Tag Archives: camera collector

Interview with Shiyo Takahashi, Leica Ginza Shop

Shiyo Takahashi, Manager at Leica Ginza Shop (Taken with Leica Noctilux-M 50/f1.0)

The Leica and Japan — an association of which many legends are made of, but perhaps also a relationship that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Many people see the Japanese camera market solely populated by wealthy individuals that will put the precious machine only on the shelf, longing to be used to what is was made for, taking photos.

Together with John Sypal of Tokyo Camera Style we visited the Leica Ginza Shop in central Tokyo to find out what Leica in Japan is all about.

Shiyo Takahashi has been managing the flagship outlet in Tokyo since its opening in 2006. The store, more resembling a fashion boutique than a camera shop, was the first of its kind for Leica worldwide and follow-on locations like recently London Mayfair are modelled after it. Takahashi was also involved in developing the Leica M7 Limited Edition Hermès, a total of 200 silver chrome Leica M7 cameras with exquisite leather finishes applied by Hermès (a French high fashion house specializing in leather, ready-to-wear, lifestyle accessories, perfumery, and luxury goods — Ed.). Takahashi’s professional background is in the fashion and luxury brand industry, however he has been an active photographer since his high school days.

Japan Exposures: In Japan one can still encounter a great number of photographers using film cameras. Are you selling a lot of the classic Leica M cameras?

Shiyo Takahashi: : I don’t have the exact numbers on hand right now, but a high proportion of Leica MP and M7 cameras are sold in Japan, and the majority of those here through the Leica Ginza Shop. That means this store is selling a substantial number of film cameras that Leica produces.

JE: Is this also the reason why we see many special editions sold here?

ST: Indeed — I was involved in developing the Hermès edition and before that we had the 50th Anniversary Leica MP Titanium, another film camera. Suffice to say that Japan is the principal place to still sell such kind of film cameras.

JE: Are these cameras well received then?

ST: Absolutely, people are still actively looking for 50th Anniversary Titanium M7 and MP. In fact, it is not just Japan, we have a lot of interest from Leica users in Korea, Hong Kong and China. Japan, and as you know Ginza in particular, is a very special place when it comes to cameras. Dr Kaufmann (Andreas Kaufmann, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG since June 19, 2009 — Ed), who incidentally will visit us tomorrow and hold a lecture at the JCII Camera Museum on Sunday, used to come to Ginza to browse for used cameras even before his involvement at Leica.

If people want to buy a camera, they will buy a Sony, Panasonic or Nikon. People come here to buy a Leica.

JE: So are you happy with how you are doing in Japan from a business standpoint?

ST: Oh yes, even though we are also feeling the effect of the current economic situation. Nonetheless, the digital range — M8, M9 and X1 — are all doing very well at the moment. The time around 2006 was an important period for us, when we entered the digital age with the Leica M series. The opening of this shop at that time was also a turning point on who we would address as our target market. When before it was camera and photo enthusiasts, we are now engaging a much wider customer base. I am referring to people interested in high-quality consumer and luxury goods. Audio systems, cars, watches, that sort of things.

JE: People who like expensive things?

ST: It’s not that simple, even though these people definitely exist, especially in Asian boom economies. And even they don’t just want things for the sake of being costly. They know what quality is and they know what a quality brand is. I mean a brand with quality products with tangible value, not just a popular luxury brand. Just like these people would buy a very good wine, they may buy a Leica, because it is the best product of its kind. That’s one way to see things, but to be fair the majority of Leica buyers are more interested in the philosophy behind the product. The technology, the design and how it is made, plus of course the history and heritage. Many of our customers are creative professionals, for example musicians or designers. They appreciate the beauty of the object as much as its functionality and performance, similar to a musical instrument like a well-crafted guitar. Another group of customers are doctors, people in healthcare. Again, not just because they may have the means, but because they are scientists and have a natural appreciation of technical expertise and precision instruments, for example MRI (medical imaging), microscopes and other precision optical devices. So it is not just people who like the Leica name or brand, it is individuals who seek a high level of quality and performance in the equipment they use.

