[S-series] Autumn in Osaka – Nara – Kyoto, Japan – Day 1, Osaka Castle; Universal Studios Japan and Luke Lobster!

Watch the video here:

Hi Guys,

We’re back, in the land of the rising sun, again.

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I’m sorry I don’t mean to brag, its just that I love this country so much I’m spending my savings to boost their economy. Its really bad for me financially, but I’m still willing to do it just so that I can be there and experience living (temporarily) in Japan. I kinda feel its worth it.


ARRIVAL AT KIX

From Kansai International Airport, we were in a bit of a rush to save as much time as possible. So we went and buy a few travel passes that we’ll use in the coming days.

For today, we bought the YOKOSO! Osaka Pass that covers for the Limited Express Rap:t train by Nankai Railway straight to Namba station. I really must say, Osaka’s public transport is seriously confusing, they have a few stations named similarly. And they are written in hiragana なんば on the signages in the stations, but officially its in kanji 難波. Its easier for me to read the kanji because its actually Chinese characters so it made sense to me, but when you give me katakana or hiragana, even though the suppressed otaku in me read enough of them to know a few characters, I’m really far from being fluent in them. So. I’m lost.

But luckily I already studied the maps enough to know where we should go, as with any other trips we went to, so I managed to get ourselves to our hotel. I believe Claire will talk about the hotel more. As for me, I’ll talk about the sights and maybe about the places we went and any issues we encountered along the way.

So after we drop our luggage for safekeeping, we head straight to Osaka Castle. There are a number a ways to go there that I found via the internet, that’s why I got a little confused here. The danger of the internet, too much information, so you either sieve out the useful one or get lost in the sea of words.


OSAKA CASTLE AND THE WALK TO THE CASTLE GROUNDS

I decided to head to Temmabashi 天満橋駅, if you’re a Japanophile like myself, you’ll probably notice that the romanji they use here in Osaka is a bit different than in Tokyo. In Tokyo, 天満橋 will probably be written as Tenmabashi instead. Not sure why, never found out either.

The underground networks that expand out from the various stations are maze-like. Both Claire and I keep having trouble reading the signage and getting ourselves to the right exit. So we finally got out to ground level and we see the mirrored sky. Its almost evening-like, but its only 2pm, what the heck. 

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2pm in Singapore is still freaking hot and the sun won’t show any sign of relenting till like 4-5pm.. But then this means its great lighting for photography. So because this is like the first location of the trip, we got excited and went trigger happy and took lots of pictures of the nearby ginko trees. wasted like half an hour on the overhead pedestrian bridge. laughs. 

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Then another 15mins circling the outer moat of the castle from its West side towards the South before we see a large stone bridge full of people, Google told me its the Otemon. Walking in we see a high wall made of GIGANTIC ROCKS. I think they are like minibus-sized solid rocks. Makes us wonder how the craftsmen cut and shifted them into place.

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We then reach this large path, the entrance to the Nishinomaru Park. But there’s a fee to enter so we skipped it.

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And then we see food stalls. 

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This giant pork skewer is the best thing we had for a while now. Actual hot food, but it cools really quickly in this weather… I wanted to have beer too but because this is a tourist attraction so the food here was really overpriced. So we had.. erm.. ice cream instead. LOL It was great, but its also very very cold.

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We basically stand where the sun shines, because all the shades were too chilly. Pardon us coming from the equator living in hot and humid tropical climate. The castle came into view and we hurry towards it.

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We need to buy tickets to enter, duh. It costs us 600 yen per person but I got a 10% discount after showing the receptionist our travel pass for today.

Inside the castle, the first few floors were blueprints of the castle and how its being built. Photography is proihibited on the first 2-3 floors, the security will stop you if you try. We have limited interest in all the exhibits and after queuing for so long, we just wanna go straight up to the viewing deck. We got up and went out, the chilly autumn wind greeted us before the awesome view all around the castle, watching the hordes of tourists like ants on the ground.

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So after the castle we join the ants on the ground and took more photos like this.

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Its only 4pm and the sun is already setting. Google tells me the sun sets around 1710hrs everyday. That’s a bummer. We walk around the area and took like 50 pictures but for me, only these inspires me. So we found a Lawson convenience store, we of course went in and waste our money on instant food and coffee. But hey, the 24hrs convenience stores in this country must be the best in the world IMO. They sell cooked food that actually taste good everywhere and as long as you have like 500 yen, you can have a feast. A simple one though, at that price. Can’t deny this place is expensive. Day1-23


UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN

Night came and we went wandering around lost in the maze that is the public transport network. We walked to Morinomiya Station 森ノ宮駅 and took the Chuo Line to Kujo station 九条駅, which I thought we can change to another line that goes to Nishikujo station 西九条駅 where we can then change to the line that will bring us to USJ. Complicated, yeah? But it only gets worse…

It turns out that the line that links Kujo to Nishikujo was owned by a different railway company, that means we have to ‘tap out’ and ‘tap in’ to go to Nishikujo, and do the same again to go to USJ. That way, we would have to pay a fee each time we ‘tap out’ and ‘tap in’. No go. 

