Renato Valenzuela Jr.: Blog https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog en-us (C) Renato Valenzuela Jr. info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Sun, 31 May 2020 05:43:00 GMT Sun, 31 May 2020 05:43:00 GMT https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/img/s/v-12/u999783326-o660738986-50.jpg Renato Valenzuela Jr.: Blog https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog 120 80 Vignette: The OG Renaissance Man https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2020/5/vignette-the-og-renaissance-man Orion the SailorOrion the SailorLiw-Liwa Beach, Zambales, Philippines. Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci. Nikola Tesla. These historical figures are regarded as Renaissance men.  But who was the first?  Whoever it was, I think it was the one who invented the boat.  Could you imagine being on that beach with that guy testing his invention?  Better yet, imagine what the hell it was he was smoking when he came up with the idea.  "Yea I'm gonna take this tree trunk and hollow it out with fire so I can sit in it and travel across the water."  Wait, what? How did he? But why?  Can you imagine how many times this guy had to cut down a tree, start a fire and get the fire to do what he wanted it to do to turn his tree trunk into a boat?  The fire wasn't working so he comes up with another way to get the tree to turn into a boat.  So not only is this man an inventor/shipbuilder but he's also a carpenter.  

He's got his boat and it floats and now he's taking people from island to island.  Then one day he probably thought, "what else is out there?"  What drove him to want to leave the relative safety and comfort of his island life?  Was he sick and tired of his neighbors?  Maybe he just wanted a change of pace?  But the Pacific is a big awful place, surely he can't go it alone.  All these tiny specs of land dotting this ginormous body of water and it's not as though humanity just evolved in parallel all over the world.  Migration over land only takes you so far and many of these islands are the tops of volcanoes, brand new pieces of Planet Earth unconnected by land, so how did people get there?  They got there on a motherfucking boat!  Isolated by hundreds if not thousands of miles apart all with flourishing populations of people and cultures today, all thanks to the invention of the boat.  So not only is this guy an inventor/shipbuilder and carpenter, he's also a lady's man.  Dare I say, a romantic even.  He had to convince women to go with him!  Could you imagine the conversation on that beach?

Woman: ...so what is that thing?

Man: a boat.

Woman: what do you do with it?

Man: It goes on water.  and if the wind hits this thing just right, it goes across the water. Cool, huh?

Woman: ...sure.

Man: Right?! Wanna come?

Woman: Where are you going?

Man: I dunno, that way :points to open water:

Woman:  Is it safe?

Man:  Probably not.

Woman:  If I do go, are we coming back?

Man:  I haven't worked that out yet.

Woman:  Are you bringing anything with you?

Man:  I haven't thought that far ahead.

Woman: ...and you made this thing?

Man: Sure did!

Woman: ...riiiight.  I should probably ask my parents first.

Man: Bring them along! More the merrier.

Woman:  We're probably going to need food and water.

Man:  Oh yea, huh? that's why I asked you ;)

Woman: Oh, you.

Okay, so it probably didn't go down like that.  But what the hell did he say?!  What cunning and wit were used to compel one another to travel and explore, to not only inadvertently propogate our early existence on this Earth but to cultivate civilization across every pocket of land on this Earth as well.  And that's another thing.  He had to work out a way to get to and from wherever the hell it was they were going!

Woman: We're lost again aren't we.

Man: No, no.  We are not lost.

Woman: Where are we going then?  It's the middle of the night and it's cold.  You can't see a damn thing!

Man: We're going wherever the wind takes us.

Woman: Oh for fuck's sake, Mom! Guess what we--

Man:  Hey look! That weird pointy cross thing in the sky.  It looks just like the one at home.  You think it's the same one?  Let's just go that way.

Woman:  I swear to God if this works...

Inventor, Shipbuilder, Carpenter, Romanticisicist, Voyager, and now Celestial Navigator.  This guy is a fuckin' bad ass.  Inevitably this dude has traveled so far and wide that surely he must've reached the other end of the Pacific at one point, right?  But how's he gonna prove to his people that he made it that far?

Early Chilean: Greetings friend!

Early Polynesian: Hey, man.  Thought we were alone. How did you get here and why do you look like me?

Early Chilean:  Dude I thought WE were alone.  Uh, we walked here.  How'd you get here?

Early Polynesian: in that. :points to boat:

Early Chilean: Whoa that's pretty rad.  Can we copy it?

Early Polynesian: Sure.  Got anything cool in return?

Early Chilean: Uh, we have this thing called a chicken. :points to bird:

Early Polynesian: What do you do with it?

Early Chilean: It's mostly useless.  It makes this really irritating sound every morning and one morning I got so annoyed I threw it in the fire.  Thing is though, it started to smell really good.  In fact, it smelled so good that we ate it.  So that's why we keep 'em around these days.  Oh, and every now and then some of these chickens will poop out these oblong white th--

Early Polynesian: Yea, that sounds good.  We'll take 2.

Early Chilean: Sweet! What do you have?

Early Polynesian:  Well, we have these coconuts.

Early Chilean: Right on, what do they do?

Early Polynesian:  Well, it fell off the tree I used to make my boat.  They're a huge pain in the ass to crack open, but once you do there's water inside it. fuckin' amazing.  White people will go crazy for them in the future.

Early Chilean: What are white people?

Early Polynesian: These cave-dwellers pale as ghosts that in about a couple centuries from now will conquer us both and they'll eventually call our stuff their stuff.

Early Chilean: Riiight...

Early Polynesian: Anyway, nice meetin' you.  Time to head back east!

Early Chilean: By going west?

Early Polynesian: I dunno, man. It's a white people thing.

Early Chilean: Oh those white people! Hey take these yams with you. They go great with the chicken.

I might have digressed.  Add trade and fusion cuisine to the many, many things this Rennaisance man, or should I say people have pioneered.  How cool is it that Filipinos, many other Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders get to say they descend from such seafaring voyagers.  It's in our blood.  I could keep going on and on and on but that's what I was thinking while I was sitting in front of this boat, on that beach.  A beach that if you go back to antiquity could very well have been the setting for the conversation I had imagined in my head.  All because I wanted to try some astrophotography. Funny, that.

Anyway, Happy Asia-Pacific Heritage Month!

 

 

 

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2020/5/vignette-the-og-renaissance-man Wed, 27 May 2020 00:13:35 GMT
Field Notes: Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer MFT https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2020/5/laowa-17mm-MFT Venus Optics Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer

 

FULL DISCLAIMER/Ethics Statement:  I had recently become a Laowa Affiliate so I'm incentivized to write good things about their products.  Having said that, I bought this lens with my own money and started writing this article under my own volition before the idea of even becoming a Laowa Affiliate dawned on me.  I still stand by my thoughts and experience with this lens.

 

Disruption seems like such a buzzword.

Laowa is that upstart underdog from China operating under the name Venus Optics that have been coming up with seemingly quirky lenses that fill a niche you didn't think you would ever tap.  I've coveted their 7.5mm f/2 ultra wide for the longest.

 

Then they come out with something slightly more conventional, a wide-standard prime with a fast aperture. The 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer.  But for $150USD.  I'm sorry, what?  Talk about low-risk high-reward. Interest level: piquing.  Why is this a big deal when other China-originating firms have come out with lenses for even cheaper?  Because like all of Laowa's other Micro Four Thirds offerings, this lens is native.  It isn't some two-birds-one-stone solution that Meike or 7Artisans produce.  Its design and formula are optimized for this format alone.

 

The 35mm focal length is in kind of a no-man's land for me.  Back in the day, I started with a 50mm and if I want to go wide I'll tag my 28mm in.  For Micro Four Thirds parlance, that would be 25mm and 14mm or whatever's closest, hence my PanaLeica 15mm.  Having said that, the 35mm focal length is actually pretty useful.  It's often called the walk-around lens.  While the 50mm is more subject-centric, the 35mm focal length is about putting your subject into context.  It does so in a way that you find yourself stepping in as opposed to stepping back.    In other words, you're standing by the curb as opposed to being in the middle of the street.  And unlike a 28mm, you're not encroaching your subject's personal space.  I've never owned a 35mm lens.  That's what my Olympus XA is for.  I technically still don't, but this little Laowa 17mm fills that niche.

Its aesthetic is tried and trued old-school.  It matches perfectly with the slick-brick that is the GX85/GX80.  On an OM-D, the combination becomes the perfect SLR impersonator.  The barrel is all-metal. The focusing ring is not by wire but by helicoid.  In other words, manual.  More on this in a second.  The focus throw is weighted but smooth.  The rear focusing element moves back and forth within the length of the body, a nice touch.  The aperture ring is out front and it clicks with a consistency often found in lenses made in a time from way back when.  Though the indents for f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 are spaced out compared to f/8-f/22.  That's probably a decision made for tactile feedback for when you don't want to take your eye from the viewfinder.  I'm imagining in my head that this is what buying a brand new OM Zuiko or AI-Nikkor must feel like.  But does this Laowa shoot like them too?

Venus Optics Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer MFT

Why in this day in age would a brand new lens manufacturer that has access to the AF requirements for the open standard that is Micro Four Thirds choose to produce Manual Focus lenses only?  Cost is the first thing that comes to mind. Speed I think is the other.  Don't get me wrong, Auto-Focusing technology has never been better today than it ever was,  though some manufacturers are determined to do things their own way (cough: Panasonic) Sometimes the even more determined, discerning user wants absolute total control.  The "I know better than the camera does" crowd that's been shooting street photography with 35mm film  for the longest know what I'm talking about.  Here's another Photography 101 trick that film guys go to and swear by: zone-focusing with the Depth of Field scale.

Venus Optics Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer MFT

On a fully manual lens, the focusing helicoid is directly linked to the focusing element.  That helicoid has markings on the lens barrel to allow the photographer to determine how far away the subject is.  One of the most basic principles of photography is understanding Depth of Field.  To boil it down, the thing you want from Depth of Field is how much acceptable focus you want in a particular shot.  There are really only two ways to do this.  The first is playing with the distance between your subject to the front of the lens.  This method though has its limitations because sometimes a lens is physically incapable of focusing close enough, so we rely on the other method which is to stop down or open up the aperture.  To get sharper images across the frame, you have to stop the aperture down. In other words, pick a bigger number to get a smaller hole. The smaller the hole, the more gradual the light rays will converge towards the subject to get it in focus.  This is how you get a "deeper" Depth of Field.

This is where the Depth of Field scale comes in. The Depth of Field scale is a literal way to express this quirk of physics.  Basically they're paired brackets with corresponding f-numbers surrounding a center-line.  The center-line is matched to the number on the focusing helicoid.  The aperture values count down from smallest aperture value to largest towards the center-line.  As the aperture values count down, the corresponding brackets get smaller and smaller.  This is supposed to express how much acceptable focus you'll have in front of and behind your subject based on how far away the lens is telling you your subject is.  This is your manual lens' way of approximating your depth of field without even having to nail the focus! This is the way.  And yet, when you do in fact nail the focus, it brings a sheepish grin on to your mug.  Kind of like back in the day when you'd wait for your roll to process and the prints would come back, you'd comb through the stack just to see if it came out sharp.  This lens is shaping to become a tool for someone that just wants to see if they can do it.

 

The New Normal

 

The New Normal

 

Rico 1 of 3

 

Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer

 

 

Some people have the opinion that shooting a fully manual lens is slow and deliberate.  Perhaps it's because they've never bothered with zone-focusing or maybe they entered the arena at a time when Auto Focus was finally dependable.  When it comes to Street Photography however, Zone-focusing can't be beat.  Forget focus-peaking.  The only critical thing you need to worry about is gauging distance. Once you're comfortable with determining how far away your subject is on the fly, all you have to do from there is set it, forget it and live with the results.  This way, all you'll have to focus on is the composition.

