Sony @700 testing at Hakkoda

I finally got to test out the Sony @700 this week at Hakkoda.
I spent two days shooting with Hiroshi Fujiwara and crew in the back country of Hakkoda. Our guide was Soma-san and he did a great job of showing us the good spots and keeping us from getting stuck in the deep powder.

As for the camera I am impressed with this machine. It is a mid-level SLR camera meant for the amateur who is ready to take some high-end digital photos and wants to be able to change lenses. If you have a Minolta camera or hopefully some other lens lying around, this camera will be a good choice. You can use all those Minolta lenses with this Sony camera. If you are really in the cash, you can lay out for some of the really high-end Carl Ziess lenses that also work with this camera. I am set up with an 18 to 250 mm Sony lens on this camera. That pretty much is all you need to shoot most subjects. I found some dark corners when shooting at the far end of the zoom, but that is to be expected with low-end lenses. The monitor is big and pretty to look at. The menu settings can be accessed though the menu button or a short cut button or through individual buttons on the camera body.
I had to laugh when I found out that the menu language could not be changed into English. Here in Japan Sony has always made their cameras with Japanese only menus. Perhaps this is to try and stop people from buying the Japanese version and taking it back to some other country. Well it sucks for those of us who do not read Japanese but happen to be living in Japan. I hope they change that policy in future editions. I stopped using Sony video camera’s about 5 years ago and that was one of the major reasons why I stopped.
I like the fact that this camera can shoot really good photos right out of the box using the auto modes. I used the scenic mode for most of these pictures and the sport mode and portrait mode as well. I think Sony gets the colors better then my Nikon, the pink wear by Burton that Hiroshi has on looks just like it did in person.
I recently struggled to shoot a pink jacket during the Blueblood shoot with my Nikon camera. I had to test all combinations of color modes to get the color to look right. The Sony seems to do a good job getting it right. I found two settings that I wish I had on my Nikon. The Vivid color setting and the D-R+ setting. The color settings have several choices like Neutral, Vivid, Adobe RGB and B&W. I like the Vivid to warm up the colors a little bit during the cold and mostly colorless winter. The D-R is a setting that brings out detail in the shadows of a picture. I set it to D-R+ so that I could get a good amount of detail in the shadows. If some one is wearing a dark colored jacket in a field of snow, it is very hard to expose for the jacket color. So in general you expose for the snow and lose detail in the jacket. I think the camera does a good job bringing out the shadows.
There is a little lag as it processes each photo before displaying it on the screen. Any downsides? First major problem I found is that I like shoot in the RAW mode and import into Aperture to do further retouching. Well Aperture did not want to have anything to do with the Sony RAW format. If anyone has info about a plug-in or a fix for that, please let me know. I know that Sony likes to keep things to themselves so that people have to buy a range of Sony products….. if I have to use a Japanese only piece of software to work with the RAW photos …. well forget it. I could not open the RAW file with CS3 Photoshop either…. Any info on that would be nice as well.
Another thing I don’t like, the CF momory card is very hard to pull out of the camera. They built it so it faces the wrong way. Kind of hard to explain, but you will know what I mean when you try it. There is a little lip on the card, but it faces the lid and it is very hard to get a grip on it when pulling it out. It is little things like that which will turn pros off from using a camera. I can change my Nikon memory card with my gloves on, no way with the Sony. All the pictures you see here were shot on auto mode in 16:9 format Extra fine Jpeg mode. I used the +/- for a setting of +1 for most shots.
If you want to watch a slide show of the photos, you can spend a few minutes here! All in all, I am having fun using this camera, and I look forward to an even more “pro use” version hopefully coming soon from Sony!
Thanks to HF for hooking me up with the camera to test, check out his blog for a report on Hakkoda as well. I look forward to seeing the whole crew again in Tomamu next week! Thanks for the photos!


