An Evening on the Fixed Gear with #VSCOcam

I’ve seen the letters VSCO pop up quite a bit lately and the photos that have been related are catching my eye. I would be the first to admit that I’m not very good at post processing my work and am open to any help I can get. Mostly of the time my adjustments consist of making a few slider adjustments and occasionally working within the NIK plug-in.

Currently, my favorite bike - a fixed gear (47/17) steel framed bike. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, F1 preset)

Currently, my favorite bike – a fixed gear (47/17) steel framed bike. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, F1 preset)

My initial search of VSCO brought me to their iPhone app which I had no idea about, but was very excited to try out. The app is free, but like so many other apps, it offers plenty of in-app purchases. I downloaded the app and gave it a try on a few of my existing images and was quickly hooked.

I like iPhone photography as much as I enjoy breaking out the M9 or any other gear for that matter, it’s just a different tool. The biggest difference is that I get to play around with the images immediately after taking them and share them.

A beautifully designed bike bridge along the river. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, G1 preset)

A beautifully designed bike bridge along the river. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, G1 preset)

After downloading and playing with a few images I bought a few film packs and was on my way. At this point my only experience with VSCOcam is extremely limited, but I have already seen enough to keep my interest and look into the desktop versions for Lightroom.

Looking down at the bullhorns. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, 01 preset)

Looking down at the bullhorns. (iPhone 6, VSCOcam, 01 preset)

There are a few other images I’ve treated with VSCOcam here.

Sample DNG (RAW) file vs. JPEG

There are countless pages dedicated to this topic so I won’t rehash too much of that. One of reasons I choose to shoot RAW + JPEG is that I have the headroom to recover my errors when shooting, specifically metering. This photo was a complete accident, but illustrates this point quite well.

The first image is a JPEG pushed to +5 stops in Lightroom.

The second image is a DNG (RAW) file pushed to the same +5 stops in Lightroom.

Neither photo is usable, but it does highlight just how much information is thrown out when compressed into a JPEG. *The photo was taken with the Ricoh GR in AV priority and saved as JPEG + DNG.

JPEG image pushed 5 stops in Lightroom.

JPEG image pushed 5 stops in Lightroom.

DNG (raw) file pushed 5 stops in Lightroom.

DNG (RAW) file pushed 5 stops in Lightroom.

Original image.

Original image.

Above Tokyo

NTT Docomo Building in Shibuya is just peeking out from the clouds.

NTT Docomo Building in Shibuya is just peeking out from the clouds. (Park Hyatt, 52f)

We’ve spent the last two Thanksgiving weekends in Tokyo visiting our friends Dave and his wife Mayumi. Both of those times we stayed in Shinjuku with a westward facing hotel room with views of Shinjuku Central Park, the Park Hyatt, Tokyo Opera City Tower and Mt. Fuji. Regardless of the time of day I found myself (and camera) glued to the window.

The sun is setting just to the  left of Mt. Fuji.

The sun is setting just to the left of Mt. Fuji. (Hyatt Regency, 25f)

Looking to the west.

Looking to the west, rain is on its way. (Hyatt Regency, 25f)

The clouds are starting to break up over Tokyo.

The clouds are starting to break up over Tokyo. (Park Hyatt, 52f)

Tokyo Opera Tower and a cloudy sunset.

Tokyo Opera Tower and a cloudy sunset. (Park Hyatt, 52f)

Looking to the northwest from the hotel room. (Hyatt Regency, 25f)

Looking to the northwest from the hotel room. (Hyatt Regency, 25f)

And a couple iPhone 6 photos…

Camera phone technology has come a long way. (iPhone 6)

Camera phone technology has come a long way and when viewed at low resolution isn’t too bad. (iPhone 6)

Looking over at the Park Hyatt and the Tokyo Opera Tower. (iPhone 6)

Looking over at the Park Hyatt and the Tokyo Opera Tower. (iPhone 6)

Ricoh GW-3 and GV-1: Quick Review

I picked up Ricoh’s ultra wide angle adaptor, the GW-3, to stretch out the versatility of the little GR. The GW-3 with its 0.75x magnification converts the native 28mm lens to a very wide 21mm. Shooting at 21mm does take a little more planning, because it brings in so much of the scene, but it is much more versatile than you think. As a street shooter I love the amount of atmosphere brought into the photo. Working indoors or in tight spaces, the 21mm is a gift and landscape is suddenly a lot more accessible.

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The lens is quite large and heavy compared to the rest of the body and upsets the nearly perfect handling of the GR. It is easy to overlook and isn’t noticeable after a day in the field. It is not until you remove the lens that you remember just how light the Ricoh GR body is on its own.

After shooting with the GW-3 for a couple weeks I picked up the GV-1 21/28 viewfinder. I picked it up at Bic Camera in Japan. I couldn’t pass up the deal. Bic Camera was offering it for $135 vs BH’s price of $229. It was too good of a deal to pass up. The finder has two framing lines, one for 28mm and the outer lines represent the 21mm field of view. It should be noted that the GV-1 is offset to the right (slightly) so framing, especially up close, can be off by a fraction. The finder was made for the GXR, so it’s not purposely made for the GR, but it’s more than suitable. Put it this way, I never lost a shot or mis-framed a photograph because of this.

The combination of the wide angle adaptor and the finder is a perfect pairing. Framing with the finder and shooting in snap mode with that great 21mm lens is a treat, especially for street photography.

