Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Canon s120

Smartphone photography

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All the photos in this blog entry were shot using my LG G2 phone. Many of them have been edited using the app VSCO. This shot was taken in Bakery88 in Dali, Yunnan.

Lately, I’ve taken to using my smartphone as my photographic device. At the moment, I’m in Yunnan and have been traveling around the province. The photo you see in the below post, in the previous blog entry, was shot using my phone, edited on my phone, and uploaded onto this blog with my phone.

For work I still rely on my trusty Canon S120. The camera is what I use on journalism assignments. But for everything else, my phone replaces it. Much of this has to do with the fact my phone is always on me.

But even while traveling in Yunnan, where my camera is readily available in my rucksack, I’ve left it in there, in the hostel locker, while I’ve traipsed around, phone in pocket ready to be fished out.

Why a smartphone is better than a digital camera as a travel camera

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

November 23, 2015 at 7:27 am

Six things I really like

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My Redwing boots. They are comfortable, weather resistant, and look great.

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My Accurist watch. They’re a British brand producing watches that are tough and reliable, with a strong sense of style and identity. I’ve had this one since my student days. I’m very attached to it. It cost me £35.

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My Canon camera. It’s kind of a perfect camera, for me. It won’t produce as immediately impressive photos as a Sony RX100 or a DSLR. But the S120’s combination of size, speed, and technical ability makes it super easy to take good, usable photos. As a tool, I’ve sold photos from this camera to Al Jazeera and CNN, more than making back what it cost to buy.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 6, 2015 at 7:21 am

DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot: a Journalist’s Consideration

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My Canon Powershot S120, and Canon 450D DSLR; the photo was taken with my crummy mobile phone camera.

My Canon Powershot S120, and Canon 450D DSLR; the photo was taken with my crummy mobile phone camera.

Lately I have been using my digital SLR. It’s a Canon 450D (also known as a Digital Rebel XTi). I’ve had my DSLR since 2008 but in the past two years I’ve neglected it, preferring to use my compact point-and-shoot: a Canon Powershot S120.

I dug out the DSLR as I wanted to walk around my neighborhood, shooting. It’s a very different experience. It’s the physical tangibility, that reassuring weight of a DSLR that is, I think, most influential in changing the approach you take to photography.

However, on journalism assignments and on freelance trips — to Burma, to North Korea — I have left behind the DSLR, and only brought my little camera. This is because the agility of the S120 and the ease of taking a usable photo with it is far quicker and more efficient than a DSLR.

Another thing I noticed when I was out and about with the DSLR was that the mere sight of it, the fact I was stopping and using this quite obviously noticeable camera changed my surroundings. People noticed me more, people actively tried to avoid the camera’s glare, and I, in turn, tried to be more conspicuous.

This is perhaps even more important.

If I used my DSLR in North Korea I would’ve taken fewer pictures and fewer photos of sensitive things, and the North Koreans would’ve been more sensitive to my presence. People have an almost instinctive reaction to a big, professional-looking camera far more than they do to a little compact.

Also, the quality produced by my point-and-shoot compared to the photos coming out of the DSLR are not massively different. With a DSLR, you can see more clarity, more cinematic colours, more depth of field, things that contribute to a more “3D” effect in the photo. But looking at photos taken with my S120 on the internet, you barely register the “inferiority”. For evidence see the photo galleries, which I took with the point-and-shoot, here and here.

I’ve sold photos using the S120 and the value of those images are in the fact they tell a story. The camera was inconsequential.

Sometimes I do feel wistful when I see fellow freelancers scoring photo galleries that I know would be difficult to manage with a compact camera. My friend Brent Crane’s photo story for Condé Nast Traveler is a case in point. The 12-picture gallery — ‘China to Pakistan: Road Tripping Across the World’s Highest Border’ — was shot on Brent’s DSLR and the vibrancy and sweep of the landscape shots are quite detailed in the way only the larger sensors found in DSLRs are capable of.

But I still trust in my little Canon compact to deliver the goods and I don’t foresee myself replacing it with a DSLR on journalism assignments.

The Journalist’s Christmas Wishlist: 2014 Edition

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Beyerdyamic T51i: $299/ £246

They are compact, well built, include an in-line remote and microphone, and offer outstanding sound quality. These Beyerdynamic headphones are highly rated (if you don’t believe me, check here, here and here), and are quite possibly the world’s best portable headphones. If there’s one piece of tech that’s worth spending more on it’s headphones. Unlike smartphones, cameras and laptops; good headphones made 20 years ago will still be good headphones today.

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All the Technology I Use to Do Journalism

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The above photo collects all the gadgetry that I use for my journalism work:

  • Olympus digital voice recorder
  • LG G2 smartphone
  • Lenovo Ideapad S210 touchscreen laptop
  • Canon S120 digital camera

The Olympus dictaphone was bought in England after I lost my previous Olympus. It cost £65. It picks up voices very well – defined from background noise. It has a little built-in stand that raises it from a surface, and the ability to slow down audio which comes in handy when transcribing interviews. There are fancier voice recorders out there (Sony do nice expensive ones) but unless you’re looking to record broadcast quality interviews, the Olympus is a lovely piece of kit.

