Who should you blame for your lousy wedding photos?

It was your big wedding day and everything seemed to be going great. Then you receive your wedding photographs and they look like amateurish crap. Who should you blame?

I am sorry but it is your fault.

Yes, you, the victim of bad photography, are to blame.

Because unlike the weather, this is one of several things which you actually have complete control over when you plan for your wedding.

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Ducati Monster 1200S – Portraits with my iPhone

Every Ducati is a work of art, and it’s always fun to find new ways to photograph these beauties on a small island like Singapore. I used to scout actively for photographic opportunities on my previous Monster 1100 Evo with my larger cameras, but I’ve slowed down a bit with my current Monster 1200S due to work and generally lousy weather.

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Thoughts on 2012

Another year flies by and I thought I had better pen some thoughts down before I forget them.

An Instagram photo of the clouds over Bishan, 28 Dec 2012.
An Instagram photo of the clouds over Bishan, 28 Dec 2012.

1. Photography is now in the pocket

In the mid 2000s, I used to conduct a few photography workshops in partnerships with Canon. Back then, my mantra to the audience was to use as high a resolution a digital camera as you could afford, because you’d never know how big you need to print them or what kind of HD displays you would be using them in the future as photo frames. I scoffed at phone cameras because they were just so primitive then (they were horrid).

Today, that mantra has gone out of the window as the old adage of “having a camera with you at all times” is more important than the actual megapixel count. Smartphones can now do spot exposure, HDR processing to overcome high contrast scenes and have really good color reproduction. And the most amazing thing is that you can share them instantly on social media, rather than wait a few days to get 4R prints and then another few weeks to show them to your friends.

If I go out with the kids and forget to bring my Olympus Pen along (the full frame Canon 5D sees very little action today due to its enormous bulk), it’s still ok because a modern smartphone has a really really good image sensor. And I don’t print photos anymore, photos are now shared by default on Facebook and Instagram, and this blog no longer hosts photos like it used to.

Isabel in soft focus, Instagram style.
Isabel in soft focus, Instagram style.

Instagram has been a great tool that I have grown to appreciate. While some pros may decry the use of vintage filters, I love it because the same effects are much more difficult to achieve in Photoshop, and if you choose to take photos first and Instagram it later, you still retain the original image. And I’ve always been a fan of square 1:1 ratio images. In the past we used to fantasize about owning medium format cameras just to get that square look…today who cares?

I predict that compact cameras will become obsolete within the next five years, and dSLRs will once again become the domain of pros instead of consumers.

2. Xbox Rawks

The Xbox ambassadors and the rest of the usual gang of suspects at Dance Central Championships. You won't find another group of more energetic young folks elsewhere (excluding this botak lah)
The Xbox ambassadors and the rest of the usual gang of suspects at Dance Central Championships. You won’t find another group of more energetic young folks elsewhere (excluding this botak lah)

For the past year, I’ve been the business lead for the Xbox 360 in Singapore, the fifth guy in the job since the product was launched in Singapore during the early 2000s. While I have been driving the marcoms for Xbox and our other Microsoft retail products in the past five years, it’s a whole different ball game to be actually doing product management for such a complex product line.

And till today, I still have to tell people I don’t spend all my time playing games. It’s a continuously challenging business to manage, and while I can’t write much about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, what we did publicly was truly fun and groundbreaking this year.

The explosive finale of the Dance Central Championships 2012 at Plaza Singapura.
The explosive finale of the Dance Central Championships 2012 at Plaza Singapura.

Dance Central Championships came about because we’ve always wanted to bring Xbox to the masses in a big non-traditional way. It blew our minds when over 1000 people signed up and the finale was simply electrifying as contestants did the most amazing moves on the stage. The finale coincided with the launch of Kinect Star Wars and it was a pleasure to work with the 501st Legion of Star Wars enthusiasts. Trust me, you don’t see such passion very often – these guys live and breathe the Force.

Halo 4 launch, 6 Nov at Funan. We've never packed the crowd in like this before.
Halo 4 launch, 6 Nov at Funan. We’ve never packed the crowd in like this before.

