Streets of Chinatown, Singapore, 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 4.5, ISO 160
After sitting around for over two years, and brushing the dust off my cameras, it was with great delight that I was able to book for a two-week holiday in Singapore. Australian schools close for two weeks over Easter – so I was off! I really wanted to go somewhere a little more ‘hard-core’, like Cambodia, Laos or India – but as overseas travel is still in its infancy, I thought a ‘civilised’ country like Singapore would be a great starting point.
'Shoppes' at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50mm 1.8, @ 1.8, ISO 800
I have been travelling and photographing Asia now for almost 15 years. I’ve been to Cambodia countless times, followed closely by Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. I just love the fact I can point my camera at people going about their ‘dailiness’ and not be waved off or viewed with suspicion. I have so many wonderful images on my website and blogs – all gleaned during a thousand different scenarios of human interactions, in hundreds of isolated villages, city back-streets and ocean-side shelters. The congested, built-up streets of Singapore didn’t really fall into any of those categories, but it was at least a beginning – a post-COVID trial.
Famous 'Waterloo St', Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z 50mm 1.8 @ 1.8, ISO 110
I took my usual kit with me – the brilliant X-T3 with the 16mm 1.4 (24mm equivalent) and my Nikon Z6ii with the Z50mm 1.8 lens. I use this same kit back home here in Australia. I now shoot all my events, travel and street photography with this kit. I have written tirelessly on my other blogs on how I came about settling on this kit, after many years of experimenting and trial and error and especially those two lenses at those focal lengths.
Streets of 'Little India', Singapore, 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 1.4 ISO 320
I’m a bit of a Bruce Gilden – I love to get in close to the action or to the people I am photographing. I do not own a lens longer than my 50mm Nikkor, that focal length is the longest that I have any need for. I had briefly visited Singapore years ago, but I had never gone there as a destination for street/travel photography. I contacted a few people whose blogs I have followed, or folks on my Instagram, or street photographers who live in Singapore. However, maybe because of post-COVID jitters, nobody was interested in meeting up or doing some street photography with me.
Final Inspection - Streets of 'Chinatown', Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50 1.8 @ 1.8 ISO 250
Not to be put off or deterred, I researched the places that I could see would be conducive to street or people photography. The colorful streets of the Arab area were mentioned (Bugis), the wonderful noise and color of ‘Little India’, the ‘Old Hawker’ eateries and shops, the ever fascinating ‘Chinatown’ (directly behind my hotel) and the many religious temples that dot Singapore.
Final Moves - Streets of 'Chinatown', Singapore, 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 2.2 ISO 1,600
I didn’t have a lot of luck in the Arab areas. Their Mosques were beautiful, but any sign of a Foreigner (me), festooned in cameras, and I was very quickly ejected. There is a street called ‘Arab St’, and I was able to get some reasonable street photos, with their lovely murals as a backdrop. However, I soon gave up on being able to point my camera at anybody (particularly women) or gaining entry to any of their buildings. There was also a fantastic venue just behind my hotel in Chinatown called “Buddha Tooth Relic Temple”. It was gorgeous inside, and was full of Monks chanting their rituals, adorned in their beautiful garb. There were many worshipers duplicating the monks’ recitals - the spectacle would have made a fantastic image. However, once they caught a ‘whiff’ of my cameras, I was very quickly swooped upon and unceremoniously ejected!
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, 'Little India', Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50mm 1.8 @1.8, ISO 720
I kept persevering over several days and quickly came to realise that the wonderful people of ‘Little India’ were more than happy for me to enter their temples, festooned with cameras, and moreover, point my cameras at them. I visited the very colorful Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India, and I spent many wonderful moments there, recording the sights and sounds of their colourful worship. Another fascinating place I discovered was the Bird Singing Club or Kebun Baru. Each Sunday, hundreds of people come and put their caged birds on top of large poles, then they judge their singing ability. It took me a long time to find the place and get there, but it was totally worthwhile. I spent hours there photographing the people and their feathered friends.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, 'Little India', Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50mm 1.8 @1.8, ISO 100
I was also very fortunate to find and get permission to photograph Mr Teng Leng Foo (73 yrs old). I think he is the last of the traditional craftsmen who make and repair their very expensive and elaborate bird-cages. I tracked him down in a little dusty shop – near the club, quietly working away repairing a cage. He told me some of them sell for over $3,000. We have nothing akin to this in Australia, so it was with great fascination I wandered around with my cameras, taking pictures at will, and being allowed access to this very special place was a gift.
Mr Teng Leng Foo - Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club, Singapore, 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 1.4, ISO 640
Friends, family, and colleagues often ask me how I get access and permission for the pictures that I take and how I’m able to get images that are often powerful and differ from run-of-the-mill street images - mainly photographers who stand way back and shoot with a telephoto lens. There is no mystery about it or magical answer – one needs a hide as thick as a rhinoceros (not being easily offended and don’t give up when slighted), and you must be quite cheeky. My M.O. is to be careful not to offend – especially in religious ceremonies, but I always press forward, moving in closer and closer, looking for a reaction if my proximity is not welcomed - I very seldom ever get rebuffed or turned away. Usually, I end up where I want to be – right in close with my camera pressed into somebody’s face. As with the Indian temple mentioned above, I was in close getting all the great shots and all the timid tourists were standing back blasting away with their telephoto lenses.
Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club, Singapore, 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 7.1, ISO 160
In Australia (I wrote a whole blog about this), I always use my ‘media card’. You will see some photos on this blog of an event I covered just last weekend (since returning from Singapore). I rang the organisers the night before, introduced myself and said that I would be attending the next day. I was given the name of the person to contact when I arrived. However, even doing this is sometimes not enough – there were many photographers there, all trying to vie for the best positions. My secret is to wear my ‘Media’ pass. It is one I applied for a few years back – for photographing motorsport.
