Thursday, April 21, 2016

Brightener Isn't a Band, He is the Best Band

PALM DESERT, CA. (April 21, 2016) - Let me tell you about a local band that my buddy Matt took me to go see last night (Wednesday) in Palm Desert, CA. They were so good, I had no choice but to take the time, while on vacation, to TELL THE WORLD about Brightener. Well, at least every one who might happen to read this blog post eh? But if they tell their friends about Brightener and they tell friends, then yes, soon, the entire planet will know about this guy that calls himself Brightener.
The simple way to describe his music to you is to simply say, his songs were too big for the quaint, local venue he was playing. I LOVED discovering him this way. It reminds me of the time I saw Pearl Jam at a dive bar in Tijuana called “Iguana’s”. I make the comparison because the first time I saw Pearl Jam play live was before they broke out, it was the break out year, before the break out. 

Brightener is ready to break out! Come to find out he played the first weekend at Coachella, well, it’s no surprise why. His music is what music lovers have been waiting for.

Let me take this even another step further and share with you the craziness I witnessed last night. Brightener is such a star and his music is so good, and the venue (which also serves food) was so busy, that people gladly stood in front of the stage to enjoy the band, while simultaneously holding a numbered sign so the servers could easily find them (SEE PHOTOS) and deliver the food they had ordered. It had to have been humiliating to stand there holding a number for the wings you ordered 30 minutes ago, yet for this band, the fans were willing to endure and suffer that shameless fate.
Brightener was so good, I couldn’t get back to my computer fast enough to start writing this blog post.

Support musicians all over the world! I bought a copy of each CD he was selling at the show. heck yes!

Camera: Sony RX1RII. Performance in these conditions, outstanding.

Who is Brightener?


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Goodbye - Final Photo Gallery from Korea

Late tomorrow night (Tuesday at 2:30am actually) I'll be getting on a bus that will take me to Osan Air Force Base, from there, I'll check in for a military charter flight back to the USA where I will start a new chapter in my life, in a new city, El Paso, Texas. I'm excited about getting back to my homeland, to reunite with family and friends, but I am feeling melancholy at having to say goodbye to this beautiful country, Korea.

These past three years in Korea have been nothing short of amazing. The sights and sounds, the friendly and welcoming people, the friends I made and all the memories and photographs. I was able to see a lot of Korea thanks to my connection with Michael Suh and his event company, Good Times ROK. Between Good Times ROK and my own travels I was able to visit and photograph places like Goeje Island, Jindo Island, Busan, Kunsan, Yeonghuengdo, Gapyong, Gongju and many more.

I spent most of my weekends down in Seoul in neighborhoods like Chungmuro and Namdaemun where my favorite cameras shops, photo labs and repair shops are all located. Over the past three years I became friends with the many of the shopkeepers. Saying goodbye to them and to my friends is a little emotional. But I always lean on my favorite quote when it comes to goodbyes...

"Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends." - Richard Bach

As the final days approached, I had to pack away the vast majority of my cameras and lenses. They were shipped back to the states last week, along with all my other personal belongings. All that is left is what I am taking with me on the plane. My camera bag includes the following gear: Sony RX1RII, Leica D-Lux (Typ 109), Sony A7II, Sony A7RII, Sony FE 70-200mm f/4, Zeiss 16-35mm f/4, Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 and Sony 28mm f/2. There are a few accessories in my bag as well, including a flash, assorted batteries and chargers etc.

With everything packed away, that has left me with only my compact Sony RX100 IV to capture images from my final days. It's the perfect camera for this because it's so small. It will fit in any pocket but doesn't compromise quality. Still, on occasion I would reach into my camera bag and snap a few shots with some of the other cameras that are going on the plane with me.

And with that, I present my final photo gallery from the Republic of Korea. Stay tuned to my blog for new posts, updates and videos from the USA!

A row of Humvees. I was responsible for 4 of these vehicles and their crews.

Haejangguk (Hangover Soup) as captured with the Sony RX1RII. This is by far my favorite soups that I have ever had in my life. It will be my final meal before I get on the bus tomorrow.

I worked with a lot of fun and interesting people. Ssg. Ryan Johnson was a cool and interesting character. This guy didn't take shit from anyone, regardless of rank. 

The M270A1 Multiple Launch Rocket System. This is what we are all about. My actual job is Fire Direction for these bad boys. We can hit targets almost anywhere on the peninsula. If you get my drift.

1-38 FAR Battalion HQ.

Capt. Tintera posing with his vintage BMW motorcycle. As captured with the Sony RX1RII

Deep in thought. This nice man works at the dry cleaning and alterations shop next to my office. He's a former photographer, so it's safe to say we hit it off and I always stopped to say hello when I passed by his shop.

Near Achasan. Sony RX100 IV.