The Halo 4 launch was something of a full circle thingy. When I joined Microsoft in 2007, my second day of work was the Halo 3 launch at Suntec. While we had to scale this one down due to budget constraints, we organized a Royal Rumble-style Ultimate Deathmatch as our first tournament in many years and it was truly gratifying to see fans line up to see who would be the last one standing.

In my previous job as a journalist, I wrote many stories, but I could have never imagined writing a story like my past five years in Microsoft and being part of the amazing Xbox journey.

3. The Goblins

The Tan family, Xmas 2012
The Tan family, Xmas 2012

Isaac will be ten years old soon, and Isabel will be eight. Feels like yesterday that Goy and I were still pak-tor-ing (going out on dates). Sometimes I get a bit disoriented and forget that I’m a father to two kids. With them yakking and cracking jokes and arguing all the time, sometimes I feel more like their older brother. Especially since I don’t feel so grown up myself.

It’s really not easy to inculcate solid values and be a good role model to the kids, and often I fall short. But I’m glad the kids make it a fun journey…most of the time. And they are the main reason that I…

3. Fought the education system 

It started one day when Goy showed me this ACS Primary sample mathematics exam paper that was so ridiculously tough I lost my cool. I said, “That’s it, I’m writing a letter to the papers.”

One letter led to another, and before I knew it, I had sent and gotten six letters published, and other letter writers contributed their thoughts too. The letters are archived here in their original unedited form (the Today letters have since gone offline, such a pity)

Crippling learning with unrealistic standards

It’s a strong foundation that counts

Is the Education Ministry really listening to parents’ feedback?

Why would people want to have kids in Singapore?

Getting to the root of kiasuism (this was a guest column for Today’s National Day Rally edition)

It is not me who is kan cheong

Did the letters help the situation? I think it did, because since the first letter, education has become a bigger talking point in the public space. The Gahmen stopped publishing names of top PSLE scorers this year and while the problem lies more in the sheer unreasonable breadth of the primary school curriculum, at least they’re doing something.

The problem with the education system, I suspect, is that there are too many layers and differing approaches, and no single visionary who can articulate what kind of education system is good for our kids. To solve this problem at the root, we need leaders with actual field experience and I am awaiting the day when an acclaimed educator become the Education Minister.

I’m not saying that the current Minister Heng is doing a lousy job, it’s just that the PAP’s way of appointing ministers needs to take into account that a finance/army/civil service guy may not appreciate the nuances of education like an ex-teacher would. To change the world, we don’t need technocrats and administrators and policymakers. We need people who know what it takes and are willing to risk everything to improve our children’s lives.

I’m done with letter writing for now, because I was starting to sound like a broken record.

4. My Monster.

My Monster 1100 Evo at one of the old Seletar airbase buildings. Vintage filtered with the help of who else but Instagram.
My Monster 1100 Evo at one of the old Seletar airbase buildings. Vintage filtered with the help of who else but Instagram.

I first started riding army bikes in 1996, and enrolled in the civilian Class 2B course in 2007. Only in 2012 did I finally realize the long-time dream of owning a Class 2 (400cc and above) bike and after much consideration, I chose the Ducati Monster 1100 Evo and it is an exhilarating ride. I have written about it here.

Seriously, 16 years is a pretty long time to wait, but I guess I was too busy in between.

5. People moving on.

Several colleagues have left Microsoft and I am deeply grateful for all the things they have taught me and gone through with me. Great friends are hard to find in any workplace, and I’ve been blessed with knowing so many talented folks since I started working in 2001. All this sounds very clichéd, but our personality and attitudes to life are often shaped by the meaningful relationships we have and cherish.

And my ex-boss Ben Tan has so many classic lines that I remember by heart. Eg. “Don’t wrestle with pigs!” “Stack them high and watch them fly!” (referencing mass stacking at retail). “How do you get from good to great?”

An old SPH friend, Chee Kin, left us suddenly this year. He was a kind and funny mentor during my journalism internship years, and now I can’t crack anti-Sun Ho/China Wine jokes with him anymore. Quite a few friends have passed away (the first guy during Primary 5) and it is always a grim reminder that our days on earth are numbered and unknown to us. All the more reason to enjoy life for what it is and never regret the things we do. It’s either now or never, people!

6. Passing another violin exam

A shot of my violin and my teacher's violin.
A shot of my violin and my teacher’s violin.