The LG G2 smartphone is a new addition. My previous mobile phone (pictured in the top left of the photo) was a £60 “Softbank” smartphone bought in Hong Kong two years ago. A budget smartphone from 2012 is pretty ancient technology now and was starting to seriously slow, so I bought the LG secondhand in Bangkok for the equivalent of £165. The processor inside it is the generation ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S4 but a step behind the latest S5. So it’s still blazingly quick, and the G2’s camera is a massive upgrade from the Softbank’s and the screen is also about 1,600 times better. I use smartphones to jot down memos and article ideas while on the move; as a kind of scanner (with the camera) and as a phone obvs.

The laptop I picked up in Hong Kong & I wrote about it previously.

The Canon S120 camera was bought in Beijing earlier this year for the equivalent of £256. It works very well. It powers on quickly, focuses quickly and the best thing about it is that it’s incredibly small and unobtrusive. It also takes exceedingly good video. Photos I’ve taken using it have been published by The Telegraph and Aljazeera who paid me $450 for a photo gallery of shots I took in North Korea. I do also own a Canon 450D DSLR (which I used to take the above image) but I hardly use it these days. I didn’t take it to North Korea for instance because I knew it would be more conspicuous than a small compact camera and this would have a greater effect on the behavior of North Korean civilians, and because I knew that fiddling around with the DSLR would cause me to miss shots when the Canon S120 would make me a much more agile photographer.

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I’m pretty happy with the equipment I have. The total cost is much less than a grand. Sure it’d be nice to have a Surface Pro 3 which has much better battery life than my current laptop (I like to work in cafes). And perhaps an iPad – for magazine subscriptions – and as a backup browser screen for reference purposes. But they are not essential. Upgrades would be a Samsung Galaxy Note 3: I love the stylus that comes with it; its features are very useful for a freelance journalist. And a Canon EOS M which is a camera slightly larger than the Canon S120 but with picture quality equal to DSLRs.

But I do not like to upgrade quickly. It’s a waste of money that could be spent on travel or experiences or stories. And in the next couple years everything will be that much better again. So don’t obsess about your kit, think instead about how to make the most of it.

Photography + Journalism: The Best Cameras for Journalists

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Plenty of would-be journalists fancy themselves also to be photographers. It’s a visual way of documentation and taking pictures provides immediate feedback (something we crave) and a tactile form of expression. But photojournalists, and especially their most extreme form the war photographer, are a breed apart. I have slummed it as a journalist, living in tiny rooms, subsisting on sweet potatoes, but those guys! They go from couch to couch, living off their assignments, eating whatever is at hand, and trying to go from grant to grant. It’s probably not like that, but I’ve known a few and read about more, and the truth is not unlike the popular image. If you want to be a photojournalist, you have to dedicate yourself to that path. As a journalist and writer first and foremost, I don’t try to impinge on their vocation by assuming some photographer pose (at least, try to not to…), but I do like to dabble, and taking photos while on assignment, especially if you’re interviewing someone a little bit special or going somewhere new, it helps to have a camera as the imagery you take can always come in handy. I’ve had a few published, and it’s always nice to see photo credits mirror bylines as you feel the visual is mirroring the auditory. In other words, the photos and the words attain a stronger, more singular identity. Here are some camera suggestions for journalists [they are not intended for professionals, photojournalists, or even amateur street photographers] –

Best overall

Canon EOS M2 with 22mm lens (40mm equiv. view)

Canon EOS M2 with 22mm lens (40mm equiv. view)

The Canon EOS M (mark 2) is a small, compact-sized camera with the ability to change lenses. Inside is a sensor very similar to the sensors found in Canon’s entry to mid-level DSLR range. That means you get the same picture quality as the DSLRs but in a very unobtrusive package that you can carry around all day and shoot without fuss. If you attach the 22mm lens, it’s a small enough device to fit into a jacket or coat pocket. The 22mm lens gives you a 40mm equivalent view (all those old street photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson were taken on 50mm lenses). A quick note on fixed-length lenses (like the one in picture above) versus zoom lenses. Zoom lenses are useful things to have, and you’ll have to decide what you want. But fixed-length lenses are often sharper and because it limits you forces you to think more, and if you want to zoom you’ll have to move your feet! Getting closer to the subject is important for a journalist. You’ll want the mark 2, not the first version of the camera, as the autofocus has been much improved. This camera has good colour rendition, takes nice looking photos with background blur and is quick and ready for action. It won’t be as fast focusing on moving subjects as a DSLR but the smaller size and lower weight might mean it’ll be taken out more. £300, including 18-55mm lens.

Most portable 

Canon S120

The Canon S120 is truly pocket-sized. It’s smaller than most smartphones. But the sensor it has (which is relatively large for a camera of its size) means it’ll be far better in low light. This thing is incredibly easy to use, is great for snapping out and about, day or night, for a landscape photo, or portraits at a bar. It’s quick to shoot video, just press the dedicated button, and takes smooth and great looking videos, even at night. Two cons: if you’re taking lots of photos battery life only lasts about half a day. And photos can look a bit too smooth (as in the in-camera JPEG processing will smooth over people’s skin and background details). £260.

