March 2005 Archives

CanonP-Closeup-01.jpgIf you've noticed the new "look and feel," I've switched over to MovableType. Thanks to Mehyar, Luis, and others for their help with the transfer. I even managed to get the old entries to export/import. There are still some weird bugs (I can't seem to delete any of the draft posts...) that I'm struggling with, but overall, MovableType is faster and more flexible than Blogger. I've kept Blogger around just in case this doesn't work out, but so far, I'm happy.

In Japan and other asian countries with wet seasons, fungus and other mold growths are a serious problem for camera collectors and users. How do you keep the little critters from growing on your prized possessions? Fungus requires two things to grow: moisture and dark. Take either of these away and you'll be spared the shock of finding your prize Summilux with white spiderwebs or spots growing on the lens surfaces.

Use it or lose it: Simply using your camera frequently is a good way to prevent mold from growing. Sunlight and UV light both kill fungi. Take your camera out often and the sunlight will naturally kill off anything in it. Nothing hurts a camera more than storage. Even if you can't use it, take the lens off the camera and put both in the sun for a few hours. It's important to take the lens off because the sun coming through the lens can burn a hole in your camera's shutter. Remember to take all your lenses, auxiliary viewfinders, and filters out for this treatment. Fungus is contagious.

Peter Chou has uploaded a new gallery on Taoist Festival of Singapore at It features Taoist mediums going into trance and perform rituals that are seldom documented. Peter's been featured on this site before, wonderful pictures.

Photo: Buddhist cat

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I met this fellow while walking in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo last November. It was a gorgeous autumn day and I was on my way to a Center for Independent Living for people with disabilities in the area. For some reason, Bunkyo ward has a lot of cemetaries and Buddhist temples. In Japan, we associate Buddhism with death and burial rituals. The cat is sitting on a family gravestone -- most people in Japan are cremated and buried in family plots. To the right of the cat is a wooden placard, made by the temple priest. It reads "Namu-ami-dabutsu" (南無阿弥陀仏) and is a prayer to the Boddhisatva Amitabha/Amida who promises that all believers who chant this will be given everlasting life in the Pure Land. For more information, google the Jodo Sect of Buddhism.

Equipment: Leica M7, 90mm f/2 Summicron, Fuji Provia 100F.

Meta: Blogger stinks

| | Comments (0) (which is the site I use to run this blog) is excruciatingly slow this week. I haven't been happy with their service and am contemplating of asking for a full refund (of $0 -- they are free) and switching to a paid service. If anyone has suggestions of a good blogging tool, please let me know. I've heard good things about MovableType.

Various Japanese industry analysts believe that in two to three years, the number of major manufacturers involved in compact digital camera production will be halved. The relentless 6-month product cycle, deep discounting of old stock, competition from camera-phones, market saturation, and huge R&D investment is not sustainable over the long run. Who will survive? Let's look at the field:

  1. Canon
  2. Nikon
  3. Minolta
  4. Sony
  5. Kodak
  6. Pentax
  7. Olympus
  8. Panasonic
  9. Leica (Panasonic)
  10. Casio
  11. Ricoh
  12. Sanyo
  13. Kyocera/Contax
  14. Toshiba
  15. Epson

We've already seen Epson, Toshiba and Contax leave the field (although Epson is trying to get back in with the R-D1). Casio and Ricoh are struggling to stay in play, and Pentax is looking weaker in recent months. According to a recent report, Panasonic only holds 3% of the compact digital camera market in Japan. Also check this listing of sales.

Have thoughts who will remain? Post a comment here.

"Anti-war photographer" James Nachtwey has his work online at Really heartrending and yet gorgeous material. I heard him once speak at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He's a warm and humble man, perhaps one of the best of the current generation of documentary photojournalists.

AFP reports on the outcome of the 62nd annual Pictures of the Year International photojournalism competition held recently at the Missouri School of Journalism in the United States. Complete coverage may be viewed at:

Since the cold-war days of 1952, there has been a law on the books that journalists from foreign countries must apply for I-visas before entering the U.S. But it hasn't been enforced in the past several decades and journalists from foreign countries have freely visited the USA. Those from Japan, Europe, and other friendly nations have entered on the same 90-day visa waivers as tourists without thinking twice about it.

