Intermission

I promised to update about my Tokyo trip last year, but work kind of caught up on me. I know my Tokyo post is a year overdue, but I swear I’ll get to it, just need to dig out my diary.

But here’s an interesting photo I took yesterday to tide things over. Spoke to this gentleman for about 10 minutes about his quaint little barbershop. He’s been there for 43 years, and is going into retirement soon, because the landlords have decided to raise the rent by 3 times and he can’t afford the new rent.

26april2013-18

26april2013-17

Tokyo Day 1

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next few blog entries that will be going up will be a recount of my trip to Tokyo. It won’t contain a whole bunch of “touristy i was there” kind of photos (I have Facebook for that), but more of the thoughts and feelings I had while exploring Tokyo. I’ll intersperse a few photos I took for that particular day as well. So I apologize in advance if the next few entries might seem like they ramble and go on for much longer than the usual entries I’ve posted in the past.

My 8 day trip to Tokyo was spontaneous, unplanned and it was my first time travelling alone. I was feeling rather depressed the week before I flew out, and decided on Sunday that I had to take a trip somewhere. On Monday morning I decided that it was gonna be Tokyo and scrambled to get my flight and some accommodation booked. By Monday evening I was set for a Tuesday flight! Talk about spontaneous.

I think it was about 7am when I arrived in Tokyo after a 6-8 hour flight (my memory is slightly fuzzy about this) and I remember being super excited that I’m actually in Tokyo! Tokyo is like a street photographer’s dream, next to NYC, and to be here on a photo trip felt amazing! Let’s just skip the boring bits during immigration, but I just have to share what happened during the customs screening.

The young chap (he looked to be my age) asked in faltering English if I was in Tokyo alone and for how long I would be staying here. When I answered “yes for 8 days” he immediately perked up. All I could think of was, “this must be racial profiling. Young man, alone, Muslim.” and I think I was right. I was the only one I could see from the flight who had to empty my bags for a screening. But he was really polite about it though. After I had shoved everything back into my bag, he asked if I knew how to get to my hostel. It was just amusing that’s all.

The counter for the Kessei Skyliner was right outside the arrival gates and I bought my ticket. I totally forgot that each ticket had a specific time for the train you are supposed to board and it’s not any time you feel like it. I took the 7.45am train instead of the 8.30am train that I was supposed to take. Haha I was that excited to get to Tokyo! The view from Narita Airport to Nippori station was awesome. Just like in Japan Hour. Clear blue skies, open fields and quaint houses dotted the railway line.

I arrived at Nippori station, at about the same time the rush traffic was about to end, so the station wasn’t as packed as I thought it would be. I couldn’t really figure out how to use the ticket gantries to transfer to the JR Yamanote line to get to Ikebukuro. Apparently you need to insert the Kessei ticket into the machine and tap your Suica card after that. It was a good thing I didnt throw away my ticket stub. Thankfully the JR train wasn’t packed as well, cos I had my huge backpack with me and it would have been super inconvenient to the passengers.

Once at Ikebukuro,I followed the map that I printed from Sakura Hotel’s website. I cannot stress enough how happy I was with my dorm room at Sakura Hotel. If you ever visit Tokyo, I highly recommend staying with them. The dorms are clean (well this actually depends on your roomies, but luckily mine were alright) and the facilities like shower and toilets were clean too. Only gripe is the lack of space to put your stuff cos there are no cupboards or shelves of any kind. But other than that, it’s really a nice place to stay. Since I arrived really early (I think it was 9?), I couldn’t check in yet. But the great people at the Sakura Hotel allowed me to put my bag at their storage room while I went out exploring Tokyo.

I walked around Ikebukuro for a bit and found a cat cafe! If you know me personally, you would know that I love cats! So you can imagine my excitement at finding a cat cafe. But I have to say, the cat cafe was a disappointment. The cats couldnt be damned about you (well they’re cats, they can’t give a damn about anything) but I really felt cheated by all the videos you see of cats just lounging on your laps at the cafe and stuff. The cats I saw just lazed around at the top of their trees or in the corner and walk away if you try to pet them. Waste of my money though. But at least I managed to get a massage from one of their massage chairs and charge my phone while I was there. But it was money not well spent at all.

