I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy shooting film in part because of its lack of immediacy. That the process of taking a photograph and viewing it are separated by the development process and often scanning the negatives (or slides) into a digital format. Aesthetic rewards aside, there’s something satisfying about the delayed gratification of film photography that I keep coming back to. The very thing that I love about film is the exact reason my wife just can’t get into it. The feeling of having to wait for something in our fast paced digital world can be polarizing. You hate it or you love it. It’s the reason that Leica is able to sell the M10-D, a high end digital camera with no rear LCD screen to review images. Some people just love that feeling of waiting for something good, and I believe that a well composed photograph is indeed worth it.
In the spring of 2018, I shot a roll of black and white film just before and during my vacation in Hong Kong. All images were shot on Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film, with a Zeiss Ikon ZM rangefinder and Zeiss C Sonnar T* 50mm f/1.5ZM lens. At the moment, I’m partial to Ilford HP5 over most other black and white films because it scans quite flat in terms of highlights and shadows, so I can add contrast exactly where I want to in post production. A digital darkroom of dodging and burning if you will.
I wasn’t excited about the pictures I was taking at the time, and I figured most of them were throwaways. After getting the film developed, I genuinely wasn’t interested in seeing how the pictures turned out. I cut the negatives into strips of 6 images each, and filed them away in my archival binder only to be forgotten as I continued to scan the color film rolls from my trip.
Looking back nearly two years later, I love seeing how they turned out. Without knowing it, I had turned that roll into a time capsule. The memories of those days came flooding back, and it was such a nice feeling to relive those moments. The bridge over water in one of the images doesn’t even exist anymore, the buildings then under construction have since been completed, my toddler isn’t nearly as chubby these days, and Hong Kong is currently caught up in political uncertainty. Yet, time stands still in these frames.
If you’ve ever had a similar lost and found experience with a roll of film, I’d love to hear your story.
Since having my first child a couple of years ago (and another one this month), I’ve slowly been shooting more and more digital images rather than film which I’ve always loved. I just don’t have the same kind of free time that I used to, whereas before I could spend hours scanning and cleaning up film scans, now I’m increasingly drawn back to the convenience of digital photography, if only because there are only so many hours in a day.
I no longer own the legendary Mamiya RZ67 Pro ii that I shot many of my previous blog posts with, and yes I’m still kicking myself to this day for selling it. In my mind, that camera is easily the greatest camera for portrait work ever made, but I still wanted a great portrait lens for my digital body, the Canon EOS6D.
I owned the original Canon EF 100mm 2.8 Macro USM lens for several years, starting well over a decade ago when I attended photography school in Vancouver BC. It was a great lens overall, very sharp with little to complain about on a technical level, but I found it had an uninspiring rendering in regards to the out of focus areas of an image and was extremely slow to focus. Even worse, at the time I was using the lens on an old Canon APS-C body, meaning the effective field of view was 160mm after the 1.6x crop factor. Definitely not an easy lens to use on a cropped body when photographing people.
My choice for a new portrait lens was narrowed down between the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8LISUSM Macro and the new Canon EF 85mm 1.4LIS, but all of the sample images I’ve poured over in regards to the 85mm lens didn’t impress me enough to pull the trigger. The rendering was just a bit too clinical and stale for my liking. I also considered the Zeiss Milvus 100mm F/2MZE lens because of it’s stunning rendering which I prefer a little bit over the Canon, but the idea of manually focusing on a DSLR (or needing to use Live View for portraits) just seemed like too much of an inconvenience. I ended up getting the 100mm L, and saving myself over $1,000 CAD.
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8LISUSM Macro improves on the original with beautiful bokeh (samples shot at f2.8 just below), quick autofocus with the focus limiter enabled, and image stabilization. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with it on a number of occasions now, and I’m happy to report that I don’t regret my choice at all. The autofocus is plenty fast enough that I can fire off several frames in a row and still have the luxury of only concentrating on the person in front of me. Having this lens on my camera body inspires confidence that I can get the job done no matter what.
Build quality is very nice, complete with weather sealing which is a huge bonus. The lens exterior is made of a high quality plastic like other Canon L lenses, it doesn’t extend when focusing, and the focus ring is made of a nice rubber material. I used to think that lenses made from all metal would last longer, but I’ve actually noticed some Zeiss lenses show brassing around the lens mount after only a year or so, while I’ve never seen that on any of my Canon lenses. Brassing generally isn’t anything to worry about, but it doesn’t go unnoticed.
The 100mm focal length is perfect for headshots, and compresses facial features in a beautiful manner. I personally prefer the look of the 100mm over the 85mm for portraits. That said, nothing will ever beat the Mamiya RZ 140mm Macro (roughly a 63mm equivalent lens on a 35mm full frame camera).
The lens is tack sharp wide open, and I rarely miss focus despite using the somewhat archaic Canon 6D focusing system.
I’m in love with the rendering of this lens. It isn’t classically beautiful in a Zeiss 50mm Sonnar way, but it has a look that I believe is universally appealing to clients. The results just look professional.
While the lens isn’t a f1.4 lowlight beast, it’s 2.8 constant aperture along with it’s unique optical stabilization still allows this lens to be used for dimly lit events when needed. Image stabilization is also an important consideration for video shooters as well.