In Osaka, there are like 7 private train companies plus JR. And to change lines you’ll have to exit the current line and pay to enter the other line. I find the most convenient line is actually the JR Osaka Loop Line, but all the passes available here does not cover JR lines… So.. It gets really confusing when we’re trying to save money by sticking to a few train companies that our rail pass covers…

So after some hiccups trying to find the right rail line to ride on… We finally arrived at USJ! But don’t get too excited here, we didn’t go in, we just took a picture at the door because we feel like it, deal with it. 

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This is also where we had our first MOS burger meal outside of Singapore. We eat a lot of MOS burger in recent years and I love its MOS Cheese. But over here in Japan, their menu is different of course. And they even sell beer! Asahi draft beer! The best tasting beer and the only beer Claire drinks! I love it! So we had one with our Burger meal. 


SHINSAIBASHI STATION – MIDOSUJI

After that, we wanted to go back to the hotel and rest because we intend to wake up at 5am tomorrow morning. But as we were riding the train and I was reviewing our itinerary, I realized we won’t have time to look for Luke’s Lobster. So when the train pulls up at Shinsaibashi, the nearest station to the Luke’s Lobster outlet in.. erm.. Shinsaibashi.. I dragged a sleepy Claire out.

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We were, of course, first greeted by the chilly winds of Autumn. Before our eyes gets to feast on the light show along Midosuji. The streets were lined with neat rolls of ginko trees with bright yellow leaves of autumn.

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Check out Claire’s face, she looked like the lady in the billboard right? That blurcock look. LOL!

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We then found Luke’s Lobster and we got ourselves a Lobster Roll to share. It looks tiny and it cost us about S$13 for it… But dang.. The taste of liquid butter on a generous serving of lobster meat is PRICELESS!! Go try it people, when you chance upon Luke’s Lobster anywhere, no matter the queue, just join in and waste your time! Its worth it!

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Then we decided to just walk to Dotonburi, where all the colourful billboards are. Asahi Super Dry, the best beer in the world (IMO). 

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And the iconic ‘Glico Man’ is here too. Everyone is posing in front of it trying to get a nice shot. To be honest, the boards are so bright, its really tough exposing Claire’s face with all those backlighting. But a bit of post-processing did the job for me.

Dotonburi is too touristy in my opinion, and we didn’t really explore that much because we were really full and our legs were tired.. But worry not friends, we will be revisiting it properly in Day 2 also.

That’s it for Day 1, stay tuned for Day 2 ok?

Goodebye people. 

Simon

Day1-1

[S-series] Lomo LC-A Minitar-1 2.8/32 Art Lens – Lomography review

Hi Lomographers,

Good morning! Today I’m back here to talk about Lomography’s remake of a classic optics. It is the LC-A Minitar-1 2.8/32 Art Lens aka the lens on a LC-A compact film camera. In case you don’t know what’s a LC-A: click here.

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I’ve been longing for a LC-A for a long time now. I wanted one to know why and how it achieved its cult status among Lomographers or the casual street photographer who’s got money to burn via film, if you catch my drift.

But because its a camera that’s achieve cult status, its pricing is steep. Therefore, I just can’t justify the purchase of one, unless I win the lottery, I’ll just ‘whack’ all the lomo-cameras and Pentax 67II etc etc etc. I love film cameras, how they look and how each and everyone of them has their own character, even if you load the same medium into them, they still come out looking drastically different. Its like magic.

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And so I heard Lomography made a lens based on the fixed lens on a LC-A, I just have to get one… Well, I can’t justify the purchase yet again.. So I emailed them and ask if its possible for me to loan one for a couple of weeks. They agreed and so here’s the loan copy at my door! Let’s open that tastefully designed box and dig in!


DESIGN

It was a small box, so I expected the lens to be small too. But I was still surprised when I opened it. This is smaller than my ‘small’!! Its like a miniature lens model someone made during their free time. I thought this was a prank!

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Then I open the lens cap and saw the optics..

Oh my goodness, its real…

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Yeah, let me put aside all that drama. The controls are simplified, the aperture ring has a tiny nub for you to turn. The ring rotates smoothly without any stops, so most of the time, I’ve no idea whatsoever what value I was on unless I check the dial.

Focusing is done with the outter nub and the focus throw is super short. The scale only has 4 values, 0.8m (min), 1.5m, 3m and INF (Infinity). If you need to fine tune your focus, you’ll find it challenging with such a short focus throw. But do know that this lens is build for other purposes rather than shooting in a studio, so most times I’m totally fine with its controls.

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The lens is really really tiny, I have to emphasize that point, because I really haven’t seen a lens this small made for full frame cameras..

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See how it measure up with my Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 4.5/15 III and Zeiss Batis 2/25? Both lenses were not really big compared to those DSLR zoom lenses, but the Minitar-1 looks like a miniature abomination borne out of the other 2 lenses…well I meant it in a good way. 

Its made of mostly metal and yet weighs next to nothing. I couldn’t find any info about its weight, but I think it hardly matters right? On my A7II, I think my M-mount adapter is bigger and weights more than this lens..

One thing I don’t like would be the metal screw-on lens cap. For one, its really small. Like a local 50 cents coin, and the screwing-on part is like what-the-heck? Try screwing a coin onto the lens, I bet you 8/10 times you’ll drop it. So I just kept the lens cap at home and go out with the lens naked all the time, like a true exhibitionist lens.

