Film Experience: KODAK VISION3 250D Color 35mm

Recently, I have gotten back into shooting with film. More so than the results of film, I enjoy the process of using it to make photographs. You can read more about my thoughts on film here. For now, I will be writing posts about different film stocks, and what I think about their look, including samples for you to make your own judgement. I won’t puke a bunch of jargon on my keyboard about the film. I will just tell you what I like and dislike, and let you see the images for yourself. There is a load of technical stuff to be said about film, grain, emulsion, and what not, but I think people know what they like when they see it. All of my images are self scanned using a DSLR or an EPSON V600 scanner. Right now have a look at Kodak Vision3 250D samples I have prepared.

KODAK VISION3 250D, which is a cinema film, is probably wonderful for just that. I bought a 100 ft roll from Film Photography Project and took a lot of it to Mexico. Let me tell you, this film is not for me. It’s rem-jet coating is there to protect it from light when being loaded into movie cameras. For still photography, and developing with C-41 chemistry, this is not practical, as there will always be remnants of remjet on the emulsion, thus making your images look like crap. Remjet is a black coating put on one side of the film to prevent light from hitting the emulsion in cinema cameras. There is a special process for cinema film which involves cleaning the film in a machine before the entire process. Home developers wont have that machine, and most likely your fingers wiping it off won’t do the trick either. I still had remjet residue stuck on the emulsion after I pre-rinsed the film with baking soda and wiped it after the blix step. The other thing to consider is with wiping a film, the more you wipe it, the more it degrades. It is inevitable that wiping it will lead to some kind of scratcing.

Now let’s be fair: I do like the vintage kind of colors this film produces, and one should naturally anticipate the results from this film to be imperfect, but the remjet simply spoils the party. Dust, small scratches, and even a little color shifting I can accept, but the remjet has ruined this film for me. If you are looking to save some money on a bulk load of color film, this is an option, but be prepared for the remjet.

remjet on 35mm film

On this shot you can really see the remjet, which I struggled to remove on the bottom left hand corner.

totally messed up negative from remjet

Markings are left over from dirty film that touched the emulsion on this one.

San Cristobal de Las Casas street scene

After a lot of work in the computer, I was able to get this (above) result. There was a big remjet spot on the right side in the shadows.

A man in his home

Remjet markings down over the cabinet….. I tried to wash this negative a second time to get the remjet out, but it got even further damaged.

man watching woman

With some frames you get lucky. There is little evidence of remjet here.

building and remjet

Remjet everywhere.

birds and tourists

A lucky negative, but if you look closely, you’ll see some.

mannequins in mexico

This is another lucky one, and I do like the colors I am getting, which really fit the retro looking scene. 

vendor in front of a church

This one is not so bad that I won’t post it. There is some color shifting around the edges, but it looks ok.

Boy hanging at the church

Boy hanging at the church. This is another one that wasn’t too affected by the remjet. I also worked on the colors of this one quite a bit.

A church in San Cristobal de Las Casas remjet

A church in San Cristobal de Las Casas. In the sky there is a lot of evidence of remjet.

Kids in Chiapa de Corzo, near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas.

Kids in Chiapa de Corzo, near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas.

Vendor selling fruit in Mexico

So there you have it. You can see that Kodak Vision 250D can produce some nice colors, but I can tell you with all honesty, that I won’t ever use it again because of the remjet. I was really hoping that I would have some interesting film images from my Mexico trip, but this remjet really screwed things up….

I know what you are thinking: ‘You should just shoot digital.’ And I am thinking, ‘Yeah, you are right.’

Thanks for reading.

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Shooting Film vs. Digital: Is one better than the other?

A street scene in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. (August, 2017). Shot on Kodak Vision 3 250D motion picture film. Could I have taken this picture on my digital camera? Of course, but would it wouldn’t be the same.

Which is better: There is no answer to that question.

I learned photography on film when I was a kid, then almost completely forgot about film after I bought my first proper DSLR. For reasons I cant explain, I started using film again this spring. It may have been a desire for nostalgia, or searching for a different look to my photos, but all of that doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I will now use film for certain things, and digital for others. For example, film will be used for portraits, street photography and just for fun. Digital, on the other hand, is a medium which offers added security for doing professional work. It is extremely convenient and has made the processing end of photography much easier. Unfortunately, it is also the technology which made photography an almost unsustainable profession, by giving everyone the ability to make images, thus de-valuing the ability to make a photograph. On the other hand, perhaps the most important thing digital photography has done, was to revolutionize storytelling. Documentary photography is now more accessible to would be story-tellers than it was with film. All you need to make a photo story is a smart phone these days.

Confidence vs. Anticipation

I am very confident shooting on digital because of its versatility and its excellent out of camera image quality. Film takes extra work: You have to develop, scan and deal with bad negatives, scratches and dust. The latter parts suck, but the developing and scanning I quite enjoy. It almost reminds me of opening a pack of Pokemon cards when I was a kid. When I finally pull the roll out of the developing tank after all my hard work, I get to be satisfied or greatly disappointed with my results, just like when you opened a pack of Pokemon cards with no holographic cards. All of that anticipation doesn’t exist when I shoot digital. It is like peaking at your Christmas presents right after your parents hid them. There is literally nothing to lose when using digital, so you can fire away all day long, which cant be done with film. This security we get when shooting digital is exactly what I want when I am getting paid to take photos. Film, on the other hand, has returned that feeling of respect I had for the shutter button, and making my frames count, as well as the “Pack of cards” anticipation you have when developing film.

The Experience

Film is a more visceral experience, in that you have to really trust yourself when making a shot. In digital all you have to do is press the play button to see if it exposed alright. I suppose if you were obsessive compulsive, you would much rather shoot on digital for everything. For me, relying on my instincts is fun, but if I want to be sure, I shoot on both. If shooting film, I always use a digital camera to meter my shots. So as long as you are mimicking the settings on your digital camera on the film, you are adding a layer of safety.

Image Quality

If you asked me which medium had better image quality, I’d tell you digital, even though some larger format films technically have higher resolution than digital sensors. The reason I say digital is better, is because most people don’t have the technology at their fingers to harness the full quality of a film negative. You need very expensive scanners to get that full resolution, which most of us cant justify paying for. The other thing to consider are problems which come with film. Sometimes film is defective, in that there are discolorations on it. Film gets scratched very easily, there are water spots, dust, light leakage may occur, it curls and gets bent, and the list goes on and on. So yeah, if you ask me, digital is better quality wise for us normal folks.

