Tokyo Story - Leica M10 + 21mm f/1.4 Summilux
Anna said she was going to Mongolia with her friends on the first week of July. Obviously, I wasn't happy about it. I mean, what about the blog? Over the last couple of weeks, we've both had different travel schedules that prevented us from working together. She went back home to visit her folks, while I went back to New York to plant some impatiens on my slice of green space in the city. And to make matters worse, our asynchronous schedule was going to continue right up to the end of August.
Naturally, I had to take extreme measures to save our summer for this blog.
Upon my return to Hong Kong, I was planning on going to Tokyo. It had been a year since I last visited. On that occasion, I had gone there to bring a Leica M3 to Bellamy Hunt for servicing and cosmetic modification. Admittedly, I didn't have to go all that way to personally hand deliver this camera to him. Though in retrospect, I suppose it was fitting. After all, it was kind of like a pilgrimage of sorts. I didn't know it at the time, but that first visit was the beginning of our very unconventional journey. What was it that Rick said to Captain Renault?
Since then, Bellamy and I have modified three cameras, with four more in the works, and three at the design stage. It may seem rather odd for anyone to do such a thing, but as I have explained on Bellamy's site, there is reason to all this madness. I wanted to modify these cameras in order to share them. So on this visit to Tokyo, I brought that same modified Leica M3 along with a modified Canon 7 back to Bellamy, in order to commence the next leg of our long term collaboration.
I wanted to see if a modified camera would affect the way a subject interacted with the photographer.
Now, I know what you are all thinking. Why can't I just do this on my own? I have a pair of hands and an eye. I can take pictures. Why outsource this to other photographers? Especially after all the effort put into making these cameras become a reality.
What should be immediately clear by now is my paradoxically reclusive nature. True, I blog. And surprisingly, this blog has gained a sizable audience. But I do value my privacy. I like to walk amongst a crowd unnoticed. And except on the odd occasion when I'm recognized working with Anna, I am able to pass through life without even raising an eyebrow. Perhaps I'm not ready to come out into the world... which I suppose is why I rely on Anna.
After all, she is my beard.
Having said that, it was unconscionable that Anna wanted to run off to Mongolia, and forsake the blog. Having worked in corporate negotiations before, I knew there was only one way to deal with this great inconvenience. I had to give her a counteroffer.
Seeing how I was already going to Tokyo, it only seemed reasonable to ask her to come along. However, three days in Tokyo seemed like a drop in the bucket compared to an entire week spanning the vast expanse of the Mongolian steppes. It then became immediately clear to me what more I had to do. For the sake of the blog in changing her mind, my counteroffer had better be worth skipping out on an adventure with a group of close friends.
If three days in Tokyo wasn't enough to turn the tides in favor of this blog, then perhaps a couple of days in paradise followed by a week in the Hills would do the trick. As expected, it was touch and go for a while, since she was torn between her friends and my admittedly belligerent stance. But eventually, Anna relented and found it in her heart to see things my way.
Think of all the wonderful places we could photograph away from Hong Kong! It will be so fun. Although, now that I think about it, there might be a teeny weeny little problem that I might have unwittingly overlooked in haste when changing Anna's mind. What exactly am I going to write about while in Tokyo and all points beyond over the next two weeks? I really didn't think this solution through.
Though on the bright side, we will have content on the blog for the next couple of weeks. Although in retrospect, I didn't expect this solution to slow down my weekly updates. I'm already behind by a couple of days.
Still, being back in Tokyo allows me to break up the monotony of my run-of-the-mill documentation on the streets of Hong Kong - despite the lag time in posting. Whether it's worth the wait... well... that's anybody's guess. However, if you're a Leica M10 photographer, you may be interested with this entry. You see, I shot most of this visit with the Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux.
A little wide you think? Perhaps, but Tokyo is definitely a 21mm kind of town.
Even so, why the Summilux? It's such a gargantuan lens, Why not the much smaller 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar? It is much more compact, and pairs better with the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, given the same filter size - assuming if I wanted to bring along the 35 Summilux.
