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
Under the Mountain
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/2000, 40 images stitched
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
16mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000
Photography competitions and workshops can be a great way for photographers to hone their craft in specific ways, given certain guidelines, rules, and themes. For those more competitively-oriented, the possibility of some top prize or internet recognition can be all the motivation one needs to join in. But, for the more “casual” like myself, I tend to avoid the stress of the competitive scene in an art I am not currently pursuing for profit. Thankfully, not all contests are geared to the competitive persona! Continue Reading
Koishikawa Korakuen Viewpoint
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/2000, 46 images stitched
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
Lit in Time
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000
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
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000
Spring has sprung, as the saying goes, and this year marks my second go-around at one of the more popular times around Japan! Unfortunately for all those involved in planning special events and meals, the main attraction of the fleeting Sakura bloom ended up delayed by about a week in the Kanto region. Persistent cold and cloudy, wet days kept much flora dormant up until only a couple weeks ago. Foolishly hoping that the weather would break and the initial blooming forecasts were correct, I headed out to Yokohama with a couple friends to walk along the Ooka River during their 2-day Cherry Blossom Festival. Continue Reading
Matsu-no-ochaya (Pine Teahouse)
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/50
I have always been of the mindset that in late winter, if there’s no snow on the ground, most outdoor photography is just plain difficult. It’s still cold, most flora is dead or in hibernation, and days are short enough to limit time out and about. That said, it is hardly an excuse to stay inside. Gloves exist for a reason, not all plants succumb to the elements, and with some careful planning a photographer can still get many hours of adventuring in before the sun sets! Continue Reading
32mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1250, 8 images stitched
As I have mentioned many times in previous posts from 2016, I doubt I will ever run out of things to do or see in Japan while I am here. From the countless temples and shrines to the annual festivals across the country, and the meticulously-kept gardens to the many scalable mountains (Fuji-san, I hope to conquer you this summer…), I find it funny that I am beginning to run out of local destinations close to base. Sure, I could probably go to Tokyo and Yokohama five more times each and still not see the half of these cities, but in a lot of ways these cities are a lot of the same that end up lending similar photographic opportunities.
As it stands, I only have time about once or twice a week to go out and explore, and in those times, I am pretty confined to someplace within a couple hours train ride. On the occasional 4-day weekend or two weeks of leave in summer, I have the chance to really go outside my comfort zone like I did in Osaka and Sendai! Otherwise, I end up in these dead months of winter twiddling my thumbs trying to figure out a new and exciting place to visit within arms reach. Thankfully, I am not quite to the point of having seen everything, as I managed a trip with a friend to visit Odawara for a while last weekend on a beautiful but cold Sunday afternoon. Continue Reading
105mm, ISO 100, T5.6, 1/200
Every now and then, I go on an adventure that pushes me just a bit farther than what I am capable of safely enjoying. That is, of course, just part of the nature of getting out there. Similar to around this time last year, I recently injured my left knee a few weeks ago in almost the same way during a walk around Mount Nokogiri (or Nokogiriyama). The bad news is, just like last year, I was unable to take stairs or even walk correctly for a while. The good news, though, is since I knew exactly what was wrong (compared to a bunch of trouble getting a diagnosis previously…), I could quickly start treatment to recover and move on. With that, and about a month of recovery, I am almost back in business fully! Plus, I managed to get some great photographs and video on my α6500 to boot! Continue Reading
16mm, ISO 100, f/2, 1/1000
After a good, long run, I can finally say that after this post I am fully caught up with my main photographic adventures from 2016. Save for a few shots here and there (that I may share by themselves on social media), this post joins 27 others from mostly my first year living in Japan. So with that, consider this my “monthly” website update for January, but for the whole year of 2016 as well!
During my break around Christmas, I got to spend some much needed time with friends and family. In addition, I managed to catch up on a lot of sleep that I previously missed out on in my barracks room. Photographically, though, I still wanted to put my new α6500 through its paces to see how it holds up to my style of shooting. If I can ever manage the time, I may write up a real-world review comparing it to my trusty NEX-7. In a sentence though? The α6500 is a far more capable camera than the 5+ year old NEX-7, yet from a manual-control perspective the NEX-7 doesn’t suffer from any of the performance quirks the α6500 exhibits. Continue Reading