Price

The old argument that film is cheaper than digital is poppycock. Film hasn’t been cheaper than digital for a long time. Rolls of Fuji Pro 400H cost almost $10. The initial investment of a digital camera is expensive, but you will probably get hundreds of thousands of images on your camera body, which most people will never come close to. To me, your base main camera should be digital, unless you are doing large format or some type of art which requires film. Shooting film should be an afterthought after one has learned how to use digital. That said, some people believe teaching photography students how to shoot with film helps them better understand exposure. Well, maybe, but one could also argue that everything you need to know about exposure is right on your digital camera.

Final thoughts

So why did I start shooting film again? Friends have asked me if I am trying to be a hipster. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but what I know clearly is that it brings me back to when taking a picture was kind of a bigger deal than it is now. A time when my mom used to position my sister and I in a scene and really hesitate to click the shutter because she wasn’t sure if she would screw up the shot, and wouldn’t know if the shot came out until she got it back from the lab days later. That feeling is what got me addicted to photography; the feeling of making an image that makes you look twice, further accentuated by the anticipation of finding out if the film exposed correctly, or if the focus was on, or if it was blurry, or if it was just that awesome shot you hoped it would be.

To see more of my recent photos check my Instagram feed, where I’m posting a mix of digital and film images. 

3 days in Central Vietnam with Pics of Asia

At the end of June I had the pleasure of co-teaching the Central Vietnam Workshop with Pics of Asia’s Etienne Bossot. We spent 3 days waking up at the crack of dawn, and going to some of the best locations around Hoi An and Hue to shoot. It was a great time, and even as co-teacher of the tour, I learned a lot from everyone who came along. All in all, I feel like all of the students came out with some great shots, and I hope they gained something to keep them motivated in photography.

Not only were the places we visited amazing, we got to know the people through Etienne and his knowledge of Vietnamese culture and language. He would always make small talk with locals in Vietnamese, informing us about what they said, and helping us visitors get to know their stories. That aspect really shaped my experience of the tour. It is one thing to take pictures, but another to learn about what you are documenting.

So, enough with the words. Here are some of my favorite photos I took during the workshop.

Day 1: Around Hoi An

women at fish market hoi an

Women pictured at the fish market near Hoi An.

Traders unloading fish from a boat vietnam

Traders unloading fish from a boat.

An old woman looking for fish as it is unloaded from the boats vietnam

An old woman looking for fish as it is unloaded from the boats. If the post wasn’t behind her, wouldn’t it be the perfect photo?

Ice being prepared to package fresh caught fish hoi an

Ice being prepared to package fresh caught fish.

fisherman smoking vietnam hoi an

A fisherman smokes on as boat as the sun rises.

ice making shop hoi an

An ice making shop near the fish market close to Hoi An.

fish sauce factory vietnam hoi an

Inside a fish sauce factory at the same fish market.

breakfast shop hoi an vietnam

A view of a local breakfast shop inside the fishing village.

Hoi An is an ancient Vietnamese town, which 5 years ago may not have been so touristy as it is now, but you can only show it in its true modern form if you are me. I actually found the tourists to be an interesting feature of the place.

tourists make selfies in hoi an

Tourists make selfies inside the old town of Hoi An. What makes this old town investing are the bright colors painted on the old buildings. It is the perfect scene to frame your subjects in.

tourists in Hoi An look at their smart phones.

Tourists pictured near the river in Hoi An.

buffalo rests in water in vietnam

A man lets his buffalo rest in the water on a very hot afternoon in the outskirts of Hoi An old town.

riding a bicycle in rural vietnam

Bicycle riders made into a panning shot.

taking a nap near hoi an

A man naps at the side of the river on the outskirts of Hoi An.

herding cattle on a road vietnam

A man herds his cattle down the street.

Day 2: Hoi An and Lang Co 

conical hat in vietnam

A woman wearing a conical hat inside the traditional market

Women bargaining for fish.

Here I was playing with my background. Luckily, this lady in violet walked by…

meat sellers in hoi an

Meat sellers in the market.

A man sells shampoo and other toiletries in a market stall.

woman with puppies vietnam

A woman shows us her puppies. I like her hat.

That afternoon we took a van to Lang Co Bay to see people working on and around the lake. There was some activity inside the lake, and we found one woman searching for clams near the edge of the water. Shortly after we were drenched by a fast moving storm.

woman fishing lang co bay

A woman fishes for clams inside the waters of Lang Co Bay.

men ride motorbike in rain vietnam

After a heavy rainfall, two men drive past on their motorbike.

A woman carries recycled items after a heavy rain.

The other great part of the tour was the food. We were able to eat at the best local restaurants with Etienne who already knows which dishes to order. The second night of the tour was at a local joint in the town near Tam Giang Lagoon. Anyways, it was the best Vietnamese food I have tried, but I don’t remember where it was, so you’ll have to join the tour to find out.

Day 3: Tam Giang Lagoon

We woke up at 4 am to be at Tam Giang Lagoon before sunrise. Some of the most interesting activity was already underway when we got there.

fisherman unloading equipment vietnam

A fisherman unloads equipment from his boat after a night of fishing on Tam Giang Lagoon.

tying a knot to fasten the boat

A girl and her mother land their boat on the shore of Tam Giang Lagoon.

Swan hang out on the bank of the lagoon while fishermen work.

Kids dumping trash in the rubbish pile.

A woman washes clothes on a fishing boat.

The owner of a breakfast shop at work.

The colors in this town are incredible, but then again, the colors all over Vietnam are like this. Every little town has something special.

Boys playing in front of their home

Boys playing in front of their home.

A boy pictured in front of a shrine.

A boy pictured in front of a shrine

After our shooting in Tam Giang, we headed back to Hoi An to show the photos we made during the workshop. It was good to see what the others had shot and I was pleased at the quality of work our students had achieved.  All in all I had a great time during this workshop, and a great experience sharing my love for photography with the students on the trip.

On the Pics of Asia webpage it says Pics of Asia is the best photography tour in Asia, and of course one might think, “yeah sure.” It is definitely a bold statement. However, I do really believe that Etienne’s tours are unique in that he has a huge enthusiasm for photography which he shares with his students. It was an awesome tour from my perspective. Instead of jabbering on about this and that regarding photography, Etienne shoots with you and helps keep you inspired about the place you are in. Together with his location scouting and connection to the locals, it makes the tour so worthwhile for the price he asks. If you look at his prices for the Central Vietnam tour and compare them with competing high end tours you can see Etienne isn’t in it for the money. You can’t just turn up to Vietnam as a tourist and start making amazing photos, it takes time and knowledge of where to go and how to get along with the locals. So yeah, I do agree that his travel photography workshops are some of the most awesome and best in Asia. Check it out next time you are planning a trip to Asia.

