Tokyo Scribbles – Ginza the Luxury Godzilla

ginza-8Ginza is the Tokyo shopping district which makes Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich look like an outlet mall just off Route 66 in Arizona. Every major clothing marketer is there including the likes of Prada, Eddy Bauer, Levis and Apple. In addition, a number of camera manufacturers including Nikon, Canon and Sony have showrooms here, as well as sword shop selling hand-made Katanas. If you’re in Tokyo, Ginza is a cool place to walk around and gaze in awe. Gaze around in awe of amazing architecture, fantastically expensive clothing and visit all the camera show rooms you could imagine. You can buy any luxury good, and probably find a vodka mixed with glacier water imported from Antarctica if you look hard enough. But the looks are for free and digital pictures cost nothing to take.

ginza-5Despite the concentration of camera shops, Ginza is one of the worst places in Tokyo to buy cameras and photo equipment, unless you’re a collector. The stores there are basically vintage Leica vaults – filled with all manner of limited edition gold plated 35mm Leica paper weights one could want. Rollie twin-reflex cameras and the occasional and Western-rare Fuji 6×8 medium format rangefinder are also floating around, but Ginza is really just focused on filling the needs of Leica and Rollei collectors. For cameras you have to head to Shinjuku (Yodobashi and MapCamera). ?On the weekends the main drag in Ginza closes down to cars and you get to walk wherever you like. This is especially cool when the sun goes down and you can capture excellent views of the buildings from the street vantage point, a location generally difficult to have in any city of the world on any given day.

ginza-4Like many parts of Tokyo, the architecture is new and snazzy and excellent for taking snaps, or even “photographs”. The weekends are also a nice time to do street photography, whatever the exact definition, if you enjoy taking photos of people on the street, a day trip to Ginza on the weekend will provide you with countless subjects. The Japanese population is generally well acclimated to having their picture taken, it’s a street photographer paradise.

ginza-2As with many districts of Tokyo, if you’re street shooting, you’ll have a lot of company. I was walking down the main drag, and a photographer caught my attention. He seemed overly excited, almost like a giddy school boy at a candy convention – and then I saw the object of his obsession. A woman was chilling by the street light and this guy was having the time of his life shooting her, she didn’t seem to mind too much – as if she were used to the attention, and just stood their posing and smiling. Even when a second guy showed up and started clicking away she just kept the pose. I took the photojournalist angle and photographed the guy shooting the woman chilling by the street post – being photographed by another guy. Naturally, and in unique Japanese photography fashion, I was sporting a Ricoh GR Digital with the optional 21mm add-on lens. The skies were deep blue and set the stage for fantastic portraits of the city.

ginza-6Most parts of Tokyo look awesome at night, but Ginza is special. The main street is extremely wide, and on the weekend when the cars are forbidden to drive there, you have fantastic views of the buildings. Grab a tripod and setup directly on the double yellow lines of the street, turn around in awe of the magical light spectacle around you, the view still haunts me to this day. Whatever you do in Ginza, don’t miss this sunset magic hour, the time when the sun is going down – and in that magic 20 minutes when the sky is blue, the city lights are up, and you have time to kill, this is the best time to do cityscapes and capture those sights you can only experience once during the short 24 hours squeezed into a normal day.


Pelican 1510 Photo Gear Case

Pelican 1510 Lighting GodWhen one gets deep into photography the inevitable question becomes, what can I store my gear in to keep it organized, accessible, mobile, bombproof and cool when jet-setting across the globe? The default answer is a Pelican case. Although now a cliche – Pelican cases are still the gold standard in photo gear protection. I bought a Pelican 1510 for various reasons, but the primary being that I needed a mobile case to house my gear for locations and for taking whatever wherever I desire without worrying about stuff breaking in-transit. I’ve used my 1510 for over half a year now, on planes, in my apartment, anywhere I decided I needed it to be (mostly my apartment).

I buy my gear used and don’t upgrade my DSLR every two years. I just haven’t seen the logic in stopping my acquisition of camera gear, and once you have a fine collection of cameras and lenses, the natural desire is to push it as far as possible on a given budget, and what better way to do that than buying a nice case to keep and transport everything in?