Here are some boring specs I got from the official site:

Focal Length 32mm
Aperture f/2.8 – f/22
Lens Mount Leica M-mount
M-mount Frame Line Triggering 35/135
M-mount Rangefinder Coupling Yes
Closest Focusing Distance 0.8m
Filter Thread Measurement M22.5×0.5
Construction Multi-coated lens, 5 elements 4 groups


USING IT FOR REAL or REAL WORLD USAGE

So I’ve already told you how this thing works, but for me when I’m out shooting with this lens, I usually just ‘zone focus’. That’s like me putting on a generally middle of the road aperture like f4 or f5.6, then I left the focusing nub on 1.5m or 3m. Then I just go out and snap away.

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When you meet situations when you need to dial to INF, just turn it all the way down. Then once you’re done, just turn it back to the focusing distance that you’ll most likely use.

This way it just makes you stop thinking too much about all the technical stuff like what aperture you should be using and whether is it in focus and so on. You just go out and shoot with just your eyes and your instincts. You see a scene, you feel intrigued, you snap, and you move on. Simple. Its blazingly fast and really fun to shoot this way. Too bad for the really loud shutter slap of my A7II, if not I’ll be out in a crowded place and snap at those clueless buggers going about their daily routine.

The Sony A7II doesn’t even have a mirror in it but when I take a picture, Claire could hear it like 3 metres away, in a crowded street. She likes it that way though, so she will know when I take a picture and she can adjust her poses. This loud noise is so not stealthy, I get lots of stares when during our travels when I try to take some street photos thanks to that. I kinda miss my Canon 6D that I sold off, its got a ‘silent shutter’ function that I love. I hope the next A7 budget model will address this issue… the A7r  series are too expensive and the file size are too big for a casual hobbyist like myself.

Ok back to the Lomo lens, its got the potential to be the ultimate street shooter’s lens IMO.


IMAGE QUALITY

While I know this quality thing can be affected by the camera and the setting used, I can’t be bothered to do a scientific study on this topic. So I’m just gonna list my equipment and show the photos I took, you be the judge. 

  • Sony A7II camera – set to ‘A’ mode and ISO between 100 – 3200
  • Hawk’s Factory M-E mount adapter with close focusing helicoid ver.5
  • erm, if it matters.. Topo Design Camera Strap with Peak Design Anchor Links

Below are some photos I took over the week with the lens:

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f5.6

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f2.8

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f2.8

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f8

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f2.8

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f2.8

Well I like bokeh so I like shooting wide open at f2.8. The thing I noticed is that even at f8, the vignetting is still there. And at f2.8, you can see the obvious lost of sharpness in the corners. But everything in the centre is still really sharp IMO.

I especially like the swirling bokeh effect when the background is really messy as seen on the 5th image.

Overall this lens is not a high-end performer, hence the moniker ‘Art Lens’. That must have been an indication that this is a flawed lens. But to me, the lens isn’t flawed, the ‘flaws’ are its ‘character’. Just as how i loved the soft focusing Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50 lens, I love this Minitar-1 Art Lens already.

Alas, its a loan unit, so I have to part with it real soon. It will definitely be in my shopping list though, when I got the money to burn.

Cheers people, hope you enjoyed my writing.

Simon Tey

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 5: Last day in Japan. Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku.

Travel on Airbnb and get S$40 in travel credit! Click here! 

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 1: Arrival in Hakone and Odawara Castle 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 2: Exploring Hakone 1/2 – Sengokuhara, le petit prince museum, owakudani black eggs (Image-intensive!)
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 3: Exploring Hakone 2/2 – Sightseeing boat, Hakone Shrine, baby wishing tree, (Image-intensive and excess words!) 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 4: Going back to Tokyo, Ichiran Ramen, Cat Cafe Calico and Sensoji! 

Watch our Vlog Day 1 here:

Hi

Here comes the last day of our trip to Japan. Its the last day, so its gotta be the most boring day of this trip. We were already feeling the ache of leaving a place we liked so much but have no choice because we belonged somewhere else. Sad truth.

Anyways, we check out of the hotel early, took us some time to drag our luggage in light rain and find that elusive XL locker at the nearby train station. After that, we only have half a day left before we have to be at the boarding gate for our flight home to Singapore. Depressing.


HARAJUKU – SHIBUYA

We went to Harajuku and just started wandering around that neighbourhood.

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After walking pass some hipsters and hipster shops, we saw these happy wall plugs…

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…in this coffee place. This photo is bad at representing the coffee place, well I didn’t have the right lens on my camera at the time and the cafe was crowded inside, so we only took pictures outside. Its called ‘The Roastery’ by Nozy Coffee and its the best flat white I had during this entire trip.

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Then I thought this industrial warehouse was a nice backdrop and made Claire go up to pose for a photo, in full view of the crowd plying the streets below. #YOLO

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Then as we went on walking, we realize we were quite close to Meiji Jingu. So might as well have our lunch on-the-go there.


YOYOGI PARK – MEIJI JINGU

We’ve been here before the last time we visited Tokyo, and this time is not unlike the first time to me. Walking under this giant Torii Gate into the sacred grounds of Yoyogi park is like entering a different world..DSC04801

the paths were all shaded under ancient trees and often shrouded in mist adds a deep sense of mystery as we make our way to the Shrine complex..

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Before we enter the shrine, we’ll have to cleanse ourselves. Well I didn’t change my religion to Shinto, but we just thought we’re guests in the country so we should show our respects to the Gods they believed in. Basically I just wanna blend in and stay invisible.

