Podcast 332 : Sakura Photo Walk Report – Tokyo 2012

Podcast 332 : Sakura Photo Walk Report – Tokyo 2012

Kind of following on from last week’s Podcast, on my recent visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m going to step back a few days to the Saturday before that, April 7, when I joined the Sakura Photo Walk in Shinjuku, here in Tokyo. This was the first photo walk I’ve joined, and I wanted to thank Mark Esguerra for calling the group together, and Takahiro Yamamoto too, for leading the group through some of the backstreets of Tokyo around to the Metropolitan Building, and then also finding a great English Pub for us to relax in for the evening.

Use this audio player if you’d prefer to listen and there are other formats at the bottom of the post:

Today, I’m going to show you some of my favorite pics from the day, and talk a little about how valuable I found the experience of actually doing a photo-walk. This was just my first, but it certainly won’t be my last.

We were scheduled to start at 1pm at the main gate to the Shinjuku Gyoen park, but this is a very popular spot for Cherry Blossom viewing parties or Hanami, so when I arrived, about 15 minutes early, there was already a queue of over a thousand people or so at the gate. It turns out that there was a line of security guards checking people’s bags for alcoholic beverages, as they aren’t allowed in the park. This is kind of weird as most Hanami parties include getting totally bladdered under the cherry blossom trees, but I guess they’ve probably had problems in the past and now clamped down on this in the park.

Friendly Faceoff

Friendly Faceoff

It took us to around 2pm to actually gather, and I met Mark for the first time, as well as Takahiro, who’s work I really like, which was nice. I also was able to meet a number of other people that I’ve so far only known from Google Plus, such as Yuga Kurita, who’s actually a carbon-based, bipedal life form descended from a cat, and very nice person too. I also met Masanobu TanzawaAndrew Holian and Jason Thompson, who I’d met online, and Eric Seaholm, who we’ll see later. There were lots of other great people that joined, but it would take too long to mention them all here, so let’s move on for now.

The group quickly split up, and people went their own way around the park. I spent most of my time with Jason Thompson and Eric Seaholm, and we bumped into other members of the group as we walked and photographed. Although we were in Cherry Blossom season, I didn’t go to the park expecting to be able to photograph the cherry blossom as a main subject.

As we can see in this first photo (above) shot almost at the end of the day as the park was closing, the trees were beautiful, but because of the crowds I’d decided from the start to see what I could capture with regards to how the people were enjoying the cherry blossom. This was one of my favorite shots, as we have this western guy having a good chat with a punk looking girl with red and pink hair. I opened the aperture open wide to f/2.8 for a shallow depth-of-field, but you can also still see some women to the right that look as though they’re laughing at the fashion of the younger girl here. I also like how this photo gives you a sense of just how crowded the park gets at this time of year. Usually there’s enough space for kids to play with footballs and run around having fun, but not during Hanami time.

Someone Else's Group Photo!

Someone Else’s Group Photo!

Also at the end of the day, as people were getting ready to leave, this group of young men gathered for a group photo, being taken from my right, but I couldn’t resist snapping my own version as well. Even though this was a photo-walk, I still used my Black Rapid Double Strap so that I was nicely balanced, to avoid getting tired by being pulled to one side or forwards, with a single camera on a strap. The last shot was from my 70-200 f/2.8 lens, that I had on one side, and I was able to quickly switch between that and my 50mm f/1.2 lens on the other side, which is what I shot this with. Again, I shot this wide open, at f/1.2 this time, to send the background out of focus. Of course, with that shallow a depth-of-field, the people at the back of the group were also going out of focus, but I like the overall look. I’d need to stop down more for a group photo if I was the official photographer of course.

Although I’d been photographing for a couple of hours at this point, and the company had been great too, I must admit, I started to really have fun from around this time, and as we walked out from the Gyoen Park and across town. The route we took to begin with was not new to me, but as a group, I found myself in the kind of mode that I get in during the workshops and photography tours that I hold, and this is one of the things that I wanted to reflect on a little.

As in this shot (below), I’ve walked past this little alley many times, and I think I’d even photographed it once in the past too, but with the heightened senses I had through being on the walk, and possibly a sense of rivalry, that I had to try and get as many reasonable shots from the day as possible, I found myself raising my camera more than I usually would, had I been say just in town doing a bit of shopping.

