Liberated from Leica Lens Limbo (or Nex!)

 Photography  Comments Off on Liberated from Leica Lens Limbo (or Nex!)
Oct 292012

I mentioned that I’m using a Sony Nex in the blog on the trip to Boston, but I didn’t go into much detail about it.

Right before I headed off to Boston, I found a really good deal on the Nex 5N bundle, and picked one up. What impresses me about the Nex is not only the pictures it takes, but its E mount, which, with the right adapter, will take Leica M mount lenses.

This is very important to me!

A Little Backstory

Long ago, when I was in Journalism school, I bought a Leica M6 TTL, and it was (and still is) a great camera. The only problem I had with it is that by about 2006 or so I wanted to shoot digital, because it’s a much easier workflow. Is it better than film? Well, that’s another post.

Leica came out with its digital camera bodies around 2008 or so, and while I was excited by the concept, I was not excited about the price. At the time, I didn’t have $4000-$5000 lying around for what was essentially a camera body that will be worthless in 2-3 years.

The M8 was a fine camera, and while it had all of the Leica Juice going for it, as a digital platform, it was average at best.

Then Leica came out with the M9. It’s a much better camera than the M8, but it’s not worth $5-$6k. Meanwhile, companies like Canon, Nikon, and even Sony are pushing the limits of what prosumer cameras can do.

I love shooting Leica cameras. They’re excellent machines. They’re just not worth $7000. The M9 would have to do much much more than it does to merit $7k.

And it doesn’t. Leica does a great job of fitting its great lenses to a digital body, but that digital body isn’t any better than the digital body I could get from Canon or Nikon for 1/3 the price.

So for the last 5-6 years, my Leica gear has been gathering dust because Leica has failed to reach me as a former customer.

The company has priced me out of pretty much ever wanting to buy their gear again. The lenses are incredible, but I don’t have that kind of cash lying around. In the early 2000s, when lenses were more reasonably priced, I could afford to stay in the Leica system, but until now, it’s been impossible.

Saved by Sony

Then Sony released the Nex. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first Nex, except for its ability to take M glass. My take on it then was that it was neat, but ultimately there were too many compromises.

So I waited.

When I saw the prices coming down on the 5N, I was ready to buy. I feel like the Nex has come far enough along, and the 5N was at a price point I could stomach.

I’m happy… for the most part.

It comes with a 18-55 kit lens, which is okay, but generally forgettable. It’s something to use for making videos with, because it’s autofocus, but as a tube with glass in it for taking pictures? I’m not too impressed. It’s a kit lens after all.

I picked up a $30 adapter ring, and all of my Leica lenses fit well enough. My 21mm doesn’t fit perfectly, but it’s good enough. (The latch doesn’t completely engage, but it engages.) The crop sensor is APS sized, and that works. It crops to make the 21’s field of view like a 34mm lens (roughly), but keep in mind that it won’t get rid of the fish bowl effect you get from shooting such a wide-angle lens. Also, you lose the shallower depth of field you’d get with a real 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor.

But I can finally shoot my Leica glass again! And I didn’t have to rob anybody to do it!

Manually focusing the Nex is something that takes getting used to. It uses focus peaking to help with manual focusing, but it’s far from perfect. I still have to zoom in to make sure I’m really in focus, and that adds to the time it takes to get a shot ready. So it’s not perfect.

Manually focusing a Leica is still faster by a good deal, but the Nex is 1/10th the price. I’ll take imperfect focusing for an extra $5-$6k in my pocket.

There’s no way around this: the Nex has a terrible bracketing mode. It only goes as far as +/- 0.7 EV, which is pretty much useless if you want to take HDR photos or just bracket your shots intelligently. Honestly, I don’t know what Sony was thinking. I hope they fix the BIOS in the camera for that. My worry is that with new cameras coming out soon, they may orphan the current Nex cameras, and just leave it unfixed. I knew it going in, but it really is a bad oversight on Sony’s part.

Finally, the viewfinder; it’s a separate purchase on the 5N. If you want it integrated in the camera, you have to shell out an extra $400 for the Nex 7, or buy a $250 adapter for the other cameras that fills your “hot shoe.” It’s not a real hot shoe, but it’s the closest you get to one. So you can either have a mic, a flash, a light, or the viewfinder. That’s leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the engineers are thinking.