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A day with the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 in Mexico

Having been shooting with the A7r II for a few months now, I find that it fits my needs perfectly. Let’s hope it stands the test of time in durability. I love the image quality and depth it produces, and feel it gives me that smooth image quality that I want on my main camera.

Along with my old Canon lenses, I have also acquired the Zeiss T* FE 35mm f/2.8, Sony’s small full-frame oriented lens. This glass appealed to me because of its size and stunning image quality. Yes, it is an F/2.8 maximum aperture lens, but there is something about it which makes it special, with its sharpness and the bokeh.

sony zeiss sonnar 35mm T* on A7r II

In short, I will tell you what I like and dislike about this lens:

Like

  • Extremely sharp image quality
  • Fast AF on the A7r II
  • Pleasant bokeh
  • lightweight and small

 

Dislike

  • Price point is very high at $800. I found mine on Ebay for much less.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8, though it doesn’t matter with the great ISO performance on the sony A7r II
  • No weather sealing

 

The good outweighs the bad by far, and these cons are things I can easily deal with. Mainly, I got this as a walk around street photography lens, but after using it, I feel I can do much more with it.

sony zeiss sonnar 35mm T* on A7r II

I took a walk on a Sunday afternoon right across the border from El Paso, Texas in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. This border city is an incredibly lively place which is worth talking a walk in. It had been a violent hot spot for some time because of the brutal drug war that raged for years and made Juarez one of the highest homicide rates in the world, but nowadays, I am happy to see that it has become much safer and that people have gotten back to everyday life.

That said, you need to take normal precautions and go at your own risk. Juarez still faces problems of crime and violence, just nowhere near as much as there was six years ago.

So anyway, here are some shots all taken on the A7r II and the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8:

dress store in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8

Mercado in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8

I shot at f/2.8 for most of the day. Looking at this photo, the gentleman is actually quite far from my lens. Even so, this image still goes soft in the background. This is one reason why I like full-frame. Sure, most people won’t notice it, but I do.

Man in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8

I must say, this camera is not as unassuming as my old X100s, but it still does well for an inconspicuous street capture.

Mercado in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8

Man in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Manicure shop window in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Man in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8

streets in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8 people in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Father and daughter in Juarez shot with sony zeiss 35mm f/2.8 on the bridge between mexico and usa with sony 35mm f/2.8Looking at these images, I think that the Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm really offers premium image quality. Zeiss lenses are known for their great bokeh and sharpness. I guess that is why the price is so high. You will have to decide if this lens is worth it for you. At $800, you may as well go for a premium f/1.4 lens, but the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 comes at $1600 and is heavy and big. You could also go for a Canon or Sigma lens to adapt onto it.

For me, there is no looking back. This lens has been the most used on my A7r II so far, all because of its convenience, superb image quality and AF speed.

Why I Chose the Sony A7 Series After Fujifilm

Well, my Fuji days are over for now. In October, I bought a Fuji XT-2, thinking it would be my replacement to DSLRs, but what ended up happening was me wanting to get rid of it. But it wasn’t easy.

Why?

Well there is a list, but it isn’t because it is a bad camera. In fact, it is a wonderful camera, which has some of the best controls any camera has to offer. It also features incredible AF function with a great EVF system. All of the important functions can be dialed in by twisting knobs on top. It is an awesome camera, and I actually miss it. A person shouldn’t have too many expensive cameras, so I can’t warrant having that plus the A7r II.

What ended up turning me off was the lost hope of any near-future full frame options from Fujifilm. Instead, they come out with a $6000 medium format camera with incompatible lenses, which I don’t want to have to invest money into. Sony is open to tons of lens options without having to crop their actual focal length.

I found out what I needed was something I could use things that I already have, while also trying some new things. So I took advantage of the trade-in deal at Adorama. It would have been a bad deal, but thanks to the Sony $480 bonus deal, I was able to get a fare trade. So now I have the A7r II with the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8  and a Sigma MC-11 adapter, which I can use my old Canon prime lenses. Aside from this, here are some of the reasons why I gave up on the Fuji XT-2.

Sony A7r ii with Sigma MC-11 and Zeiss 50mm

It isn’t full frame

I think APS C is great in many situations, but one thing is undisputed. Full frame cameras produce more detail, and more depth and bokeh. In the dark, full frame sensors can make more detail at high iso. It may sound crazy, but I was getting more detailed shots in low light with my Canon 6d, than with the Fuji XT-2. This is a camera years older than the Fuji.

Less depth

Something that is important for me when making images, is the ability to control what is blurry and what is not. Fujifilm lenses are great and sharp, but I found that on wider angle lenses, my subject had to be much closer to make the background blurry, than on full frame lenses. Even if my subject was 5-10 feet away, I would still be able to get some nice separation and soft background with a 35mm on the Canon full frame sensor. Of course, your aperture opening plays a big role, but the fuji would be mostly in focus after a certain distance from the lens, even at f/2.

This doesn’t mean that the images weren’t good, but it was difficult for me to lack that control over my depth of field, as compared to full frame, where you can really control what is in and out focus. Even on the Fuji 35mm f/2, I felt that I was always shooting at 5.6. In-fact, at f/2 on the the crop sensor, you are probably getting the depth of field of f/2.8 on a full frame sensor. On the contrary, if you are shooting in low light wide open on an APSC, you can expect to have more depth of field. This could be a benefit in some situations.

Less lens compatibility and variety

I don’t know about you, but I like my focal length to be what it says on the lens and not cropped by 1.6. Full frame is more straight forward.

Fuji cameras are pretty much only compatible with Fujifilm lenses. There are adapters, but they lack AF function, plus, the sensor is a crop sensor, so any old manual focus lenses will be 1.6 times tighter. The Sony A7 lineup is becoming compatible with many lenses through advanced adaptors. For the most part, the Canon EF lens lineup, which I happen to have many of, have the most developed adapters available on the A7 series. This means I will be able to use my favorite EF glass on the A7, as well as my Sigma lenses, which work great with the MC-11 adapter. This was the main reason I went for

If you have some old manual focus gems, chances are you can adapt those and get great performance with Sony’s focus peaking feature. I have a Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 ZE, which is for Canon mount, and I am impressed with how easy it is to focus using focus peaking. With this revelation, I am planning on getting some other gems for it. By the way, with the viewfinder on Canon DSLRs, it was incredibly difficult to nail your focus with a manual focus lens. This had to do with the focusing screen inside. You just couldn’t see clearly where your focus was.

No in-camera image stabilization.

Although in-camera image stabilization is less effective than in-lens image stabilization, I still think this in-camera feature on the A7r II is extremely valuable, especially when shooting video with prime lenses. After shooting around with this, I also noticed that it is great for low light stuff. This feature really packs a lot in a small package, while creating cinematic video with a ton of depth. Sony is able to do this in a very small package on a full frame sensor. The XT-2, just slightly smaller than the Sony, lacks both of these features.