After the cat cafe, I walked around Ikebukuro some more, all the time trying not to look like a damn tourist gawking at everything and being amazed by the streets and people. After a while, I decided to take the JR to Shinjuku and head to the free observatory at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It was a nice walk underground, but slightly confusing signage though. Finally managed to find the entrance to the observatory after going up a random flight of stairs from the basement. But it’s alright, all part of the experience I guess. I was pretty lucky that the sky had cleared up by that time and I saw a great view of Tokyo. Snapped a few pictures and I went down to the basement where I saw a few restaurants advertising their English menu.

I stepped into a soba shop (this was to be the first out of many soba meals I was to have during my trip) and spoke in halting Japanese that I learned from the iPhone app “watashi wa nihongo ga hanasemasen” meaning “I don’t speak Japanese” and the lady was like “hai! English” and gave me the English menu. Long story short, the soba was amazing. While I was paying, I decided to say “Soba, oiishi” and the lady was like “haaaaaaai arigato!!” and the other 3 ladies at the shop bowed! I was like wow.

From Shinjuku, I transfered to the Odakyu Line and headed to Yoyogi Uehara station to visit Tokyo Camii Mosque. The mosque was beautiful! Did my prayers there and walked around the neighborhood. Nearly got hit by a car because I was standing in the middle of the road taking a photo. What a way to go on your first day. I concluded that the people living in Yoyogi Uehara should be quite rich, as almost everyone was driving a European luxury car.

By the time I was done, it was about 5ish so I thought I’d pop by Shibuya to see the famous crossing. Well it is what it is, with about a gazillion people crossing the road at a time. I was getting pretty tired by then, so I didn’t spend much time there. Took the train back to Ikebukuro and checked into my hostel.

So that’s the end of my first day. Sorry or the rambling entry, but I did warn you at the start didn’t I? Hopefully I’ll have the energy to blog in this detail till day 8. Thankfully I had my journal with me, where I scribbled down notes of where I went at the end of each day because I know this brain of mine has a memory of a goldfish.

Till next time guys. Thanks for sticking till the end.

Tokyo

Hello friends! Those of you who follow me on Twitter would probably have known that I took a super impromptu trip to Tokyo a few weeks back after a sudden bout of depressing thoughts came over me. I brought along my Lumix G1 and my Minolta to keep me company. I went there with no plans whatsoever and I don’t speak a word of Japanese, so it was quite an adventure.

Luckily I had my friends Jamie and Takeshi in Tokyo, together with Ade and Joanne who were all kind enough to meet up with me.

Well I’m back, with 6 rolls of film and about 1000 digital shots, and I’m still curating all of them. I’m actually yet to develop my films, so those will come much later.

Stay tuned for more in-depth entries of my day to day adventures, but for now I’ll just post a teaser of some of the better (digital) pictures from my trip.

30 minutes

A few days ago, I woke up slightly earlier (okay actually hours earlier) than I usually do to send my sister off for her first ever camp! Haha I was actually quite excited for her that she’s all grown up now. Long story short, I ended up taking a stroll from her school back home, taking a circuitous route around the neighborhood at 7.15am in the morning.

In the half an hour that it took me to get home, I finished off the 20 odd shots I had left in my camera, which was very very surprising for me since for those who’ve seen me shoot, I am a very slow shooter by nature. I can sometimes follow the other shooters for a whole day and fire off maybe 5 to 6 shoots, and that’s considered a lot by my standards.

Which made me wonder about my shooting style. I wonder if it’s folly, or discipline, that I shoot one frame of a scene and move on. Sometimes it’s folly because my timing might be off, or if I had taken more frames I might get a better picture, but sometimes I feel that if you can’t get that one frame right, you’re doing it wrong.

William Eggleston has the same kind of shooting discipline as me, one shot and that’s it, but granted he’s shooting more still subjects instead of dynamic streets so he has the time to compose. What do you think?

Busy

So sorry everyone that I haven’t been updating this space (all 3 of you who read this blog). It’s just that I’ve been really busy lately with my thesis (it’s finally completed, just need to edit it down by about 2000 words) and job interviews.

Finally got a few rolls of film developed in February and March, and got to scanning them. Some promising shots, but nothing to be too proud of. Shall just share one of them here that I really like. What do you think? After looking at my pictures over the past year or so, I realized that I seem to like street portraiture, but sneaky ones. And that’s something which I’m looking to change. There’s nothing very visually appealing about my pictures, since they’re neither good portraits nor are they reportage nor are they what you would traditionally call “street” (if there is even such a thing).