Spring time means Cherry Blossoms. It was a long and cold winter this year. 


The local stray cats waiting for their daily meal from the tailor shop.

Bosan Station.

Dongducheonjungang Station.

Near Jihaeng.

Moving day.

Cheery Blossoms blooming at Camp Casey.

Korean kids are the cutest! As evidenced by this series taken at my favorite lamb restaurant.

Local red light (AKA glass house) district, Dongducheon.

This machine grinds rep peppers into a paste.

The infamous "Ville" outside Camp Casey.

Mr. Paul has been making suits for more than 20 years. I bought two custom tailored suits and a blazer. You can't beat the price.

Street art along the subway line.

This cute little guy.

Enjoying a waffle with ice cream with my friend Brooke!

I stopped by my favorite sushi place one last time. This chef made me a special "Paradise Roll"!

Never easy to say goodbye to friends... but a little soju helps ease the pain.

Michael and I.

Well, goodbye Korea. Goodbye friends. I will see you again soon...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

5 Reasons Why I Want (and will) Buy a Leica Q

My first Leica was a classic M3, followed by a beautiful M6. Both are 35mm film cameras and both are widely considered to be among the best 35mm film cameras ever made. Over the years I had become familiar with the reputation of Leica cameras, but it wasn't until I felt the heft, weight and build of the M3 in my hands for the first time, that I truly knew what the hype was all about. The M3 and the M6, but the M3 especially, are built like tanks. The design are sort of teutonic, plain yet beautiful and they command respect. But the real magic is in the lenses. Leica images can often times be recognized by the "look" of the image alone. It has something to do with the materials and unique production process that ends with iconic Leica images. And that's why, I will perhaps, never sell my lovely Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 lens. My M3 was paired with a Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 DR lens but I never really liked the design, so I swapped it out for a Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 which gives me the same look but the design fits my fingers and hands better.

Fast forward to today.

I own and love my inventory of Sony mirrorless cameras. I use them all and can't recommend them highly enough. From my compact RX100 IV and A6000, to the awesome A7II and finally the 42mp resolution beasts, the A7RII and RX1RII. I find myself asking myself (in my head, I'm not crazy after all); Why would I ever want a $4250 USD Leica Q when I already own a similar (and similarly expensive camera) Sony RX1RII? 

It's a question worth answering. So here we go with 5 reasons why I want (and will) buy a Leica Q.

1. A One of a Kind Experience - As I have discovered with my Sony RX1RII (and previously with the Fuji X100S) shooting a fixed focal length camera is a unique experience. It requires the photographer to, generally, get close to the subject. At 28mm, the Leica Q's f/1.7 Summilux lens will require even more intimacy. I have held the Leica Q in my hands (at the local Leica store in Seoul) and shot a few frames inside the store. Now, I am aware that it's probably not a fair comparison, but I will still stand by my assertion that holding and shooting a Leica Q, gives the same luxurious feeling of satisfaction as driving a high end Mercedes or similar luxury car. 

2. Pure Design - The design of the Leica Q is in keeping with the tradition of classic Leica's such as the M. It's beautifully simple and pure. Buttons and dials are kept to a minimum and while the Sony A7RII has a much more comfortable grip to get your hands around, it can't compare to the Leica Q in terms of "artistic look". I can't take my eyes off the body, all black with only the Leica red dot standing out. Some complain about this, saying they'd prefer a black dot because it's more stealthy. But I don't buy into that claim. I like everything about the design, I even love the design of the lens hood. 

For more on the design, read this interview with Vincent Laine, the designer of the Leica Q:

3. You Only Live Once - You can't take your money with you when you die. As long as you have a roof over your head, free of debt and steaks in the freezer, why not enjoy life to the fullest extent? That being said, I don't plan on buying a new Leica Q and I don't plan on buying a used model until prices come down closer to $2000-$2500 USD, which might not be for a few years, I get that. There's just no way I can plunk down $4250. Not when I have my Sony RX1RII and Fujifilm X100S to enjoy. Some will say that the cost of the Leica Q with the fixed lens is still less than the cost of a Leica M240 and a lens, that's true, but you are still having to give up a lot with a fixed lens, fixed focal length camera, as good as it might be. 

With the exception of my somewhat impulsive purchase of my Sony RX1RII and A7RII, I have never had a problem waiting for what I want. But if I find, that once I get back to the states, I am not using my Sony A7II (which serves only as a back up to the A7RII), then I might persuade myself to sell it and a few other cameras and/or lenses I have laying around unused. That would certainly provide the cash to purchase the Leica Q when and if that should happen.

4. The Lens - The Leica Q features a fixed focal length Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens. As with all Leica lenses, it is a premium quality lens. The choice of 28mm for the focal length has created a lot of debate. Why not 35mm? It is, after all, the more classic focal length for street photography and is the chosen focal length for similar cameras like the Sony RX1RII and Fujifilm X100T. But I rather like the idea of a wider lens at 28mm. 

A 28mm focal length is wide enough for gorgeous architectural and interior photography, as well as for landscape photography. I have always struggled to find wide angle lenses that I really like and I'm anxious to shoot with some of my newly acquired wide angle lenses like the Sony 28mm f/2 and Zeiss 16-35mm f/4. I was pleased with the images from my Minolta Rokkor 28mm f/2.8 mounted on my Minolt A-700 35mm film camera and I really think it's a focal length that I will enjoy shooting immensely. But here again I face a slight dilemma in that I might be able to produce similar image with my A7II and A7RII mounted with the Sony 28mm f/2 lens, taking into account the difference in quality of the lenses.

5. I Love Leica - Every time I step foot inside the Leica store here in Seoul  I am treated like a celebrity. They always offer me, and whoever is with me, coffee, water, energy drinks and snacks. This, despite the fact that the only purchase I have ever made in the store wasn't even a purchase at all. I had my Leica M3 serviced and CLA'd there and that's it. I went there a couple weeks ago to purchase a grip for my Leica D-Lux (Typ 109) but they were out of stock. 

They are asking for around $4600 USD for a new Leica Q, I won't be purchasing one at that store. But still, I like the way they treat customers, it certainly made an impression on me, and I wonder if that's how customers are treated at every Leica store. I've only been to two in my lifetime, this one in Seoul and a smaller store in Manila, Philippines.

I love my Leica M3 and M6 and have also been loving on my new D-Lux. I'm certain that I will also swoon over the Q as well.

Photo from the Herrington catalog-

My Leica D-Lux (Typ 109)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Quite Possibly, My Last Photo Set From Korea - Youido Cherry Blossoms Etc.

Spring Flowers at Youido - captured by Leica D-Lux (Typ 109).

The movers come Tuesday morning. It was a rather difficult task decided which cameras and lenses would accompany me on the flight home, and which would travel by sea to rendezvous with me in Texas in 60 days time. One of the cameras that will not be traveling with me is my new Leica D-Lux (Typ 109). The main reason is that I don't have room in my bag for any more cameras, but, to a lesser extent, I lost the lens cap and simply don't want to run the risk of damaging the lens during travel. 

With that in mind, I wanted to take the Leica out for one more spin before boxing her up and the Cherry Blossom Festival at Youido, Seoul, South Korea provided the perfect setting. Well, almost perfect. Grey skies were the only blemish on a wonderful day of walking, enjoying the scenery and, of course, snapping a few photos.

One couldn't help but notice the abundance of "selfie sticks". It's become the norm here, so much so that when I offered to take a photo for two friends that were struggling to get photos of themselves, they politely declined. It's as if the idea of someone else taking the photo for you was somehow as foreign as I am.

Nonetheless, I couldn't worry about how other people take their awfully composed photos, I had my own photographs to concern myself with.

Sometimes a mistake can lead to positive, unintended circumstances. Such was the case with my trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival at Youido. I read about the festival online and the page included a map and description on how to find the location. However, the Youido area is a sort of island and it's quite large. The park basically, surrounds the island on all sides, so I kind of took a guess at the exact location of the festival. The area we made our way to included an ecological forest and several ponds with bike and walking trails throughout. It was a really nice place to spend a few hours but there was clearly no festival to be found. Still, there were plenty of cherry blossom trees in bloom and lots of opportunities for nice photos. 

Statue in front of the Glad Hotel, Youido

Cherry Blossom in bloom. Youido Park, Seoul, South Korea

Two sets of couples, with matching outfits and selfie sticks. Ugh.

The azaleas were also in bloom!

My companion and I decided to walk North towards the National Assembly Building, not knowing exactly what there might be to see there, as luck would have it, there was a lot to see, including the actual Cherry Blossom Festival!

Beautiful trees and flowers line the avenue from the park to the National Assembly.

The National Assembly Building grounds are open to the public. Families gather and picnic on the lawn and enjoy the beauty of the grounds. At this time, we were still completely unaware that the festival was on the road just behind the Assembly Building. But, our wandering nature eventually led us in that direction. Soon we came upon a crowd watching a juggling street performer who was doing his show on the main road of the festival. From there we simply followed the massive crowds and enjoyed the rest of the day taking in the sights and flowers.

The Leica D-Lux (Typ 109) has really impressed me since I purchased it a couple weeks ago. The Leica Vario-Summilix f/1.7lens, although not a true classic "M" prime lens, still bears that difficult-to-describe, unique Leica look. 

Leica D-Lux (Typ 109) - By the way, that's not a typo. The word "type" in German is spelled "typ".