Shiyo Takahashi holding the best selling Leica a la Carte configuration: Leica M7 Black Paint with lizard skin and silver MP controls

JE: On Tokyo Camera Style we lately encounter a lot of younger people who carry and photograph with a Leica M camera, I would even say more than, say, five years ago. Do you see the same or have an explanation for this?

ST: Yes, I am aware of this trend. In my view there are several reasons for these people to move towards a Leica. Bear in mind that some younger people may not even know film-based photography, they grew up with digital cameras. So this way of how a photo can be made is new to them. Using a toy camera or the old Olympus Pen is very popular in Japan. Then there is the handling of a rangefinder camera, which is different and perhaps they will try a Voigtländer camera and like it. Yet another reason is the image quality produced by a rangefinder lens. Eventually people will discover the Leica, its history and all that, and will be attracted to join that culture.

JE: What is it like to sell a German-made product, and a niche product at that, in the home market of the big manufacturers like Nikon and Canon, who probably account for 99% of camera sales?

ST: I don’t think it is a direct comparison. If people want to buy a camera, they will buy a Sony, Panasonic or Nikon. People come here to buy a Leica.

JE: Do you think that in Japan the attitudes towards cameras and photography are different from elsewhere?

ST: As far as collectors or enthusiasts are concerned, I don’t think so. Yes, they are very much into their pursuit, but that’s not too different from other places or other areas like collecting wines, fashion or stamps. They are obsessed with the subject.

JE: Does your clientele mainly consist of such people?

ST: For film cameras, yes, but M8, M9 buyers acquire the camera with a strong intention to use it. They want to take photos. Take us as Leica staff, we all own a Leica MP, but the camera we use on a regular basis is the digital M or a compact. A digital camera is almost like a household appliance, it’s bought to be used.

JE: The people desiring a classic film camera seem often to originate from the post-war baby boom generation, a group that is getting older and has been supporting a lot of the camera shops that we now see slowly disappearing…

ST: Yes, the demand for film cameras is comparatively low. One thing that recently is very popular is the Leica a la carte programme. Due to an adjustment for the exchange rate to Euro, their prices have dropped by 20-30%. We have several customers purchasing their third or fourth a la carte Leica.

JE: In terms of products, is Leica treating the Japanese market differently from other places in the world?

ST: If you mean limited edition cameras for Japan only, we would like to, but it is difficult to make one item really exclusive to one location. When we opened in Ginza four years ago, we released the M3J, later we had the titanium MP, but eventually they will become available elsewhere. For example, now that the Leica Shop in London has opened, they would also like to have their own edition, but it is difficult to make it really limited. What we would like to do is special editions on digital, but it is a little early for that. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing special editions targeted at special markets, be it Japan, the US or for example the Middle East. Tastes are different and people like having a choice different from what’s available normally.

JE: With the change to digital, what is your outlook into the future?

ST: Film will get rarer and more expensive, almost like a luxury product. However, there will always be things that digital cannot do and that film can do very well. When you make prints, you can see an obvious difference between the two. However, digital is just so easy in terms of technique and the rewards are instant. Imagine going on a holiday trip, you can see the results quickly, edit them etc. That is very attractive to people. It enhances the learning process by getting feedback and seeing the results of their technique immediately. It’s a great way to learn photography, to learn to take photos. Then, once you have the skills, you should go and shoot with a film Leica again.

Repair and Service Counter at Leica Ginza Shop
A case displaying every component of a Leica M7

JE: What will happen to the Leica-manias, the serious enthusiasts that know every camera ever produced and such things?

ST: Oh, they are still around. We get quite a few people that come in and take a display camera to listen to the shutter firing in excitement, over and over. They already own these cameras themselves, so they visit the shop for servicing or to buy accessories. They have gone digital as well, following the times.