Fell for the “full frame doesn’t matter” line

Many people have raved that they don’t care about the lack of full frame on Fuji cameras. Indeed, the difference may not be too noticeable, but for me, I just want that freedom that full frame gives. In-fact, the Sony A7R II offers the ability to change to APS-C, giving me the ability to crop my images in sensor. For a certain breed of photographers, you don’t need full frame, but I think photojournalists and portrait photographers kind of look to the flexibility of full frame when shooting, especially for the low-light detail. When your job is to show reality through your pictures, you want a camera that can get detail in low light.

fujifilm xt-2

It depends on you

Different photographers have different needs. If you shoot macro and landscape, chances are, you will be looking for a larger depth of field that APS-C cameras offer, as opposed to the smaller depth of field that you get on wide aperture and full frame cameras. Obviously, telephoto Fujifilm lenses will produce comparable bokeh to full frame cameras, but I just didn’t see that on the 35mm f/2, which is the equivalent of 50mm on full frame.

With all of this said, I do kind of miss the XT-2, but I wouldn’t go back now that I have a Sony. My first Fuji camera was the X100s, and I got into the XT-2 because I liked the feeling of that compact rangefinder. What I didn’t understand was that the Fuji camera I loved was indeed that X100s. It is the perfect camera for carrying around the streets on your shoulder or under your jacket when you are not doing work related photography. Its beauty is in its simplicity and non-offensive feel. My X100s is gone now, but I may go for a X100f somewhere down the line.

Trains in the desert near Tuscon. Taken with the Sony A7r II and the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar.

Trains in the desert near Tuscon. Taken with the Sony A7r II and the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar. With Sony’s focus peaking function, it is easy to nail focus while using manual focus lenses. I shot this at f/1.4 at 1/8000. As you can see, there is great separation from foreground and background.

For now, my gear acquisition syndrome must take a break. Expect to hear some more reviews of MF lenses that I will be using on the A7r II, and in the mean time, keep shooting. Thanks for reading.

The New Tibetans

2016 was full of amazing experiences documenting topics I had been wanting to focus on for a long time and visiting some places I wouldn’t have ever imagined. One of the projects dearest to my heart is my story about the Tibetans. This blog post is more of a journal entry to mark what I have done so far, but also a message of intent on what I plan to do in the future.

My ongoing series, “The New Tibetans,” started as a 2 week jaunt into Kham in 2015, and became a long-term project when I returned in 2016. Instead of taking portraits and landscape images of the area, I began documenting people’s lives, and taking a deeper look into their cultural identity on and off the Tibetan Plateau. My goal is to show how the Tibetan culture is being changed by China’s modernization, urbanization, consumerism and culture.

Tibet is a place you might mistake for your dreams. There are colorful monasteries set in the endless grasslands, nomads, herds of yak and monastic pupils everywhere, but that isn’t my purpose in documenting this region. The people are some of the warmest, most welcoming people I have met, and that is why I have been so drawn to their culture. The Tibet of today is changing, while trying to hold on to its cultural identity, they are becoming more and more part of China. In July, I made a trip to China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces to see for myself how young Tibetans are living in Chinese society whilst holding onto their Tibetan heritage through the lens of my camera.

I started in Kangding, located in the Sichuan Province and spent a few weeks there. This town has traditionally been the crossroads of Han and Tibetan culture, located in a narrow ravine where the Tibetan plateau begins to make its descent into Mainland China. The most interesting thing about Kangding is how the cultures are so intermixed, and how many of the people in this area are of mixed Han and Tibetan descent.

Below are some of the images from a project I hope to make into a book after more visits to Tibet in China, and around the world. This project will go on for a long time, but I hope it will show the lives of a people whose culture that will not cease to exist, even in the midst of China’s rapid modernization.

kangding mountain

AUGUST 14, 2016: The town of Kangidng in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is the traditional crossroads of Tibet and China, where the Chinese part has begun to overtake the Tibetan.

Tibetans watching a local basketball game in Yushu

AUGUST 17, 2016: Onlookers enjoy a basketball tournament in Zhidoi County.

AUGUST 19, 2016: A Tibetan boy is pictured with his large mastiff in Qinghai, China.

AUGUST 11, 2016: Gonga has his hair curled in small salon in Kangding.

AUGUST 18, 2016: 11 year-old Lobbing walks in the main square of Qumarleb, after buying a new portable TV, in Qinghai, China.

SEPTEMBER 7, 2016: Patrons enjoy music in a Tibetan bar in the Wuhou district of Chengdu.

August 10, 2016: A mother and daughter peer out the window of a bus to Kangding, in the Sichuan Province of China. The area which is part of traditional Tibet has seen increased development in recent years.

August 15, 2016: Shared taxi drivers wait for customers to fill the seats in their small cars. The most convenient form of transportation in Tibetan areas is by shared car.

AUGUST 19, 2016: Kids hang out in front of the entrance of the school in Qumarleb, Qinghai, China.

Bangladesh: A Photographer’s Perspective

Bangladesh is a densely packed country sandwiched in-between Myanmar and India. It is a place which faces many problems including climate change, overpopulation and mass scale malnutrition. Despite all of this, this majority Muslim country is full of wonderful people who are in generaly welcoming and interested in outsiders. I went there in late January of 2016, and spent about 1 month there.

A busy intersection in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh

A busy intersection in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Upon setting foot in the Shahjalal International Airport, I didn’t know how much I would be shocked by the city of Dhaka. Out of all of the places in Asia I had been, Bangladesh was the most extreme. There were more people, more traffic and more colors then I had ever seen. It was surreal.

Dhaka is an exhausting place and getting from point A to point B, will normally take at least an hour during the day. It is indeed overwhelming, but it is an experience unlike any other. Even if you are there for a few days, you will find that the streets will offer more photo opportunities than you’ve ever had in your life.

In this article, I would like to go over some of the places in Dhaka and around Bangladesh that I visited and how you can make the most out of a trip there from the perspective of a photographer and photojournalist. On the bottom, there are some of my personal observations about logistics.

People’s attitude towards photography

If you like street photography, and if you like portraits, you will love Bangladesh. It was rare for people to turn me down if I asked to take their portrait. What was better, was how they assume such wonderful poses, without the cheesy smiles and V signs seen in other parts of Asia. I would get some of the best looks from normal people in the street. People would make captivating expressions with their dynamic faces for my camera. I can’t say there is a country more photogenic than Bangladesh.

hindu woman banglaesh

A Hindu woman pictured in Satkhira, Bangladesh. I was told that the red mark (Sindoor) on the woman’s hairline signifies that she is married.

boat yard boy dhaka

A boy is pictured in the Dhaka boat yards, across the river from Sadarghat Boat Terminal.

