Deep Nikko in Winter

Taking of the beauty and grandeur of nature, no place comes to mind quite like Nikko. The place offers some simply awe-inspiring views and immersion in a natural world that once covered this planet. I don’t just look at the places and events taking place there- I feel them. They make me more alive, too. Though I may have posted some of these earlier, here they are with a little more explanation of how I felt to see them. I really wish more people would learn to appreciate nature. I don’t mean just worrying about the state of the environment for people, which I consider a form of egotism (however enlightened it may be), but a concern for the planet and life on it in and of itself, valuing more than  just the human species, which are in a sense it’s custodians. I believe such thoughts are sometimes called ‘deep ecology’ and get criticised for their lofty, trans-human aims, but if you don’t aim high, your arrows are bound to fall short.

Anyway, I digress, but the point is that I don’t want these just to be pretty pictures, or to think of these places just in terms of their beauty. We should all work together to protect the Earth we live on, and a first step on this path is overcoming the cultural and linguistic barriers that have held us back from co-operating for so long. So let me take you on a little tour of Deep Nikko (‘Oku Nikko’), from the bus ride onwards, in the winter. Oku Nikko is the protected, national park area, whereas the area nearer the station is filled with cultural treasures, as well as some less dramatic natural ones. I plan on making another post about Autumn when I usually go for the gorgeous colours).

The first thing is to get the bus from the station, to or past Chuzenjiko lake. The view from the bus is magnificent and a good reason to go to Nikko in the first place. It is a steep and winding road up and over the mountains. This year, I went once by bus and once with friends by car.

View from the bus

View from the bus

Next you will find yourself at the lake itself. I would generally go straight to Kegon Falls by foot from here, or ride the bus further, as the lake itself isn’t so interesting. But in the middle of winter, the rocks near the shore were covered with amazing icicles. It was freezing cold to photograph, right by the windy lake as it was, but the sights were quite primal  Nature at it’s essence, with no filters in between. As always, it surprises me how beautifully designed everything is, even the icicles, far from being mere frozen water randomly forming, have intricate, fractal-like designs. Randomness is a human idea, not a real, existing natural phenomenon was my mantra, as I witnessed beautiful fractals emerge from the complex combination of forces.

Icicles by Chuzenjiko

Icicles by Chuzenjiko

Next, here is Kegon Falls, where the vertically-falling water makes even more intricate designs. I spent some time here by myself photographing in wonder at it all. It was like a great painting, or cathedral, or both. Of course, it also depends on how you see it. To that extent, nature is like a mirror. The waterfall itself is infamous for suicides, with one famous writer saying he wanted to escape into the infinity of the water-fields. Fortunately, guard rails and the like make this harder to do now.

Kegon Falls

Kegon Falls

Kegon viewing platform

Kegon viewing platform

Down the elevator and closer to the falls (zoomed in, though)

Down the elevator and closer to the falls (zoomed in, though)

 

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A Trip to the Zoo With the P510

Zoos are actually a great place for photography- providing, that is, you have a long lens. I thought I’d take out my P510 to Ueno again and take her for a trip to the zoo. One thing I’ve found with zoos, as with birding and any wildlife photography, really- is you can’t have too long a lens. Especially if it’s a zoom and you can shrink it at will. I found a remarkable connection with the animals through this. Whilst I may have looked absurd to some, through the lens I could get closer than my merely human eyes are capable of. Of course, another option would have been to jump in the cage and get even closer that way. But not wanting to be anyone’s lunch course, I opted for the safer option.

Certainly, I found the same joys and limitations as when birding. I could get in astonishingly close, even being able to find abstract patterns of the animal’s skin and isolate them as I took them. I can’t overemphasise too much how meaningful it is to be composing such photos as you take them. Simply to crop afterwards may get the same effect, but (a) it won’t usually have enough resolution for a decent print anymore, as only slight cropping allows this, however high megapixel numbers might seem. Also, (b) it’s far more effective and fun to be seeing what you’ll create. So that’s the positive. The negative is the impossibility of tracking any movement unless it be that of a snail and also the lack of fine detail at the pixel level, something that limiting ISO can help, but you are a far cry from DSLR, or even M4/3 land. So, knowing this, I just got out there and took some images I found remarkable as with less reach they simply wouldn’t be.

See what you think- is an ultrazoom for you?

