Click the above image to open a set of photos from a recent trip I took to Kyoto
Each culture has their own, and you never really notice the ones from your own culture, as thy are almost always so deeply ingrained that you accept them without question. Earlier this month I had a business trip that took me to San Diego. This was great, as it gave me a break from the worsening weather here in Japan as winter makes its presence known. The real bonus of the trip though was the fact that just that week before my trip, Japan Airlines had started non-stop service from Tokyo to San Diego. And better yet, it was via the new 787 Dreamliner.
I’d never flown this model of aircraft before, so it was a pleasant surprise. I believe that different carriers have a choice on how many seats they want to try to cram into an airplane, and Japan Airlines must be commended on its move to actually give you a bit more room than in the past. Just about every feature of the 777 has been thoughtfully upgraded in the new 787: The personal video screens are larger and sharper, the seats and a bit bigger, the windows are larger and have this cool auto-tint feature, so there is no actual slide-down window screen anymore. The bathrooms seem more spacious, with a better designed door and fixtures.
All of these new upgraded features were nice and made the entire flight more comfortable. But what really rocked my world was the meals being served.
I’m not sure if it was a promotion due to the addition of this new non-stop flight, but the meal on the way to San Diego was Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the meal on the way back to Japan was a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. (See the pics below for proof!) Most of the pictures I took on this trip were food and drink related, so I will refer you to the photo link above if you need a Japan-Photo fix, as it opens up a gallery of some images I captured while in Kyoto late last month.
But getting back to the superstition part of this update, when I arrived in San Diego, I made a pit stop in the bathroom before heading to Immigration, so I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the back of the line and it would take me extra time to pass through. As I entered the immigration area I was confronted with VERY long lines at all of the immigration counters. All but one of them. Number 4 had absolutely NO LINE in front of it. Not a single person. At first I thought it was because line 4 was closed, but then I remembered I had just got off of a flight that was was choke full of Japanese people.
Then it hit me, OF COURSE nobody wanted to take line 4!
You see, the number 4 can be pronounced two ways, either Yon, or Shi. But “Shi” is also the Japanese word for death, and thus thought to bring bad luck. That is why many supermarkets in Japan have no checkout line number 4, and buildings will sometimes not have a 4th floor.
As I walked up to the counter in line 4, and I could tell that the immigration officer was confused why nobody had chosen his line up to that point. So I explained it to him and he had a good laugh about it, commenting that it was just like Americans and their superstitions about the number 13.
So wherever you originate from, be it Japan, America, somewhere in Europe etc, we all have our differences based on the culture we were raised in . But once you peel back the superficiality of it all, we are all pretty much the same too.
KFC at 37,000 feet
I was surprised at the volume of airline traffic zipping up and down the California coast.
Oh how I have missed you old friend
Since when did most every convenience and grocery store in America start stoking loads of great beer?
Hello? Anyone still here?
With the suicide of Instagram due to their new term of use, I’ll once again be more active here on my own blog where I know I own the content.
Sorry for the long absence, I have had a lot going on in my life the past 18 months or so, but now things have settled down again.
I’ll fill you all in on more of the details in future posts.
I was in a small used camera shop in Shinjuku a few weeks ago week when I noticed an odd looking little lens for sale. It was a 40mm f2.3 lens from a Rollei 35XF that had been modified for use on a Leica l39 screw mount camera. The modification was done by MS OPtical, the same maker of the famous Perar Super Triplet 35mm f3.5. Having the necessary adapter ring with me that would allow me to mount it to my Leica M9 I decided to spring for it and pay the 50,000 Yen to see what kind of images it would produce.
Here are some images both of the lens, as wella s taken with it on an M9:
From what I can see, this lens is a rather decent performer. Compact, very well made, and since it is so rare, pretty fun to shoot with. The 40mm focal length means that accurate framing will take some practice since I don’t have a 40mm viewfinder, but I can live with that. Quite worth the price of entry.
Modern lens designs such as Lecia’s Aspherical Summilux series are as optically perfect as has ever been achieved. The images they produce have a richness and pop that is hard to explain, it really must be seen to be understood. But for all that perfection, there are more than just a few photographers out there that prefer a somewhat more organic experience. I liken it to those that prefer the crackle, hiss, and pop of vinyl to the crystal clear digital perfection of a compact disk or MP3.
One of the more famous of character lenses is the Summitar 50mm f2. It is a L39 screw mount collapsable lens design, which is great for saving space in a camera bag. To use it on the M9 one must get an L to M mount adapter, and for those of you that were wondering, it does safely collapse on the M9.
The basic design dates back to 1939 and it was produced until 1953. Lenses manufactured after WWII were coated, and the original 10-bladed diaphragm was changed to a 6-bladeed version in 1950. The version I own is from 1949, which places it right in the sweet spot so it retains the 10-bladed aperture, yet is coated. The aperture control does not have any click-stops, and the focusing tab has an infinity lock.