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Tokyo in 21mm with the Ricoh GR and the GW3

I had a little separation anxiety leaving the Leica and the RX1r behind on this trip, but I did it and had no regrets. As you may gather from my recent posts this little GR keeps on delivering.  It won’t fully replace the other cameras, but it always seems to punch way above its weight. Even though it’s a fixed lens (28mm), there is a little flexibility with the addition of the GW3 wide angle adaptor. With the 0.75x conversion it brings the lens down to an ultra wide angle 21mm. Framing and composition will take a little more consideration since you’ll be bringing in so much more into the frame. For the street work that I enjoy it is nearly ideal, especially in tight places like Tokyo.

Fish and a sake

Fish for sale in one of the tents at a sake tasting festival.

Fourth time exploring Shinjuku and there's so much more to see.

Fourth time exploring Shinjuku and there’s so much more to see.

Japan Airlines's Heneda lounge is empty at 6:30AM.

Japan Airlines’ Heneda lounge is empty at 6:30AM.

Tokyo's fire safety is taken very seriously.

Tokyo’s fire safety is taken very seriously.

Here's the same space taken the day before.

Here’s the same space taken the day before.

Shinjuku, a busy, busy place.

Shinjuku, a busy, busy place.

Yakitori Alley in Shinjuku. No need for a menu, just eat what you are served and enjoy.

Yakitori Alley in Shinjuku. No need for a menu, just eat what you are served and enjoy.

Just to give you an idea of how small these places are, you can seat three across the front and about six down the bench on the right. When the guy at the end needs to get up the whole restaurant has to shuffle around, love it.

Just to give you an idea of how small these places are, you can seat three across the front and about six down the bench on the left. When the guy at the end of the bench needs to get up the whole restaurant has to shuffle around, love it.

GR vs M9 vs RX1r

Ricoh GR with GW-3 (21mm conversion lens)

Ricoh GR with GW-3 (21mm conversion lens)

There are three main cameras that I rely on, the Leica M9 the Sony RX1r and most recently the Ricoh GR. There’s no need to go into too much detail with the M9; it’s an ‘old’ camera by now and has dozens of excellent reviews scattered around the web. The Sony RX1r is newer and still the only camera in the full-frame/fixed lens category. Then there’s the lightweight and compact Ricoh GR with its APS-C sensor and fixed 28mm f/2.8 lens. I’ve written about it quite a bit over the last few weeks and my thoughts on it haven’t changed much.

The Leica was something that I worked up to and saved for for quite some time. It took a long time to reach this point (read – it took a lot of convincing at home). I picked up the M8 and it lasted a few months before trading it in for the M9 a couple years ago. It’s probably safe to say that this camera will be with me for quite some time. Plus, if I sold it I’d loose a lot of points with my wife since I used the, “This is the last camera I’ll ever need” line.

Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron

Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron

Shooting with the M9 is slow, it’s not exact, it has more than its share of drawback, but at the same time there is nothing as rewarding as shooting with one of Leica’s M cameras. I should let you know that I haven’t owned a Leica film camera so I won’t even bring those into the conversation. What’s the beauty of the M9? It is a simple camera, but requires all of your attention. There is not much to fiddle with except for aperture, shutter speed and ISO. That’s all you really need anyway.

I’ll do my best to explain why I like shooting the M9 so much. I like that shooting with the M9 is a complete and engrossing experience from before you raise the camera to your eye to the final product. It is not a casual shooter. It is consuming and requires constant thinking and predicting. I find myself often approaching or predicting a scene and beginning to focus the lens before it gets to my eye. I like the tactile feedback from the aperture ring the solid clicks of the shutter speed dial and the metallic clicking sound when releasing the shutter. It’s a visceral, engaging experience that I haven’t had with any other camera. Put simply, it’s just a lot of fun.

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The Sony RX1r on the other hand is nothing like the like the M9, but when you see the results you get from such a small, and comparatively inexpensive, camera it’s hard to deny its standing as one of the best full frame cameras ever produced. It’s built extremely well, maybe not to the over-engineered extreme as the M9, but it’s a very, very solid camera. The Zeiss lens on front is as good as any Leica lens I’ve shot with and I often prefer the color images from the Sony over the M9. Unlike the M9, it’s an easy camera to shoot and doesn’t require as much effort as the M9. Obviously things like auto-focus greatly reduce the effort involved and the extreme range of acceptable ISO makes it a lot more flexible. At night, I only bring out the RX1r (I can’t afford the 50mm Noctilux…). The Sony also has all the gizmos you’d expect from a modern Sony like face detection, great video, dozens of pre-programed scene modes… It’s all there in one tiny package housing a giant sensor and beautiful lens. This is another camera I don’t want to give up any time soon.

Sony RX1r

Sony RX1r

Then there’s the amazing little Ricoh GR. I can find faults with it, but they are far outweighed by the positives. For starters, this is a compact camera with a relatively larger APS-C sensor and outstanding 28mm fixed lens. Add to that the best user interface that’s ever been jammed into a digital camera and you have a powerful, easy to use, compact camera. I was coming up from older generations of the GR and was already so happy with the handling, the menu system and the lens that when they decided to upgrade the sensor I was immediately sold. Drawbacks? There are two that come to mind. I think that other cameras with the same sensor size have better noise characteristics and the color balance is sometimes a little flat, but is correctable in post. One last thing about the GR that I can’t emphasize enough; it is hands down the most comfortable, ergonomically designed small camera I’ve ever used.

My thoughts on the GR might be summed up best with something I shared with my father at the end of this Hong Kong trip, “…I could have shot the whole weekend on the Ricoh and been very pleased.” It’s true, this is a remarkable little camera that punches way above its weight.