Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘photojournalism

Canon S120 review: 3.7 years later

leave a comment »


This image was shot on my iPhone SE which, like this camera, offers impressive performance in an affordable and compact package

When the Canon S120 appeared in 2013 it was a technological marvel. It managed to pack a relatively large sensor, a useful 24 to 120mm lens, with a large f1.8 at the wide angle, and optical image stabilization, in a form factor that was impressively compact.

I bought it on 3rd March 2014 to replace a Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (2008). The 980 IS is a legendary camera but technology advances and the S120 offered much improved image quality with its evolved sensor and brighter lens.

Since then I have used the S120 as my main journalism camera, bringing it with me to Nepal, Burma, and North Korea, where images were used to illustrate articles published in NewsChina, CNN Travel, and Aljazeera, respectively.

In fact, the North Korea trip has turned out to be the most profitable.

Images I shot there were printed in Marie Claire (Netherlands & South Africa) this summer, proving you don’t need a big, bulky DSLR to sell images to glossy magazines.

I still bring the S120 on reporting assignments, for portraits mostly, in case the newspaper for which I’ve been freelancing needs an accompanying photo.


The ‘legendary’ Digital IXUS 980 IS which I used from 2008 to 2014

But lately I’ve been feeling the urge to upgrade.

The Sony RX100 and the Canon G7 X use sensors that are double the size of the one in the S120 with evolved imaging software that combine to produce DSLR-alike images in a frame not much larger than the S120.

But I am finding it difficult to choose.

The RX100 series are superb compacts that people rave about, and deservedly so, and from the fourth iteration onward manage to fit an awesome EVF into its svelte body. But I prefer Canon’s colour profile and the Sony camera’s focal range only extends to 70mm.

The Canon G7X II uses the same larger-sized sensor as the RX100, and has a longer 100mm lens reach, but I’ve heard it has auto-focusing issues and is a slower camera to use compared to its speedy Sony rival.

My other option is to upgrade to a larger camera where there are mirror-less options such as the Canon M6, the Fuji X series, and the Sony A6000. The latter two use colour profiles that are not to my liking, while the M6 could be a real option if it were a little cheaper.

The conclusion?

I think I will stick with the camera I have, at least until I see an option that is as good as the difference that I saw between the 980 IS and the S120, where there were no compromises and only improvement. I won’t get that with the G7X II, but maybe the third iteration or a new Canon mirrorless in the new year might sway me.


Photography & The Journalist

with 2 comments

It’s important to have interests. Passions. Things that delight and move you. It’s also important to consider the importance of imagery and style, elements that may inspire you in ways that you don’t quite understand.

When I see a good photo, a photo that manages to convey a feeling, an ineffable sense of grandeur – it somehow manages to inspire feelings of creative momentum.

Recently, I was put onto the work of Chinese photographer Wang Fuchun.

It’s a beautiful image. And shows the deftness with which Fucun manages to evoke the transient power of a moment, beautifully captured.

Here’s some more. Read the rest of this entry »

Photography + Journalism: The Best Cameras for Journalists

with 3 comments

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.


Great journalists and great journalism: How to make a name for yourself pt. 2

with 4 comments

I spend a lot of time reading. I like to consume and devour long articles and essays especially, like the ones found in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. I also like to read about the lives and careers of rising stars in journalism.

I had the opportunity to interview Nicole Tung in September. Tung is an American photojournalist and a war photographer. She went to Syria where she smuggled herself into the country, hung out with rebels, saw mercenaries from Libya and Oman, and was a witness to bombing and carnage.

Her first experience of war came a few years earlier. Here is someone who took herself to Libya, without assignment and of her own accord. She was 24 and barely out of college. She went for the experience.

Quite a lot has been written about the amount of photojournalists, green and sometimes shooting with iPhones, who made their name during that conflict. And the dangers are very real. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

During that interview with Nicole, I was intimidated. Here is someone who is fearless, deeply concerned about the plight of those caught in conflict, but also someone deeply ambitious.

Or consider Michael Hastings. Hastings died in a car accident at the age of 33. He was a Rolling Stone writer and a senior reporter for BuzzFeed. A hard worker and tenacious, he wrote a profile of General Stanley McChrystal, a NATO commander, that, through his patient and intimate reporting, led to the General’s resignation. Here’s someone who worked extremely hard and has the bravery to challenge those around him.

Or consider Paul Salopek who is spending seven years walking. Walking over 20,000 km around the world, covering early humans’ migration out of Africa, for the National Geographic. Sometimes, the best journalism is slow journalism.

These are people who take risks. It is not the only way. Brilliance flourishes in quiet, unassuming ways too. But ambition speaks. The willingness to work hard speaks. But perhaps the desire and the effort used to take yourself out of your comfort zone matters most of all.


This is a continuing series exploring the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Parts one and three in the series can be found here and here