Most of the images I will show here weer taken wide open, but I have included one sample image taken wide open and f2, as well as f8, just to give you an idea of how the performance of this lenses changes as you stop it down. Please note: most of these images have at least a little adjustment to them in LightRoom 3, normally just a quick “Direct Positive” filter application.
The two photos above show just how easy it use to use this lens as a character lens one minute, then as a very respectably sharp normal lems the next. I apologize for the slight difference in framing, these were all shot hand held.
The lower overall contrast of the Summitar compliments the relatively high dynamic range of the M9 sensor to allow one to shoot in challenging light conditions with relative impunity. Shadow detail is retained, and highlights are well under control. Note: I did apply some in-camera exposure compensation on this image, but even so, the range of lighting would have sent one of my Cosina Voigtlander lenses to its knees with its high contrast imaging.
Stopping this down to f2.8 all but eliminates the characteristic swirley bokeh, but it still retains a pleasing 3D rendering.
So there you have it.
I do have to say that this lens has exceeded my expectations, particularly since I was able to find one in near pristine condition for less than $400. It is nowhere near as sharp as most modern lenses. The Cosina Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 Nokton and 50mm f2.5 color skopar blow it out of the water in the sharpness department. But what it lacks in edge to edge sharpness, it mor than makes up for in character.
I like it so much in fact that on my upcoming trip to Kyoto, the Summitar will be the only 50mm lens that I will take with me. I’ll be leave the 50mm Summilux pre-Asph at home in favor of it’s much older and slightly slower sibling. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the sharp center and swirley edge bokeh for some fall color shots.
I’ve been to Kyoto more times than I can count, but each time I go I bring a different set of gear to shoot with, and I think the Summitar/M9 combo will fit the bill nicely. To round out my M9 kit I will likely be taking a CV 28mm f1.9 and Leica 90mm f4. For extreme low-light work I will bring along the the FUJI X100 as it very decidedly blows thew doors off the M9 in the high ISO department. It also takes care of the 35mm field of view if I happen to need it.
So if you are in Kyoto between 23-28 August, you just may run into me there. I’ll be easy to find, just look for the guy with the smile on his face.
Todays photo don’t really have any cohesive theme to them, rather they are just a small set of images I happen to like, and I hope you feel the same.
I’ve started to recently think about doing some drastic downsizing of my camera gear. I’ve accumulated quite a bit of it over the years, and as time goes by I find myself shooting with a smaller and smaller set of gear. For the photos I posted topday, the cameras used were: Sigma DP2, Leica M9, and Nikon D700.
A camera that has recently become my default carry-with-me-everywhere-I-go camera is the Fuji X100. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it is pretty darn close for what I like to shoot.
Probably the two biggest gripes I have with it are the parallax error when using the optical viewfinder and the placement of the exposure compensation dial. The placement of the exposure compensation dial is a problem because it is too easy to accidentally turn it when holding the camera or taking it out of a bag, resulting in unintentionally over or under exposed shots. Although I have started to fall into the habit of checking the position of the dial, so this is turning into just a minor nuisance instead of a show stopper.
The bigger problem by far is the parallax error as it results in a rather high percentage of mis-focused images at closer distances when using the center focus point while using the optical viewfinder. It really is a shame too since otherwise the optical viewfinder is a pure joy to use. It seems to me that Fuji could rather easily fix his problem in firmware by biassing the focus point down and to the right as you focus closer. I guess I could also try using the multi-point focus mode, but I’d rather not trust the camera to guess what the subject of my images are. As a side note, I was really excited about the manual focus capability of the X100, but Fuji really dropped the ball in this department as it is glacially slow, and down right unusable.
If I want to shoot manual focus glass on something other than the M9, the Sony NEX-5 fits the bill nicely since its focus peaking feature is so simple and intuitive to use. And seeing as I have not even touched the M9 in the past couple of month, it very well may be the first of my cameras that gets put up on the auction block. It is a superb image making tool, and a real joy to use, but as I was shooting with it I found myself gravitating to shooting with just a 35mm lens. Weighing the M9 cost and image quality against the Fuji X100, I think I may have to let the M9 go and use the generated funds to take the X100 on a trip or two to Europe. :)
I spent last Saturday in Enoshima.
I’ve been there many times, but it had been at least 6-7 years since I had actually made the journey to the backside of the island where it directly faces the wide open pacific. Not a whole lot had changed, save for the much improved pedestrian path up above the sea scoured shelf that fronts the ocean, as well as a few more extra banisters full of locks up at lovers point.
It had not been my idea to spend the day there, but a couple of friends of mine (Ian and Liis) were going to be there and had asked if I was interested in coming. As a typhoon had just recently ripped past Kanagawa, I knew the weather was going to be good. But I was not at all prepared for just how clear it was going to be.