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Didn’t manage to take any amazing photos here, well I’ll just take a shot of us writing an “Ema”, just like what we did back in 2013.

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We’re basically retracing what we did in Tokyo a few years back. It was kinda my thing, I’m emo this way. A lot of things happened after that trip and now everything is as stable as it can be, with annoying Claire beside me all the time. I am content.

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Is that olive? I’ve no idea.

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Then we took a quick wefie when no one is looking along this secluded path, and went off to more random places this city has to offer. Night is closing in real soon.


SHINJUKU

We walked all the way to Shinjuku, took a bit of time. We found Blue Bottle Coffee, one of the more popular cafe chains here, I remember my fellow coffee-loving-colleague bought me a bag of beans from the US, that was really nice. Oh but that was after this trip, if not I would have done the same. Such a nice gesture.

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Well, I was getting really tired so I didn’t take much photos now. We just kinda walk around aimlessly, then take the spanking airport train to Haneda Airport..

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See what’s written on our faces? The unwillingness to leave.. and go home..


HANEDA AIRPORT

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Here’s our last shot, after buying some souvenirs from the airport retail areas, right before they close.. Some display commemorating something I don’t know what. At this point we were just simply depressed. Japan has to be my top travel destination. I haven’t been to any European or American places but I always wanted to visit Japan, and visit again, and again and again and again..

The rest of the night was spent on the plane, then arrive is scalding hot Singapore, went home, washed up, on the air-con and went to bed.

Good night people. Farewell Japan, till we see you again.

Simon Tey

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 4: Let’s go back to Tokyo! Ichiran ramen, Cat Cafe & Senso-ji.

Travel on Airbnb and get S$40 in travel credit! Click here! 

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 1: Arrival in Hakone and Odawara Castle 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 2: Exploring Hakone 1/2 – Sengokuhara, le petit prince museum, owakudani black eggs (Image-intensive!)
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 3: Exploring Hakone 2/2 – Sightseeing boat, Hakone Shrine, baby wishing tree, (Image-intensive and excess words!) 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 5: Last day in Japan, The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, Yoyogi Park and Blue Bottle Coffee. 

Watch Day 1 of the video here:

Hi good day people,

Today we come to day 3 of our short trip to Japan. Today we check out of our Hakone/Miyagino bnb and move on with our itinerary of the day:

  1. Head to Tokyo taking the most value for money train
  2. Find our next bnb at Shiodome/Ginza area
  3. Drop our luggages and head out for lunch, preferably a hearty ramen meal
  4. Visit Senso-ji again after 2 years,

Then we will see how much time we have left before deciding to visit other places I’ve saved on my Google Map.


MIYAGINO TO HAKONE-YUMOTO TO ODAWARA

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We were running a little late leaving the bnb, I wanted to catch the cheaper local train back to Tokyo. First we have to catch a bus to Odawara, but because I was in a rush, I took the wrong bus that stopped us one train station short at Hakone-Yumoto station. Oh well we might as well check out the ‘Evangelion shop’ there, its one of my all time favourite anime so I really can’t help it can I?

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Check out that life-sized Rei Ayanami mannequin by the shop front. I read that they will change the mannequin’s clothes according to the seasons. So fun. But like all gimmicky stuffs, the shop sells useless souvenirs at a premium. I didn’t get any because we’re kinda short on our budgets for such things..

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We took a local train from Hakone-Yumoto to Odawara in the end, but it was so darn slow.. So after that experience, I told Claire we probably should just spend the extra money on a express train, if you guys still remember the name, its called Romancecar by Odakyu. The picture above is an empty train cabin, notice how large the windows are? That’s one of the main selling point, other than the speed. Notice the conductor doing all their pointing and calling all by himself at the back? Pointing and calling is an actual thing that the Japanese train conductors practice. Check out the wiki page here.


TOKYO – GINZA/SHIODOME/SHINBASHI

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The familiar sight of skyscrapers and streets lined with shops means we’re back in Metropolitan Tokyo. Not that I love the cold hard and grey concrete jungle, but this means we’re gonna have lunch! 

I didn’t take any photos of our commute from Shinjuku, where Romancecar dropped us at, to Shiodome and the walk with me dragging 2 luggages up and down overpasses all the way to our Tokyo Airbnb. During that time, I told Claire: “I’m not sure how long I can keep on doing this, lugging both our luggages where you couldn’t manage the climb etc. But while I’m still able, I’ll keep on doing this.” Don’t ask me why I say this, maybe its to let her know and appreciates my effort. But I’m sure she does.  Its just that there are times when she’s like a daughter to me. A wife seems to be all of the following at once: girlfriend, best friend, daughter, sister, mother, etc. 

Anyhow, we decided to hunt for Ichiran Ramen at Shinbashi. Ichiran is a chain store found almost everywhere in Japan. And they were successful simply because they taste awesome.  

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I know no Japanese words, but well pictures will tell me lots. So we ordered through pictures and matching the Japanese words on the order slip. 

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I ordered the strongest taste aka Japanese taste and it looks pretty damn tasty when it came. Look at the thickness of the broth below!

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This has got to be the best lunch we had in this trip. Looking at the pic, I’m craving for more now.. But alas, I’m back in my home writing this post.. No Ichiran here in Singapore…

After the lunch, we carried on with our journey to Asakusa, before we took the below picture, we spent like 15 mins staring at gashapon machines outside a souvenir shop and with me hesitating to convert some cash to small change for more gashapon play. We got a couple of pins, one of which is on my daily backpack now. 