Women and girls on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Women and girls on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As always, be kind and respectful. Don’t just walk up and point the lens in someone’s face. Ask them, and better yet get to know them. Sometimes language is an issue, but we as humans can get to know each other easily without languages. Sometimes, I feel my camera bridges that language gap. If I take someone’s photo and show it to them, I mean to communicate that I find them interesting, and I hope they appreciate that.

girl waits on bus

Passengers wait in congested traffic near Sadarghat Boat Terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Photographic places to visit

You will see things that catch your eyes everywhere, however, there are some places I would like to point out.

In Dhaka, you must visit Sadarghat. This is the harbor where all kinds of boats are docked. It is erupting with life, in all of its beauty and sadness. It is polluted and dirty, yet ironically beautiful with color and people. See it in all of its splendor in the golden hours; sunrise and sunset. You will notice all of the small rowboats you can take around the river for very modest prices.

boys row on buriganga

Boys paddle a boat on the Buriganga River near Sadarghat, in Dhaka.

From Sadarghat, you can visit the boatyards on the other side of the river.

I also went to the Sundarbans in southwestern Bangladesh, which is home to a variety of wildlife, as well as the Bengali Tiger. I didn’t see any animals, as I was photographing a different story there, but there are many tours available.

Also, make sure you take a boat ride. There are overnight boats that can take you South, as well as to Chittagong. I personally enjoyed the overnight ride on the boat, as it was a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka.

Other friends of mine have visited tea farming areas near Sylhet. You can ride a train there, and this in itself is a fantastic photographic opportunity. If you’ve ever heard people speak of Myanmar’s interesting train rides, Bangladesh is all the more interesting.

All in all, I would suggest doing your own research about areas in Bangladesh to visit, but you can also consider making Dhaka a side-trip in your India travels. Being a majority Muslim country, Bangladesh will have a slightly different feel than India.

Safety

In recent years, there have been increased occurrences of terrorist activity, in some cases targeting foreigners. These were mostly concentrated in the diplomatic areas on people who reside in the country. Most likely they had been targeted beforehand, and such incidences are rare. If you keep a low profile, you will probably be ok. Just keep your head up and don’t tell people where you are staying unless you know them. (People will ask! Every time I met someone on the streets, they asked me where I was staying.) I do not want to promote fear by writing this, but I think it is only fair that I state it. That said, such incidences can occur anywhere, and I do not believe your risk increases by being in a country like Bangladesh.

Caught in the rythym of daily life in Dhaka, pedestrians walk past a rickshaw driver taking a break from the bouncy roads and traffic. Taken from inside a CNG.

One thing you will notice, is that as a foreigner, you attract a huge amount of attention. People will want to talk to you and ask you questions because they are interested in you. Be prepared for this. There may be times when you have a group of people surrounding you. I would be as cordial as possible, and politely answer their questions. I met some amazing people on the street this way, and some even took me around their neighborhoods where they showed me some interesting things. On the other hand, if this makes you feel nervous and you aren’t the social type, Bangladesh may not be for you. It will be impossible as a foreigner to avoid such situations.

It isn’t common for people to rob foreigners, but like anywhere be careful. I sometimes walked around with two camera bodies and I was ok. People in Bangladesh are mostly honest and hard working people, who are kind to outsiders.

When eating, make sure to dine in places that are clean. Stay away from street food, unless a Bangladeshi friend gives you the go ahead. Even then, you may get sick here. I sure did, and couldn’t leave where I was staying for five days. The fact is, that the food sanitation is quite poor. Sometimes, dishes are washed in a bucket of water that is probably not sanitary. Food is often served at room temperature which can lead to many interesting bacteria developing on it. After my stomach problems, I had food microwaved until it was very hot to try and avoid those unfriendly bacteria.

The most dangerous thing in this country is definitely traffic. Riding atop trishaws, the bicycle taxis, is definitely not safe, even though it is a great experience. The chances of being killed or injured in an accident are higher than anything else I’d assume; I even saw about three accidents in Dhaka during my time there. My advice is to have some travel insurance and hold on tight. Trishaws are for short hauls, but CNGs are for longer rides. You will notice that CNGs are green, makeshift cars that look like cages. They also have regular taxis if you don’t mind spending the extra cash.

CNG driver dhaka

A CNG driver is pictured through the mirror in Gulshan, Dhaka.

girl on ferris wheel in kamrangirchar Bangaldesh

A young girl rides a Ferris wheel with others in a weekend carnival in Kamrangirchar slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Visa

There was mixed information about how the visa process worked, but I did find out that I could go in on a tourist visa. The cost was not clear on this; I saw on internet forums that it cost about $150 USD, but upon arriving it was only $50. In the airport there were no pens to fill out the visa forms, but a docent was there willing to help on the condition you give him money. I ended up borrowing a pen from a Chinese traveler, surprised that this type of shake down could happen in an airport. This first impression was contrary to the country outside the airport doors. I rarely had people trying to swindle or cheat me because of being a foreigner.

Costs

Stuff to eat and rides around town are cheap, but expect to pay about $40 USD per night for mid-range accommodation. I stayed in a pretty drab hotel for $20 USD per night, but it was not in the least bit comfortable. You can also find Air Bnbs for decent prices.

For ATMs, there are plenty. I usually had good luck with BRAC Bank ATMs.

You can get cheap cell phone service directly upon arrival in the airport.

As always, traveling is your own choice, be careful doing it, and have fun! Let me know if you have any other questions about Bangladesh and I can do my best to help. 

Paul

FUJIFILM XT-2: From the Photojournalist’s Perspective

fujifilm xt-2

A lot of people have been writing about how mirrorless cameras are taking the place of traditional DSLRs and this makes for a lot of buzz amongst photographers. In my last article, I wrote about how the compact, (In my case, the Fuji X100s) is an important tool to keep you shooting when you don’t want that heavy DSLR around your neck.

Well, I recently sold my old 5D Mark II and Fuji X100s and bought the XT-2 because of all of the positive reviews I have been seeing on the internet, in particular regarding the performance of the autofocus and its light weight. The Fuji X100s is a great tool, but if you are like me, trying to capture lowlight shots, the focus isn’t optimal. In fact, it was frustrating and I missed many shots because of it.

So here is my take on the XT-2 as a tool for a photographer who demands a lot in subpar lighting situations. To make it clear, I wont get into too much technical stuff and what not, just my personal, unbiased observations as a documentary photographer and photojournalist.

