This summer, I have searched for some local photo-friendly spots that I can use to test out lenses and other gear. There are local parks, trails, and the like in North Chicago, but little to nothing that compares to the sprawling metropolis/park areas I saw on the daily in Japan. Some of the smaller areas and bike trails are great for getting out for an afternoon of fresh air, but they don’t offer much in the way of a bonafide picturesque and scenic location. Thankfully, I did not have to search too far to come across the excellent Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL. Housing 27 separate gardens and four nature areas on 385 acres of land, the “living museum” has so many great places to make some great photographs. As it should be no surprise to some of my readers, I’m very excited they house an extensive bonsai collection as well as a well-manicured Japanese-style garden (that I plan to visit on my next trip!). In a summer filled with Navy Weeks and other projects, here’s a few photos made during a day trip to help keep my photographic chops sharp.
Slowly but surely I am upgrading the lenses in my kit to be full-frame compatible. Longtime readers of my site already know I sport a deep collection of Nikkor AI-s lenses, ones that I could easily adapt to a full-frame a9000 or the like. As time goes on, however, I begin to notice the problems the old optics exhibit almost universally: low sharpness/contrast wide-open, mediocre flare performance, and relatively pronounced chromatic aberrations at larger apertures. I’m starting to see the benefits that modern optical formulas can provide where vintage lenses can rarely match.
With the Laowa 15mm f/2, I have found my wide-angle option to cement itself as part of a full-frame-ready kit. Featuring a native E-mount optical design, the compact and fast lens feels right at home even on an a6500, and performs quite admirably all-around. Does the lens perform up to its steep price point compared to the competition? Let’s take a look! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check this post first! Continue Reading
I knew it would happen eventually. As I gradually grew out of my telephoto lens bubble I was so happy to stay in for a few years, it came time to look around for a decent wide-angle lens for travel photography, wide street shots, and one-shot landscapes (constantly having to stitch together shots with my 32mm Touit anytime I wanted a wide shot got tedious fast). So, about three years ago I scrounged around for a deal on a used Rokinon 16mm f/2. Although it was APS-c only, 16mm is still decently wide and f/2 is a nice aperture for low-light handheld shots.
Unabashedly a “plastic-fantastic” lens, does the Rokinon 16mm f/2 hold up on the a6500? After three years of shooting, let’s find out! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check this post first! Continue Reading
Longtime followers of my website may know that the 105mm focal length is one I have gravitated towards for many years of my photography. From my beginnings with the classic Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s, I enjoyed the pleasure of dabbling with other lenses such as the up-close Nikon Micro 105mm f/2.8 AI-s and even the super-compact Nikon 100mm f/2.8 Series-E. All three of these lenses provide a medium-long telephoto on the APS-c cameras I used them on, and they all served their uses in my photography. In fact, I still dust off the Micro 105mm f/2.8 for all of my product shots! However, until late last year, I had all but abandoned the focal length for general photography and transitioned to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AI-s instead for my moderate telephoto needs. The 85mm has less chromatic aberration than the 105mm f/1.8 at equivalent apertures, focuses close enough for quasi-macro shots, and provides much more separation than the Series-E lens ever could.
At the same time, there was always a lens that intrigued me in the Sony lineup: the 135mm f/2.8 STF. With a special apodization element, the lens rendered out-of-focus backgrounds unbelievably smooth, giving “creamy bokeh” a whole new meaning. Even ignoring the current $1400 price tag, the lens wouldn’t make a lot of sense for my style of shooting on an APS-c camera. So for a while, the 85mm f/1.4 remained my go-to for low-light medium telephoto work. That is, until Venus Optics came onto the scene with their unique 105mm f/2 STF lens in mid-2016, promising the same kind of bokeh-smoothing effect with its own apodization element, all at a moderate price tag of $700! At this price point, and with these kinds of features, the obvious curiosity concerns its performance wide open as well as the effectiveness of its apodization element. Does it deliver? Read on to find out! As always, if you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, check out this post first! Continue Reading
As a photographer, traveling to new places under pressure to do one’s best to capture all the unfamiliar surroundings can make for some exciting trips. Often, variables such as weather and free time available cannot be controlled, and these make it all the more challenging to photograph something that may not be seen again in a lifetime. Serving with the Navy, I have come across many of these opportunities in some of my international travels, with my most recent trip (second annual, actually) heading back to South Korea.
In a strange turn of events, my coworkers and I were given ample free time both during and after the days of work. As a result, I came back to Japan with many gigabytes of photos and videos, and am still working through them! For my first post, I will focus on the first couple days near Gyeryongsan National Park, a sizable protected area with a convenient entrance right next to our hotel! In spite of only about 5 hours of free time total to explore the area, I managed to get around a couple trails for some shots. Continue Reading
Whew! I can definitely call this year’s Sakura coverage a success on my end. After scoping out locales in Yokohama and executing my photography plans at the right time, it was just a matter of a few more days before the area’s cherry blossoms would begin to fall to the ground, almost all at once! In an effort to get more of the “big-city” picture, I managed to catch time for one last trip for hanami-hunting, this time in everyone’s favorite megacity, Tokyo! Continue Reading
What a difference just five days can make! Continuing after my last post along the Ooka River in Yokohama, I made sure to return for another walk at just the right time to catch almost the entire area in full bloom! Even though the festival itself was well-finished up at this point, I joined crowds of thousands to partake in the Japanese custom of hanami, simply known as “flower viewing”. The tradition almost always refers to Sakura viewing, however, and with it usually comes the appreciation of the transient beauty of the flowers and their relation to life itself. As such, this time of year usually invokes feelings of joy mixed with a bit of melancholy. Continue Reading