Not only could you get a great view of Mt Fuji, but all the coastline between Enoshima and the rolling hills near Odawara were clear and sharp in the relatively dry air. All the way from Enoshima to Odawara you could see the beach give way to green, city beyond that, and more green hills even further on.
It was also nice to be able to follow Liis as she took us on a round about (long-cut) that bypassed the majority of the crowds and also afforded me to explore a (new-for-me) shrine.
We spent a good hour or so enjoying the view from the back side of the island, remarking on the stupendous number of dragonflies buzzing about. (I’ve never seen so many in one place in my entire life) It was an excellent day, spent with excellent friends.
We capped off the day by spending a few hours in one of the varied beach bars strung out along Enoshima beach. Our entertainment being cold beer, cheap food, girls in skimpy bikinis, and the obligatory passed out young Japanese guy being harassed by his “friends”.
Not a bad day at all. Definitely one to remember.
My gear for the day:
- Leica M9
- Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 ZM
- Cosina Voigtlander 12mm f5.6 UWH
- Leica Summitar 50mm f2
Not that I was expecting the rapture to happen on 21 May, but for those of you that know me, I’m about as religious as Steven Segal is talented at acting. But still, I’m astounded about how people can get caught up in things like this, particularly when depending on the frame of reference you take, 21 May 2011 could have landed on any number of days due to all of the meddling that people have had in adjusting the calendar over the years.
OK, now that I got that out of my system, let’s move on to todays update.
Spring is in full swing here in Japan. The weather is perfect, not too hot, not too cold, and it is relatively dry. So before the 6-week rainy season descends, which is quickly followed by a long hot humid summer (with conditions closely related to the atmosphere on Venus I am told), I decioded to play hooky and take a day off from work to do some exploring. The hard part was decigin where to go on a day trip. I’ve seen a lo of the local area over the years, so it took me a little while to come up with an idea. What I settled on was to take the Ferry from Kurihama, across Tokyo Bay to a small fishing village called Kanaya which is overlooked by Mt. Nokogiri.
Last summer I had spent a couple fo days on the Eastern side of Tokyo Bay, mostly exploring the Pacific Ocean side. As one would expect, the coastline in dotted with fishing villages, and even though it is only a short 40 minute ferry ride away, it feels like a whole new place. There is a lot more wide open space, a whole heck of a lot less people, and silence, blessed silence.
Because it was a weekday, the ferry was nearly empty. Although all food and drink services were in operation so I enjoyed a couple of beers as I watched fishing boats and cargo ships sliding by. Upon arriving to the port of Kanaya, I headed in the direction of the roapway that takes you to the top of Mt. Nokogiri. It is possible to hike up the mountain, but feeling a bit lazy, I decided to take the easy way up.
The view from the top was spectacular. Although, it was pretty hazy, so I could not even see the Miura side of the bay, let alone get a clear view of Mt. Fuji. But what the day lacked in clear views, it more than made up for in the solitude department. At the top of the mountain there are a lot of hand cut vertical faces, and I think a lot of stone quarrying had been done there in the past. The cut faces were used to carve a lot of different buddhist images, the most drammatic one being the gigantic buddha carved into the SOuthern side of the mounatin. It’s huge and dwarfs the Daibtsu in Kamakura.
I spent the rest of the day hiking around the mountain, slowly winding my way down to t he sea, and the entire time, the number of people I met along the trail could be counted on one hand. From the seaside village of Hota, I caught the train one stop back up to Kanaya for the ferry ride back to Kurihama.
It was a nice , relaxing, and best fo all, QUIET day. Just what I needed.
For those you that are interested, the camera equipment I used on that day was a Leica M9 with only two lenses: an Avenon 28mm f3.5 which I used for the bulk of the day, as well as a Canon 100mm f3.5 which only came out of the bag a couple of times.
All but one of todays photos were taken with the venerable Kodak DCS Pro Back 645M. It’s a discontinued image making monster capable of producing some of the most film-like files I have ever seen come out of a digital camera. It’s not the fastest camera out there. In fact, it’s downright glacial in its pace of taking photographs. But this causes me to also slow down in my image taking, and gives me pause to think about what it is I am trying to capture. I’m sure the great medium format Mamiya glass adds a lot to the image quality, but the sensor of the Kodak back itself must be given due credit.
For those of you in the local Yokosuka/Yokohama area, you may be interested in a photo club I recently started. You can check it out here: www.meetup.com/YokoYoko/
This new photo club will not be taking the place of the Tokyo Camera photo club I have belonged to for years. Rather, it is a way to get people on the Miura Peninsula/Yokohama area who are interested in photography together without having to make the trek up to Tokyo.
We have had two meetup events so far, and any member of the club can organize a gathering. So if you are interested, then sign up and plan a day pf photo shooting.
