There are a few things Chester Tan is passionate about, and two of them are music and photography. His blog Music Photo Life is a venue for him to indulge and share his passions. He is also a gadget reviewer who has tested a wide variety of products, from smartphones and and cameras to headphones and watches. He goes out of his high-tech comfort zone, takes a step back into history and shoots with the Petzval 85 Art Lens.
Singaporean blogger, gadget reviewer, photographer and composer Chester Tan tells us about his Petzval 85 experience in this interview.
Please introduce yourself to the Lomo community and the readers of the Online Magazine.
My name is Chester Tan, currently a full-time IT Manager and an active consumer gadget reviewer-blogger. I am also a piano composer who published 7 music albums over the past 10 years. I’ve loved photography since I was young and started offering photography services in 2005, taking on assignments for wedding, personal portraits, events.
How did you get started with photography?
My uncle passed me a Nikon EM SLR in the early 1990s and I started to experiment with color and monochrome films. I went on an hiatus while focusing on my musical interest until around 2004 when I started to pick up a DSLR. I proceeded to accept commissioning works and my business peaked at 2011 before I decided to reinvest my time on other interest – blogging.
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
I love journalistic people photography, hence a majority of my assignments are weddings and events. Clients love the way I capture the photos without disruption to the flow of events.
What subjects do you particularly like to take photos of?
I love to photograph people unposed. Almost too often when I ask people to get ready for the camera shot, their faces looked different from their natural good-looking state, and it gives them the misconception that they are not good looking.
But that was a decade ago. The recent years of selfie culture has “trained” narcissists to pose and apply image editing tools to look their best. And therein lies the irony: they became highly critical of how third party photographers capture them.
Somehow, shooting with the Petzval lens put me back to the old age of photography where images look genuine and natural.
I think people in general should not be too concerned about how they look. When your friends see your photos, they want to connect to you as a person and not to judge you as a beauty object. And that is why journalistic portraiture (as opposed to editorial or fashion) is my favorite style of photography.
What would you count as your greatest achievements?
When I see my photos from my perspective, I do not think they are significant. But when I see them from my clients perspective, every photo assignment is a great achievement. The photos I took for them are once-in-a-lifetime and can never be replicated. It is a privilege to capture their personal moments, to freeze the times of their eventful lives.
Digital or analogue? Does it matter which?
For the assignments I do, I prefer digital because of the immediacy of seeing the results and the ease of post-processing. The analogue format is definitely a more faithful imaging format but I do not need that level of quality.
What camera did you use with the Petzval and how was the adjustment?
I recently downsized my system from a full-frame Nikon to Samsung NX, hence I use the Petzval with the NX1 and NX30 interchangeably via a mount adapter. The quality EVF of the NX1 and NX30 helps tremendously in getting accurate manual focus.
Tell us a little more about your Petzval experience? Any interesting things you encountered or challenges?
The Petzval 85 does take some getting used to because it focuses with a knob at the bottom of the lens, and you have to slot in aperture plates to change aperture. It is not sharp when aperture is wide open but that does not bother me that much, although I often wonder whether it is due to my focusing inaccuracy.
How would you compare your experience of shooting with the Petzval Lens with using other Lomography products? How about with other lenses?
The Petzval 85 is the first Lomography lens that I have tried. Everyone felt that the lens is heavy but having used to heavy prime lenses, I’m not daunted by the weight. The handling is unlike other modern lenses, hence it offers a really refreshing usage experience.
Please choose 5 of your favorite photos from the Petzval shoot and tell us about the images, and why they’re your favorites.
Inmotion. This photo is purposely shot out of focus, completely still, yet in motion. One of my odd favorites, a smartphone wallpaper potential, because it clearly demonstrates the unique bokeh.
Tat Tong. I have composed the shot to share the frame between the subject and the signature swirly bokeh, giving the illusion of movement. It’s a balance of blur and clarity, dream and reality.
New Marina Bay. This shot captures a flavor of Singapore new Marina Bay landmarks with a journalistic feel, as opposed to tact-sharp architecture photography.
Charlotte. An unadulterated dreamy image of my subject as she indulges in her own world to prepare for motherhood.
Loving Birds. It was heart-stopping when I saw my subjects, for I knew it would be a challenge to get them in focus speedily with the Petzval. Modern lens would have no problems capturing them in perfect focus. But modern lens would not be able to give me the unique bokeh.
What is your favorite feature or what do you like most about the Petzval Lens?
I love the signature swirly bokeh, that really makes Petzval worth using. And also the special aperture plates that create unique bokeh shapes. Finally, the soft look is perfect for portraiture, as I do not need to photoshop the skin imperfections.
For what kind of projects would you recommend the Petzval?
The Petzval can be used for any project, but the ones that will make the Petzval stand out are portraiture with background details.
Any tips for first time shooters?
To bring out the unique qualities of Petzval, shoot your subjects with backgrounds full of background details, like trees or buildings. Get over the fact that the lens is not tact-sharp like modern lenses. And capture dreams.