 

 

Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer

 

 

But does it have any faults or demerits?  Sure, what lens doesn't?  The front element is pretty exposed and the rim of the barrel doesn't protrude very far so it's prone to flare.  Fortunately a petal hood is included.  At the moment, the only other fault I can think of is that it is free of any circuitry.  In camera, to enable IBIS you'd have to manually set the focal length.  All EXIF data regarding focal length and aperture value has to be added post-import.  Hope you like writing stuff down if this matters to you.  This isn't really a fault of the lens though since there are many fully manual lenses devoid of any electronics.  An easier solution would be for Olympus/Panasonic to have the ability to save that data in-camera.  You'd think that in aperture-priority the camera is still able to work out the appropriate shutter speed even with a manual lens, that there'd be a way to for it to approximate the aperture value if it knew the focal length.  Nikon's DSLR bodies have the ability to save EXIF data with manual lenses thanks to a mechanical tab and saving it in memory.  Surely Olympus and Panasonic can come up with an electronic workaround using good ol' math.

 

But is it sharp?  When you nail focus it sure is, but WHO CARES.  You're more than likely going to be shooting at f/5.6 in daylight most of the time with this lens anyway and if the results aren't sharp enough for you, I don't know what to tell you.  It's sharp enough and that's all that matters.  Pixel-peeping measurbators will never be satisfied because they long for products that don't exist.  This lens is about pure joy.  Documenting life's perfect moments imperfectly, an artisan's tool.  The highly-skilled can get the most out of this lens and inversely, this lens will increase your skill-set.  It implores you to walk around with your camera.  What Laowa pulls off here, much like what Panasonic did with the Lumix 25mm f/1.7 is bring top-notch quality at a reasonable and affordable price.  The Micro Four Thirds standard isn't dead.  Anyone who says the contrary is trying to manipulate an algorithm for the purpose of engagement, counting on people forgetting what they know about photography.  Micro Four Thirds is very much alive and kicking.  The new kid on the block straight outta Anhui Province is a testament to that.

 

Things I like:

-solid build

-compact and balanced, this is the way

-hood included.

 

Things I'm not supposed to like:

-it flares like a motherfucker, but that's what the hood is for and also, why are you shooting against sunlight in the first place?

-CA wide open but who cares, correctible in post.

Who's it for: For those that have the PanaLeica 15mm f/1.7 or Olympus 17mm f/1.8, it may seem like a solid pass.  For those that don't however, at $150USD what's there to lose?

Bottom Line:

To be fair, I bought this lens knowing what I wanted from it.  A Manual focusing fast-aperture semi-wide prime that I can reacclimate myself to zone-focusing with for Street Photogaphy and some b-roll footage for vlogging and it does these things brilliantly.

 

 

I write these pseudo-reviews for the love of Photography.  I also write them because of the chance of getting a little kick-back from businesses that sell these wares to minimize the self-loathing routine of sitting behind a desk working for someone else's dream.   I also genuinely shop at these places.  Adorama is but a mere train ride away and they now have it readily available.  I've been using eBay for ages and that's where I got mine via Kenmore Camera.  You could also do Laowa a solid and buy it directly from them here.

Field Notes: Laowa 17mm f/1.8 C-Dreamer by Venus Optics

 

The black and white photos in the Flickr gallery were achieved by using Olympus' in-camera Art Filter No.5 with Yellow Filter applied.  Those images are SOOC JPEG.  The interior band shots were converted JPEG in-camera and post-edited using Snapseed on my Google Pixel.  Other random color photos were desktop-edited to taste using Luminar 3.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) field notes lens reviews technique https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2020/5/laowa-17mm-MFT Fri, 08 May 2020 02:46:06 GMT
Cameras That I Love: Canonet QL17 https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/12/canonet-ql17  

Canonet QL17 black paint

 

I have little experience shooting with a rangefinder.  I do have the venerable Olympus XA and while it is technically a rangefinder camera,  it's user experience is more like a semi manual point and shoot.  There's even a set-it-and-forget-it indication on selecting aperture and the focus lever to treat it as such.  

 

 

As I continue along into my film odyssey the urge to try a "proper" rangefinder camera beckoned.  To get my feet wet in the segment, I knew I wanted one in the Japanese fixed-lens variety.  These were all the rage back in the 1960s and 70s.  As an alternative to a big heavy SLR and the much pricier cameras coming out of Wetzlar, the cameras coming out of Japan were far simpler and often times lighter.  They are (were?) the perfect cameras to have at your side when going abroad.  All the legacy brands had their own interpretation of the ideal travel camera and they more or less followed the same formula: a fast-aperture, kinda normal-ish lens and some form of automated exposure control.  Yashica, Olympus, Minolta, Konica, you name it.  These marks produced these cameras in the millions. 

Canonet QL17 black paint

 

Then there's the Canonet. 

 

Having the XA and a pair of OM's, I considered an Olympus 35 SP or a 35 RD but since film is film, I want to be as brand-agnostic as possible.  I trolled eBay for months until a black paint(!) QL17 popped up in New York City of all places.  It had a Buy it Now price for $200 which may seem a bit steep at first glance but because these cameras haven't been produced for nearly 40 years and the parts to repair them for when things go wrong grow scarcer by the year, along with the Renaissance of Film in full-swing it's a relative bargain.  I've seen copies from Japan go for about the same price usually with hazy lenses.

 

There are a lot of QL17 variants and Canon can't seem to name their products in a way that makes any sense or exude any kind of emotion to their potential customers, I did some sleuthing to figure out which QL17 I have and figure out when it was made.  Best guess is that this camera was made in Japan around 1969.  It's got a molded frame advance lever with a brass base, a shutter made by Copal and a battery check button that points the needle to the green spot in the finder to let you know there's a charge.  Today's influencers say to go for this one because the Made in Japan Canonets are made of higher quality plastics and brass. 

 

Canonet QL17 black paint

 

When you pick it up it's cool to the touch.  Something a bit surprising in this day and age when most cameras are a mix of plastic and metal warmed by the electronics on the inside.  Another surprising tid-bit is that it's heavier than it looks.  Holding it in the hands gives this solid feel.  Not quite tank-like but definitely a substantial machine.  The beauty of any black paint camera built before the transition to plastic is that the paint eventually fades to reveal the metal underneath.  It just screams workhorse like a pair of well-worn jeans.  How I wish I could say that I put it through its paces to get to where it looks today, but I'd be lying.

 


Canonet QL17 black paint Canonet QL17 black paint
 

Things they mention about the leaf shutter is how near silent it is.  A little unnerving at first when you're used to the viewfinder going black accompanied by a "thwack" of the mirror traveling up and down in an SLR, it's not as quiet as the XA but it's close.  The true joy that is glossed over in what's already been said about the Canonet is how butter-smooth the frame advance is.  It doesn't ratchet, but the stroke resistance is somewhere between the grating-through-sand OM and well-honed Nikon F.

 

Another interesting feature? The aperture ring is step-less.  Click-stops are missed if you're the type of shooter that is always looking through the viewfinder and you make adjustments tactilely.  Though it should be said that if the ring is set to Automatic or any of the other values to the right of A, those values are felt with a click-stop, as is the shutter speed ring.  I suppose these ergonomic decisions are completely related to the automatic exposure system.  More on that now.

 

During my DSLR days, I found myself only ever using shutter priority when I wanted to convey movement in the shot.  I would pan and drag the shutter to get streaking and motion blur.  But when it comes to using a film camera from the 1960s with all the competing manufacturers creating new innovations to get that exposure right, one has to wonder what exactly it was what Canon was thinking when they stuffed shutter-priority into the Canonet.

 

Like the XA, its top user-selectable ASA value is 800.  Which is fine considering that 400 back then was already considered plenty fast.  An added benefit is the bright f/1.7 maximum aperture.  Without fail, when set to 400 and the shutter to 1/30s indoors in adequate artificial light the aperture needle will point to f/1.7.  More or less a standard exposure setting for those capable of holding still for as long as they dare.  Having a leaf shutter only helps in minimizing camera shake.  It just feels so inherently backwards to select a shutter speed and have the camera work out what aperture is required.   Then again, this camera was most likely marketed as a travel camera.  Perhaps Canon was thinking of its potential buyers handing the Canonet off to strangers so their photo could be taken in front of landmarks.  A trick I've always used on the rare occasion someone offers to take a picture of me with my camera is that I'll set the shutter to something just fast enough for a handheld snap to account for the fidgety hands of a stranger.  I would go so far as to pre-focus.  All they have to do is hit the shutter button.   But outside of all these potential uses, I think going the shutter priority only route is wasted.  Fortunately the shutter is mechanical, so it works just fine selecting your own exposure values.  Unfortunately, the light meter only works in A mode.  Sunny 16 is your friend.

 

What they tell you about the focusing patch is that it's not all that well-defined.  In other words, it's no Leica.  Focus throw however is short and the lever makes finding focus very easy.  One thing I wish the lens barrel had was a Depth of Field scale.  This would make zone focusing easier, much less actually doable. 

 

This camera is often miscast as "The Poor Man's Leica."  That's so lazy and a bit of a slight.  For starters, the Canonet was more or less an archetype that spawned an entire segment.  Imagine if Canon never thought of producing a high-quality camera for the masses, would we have the Electro? The Hi-Matic? The 35 SP?  If there were ever a poor man's Leica and it had to come from Canon, the Populaire seems more fitting.

 

I've never owned a Leica M, so I can't speak to the experience of actually shooting with one.  What I can say is that I'm three rolls in with the Canonet and the yearning for a Leica is at its lowest.  It's nearly perfect. 

 

Easy to load, check.

 

Easy to focus, check.

 

What would make it perfect?  A DoF scale so you can zone focus or better yet, a hyperfocal setting like the XA would be great. Also a more common filter thread size.  48mm, really? 

 

With the film camera revival in full swing, these things are no longer the bargains they once were.  In 2019, paying anywhere between $150-$250 seems about right.  $150 gets you a chrome version with a lens in decent shape.  $250 gets you a black paint one, with a case.  Sometimes you get lucky and score the lens hood.  The Canonet is probably the only time in Canon's history have they ever made something that's genuinely cool.  Its resale value and infamy are a testament to that.  Find yours on eBay.

Canonet QL17 Running Album

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Canon Film Gear https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/12/canonet-ql17 Thu, 12 Dec 2019 17:33:51 GMT
DIY: The Screen Crapped out on my E-M10 Mark II, so I Fixed it Myself. https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/12/e-m10-mark-ii-diy-flex-cable-replacement

I love everything there is to love about the E-M10 Mark II.  It along with the now widely available affordable primes are what made me decide to retire my D700 and switch to the Micro Four Thirds System full time.  What I was giving up in durability and perceived low-light capability (This is the biggest red-herring argument on the internet), I was gaining in portability and back-and-shoulder relieving comfort. 

Then came the day that some unfortunate E-M10 Mark II owners have endured.  The rear screen started to cut out when articulated.  Olympus has acknowledged some hardship when it came to moving production facilities and I suspect my unit was made during that transition period.  It's really a hit-or-miss situation with this problem.  Fortunately, it is covered under warranty to get fixed.  Unfortunately, my camera was out of warranty when it started exhibiting these symptoms.  If you send it back to Olympus, they'll still fix it and their repair service is top notch.  I sent my E-PL3 back for water damage and they sent me back a refurbished unit for $100USD + shipping.  The as-quoted price to fix the screen of the E-M10 II is $200USD + tax.  I live in New Jersey and Olympus has a repair facility where you can drop off in person and wait on site for the repair.   