Click HERE for todays photos.
(The following is a re-post from my old block that was hacked and deleted. The original date of this post was 3 January 2003)
A few days before New Years I arrived back from the land of big houses, big cars, big portions, and even bigger people (Those last two seem to be linked…)
I am always a little culture shocked when I take a trip back to America. Everyone is so huge, and they all look so different from each other.
I guess after spending so much time in Japan I have started to see America in much the same way as the Japanese.
Yes, it does feel good to be back in Japan. As much as I do enjoy vacations and going back to see my family, I also always enjoy coming back “home” to Japan.
The photos from today’s journal entry were taken on New Years day around Shimikitazawa, near Tokyo. I had walked to the station to meet some friends and walk with them back to my wife’s parents home for a day of eating, drinking, and being merry.
On the way to the station I was snapping photos of the nearly deserted streets. The only really crowded place I saw was a shrine. Everyone was lining up to get a blessing for the New Year.
I continued on to the station and turned a corner to find a person slumped over on the sidewalk. My first though was that he had dropped a contact and was looking for it. Getting a little closer I could see that he was not moving. Were it not for the large pile of vomit that he had his head resting in I would have thought he was praying. Obviously this guy had went on one hell of a binge on New Years eve and was paying the price for it now. Passed out with his head lying in a pool of his own puke. (Gross!!!)
As I was busy documenting the situation for you, my faithful readers, another not so nearly drunk New Years reveler came along. I’m not sure if he knew the passed out guy, but he proceeded to prod him with his foot, trying to get a reaction. No luck. This guy was really out of it. (I can understand his reluctance to get to close to the guy. I myself was using the full telephoto zoom of my camera to get the photos because I am sure this guy smelled even worse than he looked) The guy then got on his cell phone and made a call.
Feeling that I could do no more good here (I had gotten my photos) I decided to move along to the station.
I ran into an Omochi pounding party along the way. Omochi is basically cooked rice that is pounded into the consistency of old elmers glue, with nearly the same taste. It is then lightly grilled and then wrapped in dried seaweed.
I’m not sure what the attraction is, but the Japanese go crazy over this stuff each New Years. The stickiness of it does have its dangers though. Each year many people, mostly the elderly, choke to death on Omochi. The stuff is hard to swallow and just this year alone, Six elderly Japanese died and 25 others were hospitalized, 12 in a coma, in Tokyo after choking on these gooey rice cakes over the New Year’s holiday.
Each year the government issues warning about the dangers of eating Omochi and urges citizens to take smaller bites, chew well, and drink plenty of fluids while they are eating.
I have a better plan. Skip the omochi and just carry around a bottle of fresh elmers glue. Just pull a few leaves off of a tree, squirt on a liberal helping of glue and there you have it, instant omochi, in a safer, liquid form!
On the way back from the station I walked the same route so my friends could see that poor passed out guy. Upon getting closer to the scene it became clear to me who that person had called after trying to rouse the passed out guy. The fire department and ambulance had shown up to cart the guy away to the hospital and get him cleaned up so he could sleep it off in comfort. (And maybe get his stomach pumped).
This kind of thing is not that uncommon here in Japan. On more than a few occasions I have seen an ambulance pick up a drunk person and haul them off to the hospital.
Nice to know that someone is looking out for you, even if you are not doing so yourself. In many parts of America, instead of getting a nice cozy ride to the hospital, this guy would have woken up either still on the street, or even worse, in the drunk tank of the local jail, possibly robbed, and most certainly ticketed for drunk and disorderly conduct.
Yes, it’s good to be back in such a fun-filled safe place!
About a week and a half ago, I was in Kyoto to do some location shooting for Cool Japan. It was a quick one-day trip, so there was not really any time for me to enjoy the sights, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying to capture some light while I was there.
The camera dejure was the Leica M9 with a Hexanon 35mm f2 UC lens. Now that I am shooting with a full frame rangefinder, I am starting to really understand why when people talk about getting by with just one lens the 35mm focal length gets so many votes. It’s a very versatile angle of view, and even with a largish aperture of 2.0, the lens itself remains quite compact.
That’s not to say I would not have taken a 50mm and 28mm with me if I had been there for a couple of days, but after shooting with the 35mm and only the 35mm I can see how it could become my default go-to lens when travelling. Particularly when you factor in the amount of cropping that is possible with the super sharp 18 megapixels that the Leica M9 generates.
It was strange to be in Kyoto for such a short period of time, but I didn’t feel too bad about it since the fall leaf color had just started to give a hint of the explosion of color that is to come in the next couple of weeks.
To catch this veritable riot fo color, I’m planning on spending a good three or four days there at the start of December.
Anyone interested in having a couple of beers with me in Kyoto in early December? Drop me a line and we’ll sort something out.