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Superstitions

December 29, 2012 20 comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Click the above image to open a set of photos from a  recent trip I took to Kyoto

Supersitions.

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. 😉

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KFC at 37,000 feet

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Under-flight
I was surprised at the volume of airline traffic zipping up and down the California coast.

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Oh how I have missed you old friend

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Since when did most every convenience and grocery store in America start stoking loads of great beer?

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787

IMG_4906Be still my beating heart, honest to goodness Gyudon on an airline flight!

Summitar 50mm f2 and Leica M9

November 17, 2011 13 comments

Leica M9 and Summitar 50mm f2 (1949)

Leica M9 and Summitar 50mm f2 (1949)

The beauty of any camera system capable of utilizing an M-mount lens is that you have a nearly endless selection of glass from which to experiment with and explore.  And while you can get M-Mount adapters to use Rangefinder glass on cameras like the Sony NEX-5, or Olympus E-P3, the only way to do it right is to use a full frame camera like the Leica M9.  This is particularly important when one is using one of the “character” lenses.  What I mean by “character” is, in a nutshell, sub-par optical performance.

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.

Minimum focus distance, F2

Minimum focus distance, F2

Infinity focus distance, f2

Infinity focus distance, f2


f2

f2 - Even wide open, notice the razor sharp center. But it aslo retains that wonderful swirly bokeh that people have come to prize this lens for.

Minimum focus distance, f2, shooting into the sun to get some flare going

Minimum focus distance, f2, shooting into the sun to get some flare going

f2, notice the soft corners

f2, notice the soft corners

f8, notice how much sharper the corners are

f8, notice how much sharper the corners are

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.

This image demonstrates what a wonderful combination this lens is with the M9.

This image demonstrates what a wonderful combination this lens is with the M9.

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.

Stopped down to f2.8

Stopped down to f2.8

Stopping this down to f2.8 all but eliminates the characteristic swirley bokeh, but it still retains a pleasing 3D rendering.

f2

f2.8

Selfy at f2

Selfy at f2

f2

f2

minimum focus distance f2

minimum focus distance f2.8

f2

f2

f2.8

f3.5

f2

f2

f3.5

f3.5

f2

f2

f2.8

f2.8

f8

f8

f2

f2

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. 🙂

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

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: , , ,

Kyoto tourist snaps

January 13, 2009 3 comments

Hello All.  I’m finaly getting around to working on some more of the photos I took during my last trip to Kyoto.

 Click HERE to see todays photos. 

I’ve been going to Kyoto on average twice per year since 2003, but this was the first time I was able to have a model with me.  Saori was kind enough to agree to get dressed up as a Maiko for a few hours so I could get some shots.  

While not nearly as adventurous as shooting maiko and Geiko in “The Wild”, it was a great way to get some classic (cheesy?) postcard type shots.  After spending the past many years stalking and shooting the real thing, it sure was a refreshing change to be able to provide a little direction and set up my shots.   

But I do have to admit, I still Really enjoy getting shots of the real thing. 

I’ve been battling a running cold for  the past month or so, but I think I am finally starting to get the better of it.  I’m not sure why I seem to have gotten such a stubborn string of colds this year, maybe it the age thing catching up with me.  After all, I did turn 38 last month.  

I’ve also been wanting to take some time to try out a brand new used Leica R mount 50mm f2 Summicron on my 5D.  From the few test shots I have taken so far, it looks ot be pretty spectacular little lens.  This coming Sunday I’ll be meeting with the Photo Club that I belong to, so that should be a  good chance for me to give it a spin.