Take the Good with the Bad

Even with the mixed bag of good and bad stuff, I’m generally pleased with the Nex. It takes great photos, even if the controls aren’t what I’d like.

I have to spend 5-10 seconds composing each photo to make sure it’s in focus. Sometimes longer. That makes it bad for action shots. For artsy shots, or scenery shots, it’s great. But trying to photo something like a cat or small child? Not so great. But in my case, it fills a badly needed niche.

I like my Canon 60D, and the 17-55 EFS is a great lens, but it’s lacking in the kind of sharpness I got used to with Leica glass. I can’t get the kinds of photos I could get with my Leica M6 TTL and my Leica lenses. Now that I can slap those lenses on the Nex, I can just about get those photos again, and use the 60D for more action-related stuff.

The Nex is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re like me, and stuck in that Leica purgatory where you can’t afford the bodies, but you still have the lenses, it’s an affordable option.

Books and Hot Pizza

 Travel  Comments Off on Books and Hot Pizza
Oct 232012

Yesterday was kind of a blur, but I still remember what I was doing.

I slept in until 8:30, ate breakfast with my SO’s folks, and set out for Book Off at around 10 a.m. I probably spent two hours there, just looking at books. All kinds of books. I was looking for some inexpensive light novels, some books about business etiquette, maybe some manga, anything, really, that was cheap and interesting.

I found four books on business manners, and a textbook that teaches business Japanese through role playing. That last one was a bit pricey, but it looks really interesting. The other books were cheap– $9 or so. Considering I’d usually pay three times as much, it was a bargain.

I carried my backpack with me for carrying any books I bought. I learned that in Japan. Backpacks rule for carrying heavy stuff, just make sure they don’t open up on you. Mine did that in Book Off. That was slightly embarrassing.

The Manhattan Book Off has a pretty good selection, but don’t expect to find that obscure book you’ve been searching for there.

Done with Book Off, I walked over to Kinokuniya again, because I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I wanted to yesterday. I looked at some more business books, and wound up getting a good book on keigo by Kotoba no Oji-san (sorry, that’s I how I know him), a book on Embarrassing Japanese (things people say in Japanese that are just bad Japanese, according to the authors), a book of business e-mail expressions, and a book on how to write proper business letters.

I also found a novel to read for later.

While I was in the basement, I found their stationery store. I love Japanese stationery stores. There’s so much interesting stuff to look at, I could easily lose track of time there. I didn’t. But I did find a good brush roll for my calligraphy brushes. The one I have is getting a little too full of brushes, and I picked up 500 sheets of A4 copy/printer paper, so I can send of A4 stuff if I need to. (I’ve been looking for that!)

A lot of the stuff I went to the trouble to buy in Japan, I could have just bought at Kinokuniya.

That made me want to facepalm a bit.

Okay, a lot.

But at least now I know where to get all of this stuff. I wish they had an online stationery store. That would be great.


I headed back to the apartment, because I needed to hit the road soon, but I decided to stop off at Frank’s Pizza on 23rd Street to get a bite. Frank’s has good, fast cheese pizza, New York style, which is my favorite. It’s what I grew up on.

Frank’s pizza is great, but I burned the hell out of my tongue. I should have been more patient and given it a chance to cool, but I felt like I was in a hurry, so I roasted my tongue pretty good.

Pain aside, that was good pizza. But it’s hot.

I also had a genuine New York Experience. A guy walked into the store, which is kind of small to begin with, and started barking and howling like a dog. No idea why. That’s just New York for you.

With a lot of help, I got my car loaded up and I left the apartment building at around 3:30 p.m. If I didn’t stop for anything, I might make it home by 12:30. I got an e-mail from one potential employer who was interested in me, and wanted my English resume as soon as possible, so I didn’t want to spend the night on the road.

The traffic around the Holland Tunnel was heavy, so I didn’t get to the Turnpike until 4:30. I had to skip Mitsuwa. Sorry Sis, I’ll buy it online for you.