Sakura Decoration

Sakura Decoration

Of course, the fact that they had the cherry blossom decorating the alley made it totally different on this day, and I may well have shot it anyway, but there’s no doubt that I was being pushed on by the fact that I was part of a photography group.

Feeding on Each Others’ Creativity

As I say, we get this on my workshops and tours too. The group feed from each other in a creative sense. Either through showing each other what you just shot on the back of the camera, or just from trying to outdo the next guy, but there’s an electric air of creativity that I certainly felt with this group.

Cosmetics Clown

Cosmetics Clown

Maybe for me it’s also partly down to my new found appreciation for street photography that has lay dormant for most of the time that I’ve spent in Tokyo, and currently starting to grab my attention more and more, as I mentioned last week.

Either way though, I enjoyed it, and felt that I was looking for photos in the city, as much as I do in the places of natural beauty that I spend so much time in outside of the city throughout the year.

I’ve found that recently I’ve been keeping my camera over my shoulder when walking in the city too, rather than carrying it in a bag, so that I can reach for it and shoot more quickly if something catches my eye, like this guy standing on a box outside a drug store, touting a sale that they were having on cosmetics.

It’s not as though this is the first time I carried my camera over my shoulder in the city, but again, felt more willing to raise the camera at anything that I found interesting, whereas I might not have in the past, if I was just out on a shopping trip.

As we walked, I noticed Eric Seaholm doing his thing, with his cool little four thirds camera, and couldn’t resist snapping this shot too. I had actually just raised my camera when Eric lowered his, but he kindly raised it again for this photo (below).

Eric Seaholm

Eric Seaholm

The shot was OK in color, but having chatted with Eric for most of the evening following this, I found this guy to be an artist to his core, expressing himself in many different disciplines, including movie making, so although I rarely mix and match my post processing styles, this one just cried out for a bit of Film Noir look in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Just down from where I photographed Eric, my usual route through the city would have kept me at street level, and around the front of the Cocoon Building that I have photographed many times in the past. But on this day, Takahiro Yamamoto led us up some stairs to a pedestrian overpass that I’d never used before. This in turn led us around the back of the Cocoon building, so my creative juices got another squeeze as we made our way through the city.

Funky Photowalk

Funky Photowalk

As I often do for cityscapes, I reached for my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and lined this shot (above) up with the walkway above street level along the bottom edge of the frame. It’s difficult to see in the Web version, but there are actually two young ladies from our group walking along the walkway in the bottom center of the frame, and I composed this so that the top of the Cocoon Building, that is home to some of Tokyo’s top art and fashion colleges, isn’t clipped at the top either. From this perspective, the ball to the side of the Cocoon takes center stage of course, but I like this structure too, so it’s a welcome addition.

A little further down, I had a clear shot upwards of the Cocoon Building with three other high-rises looking up at a slightly dramatic sky, helped a little with Silver Efex Pro. These sharp angles on the Cocoon are something that are new to me, and again, that’s thanks to the photo-walk and Takahiro bringing me around a side of the building that I’d never experienced or even thought to seek out.

The Cocoon Building

The Cocoon Building

And again, just a few more feet further on, we descended a spiral staircase at the base of the Cocoon Building, that just begged for a 14mm perspective. Luckily, the sound of my camera shutter for a couple of previous frames alerted the guy to the left of my presence, and he looked up, making this shot in my opinion (below).

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

A little further through town, we reached the Metropolitan Government Building, and they open one of their higher floors to visitors, with an excellent view out across the city. We got up their just after sun set, and there was still a bit of color in the sky, which some of the group capitalized on, but I wasn’t particularly taken by it, especially as the sun set occurs on the side of the building where there aren’t many tall buildings.

I found a spot with a view of the Docomo Tower, and as night fell, I recalled that the 5D Mark III now has multiple exposure functionality, so I had a play with that. Here you can see that I shot the first of two frames with the lens way out of focus, and the second frame focussed on the Docomo Tower and other buildings. Using the Average Exposure Control to merge the two shots, this gives you little balls of light spread throughout the city, which I thought was quite effective.

Bubbly Shinjuku

Bubbly Shinjuku

I also shot the second Government Building from the other side of the observation lounge, using the same technique (below) and though this was quite a cool look too. Of course, this is one of those looks that you could soon get tired of, but I reckon it works for these few shots, and I’ll probably shoot more as the opportunities arise. Of course, you could do this in Photoshop too with Blend Modes, but it’s much more fun to do it in camera.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

By the time I’d just about finished shooting this, my friend Ade came over and told me that everyone was heading down, so with the promise of beer, I quickly followed him to the queue for the elevator.