Now, it seems that the current administration has decided to enforce the I-visa restriction. If you identify yourself as a journalist at immigration and tell the CBP officer that your intent is to work as a journalist during your visit to the USA and you are not in posession of an I-visa, you may find that you will be denied entry, fingerprinted, photographed, and deported with prejudice. This can result in your being denied entry in the USA in the future for any reason (usually this lasts from 5-10 years and then you can file a request to have this travel ban lifted).

David Alan Harvey, noted Magnum photojournalist, reviews the Epson R-D1 on the Digital website. He gives it two thumbs up (except for the faux-retro wind-lever).

Blog: Welcome Mehyar

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Some of you have already noticed the new postings that he's made, but I wanted to formally introduce a new contributor to the blog, Mehyar. He's an avid photographer and -- like me -- travels an incredible amount on his job as an engineer between the United States and Japan. I noticed him posting comments on the blog, as well as being a source for many of the public posts I've made.

Just keep a heads up to see who is making the posting, since some people are already privately commenting to me that they like "my" new photos of the flowers, when it's Mehyar they should be complimenting.

Photo: Spring Arrives..

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The sun is about to cross the celestial equator and that will mark the beginning of the new year for many people around the globe. I was surprised when discovered that in Japan spring equinox day is a national holiday and is celebrated at shrines and temples. For instance, the ceremonies at Pure Land Buddhist temples are believed to help souls enter the world of light, and at the famous Shinto shrine of Ise dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, a festival is held to celebrate the renewal of life on earth.

Here in San Diego, spring arrived in mid February. The as yet unidentified tree outside the office presented the opportunity for this picture.

Blog: Street Art in Japan

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One comes across rather imaginative signs in Japan. Public art can no doubt play a role in humanizing the city and expressing its traditions.

The picture shown here* is from Martine Cotton's site at:
*Copyright guidelines are posted at her site under FAQ

If you're doing social science research in Japan and need the latest population demographics or other data, there are several options.

  1. First, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) home page is a good starting point. They have all of their white papers and vital statistics listed there. If you can read Japanese, there is more information on the Japanese page than the English one.
  2. The MHLW also publishes many of its reports through the Health and Welfare Statistics Association. You can order many of their texts directly. For some of their more "popular" books such as the Vital Statistics of Japan, larger bookstores will carry it. It has a companion CD-ROM which I recommend. In Tokyo, I have the best luck in finding government publications at the Yaesu Book Center, located on the Yaesu side of Tokyo Station.
  3. The National Diet Library in Nagatacho also has most of the data available in publication form. They have a branch office in Kyoto and most university libraries can also request information by inter-library loan (if you can find the right reference librarian to ask). Local town libraries also usually carry the general statistic publications.
  4. When in doubt, I prefer going directly to the source. On the 19th floor of the MHLW building in Kasumigaseki is the MHLW Resource Library. They have a tremendous archive of information, all on open stacks. The reference librarians there are extremely helpful. For example, I wanted to get data on the unemployment rates of people with disabilities. They took me directly to the internal geppo of the MHLW division that issues it. The Ministry copy machine is expensive and they don't let you use your computer, so bring lots of coins with you.

Additions and corrections appreciated.

Behind the temple pagoda is a powerful, highly collimated white spotlight. It appears in all of the photographs as a comet-like beam.

Equipment: Canon 10D; EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L; Velbon Charmagne tripod; Acratech Ultimate head. Settings: f/3.5 1/4 sec @ ISO 800.

Kyoto is having its annual festival of flowers and lights (a loose translation of 京都・花灯路). The path from Chionji Temple to Kiyomizu Temple is lined with lanterns and large flower arrangements. This festival extends from March 11th to the 21st. All of the shrines and temples are open until 9:30pm and are lit up splendidly.

Kiyomizu Temple (above) is one of Kyoto's most beautiful temples and certainly the best place to see the city at night. Unfortunately, it's only open in the evening a few times a year. If you wear a kimono, all of the buses and subways as well as all of the temples and shrines will give you free admission during the festival period. Alas, my kimono is in St. Paul. The irony.

I have about 200 photos from this evening. I'll be posting them slowly to this blog and then later uploading them to my gallery. Oops, it looks like I have to fix my Photoshop copyright stamp script, it's now 2 years out of date. Just noticed that...

