Ebay is a dangerous place. One moment you see a funny-looking lens with an eye-catching chunky focus ring in related searches, the next you’re awaiting a parcel from Japan. There might have been some online research done in between those two events, but not much since there’s just one (very good and quite comprehensive) review, an entry in Lens DB, a YouTube video, and a few forum threads, all speaking of this little-known lens in very favourable, if not gushing, terms.
The lens arrived just in time for my week off work. Due to the pandemic (you might have seen stuff on the news about it) this is my third staycation in a row, which I don’t mind as exotic locations never really appealed to me all that much. My last vacation away, right before the first lockdown, was to Catsfield which is a 45-minute train trip and a short taxi ride away from where I live. The cottage at an alpaca farm is sufficiently far away from everything to provide a much needed rest and relaxation and at the same time close enough to not be a hassle to get to without a car. While I would prefer to put some distance between myself and my everyday environment to properly take advantage of my time off, it is what it is.
The last year and a half wasn’t all bad though. One of the lovelier things about it is the renewed appreciation I see in many people for the little things in life. A lunch out with a friend, an evening walk on the seafront, maybe even a day trip out of town – all the sort of stuff I decided to fill my short break with. And a new lens to test out was just the cherry I needed to top it off. But the cherry appeared to be in a less than perfect condition right from the start.
The mechanical state of the lens turned out to be pretty poor. The focus ring was stuck at minimum focusing distance, the aperture ring was sticky and randomly alternating between too loose and too stiff, and I was unable to unscrew the plastic rear cap. Assuming the description in the listing was correct and the lens in fact left Japan fully functional, it might have been subjected to very low temperatures in transit, which the particular lubricant used in it reacted very poorly to. I contacted the seller, listed my complaints, and received a very apologetic reply and an offer to return the lens.
Something made me not initiate a formal return request via Ebay right away. The next morning, on the first day of my break, I decided to try and gently work on the lens with a blow-dryer in order to soften the lubricant and make the lens usable again. I thought I can always return it if this doesn’t work, and also that all other listings of this lens were in Japan and so this might very well happen again to another copy. The optics looked great so I figured it was worth a try.
Sure enough, the focusing ring got unstuck and with a little more work started turning perhaps not perfectly but smoothly enough. The aperture ring was still a bit all over the place, but from what I could tell it was opening and closing the aperture correctly and wasn’t so loose that I could accidentally knock it out of place. The last obstacle to being able to test it out was the rear cap that was still stuck firmly in place and no amount of warming it up with the blow-dryer and using rubber bands for better friction seemed to do the trick. I turned to my partner for help and with his violin player’s mighty grip he managed to get it off. Victory! Things were looking up for the tiny Chiyoko.
After confirming that the lens worked and focused correctly, I promptly let the seller know I intend to keep it after all and received an overjoyed response. Apparently the global pandemic has been kicking their butts business-wise and having to refund the lens and have it repaired was less than an ideal turn of an already bad situation. I figure the added good karma now attached to this lens more than compensates for the mechanical shortcomings, and the couple of outings with the lens confirmed everything I read about it online – it’s a stunner.
I was hoping for some good weather on my week off, good being sunny and clear. It’s kind of my favourite thing to shoot black and white with a red filter in strong sunlight to achieve a high contrast and a gloomy look under conditions that would normally be associated with summer and cheer. Many photographers avoid harsh light like the plague, but I seek it out. My tools of choice for the day were my Leica M Monochrom typ 246, the Chiyoko, and the W-Nikkor.C 2.8cm f/3.5 which turned out to be one of my most used lenses of 2021 and which I have written a glowing review for not long ago. The weather forecast predicted a mostly sunny Tuesday and so once the cats woke me up for breakfast (they were particularly generous that morning and let me sleep in until 8) I got dressed, grabbed a nut bar, and hopped the Coastliner bus to the exotic Shoreham-by-Sea.
I mainly wanted to check out the new development that had cropped up since I last went there. I saw it a few weeks ago from the train on my way back from Salisbury and it looked quite striking with its perfect symmetry and the unrelenting rhythm of triangular roofs. It used to be easy for me to define what sort of a photographer I was – a gig photographer. At the height of my passion for it I’d attend and photograph concerts every week, I think my all-time record was 6 gigs in a single week, and I don’t mean any sort of a festival scenario but 6 different individual events. This was on top of a full-time job unrelated to photography.
But lately, even before the pandemic hit and disrupted our lives as we knew them, I began feeling burned out and unsure how I should proceed. Another good thing about the lockdowns was being forced to stop and re-evaluate. So I started taking my camera on walks around Brighton as a means of breaking the monotony of working from home. I’ve lived here for almost a decade but felt like I had a very superficial knowledge of the place, with the exception of concert venues of course. Not long ago a co-worker asked me what sort of photography I do. Before I could answer with my usual “Oh you know, casual stuff” another co-worker, a fellow photographer, who’s known me longer jumped in with “Architecture! Right?” and I thought to myself that actually yeah, that’s it. I studied architecture, even earned a degree in it, but never felt a real calling for it and so gave up on pursuing it as a career. Being able to appreciate architecture and being able to create it are two very different things.
In my mind what I do is seek out interesting forms, shapes, and textures that I photograph in harsh light black and white, aided with my Monochrom camera body and a drawer’s worth of filters. Apparently, what comes out is good old architecture photography, or rather some sort of inventory of the various architectural elements and styles that you can find around these parts. Not just the beautiful, elegant, and intricate architecture landmarks such as the Royal Pavilion or the decaying West Pier, burned down and slowly being disassembled and swallowed by the sea, but also the stuff that doesn’t hold much interest for the average photographer – council tower blocks, seemingly boring terraced houses, relatively modern office buildings that are already aging pretty poorly, and also smaller forms such as chimneys, fire escapes, scaffolding, cranes, etc. The contrasts between the old and the new, the ugly and the beautiful, the intact and the decaying, the permanent and the temporary. And in this vein I thought Shoreham might be an interesting destination.
Once I got off the bus, and having taken a few shots along the way, I headed for the river Adur. The morning sun was behind the row of new-builds along the river bank, including the most recent development known as The Waterfront. I wasn’t about to let it discourage me as there was a strong chance the sky was going to get overcast long before the sun would travel far enough to illuminate the facades. Shadows have always held more interest for me than highlights anyway. It was surprisingly cold and only a few people could be found walking their dogs along the river. Passing under the viaduct I spotted a peculiar bit of graffiti that said “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” stencilled in dark glossy paint on a dark matte painted pillar.
Few people paid any attention to me, except one guy who jokingly exclaimed “Please no press!” in my direction and an older lady jogging along who was delighted she wasn’t the only one picking snails off of paths so they don’t get stepped on. The Chiyoko is a tiny unassuming lens and it’s easy to not draw too much attention to yourself when shooting with it. It captures images with good contrast and while it produces quite a lot of flare if the sun is right outside the frame, it holds its own in the case of back-lit subjects. I very much enjoy its uncommon focal length of 45mm, somehow more often than not when pointing it at a subject the picture within the 50mm frame lines was just ever so slightly too tight. I carried on exploring Shoreham until late afternoon, with mixed results and in mixed weather conditions, but I knew these initial shots from the morning already made the trip worthwhile.