But there is another important change with digital: before, photography was really an individual’s hobby, you did it on your own. But now with the M8 and M9, it has become a family hobby, for everyone. It is so easy to shoot and share results, even the normally not interested spouse can do it, very accessible. In fact, some people don’t really care about what the equipment is as long as it lets them take great pictures. Of course, there are also the artistically minded people, but the camera is capable of serving all of them well. Before, only particular people were into photography seriously, but now this has entered into the mainstream.

JE: Surely, that is a good thing for Leica..?

ST: Of course, it’s good for everyone. The playing field is now level. Everyone can do it, shoot like a pro if they want to, or just family pictures.

JE: Are there any Leica Japan-only versions or editions of products in the pipeline?

ST: I don’t think so. We still have a lot of people waiting for their M9 and X1, so that needs to be taken care of first. Actually I don’t think that many people buy these specials because they are in some way special or limited. It’s more that they find the designs or colors attractive and that is then the driver to purchase, not that it is in some way a scarce or limited product.

Leica M8 Safari Edition

JE: How about a Leica M9 a la carte instead?

ST: Of course, that would be nice, but mind you there are not so many elements of the camera that can be varied, unlike with the film Leicas. We made a very small run of Leica M8 with silver elements and purple leather coverings, they were very popular. Another even more popular special was the Leica M8 Safari, which was sold out even before launch. The White lasted a little longer, even though white is a very popular color in Japan.

JE: Are Leica in Germany aware enough about how things work, perhaps differently, in other parts of the world, or do you have to nudge things into the right direction from time to time?

ST: Oh, they know about Japan. They work with Panasonic and of course are aware what the other players in the camera industry are doing. They know that Japan is a different market, even when compared to the rest of Asia, quality-wise, culturally and how people take photographs here.

JE: So what challenges remain for you?

ST: To maintain and keep up the level of service and quality. We are catering to a market that will always be able to make a purchase, if they want to. So service and quality are key. Of course anyone can come in here, have look at the cameras and lenses, we take the money and put it in a shopping bag. You don’t need to come to a Leica shop to have that experience. We have many customers, ladies and gentlemen alike, who appreciate our special service. On the occasion when they wish to buy something, they book in advance and when they come to the shop we will take care of them at the level and quality of service that such clients would expect. It does not stop with Japanese buyers, in fact we have customers from Europe or USA, and of course from places like China, who, despite the price differential, choose to buy here instead of their home country. They enjoy their time here, the whole process and location of buying their Leica. It is not just the purchase or the item, it makes a memorable experience to come here. Not unlike a child would enjoy a trip to a theme park.

Leica Ginza Shop and Salon
6-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 (0) 3 6215 7070
Fax: +81 (0) 3 6215 7071

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon

Text and images by Michael G Dougan for Japan Exposures

Let me start by saying that I like folding cameras. In fact, I like them so much that between the 59 cameras I own, there are quite a few folders. When I got curious about film photography one of the first serious cameras I bought was an Agfa Super Isolette, then a Balda and a Certo Six and to round it off a Zeiss Super Ikonta. There is just something about these old mechanical cameras that I love.

So, when Fujifilm/Cosina Voigtländer announced the Bessa 667/GF670 Professional I wanted one badly. I’ve long preferred the square format but have recently been looking for a camera with a different aspect ratio and this camera satisfied my love of all things square while offering an alternative by being able to switch to 6×7 when desired.


We have the Fujifilm GF670 in black in stock for immediate shipping in the Japan Exposures Shop. Limited to 5000 cameras, BLACK Fujifilm version only available in Japan and equipped with the Fuji EBC (Electron Beam Coated) Fujinon lens.