I weighed my options.  I need this camera to work because I use it for work.  Do I let a professional fix it and pay the price for guaranteed working order or do I save some money, buy the part for $28USD and do it myself?  Obviously I went for the latter.  What have I got to lose?  How hard can it be?  On top of it all, I decided to document the whole DIY process by posting it on YouTube.  This was the ballsiest and most-successful DIY project I've ever attempted and I'm glad it worked out.  The only embarassing part of the whole process was that I accidentally melted part of the screen housing.   That and the GX85 I used to film the whole process stopped rolling because the batteries were exhausted by the time I started the crucial process of soldering the flex cable to the board.  Whoops.  Reassembly was straight forward.  Just make sure to turn it on and test it before you button it back up.   

 

Leave all your questions and comments here or on YouTube and don't forget to subscribe!

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) DIY Olympus https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/12/e-m10-mark-ii-diy-flex-cable-replacement Mon, 09 Dec 2019 18:13:43 GMT
Nikon N80: From Film to Digital and back! https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/3/nikon-n80

Nikon N80

There exists an entire group of film cameras that nobody seems to care about.  The irony.  This forlorn segment represents the pinnacle in camera technology yet by consequence of arrival of the next big thing, a good copy can be had for next to nothing.  I'm talking about the last generation of auto-focusing 35mm SLR film cameras.  And the one in particular that I have, the Nikon N80 is one that I've had in my possession since college.  I am the original owner.  It's also probably my least used camera.  I acquired my N80 brand new during my 2nd year and used it for 3 semesters straight.  Then that was it.  What had happened was while I was in college Nikon had been releasing DSLR's every couple of months that were becoming more and more consumer-friendly in price.  First it was the D100, then the D70 which a friend of mine picked up right around the time I got my N80.  They were practically the same camera.  The only thing differentiating them was the medium in which the images were captured.  Image quality at the time was dead even.  A well-scanned 35mm negative could stand toe to toe with the 6mp APS-C DX sensors of the time.  So I thought, keep my N80 and just pay extra for the scans at processing.  Having a scanner of my own was a pipe dream for a broke college kid like me at the time. 

N80_08192008-0008   the dog days.   =(

That didn't last. While I had to wait to see what I had come up with, my friend could instantly pull up what he had taken with his D70 and delete if it wasn't to his liking.  What kind of sorcery was this?  Digital for the enthusiast had finally arrived and if you didn't hop on the train at the time, you were a sucker who still had to pay for film and lab fees.  The economics of a DSLR at the time just made too much sense.  My friend was a semester ahead of me and while I was toiling with the you-gotta-know-what-you're-doing user experience of the N80, his D70 had an auto-mode.  But nevermind the auto-mode.  The fact that you can review instantaneously what you just shot was such an advantage and oddly enough, a better teaching tool.  After 3 semesters of photography, I bought a D50 and that was that.  My N80 would sit in its bag for the better part of the next decade until I called it back into service when another friend said he was taking a photography class in college and tapped me to source him a camera.  To his dismay and to my surprise, he came back to me and reported that my N80 wouldn't cut it.  The professor said the camera is too old and would prefer if her students had a DSLR.  My friend said, "she said it's because it takes film and nobody uses that anymore. I was the only one in the class that brought a film camera.  "  I'm quite young at heart, but that was the first time something made me genuinely feel old.  I couldn't understand how it could possibly be old when the camera itself couldn't be more thoroughly modern, even if it is 15 years old.

Nikon N80   Nikon N80

Nikon N80   Nikon N80

Thing is, it's still modern because every prosumer-level DSLR that Nikon had ever produced was based on this very camera.  If your first DSLR was a Nikon from the last 10 years, you already know how to use the N80. User programmable dual command dials, d-pad on the back, Mode dial with motor drive selector on the top just left of the prism hump.  Power switch surrounding the shutter release. Stop me if you've heard these before.  It even has the same squishy-squishy super-pro feeling shutter release, but threaded!  No need for a remote that you'll undoubtedly leave on the roof of your car and drive off to completely forget about while cursing up a storm about it being the umpteenth time you've had to repla--I've digressed.  Looking from the front, if the N80 were set next to any Nikon DSLR ever made, you'd never know it was a film camera.  (For street photography this can be an added bonus, since people will think you're just another dorky photo-happy tourist.)  The same can be said for the F100, F5 and F6 but these cameras still command a premium because of their professional-grade build quality.  The N80 won't survive being left out in a typhoon or stopping bullets any time soon but it does 80% of what the pro-grade cameras do, so maybe that's where the name comes from?

Nikon N80   Nikon N80

Perhaps that could be its appeal in today's used market.  Instead of going after a mechanical SLR right away which seems to be a trendy fashion statement these days, why not make your cost of entry into film just that little bit more affordable by going for a body that mounts to lenses you already have?  For those that started photography with a digital Nikon SLR that have amassed a collection of full-frame AF-D/S lenses, you're in luck.  Not only will they mount, but they will meter.  The manual AI glass will also mount, but since the N80 doesn't have a metering prong, you're SOL on that front.  So if you don't want to break the bank but are eager to try film for the first time and already have (compatible) Nikkor glass, you could do no wrong with the N80.  There's a unique look to using modern glass with a capturing medium that's been around since the previous millennium.  It's amazing how lenses that were meant to project an image onto a sensor look on Tri-X (or insert your favorite film here).  Bringing it out of mothballs was a fun trip down memory lane.  The keeper rate was a lot higher this time around!  After "switching" to Micro Four Thirds for digital work, I paired down a lot of my Nikon FX gear only keeping the lenses and flash that I know I'd regret selling on.  I sold all my zooms and long lenses and kept 2 primes:  the 50mm AF-S 1.8G and the 28mm AF-S 1.8G N which in many shared opinions, is the perfect complement.  I'm glad I kept them because they just make me want to use my N80 more now that I have a better understanding of what it is I'm doing.  Using last generation DSLR lenses that can mount to the last generation of film cameras, it just makes way too much sense.

Nikon N80    Nikon N80   Nikon N80

Things to look out for.

More often than not, the vulcanized leatherette looking grip material will become sticky over time.  This is due to humidity and improper storage but it can easily be cleaned with rubbing alcohol.  If it hasn't been used regularly, the mirror will lock up after the shutter has been released.  There are a number of gremlins that can cause this but for some units I think the issue might be a quirk in the firmware depending on which custom functions are activated.  The mirror comes back down after pressing the shutter button again.  Unfortunately it burns a frame.   I've dry-fired the camera in every drive mode and every meter mode, af-on and manual and best I can guess is that it usually occurs when the camera hasn't been in use for awhile.  It's a minor annoyance but I can't seem to replicate the problem consistently enough to say that it's a no-go.

Known as the N80 in North America and F80 everywhere else in the world, this poor-man's F100 comes in several variants and I don't just mean silver or black.  There was one that had a data back that could print time and date in the corner known as the F80D.  Another, the F80S could print exposure data in between frames(!)  There was also a battery grip available that took AA's instead of CR123's which has a trade-off.  What you get in return for practicality is added heft which may or may not matter to you.

 

Nikon N80 Running Album

 

But Should You Get it?

Well that depends.  If you're already pot-committed to Nikon and you want something light that gives you all the control you need with a control scheme you're already accustomed to then I can honestly say it's a no-brainer.  It's a modest investment compared to the pro models.  If you don't like it, just blame the G.A.S. and flip it.  These guys go for fifty bucks on eBay right now.  You can probably get lucky and find it in a thrift-store for $20.

Testing my N80

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Film Gear Nikon https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/3/nikon-n80 Wed, 13 Mar 2019 04:18:42 GMT
What the Hell, Fuji? https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/2/what-the-hell-fuji Fuji GreenFrom Left to Right: C200, cheap & cheerful. still available. Neopan ACROS 100, the finest grain. Discontinued 2018. Neopan 400, JDM version of Tri-X. Discontinued 2014. Superia 400 Premium, one rung below Pro 400H. Only available in Japan.

Back when film was the capturing medium of choice, I remember there being shelves and shelves of tiny boxes behind the counter at any place that sold it.  There were two dominant brands, easily identified by their color.  Yellow for Kodak and green for Fujifilm.  For B&W II and Color I, we were allowed to choose our own filmstock.    I went with Neopan 400 for B&W and the sold-everywhere Superia X-tra for color neg.  I learned on these films.  I failed miserably on these films.  I was learning how to cultivate that creative stroke with these films.  To be fair, Fuji was always my second choice.  It was always more of a "well they don't have any Kodak in this store, but Fuji is just as good" situation.  But it was a damn good second choice.  You could flip a coin between Tri-X and Neopan and still achieve the kind of mood you wanted to set.  We were spoiled for choice then. 

Coney Bound Q | Summer 2008

 

 

 

These days the Kodak boxes are still around, actively bringing back old emulsions profitable or otherwise.  The green Fuji boxes, not so much.  I was livid the day I heard Neopan 400 was axed.  I rushed to Adorama to buy what I could afford.  It's an open secret that Fujifilm doesn't a give a damn about their most mature product line.

Instead, they want to sell you on the experience of their film legacy through their mirrorless X-Series digital cameras.  Having onboard film-emulating output presets for Velvia, Provia, and Acros all the while mimicking the rings and dials of the cameras that are more familiar to the photographers that bought up rolls and rolls of Velvia, Provia, and Acros in the first place.  Totally fine.  Digital has its place in the market.

Fierce   Japanfes. Astoria

But then they have the nerve to copy the format of the most familiar of instant-films; get sued for it; only to bring up a countersuit of their own.  Come on, man. Dues are dues and you can't do that.  Have you seen how much Instax packs cost?

One could argue that these (mis)steps are just good business practices because they have a new cash-cow.  Why put risk into something that's dying when you can put risk into something that's relevant and growing?  The joke is on them because with each and every new smartphone release touts an even more impressive camera built in to it.  Most people don't need more than that and the market is a reflection of that.  But this is a whole other argument for another day.

Fuji Once Made Film

 

 

 

 

I could never be a businessman.  I'm far too romantic and I don't have cynical bone in my body.  Right when I bought a brick of C200 to mess around with color, in comes the latest news that Fuji will hike up the price of their remaining film products.  That's it.  I am done.  This is literally nothing more than a cash grab.  Before all their cold-storage filmstock gets depleted.  Killing Acros last year should've been the last straw for me, but I was hopeful.  I never got to try Velvia and I don't see the point in it now.  Normally I reserve this space for affiliate links for products that I swear by, but I can't support a company that's trading on their legacy but refuses to bleed for that legacy.  This is so uncharacteristic of a Japanese brand.  Where's the honor?  Just let your film die.

Change your damn name already, Fujifilm.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Film Gear Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/2/what-the-hell-fuji Tue, 26 Feb 2019 18:15:04 GMT
Vignette: Helix within a Helix...within a Helix. https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/1/vignette Nagsasa Cove, Zambales.

It's nucking futs when you get to look up at the sky on a beach in near darkness hearing nothing but softly crashing waves, titos laughing and insomniac cocks roosting in the distance. The party you've ventured here with are off having their own tequila-fueled odysseys and or have called it a night. So what's a photographer, literally left with his own devices to do? A moment shared with no one in sight. You make a photo and share the moment with the rest of the world, or at least try to.