Image quality

The XT-2 has great image quality. Any review site will tell you that.

What makes Fujifilm cameras even more fun are the film simulations. I tended to enjoy shooting Classic Chrome because of the harder contrast and honest color, but I’d say Proneg Standard is the most true to life setting. They say Provia is the most true-to-life setting, but I find it to be too saturated and contrasty.

boy in manila shot with xt-2 fuji

A street boy in a poor area of Manila. Shot with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 on ASTIA

boy in taiwan shot with fuji xt-2

A boy riding his bicycle in Taiwan. Shot with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 35mm f/2 WR on ASTIA

The crop factor:

I admit, the key factor in making me hesitate to buy this camera was the crop factor. After shooting full frame for 4 years, I was of course very skeptical and almost went for something like the Sony A7 rii.

After using the camera for two weeks, I will be honest: I still wish it was full frame as you don’t get that bokeh you would get with a full frame, but it is growing on me. For telephoto lenses on APS-C, you will of course have the bokeh, but shooting on a 35mm f/1.4 on full frame brings a lot of bokeh to the table compared to 23mm f/2 on a crop. The one advantage to using a crop sensor is that your focus zone will be greater at a wider aperture, where the focus zone on a full frame will be very narrow. Shooting at F/2 on a crop will give you the approximate depth of field of F/2.8 on full frame, while still giving you f/2’s amount of light. This is an advantage shooting at night. With full frame, you sometimes cant afford to stop the camera down to 3.5 when you are in a dark place. You can only hope to nail your focus at f/1.4 and only one subject will be in focus. Shooting wide open on a crop sensor gives you more depth of field with more light than a full frame. During the day and at in the golden hours, it is great to have full control in blurring your backgrounds, so the full frame is more versatile when light is plenty.

xt-2 samples

Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 35mm F/2 at ISO 800 f/2.8 1/80sec with CLASSIC CHROME.

xt-2 samples

Manila street kids. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 at ISO 400 f/3.2 1/170sec with CLASSIC CHROME.

xt-2 samples

Manila street kids. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 at ISO 400 f/2.8 1/1900sec with CLASSIC CHROME.

The one argument one can make about crop sensors is that they portray scenes more realistically. How much bokeh can our eyes actually produce? If you put your finger up to your eye and focus on it, you may notice that the background is not completely blurred out. Indeed it is blurry, but you can still see the shapes of things quite clearly. Perhaps crop sensors brings us a little closer to reality, but I’m not going to lie, I love nice bokeh. The crop sensor can still deliver in this department, just not as well as the full frames.

dscf7840

Taiwan streets. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 on CLASSIC CHROME

dscf2293

Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 on CLASSIC CHROME

Autofocus monster:

The FUJI XT-2 is extremely fast at autofocusing. I dare say, it can focus in the dark. The OVF on my Canon 6D searches desperately for something to focus on in dark situations. The XT-2 is much better than my DSLR in this aspect. I guess that is simple enough.

Profile:

The XT-2 is very unsuspecting. Just like I mentioned in my last article on compacts, people don’t think I am a paparazzi. I can get away with casually lifting the camera to my eye and taking a picture of most scenes I come across in public. Mentally, it is very hard for me to do this with my 6d and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens which almost resembles a gun.

Another factor is the movable screen that allows me to shoot from the hip and to lift the camera high over my head. Professional DSLRs don’t tend to have this feature.controls of fuji xt-2

Controls and Ergonomics

This is where this camera wins. It’s a pleasure to hold. The dials are all in convenient, intuitive places. I got used to using them very quickly. This is probably why DPREVIEW called it the best crop sensor camera of 2016 over the Nikon D500. The people at Fuji definitely took a lot of time developing a great control layout. The size of the camera is great, but I wouldn’t mind if it were a tad bigger to facilitate a full frame sensor.

“OK” low light image quality:

For documentary photographers, low light performance is the golden ticket when looking for a camera. Most of the stories I do require shooting in low light (flashes ruin the fun for me). The XT-2 is definitely not disappointing in this department, but it is not the best. I was regularly shooting at ISO 6400, but the shots look very noisy if you push the exposure up. I always shoot underexposed in order to avoid motion blur and this may be the problem. Full frames can produce more detail in low light because of the sensor size. My 6d can actually produce pretty decent shots at ISO 3200 if I push the exposure in post. My advice would be to not shoot too underexposed when shooting low light on this camera.

Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 35mm F/2 at ISO 6400 1/105sec. Pushed to +1.65. It is not bad, but not the best.

Aboriginal festival in Taiwan. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 35mm F/2 with CLASSIC CHROME at ISO 6400 1/105sec. Pushed to +1.65. It is not bad, but not the best.

fuji xt-2 low light sample

Aboriginal festival in Taiwan. Taken with the Fujifilm XT-2 and the XF 35mm F/2 at ISO 6400 1/170sec. Pushed to +1.60. Here, you can really see where it is struggling with the detail.

Battery life:

Mirrorless cameras have pretty lousy battery life. I usually can shoot a full day on my 6d battery. I will need three batteries to get through the day on my Fuji XT2. This camera definitely does not win here. As a photojournalist and travel photographer, battery life is important because we are often in places we can’t charge. The only remedy is to bring more batteries.

Conclusion:

This camera is definitely something photojournalists will enjoy using. The autofocus, light weight and control layout are all great. It’s shortfalls are in battery life and low light detail. I think though, that this camera has its purposes as does a big clunky full frame DSLR. This camera’s discreetness will get me photos where a DSLR can’t. The DSLR will be the tool I turn to when I need the utmost control over the images or when shooting big events.

I would definitely recommend this camera to a photojournalist or travel photographer, but do consider the other options like the A7 lineup from Sony and the Micro 4/3 cameras. I would really like to see how the A7 RII shoots compared to this because of its full frame and in camera stabilization. Really the question is, when will we see these kinds of cameras from Nikon and Canon? The ability to mount EF lenses on a full frame Canon mirrorless is quite a fantasy these days.

As always, do your best with whatever you have. At about $1800 USD with the kit lens, the Fujifilm XT-2 hits the price point very well.

Making Impromptu Travel Portraiture

What is “Impromptu Travel Portraiture?” It is on the spot portraits of people you may see on your travels, un-staged and little to no control of your surroundings. For me, it can be posed or candid. I make these kinds of photos a lot when I travel because it brings me closer to the people I see.

A farmer from the Magwe Region of Myanmar takes a break from the extreme heat to chat to me in his basic English, which he learned by himself. (Paul Ratje)

A farmer from the Magwe Region of Myanmar takes a break from the extreme heat to chat to me in his basic English, which he learned by himself.