Fujifilm GF670 Professional next to a Rolleiflex and Leica M6
Fujifilm GF670 Professional next to a Rolleiflex and Leica M6
The long wait was agonizing, having first contacted Dirk about the camera back in February to have to wait, suffering multiple delays, until May to finally get my hands on it. I can say though I’m not disappointed at all with the camera and the wait was well worth it.

As advertised the camera weighs in at 1kg but in operation it feels quite a lot less. Though when the camera is folded up it certainly feels like a lump, just not a 1kg lump. Once the lens has been extended the impression is of a very light camera.

In operation I immediately felt very comfortable with this camera, to me it feels very like a Leica to use, the focus is smooth and the aperture ring is easily and quickly adjusted. The built in light meter also takes the guesswork out of the exposures as with the old folders.

Since acquiring the camera I’ve shot it exclusively in 6 by 7 format and I like the opportunities it gives for framing over a square format. The shutter is extremely quiet, quiet enough to use in covertly but carrying a camera like this does attract a lot of inquisitive looks and questions from people.

Vulcanizing
Vulcanizing {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Love-Kim Verlie {click to enlarge}
The body on the right hand side has a very grippy rubber coating and grip on the front and back of the body. The left hand side is coated with the same rubber on the front of the body only but as I tend to cradle the underside of the body and lens standard with my left hand the grip is only of use for opening the camera. This way my thumb is in the perfect position to operate the focus and aperture rings. Focus and selection of aperture are achieved extremely quickly, this is a big plus for me as I try to quickly capture people before they have time to pose for the camera. The viewfinder is excellent, very bright with a nice contrasty rangefinder patch that allows you to achieve focus quickly.

I’m also extremely pleased with the camera’s image quality. I find it hard to say what it is but the images from the camera have a certain signature from the 80mm Fujinon EBC lens but maybe people more familiar with other Fuji lenses might say that is the signature of such lenses. It’s sharp, contrasty and the fuzzy bits just melt into the background beautifully.

You can see some samples of the type of photos I enjoy taking, which is out on the streets. I am living in the Philippines and it’s currently the monsoon season, which means it’s stinking hot and raining a lot! I was walking for less than an hour in the afternoon sun and the camera never felt heavy or a pain to carry. Here under these tropical conditions even a Leica can become irritating as you soon fatigue in the sun. The camera got extremely hot in the one hour I was out but the focus still had the same feeling of operation. With some my cameras they get a bit sloppy when they overheat, but this GF670 camera has been super smooth all the time, quick and easy to nail the focus, and the viewfinder’s clarity is excellent!

With the GF670 in my hands and several rolls of Neopan 120 in my pocket, it’s a perfect setup for me.

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Life in a plastic chair {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Break Time {click to enlarge}
Update 28 June 2009: More images below

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Bigasan {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Dried fish {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Friends forever {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
In the street {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Mega Buko Juice at the Hard Rock Café {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Tommy {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Videoke for rent {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Four Women and a Boy {click to enlarge}
All black and white images were shot on Fujifilm Neopan 400 Presto, developed in paRodinal 1+50 for 11mins at 20 degrees C. Location: San Miguel, Bulacan, The Philippines


Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes MonsoonMichael Dougan is a 40 years old Scotsman who has been living in the Philippines for over 6 years. He is married to a beautiful Filipina and father to a son. He is currently working on the scientific drillship Chikyu in Japan, but has been in the offshore oil and gas drilling industry for 20 years. He is heavily involved as one of the organizers of Rangefinder Filipinas, keeping the passion for film photography burning in the Philippines.


We have the Fujifilm GF670 in black in stock for immediate shipping in the Japan Exposures Shop. Limited to 5000 cameras, BLACK Fujifilm version only available in Japan and equipped with the Fuji EBC (Electron Beam Coated) Fujinon lens.