Traffic was pretty smooth all the way to Baltimore. I saw another photo speed zone, and saw the camera catch a guy ahead of me, so I made sure I pegged it at 55. I don’t want a ticket.

It’s a long drive to NC from NYC. While I was in Virginia, I noticed that at some point, those three yellow lights on the dashboard finally went out. So whatever it was either fixed itself or fell off of the car.

I got home around 1:30 a.m., and got unpacked by about 3.

I slept like a log after that.

All in all, it was a very good trip, and very productive. I’ll have to wait and see how it pans out with the various companies.

Boston to Manhattan

 Travel  Comments Off on Boston to Manhattan
Oct 212012

I made it to Manhattan.

I thought about going a different way to Manhattan, because the traffic on I-95 through Connecticut was so unpleasant last time. The valet at the hotel suggested taking the Mass Pike to 84, and just riding that to 287 into the city, I think. It sounded tempting, but I wasn’t feeling adventurous today. I wanted to get to the city quickly and not get lost along the way, so I went the way I came.

There were only one or two areas where traffic jammed up, and it was only for 10-15 minutes or so. Not bad. I made it safely to Manhattan, and got unpacked. I’m staying at my SO’s mother’s apartment, and she took the extra time to help me figure out how to get to B&H Photo on 9th Avenue. She figured it out for me, and I set out.

If you’ve never been to B&H, you should go once. It’s crazy. It’s packed full of people, and there are conveyor belts carrying green boxes full of gear all over the place. It feels like something out of a movie. I wanted to pick up some film for my mom, who still uses a small Leica point-and-shoot film camera, and I wanted a spare battery for my Nex.

You really have to listen carefully at B&H, and pay attention. Things move fast. I blinked for a second and wound up at the wrong counter to pay, but they quickly sent me to the right person. I’ve bought a lot of gear from them over the years, and they never disappoint. I usually buy online because the 10% NYC tax is rough.

I grabbed the 34M crosstown bus to Herald Square Station, and grabbed a train to Bryant Park. From there, Kinokuniya was easy to find. (Well, I used Maps to find it.)

I spent about an hour in Kinokuniya, and I could probably spend several more there. Unfortunately, I needed to get back to the apartment for dinner at 7, so I cut my visit short and went back.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to Kinokuniya, visit Book Off, and we’ll see about anything else. I’m planning on going to Mitsuwa in New Jersey to pick up some stuff for my sister, but I don’t know if I’ll have time.

Career Forum, Constitution, Shiki

 Food, Travel  Comments Off on Career Forum, Constitution, Shiki
Oct 202012

While I’m freelancing, I’m always keeping an eye out for opportunities to do something interesting. I like freelancing, but it’s not the most secure kind of work in the world. I’d also like to be able to focus more on the work part of work than all of the other stuff that has to be done around freelancing, like accounting, etc.

So I headed back to the Career Forum today. Getting there was a lot easier for two reasons:
1. It wasn’t raining like crazy.
2. I have gotten somewhat used to the transit system here.

I sat in on some more presentations, handed out more resumes, and talked to a lot of different people. There were a few very promising leads here, and we’ll see how they pan out. I’m not going to get too high or too low over what happens at a job fair.

Seeing the Constitution and Bunker Hill

I got back to my hotel room, changed, flopped down for a bit, then realized that if I wanted to see the USS Constitution, I had better get a move on.

I started walking along the waterfront, taking lots of new pictures with my Sony Nex 5N, and eventually got to the Constitution. When I got to the admission gate I found out I was 15 minutes late. The last tour is at 4 p.m., not 5.

Oh well, I can still take pictures. And I took plenty of them.

Then I went into the USS Constitution Museum, and looked around at the exhibits. It was very interesting, and also very educational at the same time. When I was done looking around, I went down to the gift shop and picked up some souvenirs.

From there, I started walking towards Bunker Hill, because the sun was starting to set, and I thought I could get some good pictures from there.

Turns out I was right.

It was a little tricky to find it, because I saw two signs pointing in the general direction, and then saw absolutely nothing. But I had Google Maps with me, and Google Maps is a mighty weapon, so long as I have a signal!