I know, boliao (lame) right? Me at 32 years old and still playing with such things. Pardon my inner child. LOL.

 


TOKYO – ASAKUSA – SENSO-JI

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Then we went to take a selfie at the iconic Kaminarimon, just because the last time we were here, the giant lantern was undergoing renovations.. 

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And we took with both sides of the Lantern. LOL

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And of course, the always bustling street that links to Senso-ji. Always vibrant, and seldom devoid of people. I quickly took this shot of Claire when there’s an opening between the horde of passer-bys. 

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This is like the normal condition along this street.

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A quick check on Google tells us that this is one of the best place to have a melon-pan. Its actually a butter/suger bun baked crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it just happen to look like a melon that’s all. 

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We look happy, but its not really as nice as we expected, Google isn’t always right.

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And this old school looking coffee place served me instant latte from a Krups full-auto machine, I wanted an artisan coffee you know, not cheap and dirty automatic machine made latte.. It taste like 600 yen’s worth of shitty-ness..

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Opps, did I missed this under-shot of the Kaminarimon lantern?

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And here’s a pagoda, I noticed mostly only Buddhist Temples have pagodas, I wonder..

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And then Claire went and get a divination stick, she got a bad one, so there were instructions to ‘tie your bad luck’ here in the temple so that the bad luck won’t follow you home. Cool eh? What about me? Sorry I’m not a believer, so no sticks for me.


SHINJUKU – KABUKI-CHO

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The skies started to turn dark after Senso-ji. We took a train to Shinjuku to do some shopping and for me to visit some 2nd hand camera shops in the area. We also had our dinner here at Hamakatsu Nishi-Shinjuku Branch. Awesome Tonkatsu with rice, pity I didn’t take any pics there, I think Claire did.

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This particular roll of vending machines actually meant something to us. We were here too on our very first trip to Japan. I know vending machines are found everywhere in Japan, but these ones, during autumn 2 years ago.. We walked passed them in the rain. And we went up to them, and cursed because they only had cold drinks. LOL. Sounded like some lousy memory.

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And so we walked aimlessly around Shinjuku and went into Kabukicho area by chance, and also found one of the shortlisted Cat Cafes Claire wanted to visit here in this area, by chance as well.

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More brightly illuminated signages and masses of people crossing the roads. It was when I looked up at one of the buildings here and saw the Cat Cafe Calico’s signage, then we can have our first experience with cat cafes.

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Cats are fickle minded animals with an attitude problem. I think they actually have control over us, being so cute and always playing hard to get. We humans try our best trying to get their attention and do silly stunts hoping they will like us. But only to suffer the usual heart break when they ultimately got bored of you and just walk away, sit down somewhere and sleep. Rather sleep than watch our stupid performances. Damn you cats! I’m starting to like dogs better now…

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See, human #2 is totally hooked with this cat’s soft, fluffy fur.

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They stare at you will those cold eyes. Like our presence is a bother to them. We paid good money to enjoy an hour of being judged by these felines.

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See! Show us its arse! This must be an insult! That’s it, we’re out of this hateful place!


OUR AIRBNB

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It happens to be Claire’s birthday on that day as well. It was really late in the night and the only cafe that’s still open was a Starbucks. So we bought a new york cheese cake after queuing for like 30mins. Then went to Don Quixote looking for a candle, before heading back to our Airbnb. We realized we didn’t have any lighter, so I lighted the candle with the mini stove in the apartment. Its amazing how they pack everything we need to live inside an apartment that’s only about the size of my living room back home.

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So I made Claire make a wish and have her blow the candle. This photo will forever be saved in our memory box. Who needs extravagant shit when a simple slice of cake and a candle can meant so much to 2 person.

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And that’s all folks. Stay tuned for Part 5 next.

Simon Tey

[S-series] Analog Photography: September, Film from Taobao!

Hi

I finally went and got my roll of film I burnt during September to the lab.

Its a 24 shot roll and I didn’t even manage to finish it. Was too busy/lazy these days.

Anyways let’s check them out. I used a roll of Fujicolor Superia Xtra 400 I got from Taobao. I wonder how many X-ray machines it went through before reaching me and I am no expert in discerning between different films. So I’m not sure if its a fake or its damaged by x-ray. Anyways, the shots were all shot in either harsh daylight or dusk. No perfect light and I can see that my Pentax LX’s metering is struggling with the scene. I depend on the old meter too much I supposed.

As usual, the below shots are as it is from the film. No post editing done. So without further ado, take a look at my shots coming right up.

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The first frame, didn’t expect it to be developed.

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Screw up the focusing on a 50 1.4 lens..

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Underexposed subject in harsh daylight. Oh well..

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No idea why i took this shot, just my usual randomness.

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I took this thinking I can submit it to a contest on Lomography. But I kinda missed the deadline..

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Saw the boat coming from a kilometer away. Took the time to frame the shot and waited for the boat to come in. A well planned shot really does look better..

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Thought this sign look old-school.

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Sneaky neko statues.

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Maybe many many years ago, these kids jumped so much they turned to stone.

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So poor but still wanna act hipster. Went to a cafe and could only afford its sandwich..