Inawashiro to Gunma

Had a fun day yesterday in the Inawashiro area. It was a quick day trip to film for the next edition of Trans-World Japan Snowboarding DVD Transmission. We started off in the morning at Lake Inawashiro. I was trying to take a picture of the lake when my foot broke through the ice and I found myself standing in the ice cold water! Next we went to Inawashiro Ski Resort and checked out the Trans-World Park. We met up with the Brave Project digger crew lead by Tyler-san and Taisho. They sessioned the jumps (good jumps and rails) while we filmed. We got lucky with some sunshine, then the weather turned bad as soon as we finished filming. Next we checked out the Noguchi Hideo memorial. He is the guy on the Japanese 1,000 yen bill! Then headed to Kitakata about 40 minutes away. The city is famous for ramen and we ate a bowl of good ramen at a place called “Namae”. Real nice people, nice views and nice snowboarding making it a good day! I had to drive 350 km to Gunma so hit the road after the ramen, but only made it about halfway before giving up and sleeping at a highway parking lot. About 2 a.m. the snow clearing bulldozer came into the lot and started clearing the snow. I swear the guy was trying to piss me off as he came so close to my car so many times it was ridiculous. I kept thinking, how much snow can there be around my car! I somehow was able to get back to sleep. Woke of at 6 a.m. to find about 15 cm of snow on my car, heavy wet snow, but it was beautiful on the trees by the parking area.
Still dark at 6:00 in the morning. From there I drove through Japan’s famous snowfield areas, Muikamachi, Yuzawa and Tanigawadake.
It was really dumping snow! Now I’m chilling at the family house in Gunma. Will be on the ferry back to Hokkaido on the 2nd of February! Time for one more thing. I saw this on the side of a car in Inawashiro, which illustrates a classic example of the strange use of English in Japan. It was a van converted into a camper, I guess this is the brand name!
Only in Japan!

Goodbye Hakkoda Hello Inawashiro

Has been a great week here in Hakkoda so hate to leave, but I have to hit the road and make my way to Fukushima prefecture and Inawashiro resort. I will be there to film for the Trans-World DVD magazine. on the 30th and 31st so hope to see some friends there. Was real nice to say hi to a lot of people here in Hakkoda thanks to everyone who stopped me to say hello, it was nice to meet you all!

Here is a picture of our guide Soma-san today in the trees. Check out the Hakkoda Sansou web site if you need info or guiding in the area! The Guide Club runs great tours!

Final shot, check out the good slogan on the local’s car!

Hakkoda full report

Finally found an Internet connection here in the Hakkoda mountains! Have been making some notes over the last week here so will post my report on the trip to Hakkoda now. Our first day at Hakkoda was incredible! We got off the ferry at 6:30 in the morning and headed straight for the mountain. A quick stop at the Circle K for some snack items and we were on our way. We had a nice view of the mountain on the way up and info that this was the first good weather day for the season! We stopped to snap a few pictures of the Hakkoda range with the sun rising in the background, what a nice welcome. The trees on the road up were caked in snow, incredible amount of snow on the side of the roads and all very fresh.
We arrived and started to get our gear on right away. We hooked up with our local connection Ryoma and he promised to be our guide for the day. There was no wind and great visibility with just some high clouds all day. The sky was not a perfect blue, but we could see the ocean, Aomori bay, Mt. Iwaki and the whole surrounding area! Every time a new view came into sight the whole crew would stop and pull out cameras to try and capture the moment. It was hard to keep moving the whole day and I could see our guide Ryoma was laughing inside, watching the newbies freak out over each panorama!

We did a total of three runs on the gondola and each one was amazing. The famous snow monster trees were fantastic to look at and it was exciting to see and shoot some new locations. The upper half of the mountain has the pine trees caked in snow (known as snow monsters) and the lower half has a different type of tree called a beech tree. In the low sections we found lots of pillows and different features to use for jumps. We got stuck for a while sessioning some pillows, but Ryoma was itching to get back up to the top. For the last run we took a short hike to a great sunset location. The light was not super strong, but still had a nice yellow glow. After shooting the guys riding down a short face, I was able to enjoy three of the nicest turns I have had in a long while. The run out from there to the bottom was an incredible natural halfpipe with bank and berms that seemed to go on forever. With the heavy backpack on, it was not long before I was asking for mercy! My thighs were burning something bad! There were a lot of high fives being passed around when we got to the bottom, everybody was super satisfied with our first day.