I took a lot of pictures, and then started to get hungry. I walked back to the hotel, but wound up at the Constitution again, so I took more pictures of it in the sunset, and wandered back along the harbor walk to the hotel.

I asked one of the people at the front desk for a good restaurant that does seafood here, and I got a recommendation. I went upstairs to my room, and checked it out on the web.


Take the Green Line to Brookline

I decided to find someplace else to eat. I thought I would try Google’s Zagat ratings, and set it to seafood, 24 or higher, and it came back with Shiki, which is in Brookline, MA. I wasn’t intending to eat Japanese food tonight, but it had high scores and lots of good comments on the food, and the food is what matters.

It took 45 minutes to get there. The Green Line is a subway/tram line, and it branches out in 5 different directions. So when I got to the main Green Line station, I had to wait 15 minutes for a tram going to Brookline.

I eventually got to the restaurant, and they were packed. Fortunately, I was alone, so I could get a seat at the bar. I have gotten into a lot of packed restaurants that way. I prefer eating at the bar, because then I don’t have to watch other people eating, and I can talk to the bartender sometimes. It depends on my mood and the mood of the place.

I spent about 20 minutes worrying over the menu– they just had so many delicious looking things on it, that I couldn’t make up my mind. I settled on zaru soba, which is one of my favorites, and gyutan, which is grilled sliced cow’s tongue. Alas, there was no cow’s tongue left, so I tried to get kushiage, which is a bit of everything, deep fried. No luck. I got hirekatsu instead, which is like a tonkatsu, only in smaller chunks. The waitress apologized for not having what I wanted, but they were slammed, so I understand.

Shiki has great food. If you’re in the Boston area, it’s worth the trip.

When I got done eating, I went back to the Harbor, but stopped off to get some ice cream along the way at Emack & Bolio’s Ice Cream, because it’s near my hotel and on the way back from the subway station. The Chocolate Moose is pretty good.

I need to start packing, because I want to get to Manhattan in time to do some shopping before everything closes.

Boston Career Forum, Day One

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Boston Career Forum, Day One
Oct 192012

My first big Japanese job fair was a little intimidating at first, but once I got settled into it, it was interesting.

I wasn’t so much here to do the job interview stuff as I was to do some reconnaissance work first.

Getting to the Convention Center from my hotel was a bit of work. I wound up getting off one stop too late, because I didn’t know that there was a line that served the center directly. It’s not on Google Maps. Well, it is, and it isn’t. Google Maps has it marked as a bus stop, but it’s not just any bus stop, it’s the Silver Line, which was apparently supposed to be a subway line, but wound up being an underground electric bus line.

That’s a first for me.

I got to the center, checked my bag, then picked up a bag full of information from the folks. I took a few minutes and looked at the map and the list of companies, and thought about making a plan, then ditched it all and just started walking and talking to people, like I usually do.

I met a lot of interesting people doing interesting things.

I sat through a lot of presentations, too. Some of these companies look pretty interesting.

The main problem for me is that most of them want new college grads, and not experienced people. I just have to keep looking until I find a company that’s the right fit for me. I’m not going to get discouraged that easily.

I say that, but on the way home, the rain was beastly, and the wind was absolutely howling. I got soaked. Good thing I have 2 suits with me.

Made It To Boston

 Japanese Language, Travel  Comments Off on Made It To Boston
Oct 182012

Before I left this morning, I had a 30 minute Skype session with my business Japanese tutor. We worked on greetings and self-introductions, because those are always important. A bad first impression can take a long time to fix, so I need to learn how to do it right.

The connection quality was good. No surprises from the hotel’s network. I’m pleased.

Then I packed up the car, left the hotel, and started to make my way up to Boston.

The New Jersey Turnpike was congested. Lots of construction slowed everything down, so we couldn’t zoom like we usually do. Lots of 45 mph zones. Let’s see, I think it was $13.35 to get there on the Turnpike.

Another $7 and I crossed the George Washington Bridge and steeled myself for the drive on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which is a sort of like the old game “Moon Patrol.”

Everyone around me is flying, and road is in horrible condition. Every 20-30 seconds, SLAM, the road drops out from beneath me, or I hit a crater-like pothole. My three yellow lights are still on, and I have a tight grip on the wheel. Randomly, lanes peel off to various directions, but thanks to Google Maps, I didn’t get lost.