In an attempt at doing so, I’ve started trying to spot busy scenes and taking pictures of them, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Below are some of the shots I’ve accumulated in the rolls from February and March so far. Tell me what you think. 🙂

Well that’s it from me for now. Come the 13th of April, I will finally be free of thesis and essays, which will hopefully give me time for a breather from school and go on a photographic spree. At least till my study break for exams begin. Take care everyone!

Fun

Haven’t been updating this space lately because I haven’t been up to date with my scanning. Had about 7 rolls to scan and I just got down to scanning them at pretty low (I think 800dpi or 1200dpi) as contact prints last night.

But one photo from the 7 rolls really made me smile. It’s a photo of my good friend Dav running after a flock of pigeons. A few weeks back I was sitting down thinking that in our quest to take street photographs of random stranger doing interesting things or random items on the street, we sometimes forget that we live in a life filled with many people that matter in our lives. And we sometimes forget to take pictures of those people.

So here’s a reminder, both to myself and others, don’t forget to take pictures of the people you love. It might not be an artistic picture or technically perfect, but at least you’ll have a physical copy of a memory. Whatever it is, you need to have fun when taking photos. Never forget that. Once going out and taking photos becomes a chore, you’ll know its time for a break.

Oh and here’s the picture I was talking about. Starting to like shooting with a 35mm cos I’m liking the wideness it gives, but I need to change my shooting style. Can’t shoot and stand the way I used to. Taken with my Minolta x500 + 35mm f2.8. Can’t remember the film used though. It says 400N on the film edges.

Fed 5B: Post Mortem

After shooting for a week with the Fed 5B, I’m ashamed to say I broke it. In my haste in capturing a shot, I changed the shutter speed before cocking the shutter, and BAM it broke. Luckily the great guys from Peek! said it was alright. Felt really crummy for breaking their camera.

But shooting with the Fed 5B for a week has kind of reconfirmed my thoughts about a rangefinder. For zone focusing at f8 or so, using it is no different from an SLR. Set the aperture, set the focus, set the shutter speed, and its good to go.

I think where the RF really excels is in low light. I was able to handhold shots at 1/15 with no problems. Like the one below.

Or even at 1/4secs, which I thought was pretty amazing. The lack of a mirror helps a lot in this aspect.

Maybe its the Fed 5B, but I really couldnt get used to using a focusing patch in the centre. I know the focusing patches on other RFs are larger, but the small patch of the Fed 5B made large aperture focusing quite hard to do. But once you actually are able to align the patch and the image together, its easier to confirm focus than an SLR split image though. So I dont know. Perhaps an RF with a larger patch can change my mind.

Also, as mentioned in my earlier post, the viewfinder tended to scratch my glasses. Been using my pair of glasses for close to 3 months without a scratch, used the Fed 5B for 3 days and I have just as many hairline scratches.

With the Fed 5B, the viewfinder roughly coincides with 50mm but the fact that you cant really put your eyes to the viewfinder, you end up seeing only like 90% of the actual frame, which is quite bad I think. Even when trying out my friends Leicas, I cant seem to get used to the idea of framelines. Especially 35mm framelines, using glasses I couldnt really see the edges of the frameline, and its slightly disconcerting.

As it stands, I don’t really find anything appealing about using an RF vis an SLR. If you aren’t really using it at slow shutter speeds and are using zone focusing anyways, an SLR would serve you just as well.

All that talk of rangefinder = stealth is overhyped too I think. In today’s day and age, anything other than a DSLR attracts attention. And especially if your film camera is sexy chrome (which I really love), it is bound to attract attention. Stealth is a way of mind, how you conduct yourself. Don’t have to dress like a ninja to be a true ninja.

Damn, my Fed 5B post mortem seems to have become an RF against SLR debate. But I must stress that its not. It truly is my thoughts on using a Fed 5B, and since I’ve never shot with any other RF, I have to base my opinions on my experience of using my SLR, the Minolta x570.

Thanks for reading. Till next time, which might actually be a long time away since I don’t have access to a scanner and have a backlog of film to scan. Plus it’s leading up to the final month till my thesis is due, so I’m busy busy busy.

Keep shooting everyone!