Anyone who has travelled knows the feeling: You see interesting people in a different country and perhaps you are intrigued enough to talk to them or to have some interaction. For me, it is mostly a specific charm I find in people while traveling that draws me to take their portrait. I find their differences as a form of beauty, something that must be captured for my own satisfaction and for those who care to see it. The photo is the strongest form of visual record, which if you don’t push yourself to capture, will just disappear in your memories.

To put it all out there: Most of my portraiture is taken un-staged, simply just a passerby or person I see doing something. I have done staged shoots only a handful of times and the photos which have a long effect on me are not the staged ones, but the candid ones. I see travel portraiture as a form of photojournalism or documentation. I do it because I want to make a visual record of what I think is beautiful. Coincidentally, I find the people to be the most beautiful aspect of many places I travel, with all of their imperfections, colors and feeling.

A Hindu woman pictured in Satkhira, Bangladesh. (Paul Ratje)

A Hindu woman pictured in Satkhira, Bangladesh.

So, here is a short list of tips for you to consider:

Look and be Open Minded

Look with your eyes first. When I shoot, I am always looking around. Get on the streets and try to make contact with the locals. In some places, they will call you over and have you sit down for a tea or coffee. Such places rarely see outsiders and that experience can be very enjoyable. You will meet some of the most genuine types. In other places the locals may run away at the sight of you, but may warm up after some coaxing. In my experience, every place is special in its own way. Some may be better for a particular photographer than others, but this has always been the nature of the game.

Don’t be Afraid

My problem in the past was always approaching people. Many people have this problem, but it is one you can get over with experience and self-coaxing. It used to be an awkward thing for me to lift my camera to take a picture of someone, but I have found, it is that awkwardness, which makes it awkward in the first place. If I am relaxed and comfortable, then people I shoot will most likely also be. There are exclusions, so please be wise and don’t invade on people’s privacy.

 Communicate Without Words

Sometimes, I am standing face to face with someone I cannot verbally communicate with. This may indeed pose some obstacles and there will be some mystery in your encounter, but I have learned that my camera can be a communication tool in instances like this. Snapping someone’s portrait can lead to other things. As photographers, this should come easier for us. We are visual people and there are many ways to communicate without words. Sign language, gestures and drawing pictures are some ways this can be done.

A CNG driver in Dhaka, Bangladesh takes a quick glance at his passengers during a nasty traffic jam. (Paul Ratje)

A CNG driver in Dhaka, Bangladesh takes a quick glance at his passengers during a nasty traffic jam. I couldn’t communicate with this man, but my taking a photo of him lead to a kind of unspoken dialogue between us.

Find a Background

If you have an interesting subject try getting them in front of a nice background. Many travel photographers just put their subjects in front of a textured wall. If you are having a hard time getting a nice background, try and use a shallow depth of field to separate your subject. Most of my portraiture is not situated, but rather just shot on the spot. I will gauge my depth of field according to the background, but I do prefer a shallow one for portraits. When things are out of my control, the best things usually happen. Often times, as stated above, my best photos have been unintended and require little staging. When I have staged, I usually get unnatural results. This leads me to the point listed next.

A Muslim man poses for a portrait in Munshigonj near the Sundarban National Park in Bangladesh. (Paul Ratje)

A Muslim man poses for a portrait in Munshigonj near the Sundarban National Park in Bangladesh. There was a busy scene and my presence attracted a lot of people. I saw this wall and asked this man to pose in front of it. The crowd kind of got what I was doing and cooperated by not getting in the photo. They were interested to see the results afterward.

Shoot Life Happening

Shoot people doing things. Shoot life. You may ask yourself, ‘Won’t people think I am weird taking pictures of them doing stuff?’ The answer is, yes, they will, but only if you are weird about it. Try talking to them first, and sticking around for a while. You can even ask them if you can photograph them doing whatever it is they are doing. They will probably say yes. The key is to not be the creep you are worried about being. Be friendly and polite and you will not appear as a strange person, but as ‘That nice person with a camera.’

Locals practice their traditional Tibetan Dance in Garze Town, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, SIchuan, China. On days with good weather, locals usually come out for the dance. (Paul Ratje)

Locals practice their traditional Tibetan Dance in Garze Town, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, SIchuan, China. On days with good weather, locals usually come out for the dance. This is an example of shooting life. This picture tells a story, it doesn’t just show someone’s face.

 Rely on Your Instincts

Do relax when you are taking photos, but do not forget to pay attention to your surroundings. You do not want to become a target of a thief or walk into a place which may be unfriendly to outsiders. The bottom line is to use your common sense.

Characters portraying Guanjiang Shou prepare for the temple festival in Dulan, Taiwan. (Paul Ratje)

Characters portraying Guanjiang Shou prepare for the temple festival in Dulan, Taiwan. This was shot in very low light, right after the sun set. This kind of light produces a wonderful atmosphere for a photo.

 Shoot in Good Light

Waking up early can lead to some interesting things. The same can be said about shooting at sunset. Great light has an effect on everyone and I find that people are easier to photograph during this time because they are happier from the beauty around them. In the morning, you will see things that you do not see in the middle of the day. You may be catching people on their morning commutes or working to avoid mid-day heat.  Such people tend to be morning persons, meaning they will not be too grumpy and may be happy to see you. They may also be grumpy and unhappy to see you, so do be careful.

A boy photographed in the Dhaka boat yards, across the river from Sadarghat Boat Terminal. (Paul Ratje)

A boy photographed in the Dhaka boat yards, across the river from Sadarghat Boat Terminal.

To close, everyone has their own methods. I just wanted to share my experience. Please share your experiences below on the comments and thank you for reading.

How a Compact Changed my Photography

This article is written in general for compact cameras. Sample images were shot on the Fuji X100s, unless noted.

A similar version of this article was published on Amateur Photographer’s website. You can view it here.

Passengers wait in congested traffic near Sadarghat Boat Terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Passengers wait in congested traffic near Sadarghat Boat Terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Taken with a Fuji X100s)

I am a travelling photographer who carries two full frame Canon bodies and a selection of prime lenses for my work, whether it be photojournalistic, travel or commercial. I always used to say I would not feel confident shooting on a small camera because of the loss of depth field and lack of viewfinder, but times have changed, (as well as my back) and compacts are getting more and more appealing. Recently, I have been spending months at a time on the road, and bearing the weight of my kit can be exhausting, thus causing me to leave the stuff behind at my accommodation when I go on routine walks for dinner or out to buy something. Ironically, it is always during these times that I miss some random moment on the street, wishing I could have captured it. I am sure most photographers knows this feeling. It might just be a routine errand you are on, grabbing dinner or having a coffee, but amazing moments happen all the time, not only when you choose to carry your camera

So the thought process began of considering upgrading my cheap Android smart phone to an IPhone 6s. Later I decided against this as I tend to be rough on my cell phones and have come to enjoy the luxuries of a cheap phone which I can put to any sort of abuse without feeling guilty. Having said that, many photographers are using their IPhones/smartphones to produce work that gets published and the images from each generation of smartphone are getting better and better. However, I wanted something with a viewfinder and serious depth of field, so I started thinking about investing in a “Sidekick,” something light, sleek and powerful that I could bring with me all the time. The seed was planted and I started scanning the internet.