More stars than you can ever imagine.  Space is vast.  I've been able to see this part of the night sky from this part of the world for that least eight years.  Four times out of those eight I've had a camera with me. Two times out of those four I knew what I was doing to expose the stars.  You're sitting back on the sand, waiting for the camera to do its thing and you look up.  Suddenly you have an epiphany.  As still as I was, I was still moving by virtue of our home revolving around a yellow star which in turn is revolving around a galactic center, which in itself is drifting along somewhere in the universe.  The point is that even if you're a homebody, if traveling isn't your thing, you're still heading somewhere.  It's all just a matter of how much of the big picture you're willing to look at.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2019/1/vignette Thu, 24 Jan 2019 18:01:17 GMT
Something I Wrote Made it Into a Photography Magazine. (WHAT?!) https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/11/olympus-passion-november-issue
Olympus PassionNovember 2018 Issue

About 2 months ago, Mauricio Reis & Hugo Pinho from Olympus Passion reached out to me via e-mail and inquired about featuring one of my blog posts about a really awesome lens into their e-zine.  After a short back and forth I agreed and needless to say, my article is in the current issue!  It's an honor to be a part of like-minded individuals who wish to promote this movement, cult, tribe, (whatever you want to call it it) of Micro Four Thirds that Olympus had started nearly a decade ago.  Contrary to all the YouTube punditry and self-proclaimed know-it-alls as of late, Micro Four Thirds is here to stay and there's no sense knocking on it til you've actually tried it.

Here's a link to the current issue.  There is a pay wall and proceeds go to Olympus Passion, an independent magazine that showcases inspirational photography articles.

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Olympus Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/11/olympus-passion-november-issue Wed, 07 Nov 2018 02:08:48 GMT
Nikon F3: Never Meet Your Heroes https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/8/Nikon-F3

It seems there's no shortage for articles or Google landings for when you search for "Nikon F3."  There's good reason for that, it's one revered camera.  I could go on and on about its features and capabilities but I wouldn't be doing it any justice.  Specs are for the digital generation.  This isn't some high-tech DSLR.  This is a legit camera. The TA manning the darkroom during open lab back in college had one and he wouldn't shut up about it. He once yanked my N80 out of my hands and palmed it like it was some alien artifact. With a furrowed brow he quickly surmised that it wasn't an F3 and I was no photographer if I didn't have an F3. When you wield one of these things it gives you a sense of purpose.  Back in its day this was leading edge.  "Pro" cameras of the time were mostly pure mechanical.  No batteries required.  Having a light meter meant you were a n00b, much less aperture-priority exposure which by the way is this camera's one of two shooting modes.  It's devoid of features.  The prosumer oriented Nikon FA was far more feature-laden albeit with a whole lot more plastic.   This thing is just a rugged, dependable camera that's as sweet to look at as it is to hold and put through its paces.  Gorgeous Italian industrial design meets utilitarian Japanese engineering prowess? That's a match made in Heaven. 

Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter says "taking it apart is like taking a gun apart."  He's right, sort of.  It's one of my favorite reasons for owning an F3.  Popping the pentaprism off just because you can, changing lenses, hearing that mirror thwack up and coming back down after each shot.  That butter-smooth action as you re-cock the shutter.  All of these are sounds that are associated with 35mm film SLR Photography.  It's a rather involving and engaging experience, something you just can't get with today's gear. <./hipster>

I'm not here to say that the Nikon F3 is the greatest SLR ever made, because it isn't.  It has a proprietary hot-shoe during an era when they finally standardized the hot shoe.  Its top x-sync is pitifully slow.  Its titanium-foil shutter travels horizontally.  Then again, these limitations are just the by-products of its time.  The film door lock lever is a pain in the ass when you want to reload quickly.  It may not be the greatest but it is certainly one of the most iconic and most recognized.  That shutter sound you hear in movies or on TV comes from an F3 with a motor drive.  NASA used specially customized F3's for the crew to use on the Space Shuttle.  Virtually every prop camera seen on the screen pre-digital was an F3.  <./fanboy>

I suppose there's a little bit of collector in every photographer.  Admittedly, when I was starting out I just wanted to get my hands on all the gear I could find.  I was more obsessed with the technology and hadn't really tapped into the art just yet. <./gear whore>

 

I always like to have a 35mm SLR in the collection that works.  The N80 I had I lent to a friend for a class, the FE10 I got for school I lent to my cousin so he could take classes.  I had an FG that was given to me by a relative and its frame counter decided it would like to show "36" even after you've loaded a new roll.  Justified in my course of action, I thought it best to pick up an F3.

 

Now I have two of them.  The first one I picked up was at this flea market in Manila.  It was for 500Php and the guy said there was no way it can be repaired.  I told him I didn't care, it would make for an awesome ornament.  It was completely stripped down to its frame.  It was missing several key components.  I wanted it anyway.  If inanimate objects could talk, I could only imagine the stories it could tell.   The same could be said for my 2nd F3.  This too was an early variant.  Only this one worked, and it looks as though it's been around.  Brass was showing through the enamel and there was a ding on the top of the pentaprism.  All the years it's been around, how many owners its had, all the shots it helped make.  I'd like to think it used to belong to a conflict photographer but it was most likely part of a newspaper's equipment pool at one point of its service.  But none of that mattered, I finally had a Nikon F3.<./romancing inanimate objects>

And after 3 years, I sold it.  There wasn't anything wrong with it.  So what gives?  I just can't bring myself to say that I enjoyed my time with it.  Its quirks that I described are more like huge letdowns.  How about the fact that it requires batteries in order for it to be fully functional?  Why can't I seem to like this camera, when everyone else has showered it with praise?  I know I risk being branded a heretic after saying all this, but this isn't to say I don't think the F3 is any good or overrated.  Quite the contrary, it's an excellent camera.  It's just a little too boring for my tastes.  It almost does its job a little too well.  There is no drama in its operation.  Everything works as its supposed to.  Perhaps it's just a bit too over-hyped.  Maybe it wasn't my first choice in classic Nikon SLR.  The camera that's better at being an F3 than the F3 is the FM3a.  But if I ever return to the Samurai from Sendai, I have my eyes set on the ever-increasing-in-price FM2n with a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 Ai-S permanently affixed to the front so I can do my best Steve McCurry tribute.  The silver lining here is that if you want a great manual focusing SLR with some automatic exposure help, the F3 could be the camera of choice.  If it's zen that you're after, you gotta go full-mechanical.  I'm still chasing that zen and because I can't seem to take my foot off the g.a.s., I think I may have found it in another legendary camera maker. Maybe I can it's because I am a non-conformist to the core and I just have to have something different, just like everybody else. Maybe it's better off as some kind of legend that you hear about but never see.  I've done what they say you should never do and that's to never meet your heroes.

Nikon F3

 

 

 

 


In the end though, it seems to have been a worthwhile investment.  I found and sold mine on eBay.  But before I did, the gear-head tuner in me was bitten by the mod-bug and decided to spruce it up a little.  The leatherette was starting to come undone so I changed them out for a set of lizard-skin embossed covers made from genuine cowhide provided by Aki-Asahi air-mailed direct from Japan.  I also included an Artisan & Artist E25R Easy Slider nylon strap.  Adorama also has a decent used inventory at fair prices for old Nikon gear.

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Film Gear Nikon https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/8/Nikon-F3 Sun, 19 Aug 2018 23:41:54 GMT
Featured on Emulsive | 5 FRAMES WITH… FUJI NEOPAN ACROS 100 https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/8/featured-on-emulsive-5-frames-with-fuji-neopan-acros-100 This was the first roll of Acros I ever shot. It came with the bikkuri case I ordered from Japan Camera Hunter. In honor of its discontinuation, I thought I should finally give it a shot. Having just returned from a month-long trip to the Philippines using mostly film and have gotten used to what the OM-1n can do, I needed another go. I took the opportunity to shoot a ramen contest happening in Queens along with scenes of clouds in the sky just after a thunderstorm on the Pulaski Skyway the following afternoon in New Jersey. I was blown away by the results. Continue Reading...

 

Something, something, silver lining.Silver linings captured in silver halide

Something, something. Silver Linings.Silver linings captured in silver halide. Part 2.

Something, something. Silver Linings.Silver linings captured in silver halide. Part 3. You never really get an expression until you see it for yourself. Funny, that.

Shred.

Shred. v2.

Stock up on ACROS before it's all gone. Find it on eBay or Adorama.

 

 

 

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Film Gear Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/8/featured-on-emulsive-5-frames-with-fuji-neopan-acros-100 Fri, 17 Aug 2018 23:14:30 GMT
Field Notes: Cura STS-100 Silky Touch Strap https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/4/field-notes-cura-sts-100-silky-touch-strap

Can a camera strap really make a difference in the way we shoot or is it merely just a utilitarian accessory?  That's what I'm asking myself at this very moment.  When my eBay-sourced OM-1 arrived from Japan, it came with the original decades old rotting-vinyl smelling neck strap.  It was a few inches too short and when wrapped around the wrist, the vinyl just didn't have the elasticity it used to.

When I went to Hong Kong this year I decided to spring for a quality strap.  At first I wanted to get something local since the camera culture in Hong Kong rivals that of Japan's and found a company called Annie Barton 1972.  Only problem was their studio was no longer public and their sales became internet-based.  I figured the next best place to find a decent strap was to check out Camera Film Photo.  I was heading there anyway to pick up some rolls for my month-long stay in the Philippines so I might as well make the most of the visit.

To my luck Vish was there and we wound up chatting for a decent amount of time.  Film, lenses, the culture, you name it.  When I told him I was looking for a strap he suggested Cura.  Cura is a name I've heard before.  I've seen it once before on Japan Camera Hunter's blog.  Originating in the Kanto region, Cura straps are made of silk using the same centuries old weaving techniques that strapped together the armor of Samurai.  The rings are stainless steel and have been polished to eliminate rough edges.  The strap I have in particular isn't made of silk, though.  Called the STS-100 or Silky Touch, It's made of wallet-friendly nylon, but the quality and feel is top notch.  The gussets and bump pads are Italian leather.  As the name suggests, it is smooth to the touch.  Imagine the average seatbelt of a car, only not irritating to the skin and slimmed down in width.  Only what you're imagining doesn't even come close to the supple texture of this strap.  Made in Japan, man.

I've had the strap attached to my OM-1 for about a month now.   The soft malleability of the nylon material was so good out of the box, no "break-in" period was necessary.  At 105cm it's just long enough to wear across your torso like a sling, assuming you don't have a portly stature.  Wearing it around the neck as intended works too.  I'm a size 48 Euro when it comes to jackets and the camera sits just above my belt line.  Speaking of cameras, if you have a big heavy DSLR or medium format this isn't the strap for you.  If you are a 35mm shooter whether it be SLR or rangefinder aiming to complete the period look, this is the ideal strap.  Mirrorless shooters are welcome as well.  Going back to the question I had proposed, can a strap really make a difference?  Perhaps the difference I was looking for was more for superficial reasons.  A strap is a strap after all.  But to make a camera more personal, there are only so many ways we can do that.  While I was in Hong Kong, I noticed there was an emerging culture in customizing or personalizing Leica's to the owner's tastes, as though the camera itself were a blank canvas.  It's almost obvious once you wrap your head around it.  Photography is an art, a form of self expression.  The way some people talk about cameras, gushing over genius works of industrial design and all around good looks people end up buying the same camera.  I suppose it's one way of trying to be unique.  I never thought of going so far as to paint my camera.  I'd rather see the patina accumulate.  Having a unique strap however, different story.  It's like having flashy socks when wearing a suit.  Nobody's gonna notice your efforts unless they're really paying attention.   In addition to quality, Attention to detail is what Cura does well. They've got it in spades.  I bought my strap from Camera Film Photo.  You can always try your luck on eBay as well.

Pros

Soft, supple touch.

Made in Japan Quality

 

Cons

Could be a little longer

Made in Japan Price

More colors?