Film vs. Digital

Was having a conversation with my good friend Dav yesterday over coconut juice and samosas, when he said that he was contemplating not buying an M6 (since he already has the M9) and getting a digital or film compact instead. And it got me thinking about something that has been swirling around my head for quite a bit. This whole debate on film vs. digital that’s been going around. I’m not talking about the crop body digital vs. film, but just something that is relevant to the full frame M9 (or any other full frame camera) vs. a film one. I’m not even going to go into the whole rangefinder vs. slr vs. compact discussion cos its also irrelevant here.

From a rational point of view, shooting on digital is way more practical. You have a whole range of ISOs to shoot on, and the fact that it’s almost free is kind of great. I mean yes the initial outlay is crazy high, but after that you can shoot to your heart’s content without worrying about development or printing or chemicals and the big motherlode of timesuck – scanning. And with post-processing (don’t shoot me), you can replicate a whole range of films and look too. You want grain? Move a slider around and BAM! You want it to look like Astia, Provia, or even Superia, move some sliders around and BAM! You have it. There are even presets for it. Yes yes it’s not the real thing, but for the 99% of the people who are going to see your pictures, they won’t be able to tell the difference.

I mean, sometimes I honestly think people use film because of some romanticized notion of film. Yeah with film you get full frame for cheap (but remember that’s not what we’re saying here) but seriously, not many people can tell if you used film or digital. Admit it, how many of us process our digital files to have more of a film look? Why? Because we somehow just prefer the look of film. What is this look? Organic? Grain? Or just something within our hearts that makes us want to emulate film?

To summarize, I think the digital vs. film debate all boils down to this – convenience vs. that irrational, romanticized notion of what it means to shoot film. Sure you can argue that with film, one is more selective with shots since its only 24 or 36 frames (and I do admit, I’ve become way more selective with what I shoot since I started using film), but that self discipline can be self imposed with digital too. One can also say with film you can’t chimp and have to rely on your own gut and skill to take the shot, but hey you can do that too with a digital one. Switch off the damn screen or preview. With a little self discipline, you can simulate the act of shooting digital as if it’s on film too right?

At the end of the day, we just have to ask ourselves, why do we shoot on film? After all that talk, I have to confess that for me, its cos a full frame digital camera is just way out of my budget. I might say that I just like the look of film too, but honestly its cos I can’t afford a full frame camera. Haha!

-edit-

I guess what I’m really trying to say here, is that many of us use film because we just “prefer” it. We can’t really articulate why, but it’s just something we “prefer” [Thanks Kiely (who incidentally writes a blog called Film Wins) for helping me clarify my thoughts!]

-edit 2:-

Since I wrote this, I’ve realized that my article is rather shallow (for that I apologize). I’ve received lots of comments from friends on FB and Twitter on my post. With their permission, I’ve included those which I feel add to the discussion.

Callan: “Even at the small size of an 8″x12” print, the difference between film and digital tones, especially in black and white, is blatantly obvious.

It is also an artistic “handcuff” if you will, basically restricting myself to specific conditions. It enforces a certain discipline that most people who have stuck to digital does not appreciate.

Is it better? No. Horses for courses, as the Brits say. Unless a client demands film, which has never happened thus far, I use digital for work. It’s convenient, and fast, and very controllable, provided you know how the camera will react and capture that scene.

It still boils down to preference of aesthetics, and familiarity with your chosen equipment. That matters more than the false dichotomy of film vs digital.”

Eric Kim : “Still find with film it is easier to separate the shooting/editing portion. Makes it a lot easier to work on projects. And having an M9 – the fact of having an LCD will cause you to chimp (or have the urge to chimp). Film has totally eliminated that for me. And also it is nice to not worry about not having enough megapixels ;)”

Jing Wen “it is really about the experience and look as well”. He also shared a couple of really great reads online. I encourage you to read them up.

Ken Rockwell on film vs digital and Oleg Novikov  on film vs digital  and also on character.

Thanks so much everybody for your comments. Feel free to add more if you want to add to the discussion.

-edit 3-

Dav: “At the end of the day to me, it’s still about the photograph. If it’s a great shot, it’s a great shot, regardless film or digital. For others, people love film because it might be the color, rendering or the process etc etc. Perfectly fine with that. Everyone who is into photography should try both film and digital, then decide what is their preference or use both mediums. Have fun with photography. That’s what it’s supposed to be when we first picked up the camera.”

