Geishas and Floating Hina Dolls in Tokyo: Edo Nagashibina

When people think about seeing geishas in Japan, the first thing that come to their mind is probably Kyoto (where geishas are called geikos and their apprentices maikos) with the Gion district or Pontocho. However, that does not mean you cannot be entertained by authentic geishas in other cities. In Tokyo, the main geisha area is the Kannonura street in the Asakusa district. One way to maximize your chances to see them from up close, is to find out the public events or festivals in which they participate. One of this events is Edo Nagashibina, a  ceremony during which children and their parents send into the Sumida river floating Hina dolls made with paper to dispel any potential misfortune waiting for them in the year ahead.

Again this year, 3 geishas from Asakusa were taking part in the official ceremony, and sent their own wishes into the river.

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In a red kimono, we had Rei-san:

In a dark green kimono, Tsugumi-san:

And in a blue kimono, Akane-san:

When you see geishas in the street, they are usually on their way to (or from) a work appointment, so they usually don’t have time to stop and talk to you. However, when they are on “official public duty”, they will let you take all the pictures you want as long as you don’t disturb the overall organization of the event.

Once the usual preliminary speeches are over, the geishas and the city officials joined the rest of the crowd on the Sumida river bank, where they release a flurry of balloons shaped like doves. Everyone can then let go his/her paper hina doll into the water.  Children from the Taito City “Ishihama Hachiba Children’s Center” have the extra privilege to do it from a boat especially decorated for the occasion.

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Field test: X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 – Birdwatching in Tokyo

For my second visit to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai park in Eastern Tokyo, I brought with me an X-Pro2with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 “super telephoto zoom lens” to put them to the test. Below is a summary of my thoughts on the newest and most expensive lens for X-mount cameras. All the sample images used in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs (Velvia film simulation), without any additional processing. You can click on them for full size images.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is the long awaited super telephoto zoom lens for X-Series cameras. One of the reason behind the delay of the release of this lens, compared to its first appareance on the official Fuji roadmap, seems to have been a complete redesign of the lens somewhere along the development cycle. As a reminder, the first time I saw a prototype of the “super telephoto zoom lens”, as it was dubbed on the roadmap, it was supposed to be a XF140-400mm f4-5.6 lens, with a shorter size but a wider diameter (86mm). It looked like that (the lens on the right side):

The final design is slimmer but longer, and covers a longer focal range but is slightly slower when zoomed out. I cannot know for sure, but I would bet that the final design is probably lighter than the initial version too.

While the lens got longer, the tripod foot that comes with it became shorter, which seems like a odd decision to me, although arguably I am no lens engineer, as one would think that  a bigger tripod foot would offer a better stabilization once attached to a tripod head. If you don’t have any, Fujifilm sells a lens plate (MLP-75XF) that you can attach to the tripod foot to make it compatible with ARCA SWISS tripods. Personally, I also don’t see the point of having included the 100-140mm focal range compared to the initial design, as this part of the focal range is already covered by so many XF lenses.

Beyond those small reservations, there are mostly positive things to say in terms of design and handling. The smaller filter thread of the final version (77mm) will enable you to use common filters you might already own (I personally buy all my filters in the 77mm size, with a set of cheap step-up rings to use them on smaller lenses). The built quality feels good, with attention to details. There is a lock button to avoid any zoom creep, but the small feature that makes a big difference to me is the lens hood that clips on the lens. The last thing you want when you are on the side of a race track or a football field is for your lens hood to fall over every time you knock something or someone runs into you.

Coupled with the XF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens become a 140-560mm f8 equivalent lens. I shot the sample pictures in this post using an X-Pro2, with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, as I was trying to get as tight and as far as possible. All these shots were taken in very good lighting conditions (although between 6-9AM, so still in somewhat soft light), and in these ideal conditions the combo camera + teleconverter + lens was very responsive. The autofocus in particular did a perfect job on relatively still or slow moving subjects, despite of the addition of the teleconverter theoretically making it harder for the autofocus to work (it was much slower and hunted back and forth when I tested it indoor in poor lighting conditions, which is a totally normal thing). The autofocus struggled much more on flying birds, which was mainly due to my sheer inability to keep flying birds for an extended period of time in a tight composition when using such a long lens.

Here is what both extremes of the focal range look like when using the X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 + XF1.4x teleconverter:

Zoomed out:


Zoomed-in:

When shooting at 560mm with f8 maximum aperture, it can be difficult to obtain a shutter speed fast enough for handholding without raising the ISO setting higher than one might want to. This is when the image stabilisation of the lens kicks in. The image stabilisation of the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 is to be commended for its effiency, in effect improving the quality of the images by allowing to use lower ISOs while still taking sharp pictures. The quality of the image stabilisation can also be seen in action in the video clips included in the video at the top of this post, inbetween still samples.