Nikon P510 User Report- The Camera Compared

So why did I chose the P510? Of course, there is the V1 option, with it’s adapters allowing AF with long Nikon lenses, offering a massive, stabilised 200-800mm with my 70-300 (or so, actually for nitpickers, 189-810mm). I tried it out in a shop and both the usability and detail was surprisingly good. Yet it feels unwieldy, delicate to have that long lens on a small body, like a NEX on steroids. Also, having only recently gotten into m4/3, for now I don’t really want to invest in yet another system, especially one that is in its infancy as far as native lenses go and I’m not so convinced Nikon’s DSLR lenses can all hold up so well to its massive 2.7 crop either. I can see myself getting into that in the future, though, perhaps when their uniquely attractive (in abilities if not so much in the looks department), V2 plummets in price. The V2 fixed a lot of the problems of the V1, despite losing the smooth styling, but is at least twice as expensive as it ought to be considering its small sensor and doesn’t really develop the IQ much from what I’ve seen. If I’m going to make a big purchase, I’d rather invest in DSLR lenses or m4/3, where you can already get such great images. So I went even smaller, sensor-wise.

Memory Lane-1972

I live far from Mt. Fuji, yet on a clear day and on a high point, you can make her out in the distance.

Memory Lane-1970

With the ultrazoom at 1,000mm I can clearly see the crest. Almost unbelievable, considering the distance.

So far, there’s a lot to like. It has incredible software, which can quickly take and process HDR images, or construct panoramas as you pan the camera. The zoom is accompanied by a tremendous VRII system, which works right to the end of the zoom. Even the mode choices are good, choosing the clearest shot automatically, or adapting to the environment well (snow mode much more appropriate than automatic for today’s purposes). I’ll admit I’ve previously turned my nose up at such ‘bridge’ camera due to their tiny sensors and often low IQ, but as sensors advance and their lenses get so exotically long it is hard to ignore them. There is simply no other way to get small lenses that reach so far and whilst my interest is birding, there are other applications where it may work wonders- flower-fields, candids in the street way out of sight, temple details on a trip. It opens up new avenues, even if, with that small sensor, the dynamic range and high-ISO qualities are so limited… something that blending photos with the special modes may help with, the same way that HDR helps with my iPhone, which with newer apps and faster processors has become my standard usage now for it.

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Snowy Day- First Shots with the Nikon P510 Bridge Camera

Great- it’s snowing! Or terrible, I’m not sure which, as I have the day off and my Nikon P510 just arrived and I’m itching to take it out for a spin. So I settled for throwing on my coat and taking some shots from the balcony. After all, I don’t really want to risk any damage to it on its first day.

 

I’ll cut to the chase and put some samples right here- I think you can see the rich creative potential of having such a tremendous zoom in such a small and handy body, as well as modern processing abilities that make it a fast and effective camera to use. Meanwhile, I’m working on a review/user report, which I’ll be posting in installments shortly.

 

Wow that zoom is tremendous! You can see how, from a safe distance, I could zoom right into the scene and catch what was going on. You get an intimacy with events that you otherwise would just distantly notice. It is, in fact, the digital camera equivalent of a telescope.

I got it to help out with my birding, where the maximum reach of anything I have is a relatively short 450mm equivalent, offered by my trusty 70-300mm VR on a Nikon D300, which offers excellent autofocusing even on birds in flight (BIF). This is fine for big birds or those silly or brave enough to stick around when I’m approaching, but the little ones get away. Even the photos I do get, when they are snacking on fruit in trees, as heavily cropped, so I really need more image. This seems to be a very convenient way to get that and in portable form. As a companion to my DSLRs or even m4/3, I can see it transforming my photography. It can produce some wonderful candids, as well, without the obvious issues of pointing a long lens in someone’s direction- it looks so small and inconspicuous.

Nonoshita Walks

The place I live, whilst being close to Toyoshiki station and across the road at which Kashiwa meets Nagareyama, is called Nonoshita. Though a lot of people live here now, it is historically an agricultural area, as can be seen from the presense of farms and farmhouses. One thing I love to do is walk in the countryside near my place. You just have to go about ten minutes and you are in a peaceful, unchanged world of farmhouses, flowers, rice fields, wild birds and gently swaying trees. Walking through this, in the sunshine, with the songs of various birds echoing around the hillsides, is a treat in itself.

For me it is like an extended garden, a contemporary version of the perfection of Eden. The practical nature of all the arrangements there drops away for me and I see the ecosystem at play, with all it’s beauty and mystery. At each step I find new, small surprises- a pheasant crying to her mate here, ducks flying gracefully through the air there, tadpoles swimming joyfully in their first days of life. it is like a poem in motion, laid out before me. It doesn’t just change every season, it changes each day, as they blend together, millions of elements making one moment quite unlike any other.

I believe when people love the Earth, they will naturally try to protect her, just as they would their own children. Which isn’t to say the Earth is like a child for us, in fact it may well be the other way around. Yet this is an affectionate, appreciative feeling, which you could direct to God or Earth or creators-sons, or whatever else one thanks for this glory. For, in the moment of apprehension, there is really no question  that there is the mark of something divine in it all and one is wrapped up in the communion with it, the joy of sharing in the wonder. We need nothing more than what we already have.

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