I didn’t have to take off for my first meeting till eleven, so I cruised into Shinjuku around 9:30 to see what I could do about the slow-camera problem. Which turned out to be about perfect, since it’s Yodabashi’s opening time; so I got a leisurely look at the stuff with help from the staff. I gather the normal Yodabashi experience is wall-to-wall crush.

GR-D2 · The place was just plastered with ads for the much-ballyhooed Ricoh GR-D2 but it’s not launching till next week. I have to say, the advertising was polished and compelling. It’s kind of irritating Ricoh doesn’t make a bit more of an effort to export.

I was hanging with Akihito Fujii, who has the original GR-Digital, and he’d just bought the GW-1 “Wide Conversion Lens” which takes it from 28 to 21mm and gives the already-stylish camera some serious steampunk mojo, to my eye.

Sigma · Anyhow, based on the wisdom of my contributors, I thought I’d have a look at that Sigma 30mm F1.4. The guidebooks say that Yodabashi doesn’t really cater to foreigners, but I have no gripes. I’d written “Sigma 30mm F1.4” on a piece of paper and showed it to the nearest guy. He rummaged around and came up empty, but showed me a couple of comparables. When I didn’t bite, he beckoned “follow me” and walked straight out the front door, down the street, around the corner, and upstairs to Yodabashi’s main camera department, where they had oodles of stuff. He and another dude searched on the computer and ransacked the back room and came up with what I assume is the previous rev of the Sigma, it has the same designation except without the “HSM” hyper-sonic auto-focus. The price was reasonable and I got the sales tax knocked off, so I bought it. And I have to say that I found Yodabashi perfectly gaijin-friendly.

Here’s the Sigma; compare the picture with the pancake in the same pose.

Pentax DSLR with Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens

In general, Yodabashi’s prices were very close to what I see on the street here in Vancouver. Which means that the US is going to be a better bargain than either.

I shot some pictures and yep, this puppy can pull in those photons; here are Tim O’Reilly and Joi Ito opening up Web2.0 Expo Tokyo.

Tim O’Reilly and Joi Ito open Web2.0 Expo Tokyo

There’s no free lunch; you get all that light-gathering ability and you pay a couple of obvious prices. First, there’s unsubtle barrel distortion, as in this building somewhere near Shinagawa.

Industrial building somewhere near Shinagawa

But that’s OK, you normally wouldn’t be using this for architectural shots anyhow. Hmm, Lightroom ought to have a tool to fix this.

And then when you shoot at f1.4, you have enough depth of field for maybe one grain of rice. Takashi took me out to a restaurant that specialized in tofu. In my mind I can hear my readers’ eyes rolling, and I’m not normally huge on tofu myself, but this place was great. There were about eight courses, all different, all tasty, and a judicious mix of a bit of sashimi and salad and so on. I forget the Japanese name, but Takashi tells me it means “Plum Flower”. The presentation was beautiful and I thought I’d try to capture it.

Here is the menu and one of the many courses. The way the lens deals with the low light is outstanding, but bokeh ain’t the word for the focus issues.

Menu at Tokyo tofu restaurant
· · ·
One of many courses at Tokyo tofu restaurant

So, all in all, a successful first step. Of course, what I really want is the Angenieux crêpe that Alex Waterhouse-Hayward pointed out, but this will do for now.

Big Cameras · The Nikon D3 isn’t out yet, but Canon’s maniacal assault on the limits of the possible, the 1D, was on display. Yeah, what these big boys do is great, and I’d guess a necessity for a pro, but they’re just way, way, way too big for me.

So I’ll probably swap the aging Pentax for one of the current “K” models, or whatever supersedes them, sometime this winter, and I think that for inside shooting, the Sigma plus the anti-shake will get me where I want to be.

But for most times, and for travel, it’ll go on being some wide-angle but mostly the one-hand-grip pancake.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Luke Tymowski (Nov 15 2007, at 15:53)

Pentax didn't previously have an equivalent to HSM, so I doubt the one you got is an older revision of the Sigma lens. Yours would have the same image quality as a Nikon or Canon HSM version.

If you want faster autofocus, try Lithium batteries.


From: Joe Cheng [MSFT] (Nov 15 2007, at 16:13)

Have you tried Noise Ninja?


