Rapture: 0 Regular Day: 1

May 21, 2011 24 comments

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.

Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

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.


Yoko Yoko Photo Club

March 7, 2011 13 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos


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.

New Years can be a dangerous time if you are dumb…

January 2, 2011 11 comments

Click HERE for todays photos.

click here for todays photos

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.

Empty Shimokitazawa

Empty Shimokitazawa

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.

Temple hustle and bustle

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!!!)

Praying? Sleeping? Dead?

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.

Fire truck rescue

Getting ready to load the "cargo"

Situation under control. Next stop, "stomach pumping".

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.

Making Mochi

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!

Categories: Festivals, flashback

Six hours on Kyoto

November 18, 2010 10 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

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.

Categories: gear talk, kyoto Tags: , , ,

It’s yesterday once more

November 1, 2010 15 comments

Click HERE for todays images

Yesterday I decided to do a photo-walk around Yokosuka.  Partially to enjoy the out-of-doors after being kept in from the previous days typhoon, and also to put some of my older rangefinder lenses through their paces with the M9.  I was also inspired by some vintage images of Yokosuka that I was recently browsing on Flickr.   So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if I could reproduce something with a similar look.

My two lenses for the day were the Canon ltm 28mm f2.8, and Canon ltm 50mm f1.2.  And as you can see, they are not the most technically perfect of lenses out there.  They are soft in the corners, and color fringing is readily apparent.  But I imaged that they would fit the bill for the type of images I was trying to create.

I’ve yet to devote the resources to buy a stable full of Leica lenses, but of the more modern glass that I do have (Konica, and Voigtlander) all perform to a much higher technical standard than the older Canon Leica thread mount lenses that I used for this exercise.

But sometimes the best tool for the job is not the best tool that you have, but rather the best tool for THAT SPECIFIC job.  So what lenses would be better to reproduce the look from 40 years ago than some lenses that were 40+ years old?  And truth be told, they did perform admirably, with regards to both sharpness and resolution when stopped down.

The shots themselves are nothing special. In most cases I tried to keep to subjects that were independent of time.  And in honor of the old glass I was using (1950’s to 1960’s vintage) I decided to process them using a “yesteryear” type of filter in Lightroom.  This gave them a yellow’ish washed-out look, common to old film images.  Right out of the camera the images have a much more natural look, as would be expected from the M9.  But I thought this treatment would better convey my idea.

Was it a success?  I have no idea.

I like the effect, but I have no idea what others may think about it.

If you do have some thoughts about it, please take a minute and jot down your thoughts in a comment.

Categories: gear talk, yokosuka Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leica M9 – First Impressions

September 13, 2010 7 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

I finally went and got myself a Leica M9.

And ironically enough, I took delivery of it on 9-9-10, (at just after 09:00 in the morning!) one year to the day after it was announced.

No, it was not on back-order that long!  🙂    I just noticed about a week before  that B&H had an M9 in stock, so I made the order.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading through all the M9 reviews I could find, and after an exhaustive amount of pondering I finally decided that it was time for me to give it a try.

Having previously owned an M8 on two separate occasions, it was with a bit of trepidation that I ordered the M9.  On both previous experiences with the M8, I was always put off by its inadequate image quality at higher ISOs, as well as the IR sensitivity  issue.  The crop factor never really gave me problems since the Epson R-D1 has an even higher crop facor, and the fact that I had shot with cropped sensor DSLRs for years prior to moving up to full frame.  But after 6-10 months of shooting with the M8, on both occasions I found myself going back and shooting the R-D1 more frequently than the M8, so both times the M8 had to go.

Don’t get me wrong.  The M8 is a good camera, and a joy to use.  But I was just bothered by the fact that I had to use IR cut filters, and limit my available-light photography to cases where I could keep the ISO down below 640.  Compared to the R-D1 this was as serious step backward in functionality since the R-D1 is not plagued by any IR sensitivity issues (at least as far as I could tell), and the fact that the R-D1 absolutely sings at higher ISO with the most film-like grain (noise) I have ever seen a digital camera produce.

Having the M9 for less than a week now, I guess this post will be my first impressions of the camera.

First off is the color. Not the color quality of the photos, but rather the color of the camera body.

I got the steel grey version.  I also like the black, but I don’t really like the vulcanite covering being offered on the black paint version, so my choice was steel grey. (Grey was also the one that B&H had in stock at the time)   What I really wanted was a silver chrome version of the M9 with the same finish as the M8.  But for whatever reason, Leica decided not to offer the M9 in silver chrome.  Some think of this as a poor decision on Leica’s part to not offer their flagship rangefinder in the classic silver chrome finish.  But me, I think this is all part of their master marketing strategy.  I would not be at all surprised if a silver chrome version of the M9 were to be made available in the future.  They may also make the much coveted sapphire crystal lcd screen an available option, at the right price of course.  Right now, a full year after the M9 was launched, they are still having trouble producing them fast enough to satisfy the demand.  This is saying a lot in the world of digital camera where a camera is a good third of its way towards becoming obsolete in that span of time.  It is saying even more when you realize they are charging $7,000 for it!

I’m not sure how the steel grey will look as it wears.  The black seems to brass pretty quickly, from the photos I have seen floating around the web.  The steel grey seems to have a silver coating between the grey paint and brass core, so it may brass a bit less cleanly than the black paint version.  Time will tell.

Second is the body.  Rock solid, just like the M8.

Third is the shutter. I am liking the more quiet shutter on the M9.  I guess I can live with the tradeoff of not having the 1/8000 sec shutter speed of the M8.  If I really need to shoot wide open in bright light then some ND filters will fit the bill.

Luckily, I didn’t have to buy any lenses, since I already had a bunch of L and M mount lenses that I have been using on the R-D1, and M8 when I had one. Although I did say that working with the M8’s cropped sensor did not bother me, it sure is nice to have my 50mm lens act like a 50mm lens again.  I’ve been shooting full frame DSLRs for years now, but this is my first (actually THE first) full frame rangefinder, and it is nice to have 35mm be a decent wide angle again.

So far I’ve been shooting mainly with a trio of older Canon screw mount lenses: 28mm f2.8, 35mm f1.5, and 50mm f1.2.  They are not the sharpest lenses out there, particularly wide open but then again, what lens is tack sharp wide open?) but I like the way they draw, and they are very compact for their given apertures and focal lengths.  The 50/1.2 in particular is a bokeh-making machine, and is my go-to lens once the sun goes down.

My first impression of the image quality of the M9 is good.  Very good. Other than medium format, I have not seen a digital camera with as much dynamic range as the M9.  The only other camera that comes close was the R-D1 (oddly enough, another rangefinder).  This may be in part due to the lenses I have been using as the older Canon glass is known to be lower in contrast.  But even the few shots I have taken with more modern lenses such as the Konica Hexanon UC 35/2 still show the Leica M9 having very impressive dynamic range, even in challenging conditions.

It appears that Leica hass addressed at least some of the issues I had with the M8.  So far, I am very happy.

Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

August 16, 2010 16 comments
Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.

The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.

I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.

And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?)  as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma.  The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.

While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality.   But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.

I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s.  The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face.  I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.

Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera.  It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses.  Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.

But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5’s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.

This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp.  But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.

The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.

The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem.  (THANK YOU SIGMA!)  And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.

Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card.  This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution.   But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer.   The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.