To many kids, passing the ABRSM music exam is no big deal, since everyone is doing it (usually not by choice). To an adult like me, who has no natural innate gift in music, clearing my Grade 5 exam was a big accomplishment.

This was a frightening exam to go through, because I realized that I still could not get rid of the jitters and shakes whenever I played in front of a teacher or examiner. I concluded that I simply did not have stage performance confidence – an irony because I have no issues giving speeches in front of huge crowds. Goy helped me overcome this (mostly) by constantly practicing with me with the piano and I learnt how to minimize the tonality issues. I just managed to score a merit rating and it felt like a distinction already.

I continue to learn the violin because it’s too late to just stop now, when I’ve worked at this for over 11 years, and because every lesson is such a humbling experience for an arrogant nature like mine. Violin is truly a great antidote for the inertia that threatens to subsume me every day.

As usual, I don’t think too hard about the future and what I want to do in 2013. Everything happens according to God’s plan and all I ask for is to be happy in the things I do and achieve contentment at all times. I feel the edginess and impatience of the mid-life crisis (all the old AC boys are experiencing it) and we have to keep remembering to get together lest one of us disappear from sight without warning.

Pok's wedding in KL
Pok’s wedding in KL, probably the last time we will look relatively young. Age will hound us from here on.

And 2012 was great because the last of the dragonboat gang – Pok and Naveen – finally got married. Now they’ll understand what we married men have been talking about during our Adam Road suppers 🙂

Of Art, Ads and Naked Men

I was driving into Orchard Road with the family a few weeks ago when I saw the huge billboard (above, from Mr Brown’s site) from Abercrombie & Fitch. I was so stunned that I took a second look and probably put myself at risk of an accident. It was a black and white image of a rippling male body with his genitals barely hiding from view underneath the low-slung jeans.

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Nikon should have gone further than 1-inch

I’ll just start off with the disclaimer that I don’t fancy Nikon cameras. There is a long story behind how I gained much respect for the Nikon semi-auto F4 camera, and lost it all when I was forced to use the atrocious Nikon D1 as a young photojournalist. When it comes to professional dSLRs, it’s Canon or bust for me.

(Never mind the fact that I use my Olympus Pen more frequently than any other camera these days.)

Anyway, the world was waiting for Nikon to announce its new mirrorless camera system and they did just that this week. I was expecting more from Canon’s longtime rival, but they lived up to their disappointing reputation. Calling it the “Nikon 1” system after the 1-inch sensor in the camera body, this will no doubt send the fanboys into ecstasy. But there is little reason to, and here’s my take.

The 1″ sensor is just too small to compete

Here’s how the various sensor sizes stack up, from Dpreview.com

This Dpreview article goes into detail about why the author thinks that making a 1″ sensor system will work well for Nikon – that it will not cannibalize their cash cow dSLR market. I completely disagree. The Nikon sensor needs to be at least as big as the Micro Four Thirds sensor to succeed.

dSLRs, despite their popularity, are really designed more for professional work than casual use. The casual user will probably never bother to learn how to use the manual dials on his dSLR camera, and sooner or later, will be frustrated by the sheer bulk of it. Neither will they be keen in investing in better zoom lenses, or even prime lenses.

The main reason why many people have upgraded to dSLRs in the past ten years, is due to the obvious limitations of their compact cameras in terms of image quality and flexibility. And some very effective marketing too.

With the Micro Four Thirds and NEX sensors being about half the size of a 35mm film frame, yet producing an image that is nearly as good in color and resolution as a dSLR (to most consumers), the three small players Panasonic, Olympus and Sony have grabbed an amazing amount of market share in just two years.

According to this Bloomberg article, the mirrorless camera has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 40% market share today in Japan. Canon and Nikon’s number crunchers must be petrified by this figure, but I’m sure things aren’t so bleak for them worldwide. Still, it’s a sign of things to come as the Japanese are often early adopters.

Nikon is coming into a new market that has been created by the smaller players. It has to play by their rules and benchmarks. By now, many consumers may have become aware of the great quality produced by the current crop of mirrorless cameras. Consumers are not stupid, and many do their research online (especially those who can afford a mirrorless camera worth USD700).

