Tag Archives: Japan

Camera of generations

Text and images by Barry Kawa for Japan Exposures

Recently, a young Japanese woman brought in an old shiny camera to my office, a curious look on her face. It was her grandfather’s 1950s Konica IIA, a rangefinder. She said her grandmother had wanted her to have it, an old antique that her grandfather, who had passed away recently, had loved using.

The young woman told me that she had taken the Konica to a camera shop, where they had charged her 30,000 yen (about $270) to do a CLA on it. But the young employee at the counter who returned it to her told her he didn’t know how to load film into the camera or use it. I told her that the camera was not worth that much, being an obscure Japanese brand, and she paid more than what it was worth. I admired the 1950s styling, always a sucker for an old chrome rangefinder camera. I asked her if she wanted to sell it. ‘’Oh, no, it was my grandfather’s camera. I will never sell it,” she said. So, I looked up the camera instructions on the Internet, put some film in, and showed her how to set the aperture and shutter speed. Without a meter in it, I printed her out the “sunny F16” rule, and told her to go have fun with the camera. It’s what her grandfather would have wanted.

It was his father’s camera, and he had too many good memories of family pictures being taken with it.

Then, another co-worker, a Japanese gentlemen who collects antique tin toys, brought in a Pentax S2 with the standard 55mm F2 lens, sold in the Japanese market, to show me. He asked me if I knew how it worked. When I looked at the viewfinder, I couldn’t see anything, even after checking to make sure all the lens caps were off. When I took off the lens, I noticed there was no prism! I took the camera to Ohba Camera, and they estimated it would cost about 10,000 yen to repair it. I told my friend at the office he should just toss the camera, that it had no value, and I knew he would never use it, even if he got it repaired. But he said he couldn’t do that, it was his father’s camera, and he had too many good memories of family pictures being taken with it.

Even though space is very limited in Japanese homes and apartments, most Japanese seem to pass their cameras down to the next generation. In the United States, looking at various local classifieds sites, Craigslist, Internet camera ads, eBay ads, I’m always struck by how many sellers say the camera was their father’s or grandfather’s camera. Since moving to Japan, I’ve myself benefited by my wife’s family passing down their cameras to me. We moved to Tokyo in 2001, and I became interested in photography. I had worked at many newspapers in the United States as a reporter, and then a bureau chief and editor. I had worked alongside many of the finest newspaper photographers, so I had never had the need to pick up a camera myself. In Japan, however, most journalists have to take their own photos, so it was a skill I needed to acquire.

My wife’s grandfather, a retired architect, had spent his lifetime shooting photos, mostly landscapes around Japan, and family photos. Now in his 90s, shakier of both hand and feet, he can only shoot with a Pentax Espio 115, a point-and-shoot film camera. He lamented the loss of control over his photos, but the convenience of that lightweight plastic body and zoom lens was more important. One night, my wife told me, ‘’Ojii-san (grandfather) wants to give you his camera.’’ She didn’t know what kind, so I was hopeful. Would it be a Leica, or maybe an old Nikon F? Camera Generation In the moment when he handed me the funny box-looking camera, I smiled. It was an early 1950s Rolleiflex, with a Tessar 75mm F 3.5 lens. Never having used a medium-format camera, I had to look up the manual on the Internet. My wife said he had bought it in the mid-1950s when his friend needed to sell it. Ojii-san asked his wife if he could buy it, since even at that time, the purchase of a used Rolleiflex with the leather case and all accessories cost them almost half their savings. It turned out to be a wise investment, back in the days when a good camera was a finely made instrument that would last a lifetime and — as we now see — even longer. In all his photo albums, I see that old Rolleiflex around his neck at family gatherings and visits to hot springs spas. At their small apartment in Tokyo, one storage room is completely filled with albums on the shelves. He still keeps a photo album year by year, his best photos enlarged and cut to fit spaces.

Now it was me who said that, of course, I would never part with it; it holds too many sentimental memories for my wife’s family.