Ginza Classics

Text and images by Barry Kawa for Japan Exposures

At most train stations in Tokyo, there are still film stores that can develop a roll of film in 45 minutes or less, so you can stop back and pick up your pictures on the way through, and enjoy looking at them on your train ride home. In the Japanese photography magazines, many articles are still devoted to film cameras each issue, although digital camera coverage is starting to pull way ahead. (There are even some dedicated magazines catering only to digital shooters.) Nonetheless most of the camera store ads in the front or back pages still list a huge selection of used film cameras and lenses for sale. These are now referred to as “classic” cameras.

Used camera shops like Sankyo Camera Co. [ map ], in the heart of the Ginza, Tokyo’s prestigious shopping district, located just off the famed 4-chome intersection, still offer shelves of Canon and Nikon rangefinder cameras and lenses for sale to film camera junkies like myself. In a store that is a throwback 20 years into the past, there aren’t any digital cameras for sale here.

At lunchtime, I have just enough time to walk up to Sankyo to see what’s new on their shelves since my last visit. Since I’m there, I can’t pass up the chance to stop by three other adjacent camera stores in this four-corner area of the Ginza that is a landmark for film camera buffs. My weekly “fix”.

There are actually two Sankyo camera stores within a half block, one specializing in Nikon and Canon rangefinders as well as other Japanese camera models, and another shop specializing in Leica cameras, although the window has a nice eye candy collection of Rollei 35mm, Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords for sale.

Across the busy street, there’s a Miyama Shokai Nikon branch store [ map ] that sells new and used cameras, mostly Nikon, but also enough used medium-format, rangefinder and other gear to take a look at. And just a few doors down is Katsumido [ map ], the ultimate store for Leica collectors who want everything in mint condition — and have the credit line to pay for it. This store also has a changing collection of highly priced and highly desirable cameras and lenses of all types in the window, with everything in near-mint condition.

I’m also not going to be able to afford any of those line of Leica M3s or M2s on display. They know it, and I know it.

But the stop I enjoy the most is at the Sankyo Camera store with all the Nikon and Canon rangefinder gear, managed by Hiroatsu “Hero” Akizawa (call him Hero-san). At most Tokyo camera stores, the language barrier is difficult. There’s also the snobbery factor, as in stores like Katsumido, where the staff is aloof, and I’m too self-conscious to even ask a question, knowing that they are going to have to find somebody to talk to me in English, if there is anyone.

I’m also not going to be able to afford any of those line of Leica M3s or M2s on display, starting from 200,000 yen (about $2,200) and up. They know it, and I know it. So, I nonchalantly make my way over to the display case where cheap Nikon, Canon and Sigma auto-focus lenses are for sale, kept apart from the Leicas.

When I stop by Sankyo Camera, however, I’m greeted by Hero-san with a smile and in English. It’s the same relationship I first had with the now-closed Ohba Camera, which was located about a 10-minute walk from the Ginza near Shimbashi Station [Now a standing sushi bar — Ed.].

Sankyo Camera
The rangefinder section at Sankyo Camera

The store manager at Ohba was friendly, spoke English, and since I was a good customer, always gave me a discount. If I brought back something I had bought there, he would always give me at least 80 percent in trade. That kind of service instills customer loyalty, since in most of the Tokyo used camera shops I’ve visited, I’ve been offered pennies on the dollar on my trade-in gear.

When Ohba was closing last April, one of the clerks asked me, “What are you going to do now?” They would see me stop by at lunch and sometimes after work, on my way to the station, to see what they had got in. When they closed, I went through withdrawal pains. Sankyo has stepped in to help ease the pain. The store has treated me well, offering me good trade-in prices, and usually knocking a little off the price of anything I’m interested in buying as well.

My first time there, I brought in some Nikon binoculars I wasn’t using, an old Nikon P camera and some Canon lenses to trade, Hero-san looked, and then grabbed a calculator to show me what he was offering. The price was very, very fair. Since that time, I’ve been a regular customer, wandering in off the street each week to see what’s in the display cases.