Nothing is perfect of course. The biggest downside I’ve experienced shooting with the 100mm L Macro for portraits is that you’ll be pretty far away from your subject if doing 3/4 length or full length portraits. For my photography, it’s pretty important for me to have an intimate rapport with my subject so having to raise my voice to talk from a distance has been a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, but I do find using an 85mm lens a bit easier due to that little extra bit of closeness you can be with your subject. Since I’m on the subject of distance, this lens also isn’t ideal for full length portraits in small spaces. You’ll need a fair amount of room in studio if you’d like to use it for anything head to toe related.
I’ve found that the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8LISUSM Macro lens is a great value for the money, and most would agree that it is one of Canon’s best lenses. It’s incredibly versatile in that it’s well suited for product photography, food, portraits, beauty, headshots, macro, events, and more. As I expand my lens collection, I know I will always keep this one in my bag because of the unique perspective it provides.
What’s your favourite portrait lens? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
In my last post, I shared some images of a project I did with David Chin and the process he went through in getting a new tattoo. This week, I’m taking a closer look at the life of a working actor you’ve probably seen more than a couple times, perhaps without even realizing it.
I also sat down with David to pick his brain about his background, his unlikely path to becoming an actor, and why he seems to be so damn good at everything he tries.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Tell me a little bit about your professional background.
Well, I’m really a big nerd. I have a degree in classical civilization from McGill and Concordia, because I love history and archaeology…. and Indiana Jones. So I also have a degree in social justice education and became a history teacher. I’ve worked mostly in international schools and private schools at the secondary level. I’m also writing two books, I paint and sell my art sometimes, and I am an actor.
How did you become an actor? From what I understand, this wasn’t necessarily the career you aspired to.
A friend asked me to help him with an audition. It was a commercial and they needed me to come in with a group of people to be his friends. I can’t remember whether it was the director or his agent, but they liked me and wanted me for the job. I felt bad taking work away from my friend and declined the offer on principle. But his agent kept after me for a while and I finally gave in. Reluctantly. I have jokingly referred to myself as the reluctant actor, but I’ve now been in a few TV shows, a couple of films and over 70 commercial campaigns in the last 5 years.
Lucifer was cool. I got to do a scene with Rebecca de Mornay. And I worked with Carey Tagawa and Karyn Kasoura on Man in the High Castle. So that was all pretty amazing. Rebecca was the ultimate sex symbol of the 90’s when i grew up, and Carey was basically the only Asian man on the screen in my childhood. Karyn Kasoura is a great director and I loved Fight Girl and Aeon Flux, a remake of my favourite animation, so working with her, even if briefly was a real experience. I did a day on Legends of Tomorrow and my part was very small, but I got to spend the whole day chatting with Victor Garber and he’s just a great guy. We talked about politics, history, love and Alias, which again he starred in and is my all time favourite TV show from my childhood.
Just a lot of failure. I prefer fucking something up a dozen times, rather than reading the instructions. It makes the end result more mine and ownership is important. When my son complains that something I make him do is hard. I always say that things that are worthwhile are always hard, and things that are easy usually aren’t worthwhile.
You have a strong appreciation for photography, cinema, and other artistic mediums. What do you love about them, and what inspires you?
Story. Story is at the center of everything I love. History, art, photography, film. If there is no story, there is no point. I feel like as a culture we have lost our story tellers and in doing so we are losing our history and identity. I think a lot of people today feel a dissonance with the world they live in and part of that is a lack of self awareness. Stories help people understand themselves and where they come from. In some ways they also help you find where you want to belong in the world. And stories need to be colloquial. They need to be your family’s stories, stories from your village, your clan, your people. When we try to identify with superheroes and larger than life portrayals of ideal beauty and brawn, we end up with skewed perception of reality, which always comes up short. And when people get used to the idea of superheroes saving the day, they tend to think they cannot save themselves. And to me that’s a real tragedy. I see too many people just waiting for their lives, instead of plunging into the fray and living. All art for me, that tells me a real human story, that speaks to our basic truths, inspires me to live and create.
From spending some time with you and speaking with some of your peers, I’ve noticed that you excel at a lot of different things and have a variety of interests. I’d love to hear about your process in terms of how you go about learning something new.
Just a lot of failure. I prefer fucking something up a dozen times, rather than reading the instructions. It makes the end result more mine, and ownership is important. When my son complains that something I make him do is hard. I always say that things that are worthwhile are always hard, and things that are easy usually aren’t worthwhile. I taught myself archery, how to farm my lawn, how to paint, build and restore furniture, how to spearfish. I also like learning with people, so i did an unofficial stage with an amazing friend of mine and he taught me all about sourdough and baking bread. I like to make my own wine, cider, and beer. I collect fruit from the neighbourhood in the summer and use local ingredients. At best it was delicious, at worst…. explosive. Ha. But no one has gone blind yet or been injured. I almost lost an eye to an exploding cork after putting too much sugar in batch of beer, but as you can see, I can still see.
Story. Story is at the center of everything I love. History, art, photography, film. If there is no story, there is no point.
Getting to know someone beyond a surface level is always fascinating to me. Chin is particularly interesting in that his profession is very ego driven, but in conversation he’s incredibly humble about where his success has taken him so far. He’s far more likely to talk your ear off about the great run he had with his lovely dog Murph than he is to mention anything about his many Superbowl ad appearances. On top of that, he’s an open book with a healthy allergy towards small talk. In a time when the lust for insta-fame is rampant in our culture, character traits like these are a breath of fresh air.