Admittedly, the Super Elmar would make more sense, if I had planned on doing more daytime photography. Tokyo is a beautiful city with many parks, gardens, and temples rich in flora and foliage. But Tokyo in July isn't exactly screaming for daytime documentation. Unbeknownst to many, the sun is unrelenting this time of year. Any hopes of accurately documenting the richness in colors that Tokyo deserves will be drowned out by the scorching sun.
Besides, it's not as if the cherry blossoms were in bloom or the Japanese maples burned of crimson. So with the heavens against us, with not a cloud above in sight, nighttime photography was the obvious choice. In other words, I needed a couple more stops of speed to shoot at night, which is why I opted for the 21mm Summilux.
Having said that, the 21mm Summilux was really my backup lens. The lens I generally use as my default is the 28mm Summilux. But early on, it became abundantly clear that 28mm wasn't wide enough. The crowds were overflowing and unaccommodating for those like myself, clogging the natural flow of pedestrian traffic in documenting keepsakes of our visit. I was constantly being photobombed by streams of people merely getting on their way from point to point.
The only way to get around the crowd would be by shooting closer to close the gap. With the 21mm Summilux, I was able to do that while still capture enough environmental context in order to provide proof of visit for Anna.
Still, the 21mm Summilux wasn't all smiles and sunshine in extracting available light from the dark. In shooting closer up at 21mm, distortion became a noticeable issue. Any object approaching the edges and corners of the frame had the tendency of stretching out uncontrollably. Admittedly, it isn't a severe problem when dealing with inanimate objects. But if that object on the edge happens to be a person, that person will be grossly disfigured if not captured correctly.
Framing from the optical viewfinder of the M10 did not provide me sufficient safeguards against distortion - not to mention sufficient angle of coverage to see the entire frame. With the optical viewfinder, there wasn't a way for me to compose accurately without distortion. Consequently, I had to rely on the Visoflex 020. Not only did it enable me to see the entire frame, but it also allowed me evaluate the distortion, while providing me with focus magnification for accuracy in critical focus.
If left to chance, distortion from any super wide angle lens will likely be unflattering. Still, distortion isn't always a bad thing. When shot from an unconventional shooting angle, it can be used to great dramatic effect. However, that isn't what I'm talking about. Distortion can also be manipulated to make a subject appear more appealing. If done optimally, the subject can be made to appear taller and thiner, dispelling the prevailing suspicion that the camera adds twenty pounds to the photo.
It wasn't as if Anna's appearance needed to be stacked anymore in her favor with any slight of hand in optics. But I can't dispute how much more the 21mm focal length accentuated her height, when framed properly with the Visoflex 020. This was generally the case for all the images I captured on the first night of shooting.
On the second night of shooting at the fame Shibuya crossing, and the third day out under the blazing sun when I stopped down and shot optically or from the hip, my hit rate was noticeably more muted. Without the benefit of real time framing viewed through the Visoflex, much of what I documented had to be cropped for composition to the 28mm equivalent.
Even so, in comparing between the cropped 21mm images versus images shot on the 28mm Summilux, I much prefer the images shot with the 21mm Summilux. It was just better in documenting up close in the crowds, in tight spaces, and also at night, given the more forgiving depth of field when shot wide open. And whatever you goofed in composition, 21mm is more than accommodating enough to provide sufficient space to crop the image.
On the last night of our three days in Tokyo, Anna and I handed off our two modified cameras to Bellamy. What comes next is anybody's guess. But for the sake of this blog, at least we created some content by persuading Anna not to go Mongolia. Better late with this post than much later, I suppose. But at least the change in scenery should offer some relief from my documentation of Hong Kong, now overexposed.
If you follow me on Facebook, then you already know where the next blog post is. The things I do to keep this blog entertaining... well... hopefully entertaining.... but certainly different
Finally, I'd like to thank Anna for not going to Mongolia. Our blog posts wouldn't be the same without her, much like films directed by Yasujirō Ozu wouldn't be the same without Setsuko Hara. If you get a chance, you must watch Ozu's "Tokyo Story".
All images have been optimized in Lightroom. Some images have been cropped for composition.
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