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Then placing my camera on a F1 scaffolding, we took a couple shot with an old school wind-up timer.

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and the sun sets.

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Not very reliable.

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Homeward bound.

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and caught snacking. LOL.

And that’s all I have for today folks. Film still gives me that satisfaction when you freeze a certain moment in your life and then get the kind of surprise like a kid opening his present surprise, when you scan your films.

Film is far from being dead people. Keep shooting them.

Yours truly,
Simon Tey

[S-Series] Analog Photography: Short Walks in August

Hi,

Its been awhile since I last took any photos with my film cameras.

Yes, I bought new ones, new old ones from ebay. Some calls ebay, evilbay, I’m starting to understand again. Because its really tempting, everything you want, you can find at the site. The temptation, its evil.

And so I succumbed to the temptation and have myself a couple of new cameras. Due to certain circumstances, I have to cast a mystery veil over them. So in this post, I’ll just gonna share the first shots from my new medium format camera, and perhaps some from my trusty old rangefinder I had before evilbay.

Enjoy~

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I had some issues with the shutter though, it fires but then it stalls once in a while.. Well that’s what you get from evilbay.. There will never be any guarantee for what you’re getting, and you just have to suck it up..

I’ll probably get it over for repairs, ran 2 rolls of 120 film and due to the shutter problems, I’ve got on average 3 blank frames out of the available 10. Its frustrating when you’re wasting frames like that..

The draw of film though, its like a moth attracted to fire. In this case, I’m the moth. And my wallet is on fire. I’ll have to take a short break from film for like 1 or 2 months, before I start burning my wallet like this again. Till then, cheers people. More shots from my rangefinder coming up. 

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Enjoy film, I totally am enjoying it.

Simon

S-series, E45: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve with our friends!

Hi,

A couple of months back we went and challenge ourselves going up the Bukit Timah Hill.

Traditionally, by saying ‘we’ I meant Claire and I. But this time we have awesome company joining us in our long-awaited hikes, Ivy and Sebas. Well anyhow, we started our walk from the classic entrance

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I liked what the site Huckberry does everytime they end their newsletter in my email.

Show me someone’s awesome outdoorist photo with the caption: “See you out there.”

So I’m gonna spread that ideal now guys.

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See You Out There.

[Claire and Simon’s Explore Series]

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 2: Exploring Hakone 1/2 Sengokuhara, le petit prince museum, owakudani black eggs!

Travel on Airbnb and get S$40 in travel credit! Click here! 

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 1: Arrival in Hakone and Odawara Castle 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 3: Exploring Hakone 2/2 – Sightseeing boat, Hakone Shrine, baby wishing tree, (Image-intensive and excess words!) 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 4: Going back to Tokyo, Ichiran Ramen, Cat Cafe Calico and Sensoji! 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 5: Last day in Japan, The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, Yoyogi Park and Blue Bottle Coffee. 

Watch day 1 here:

Hi

We woke up early today, hoping to cover all the places we shortlisted. Its a long list and it involves a lot of walking. Ambitious. We will be attempting what was known as the Hakone ‘Loop’, which goes one round around the popular tourist sights in the Hakone region, but I’ll skip all the museums and art exhibits because I’m an uncultured swine. I preferred to visit  what nature has to offer rather than paying entrance fees to see man-made art pieces and wasting time contemplating what the heck the artists were trying to tell me. Limited time limited funds and limited interests, that’s about right for me.


SENGOKUHARA SUSUKI-SOGEN

Susuki is the Japanese name for Japanese Pampas Grass, also known as Chinese Silver Grass. I think I’ll stick to susuki because its so much shorter than the others.

We woke up early in the morning to catch a local bus for Sengokuhara. The buses were easy to navigate thanks to the popularity of Hakone to foreign tourists. The buses all have a few languages showing on the screen telling you which stop is coming up next. Combined with Google Maps, even though its not very accurate, its good enough for us to navigate.

The bus took about 20mins from Miyagino town to Sengokuhara.

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We stopped opposite the cute bus stop, absolutely have to snap a shot. Then we made our way to the Susuki-Sogen or the Japanese Pampas Grass Fields. So long-winded..

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…Then the disappointment.. You see, we expected to see at least a little of the golden grasses on the fields.. But I found out too late that we can only see the golden grass during autumn. Its summer now and all the susuki are green. Bummer.

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Claire was very impressed by the neat rows of pine?/spruce? trees up along the tree lines. We had a tight schedule, if not I’ll probably drag her into the forest just to see how its like inside. But if a bear appears I won’t know what to do, I know I wont win.

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So after taking a couple more photos, we made our way back to the cute bus stop and catch a bus back to Miyagino, where we’re based for this couple days.

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MIYAGINO

We noticed the Little Prince Museum along the way on our bus. Claire thought it looked very grand and the little Prince is cute, even though both of us never read the book and know next to nothing besides the name ‘Little Prince’. We still end up alighting our bus and made a detour to visit the place. We entered the lobby, went up to the ticket counter and inquire about the entrance fees, saw the price, and left. LOL. It was a little over our budget so we just took a few pictures in the front garden. FOC.