 

Get this if

You're willing to shell out the cash because you definitely get what you pay for.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Cura Field Notes https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/4/field-notes-cura-sts-100-silky-touch-strap Mon, 30 Apr 2018 00:14:29 GMT
Cameras That I Love: Olympus XA https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/1/cameras-that-i-love-olympus-xa Olympus XA First things first.  I'm not that old.  I'm in my early thirties, so that makes me still part albeit in an older segment of the millennial generation.  I enjoy listening to vinyl as much as I do streaming music to my phone.  I prefer lighting my cigarettes with a Zippo as opposed to vaping.  I'm on Instagram about as often as I use my real camera.  When I started photography, 35mm film was the format of choice.  My first digital camera had a resolution of 2.0 megapixels.  It used proprietary Sony memory sticks that had a capacity of 8 megabytes.   The screen resolution to review on my computer was 1024x768.  Needless to say, the practicality of digital photography had yet to find its foothold.  Film was the medium in which to get things done.  1-hour Photo labs were still prevalent and you could buy film virtually anywhere.

Olympus XA

As it were then as it is today, cameras were tiered.  Top level enthusiasts and working professionals typically went with interchangeable lens system cameras while mere mortals and common-folk would use compact point-and-shoots and that's how it's always been.  But first came the Olympus XA, the missing link.  One of the smallest mass-produced cameras ever made, the Olympus XA's size didn't stop it from being feature-rich.  It's a masterstroke in industrial design.  It comes with a tack-sharp fixed focal length lens of 35mm with a maximum aperture of f/2.8.  It has a coupled rangefinder, which means focusing can be precise and accurate.  The shutter button is electromagnetic and has the faintest release.  So faint, you often get unintended shots on accident.  The best part of it all is that this is one of the most intuitive cameras ever made.  An amateur or anyone with an inclination towards photography can pick this camera up and already know how to use it without reading the manual.  There's only one shooting mode and that is aperture priority.  There's an indexed sliding dial on the front where you select the aperture value in whole stops while the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed ranging from 10s to 1/500s.  This camera is from the 1970s so selecting the speed of film you were using was still dependent on the photographer.  It goes from ISO 25 to 800 in 3rd stop increments.  There's even a +1.5EV back-lit override when lighting your subject from behind.  It's lever is shared with the self-timer and battery check.  When it's set to the self-timer position, this lever doubles as a "foot" if you place the camera on a surface.  This camera came from a time in transition.  It's only half-semiconductor.  The photographer still had to do the real leg-work.

Bare Essentials Aperture is Your Only Priority

Push the Red Button Hyperfocal Focusing.When f/5.6 is selected and the focusing lever is set to the orange 8, this is the hyperfocal setting of the lens. All you need to do is snap away.

And yet, that's what made it so perfect as a tool for learning.  I used this camera all throughout B&W II in college, leaving my FE10 at home because I would take the train to the city quite often and with the events of 9/11 still in the mind, didn't want to draw attention to myself with a big camera.  I had my XA in one pocket, rolls if film in another.  Now, I go on and on and on about 50mm being my favorite focal length but there's something about 35mm that also seems just right for street.  It has just that bit more depth while still looking normal.  You end up stepping in more as opposed to stepping back.  The XA is also probably why I've never bothered with getting a 35mm prime for my kit.  No other lens could do it justice.  How I wish Olympus would come out with a digital version while keeping the impossibly small form factor.

Kalesa sa Hora Ng GintoMalate Square, Malate, Metro Manila. March, 2017. Kodak Color 400

Does it have faults?  Of course it does.  Nothing in this world is flawless, except for maybe Gal Gadot and the Integra Type R.  When I mentioned the shutter button earlier, I wasn't exaggerating.  The faintest pressure on the button will trigger the release.  I had to learn to shut the camera off between shots to prevent any accidental abstracts.  Fortunately that process is easy.  The meter is activated by sliding the dust barrier back to reveal the lens.  Once it's open the camera is ready to use.  That's probably its biggest fault.  Another one is the top ASA/ISO that the user can select is 800.  Since its aperture priority only this limits how far you can push your film over boxspeed.  The meter is reliable enough though and with careful framing, one needn't worry about pushing beyond +1 stop anyway.

Olympus XA shots

 

 

 

"Now 'Bored'ing."NAIA 3, Manila. March 2017. Kodak Color 400

Film SelfieWhen you're down to the last few frames, you'll do anything and everything to burn off those last few shots. I suspect the banding came from the powerful x-ray at the airport. Either that or it's time to replace the seals. The camera is 6 years older than I am after all.  

Film always seems to be "making a comeback," as they say.  In my mind it never left, but it's nice to see the current resurgence of legacy brands reintroducing all the favorite emulsions from the last century in 135 format.  I was lucky enough that I got my XA for free.  It's technically still my dad's camera, but he's learned to not mind when it comes to me borrowing all his old gear for extended periods of time.  It's no Leica but in my inconsequential opinion, it out-Leicas Leica with minimalist Japanese simplicity.  Prices for decent working units have varied from as little as $5 to an absurd $140 on eBay.  If you're paying over $50 for this camera it better come with the box, sealed. 

Pros:

-Definition of pocketable

-Just enough control over your exposure

-wicked sharp lens

-rangefinder precision manual focus

Cons:

-rangefinder parallax framing

-top ISO of 800 and max shutter speed of 1/500 means daylight film only.  Bust out the tripod once the sun is gone.

-wicked sensitive shutter release means happy accidents.

-focusing patch will have faded over time. but that can be fixed with the dot of a Sharpie drawn at the center of the rangefinder window

Get one if:

You've grown restless with your phone, you know what you're doing with digital and want to try the wonderful world of film without looking like a Kendal Jenner/Brooklyn Beckham wannabe.

Hi, Felicia.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Cameras That I Love Film Gear Olympus https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2018/1/cameras-that-i-love-olympus-xa Thu, 18 Jan 2018 18:28:04 GMT
Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2017/4/panasonic-leica-15mm-f17

 

 

 Let's get things straight.  I am not a fanboy.  I hold no allegiance to any particular brand though I do have affinities for some.  If anything I'm a Nikon apologist.  I celebrated their 100th Anniversary by buying an Olympus camera and a Leica-designed lens manufactured by Panasonic.  I think of gear as tools for the job, nothing more.  Having said that, even though I have never shot with anything from this brand, when it comes to anything that has the Leica name associated with it there's a certain reputation that comes along with the name.  So I wanted to find out what it is about all things Leica that make them so special.  This lens has been around for awhile, but it's brand new to me.  Ever since I started adopting a new format, this was definitely on the wish list based on what's already been said about it.  Rather than trying to review it as there are better outlets for that sort of thing, I will try and share my thoughts about this lens based on my use out there in the field.  This is technically the first ever Leica branded product I've ever owned so believe me when I say this, the hype for anything Leica is real.  All I can truly say about this PanaLeica is wow.  German design input with Japanese manufacturing is a combination that's unparalleled.  As far as handling goes it's a joy to use.  Even though the aperture ring doesn't work on Olympus bodies, it's still something I like playing with if only to hear the satisfying clicks from the 3rd-stop indents.  Not to mention how it slides into A from 1.7.  This semi-wide may be small in stature, but it feels substantial in the hands. 

 

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7   Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

 

Something I can't quite describe but can definitely notice between other wide-angle lenses I've shot with.  The way the depth of field seamlessly blends into out of focus elements is something I haven't seen with my Nikkor 28/1.8G.  It goes from tack-sharp to butter-smooth out of focus elements.    Color contrast is punchy without being overbearing. Black and white is where it thrives.  It's almost tailor-made for street portraiture.

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

 

By virtue of being a wide-angle lens, stopping down isn't always necessary to achieve a deeper depth of field.  But at f/5.6, it's as sharp as it's going to get across the frame.  However, when it comes to shooting with Micro Four Thirds stopping down for acceptable sharpness usually never exceeds 2 or 3 stops from maximum.  Perks of a "half-frame" sensor I suppose.

 

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

 

It goes without saying that at f/1.7 it's not completely useless in less than ideal lighting situations.  In fact, it's quite awesome.  This is why you want fast primes.  Since it's wide enough, it's also suitable for astrophotography.  To those saying it's difficult to find infinity on a lens that has focus-by-wire with no hard-stops on the focusing ring, the trick to "finding" infinity is much simpler than you think.  Although I'm not entirely sure Panasonic has this feature, Olympus does in its firmware.  There's a miscellaneous setting that resets the lens to focus to infinity upon powering the camera on.  Suddenly the AF/MF switch on the barrel of the lens becomes even more useful.

 

Field Notes: Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7

 

 

 

This lens does have its imperfections.  At 15mm, its 135-format equivalent is 30mm as opposed to the more useful 28mm.  It's prone to color-fringing.  There's a hint of barrel distortion.  Leica purists will say, "a true Summilux is supposed to be f/1.4 not f/1.7" and yet, none of this matters.  What Leica seems to pull off, better than the other manufacturers out there is imbuing character in their products.  Or in this case, character into Panasonic's products.  You definitely get what you pay for with this lens.  Get it at Adorama.  I found mine on eBay.

 

 

 

Pros

-build quality

-included lens hood

-small and light, the way Micro Four Thirds System intended

-wicked sharp

Cons

-not weather-sealed

-kinda pricey

-aperture ring only works on Panasonic bodies

-with everything that comes with this lens you'd think Panasonic would've supplied a better lens cap. Gotta skimp somewhere I guess. 

Verdict:

The pinnacle in Micro Four Thirds design ethos.  Just get one already.

These notes have since been featured in the online publication, Olympus Passion.  Check them out!

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Field Notes Lens Reviews Olympus Panasonic https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2017/4/panasonic-leica-15mm-f17 Fri, 07 Apr 2017 03:06:13 GMT
14 Hours in Hong Kong https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2017/3/14-hours-in-hong-kong No matter what city you're in, they rule the streets the whole world over.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was about that time of the year again, figuring out a way to get to the Philippines all the while getting to see other parts of the world on my way there.  Last year I got to walk around Tokyo all night til daybreak.  I wanted to do it again, but the timing constraints and available flights just wasn't practical enough for me.   Not to be discouraged, I went to the next city on my list and booked my flight to Manila with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong with the longest possible layover in mind.  Sure enough, I found it thanks to Skiplagged.  Leaving Newark at 01:10 (a flight that i had almost missed) and arriving in Hong Kong 05:30 the following morning with a connecting flight to Manila scheduled for 20:30 that evening.  As nice as Chek Lap Kok's international transit lounge is, there's just no way I'm spending my entire layover there.

Last year, when I visited Tokyo I think I might have fell victim to over-researching and worrying about the language barrier that everything I had planned to do was premeditated.  All the way down to the thoroughfares I planned to stick to, it felt a bit clinical and too safe.  This time I was a bit wiser.  With a daytime layover in order, it meant I could catch blue-hour and start my day from there.  The only thing I researched was mass-transit and perhaps a place to have lunch.  The rest of my day was as the crow flies.  Hong Kong's MRT, very much like Tokyo's is second to none.  I gave myself til 17:00 to make it back to the airport with time to spare and as day was starting to break with blue hour eroding, I had to hit the ground running.  First stop, The Peak.

Far East GothamOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are unfamiliar with the geography of Hong Kong, Victoria Peak is the tallest point in elevation on Hong Kong Island.  During the Victorian Era of British Colonial rule, the British built a network of sprawling roads along the mountainside and cable-tram that will bring people back and forth from Central to the Peak.  At the terminus of the Peak Tram lies the Galleria, which is effectively a shopping mall with a viewing platform to which i had very little interest in spending time at.  It was closed at the time, since I took the first tram departing from Central anyway.  Following a tip from another man with a camera,t to get the best view of Central I walked west along Lugard Road, which is really more of a trail than an actual road. All the "roads" of Victoria Peak follow the contours of the mountainside and they are dappled with foliage.  It's a perfect place for a morning run.  About 10 minutes in to my walk along Lugard Road, there was a clearing in the trees and I found the shot I was looking for.

Morning Haze over Central It's exactly how I imagined it would be.  With the sun rising over the Peak and the lingering moisture in the air from the previous evening acting as a natural diffuser, I knew the shot I had in mind had to be in black and white.  Mountain tops became squiggly lines disappearing into the infinite gray with nothing but angular lines of distant buildings breaking the monotony.  Needless to say I was quite pleased with myself on this one.  My glee was short-lived though because I had glanced at my phone with 34% charge remaining and in my haste to leave the night before because I didn't realize I was flying out that night, I had forgotten to pack certain items that were vital to my kit.  One of which being was a USB cable.  Nice one, 'nato.  By this time it's barely 0930 so I actually had some time to rest since I assumed that stores wouldn't be open til 10 so I thought it best to head back down to Central for some breakfast.  Made my way to Barker Road Station which is the second to last stop on the Peak Tram.  Calling for a tram is very much like pushing the button of an elevator at the door.  There are only two buttons so it's pretty hard to be confused by what button does what.  The tram arrives and the conductor stops me short in my tracks. "Up or down?" he says.  "Down," I reply.  Gesturing stop with his hands, he says "wait here."  Confused, i said "...okay."  To make sense of this exchange, Barker Road Station is more of a novelty and a bit of a redundancy since the terminus is literally only several yards away.  "What difference does it make exactly if I got on one stop early?" I thought to myself as I watch the tram depart and make its final stop only to head back towards my direction.  Three minutes later it arrives, the conductor opens the door and greets me, the only passenger standing on the platform, with a cheerful "Good morning."  "Hello, again!" as I flash him my oyster card.  An awkward exchange that could have been avoided merely moments ago, but I've digressed.  Something to note of the Peak Tram Line.  It. is. steep.  San Fransiscans will scoff, but i insist. 

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Using what little charge I had remaining I searched for the closest coffee spot that was open that had the best chance of having free Wi-Fi.  Sure enough to my grief, it was a Starbucks.  Funny story about this Starbucks.  It sits atop a very old set of stairs fixed with gas lamps.  These steps were vaguely familiar.  I had the seen them before on a pokey little show about Photography equipment on YouTube, DigitalRevTV.  They are the Duddell Street steps and have been around since the late 19th century.  To get even more meta, the steps were featured in the same episode of which they reviewed the first generation of the current camera that I'm using, the Olympus OM-D. I think they were comparing the existence of the steps in modern day Hong Kong to the styling of Olympus' then brand new yet old-looking camera full of leading-edge tech of the day.  At that moment, like the people on those steps, I was very much a giddy tourist.

 


 

By this time it's already well past 10 and shops are starting to open so I thought it best to start picking up things I had left behind back in Jersey.  Found myself walking along Stanley Street and stopped in at a place called Chung Pui Photo Supply.  There were no signs but a visible tell were all the cameras in the window.  What I needed was a QR plate for my tripod.  Fortunately, they were a Peak Design dealer.  Got myself a Pro-Plate for $220HKD which is $28USD, $1.50 cheaper than what B&H would sell it for, score.

Chung Pui Photo Supply, Stanley St. Central, Hong Kong.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The only truly scheduled stop I had during my short visit to Hong Kong was try out some genuine fish n chips.  A bit odd, considering Hong Kong is in Asia and is almost a generation removed from being a British Colony, but it's something my dad said I had to try.  The place that caught my eye on Google was Hooked , located on Caine Road in the Mid-Levels.  The cool thing about Hooked is that its owned and operated by a Kiwi.  He imports his fish straight from New Zealand.  The best tasting catch? Hoki.  I had the lunch set. You get one fillet on the menu, a scoop of chips, and a chicken nugget with your choice of sauce.  All for $65HKD. $30 more and you get yourself nice cold one.

Hooked Lunch SetOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My dad used to visit Hong Kong when he was in his early 20's and he'd go on and on about the cameras and guitars he could find on Stanley and how Fish n Chips isn't real unless its served to you wrapped in paper.  So from second-hand knowledge, this doesn't get more Fish n Chips in terms of authenticity.

Hooked Lunch SetOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Appetite satisfied, and with 4 hours to go before my self-mandated return back to the airport I continued on with the photo walk.  The objective was to take the longest way possible to Pier 7, home of the Star Ferry.  It's the cheapest and most scenic way to cross Kowloon Bay into Kowloon and the rest of Mainland China.  But along the way, there were scenes that had caught my eye.

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What is it about Hong Kong that makes it so photogenic?  Some will argue it's the place where East meets West, where cultures clashed and formed something totally unique.  I think it's something else.

stylin' and profilin' on Nathan RoadEven Here, Ball is Life

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Like every major city in the world, Hong Kong is teaming with tall buildings.  Tall buildings means that at street level, day light becomes a bit of a commodity.  What more when you decide to build a port city on the side of a mountain? By virtue of its elevation changes, Central's meandering alleyways they dare call roads, you see abrupt shadows with slivers of light making its way through every man-made canyon.  I get it now, it's the light.  It's paradise for the photographer.  No wonder DigitalRev loves shooting on the streets of Hong Kong.  Another place I'll have to come back to and spend more time.  

 

If you like what you see and would like to support my photography, please check out my zine!

 

LAG TIME: 14 Hours in Hong Kong

Lag Time: LAG TIME: 14 Hours in Hong Kong

About 3 years ago after having been back and forth to the Philippines from the United States for the 5th year in a row, I had the bright idea to search for the longest layover possible since there are no direct flights to Manila from New York. Last Year I visited Tokyo. This past March, I found…

Find out more on MagCloud

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Lag Time Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2017/3/14-hours-in-hong-kong Fri, 17 Mar 2017 11:09:30 GMT
So I Covered a Protest. https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/11/so-i-covered-a-protest Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

[American] Democracy can be a fickle thing.  It probably goes without saying that the nature of the Free World was turned upside down this a couple of weeks ago with the election of the next president of the United States.  With the way world works these days it's almost impossible to avoid politics altogether.   There's no way to beat around the bush when it comes to the concerns of the disenfranchised with regards to Donald Trump's presidential agenda.  Without fail, the disenfranchised took their concerns to the streets of the biggest cities across the "blue states" of America.  To the surprise of no one, New Yorkers answered the call.  There was an event I saw on Facebook that several people I knew were attending.  It was simply titled "Trump is NOT my President. March against Trump."  The scheduled affair involved a rally at Union Square around 12 noon and a planned march along Broadway to 5th Avenue culminating at the foot of Trump Tower.  Civil disobedience was a recurring theme in the music I used to listen to as a teen.  It was also something I've never experienced first hand so I thought, "Why not go? Best to bring a camera when you do."  Armed with a pb&j sandwich, a red bull, a bottle of water, my D700 and utmost curiosity I decided to go and have a look for myself.

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Reservations aside, it's safe to say that our new president is quite the controversial figure.  I have never seen such a wide-sweeping array of political movements united under one march.  Reviled or revered, remnants of Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community, Environmentalists and Feminists to Bernie bros, they were all present.

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

 

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

I used to wonder what the point of it all was.  What makes a protest effective?  Certainly it's not the signs or the chants, although they do make for entertaining moments.  Maybe this call to action is a call to attention.  

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Not My President Protest Rally NYC 12 November 2016

Obviously this protest doesn't change the results of the election, so why bother?  I'm fairly certain that everyone who attended knew that their actions wouldn't overturn the results.  Maybe it's about solidarity, to fight not necessarily for what's right but to remind ourselves what human empathy is about.  A sort of group therapy.  Perhaps to show the world and to the disenfranchised, "we don't think like him." 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Nikon Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/11/so-i-covered-a-protest Tue, 15 Nov 2016 04:29:00 GMT
This is Race Theory https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/10/this-is-race-theory ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR

The late August New Jersey Sun does some crazy things to your sleep-deprived mind.  As some of you may know I am avid motorcyclist.  On occasion I will take my mechanized mount to the motorsports parks in the region and participate in a track day along with some like-minded individuals that also pump high octane through their veins. (Figuratively of course.)

​Though I didn't bring my Honda to ride that weekend, I decided to come through anyway.  Race Theory, a fledgling grassroots motorsports media consultation firm that I am involved with was going to be there.  My assignment? To generate content.  So what is Race Theory exactly?  Contrary to what Google will tell you, in addition to Race Theory being a social science whose thesis is based upon society at large and culture with regards to race, law and power, the Race Theory in question that I am a part of is about, as Eleanor Roosevelt would put it, "Speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed."  It's about going fast whether on 2 wheels or 4 and how to do it.  Whether on a shoestring budget or well financed, the key component to that Speed isn't the equipment but the Operator.  Our goal is to facilitate the sharing of how to acquire such speed through shared knowledge and experience so that the Operator can take what they learn and apply it to everyday life.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR

High Concept, sure.  But how do I fit in to all of this?  Time and time again, I've been told within my social circles I'm rather adept at using a camera.  If I've been told over and over again, I've got no choice but to believe it.  But that's besides the case.  Cinematography is something I've always appreciated but never really bothered to try out.  I watch movies and half the time in the back of my mind I'm absorbing much more than just the story being told.  I'm also observing how it's being told as well.  It never occurred to me that I have all the tools at my disposal to experiment with moving pictures.  Armed with my Nikon D7000 and an old Manual Tokina zoom I decided to give it a go.  With only a superficial knowledge of Premiere Elements and Audacity, I wanted to make a small glimpse of the sights and sounds of a track day.  Here's what I came up with.

 

For more on Race Theory. Check out our website.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Race Theory Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/10/this-is-race-theory Sat, 01 Oct 2016 16:16:54 GMT
The Oculus https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/9/the-oculus ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR

It's pretty crazy to consider this thought:  there are teenagers alive today that have never known of the original World Trade Center, the twin towers.  Was it really that long ago?  Even in their heyday the Twin Towers were an engineering and architectural marvel.  To those that lived underneath it and had to deal with their long shadows of which were casted by them, they were universally scoffed and thought of as an eyesore.  Such is life in New York, the toughest crowd to please.  Having grown up around here, they were a very familiar site.  Coming home from a long trip as a kid, seeing them creep up on the horizon I knew I was close to home.  Then 9/11 happened.  That sense of familiarity had soon disappeared.  I knew I was home, but something just felt a bit off.  Anger, frustration, grief.  It kinda goes without saying that's what it felt like for awhile around here.  Fast forward a couple years and things went back to normal, until I noticed something.  On my regular adventures and forays into the city, I'd see the brightest lights just above ground level right where the Twin Towers used to be.  Every week these bright lights kept getting taller and taller, they finally started on that Freedom Tower we kept hearing about on the news.  The promise of five new skyscrapers and a state of the art "Transportation Hub" were going to replace the World Trade Center, along with a very fitting and respectful memorial.  Something that was promised long ago that is now slowly but surely all coming together.

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The old PATH station underneath World Trade was really just a subterranean shopping mall with zero natural light.  There was no hiding it that the place was underground and all people ever wanted to do was disembark from their train and get above ground to join the rat race as quickly as possible.  It was forgettable.  This place is the exact opposite.  

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This place is a photographer's dream.  The Oculus is oriented in such a way that it takes full advantage of natural light provided by the autumnal equinox as the rays cascade down and through the "ribs." 

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One could perch themselves at the mezzanine level to people watch, to count the pillars, observe wave after wave of people arriving from trains making the mad dash across the concourse to catch their next train.  Or if you stood there long enough, watch the sun's rays make their way around the place.

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A more cynical person would suggest that this place is merely just an overly ornate shopping mall in between two train stations that went seriously over-budget.  Which is too bad, because clearly that cynical person hasn't flirted with their imagination in a long, long time.  At first I thought the place was overwrought with white.  It felt very sterile, almost clinical.  The hue also embodies, for this place in particular, a sense of purity.  Maybe even a fresh start.  

Photography featured in this article are available for digital download purchases here.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Olympus Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/9/the-oculus Tue, 27 Sep 2016 05:00:08 GMT
11 Hours in Tokyo https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/4/11-hours-in-tokyo OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

​Tokyo.  What's there to say about Tokyo? Quite a lot.  Searching for itineraries to Manila through my favorite airline, I stumbled upon an opportunity that I could not pass up.  Usually, to get to Manila a layover in either Hong Kong, Seoul, Tapei or Tokyo is an unavoidable event.  Layovers are many different things to different people.  Some can see it as a hassle while others relish the chance. My itinerary involved a direct flight from Newark to Narita.  I've been to Narita plenty of times before, but I've been yearning to step foot outside the international transit concourse for years.  My connecting flight was in Tokyo Haneda, another airport in Japan that I've become quite familiar with after having gone back to the Philippines for 6(?!) years in a row.  So I had to go from Narita to Haneda with 18 hours in between.  This was completely intentional because not only did this itinerary cost a lot less than others, I finally had my chance to step foot on Japanese soil and venture out in to one of the biggest, busiest, most beautiful cities in the world: Tokyo.  Walk around all night in a strange city where I don't know the language.  What could possibly go wrong?

CommuterIn Japan, people wear masks not because they're afraid of getting sick. They wear masks because they are feeling under the weather and they don't want others to get sick. Considerate, no? Mr. Spyder, the 2nd.Get it? No? Guess you're not a car guy.

​For the uninitiated, traveling from city to city can be a nightmare both fiscally and logistically. Fortunately, Tokyo has one of if not the best mass transit network in the world.  Trains run on time all the time.  Both major airports that serve the Tokyo metro are accommodating to a baffling degree, it makes you wonder why the rest of the world doesn't do it this way.  Getting From Narita to Haneda is actually pretty easy.  You could go the adventurous route and take the trains or you could take an airport-to-airport shuttle bus.  I opted to take the bus.  After baggage claim and customs, the counters for the buses are very easy to find in both airports.  The company I chose was Friendly Airport Limousine Bus.  I had 18 hours on the ground and I'm still young and able-bodied so I decided on not going for a hotel room that I was barely going to use.  So what was I going to do with my luggage? Haneda offers luggage storage inside the terminal and the counter is open 24 hours.  Fees vary depending on the girth of your luggage.  Simply drop them off and tell the man behind the counter when you'll be back for them and you can be on your way.  With the burden of luggage gone and having nothing to keep track of but my camera bag and bare essentials, I made my way to the monorail.  I should probably mention that since I only had 18 hours between flights, that meant realistically I only had 11 hours on the ground.  The other 6-7 are already spoken for when you take getting through customs and the commute into consideration.  I should also mention that with only 11 hours to kill and not knowing a lick of Japanese, I also thoroughly researched the shit out of what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it.  As it turns out, I could've easily winged it.  The most convenient way to get to from Haneda to Tokyo proper is via the Tokyo Monorail.  Fare is based on distance and there are even express trains to each terminal should you find yourself in a rush on the way back.  The stop to get off at is Hamamatsucho as it provides access to the JR Transit.  The Yamanote Line is the one you want.  It's basically a loop that goes around Tokyo and stops at all the major neighborhoods.  It's also the big green circle on the subway map that you'll see at every station.  Since it's also a commuter line, there are plenty of trains every couple of minutes.  The only downside is that the last train is at 1am and the first train as at 4:30am.  All trains originate out of Osaki.  Even if you don't know Japanese, Tokyo is one of the easiest cities to navigate via train.  At every station, underneath the sign of the station that tells you where you are there are also corresponding signs that tell you what the next station is and what the previous station was and even tells you which direction they are in, in English!  You can easily read them from train as well.  NEW YORK CITY TAKE NOTES.

Level Crossing.At this point in the night I was just walking in the same direction as everyone else around me. It wasn't the worst of ideas. Avenues and AlleywaysWalking around aimlessly with no real destination. Somewhere between Shinjuku and Harajuku

​Since I only had 11 hours, my points of interest were limited to 3 places: Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya Crossing.  I really wanted to catch the Tsukiji Fish Market but being that I was on the ground from 2:45PM to 9:30AM the next day, that would really have cut it close.  Next time.  I wanted to go to Shinjuku because it is the unofficial camera store district and I ever so desperately wanted to make it on time to at least one of the major camera stores before they had closed for the evening, but it wasn't to be.  Bummer.  It would have been like going to B&H and shedding a tear, but for different reasons.  Checking out the used inventory from the country most of the gear came from would've meant absurdly cheaper prices and a dream come true.  Maybe it was better off, because then I would've screwed myself in the Philippines.  Another stop to add to the "next time" list.  So with that off the list and having 8 hours to go, I decided to walk around with the intention of getting genuinely lost.  It almost worked too, until I had accidentally made my way to my next stop, Harajuku.  Harajuku is known for its meandering alleyways, shopping and the youths.  If SoHo were in Chinatown and full of ridiculously dressed young people, it wouldn't even come close to Harajuku.  Takeshita Street is the place to see.  It's effectively a pedestrian mall filled with shops, bars and places to eat.   Figured I'd try my luck some more with this whole walking business since it's served me surprisingly well up to this point so off to Shibuya Crossing it was.  If you didn't know by now Shibuya Crossing is that famous intersection just outside Shibuya Station that has this 5-way "scramble cross" where pedestrians literally take over the intersection and all vehicle traffic stops.  I made it to Shibuya Crossing a little bit earlier than expected and with 6 hours to go, I decided that it was time to eat.  And in typical westerner fashion, I went to the McDonald's, the one place where the language barrier wouldn't have been an issue.  Such a let down, right?  I'm pretty familiar with Japanese Cuisine and as much as I wanted to go to a place on a whim, I didn't have any one to share the meal with as I was travelling solo.  So my options were eat authentic Japanese Food in Japan at some random place with the possibility of it being crap, or go for the known quantity that I wouldn't be surprised if it were crap because fast food as fast food all over the world.  I had a Mega Mac, fries and a coke. 'MURIKAH. 

JuxtaposedSomewhere near Yoyoji Station. The scooter is what caught my attention. The man walking across the frame was merely dumb luck. Timing his position in the frame though, was not.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Shibuya CrossingNot filled up. This was much after the last train of the night Entertainment CityWalk down any alley in Shibuya and don't be surprised if you get propositioned.

TrolleyDoing my best Kai Man Wong impersonation

​So far, this is seeming like such a fail.  I missed out on window-shopping in Shinjuku.  I didn't get to take a photo of the infamous scramble crossing of Shibuya AND I had McDonald's for dinner.  Tired and dejected, I decided to sit in the Starbucks to write some notes.  The very same notes that make this blog entry.  After a double shot of espresso and a tall Flat White, I was both refreshed and restless.  I had a new game plan.  With 2 and a half hours to go before the first train out of Shibuya were to leave, I went for another walk.  It was near freezing, I could see my breathe but at this time of the night, I noticed something.  All of Tokyo had finally gone to sleep.  It was like a ghost town.  In fairness, every city shuts down at night.  Even the busiest of the busy.  I don't know why I was so dumbfounded at the sight.  I suppose it's because I live just outside New York.  Even at 4 in the morning there are people still out and about but not in Tokyo.  The city literally shuts down for about an hour.  People are off the streets by 3 and make their way back out at 4.  There's no rest for the wicked.  My new plan was to document the emptiness of it all.  A city teaming with millions of people, completely desolate.  There wasn't much else to do at this point, the first train out of Shibuya didn't leave til 4:30, the first monorail back to Haneda not until 5, so I might as well.

Meiji-DoriNot a soul in sight.

Sendin' out an...this appeared to have been some kind of 24/7 Roadside assistance for scooters. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA First in LineNo, he's not homeless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I was walking back up Meji-Dori towards Shibuya, the hustle and bustle was starting up again ever so slowly.  Salary men were coming out of the woodwork, whether they were early-birds on their way to work or unlucky souls who missed out on the last train I couldn't tell, but I soon realized that  I wasn't in some fantasy land.  I was in a place where people live and work.  It isn't as though it's something I've never seen, but I've attained a new appreciation for all the different yet similar ways we all do things wherever we are in the world.

When I made it back to Haneda and after having my breakfast, (Katsu Curry if you were wondering) I realized there was no way that I wasn't coming back to this place.  Not a chance.  It even gave me other layover ideas.  Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul: You're all next.  But not before I come back to Tokyo. 

Gear Used:  Olympus E-PL3 Pen Lite with Panasonic Lumix 25mm f/1.7G and Olympus BCL-1580 15mm BCL.  

 

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Lag Time Olympus https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/4/11-hours-in-tokyo Tue, 12 Apr 2016 20:45:34 GMT
Stop asking your photographer friends which camera you should buy. https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/4/whatcameratobuy I'm always happy to lend my expertise on something.  It's both an honor and it's quite flattering, it really is.  But like my peers, we always dread the thought of someone asking us, "Hey, you're a camera guy.  What kind of camera should I get?"  Now it's not because we're a pretentious bunch.  We are quite stubborn in our ways and for the most part, pretty approachable people.   But the real reason why I don't particularly enjoy being asked that question is because usually the follow up answer is "I just want it to take good pictures."  Let the frustration and anger ensue while they smile politely back at you, because you've inadvertently just insulted not only their profession, but also their skills and their passion.

Therein lies the problem.  With today's technology it has never been easier to commit the act of taking a picture.  The other side of that coin is that because of today's technology, it's become that much harder to actually make a good photograph.  People are about instant gratification, which is a shame because good things come to those who wait.  Understand that when asking someone who is a photographer, you are talking to people that have dedicated their lives to a craft.  Like any other craft, it is honed and polished by practicing it every day.  Sleepless night after sleepless night of thinking of the perfect shot, observing light, noticing the most minor of details and being that weirdo in the corner of the coffee house watching people go about their business.  I've been afflicted with this for the majority of my life and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Maybe I've overreacted.  So too, has your friend perhaps.  Let's try this again.  So you've gone to your friend that's clearly an expert when it comes to "taking good pictures" because you think they know what cameras take the best pictures, right?  Good Camera = Good Pictures.  That's pretty sound logic but it's ultimately flawed and depending on the temperament of your photographer friend, they can either be dismissive and protective or try to answer to the best of their ability.

I'm choosing the latter.

If you just want something that "takes good pictures" these days there really isn't much that separates compact digital cameras from the camera on your smartphone or tablet.  There really isn't.  Now you're probably thinking, "well if the camera on my phone is so good then why do Photographers buy expensive cameras?"  The simplest way I can answer that is because there is so much more to it than just pushing a button.  It's so much more than just having a good camera, you gotta know how to use it. Typically, when you see someone that knows what they're doing and their wielding an SLR with a massive lens to make photographs it's because they want the control.  They want control over every aspect in creating the image.  They want control over what's in focus.  They want as much control over how the light in the subject of the photo is going to affect the overall image.  On top of all that, they're also aware of where the subject is in the frame, its relationship to the foreground and background, whether there are any distracting objects in the frame, etc.  All this to take into account in a split-second.  Let that sink in.  To a good photographer, a camera is so much more than a box that takes pictures.  It is an extension of their body and mind.   It's a precision instrument that manipulates light to record an image.  Having that degree of control, presence of mind, and a good eye all add up to "taking a good picture."  If you want a good picture, all it really takes is learning the technique.  The fact that you want a good picture means you have taste.  You're speaking to the artist inside you.  What better way to speak to that artist than to learn the language of Photography?

