I was in class a week or so ago when someone appeared at the door and my co-teacher went out to check. Then I was ushered out, mid-sentence, to receive a package from a courier — yes, a courier in Korea.
I knew what it was but I was surprised at how quickly it had arrived from Hong Kong. And I was, well, briefly flabbergasted that my $1,200 lens had just become $200 more expensive thanks to some kind of Korean import tax. But whatever — it was here. I reached for my credit card…
I was talking to my friend Greg at Hiking Fiasco about photography and walking the other day: the way your priorities can change if you enjoy taking pictures in the outdoors. You start off just grabbing a cheap point-and-shoot to document your walks, but after a while, perhaps, you start to love the photography side of things more, and you upgrade to a better camera, something appropriate for the wilds and the inevitable rough treatment it will endure.
For many (the lucky bastards), that’s where it ends. But some of us end up looking at other people’s pictures, teaching ourselves a few things, and really starting to think before we shoot. We start to — gasp — use manual settings. We get a real blast of pleasure when we capture a memento that really does the scene we witnessed some justice. More gear, more money — and a tonne more fun.
The ultimate stage of this illness, we agreed (apart from spending an hour per day reading photography forums dedicated to your camera — preferably in work time, heheh) is when you start choosing destinations based on the pictures you imagine yourself taking there, or returning to a place because you weren’t happy with your shots the previous time…
Buying my Sony Nex 5N just before I left Australia was a rare display of good sense. I have come to love this little beauty. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get technical here — there’s plenty of online information out there about mirror-less cameras, and I’m not qualified yet to talk the talk.
These photos are also relatively unprocessed — because I don’t know how. A brief fiddle with iPhoto is all. I dread the inevitable move to Aperture or Lightroom soonish…
But I spent months researching before I bought the Sony, and haven’t regretted it yet. In fact I love it more all the time — it’s not waterproof, but if it was, it would be just about the perfect camera for “enthusiast” outdoor photographers who want a powerful, large-sensor camera that can fit in a jacket pocket.
At least, it did fit in a jacket pocket till the new lens arrived.
That lens is the Sony/Carl Zeiss 24mm F1.8, one of the handful of NEX-specific lenses on the market at present. It got rave reviews everywhere (believe me, I read them all — in work time, heheh) but many decried its price tag. However, I reminded myself, I don’t drink or go out, don’t run a car or a girlfriend, and A Man Needs a Hobby.
The big plus of this lens is that it’s great for low-light, handheld photography. It’s extremely fast and needle-sharp at 1.8, produces lovely bokeh — my favourite photography word ever — and on the NEX has the added bonus of auto focus. I am something of a midnight rambler and a dawn patroller, and I often wish the whole damned world would recede into pleasantly configured background blur. It’s just perfect for my needs.
A couple of days after it arrived, I finished work at 4:30 and decided to wander into the woods and play with the new combo in the late-afternoon light. I’d been sick and was hopelessly out of form, and I was wearing jeans, which are horrible to walk in, but soon found myself climbing steadily into the hills near my apartment, the foothills of Bulmo-San, following a path I found by chance one day near the local reservoir.
It was a beautiful afternoon. The woods were almost deserted, birds were chattering, unseen, above me, a nearby stream, unthawed, was trickling, and the cool air that descended as the sun sank was no longer the killing chill of just a week or two earlier.
I was vaguely aiming at a wonderful string of little cairns uphill a ways (as they say in the States), but I felt weak and the path was steepening. I settled on trees and branches and chestnuts and leaves. I wish I could name them, but northern-hemisphere trees are not my strength.
Even in the viewfinder (I blew another pile of cash on the amazing external viewfinder) I could see how special they looked, even bare-ass naked. This place will be gorgeous in fresh green leaf.
Almost deserted, yes. But a flash of purple between the trunks behind me and a track-suited ajumma came into view: one of those formidable, tough-as-nails middle-aged women you encounter in the hills over here (the Japanese equivalent would be nicknamed an obasan).
I felt self-conscious, as I suspected the sight of a westerner back here in the woods would be cause for some apprehension. However, we greeted each other politely when she passed, and I focused as innocently as possible on a tree stump as she continued uphill.
She passed me again later, as she came down. This time she spoke in Korean.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean,” I replied. “Do you speak English?”
She paused, gave it some thought, and answered, “Sun…” And then she held her hands together, leaned her face onto them and very sweetly mimed “sleep”.
I smiled. This was one of the very few times a woman has attempted to talk to me while out walking in Korea.
“Thank you, I’ll be okay.” It was twilight alright, but I always carry a headlamp.
I spent five minutes crouched down over this cicada shell…
…and reluctantly turned to head for home.
I didn’t need the lamp.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote