One Lens Challenge in Japan

· 26.October.2017

Japan, the land of the rising sun and home to Fujifilm.  Aside from Scotland, which I am very happy to call home, Japan ranks as my favourite country on the planet. Since 2012 I’ve been lucky enough to travel there each year on business and I always take some extra time to see something of the countryside and cities while I am there. This year I was able to take a few days ahead of round 7 of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which takes place at Fuji International Speedway in the shadow of the iconic Mount Fuji, or Fujisan as the 3776 metre mountain is reverently known by the Japanese. For this trip I decided to set myself a one lens challenge with the Fujinon XF16mm f1.4R WR, which was fitted to one of my X-T2s.    

I have to admit I have a soft spot for the XF16mm f1.4 lens. My first prime lens I ever bought was a Nikkor 24mm and the Fujinon gives a similar field of view.  It is wide enough for landscapes and cityscapes and I prefer it to the 23mm as a walkabout prime lens for a spot of street photography.

Tokyo Tower – Japan

The added bonus is the fast 1.4 aperture is the great bokeh it produces and the lens really came into its own when the light began to drop.  I have the XF16-55mm f2.8 zoom, and this is a fantastic pro zoom lens, but the two stop advantage of the 16mm f1.4 really earns it a place in my camera bag alongside the fast zoom.

After landing on Sunday evening in Tokyo, I met up with fellow X Photographer John Rourke in the city and we took a short walk from the hotel to the Tokyo Tower, which, until 2012, was the tallest structure in Japan.

If you are thinking that this TV / Radio tower looks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you would be correct.  When it was built in the 1950s the Japanese designer, Tachu Naito, used the iconic Parisien landmark as inspiration.  The 16mm lens was perfect for framing the tower as it rose above us into the night sky.

At night the Roppongi district is buzzing with bars and restaurants, with colourful lights everywhere you turn, including the multitude of vending machines that seem to be stationed every 100 metres.

Tokyo – Japan

Tokyo vending machine

During the day Tokyo is just as interesting and we headed out early on the metro to Shibuya and the famous pedestrian crossing that featured in the Hollywood film ‘Lost in Translation’.  The crossing is a magnet for tourists but it is also a busy crossing point for the Japanese going about their daily business.  We spent some time here capturing people and vehicles, and I experimented with slow shutter speeds down to 1/6 second handheld as I wanted to give the impression of the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Tokyo – Japan

The Japanese love fictional characters and we saw people driving around the Tokyo streets on go karts dressed as characters from the Mario Karts video game.  It is now a big tourist attraction where visitors can dress up and drive around the streets.

We also came across a big model head of Godzilla in Shinjuku, the original 1950s Godzilla not the Hollywood remake.  On the hour Godzilla would come to life breathing smoke and bellowing his trademark challenge over the streets of Tokyo.

Tokyo – Japan

Tokyo – Japan

After the streets of Tokyo we decided to head down to the coast to Enoshima to see a different side of Japan.  This is where the families go to the seaside to play on the beach and also to indulge in a bit of surfing, paddle boarding or windsurfing.  The day ended with the sight of the fishing boats tied up in the harbour at sunset (featured image above) after a hard day out on the water.

Enoshima – Japan

We also went out to the pampas grass fields in Sengokuhara, which at this time of year are full of beautiful tall grassy fronds blowing in the breeze.  In the Edo era the pampas grass was a source of income for the region and was used for roofing and cattle feed.  The fields are a source of beauty with the tall grasses waving in the wind and the autumn sunshine.  The pampas grass fields attract thousands of visitors at this time of year.

Hakone – Japan

Hakone – Japan

The beauty of the fields contrasted with the sights and smells of an active volcano with smoke and sulphur billowing up from the ground around Owakudani station on the Hakone Ropeway.  We were not allowed to get too close due to recent activity in the area which has seen new vents open up on the side of the mountain. It certainly is a timely reminder that Japan experiences regular earthquakes and tremors.  On the horizon we could see Mount Fuji, which is itself an active volcano that last erupted over 300 years ago.

Suplphur and steam from the ground at Owakudani station on the Hakone Ropeway

My last stop on my latest trip to Japan was to visit the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple before I flew home to Scotland.  No trip to Japan is complete without visiting a temple or a shrine and the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is one of the most remarkable.  The temple was founded in the 10th century and the temple buildings are located in some of the most beautiful gardens in Japan.  The grounds include the 58 metre high Great Pagoda of Peace.

Naritasan – Japan

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple

The weather across Japan had turned to rain and I didn’t arrive until it was just before dark.   Even shooting at f1.4 I was forced to bump the ISO up to 3200 as the dim light rapidly disappeared but the X-T2 coped very well with the increased ISO setting while the 16mm lens kept everything pin sharp, even with the aperture wide open.  The weather resistance of the lens was also very useful as the rain continued to fall during my visit to the temple.

Naritasan – Japan

The Fujinon XF16mm f1.4R WR is a great lens to shoot with and there are plenty of options when using a moderately wide focal length.  The fast f1.4 aperture also provided plenty of subject isolation when shooting close up detail shots.  While I have the XF16-55mm f2.8 zoom in my camera bag, the 16mm f1.4 prime provides me with a couple of advantages over the zoom – faster aperture and it is smaller and lighter.

The Fujinon 16mm f1.4R WR is the perfect partner for a one lens challenge!