Additional samples gallery:

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my time with this lens. I usually don’t go birdwatching, so it gave me a good excuse to do so. With the addition of the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, X-mount lenses can now cover a huge focal length, and even more when you add the 1.4x teleconverter. It’s a great lens to handle with efficient image stabilisation for handholding and nice finishing touches such as the clipping hood with a small trap to adjust your filter if you are using a polariser. I personally don’t need to own such a long lens for 99% of what I shoot, but for the few times I would need it I will be absolutely confident to rent it – apart for indoor sports for which the faster XF50-140mmF2.8 will be a better option if you don’t want to focus manually.

Mount Fuji behind Shinjuku

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I have been spending most of my free time working on a personal project about the shrines and temples of Tokyo, which you might have already guessed if you follow me on Instagram. While I was on my way to the Yushima-Tenmangu shrine, I stopped by the Bunkyo Civic Center to capture this view of Mount Fuji (Fuji-san, 富士山). The observation deck of the Bunkyo Civic Center is one of the most well-known spots to capture breathtaking images of Mount Fuji from Tokyo, and has the advantage of being completely free.

Opening hours:  9:00 to 20:30 every day of the week (closed on the 3rd Sunday of May, and between the 29th of December 29 and the 3rd of January)

Access:
1-minute walk from the Korakuen Station (Marunouchi line and Namboku line)
1-minute walk from the Kasuga Station (Mita line and Oedo line)
9-minute walk from the Suidobashi Station (JR Chuo Line and Sobu Line)

Coming of Age Day (2016)

Coming of Age Day is held every year in Japan on the second Monday of January, to celebrate those who have become “adults” over the past year. The city townhalls hold ceremonies where the “new adults” are invited to receive some encouragements for their future. Many attend the event wearing traditional clothes, though this is mainly true for ladies (wearing the furisode, a long-sleeved kimono for unmarried woman), while the guys are mostly wearing suits. Here is a typical illustration of this:

 

Many people will couple this event with a visit to the shrine/temple with either their family or friend, to make wishes for the new year, so I usually go to Meiji Jingu to take portraits of them.

 

The complete gallery of portraits:

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2015 in review as we head into 2016

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Happy New Year everyone!

It’s that time of the year again! As we jump into 2016, let’s look back at the best of 2015 🙂

My favorite Fuji gear launched in 2015

And the winner is… the XF90mm F2 lens!

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This is somewhat ironic as I don’t own this lens, but it is hands down the best portrait lens for the X-series cameras in my opinion. This lens is an amazing performer, and if you shoot portraits all day long (which is not my case) you want to make some room for it in your bag.

My most used Fuji gear of the year

Body-wise, there is no contest, I almost exclusively shot with the X-T1 this year, and if I used anything else at some point it is because I have an X-E2 as “second body” when I need one. But that was a given anyway, to me this is the best form factor of all the X-series bodies, and it is weather-resistant.

Much to my surprise, the lens I used the most this year was the XF16-55mmF2.8. This lens came out early this year, and I was not particularly excited about it. In fact, I still believe this lens is not amongst the best Fuji has made for the X-Series, and the lack of image stabilization is a real bummer in my opinion… and yet I shot the most with this lens in 2015 because it has been with me everywhere this year. it is just so convenient for me to just grab the X-T1 + XF16-55mmF2.8, especially on occasions for which I would not have bothered packing and carrying a camera bag, but still needed a weather-resistant combo able to take a minimum of beating if necessary. In the end, I have used this lens during all my trips in Japan and abroad, on assignment or on holidays, shooting anything from portraits to landscape, or even monkeys taking a hot bath.

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My most anticipated Fuji gear for 2016

According to Fujirumors, Fuji will announce the X-Pro2 in a couple of weeks. I am curious to see the performance of what is likely to be a new sensor, and if Fuji has made any progression the video department, but mostly because we are then likely to see this sensor in a potential X-T2, which remains my favorite form factors. To me it is still the best mirrorless camera in terms of ergonomics.

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Meanwhile, we are getting close to the end of the current X-mount lens roadmap, so we are due an update. From what we know, Fuji will launch the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 telephoto at the end of Q1 2016; and the XF120mmF2.8 macro lens at the end of 2016. My most anticipated gear for 2016 (given what we know at the moment) is actually the XF100-400mm. Not that I want to buy one (just like the XF90mm, I don’t think I would need it often enough to justify buying it), but I can’t wait to rent it and take it to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai Park I mentioned previously on this blog.

My #1 “Only in Japan” moment of 2015

I have to give this one to my trip to Oarai and the Isosaki jinja. Even the shrine is covered with tributes to the characters of “Girls und Panzer”, a manga in which schoolgirls learn how to fight with battle tanks… Yeah, definitely only in Japan…

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My “it was about time” moment of 2015

I finally got on board with Instagram. Yes, I know: about time! It has more than limited communication functionalities, but it is all about images, so if you are into photography there is basically no reason not to make the plunge. To follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/balbo42/

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Thanks for your support this year and look forward to what is coming next

I already have a backlog of recent trips that I still need to share on the blog, which I will be releasing through the first couple of months of 2016. In particular, I will be talking about some famous events of the Japanese history, a topic that I am willing to explore further in 2016. Of course, you can also expect more non-sponsored reviews of Fuji gear, a few surprises and most likely a rant or 2 😉

Happy new year!