Equipment: Canon 10D; EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L; Velbon Charmagne tripod; Acratech Ultimate head. Settings: f/3.5 1/2 sec @ ISO 800.

Erwin Puts is a prolific and controversial author and reviewer of Leica cameras and lenses. Like with most professional reviewers, you often have to read between the lines of his reviews since he makes a good deal of his money writing for Leica. Nonetheless, he's uploaded a fine review of the Epson R-D1 digital rangefinder.

My own take on the R-D1 is that it's brilliantly flawed. Kudos to Epson for proving it could be done. But the R-D1 is much too expensive ($2700 in Japan) and early indications are that its mechanical reliability doesn't match the price. We're already getting reports of viewfinder focus drifting and the analog dials sticking. Epson should be providing these cameras with a 5-year guarantee given what they're asking for it.

I hope that the new Zeiss-Cosina collaborative venture which gave us the Zeiss Ikon will give us a next generation digital RF. It has to be absolutely sturdy and built to last at least 5-7 years of professional use. My own dream would be a digital Hexar RF or Zeiss Ikon. They both have the mechanical guts to please any rangefinder afficianado. posted a very extensive review of the Pentax *istDS. The *istDS is one of the few low-end DSLRs that has a glass pentaprism instead of a pentamirror. The difference is in the viewfinder -- it's much brighter and contrastier compared to the companies cutting corners. The photos posted with the review are very good although I'm bothered by the numerous blown highlights. This could just be user error.

To get maximum life from your inkjet or traditional photography prints, you should either store them in a cool, dry, dark, archival storage box or album -- or frame them. The three things that damage prints the most are:

  1. Moisture: Condensing moisture (i.e., droplets or water) will cause prints to stick to each other or to the nearest closest surface. Even high levels of non-condensing moisture (i.e., high humidity) will cause the print layers to delaminate, bubble up, or for dyes to bleed or transfer to other surfaces.
  2. Ozone: Ozone and other environmental contaminants can reek havoc on dye-based images -- including those made by traditional RA-4 photography. Framing helps by considerably cutting off the outside atmosphere. If you can, take the extra step of covering the back of the frame with a protective sheet.
  3. Ultraviolet light (UV light): This is the major cause of fading in dye and pigment based prints. UV light is powerfully active, it actually destroys the molecules that give your prints color. Cutting off as much UV light as possible will make your prints last.
You can cut UV light many ways. Most simply, putting your prints in a dark box or album. You can also cut it at the source. Many fluorescent lamps are powerful emitters of UV wavelengths. You can either buy bulbs with UV-cut filters in them or buy a UV-cut sleeve for your existing bulbs. Your quality lighting specialist can help you with this.

Last year, I left my Canon 10D charger in the states accidentally when leaving on my field research in Japan. Rather than buying the $50 replacement charger from Canon, I bought a $10 clone charger/battery set from accproshop off ebay. It's worked great. The charger came with both a 120/240V wall-wart power supply and a 12V car DV lighter plug. The wall-wart makes it larger than the original Canon but the presence of a 12V plug is nice. Shipping was $8 to Japan.

To be on the safe side, I always unplug the charger after the green light turns on (don't want to fry the batteries). The $5 BP-511A replacements I got from the same place have also worked out great with my 10D. I've tested them out and they last just about as long as the genuine Canon ones, which cost about $60 each.

Accproshop is the store I used on ebay, but there are many sellers, mostly located in Hong Kong or China. Just search for 'BP511' or whatever battery type you use. There are clones of all of the major manufacturers. Prices range from $5-10 each. Watch out for shipping -- many companies charge $15 shipping/handling on a $5 battery -- so you can tell where they are making their money.

If you know of other sources, feel free to post them as comments to this thread.

Critical Design has a nice series of web pages that take you through the history and various facets of visual anthropology, including still photography and ethnographic film.

From the Harvard Business School Leadership Workshop: Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload.

I wish I could charge some of my colleagues $5 for each e-mail they send me.....

On Kerim Wiki is a short article originally posted in the Anthropology Newsletter about how/why anthropologists should be blogging. A must read.