It just takes a few review websites to demonstrate in coming weeks that a smaller sensor will not produce the same image quality, especially at the same megapixels. It will also produce less depth-of-field effect, which is a great marketing tool (hey see that dreamy out of focus look!).

Nikon might be trying to avoid cannibalizing its own dSLR market, but as market data already shows, the mirrorless cameras have already done just that. So why not just go with what consumers want, and grow the market by selling a big-sensor mirrorless camera rather than run away from the inevitable decline of dSLR units?

The Nikon V1 is not that small

And furthermore, Olympus has an upcoming Micro Four Thirds camera called the E-PM1 that is 110 x 64 x 34 mm in dimensions. The Nikon V1 is 113mm x 76mm x 44mm, and the lower-end J1 is 106mm x 61mm x 30mm. The J1 is not that much smaller, and yet has a smaller image sensor than the Micro Four Third line of cameras.

Now personally, I’m comfortable shooting with a modern smartphone, my Olympus XZ-1 compact, my Pen camera or EOS 5D. They all produce great images for the money, and my photography experience can help overcome most of the inherent limitations they pose. But to the average joe, they want the best of every world, and yet they don’t know how to expose a photo correctly. They just want to buy a camera that can do it all, and must be the most advanced out there if they are going to fork out the cash.

The consumer will judge the Nikon 1 system not merely by its design, but by its minute specifications and review ratings. So unless Nikon pulls a big rabbit out of the hat, the N1 series already takes a hit before launch.

Legacy lenses support but…

What can help Nikon or Canon catch up is some form of legacy support for its older lenses on the new, smaller body. On my Pen, you can use an adapter ring to mount other bigger Oly E lenses or old school manual lenses from brands like Leica. For example, I currently use a 25mm lens meant for the bigger E-series on my Pen.

The Nikon 1 system will have an adaptor for older Nikkor lenses, but the crop factor is so high at 2.7x, I’m not sure if this will entice any existing Nikkor owner to get the new body. For example, if my maths is correct, a 24mm Nikkor wide angle lens will produce a telescopic 65mm field of view on the N1, totally negating the value of the original wide angle. And imagine a 300mm Nikkor lens on a Nikon 1 body! This is all because, I reiterate, the sensor is just too small.

I won’t comment on subjective things like design (I do dig the metallic red!) but I would just say that in trying to compete with the smaller players, Nikon may have actually forgotten that it’s no longer just a two-horse race. Instead, the hounds are actually racing ahead of the horses.

Now, I could be completely wrong in my analysis above and the Nikon 1 does roaring business when it launches in late October. And my bias towards Canon will never motivate me to buy a Nikon to begin with.

I just hope I’ve laid out some objective facts before you spring for this system. Do give all the various platforms a try and make your own decision.

Let’s see what Canon comes up with, and I hope to be thrilled.

Update: An interview with Nikon’s RnD GM was published by Dpreview after I had posted the above. It’s interesting how the Nikon 1 sensor is able to do all sorts of advanced stuff like shoot at 60 frames per second, and uses a hybrid autofocus system. There’s also this quote:

And, if the company’s market research is correct, there’s every chance this market sector’s expectations are very different from those of the enthusiast photographers who are currently scratching their heads and expressing their dissatisfaction about the new product.

Hey, they’re referring to me! But Nikon, please hear me out. For any new camera system to take hold of the mainstream, it is often up to us early adopters and enthusiasts, as well as the professionals, to embrace it and start spreading the word around. The average consumer is not confident of investing in any new camera system unless it is obviously amazing/groundbreaking or comes with much recommendation from their friends or from their social networks.

One mistake I felt that Olympus made when they were launching the Pen system in 2009 was trying to attract the female crowd with lifestyle ads. That’s not wrong in itself, but they failed to convince the early adopters and pros to come onboard (“is this Pen a girly camera?”), and that’s also part of the reason why Panasonic had more opportunity to shape the market despite Oly launching its products first. There are those of us who sprung for the EP-1 immediately at launch even without reading an Oly ad (and I never regretted it), but there are even more who have sat on the fence because of mixed messaging.

And Nikon is also assuming that the new features they’ve packed into the Nikon 1 system is a big carrot to entice the average consumer – let’s see how the market reacts.