Before we headed a few more kilometers across town though, we spent a few minutes outside the building, and the group got some great shots here too. Actually, you can search for and see lots of shots from the group from this day on Google Plus by searching for #Sakuraphotowalk or #Sakuraphotowalk2012 .

Many people that shot this included the group in their photos, which looked great, but I waited until there were just two left, and shot this (below), just before rushing after them to the pub.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Again, shot with my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and I made use of the in-camera level on the 5D Mark III for this. You can see from the line across the bottom of the photo that it’s very slightly off, but it’s close enough for me, and probably user error rather than the camera.

The rest of the evening was spent at the Hub Pub at Opera City. It was great just chatting photography with lots of like minded people, and I ended up reaching for the camera a number of times through the evening too. This is one of my favorites from the Hub, of Jason Arney looking at his phone, with the light illuminating his face.

Phone Light

Phone Light

Seven pints of Guinness later, and I was on the last train home, happy and content with the day.

As I said, this was my first photo-walk, not because I’ve been avoiding them, but because they just don’t happen very much here, and I haven’t had enough experience with street photography to call my own walks together, so it just hasn’t come together.

I really did enjoy myself though, and this, and the following week’s visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market have lit a new flame in me, that won’t take over my nature work, or my portraiture work for that matter, but I’ll hopefully be able to keep the flame burning enough for this kind of photography to augment my enjoyment of my photographic life.

As I said earlier, I felt very much like I did when I am on my workshops and tours, where being around like minded people helps you to feed off of each others’ creativity. The difference here of course being that this kind of photo walk is generally free, or even if you join a professional with a workshop element, they’re usually not very expensive at all, but they can help you grow as a photographer, so if you get a chance to join something similar in your area, jump at the chance. Like me, I don’t think you’ll regret it.


Show Notes

Google Plus Sakura Photo Walk Search: https://plus.google.com/u/0/s/%23sakuraphotowalk

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Podcast 313 : Where to Buy Camera Gear in Tokyo? Map Camera!

Podcast 313 : Where to Buy Camera Gear in Tokyo? Map Camera!

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, Lem Fugitt, while he was at my place for some private consulting on his new camera, and we got onto the subject of where I buy my gear, so I told Lem about Map Camera. It turned out that although Lem has lived in Japan longer than I have, he wasn’t aware of Map Camera. He visited Map Camera the following day, and was quite impressed but also surprised that he’d not yet heard of this great shop. I’ve been asked where I buy my gear here in Japan many times, so when Lem and I got to talking about how I should do a Podcast episode to let other westerners or visitors from overseas know about Map Camera, I figured it was probably a good idea, so that’s what we’re going to do today.

When I initially went to see the people at Map about doing this Podcast episode, they were a little hesitant at first about my talking about their shop because they didn’t want me to give overseas visitors the impression that all the staff in the store speak good English, because my blog and Podcast are released in English. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll know that there are few places where you can find really good English speakers, but hey, if you are just visiting with work or as a tourist, I’m sure that most Japanese people speak more English than you speak Japanese, so hopefully you’ll see this as part of your Japan experience, and enjoy the language challenge.

Map Camera is in Nishi Shinjuku, so if you come into the main Shinjuku station on the JR Train, you’ll want to head for the South Exit. If you come in on one of the other train company lines, it can be a little more difficult to find, but if you look for West Exit and Bus Terminal, or signs for Yodobashi Camera even, that will get you close. Here’s a Google map with a pin to Map Camera to help you, but basically, as you go past the Yodobashi Camera Multimedia store, you can see the first Map Camera number one store to the right on the next block. In this photo look for the black sign with GMT written on it, and then above that, you’ll see Map Camera written in black on a white background. You’ll need to click on the photo to view the larger size to be able to make this out.

Down the Road to Map Camera

Down the Road to Map Camera

Now, before we go on, I should tell you that I’m not suggesting that you totally ignore Yodobashi Camera. The chances are if you’ve been to Tokyo and asked about where to buy camera gear, you’ve already been to Yodobashi, and I do enjoy walking around Yodobashi, and buy plenty of stuff there. But, when it comes to buying camera bodies and lenses, I pretty much always buy from Map, because they’re generally cheaper. For stuff like the 5D Mark II which has been out for a while, the price gap is to just a few thousand Yen, or about $15, but for lenses, the gap usually increases much more.