Then, another night, my wife told me again, ‘’Ojii-san wants to give you another camera.’’ This time, it turned out to be a Minolta X-600, a model I had never heard of. From doing some searching it turned out this model was a rare one, only made for one year, 1983, and sold only in Japan. My wife’s grandfather had bought it to use in his architectural work. Later, he would travel with his wife on the group tours the Japanese are famous for, with that camera and a Minolta 35-105mm F 3.5-4.5 lens, to take some of the most beautiful landscape photos in Japan and around the world imaginable.

I posted on one Internet site asking about the value of an X-600, out of curiosity and the possibility of finding another one in Japan, and someone immediately sent me an e-mail wanting to buy that old camera. Now it was me that told the requester that I, of course, would never part with it; it holds too many sentimental memories for my wife’s family. I tried the Minolta X-600, even getting a 45mm F2 Minolta Rokkor for portability. It’s a fun camera to use, focus is manual, but there are confirmation dots that light up to tell you the subject is in focus. I mulled just outfitting that Minolta X-600 with the best lenses and making it my sole camera, but my friend at Ohba Camera in Tokyo laughed, and told me that only old men still use and collect Minolta cameras.

In brand conscious Japan, I knew that I would end up eventually carrying a Leica. So, the X-600 went into permanent “retirement.” Since then, my wife’s father also gave me his old camera: a Minolta 7000 and two Sigma zoom lenses. I thanked him, and took the camera, which he seemed pleased was going to someone who would use it and take care of it. I also found the old Minolta 7000 enjoyable to use, fast and responsive. Like the X-600 and Rolleiflex, they are all going into my dry cabinet. Since my wife and I have no children, I’ll pass them down to my nieces some day, with all my wife’s grandfather’s photo albums. Hopefully, they’ll gain that same love of film photography and appreciation for their ancestors and family that these old cameras have given me. For in Japan, there is a reason why family treasures such as these are never sold.


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.  



Introducing Photosonics #1-火の用心

This is the first episode of what might be a genre-defining means of publishing and viewing photographs.  Inspired by the soundscape (音の風景) and optimised for viewing on a mobile device, such as an iPod, each episode of Photosonics contains one or more photographs paired with audio footage, often – but not always – taken at the same time and place of the photograph itself.

[podcast format=”video”]http://homepage2.nifty.com/megaperls/photosonics/Photosonics-1.m4v[/podcast]

In the first episode we join the members of the self-administration committee of a residential area in Abiko, Chiba prefecture, Japan on their traditional walk through the neighbourhood at the year end. The group is joined by volunteer residents. Together they walk in between the apartment blocks in the cold December nights with their flashlights, periodically chanting their reminder for fire safety. Curtains open in the buildings and residents wave and cheer them up, thanking them for their community efforts in the cold winter air.

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Disposal of consumed fixer

I have been trying to figure out what to do with used fixer chemical other than pouring it down the drain.

Some web research showed that the following is the proposed, most environmentally acceptable (silver thiosulfate is toxic in minute concentrations) method of disposal:

Chemically, the key to the process is Na2O4S2 Sodium dithionite (aka sodium hydrosulfite or sodium hydrosulphite), a white crystalline powder with a weak sulfurous odor. This substance will fall out the silver and separate it from the rest of the components, creating a benign liquid that can be poured into sewage.

This is how it is done: put the fixer into a canister and add the sodium dithionite, maybe around two table spoons per litre. Don’t close the canister. Put it in a well-ventilated location at around room temperature, perhaps out on the balcony, as it will produce some sulphur dioxide which happens to smell (similar to Japanese onsen – enjoy!). The silver will fall out as a black sludge of colloid silver and silver sulfide to the bottom and some to the wall of the canister. After a week or so, pour off the excessive liquid and filter the rest through a coffee filter. The black stuff that remains in the filter and the canister is silver; dry the cake and collect it for further processing or disposal. The liquid can go into sewage without any trouble.

In theory, you can collect the resulting silver and later take it to your next-door dental technician – a liter of exhausted fixer contains some three to six grams of silver – who then can smelt it down into a ring for your loved one every year or two if you have enough throughput. You can also use nitric acid to dissolve it and coat your own photographic plates.