 On my recent trip to Bangladesh, I had the mission of capturing the essence of the country as well as produce interesting documentary stories while there. This country is congested, colorful, chaotic and simply a photogenic place. In my photography, I am shooting a lot of portraits as well as candid street scenes, so I wanted something that could do just that. Shortly before departing, I picked up a used Fuji X100s.

A boy rides a train

A boy rides a train near Sylhet, Bangladesh.

I was a little worried about the fixed focal length, but this aspect of the camera gradually became the camera’s greatest asset. The X100 series are magical little cameras in that they force you to be a moving photographer with the fixed focal length. However, let’s not just limit this conversation to the X100, but to compacts which are increasingly capable of capturing DSLR-quality images. So here are some of the reasons “Sidekick” cameras help me capture more and more of everyday life.

Traffic in Motijheel District, Dhaka,

Traffic in Motijheel District, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday February 13th, 2016. (Fuji X100s)

A busy intersection in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A busy intersection in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Fuji X100s)

Discreetness

In some places the presence of my DSLR has been almost offensive to locals, especially in places which are frequented by tourists. This was most apparent at a place called Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sichuan, China, where the nuns and monks are so tired of being photographed by tourists that they can literally smell a DSLR. I do not like making people feel awkward to take a photo, so I just ended up shy to take photos. I did not shoot any portraits because I asked multiple times with harsh rejection. However, for candid scenes, I am of the belief that photographers should never feel guilty, rather should have a responsibility to document scenes of life. Years down the road, an image may be the only trace of what a place or culture once was. At Larung Gar, doing this was incredibly difficult for me with my DSLR. I still captured some passable images, but If only I had my “Sidekick” back then, imagine the possibilities.

4 Nuns walking around a stupa at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

4 Nuns walking around a stupa at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sichuan, China. At the sight of my Canon 6D, one woman shielded her face. (Taken with a Canon 6D DSLR)

Compacts truly give you the stealth and quickness you need to easily capture candid scenes. Sometimes I can be feet away from a scene and people pay me no mind. This may be because the DSLR makes you look like a professional, working for some news agency.

In Taiwan, where I live, people are extremely camera shy and are prone to putting up a peace sign, or for them, a V-for victory sign with their fingers. Oh, the many times a good street shot was ruined by those two fingers. In January, I had the challenge of capturing the the recent Taiwanese presidential election for an editorial assignment. I wanted to capture candid moments, un-posed, without the V for victory fingers. My compact allowed me to capture some great candid moments of the reactions and emotions of Taiwanese witnessing their first female president get elected.

Discreetness with compacts is no doubt their largest benefit over DSLRs. For photojournalists, hobbyist-travel photographers and street photographers, the compact can offer a great amount of discreetness to capture candid moments.

Supporters attend a rally in Taiwan

Supporters attend a rally for Kuomintang Presidential Candidate Eric Chu in Kaohsiung on January 14th. (Fuji X100s)

A man watches the election results

A man watches the election results at the Democratic Progressive Party Headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan on election night, January 16th. (Fuji X100s)

Size

Sometimes I almost forget I am carrying my X100s because it is so light. Other compacts are the same in this aspect, relieving sensitive backs and helping you move faster. Now many professional photographers are going mirrorless for this reason. The images from the Sony A7 series are on par if not exceeding the image quality of DSLRs. Mirrorless cameras are indeed lighter than Canon or Nikon DSLRs and they are enjoying an ever growing popularity. Many professionals have switched because of their lightness.

Because of the size, the compact sidekick becomes great for transit days. This is another time I miss a lot of great moments. I don’t want to take my DSLR out of its safe place when I am on the train because I am worried about losing something, or worse, becoming a target of theft. With the “Sidekick,” it can just hang on my neck, not really being too obtrusive.

Style

Compacts like the Fuji X100 series, Olympus Pen and ODM series, kind of have a Leica-vintage-like feeling to them, giving you a low profile. Their design is unlike the DSLR in that you do not look like paparazzi. (And who likes paparazzi?) Instead you look like someone in the crowd. Subtle is the word to describe your style while holding such a camera. I do not mind throwing the X100s over my shoulder for a stroll, it feels inoffensive and gentle and I can easily slip it under my jacket if I don’t want people to see it while my DSLRs feel like an M16 and all eyes are on me.

But there are definitely downsides to these little cameras

Let’s not deny that these cameras have limitations. Canon and Nikon are still the mainstream producers of workhorse DSLRs. I don’t think I could do a wedding shoot or photograph sports with a compact. If I want to produce the best quality of images the DSLR is the best thing that I have for the job. If you are a professional photographer, or avid hobbyist, you know that you need a variety of focal lengths and a full frame DSLR sensor to shoot with.

The Sony A7 series is enticing, but making the switch will be expensive. Adapters to Nikon and Canon lenses will just make the A7 heavier than your DSLR in the first place and as of now, I don’t think I would trade Sony’s lens line-up for what Canon and Nikon have. However, prices on the Sony A-mount lenses will eventually drop and second-hands will appear on Ebay.

For my work, as a documentary photojournalist, I could get away with using my Fuji X100s for many shoots, but definitely not all. I prefer to have the control which my DSLRs give me when I have pressure to get a job done. If I am shooting a wedding, I am much more comfortable with the control I get from my 6d, its long battery life and all of the lenses I am accustomed to shooting with.

With all of that off my chest, it would be good to conclude with this statement: The equipment does not make the photographer, but it does make a photographer’s job easier. I am always trying to push my creative boundaries and I tend to always carry a camera around to achieve this. My back gives me hell for it. We all like our toys, especially trying new toys, but you need a good excuse to buy them sometimes. So here it is: The compact can help you get the shots you have been missing when you don’t want to have the heavy DSLR around your neck. Whether at night, on random errands or while in transit, it will take the load off your back, while keeping you creative. It has changed my photography immensely and I always look forward to my leisure photography.

Boys hang out in a train station.

Boys hang out in a train station near Sylhet, Bangladesh. (Fuji X100s)

Whichever way you choose, always keep shooting and pushing for different images. Your eyes will always be your best teachers.