The 'boss' is watching - Streets of 'Chinatown', Singapore, 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50mm 1.8 @ 4.5 ISO 450
However, it just has the words in bold ‘Media’, plastered across it in bright colour – it really is the ‘magic bullet’. I wear this around my neck on a lanyard. I’m always the only photographer who has this, so when the public, or the performers or whoever I’m photographing at the event, look up in shocked amazement and see me with this plastered around my neck – they always defer to me as the main photographer. It really does work a treat. I even have parents ‘wheeling’ out their kids to be photographed – horrors! Normally in Australia, if a guy points a camera at a kid, you can be viewed with suspicion at best, or worse still, run out of ‘Dodge’.
'Sin' - Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50mm 1.8 @ 1.8, ISO 100
A little more regarding my kit - the only slight dilemma I have in using the two different camera systems, is in the final images. I’ve been happily shooting Fuji APSC now for well-nigh ten years. The only reason I bought the Nikon at the end of last year was to trial full-frame. I think I read too much, and with all the hype, wrongly convinced myself that I was missing out on something by not shooting FF. Having shot thousands of images now, since last year, side by side on both cameras, I have a mature view of where each system fits. I much prefer using my X-T3 over the Nikon. It’s just a joy to use, and for how I use it and the subjects that I shoot, the autofocus is much better. I virtually never get a miss with my Fuji. I took 5K images in Singapore for the fortnight there – about equal over each system, and I barely had a handful of Fuji images that I couldn’t use – not so with the Z6ii. However, as mentioned – it is in the images I find the greatest differences.
The young blacksmith, Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 2.8, ISO 320
There really seems to be a special look about my Fuji images – one that I can’t get close to replicating on the Nikon. I can ‘massage’ those RAF files so quickly and easily on Capture one to obtain the final look that I need. Yes, the Nikon images are gorgeous, and because they are shot on a larger sensor, you can see the definition and clarity in the files, more so than the APSC Fuji. When I can create the look that I’m seeking on the NEF files, they really look lovely. However, Nikon does not have the many built-in colour profiles in Capture One, like Fuji does for their RAF files. If somebody put a gun to my head and I had to choose one system only, it would be very difficult. Fujis are a delight to use (no menu diving), the pictures look awesome and for most purposes, they can be enlarged to suit most situations. However, if I don’t get the exposure just right, then there is much less latitude in the Fuji files to bring up underexposed shadows. If I try to do so, and the photo was taken over ISO 800, then the image can quickly turn to custard. As mentioned in my other blogs, the Nikon is much better in low-light, high ISO settings. The NEF files are extremely clean, even at ISO 3,200 – not so the Fuji files.
'Hamming it up' - Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50 1.8 @ 1.8, ISO 140
That is the technicalities of it all and about as technical as I ever get. I photograph with my heart and photography is my passion. I’m a full-time high school teacher and we get paid well in Australia and lots of holidays. I don’t have 'prima donna' clients that I have to dance to or meet deadlines. I don’t have to scrimp and save because some ‘Scrooge McDuck’ client forgot to pay me. I sell photos when I want to, I give some away, I choose what jobs I want to take and which ones to leave – I have the best of both worlds. Photography gives me the reason to leap out of bed most days and to get excited about planning my next shoot. I’m not a technical person that pixel-peeps too much, but I do love using nice gear. I love my Fuji and Nikon system and they both suit my style of photography perfectly.
The Blacksmith's 'apprentice', Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Nikon Z6ii and Z50 1.8 @ 1.8, ISO 100
I carry the X-T3 around my neck on a neoprene strap, which literally halves the weight and the Nikon over my shoulder on a ‘Black Rapid’. I tote these all around the world in two tiny little ThinkTank bags that go around my waist. No tripods, no heavy backpacks that break your heart as well as your back. They fit in the overhead locker of any plane – and my two cameras with lenses attached are perfectly safe. Whatever camera gear you own, enjoy using it and get out and take lots of pictures – whatever your style or your subject.
Getting in close - Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 1.4, ISO 320
Don’t waste money buying and selling to keep up with the latest gear. I love my X-T3 and it is an ‘old’ model now. Fuji are talking about releasing the New X-H2 this year – but I’m not interested. My X-T3 will be great for years ahead. The focus is not great on my Z6ii, but it’s a lovely camera. I work around it and still get enough good keepers. I will not be replacing that camera either. The two lenses I have are all I need and I will not be replacing or updating any of those for the foreseeable future. That Nikon Z 50 is awesomely sharp wide open - many say it is as good as the famous Leica lenses. I've had around 10 Fuji lenses over the years but they are all sold and gone. Their 16mm 1.4 is the jewel in their crown. I just love this lens so much. Being 1.4 I can get in really close and have the subject in sharp focus, but the background blurry enough for separation. I could not do this with their lovely 16-55 2.8 zoom, that is why I sold it and replaced it with the 1.4. I only use those two primes now and would never go back to zooms. Two cameras - each with a lens attached. No fumbling around changing lenses, no missed shots, no dust on my sensors. I now spend my money on travel and getting in front of as many interesting people on this planet as possible. I’m doing an extensive trip around New Zealand at Christmas time and I’m already planning my next trip to Asia in our October school holidays. Our gracious God has given us a great world – get out and experience it with camera in hand.
Bubble Girl - Moondyne Joe Festival, Toodyay, Western Australia, May 2022. Fuji X-T3 and 16mm 1.4 @ 1.4, ISO 320