Adam: ” isnt it about the difficulty too? Be it price, or the general time consuming nature of develeoping and scanning. When you put in all the effort, say shooting full manual on film, getting that perfect exposure, composition, developing it, scanning it.. everything. Doesnt it just feel so much more fulfilling? Thats why I love film now”

Fed 5B: First Impressions

I’ve always wanted to get a Former Soviet Union Rangefinder (FSU RF) ever since I started street photography, as I really wanted to know what all the hype of Rangefinders was all about. Since I cant afford a Leica, I thought an FSU RF was the next best thing. Luckily, I received a Twitter message from a friend Michelle, asking if anyone wanted to take part in an event collaboration between Darkroom Army and Peek. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and said “Yes!”. Long story short, I now find myself holding an awesome Fed 5B. More on the event later, but for now, some first impressions of the camera itself.

The first time I took it out of the box, I was like “holy crap this thing is a BEAST!” It feels like a tank, which is really nice and reassuring that if I drop it, the pavement will crack. Some product specs for the nerds out there:

  • Produced from 1975 – 1996 in Ukraine
  • Uses your normal 135mm film (thanks woosang for the clarification on the proper geek term)
  • Comes with the Industar-61L/D – 53mm f2.8 lens
  • Has shutter speeds from 1s – 1/500s and B mode
  • All manual, meaning it doesnt need batteries!

Apart from the nerdy specifications, for those unfamiliar with rangefinders, its different from your ordinary Lomo scale focusing or SLR focusing using a split prism. Wont go into the technical stuff (which I admit I dont even understand), but basically you look through the viewfinder, and you will see a rangefinder patch (either circular like in the Fed 5B, or rectangular like in a Leica). What you have to do is focus the lens, till the image in the RF patch aligns with the image in your VF. One thing to note for those with glasses, the VF tends to scratch your eyeglasses, so don’t put the camera to close to your face!

The top plate is really clean, with a dial on the left for ISO (its just for your own reminder, doesnt do anything since it has no meter), the rewind crank, flash hot shoe, shutter speed dial, film advance crank and film counter. Set aperture on lens, set shutter speed, and you’re good to go!

Loading it is pretty easy too. Twist the knobs at the bottom and the back plate and bottom plate slides out. Load the film as per usual and slide it back on. Easy peasy. It even has a tripod mount for those long exposures.

I’ve had it for about 3 days now, and shooting with a Fed 5B has been a real blast. Already burned through 1 roll of film (for those who know me, I’m usually a conservative shooter) cos its just been so much fun!

More on the event in a later post, but that’s it for my first impressions.

Oh and one more very important tip: DON’T FORGET TO COCK THE SHUTTER BEFORE CHANGING THE SHUTTER SPEEDS! (yes this deserves a caps lock because its very very important or you might break your Fed 5B)

What’s in my Bag

I submitted a bag post to the great Jpncamerahunter a while ago. you can see the entry on his site here. 

My bag is an army surplus bag I got from eBay for $20 (I think I got cheated for it) but it’s good enough for my usual walkabout kit. It’s quite small but since it doesn’t have a shape, you can actually stuff quite a bit in it. I usually carry my cameras (you can fit both in it, but it’s a tight fit) in separate soft neoprene pouches (the black rectangle in the top right) that I got from this $2 shop from Japan called Daiso.

Left half of the picture: from left to right, top to bottom.
-A plastic bag for me to bundle everything up in case it rains
-My notebook and pen for me to jot down my field notes and eureka moments for my thesis
-Lens tissues and keys in 1 front pouch
-Lip balm and tester capsule of some perfume (Singapore’s really humid so you need something to keep you smelling fresh)

Top Right half:
-Gatsby facial wipes and blotter paper because my face gets really oily as the day goes by
-My Olympus mju ii camera. I just got it for a great bargain a few days ago. My first test roll is in it.
-Generic iPhone earbuds
-Another great Daiso buy – my $2 wallet
-All these sit on the neoprene pouch I was talking about

Bottom right:
-My iPhone 4. That’s a picture of me and my lovely girlfriend as the wallpaper.
-My trusty Minolta X-500 with the 50mm f1.4 mounted on it. It’s usually that or the 50mm f1.7 or 35mm f2.8.
-I made that wrist strap out of my girlfriend’s head band. Couldn’t justify paying money for a wrist strap so I stole her head band and made my own.