I think I paid more money somewhere else, and then I was in Connecticut, where the traffic had somehow managed to get worse. Google said it was green before I got there, then it turned bright red.


I pulled off to check my maps and freshen up (the service area was closed), and figured out a way around the congestion. I drove on the city streets for a bit, then pulled back on to I-95.

Right into a traffic jam.

It was slow going the whole way to the I-91 split. After that things smoothed out a bit. I got on I-84 when I hit Hartford, then eventually got on the Mass Pike to Boston. Nothing really eventful happened. I payed out another $6.50 or so in tolls, I guess. I’ve lost track of how much it costs to drive all the way up here.

The hotel is nice. My room wasn’t quite ready, so they comped me a night of valet parking, and gave me a room with an incredible view of the harbor. If I look out the window, I can see the Garden. It’s pretty cool.

Tomorrow, the job fair starts.

Off to Boston.

 Travel  Comments Off on Off to Boston.
Oct 172012

I’m setting off for Boston, for the Boston Career Forum sponsored by I’ve decided to check it out and see what the job market for native English speakers who can speak Japanese is like. Granted, most of the 190 companies there are large-scale companies, and it’s probably more realistic to talk to smaller companies first, but it’s an opportunity.

Tonight I’m in Newark, Delaware, halfway to Boston on I-95. Today was challenging in its own way.

The day before yesterday, I dropped my car off at the dealership for an oil change and rotation, and asked them to take a look to make sure everything was running okay. It’s a long drive to Boston, so I don’t want anything falling off or breaking on the way.

I figured that everything would be fine.

I got packed up and hit the road today. By the time I was about 20 miles into Virginia on I-85, 3 yellow lights came on. The first two were about the VSC system, and the third was the Check Engine light.


So I pulled over at a truck stop and spent 15 minutes checking the owner’s manual to see what was up. Apparently, the skid control in the car isn’t working, and it stored a code in the computer. The car still ran fine, so I decided to try to ignore it as best I can.

When I got to Maryland, I decided to pull off at the welcome center on I-95 just north of the Beltway to figure out where I was going to stay tonight. The Welcome Center has free WiFi, so I tried surfing to to see what the customers there thought of the hotels in Delaware. I found a good hotel, and then called them instead of messing with an open WiFi network. Not only are open networks not secure, this network was painfully slow.

Maryland has started doing something really tacky, IMO. They’re putting photo speed detectors in work zones. Now I’m not against speed enforcement, but I want to know who’s watching me. Also, I really dislike how the fines don’t change even if the zone is empty of people. If the fines are supposed to be a deterrent that saves the lives of workers, why are you trying to catch people at 9 p.m. in an empty zone? It’s not about safety, it’s a cash grab.

I like the approach they tried in Texas about 10 years ago. A group in Dallas wanted to sell speeding coupons for $5 each, and if you got caught by the police, you could just hand it over. That way, you’ve already paid your speed tax, and they get their ticket quotas. Sadly, the state legislature went nuts, even though most people in Dallas would have loved that kind of system, because they all drive like lunatics in Texas. (Well, to be honest, just about everywhere you go these days, everyone is driving like a lunatic, but in Texas it always seemed like everyone drove crazy fast.)

I think it’s more efficient to tax that sort of behavior up front, rather than playing cat-and-mouse with everyone. Everyone speeds, or if they don’t speed, they probably break some other traffic rules. For example, the left-lane vigilantes who drive slow in the left lane are breaking the traffic laws as well. Keep Right Except to Pass or Slower Traffic Keep Right are frequently seen on black-and-white rule signs, which makes them just as much of a scofflaw as the guy doing 70 in a 55 zone.


I wound up staying at the Holiday Inn Express just off of Exit 3B on the Delware Turnpike. It’s a great hotel. The rooms are a little pricey, but they’re clean, and it’s easy on/off the interstate.

One thing that has me slightly miffed– the cost of the drive so far in tolls. Just getting here has cost around $16, and I know it’s only going to get more expensive tomorrow.

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