Tokyo Mini Photo Essay #1

This is the first of what I hope to be many mini photo essays of my trips to Tokyo. Last month I got a couple days off work so I took the opportunity to spend some time in Tokyo as I live and work in Kyoto.

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This is the first real time I spent in Tokyo ever since moving to Japan in late June of this year. I was ecstatic to get over there and shoot, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the gear I was gonna take. Too often than not as a self-diagnosed gear-addict I’ve fallen into the trap of choice paralysis. I own 4 cameras and regularly use about 2-3 of them at any given time. I also like to shoot a variety of different film stocks, both fresh and expired/discontinued. As I was trying to decide what to pack, I felt myself getting burdened down with choice of cameras, lenses and film stocks. I decided to just scrap it all and only bring one kit: my trusty Leica M2 with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic, the only lens I own for it. For film I only brought a bunch of bulk-rolled Tri-X 400.

I decided to keep it simple for 2 reasons:

  1. I wanted to pack light and bringing multiple bodies and lenses would have bogged me down unnecessarily, especially given the heatwave that was passing through Japan at the time.
  2. I wanted to focus entirely on composition and actual photo taking. I knew I was gonna be moving quickly the entire time and switching between bodies and lenses and film stocks would have thrown off my rhythm.

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Ultimately I’m glad I went with the kit I did. Truth be told at that time I hadn’t picked up my Leica M2 in about a month or so. I was using my Nikon F3 and a point and shoot almost exclusively. I felt kinda bad as it had been sitting on the shelf for a while, so it felt great to know that I would be shooting with it for several days straight.

My experience shooting only the M2 and Tri-X for the entire 4-5 days was, in short, revelatory. I had totally forgotten what a dream it was using this camera! The thing about this camera for me, personally, is that I have to keep using it constantly to really get the most out of it. I found that when I was mostly shooting with my Nikon F3 on aperture priority and every now and then my Olympus Stylus or Konica Big Mini, I was pretty reluctant to shoot the M2. The Leica, as wonderful as it is, just takes a bit more concentration and intent than the F3 on aperture priority or a point and shoot.

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Once I started shooting with the M2 again in Tokyo, I did feel a bit thrown at first. It took some getting used to, especially shooting without a meter again, but after about half a roll I was right back in the swing of things. The more and more I used it, shooting just became second nature. When I’m deep into it, there’s really nothing like shooting with the M2. That’s the thing I’ve found with this camera, is that I need to be totally immersed in it, shooting it all the time to really get the most out of it. It’s much more difficult, for me, to just pick up the M2 once in a while. I get thrown with the lack of meter and automation, especially after only shooting SLRs on aperture priority and point and shoots for a while.

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But once I’m in that space of using it regularly, there’s nothing that comes close. Its like a trained muscle. It’s so fluid in all its motions, shooting just becomes second nature. The 35mm framelines are burned in my vision. I know exactly where the focus tab needs to be, how many aperture clicks and shutter speed dial turns I need for an accurate exposure. I do this all at the hip and simply raise the viewfinder to my eye, compose and click. And move on.

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Packing only this simple kit with me to Tokyo really re-ignited my love for it. This mini vacation was an incredible reminder of what it’s like to shoot with this camera. I don’t mean for this piece to sound like a love letter to Leica, because I think you could have this experience with any camera that demands a bit more attention and intention than others. Just go out and shoot with that camera you’ve been neglecting lately. You never know when you’ll fall back in love with the gear you’ve owned for a while.

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All photos were shot on Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600, developed in Rodinal and scanned with a Plustek 8200i.

3 thoughts on “Tokyo Mini Photo Essay #1”

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