That night the storm of the month moved in and started blowing like crazy. The wind speed reached up to 39 meters per second in the city below the mountain. That is called a winter typhoon over here. We stayed inside the whole day shooting portraits and other fun photos while the wind howled outside. There was not a huge amount of snowfall but a lot of wind loaded areas to be seen in the parking lot. The next day we were able to ride and we actually found really fun lines in the trees. The top section was wind blown and crusty, but there was fun packed powder in the trees. We searched around and found a few things to shoot in the trees. The trees are beautiful here, a local guy told me that the high elevation trees are all “Todo matsu” a type of pine and the lower level trees are beech trees or “Buna” in Japanese. The spacing between the trees is what makes the magic here, perfect for cruising runs. That night the weather moved in while we were asleep and we were shocked to see at least three feet in the parking lot in the morning. The cars were all buried under the snow load. The staff was busting their asses to clear off the cars and the lot, so I’m sure glad I don’t have that job.
We went to the gondola and took I think two runs that day. It was so deep up on the mountain there was no way to go off the course. Everyone had to stay on the same line, just hitting the sides and slowly widening the course. Still had a blast, but hard weather to shoot photos in. Yesterday the weather was doing the same thing, with more wind so we decided to give the mountain a rest. Ryoma took us to a great rock garden type of location just outside of Aomori city. It was north facing, but protected from the wind and there were a bunch of great rock lines and cliffs. The crew got busy right away sessioning that section and we spent most of the day there working the place over. Was able to use my flash for a few shots. We made it back to the hotel just in time for dinner. That reminds me, the food at Sukayu Hot Springs is amazing! Very healthy meals and even the breakfast buffet was top quality! You can always judge a hotel by the breakfast buffet. Today I got up super early at 5 o’clock to pack and be out the door of the hotel by 8:30 a.m. Hiroshi happened to be at Hakkoda for two days from today so I wanted to join their party and hang out for a day or two before leaving here. We met at the first gondola and rode up to the peak. Their crew of 8 people were set to go on a tour for the day with guides. The weather at the peak was a little windy and foggy.
We took a short hike and did a nice run down the Dozo course. Once we were out of the foggy zone the riding was nice. Untracked powder was everywhere.dsc00688.jpg

There were a lot of tours on the route today. Our guide said every company was taking people there today as it was the only route available today. The snow was a little firm feeling while riding, but the minute you took your foot out of your bindings you sank up to your waist. Deeeeeeeeep.
The Dozo run ends at a road with a bus pick up and ride back to the base. Tonight I am staying at the Hakkoda Sansou lodge right at the gondola station. Great location so close to the station, but I miss the great bath at Sukayu…..

Hakkoda Day 3

I spoke to Neil on the phone this morning around 8:30am and he was getting ready to go out and shoot some photos.  He said that it had snowed about 60 centimeters overnight.  Later on he sent me this cell phone shot of the parking area to give me a feel of the powder that fell.  In Hokkaido my own car had almost that much snow on it this morning.  There has been about 80 cms. of snow in the last couple of days in Sapporo.  The small streets are a disaster but the mountains must be paradise.


Hakkoda Day 1 and 2

Yesterday was amazing! Clear skies and deep powder! The views of Aomori Bay were impressive to say the least. We did three gondola runs and shot as many photos as we could. We are now staying at Sukayu Hot Springs near the mountain. It’s a very famous hotel and onsen in this area. Today we were totally shut down with the massive storm that is hitting us now. Super strong winds all day today. Tomorrow should be big snow so I hope the wind stops! Check out the photo of the famous snow monsters!! Had to use my cell phone to pass these pictures on to my father so the quality is not so great. No Internet service up here.  More later.  Neil

Snow monsters

Snow monsters

The boys enjoying dinner!

Dinner at the onsen

Leaving for Hakkoda

The Blueblood team has gathered at my house and we are packing for the trip to Aomori and Hakkoda.  We are taking a late night ferry from Muroran tonight arriving in Aomori early tomorrow morning. We are going to be shooting there for the new Blueblood catalog and advertisments in 2008 as well as capturing some video for the new Car Danchi 3.  Will be on the mountain from the 23rd and stay until the 28th.  I hear that it is deep deep deep in the Hakkouda mountains!  Looking forward to the new locations and great powder.  If you see us on the mountain say hi!