Prices are not cheap, and bargain hunters in the States still can get better buys on eBay or through their local Craigslist site, although the condition can be a craps shoot. But at Sankyo, there are good buys to be had on cameras and lenses that are impossible to find in the States, and usually in excellent condition.

One glorious day, there was an Olympus XA4 macro model, no strap, but I turned it over, and there was the extremely rare quartz date back on it. The price? 8,000 yen, or about $70. “I’ll take it,” I said. Hero-san smiled and nodded. I also traded in a Canon rangefinder cameras and some lenses one time for a Canon 7SZ with a 50mm 0.95mm lens, in fair condition, but a steal at under 90,000 yen (about $800).

Happiness is finding a mint black Canon lens case for your 35mm F2 for a 100-yen coin.

Other days, there have been cameras like a rare, heavily used black Canon P (gone the next day, when I couldn’t get it out of my mind and went back for a second look), and lenses like the Avenon 21mm and 28mm models don’t stay on the shelves very long. Sometimes, in front of the store, there are boxes filled with old lens cases and camera cases, selling for 100 yen (about a buck). Although I feel like a homeless person foraging through a garbage can, I still can’t resist jumping in.

Sankyo Camera
“Most Japanese like the Nikon”

Happiness is finding a mint black Canon lens case for your 35mm F2 for a 100-yen coin, which I embarrassingly hand over to Hero-san, my “purchase” for the day. But these days, business is slow at Sankyo, Hero-san says. On this Saturday, there’s a steady stream of customers looking, but few are buying. “Now, it is very slow, slow, slow,” Hero-san says. The reason? Of course, it’s digital cameras. Hero-san says it’s understandable, with how easy it is to use a digital camera. In the future, is there hope for stores like Sankyo to survive? A resurgence in film cameras?

“Sometimes, the person wants to do the shutter timing, aperture… maybe, I hope,” he laughs. Looking around at all the shelves of Canon and Nikon rangefinder cameras, I marvel at the selection, and ask Hero-san where they are from. Surprisingly, Hero-san has attended many camera shows in the United States, buying cameras and returning them to the country where they were made, to sell to collectors. He said the Pasadena show in particular, is a good place for them to buy rangefinder cameras and lenses in great condition.

“The weather is good, dry, the condition is better than in Japan,” Hero-san says. “In Japan the weather is very wet – sometimes the lens gets mold, the shutter time gets very long – not so good.” So, Japanese collectors are drawn to stores like Sankyo Camera, to buy the cameras that were exported to the U.S. back when the exchange rate was at 360 yen to a dollar.

Hero-san said Nikon cameras and lenses, particularly Nikon Tokyo Olympic models, are his store’s best sellers. Although the store has a display case full of Canon rangefinder cameras and lenses, the Nikons outsell the Canons. “Canon (prices) are going a little down,” he says.

Hero-san points to all the Nikon collectible books, and says this interest has helped fuel the collector market. “Most Japanese like the Nikon, I think,” he says. “Then, also, the Nikon mechanical system is better than the Canon – Canon changes their mount, very quickly – and the old ones are very hard to use.” Himself, he still likes the Nikon F camera. He was born in 1946, (“after the Second World War,” he laughs) so he always wanted the Nikon F when he was in high school, but it was too expensive. So, he started off with a Pentax camera, then later got his Nikon F. I compliment Hero-san on his store’s friendly customer service, and generous trade-in offers. “Ah, so,” Hero-san laughs. “If it is quick to sell, I buy.”

In this digital world, leave it to the nostalgic Japanese to keep a flickering candle lit for the world of film cameras.

 


Barry KawaBarry Kawa was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Clearfield, Utah. He has worked as a reporter, bureau chief and editor at the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Times of Gainesville (Ga.), Charlotte Observer, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dallas Morning News before moving to Japan in 2001 with his wife, Yumiko. He now works at a Japanese newspaper, and has become an avid camera enthusiast and collector.