Best for pictures of people

Fujifim X100s

Fujifim X100s

This camera is the best camera for portraits. Often when you take photos for articles, it’s the people that are important, the ones you’ve interviewed or have some role in the story. This camera is optimised for that with great skin tones, great fill flash and colour correction for every kind of lighting condition. It also takes good street scenes and landscapes, although the colour won’t be as accurate and vibrant for landscape and nature photography as the Canons. It has a fixed lens so bear that in mind and it’s more costly than the other cameras featured, but it works great, has a large sensor, would probably work well for years and looks like a journalist’s camera. £869. Consider the Fuijfilm X-M1 if you want to be able to swap lenses.

Consider the alternative, or the best quality photos for vastly less money than the digital equivalent:

Olympus mju-II (35mm film camera)

Why is this cheap, plasticky thing better than the cameras above it? It’s simple. The sensors found in most compact digital cameras are actually very small. Basically, the larger the sensor the more information it can process, the better the low-light ability and more lower depth of field it can achieve. But this is for digital sensors which have become replacements for film. The usual size for film is 35mm. This size actually dwarfs most digital compact camera sensor sizes (like the Canon S120 shown above, or even the EOS M). To get the equivalent 35mm size in digital, what’s called “full-frame”, you have to shell out about £2000 for a camera such as the Canon 5D mk3. Which are much larger and heavier than the Olympus camera pictured. In other words, most film cameras have much greater low light and colour sensitivity than most digital cameras, because their “sensor” — each exposure of film — is far bigger than what’s available in digital cameras. Of course digital is more convenient, but if you’re on a more considered or more personal journalistic project, do consider film cameras. The one pictured costs about£50 in eBay and is noted for its accurate autofocus, sharp lens and smooth operation. You’ll have to do a bit of research on different film types, because they produce different tones, but the look and feel of the photos are different to digital. Most processing places are able to scan films too so you also have digital copies.

The future-present The iPhone camera is still better than most Android phone offerings. I’ve written before on its use and application as a camera. Images taken with an iPhone, sometimes from conflict zones, like Libya, have graced the front page of Time magazine, published in major newspapers and magazines around the world. It is discrete, small, works brilliantly and takes photos. The important thing is it takes photos. What’s in them is still up to you.

Advice – Choose based on how much weight you want to carry, how easy and unobtrusive it will be to take pictures, and how the camera will encourage you to take it up and shoot. Enjoyment is important.

Why I didn’t include any Sony cameras – because they have poor colour accuracy, which is fine for Facebook etc, but not so great for publishing in a journalistic setting. Their colour profiles lean too heavy on the greens and yellows.

Why I didn’t include any DSLRs – because they’re all pretty much the same now and they all work excellently and are all equally capable of taking brilliant photos. Any DSLR will work great.

Links:

http://www.kenrockwell.com

http://www.dpreview.com

http://www.lomography.com/magazine/reviews/2013/10/02/10-cool-35mm-film-compacts-to-slip-in-your-pockets-and-purses

Getting into Video Storytelling – using a cheap compact camera

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I’ve been pretty inspired recently. And have become obsessed with a YouTuber named Casey Neistat. He’s a 32-year-old filmmaker who advocates limited resources film making. I stumbled upon his videos, and more importantly the story behind his ascent, from this Guardian article: Ten tools for digital and citizen journalists on the go. Specifically this video:

Casey likes to use a digital compact camera to make his videos.

After making videos that went viral, using basic equipment, he was tapped by Nike to make a commercial.

“Nike asked me to make a movie about what it means to #makeitcount. Instead of making their movie I spent the entire budget traveling around the world with my friend Max. We’d keep going until the money ran out. It took 10 days.”

The ad-hoc video he made from that trip, entirely shot on a point-and-shoot camera (Canon S120), was accepted by Nike and the ‘commercial’ has now over 10 million hits on YouTube.

So I read everything I could about Casey Neistat (I often do this when I find someone I can potentially learn from), and realized three things:

1. The camera you use is not important, and actually using ‘crappy’ equipment might work to your advantage.

2. Having limitations can create awesome things and can cultivate a unique style.

3. It’s all about the story. Story telling. Telling stories. The STORY. 

People like to be engaged and a video with a strong hook will pull in audiences even if it’s shot on a crappy camera phone compared to expensive DSLR footage that’s only about scenery that admittedly looks incredible.

My seven-year-old compact digital camera which I have now replaced. It still works though - the three pictures below were all taken with this camera in the past two years.

My seven-year-old compact digital camera which I have now replaced. It still works though – the three pictures below were all taken with this camera over the past two years.

So I’m going to start doing that then. I bought a Canon S120 (for £270 ’cause my old compact camera is literally falling apart) and downloaded Windows Movie Maker. That’s right, the free-to-download most basic video editing software available. It might sound amusing, but hey at least I’ve started. I’ll keep you updated when my first video hits and where it may end up.

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