In an earlier blog, I commented on how I didn't like how professional series Minolta SLRs tended to be ... button and dial profuse... in comparison to the professional series Canon EOS SLRs which tend to be button and dial sparse. A reader wrote back to me saying how he preferred the proliferation of buttons because it meant he could tell the camera settings at a glance.

This is only my own opinion and it only counts for my own working style (although I know many professional photographers agree with me), but I prefer control spartan cameras because basically I never change the settings. With my SLRs, I almost always shoot in aperture-priority, one-shot focus, single-shot drive mode. I have the auto-focusing control shifted to the rear '*' button so I can control it with my thumb, auto-exposure lock is thus set with the shutter button. This is how I shoot 99.9% of my work. Never changing modes means I only have to think about the photograph not the camera.

When taking the Amtrak to my professor's house, I was shocked that the conductor on board the train asked for IDs as well as tickets. I understand that Greyhound buses also are requiring IDs. What has the U.S. come to? Are we living that much in a culture of fear that we allow this?

Of course the standard response is "security" but what security are we gaining?

  1. First, there is no security to be gained. The conductors only glance at the name and photo. Any bad guy can buy a fake ID for $50 at a college campus (or make their own with an Epson printer and Photoshop) that would pass scrutiny. So we gain no security.
  2. Second, for the honest people this means that people without licenses, passports, or State ID cannot ride the train. This is a group of people that largely includes the urban poor and recent immigrants. Suddenly, we are restricting the travel of a certain class of people. This should bring up shades of Plessy v. Ferguson for most reasonable people.

I was in Washington DC last weekend for a committee meeting. On Sunday, I had some time off so I visited one of my old professors who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Washington DC has an excellent subway system (the Metro) and the Amtrak lines connect DC with Baltimore as well as cities up and down the entire East coast.

I've criticized the high price of inter-city transportation in Japan, but I should note that it costs $80 to go on Amtrak from New York to Hartford CT, which is about 350 miles or the same distance between Tokyo and Osaka (556km). It'll also take you 6 hours compared to the 2 hours 36 minutes (and $130) on the Nozomi Shinkansen "Bullet Train", so maybe the Japanese prices aren't out of line.

One thing I can say is that Amtrak trains have 120V power outlets at the seats in many of their cars. This makes all the difference between a productive and unproductive 6 hour ride. The Shinkansen doesn't have any user accessible power outlets except in the toilets....

Visiting my professor was quite nice, except that after she dropped me off at the BWI station at night, it turned out all the trains were delayed for over an hour. Except for the numerous suicides in recent years, Japanese trains run on time, period. So I ended up sharing a cab back to DC. Oh well, so much for praising inter-city transport in the States.

I have another beef about Amtrak, but I'll post it under a separate entry.

The latest Economist reports that Japan's economy may again be in recession. Japan was in recession since the early 1990s for about a decade, but had picked up again in the new millennium. Now, it seems that those gains might have just been temporary.

On the positive side, housing prices have perhaps hit rock bottom. Interest rates have been close to 0% which means that although a small house in Osaka might still cost you US$500,000, the extremely low interest means your monthly mortgage payment on a 35 year loan may be only US$1300 or so.

The 0% interest has had a disproportionately negative impact on elderly citizens who live on a fixed income. Unlike the United States, most people do not have any retirement funds in 401K type programs or other investments. Most retirees survive on their government or corporate pensions and savings. With interest rates so low, most pensioners are trying to live as leanly as possibly -- which in turn drags down the economy because their are more elderly than youth in aging Japan.

Of course the central government is worried that raising interest rates would kibosh any hopes of recovering from the recession. It's a deadly negative feedback loop.

The British Journal of Photography reports that Kyocera is ceasing production of Contax branded 35mm film cameras. Digital cameras under the Contax brand are also slated to end by the end of the year. Thus ends one of the most famous camera brands of the 20th century -- albeit, in its resucitated Japanese form.

(Of course the optmist in me hopes that this means that Zeiss will be able to relicense the Contax brand to Cosina, so the the new Zeiss Ikon rangefinder can properly be called the Contax V).

Leica AG in Germany is also in very poor financial straits. They've made plans for an emergency stockholder meeting and have worked out some contingency plans with their banks, but things do not look good.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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