For example as of Dec 10, 2011, the Canon EF 70-200 F2.8L IS II USM lens is ¥249,200 at Yodobashi, but the same lens, both new, from Map Camera is ¥212,800. That’s a difference of ¥36,500 or around US$469 at today’s exchange rate. That a 15% difference. You would get 10% or ¥24,920 worth of points that you can use the same day if you already have a card, or from the following day after you create your point card if it’s new, but you do need a valid Japan address to register for a point card, so that rules out visitors from overseas.

Map Camera Number 1 Store

Map Camera Number 1 Store

Even if you calculate the difference with the points though, the price difference is still ¥11,580, or US$150, which is still significant. The good thing about Yodobashi is that they will discuss a discount if you can show them that what you want to buy is cheaper elsewhere, but it usually takes time and the shop attendant has to go and get permission from their boss etc. I personally just prefer to walk into Map, know that they have already included the discount, and just buy what I want without haggling.

The other reason that I buy at Map Camera is because they give great prices for your old gear, and they throw in a bit more if you tell them that you are going to use the money to buy some new gear at their store. They actually just give you a credit that you take to the floor with your new gear, and then you pay the difference. I pretty much always do this. We don’t cover the part exchange floor today, as they wouldn’t let me photograph it, but basically, if you want to sell something to Map Camera to partly pay for your new gear, make sure you give it a clean, put it in the original box if you still have it, include your manual etc. and take it to the 4F in shop number two, just a little further down the street. We’ll take a look at that later.

So, as you walk down towards the Map Camera sign, you could very easily walk past it if you aren’t paying attention, because the first floor of the Map Camera number 1 store is a watch shop. The entrance to the camera store is down a corridor to the left, below the checkerboard style Map Camera sign.

At the end of the passage, there’s an elevator to the various floors. I was accompanied from floor to floor by the deputy manager from the store, a young lady that used to work on the Canon floor, so I’ve known her for some time. We started on the Nikon Digital Camera floor, which you can see here (below).

Nikon Floor (5F)

Nikon Floor (5F)

Each floor contains both new and used kits, or bodies and lenses sold separately. I didn’t shoot every cabinet on each floor, but just to give you a taster, for example, as you walk around the Nikon floor, you have some cabinets like these, with used Nikon bodies (below left) and lenses (below right – click on the images to view larger).

Used Nikon Bodies (5F)

Used Nikon Bodies (5F)

Used Nikon Lenses (5F)

Used Nikon Lenses (5F)

They usually stock all new cameras from the day of their launch, also cheaper than most other stores in Tokyo. Here we can see the latest Nikon camera lineup (as of Dec 2011). There are also new bodies and lenses in the other cabinets, and they do sell accessories and batteries etc.

New Nikon Cameras (5F)

New Nikon Cameras (5F)

Next, we dropped down to the 4th floor, where I have parted with many a Yen, the Canon Digital Camera Floor (below)!

The Canon Floor (4F)

The Canon Floor (4F)

It’s a similar layout to the Nikon floor, with lots of camera bodies, lenses and accessories. Again there are cabinets of new and used gear, such as these telephoto and TS/E lenses (below right), and I also bumped into another Tokyo based photographer Paul Stevens (below left).

Paul Stevens on the Canon Floor

Paul Stevens on the Canon Floor

Used Canon Lenses (4F)

Used Canon Lenses (4F)

There’s a cabinet full of used 1 series Canon bodies (below left), and a fancy stand with the Canon consumer cameras, with pride of place in the middle of the room (below right).

Used 1 Series Bodies (4F)

Used Canon 1 Series Bodies (4F)

New Canon Cameras (4F)

New Canon Cameras (4F)

For some strange reason I seemed to spend about twice as much time photographing the Canon floor, but again, there’s not much point in including too many photographs here. I just want to give you a feel for each floor, and also give those of you that haven’t been to Japan or Map Camera a feel for what the Camera stores here are like.

On the third floor, we have the Pentax, Sony and Sigma range of Digital Cameras (below).

Pentax, Sony and Sigma (3F)

Pentax, Sony and Sigma (3F)

Orobianco Italian Camera Bags (3F)

Orobianco Italian Camera Bags (3F)

Slightly more sparse than the Canon and Nikon floors, we now have room for a Christmas tree and some Orobianco Italian camera bags. I thought these were quite funny actually (right).