Sodium dithionite must be stored dry, otherwise it will decompose and corrode the container it is stored in. Don’t inhale the dust (mask is recommended) and wear gloves, i.e. take the usual lab precautions. Obviously don’t ingest the stuff either. Wash hands after handling. One kilogram of sodium dithionite should suffice for 80 liters of fixer.

You may have also heard of the steel wool method, which also works.

The big question is where to buy sodium dithionite in Japan? I don’t have the answer to that one yet. One would have to find sellers of chemical substances. In Europe/Germany, Mikon Mineralienkontor, a dealer in minerals, sells sodium dithionite for EUR 8.81 per kg, excluding shipping. This Japanese site (Naitoh Shouten Co.) lists 450g of ハイドロサルファイトソーダ (Sodium hydrosulfite) for JPY 1260 and 15kg for JPY 11655, but I am not sure if it can be bought by consumers.

Velvia, Provia, customs, QuickChange

Velvia 50 is back in production – in the UK at least. This is a surprise to many and we did not hear anything about it in Japan. We have some selected Velvia 50 films in stock, but do not plan to supply it in the long term, subject to Fujifilm future changes.

We have added Provia 400X in 35mm and 120 format to our selection. Be sure to try out this new high-speed reversal film stock.

We have had reports of negative experiences with customs authorities in the following countries: Canada (additional documentation for all shipping options, delays), Germany (opening of sheet film boxes, delays, charges), Italy (excessive delays). While we do our best to ensure a smooth import we remind customers that we are not responsible for all customs obligations to their authorities.

We have had confirmation that QuickChange cartridges have been phased out of production in March 2006 and supplier stocks are depleting. We have accumulated some film stock dated 12-2006 in Velvia and Provia and keep trying to offer used film holders while we have cartridges. The time of availability of the modern Grafmatics-type 4×5 film system is coming to an end and we recommend to make your purchase decision for holder or additional cartridges soon.

Exceptional (Akihabara night taxi)

Akihabara night taxi, by Camera Freak.

I proclaimed earlier that digital photography is not a real revolution because it had not brought with it a new visual language. Even when writing that I was well aware of this exception: HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging). Perhaps one will soon grow tired of the effect, but some of the images can look quite remarkable at times when the effect is used in moderation. Like in this example, this can work quite well for landscape/cityscape photos, esp. Tokyo (not my photo by the way, just blogged via flickr as an example of someone taking good images of Japan using that technique [although my friend Mr Higashimori is bound to object, with good reason as always]). At the moment more convincing than camera tossing or the various ways of trying to emulate a film look, but one can clearly feel half-life ticking away. When does an effect end being a pure effect and become a new language? I suppose when you are able to detect an artistic vision behind it. A lot of the digital work seems to be done for its own sake, just because we can. You run the software and you’re there. And so is everyone else.

One other thing: has anyone else noticed that there is no decent discourse about digital image making? All attempts to do so in public fora are destined for the dreaded digital vs. film debate. We realise once more that few intelligent comments are drowned in the myriad of average voices. This is the down side of the great equaliser and why I suspect that Web 2.0 is of limited interest to the minority that matters.

Another library find

I really enjoyed looking through this photo book. From what I understand, the photos are about the town Tagawa which used to be a major centre of coal mining and cement production in Japan.

What’s interesting is that while the photographs are documentary, the style is clearly that of street photography, which illustrates how much – or better – how little of a distinction there can be between those categories.

MS Optical R&D Leica viewfinder magnifiers

As a worldwide exclusive, we are extremely happy to be able to offer you unique viewfinder attachments for the Leica M rangefinder camera made by MS Optical R&D in Japan. Apart from an attractive price and great quality, these magnifiers also feature an dioptre adjustment facility. These magnifiers can turn your 0.72 viewfinder into a completely new camera without having to invest into a new body!

Please note that due to Leica patent restrictions, these products are not available to customers in Germany and the United States of America. We are sorry for any inconveniences caused by this. Legal opinion is currently sought on this matter.