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We then catch another bus and went on our way back to the town. Where we followed the dreadful short cut up to Gora station…

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Its dreadful because I nearly died here, climbing down the crumbling, moss covered stairs with 2 luggages on my hands. Luckily, we don’t have our luggages with us today. So I get to shoot some moss. DSC04408

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Fancy us finding red maple leaves in summer. Onwards to Gora station for our cable car ride. The Cablecar is really just a few cabins on a track hanging by a few steel cables by the side of the mountain. We got dragged up by the cable from Gora to Sounzan station, and the journey was best described like a sardine in a packed can. The cabin is our tin can, and we are the sardines, dragged along the side of the mountain to Sounzan. In between both terminal stations are a number of stops to other attractions in the area, but everybody seems to be going to Sounzan, hence the metaphor.


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The Sounzan station is the terminal station for 2 services. The Hakone Tozan Cablecar from Gora, and the Hakone Ropeway to Togendai. After escaping from the can (of sardines), we decided to take a breather outside the station. Its mid day now and all the tourist never bothered to come out and explore the area, they just went straight to the ropeway. Well we usually try to avoid crowded places, because that’s the essence of exploration isn’t it?

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And this is what we found, right outside the station. A little caravan kinda cafe. Well I don’t see the ‘locomotive’ attached to it anywhere so I think its quite permanent here.

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Claire decided it was cute and so she posed in front of it.
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There isn’t any other customer inside the cafe, I thought since its such a hip(pie) coffee joint it must be crowded right? Well its either his coffee is bad or the tourists here only follow what’s shown on travel guidebooks. Anyways, since Claire posed at the door step of the place, I have to patronize it right? So we ordered 2 coffees to go. Its decent coffee this guy makes, so it must be the tourists here don’t know how to explore then.

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We then went out to the carpark and took in the view. There’s the mountain with the word (大) on it, in Chinese it means ‘Big’. I believe it means the same thing in Japanese too. Intrigued by it, we decided to take a wefie with it.

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After the coffee break, we went on to take the ropeway. I took our very own cablecar back in Singapore, so I know what to expect. But Claire never done that, so she quite excited, or scared. I don’t which is more true in her context.

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OWAKUDANI

Owakudani is a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents as you can see from the ropeway. It gives a great vantage point to see the whole valley, its especially awe-inspiring when your ropeway car goes over the mountain and the whole smoking valley comes into view. Its also equally awe-inspiring when you got hit with wave after waves of sulphurous stench.

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See what I mean? Look at that lady covering her nose in the ropeway.

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If only those smoking vents were some aroma-therapy-eucalyptus-essential-oil-kind-of-stuff if you know what I mean.

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Well before we ride the ropeway, we were each given a piece of disposable wet tissue to cover our nasal orifice, but because no one is using it, so we didn’t as well.

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We alighted at Owakudani to see those fuming sulphurous vents and eat the black eggs. Legend states that eating one egg can extend our lifespans by 7 years. So we bought a pack of 5, split them equally between us, and now we each have 17.5 years added to our original lifespan. Duh.

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After eating the eggs, we took some wefies with the help of my well worned 2nd hand tripod.

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Then I noticed in the distance, hidden behind the clouds, was the magnificently symmetrical cone of Mt Fuji. But its so cloudy over there its like its hidden behind a veil. Too bad for us, best season to see Mt Fuji from Hakone is autumn I heard, we’re one season early.


Now my friends, I realized how I’ve made this post a rather long winded one. That reflects my character, I’m a 32 yrs old male with a mental state of an elderly man. With that, I shall end it here and adjourn my relentless ramblings till next time.

Yours sincerely, with lots of saliva,

Simon

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 1: Arrival in Hakone and Odawara Castle 

Travel on Airbnb and get S$40 in travel credit! Click here! 

 

Watch the video of our day 1 here:

[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 2: Exploring Hakone 1/2 – Sengokuhara, le petit prince museum, owakudani black eggs (Image-intensive!)
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 3: Exploring Hakone 2/2 – Sightseeing boat, Hakone Shrine, baby wishing tree, (Image-intensive and excess words!) 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 4: Going back to Tokyo, Ichiran Ramen, Cat Cafe Calico and Sensoji! 
[S-series] Tokyo-Hakone Travel Journal Part 5: Last day in Japan, The Roastery by Nozy Coffee, Yoyogi Park and Blue Bottle Coffee. 

Hi,

I rarely write about our travels, I usually just take the photos and be done with it. But wifey had been asking me to post more of my photos, because when we go out and take nice photos, its to be shared and enjoyed by whoever who enjoys my work. While its not much, my photography is always a spontaneous overwhelming urge to steal the moment. Its often unplanned and therefore, a hit or miss job. More so with the latter. That’s why on a trip like this, I usually take about 2-300 photos per day, on average. But the ones that passed my QC number at around 10%.

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GEAR

Anyways to cut the story short, we went on this trip on a whim and rushed through the planning. The kit I brought with me was poorly planned as well.

  • Sony a7II
  • Zeiss Batis 25mm f2
  • Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8
  • Voigtlander Super-wide Heliar 15mm f4.5 III
  • Velbon travel tripod (flimsy old unknown model)

The heaviest lens and also the most under used one is the Batis 85… Throughout the trip, its only there in my backpack to weigh me down.. Voigtlander is a specialty lens so its understood that it will see little usage. So I’m only left with my Batis 25 to cover most of my shots, and I can’t count the number of times I wish I’ve had my Zeiss C-Sonnar 50mm f1.5 with me.


