, because the speedlight improves the quality of the light in the picture dramatically.
The only thing that will require a bit of slider-action is the Skytree itself. We are exposing for both the Skytree and the sky, and as the result of the metering of the camera, the Skytree appeared a bit dark. So we need to raise the exposure of the Skytree. All I did was to raise the shadow by about +30 or +40, and drop the highlight a bit by about -20 or -30 to balance the sky with the Skytree. Compensate for both the shadow and higlight repair by adding some contrast to the image, and we're done.
If you are feeling ballsy, you can shoot this in JPEG with your desired picture profile, and not post process your image at all. It can be done, but don't mess up, because once you messed up a JPEG image, it's actually messed up forever and you can't repair it.

How to Improve?

I could have used a large modifier like an umbrella to make the light softer, and compensate the power of the speedlight by both using a leaf shutter camera and firing the flash at full power. That will give a better light quality on me. Unfortunately, it will also means a significant amount of gear that I need to carry. It's also inconspicuous, that kind of setup will make the security guard comes close and stop you from taking the picture.
I could also choose a more proper time of the day, when the sun is lighting the Skytree tower from the front, and thus having both the sky and the Skytree in the same range of exposure without the need to raise the shadow and to kill the highlight. That way, the speedlight also doesn't need to work as hard, and can be used to light from a different angle and makes the whole picture more interesting.
But overall, I'm very happy with my result of this picture. I hope this picture will inspire you to take great travel portrait of you and your travel buddies with great scenery in the background.
Leave me any comments if you have questions or suggestions.
That's all for today, cheers and God bless you :)