Sim Tiak Siew was born in Pengang, Malaysia but received his early education in a small village at the border of Thailand and Malaysia. He moved to Singapore after high school in the early 1990s and enrolled in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts where he studied graphic design. He began his photographic career as an in-house photographer for a publishing house. Later he moved on to commercial photography. After doing commercial work for 12 years, he joined Leica Asia Pacific in early 2014. Here, he describes using the Leica T Camera System for his personal work.
Q: You’re an employee at Leica Camera. Can you explain your role or position there?
A: I am business manager here in Leica Asia Pacific Singapore office; I’m in charge of the professional system like Leica S and Sinar products. I help to promote these products through various activities like test drive, workshops and event. I too help assist marketing whenever necessary. But the best part of the work is really about using all the camera for proof of performance shots, sometime there are even products that yet to be announced.
Q: All of these images were taken with the Leica T Camera System, correct? What was it like shooting with the Leica T, and what are some of the advantages of shooting with this system?
A: Yes, all images were taken with Leica T. I have used many other mirrorless camera in the past but most focus on features that all camera manufacturer trying to achieve, how fast the AF is, how good is the low light performance, etc. None seem to focus on how it feels in hand (or they tried but not what I was expecting). The Leica T did just that. Camera technology has reached a point that the quality of images is so good that without close inspection they are all the same, at this point Leicat T really excelled. I especially like the clean line, the curve and almost buttonless design. It’s from a solid block of aluminum but it doesn’t feel cold in hand, and the best of it the touch screen. When I first saw the T, it was quite shock, a company that never change their technology since the 50s (M-System) is making a touch screen camera! But to my surprise the operating system is quite mature. I can confidently say this is the best touch screen camera in the market at least for now. Then I understand why with almost buttonless design, it’s really easy to operate, every feature is clearly labeled, you barely need to flip the user manual, very intuitive indeed.
Q: You were favorably impressed with the Leica T’s large, bright hi-res touchscreen, ergonomics, and intuitive controls. Did you get a chance to try it with the Visoflex (Type 020), a hi-res 3.7 MP tilt-and-swivel eye-level viewfinder accessory that many T users laud as an “essential accessory” and if so what did you think of it?
A: The large LCD, although is gorgeous, but outside especially when the sun is bright sometime it’s hard to see clearly what I am focusing so yes the Visoflex become very essential. As a matter of fact, 90% of my shots were done with Visoflex on. Not only that I can see the scene and compose better but also add stability because now I can fold my arm to bring the camera to my eye, also add another contact point. Another benefit would be the GPS, it’s so accurate that I can pin point when I took the shots down to only +- a few meters.
Q: How would you characterize the images in this portfolio?
A: I shoot mainly portrait and fashion, but I do like to walk around sometime when I’m free. These are the images I took during one of those free moments. I am not “creative” when I shoot these kind of photos. I just like them to look as close as possible to how I remember them, so I normally edit my photo base on how much I can recall.
Q: I agree that the Leica T images in this portfolio are straightforward rather than “artsy,” and they certainly are a testament to the technical capabilities of the Leica T and its lenses. However I would not describe them as “not creative.” Don’t you think that in their totality they present a picture of Singapore as seen through your eyes, and convey a more-or-less positive image of its vibrancy and success?
A: In this case, yes I agree with you. But let’s get back to “not artistic” part. Sometimes (and a lot of time) photos not necessary “need” to be artistic; rather it’s the message in the photo that matter.
Q: What is your overall impression of the handling characteristics and imaging performance of the Super-Vario-Elmar T 11-23 mm lens and do you think it effectively complements the Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm to provide a versatile compact system?
A: Both lenses are really solid, once on your hand you will feel that they are build with very high quality material, very smooth when they zoom and focus. Although they are made with metal but that doesn’t mean they are heavy, the matter of fact the weight is just right, which I think they counter balance the shutter vibration very well.
I really like the versatility of the 18-56 mm, but Super-Vario-Elmar T 11-23 mm and Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm provided me even more possibility. From as wide as 17 mm (full frame) to 200 mm it cover basically everything I need. From my favorite subject cityscape, portrait, to even close up as the min focus distance of 55-135 mm can go really close.
As expected the optical performance of both lenses is as good as the older sibling Vario-Elmar-T 18-56 f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. if not better. I’m not technical person. I have no way to check MTF, what I can do is to load the images in Lightroom and zoom the images to 100% to inspect, I found that the 11-23 mm is really an amazing lens, for a zoom lens this wide distortion and vignetting is quite mild, chromatic aberration too is nonexistent, these issue are easily corrected anyway, what I’m worry for any wide angle lens especially zoom is the croner softness, this is much harder to correct. Well they are sharp at the widest angle at the maximum aperture.
I occasionally shoot on the street but not necessary like to focus on people, I like color, pattern, form, basically every little thing, Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm (80-200 mm in full frame) is the range I really like for these purposes, it’s long enough to shoot the flower from the other side of the road, narrow enough to isolate the subjects from background, and lens quality once again Leica didn’t fail.
Q: This image was output in black-and-white. Was this done in-camera or in post-production, and why did you choose to output these images in black-and-white?
A: They were shot in color but output as black and white with software. The reason is simple, I just want to see the texture and the rendering if the lens is “3D” enough, well it turn out that I can count every leaf and vein from on the leaves.
Q: How do you think that studying graphic design, and subsequently becoming a commercial photographer before signing on with Leica has influenced your approach to photography or shaped your photographic style?
A: My knowledge in graphic design helps me to compose better. As Garry Winogrand ever said, “Taking photo is like putting a frame to what you see,” but where to put the frame is essential, this is part of what I learn in graphic school. As for commercial photography I learned a great deal on problem solving. Not every shot is as easy as it seen; there might have been a lot of preparation to be done before I could achieve the look I want, and I learn a lot how to be patience from this.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: I like to call my photography “honest.” I try not to alter what’s in front of the lens and nor after the images were taken, but the camera isn’t our eye, the exposure is fixed at the particular frame, unlike our eyes exposure is constantly adjusting, the final images normally don’t look as close to what we could recall, images like this I will adjust them in Lightroom especially the white balance, shadow and highlight to as close as I can remember the day I shot them.
I always believe photography is not as simple as just capturing what’s in front of the lens, but more importantly deliver messages. Take my images here for example, they are not creative, some might say boring, but they do provide information about the technical aspect and quality of the lenses.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years, and do you plan to shoot any additional projects with the Leica T or any other Leica cameras in the near future?
A: I have shot mainly commercial works in the past. I still have passion in fashion and portrait photography but I’m now working with Leica so I will slow down with that. I would like to explore more in documentary work if possible. Human conditions fascinate me so I think I will try to learn about this more in the next few years. Yes they will be shot with Leica camera but not necessary the T. I am business manager mainly in charge of the S-System so I will focus more with using that, now that the new S (Type 007) is coming out soon. The sensor is now CMOS, I can shoot at ISO as high as 6400 so it will be perfect.
Q: Do you plan to exhibit any of these images at other venues or perhaps create a print of online book on Singapore?
A: Publishing a book is always a dream but the thought of “is it good enough” always bring you back to reality, so at the moment I just share it online. They may be exhibit at our Leica Gallerie in the future but we will see.
Thank you for your time, Sim!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Sim on Instagram, Flickr and Facebook.