I haven't tried it yet but a lot of photographers seem to love it (or other specialized noise removal tools).


From: Janne (Nov 15 2007, at 16:42)

The reason the Pentax-version of the 30/1.4 is not HSM is that up until very recently (the K10D and K100DSuper), Pentax cameras could not make use of it. Your camera, for instance, simply don't have the needed connections (never mind the software) to drive an in-lens motor.

Oh, and Yodobashi and Bic are great for variety, but they're pretty expensive. Not the place you'd go for hunting a bargain - think Harrods rather than Tesco. In Japan it's actually the small stores that consistently beat the big chains on price. The 30 is 45k yen at Yodobashi (with the 10% point discount), and about 40k at small stores. Of course, there you won't have the same huge selection and you're pretty much forced to know Japanese to get a decent deal.


From: John Wilson (Nov 16 2007, at 00:39)

Congratulations! It looks a fine lens.

It's great fun trying to use DoF on fast primes to good effect. I'm using an f1.2 50mm lens on Cannon 5D which is roughly equivalent to your new setup. After a great deal of experimentation I'm beginning to get the upper hand http://tinyurl.com/38wue2.

The trick is to get a feeling for how the DoF changes as the subject distance changes. So if the DoF is too shallow and you don't want to open the lens up then move away from the subject.

The Sigma 30mm is a real street photographer's lens. You should have tried to get shots like this http://tinyurl.com/2o323n on your trip:)


From: Norman Walsh (Nov 16 2007, at 07:39)

You think you get distortion at 30mm, wait'll you try 10mm (http://norman.walsh.name/2007/06/13/sigma :-)

I've tried the demo versions of a couple of commercial tools to deal with the distortion, but so far I've been happiest with the results from Hugin.

Hugin is designed for making panoramas, but if you give it one image, it unwraps the distortion very nicely, I think.


From: Derek K. Miller (Nov 16 2007, at 12:43)

A newer Pentax with built-in anti-shake will probably let you use the pancake handheld in more indoor situations too. Of course it doesn't help at all if your *subject* is moving, so the 30/1.4 will still be useful there.

If you want some really crazy low-light stuff, check out these shots from an Epson RD-1 digital rangefinder with a retrofitted early-'60s Canon 50 mm f/0.95 (no, that's not a typo) lens.


From: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (Nov 16 2007, at 12:43)

The term distortion has to be used carefully in photography. Most lenses have aberrations like pincushion distortion (horizontal lines are bowed) and barrel distortion (vertical lines expand like barrels). This sort of distortion particularly appears in both ends of medium to cheap priced zoom lenses. If you try to photograph a rectangular painting and your lens is not dead centre with the centre of the painting, you will get the Keystone effect. The result will be a trapezoid that will wider at the bottom if your camera is lower and pointing up andther reverse if your camera is higher.

But the wide-angle-effect which most people cite as distortion is an accurate representation of the fact that what is closer to the lens (eye) is going to appear much larger if the camera is in close. Our brains know this and tell us that our loved one's nose is not huge as we close in for the kiss. The lens is unaware of this and shows reality as it is. In extreme wide angles if you photograph something round it will be round in the centre of the picture but in the corners the round object will elongate. This aberration is quite normal except with very expensive and beautifully corrected wide angle lenses.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


From: Mark (Nov 17 2007, at 00:14)

Does Lightroom not have anything like Photoshop's Filter > Distort > Lens Correction? This applied before cropping completely takes care of barrel/pincushion distortion, so much so that I don't even consider such distortion a problem. It's a map projection, which can be converted to any other map projection, and given enough pixels, without any practical loss of resolution. So I would choose fast, light, cheap, and relatively free of color aberations, and only think about rectilinear distortion if all other things were equal.


From: Sander (Nov 17 2007, at 05:16)

For correcting barrel distortion, I still swear by PanoTools. "Tutorial" here: http://www.all-in-one.ee/~dersch/barrel/barrel.html

Also: did you notice that the URL in Norman Walsh's comment is wrongly linkified?


From: Derek K. Miller (Nov 18 2007, at 10:41)

Whoops, forgot the link for that Canon f/0.95 lens:



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