They look like the designer bags that you see around town, but when you open them up, they contain padded compartments for a camera and a couple of lenses. Ideal for not drawing attention to the fact that you are carrying around expensive camera gear, but depending on where you are, you’re probably more likely to get mugged for a purse full of cash and credit cards with bags like these. That’s not much of a problem here in Japan of course.

Having skipped the watches on the first and second floor, we dropped down next to the Leica, Rangefinders, Twin Lens Reflex cameras, and the Medium and Large Format Cameras in the 1st floor basement.

Leica Rangefinders, Medium and Large Format Cameras (B1F)

Leica Rangefinders, Medium and Large Format Cameras (B1F)

They’ve also got some second hand tripods and new and used camera bags as well, as you can see here (above), but at the back of the floor, there are a number of cabinets full of Leicas (below) and cameras that take Leica lenses, as well as medium format and large format cameras.

Leica Cameras (B1F)

Leica Cameras (B1F)

Map Camera #2 Store

Map Camera #2 Store

That finishes a look at the four camera related floors in Map Camera number 1 store. Just a few buildings down from this is the number two store, with an equally camouflaged appearance, as this store has a noodle shop on the first floor.

This second building contains three floors of Map Camera, and the first building contains two floors of watches and a pen store on the sixth floor. I believe these are all owned by the same company, and really can’t understand why they don’t just put the three watch and pen floors in this building, and have one almighty camera store on all floors of the first building, but then, it’s not my company, and I’m sure they have their reasons.

It’s the same story as Store #1 here, you go down the little passageway to the left to an elevator at the back of the building. It feels a little like you’re walking into a some seedy joint, but once you get up in the camera floors you’ll see it’s just good old Map Camera.

On the third floor we have Olympus and Panasonic DSLR cameras and compact digital cameras from various companies (below).

Map Camera #2 Store (3F)

Map Camera #2 Store (3F)

On the second floor we have a bit of a mishmash of film cameras including Canon FD, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Olympus and Ricoh, as well as Contax and other Medium Format cameras, Leaf backs and compact film cameras.

Map Camera #2 Store (2F)

Map Camera #2 Store (2F)

It was weird to see so many old Canon FD mount lenses lined up like this (below) as well as some old Canon F-1 and Nikon FM3A bodies that really changed photography as we know it, back in their day.

Old Canon FD Lenses and F-1 Cameras

Canon FD Lenses & F-1 Cameras

Nikon Film Cameras and Lenses (2F)

Nikon Film Cameras and Lenses (2F)

So, as I mentioned earlier, the fourth floor of the second Map store just down the street from the first is the Trade Center. This is where you can take your old gear to sell for cash, or part exchange for something else. I believe the percentage changes depending on what you intend to buy, but you generally get more for your old gear if you are selling it to buy something else.

As you’ve seen, the Map Camera store floors contain a mix of new and used bodies and lenses, and I’ve actually never bought anything used here. Everything comes with a warranty though, so you can do so in confidence if you’d like to save a bit of money buying used. Map is a reputable store, and will see you right if something did go wrong with any used that you picked up here, as long as you’re still in Japan when it goes wrong of course. I doubt that they’ll work with you to replace something that went wrong if you take it to another country, but I might be wrong.

Note too that if you do shop at Map while visiting from overseas, in addition to them already being the cheapest store I’ve found to buy in Japan, if you show your passport, they’ll give you another 5% discount, by removing the tax from your purchase.

As I say, don’t expect these guys to speak great English, though I believe a few of the staff members do. Remember that you’re in Japan, so both sides of your communication will need to work at it a little, but I believe like Lem, you’ll be happy that you took a look at what Map Camera has to offer. I know that as long as they are in business, this will be the first place that I go for my camera and lenses.

I’m not affiliated with Map Camera in any way, and have received nothing for doing this Podcast, other than permission to photograph most of the floors of their store. If I recall correctly, the first lens I bought from Map Camera was my old 100-400mm L lens that I bought back in July 2003, before my first trip to Hokkaido. Since then I’ve bought almost all of my lenses there and always part exchange old gear for a good price when I buy. I’ve never had a problem with their gear, or the people that I’ve interacted with, so feel comfortable recommending Map to you too.


Show Notes

Here’s a Google Map to Map Camera: https://mbp.ac/mapmap

Map have a Web site, which is great, as long as you understand Japanese: http://www.mapcamera.com/

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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