Additionally, I was tired of looking around for ways to pack gear, put some stuff here and other stuff there, and wanted to consolidate everything in one reliable, robust, portable container. The Pelican 1510 is perfect in this respect for a small production photographer (or random Flickr poster). It’s uber portable and aside from being checked by security nearly every time I go through an airport, it’s been a joy to use on the airlines. So far it’s been between Zurich, Boston, Detroit, and Zurich. In nearly each place I get checked at the security line. It must have something to do with the case, because on previous trips with more or less the same gear distributed in my carry-on luggage I was never pulled aside. Of course, it makes a bit of sense, with three or four flashes all lined up side by side, the case does no doubt look like some sort of munitions case on the X-ray machine.

Then come the inevitable question, “are you a photographer?” Ahhh, no dude, I just carry a box full of cameras and flashes because it makes me feel cool (ok, this “is” close to the truth). In Boston the TSA guy asked where I was going and recommended the lobsters in Baltimore…or maybe the chowder, I can’t remember. He also mentioned something about this looking like a lot of equipment for a hobby. My natural response to him was, of course, “well, you gotta have a hobby.”

pelican_1510-2My hobby sometimes includes hanging off of parking garage supports or skipping around abandoned factories in my Doc Martens, and photographing the concept images using off-camera small strobe techniques. This was the main reason I got the 1510, to roll around as needed in any given urban location. At any given time my Pelican 1510 contains 4-5 flashes with Gadget Infinity radio triggers, a DSLR (Minolta 7D), 2 lenses (20mm and 50mm), my Hyperdrive, maybe a Zoom H4 cable release, extra AA batteries, memory cards, plus a vertical grip, and Ricoh GR Digital or Fuji GA645w. In general, almost all of the above fits nicely in the 1510. I can grab what I need and shoot instead of worrying about gear organization. I just choose the light modifiers and stands I want to use and I’m off. Now I never need to look aimlessly around wondering where I put that extra hotshoe adapter or if I have some extra AA batteries somewhere. It’s all there when I need it and I can take wherever I want to go. The stock 1510 comes with pluck foam, but I opted for a version from B&H which came with dividers, and I added the optional photography organizer for the lid. This was an extra $40 or so, but I highly recommend it if you plan on using the 1510 as a traveling toolkit. It’s worth the extra few bucks without a second thought.

The 1510 with its rolling wheels is also handy around the house. People living in an apartment which doesn’t have a dedicated studio room often need to setup their studio and break it down before their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend starts complaining about having the living room back, and it’s a breeze to roll the Pelican from one room to the next. This has changed somewhat since I moved into a big place with space for a small studio, but it’s nice to know the functionality is there.

There are cheaper options of course. You could, for example just get a clear plastic case and drop your assorted flashes and gear in there. It would cost less and still be nearly as functional. However, I like gear that can be abused if needed. Plus, you can stand on it in a lighting storm to insulate your body from extreme electro-shock therapy of Mother Nature during thunderstorms.

pelican_1510-3I like the security of Pelican cases and knowing that I never have to worry about the stuff I put inside them. The only time I ever opened a Pelican case to find the contents broken was when the TSA decided they needed to break open every fucking chocolate Easter bunny which I had packed in my 1450 (as checked luggage) as a present for my niece and nephew. Because, obviously if I wanted to smuggle drugs into the country I would do it in chocolate Easter bunnies which were still in the sealed packaging they came in from the store I bought them at in Switzerland. Which brings up another point, the 1450 is the perfect travel companion to the 1510. I can use my 1510 primarily for my lighting kit and then pack my Minolta 7D and assorted prime and zoom lenses into the 1450 (which is paired with a Pelican camera bag). The 1510 counts as the normal carry-on bag, the 1450 can counted as a camera bag. Since the 1510 is bomb-proof, it’s not light, and some people could run into the problem that it’s too heavy to take in the cabin. However, for myself it hasn’t been a problem.

So, if you’re in the market for a mid-sized bomb-proof rolling case for your photo-related mayhem consider a Pelican 1510 ?- I highly recommend it. If you’re weight consious I’d look to a rolling Kata bag or a backpack.