GORA, HAKONE

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Gora Station of the Hakone Tozan Railway. This is the terminal stop where we will be taking the Tozan Cablecar up to Sounzan Station tomorrow. Well that’s for the next post.


MIYAGINO

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What a peaceful place, our bnb was at Miyagino Town. On the map it looks really close, but I neglected the terrain, the short cut from Gora to Miyagino involves multiple narrow flights of stairs that nearly sent me to my Maker, as I carry both our luggage and negotiated those endless, crumbling stone steps… This tranquil river is the exact opposite of my mental state.

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And finally some rest in our traditional Japanese home styled bnb. Tatami floors are awesome, they gave us that peaceful zen feeling unlike those cold hard tiled flooring in our HDBs. I just lay down on the tatami and stayed there for like 30mins while Claire dolled herself up.


ODAWARA

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We next spent an hour on a local bus all the way to Odawara, on which we dozed off and missed our stop. Ended up walking an extra 5mins to Odawara Castle. By then every’s closed, so no visiting the castle and no shopping for medieval Japanese souvenirs…

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Escape the castle.

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And stumbled into a forest of hydrangea.

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And after a little while, the sun begins to set. Guess we should move on to dinner.

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Odawara Fish Market Den (小田原 魚河岸 でん)

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And here’s our dinner place, after walking for half an hour. Claire found this place online and as the temperature turned Southwards, we welcomed the large bowls of piping hot miso soup with lots of scrap fish meats inside. 100 yen each if you bought it with a rice bowl. I’ll let Claire tell you about how awesome this place is. Stay tune. 

Odawara was a small town that we didn’t have much time to explore properly. I believe they have much more to offer, but our highlight for this trip is exploring the Hakone area. That will come in my next post. For the night, we ransacked the snacks section at the 7-11 in our bnb area and went to sleep early.

Signing out for now.

Simon

[S-series] My favourite lens: The Tiny Carl Zeiss C-Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM

Hi good people,

The Zeiss Fanboy strikes again.

Zeiss lens made for the Leica M-mount will have a ZM behind its long name.. And lenses were made with different lens elements and configuration. Usually they name their lenses according to the configuration like “Planar” or “Sonnar” or “Biogon” etc. SO anyways, today I will talk the Carl Zeiss C-Sonnar T* 1.5/50 ZM. And I really love it.

Before I decided I wanted this lens, I got myself Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM but I could never get back the same vibe from the Planar lens with my previous system. I read lots of reviews for 50mm lenses and found limited information about the C-Sonnar 1.5/50. But the images created using it was overflowing with character. I caught on with the retro film photography look and this lens delivers that.

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Firstly, the build quality is very good as expected with all Zeiss lenses, all parts were made with precision, no loose shaky parts found. The body is made of all metal construction and it feels very sturdy in my palms, even though its super small compared to DSLR lenses. Its slightly shorter than my previous Planar 2/50 ZM but a little broader in diameter. In my opinion, I’d rather my lenses were all short and fat. Because if its slim but long, it will become an odd shape when mounted on a camera, that would affect its portability when I stuff them in my bag. Maybe its because I like to stuff them in sideways instead of facing down, if you all know what I mean.

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The lens was super compact weighing at about 250g. We live in an age where big cameras equates pro-photog(rapher), so the modern lenses were all big as hell. Not all big things are good is what I’ve learnt over the years. Ignore what your natural instincts say. Large natural occuring appendages can cause excessive pain as well, just some random knowledge I read online.

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Do not let the diminutive size fool you, because it delivers amazing pictures full of old school film photo vibes. At f1.5 to about 2.8, your subject will take on an other worldly glow that’s actually the lens not being able to correct the blown out highlights. And after f2.8, at least in my copy of the lens, the focus would shift. Not a big problem to me. Although this lens has its flaws, I find its flaws appealing. I read online about people cracking their head between Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50 and Zeiss Planar 2/50 lenses. Most people say to get the Planar one because its sharper, and nothing beats an interesting scene with a sharp lens, instead of playing with differential focus with the slightly larger aperture on the Sonnar. From the above sentence, they meant that the Planar design is sharper, and I can attest to that because I used to have the Planar too. But I ditched it for the Sonnar design. I am intrigued with the unpredictability and flawed old school film photography, and the Sonnar presented me with an option to replicate the same flaws of film photography physically instead of using some fancy software to create that unique film look. Anyways, after f4, the lens will become tack sharp like most other boring lenses.

The bokeh was buttery smooth IMO and I really can’t ask for more.

This lens was always on my Sony, almost like its welded together even though there was a time when I have up to 7 lenses. I only use the Sonnar for everything. But alas, I got myself the 2 Batis series and they were so much better than the Sonnar in everything except for the size and ‘glow’ that I had to part with it when I’m doing work. When I’m not working, I’ll bring The Sonnar out with either my Sony or the film Voigtlander R3M body. The lens doesn’t come with a pouch and lens hood, and to make the glow less distracting at larger apertures, I would recommend getting a hood.

In conclusion, I think you either love or hate this lens, depending on what you want in your life… I mean photographic style. I like those muted, low contrast, slightly faded style because I like to act like a hispter, if only I actually look like one.. But I’m not, unfortunately. Anyways I thought of putting together a list of Pros and Cons about this lens. But then I realised I will probably put all the point under both pro and con, because its very subjective, my pro is a con to another and vice versa.

So without further ado, I’m gonna say bye.

Simon Tey
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