The point that I want to make is that every camera out there takes good pictures. One thing to take note, a camera is merely just a tool.  The kind of camera is completely irrelevant to the photographer.  It just doesn't matter.  Sure there must be a degree of comfort and familiarity with what you're using, but ultimately it's up to the person using the camera that decides whether or not that picture can be a good photograph.  Perhaps the better question to ask your photographer friend is, "Should I buy a camera or could you just teach me some tips?"  In which case you'll probably get a more straight-forward response.  Photography as an act of taking pictures has become so democratized that more and more people are taking pictures every day.  It has never been easier and that's a good thing.  It awakens the creativity in all of us.  Photography as an art however, well to quote my GD professor back at Union County, "it's a matter of seeing the forest through the trees."

 

Of the photos featured in this post, two were taken with a smartphone, one with a tablet and another with what one would consider to be a true camera.  Try and guess which ones are which.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Ramblings https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/4/whatcameratobuy Sat, 09 Apr 2016 22:45:16 GMT
DIY: Turn Any Bag Into a Camera Bag https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/1/diy-waxed-canvas-bag

Let's face it.  Camera bags are dorky.  Okay, that's a bit unfair.  The majority are more about function than they are about the aesthetic.   Meanwhile the aesthetically pleasing ones run into some issues.  Either they're too expensive or they're not entirely functional.  However functional or aesthetically pleasing they both run into the same problem:  they're hellaciously obvious at being camera bags.  This isn't much of a problem if your bag's main purpose is to ferry gear safely from one location to another.  Hell, it isn't even a problem if one doesn't care what their bag looks like.  But what if you're a street photographer?  What if you just can't not have a camera wherever you go but don't want to be blatant about being a photographer?  What if you just want to channel your inner hipster and be different?  Solution: re-appropriate any bag to your liking and make that your camera bag.

This idea isn't original but it is common enough that a lot of practical people (read: cheapskates)  out there to have already done it. The process is pretty straightforward.  Find a bag you like.  Make sure your camera and all your daily shooting essentials fit.  Add protection et voilà, a camera bag that's personal.

Protection? Protection from what? Ze Germans?  Well, they don't make cameras like they used to and glass often cracks if subjected to sudden impact.  Fortunately you can purchase padded inserts separately.  I like Domke.  For a good start I would recommend picking up an army surplus canvas bag for a plethora of reasons.  They're plentiful and they're inexpensive.  Not to mention they're durable by default.  Mine is actually a Gas Mask Bag from the Army of the Czech Republic, or at least it was advertised as such.  Canvas is great because it's tough and pliable. The downside?  Not all that waterproof.  Fortunately there's a tried and true technique to solve that problem and I'm going to show you how it's done.

Things you'll need:

  • Bag in question, for obvious reasons.
  • Wax.  Preferably Paraffin or Otter Wax.  
  • Double boiler or tin coffee can or something to melt the wax in.
  • Paint Brush.  Not too big that it will become unwieldy, but not too small that it will make the process longer.
  • Beer.

DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

So I used snowboard wax because I couldn't find the supposedly readily available anywhere paraffin wax in the supermarket.

Step 1. Take your wax, put it in the tin that you don't care for.   This is assuming you don't have a double-boiler.  Now if you don't have a double boiler use a pot that's big enough to fit the tin inside.  Fill the pot with water and boil it over the stove.  Place the tin inside the pot and wait for it to melt.

  DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

Step 1a. Crack open a beer for the wonderful job you're doing so far.  Also, the wax is going to take a couple minutes to thoroughly melt so you might as well.

Step 2.  Once the wax has melted down to its liquid state take the paint brush and start coating the bag.  How many times you ask?  This is entirely up to you.  What I did was apply extra coats on the top flap and the bottom panel of the bag.  I even coated the straps.

DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

Repeat Step 2 as many times as needed.  The wax dries pretty quickly and this part gets a bit messy.  What you're going to do now is work the wax in to the canvas just so the coat is applied evenly.  That way when you're done, it'll look like this. 

Step 3.  Take your bag and stick it into an old pillowcase and stick that in the dryer on Permanent Press.  This part of the process is to cure the wax.  Sounds crazy that you're melting the wax twice but it's all part of the process.  Repeat as many times as needed.   

DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

Step 4. While the bag is drying, kill some time and play with your cat.

 

Step 5. Once your bag is out of the dryer now you can "assemble" it by inserting the padded compartments.

  DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

I suppose that it should be said that make sure the inserts you bought fit.  It takes a bit of finagling.

  DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

Perfect Fit.  Room For my camera, another lens, portable tripod, moleskine notebook and pen.

  DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

No one will ever know. 

  DIY Waxed Canvas Bag

So it isn't the most elegant of solutions but one can argue it is one of the more ingenious ones.  I've ventured out in drizzling weather and sure enough, the wax repelled the water and it beaded off to the side.  I've had this particular bag for about 2 years and it's held up to the rigours of travel just fine.  I waxed it about a month ago and I now at least have piece of mind knowing that if I'm ever caught out in some foul weather, I can at least rest assured that my camera is well protected.  Find your future camera bag and Domke inserts on eBay, just like I did.

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) DIY https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2016/1/diy-waxed-canvas-bag Sat, 23 Jan 2016 05:00:30 GMT
Field Notes: Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2015/12/panasonic-lumix-g-25mm-f/1-7

Micro Four Thirds has become my "second system" of sorts.  A couple years ago I bought an Olympus Pen Lite E-PL3 to use as my travel camera.  On most occasions, it'sthe camera that I take with me because of its small footprint and discreet looks.  When I'm on the job, it's my Nikon SLR gear all the way.  But sometimes it gets cumbersome and a bit overkill to carry all that gear around just for the sake of street photography.  Enter the Micro Four Thirds standard.  My little Oly came with the 17mm f/2.8 Pancake which is an okay performer, but leaves a lot on the table when it comes to build quality and performance.  So it was time for a throwback focal length, a nod to the 50mm fast-aperture prime.  Or in this case, 25mm.

I honestly didn't hear about this lens up until about 2 days before I bought it.  What initially caught my eye was the price.  For $99 on Holiday Season pricing, it's kind of a no-brainer.  You can really do no wrong having a nifty-fifty (or its equivalent) in the bag, especially when it's that inexpensive.  How lucky I was to get my copy because apparently this lens is currently in demand and is back-ordered til March.  This review is more about the feel and how it behaves out there on the streets and in the real world.  If you're a pixel-peeper looking for MTF charts, you've landed on the wrong Google search my friend.

Build & Size

First things first, it's mostly plastic.  But it isn't the cheap and chintzy Canon kind.  It feels like it's worth more than its price suggests.  Panasonic offers it in two finishes: black or silver.  Though to be fair, the black looks more like a very deep gray than an actual black.  The first segment closest to the camera has a raised red little "pimple" to match the mounting point on the camera body.  The second segment contains the product markings and a very wide ribbed focusing ring.  At the very front surrounding the front element is a trim ring that I am never taking off because it seems like such a hassle to pry off just so you can mount the bayonet style lens hood, which in my case is still in its wrapping tucked away inside the box.  Thoughtful to be included, but not entirely necessary considering how recessed the front element is and how the front of the lens itself protrudes out at a decent enough length.  Lens flare will happen at the most awkward of angles regardless.

Something else worth mentioning, it's bigger in person.  See the draw of Micro Four Thirds is that since the sensor is smaller, the cameras are smaller, the imaging plane to lens flange distance is shorter, therefore the lenses can be designed much smaller.  Not to say this little guy is frickin huge, it's still relatively diminutive.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR So here it is right next to a full-frame Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G.  Both prime lenses.  Both do pretty much the same thing but on different formats.  Clearly the Panny is smaller.  What's my fuss, right?  Here it is next to another lens that does the same thing, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR

So much for the small form factor.  It's virtually the same size as a manual focus lens that does the same thing but does so on a format that's half the size.  Olympus has learned to make their primes as small as they can.  Granted they have a history in doing that.  Their 25mm f/1.8 is two-thirds the size.  Maybe the faster .1 of a stop literally makes that big of a difference.  That's my gripe.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.RVJR Handling

Mounted to my E-PL3, it's actually very well-balanced.  Its nice and light, not at all front heavy.  Manual focusing though is a hassle, depending on what body you're using.  Like most MFT lenses in its class, it's Focus by Wire so there are no physical hard stops on the focusing ring and there is no distance scale.  So if you're shooting with an older MFT body that doesn't have a split picture-in-picture manual focusing mode or the very useful stolen-from-Sony focus peaking, you're going to have a bad time.  Having said that, the focusing ring itself is very well damped and pin-point manual focusing is a breeze.  The AF itself is snappy and responsive.  Occasionally it will hunt, but I suspect that's because of the age of my camera.  The stepping motor is close to silent.  The first couple days I had to turn the focus confirmation beep back on just to make sure it was working.  Only extreme ends from out of focus to in-focus would you hear the faintest of whirring.  Videographers be wary.  Not that they would use autofocusing lenses anyway.

f/8 @ 1/250s ISO 320

Since it's a Micro Four Thirds lens, relative sharpness is going to be superb.  Because of its much more apparent depth of field, stopping down to f/2.8 would yield reasonable sharpness all the way to the corners.  Stopping down any further would be for conditional purposes.  Distortion is damn near non-existent to the naked eye.  Not that it really matters because it's corrected for anyway in-camera or through Lightroom.

f/4 @ 1/125s ISO 320 f/2 @ 1/125s ISO 320
f/1.7 @ 1/30s ISO 2500 So how does it handle in low light? Quite well actually.  Shooting at f/1.7 in aperture priority will throw to 1/30s almost all the time.  Since 25mm is too short to be considered a long lens and too long to be considered wide, using IS could benefit in certain situations.  Halation is well controlled once stopped down.  Those super-cool stars that result from points of light when stopped way down are well defined.  Back in the day, one would count the "rays" which reflect the number of aperture blades to figure out which manufacturer made the lens.  Panasonic is in the 7-bladed camp. f/11 @ 15s ISO 320 f/2.8 @ 1/15s ISO 2500

f/1.7 @ 1/30s ISO 2500

f/1.7 @ 1/60s ISO 800 And now to the purely subjective, bokeh-on-a-budget business.  Thanks to the rounded aperture blades and fast f/1.7 maximum aperture, the lens renders out of focus elements in a creamy, non-distracting, smoother than expected manner.  I suppose the 25cm minimum focusing distance has a lot to do with the increased shallow depth of field abilities of this lens.  Bokeh-balls are nearly round thanks to the previously mentioned rounded aperture blades. f/1.7 @ 1/60s ISO 2500

f/1.7 @ 1/500s ISO 200

After having shot with this lens for the past month, it now lives on my E-PL3.   The kit pancake stays at the bottom of the bag as of late.  I had grown so accustomed to the 28mm focal length on full-frame it was actually quite refreshing going back to my nifty-fifty roots.  It felt like I was back in Black and White 101 all over again.  To see the world the way nature intended forces you to focus more on developing and refining your skills.   When starting out in photography and you want to flesh out your kit with more lenses, the first lens you pick up is typically a prime lens in the 35mm or 50mm variety for their versatility.   It's great to see the Micro Four Thirds Standard mature to where it is now, especially since there are now two fast-aperture affordable normal lenses to choose from.  

Conclusion? If you didn't already pick up the Olympus 25mm f/1.8, consider the Panny.  You won't regret it.  That is if you can find it in stock anywhere.  There's always eBay.   You can also find it at Adorama.

Pros

-Affordable

-Sharp, fast focusing

-Smooth bokeh

-Build quality

Cons

-Makes a smaller-bodied camera almost unwieldy

-Not weather sealed.

-AF may not be quiet enough for some.

 

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info@rvjrphotography.com (Renato Valenzuela Jr.) Field Notes Lens Reviews Olympus Panasonic https://www.renatovalenzuelajr.com/blog/2015/12/panasonic-lumix-g-25mm-f/1-7 Fri, 01 Jan 2016 02:29:43 GMT