Tag Archive for japan

Using the #Gnarbox for the first time

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

The Gnarbox was a Kickstarter project, and it is an in-field storage and back up device. It also lets you edit and post pictures without a laptop, and do it away from your office. I pitched in on Kickstarter paying USD$149, and it now retails at $299. It has a capacity of 128Gb, and a claimed battery life of 4 to 6 hours (a wide error of margin) with 4,000mha capacity. It can connect to your smarthphone or Android or iOS tablet via wifi and the Gnarbox app.

 

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view.

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view. (photo taken on iPhone)

The Gnarbox arrived and it sat doing nothing for about two weeks. It was already obsolete by the time I received it. It was originally meant to be delivered in March 2016, but finally came in May 2017. My previous blog posts describe the ordeal of waiting for the Gnarbox, the constant new promises, and missed delivery deadlines. There were constant complaints by Kickstarter backers near the end of 2016 and early 2017. For me, by the time it arrived it was already replaced by a Toshiba wifi memory card. Also consider that most new cameras now include wifi connection to your smartphone, too. Anyway, I paid for it (back in July 2015), and it’s finally just arrived. On Sunday just gone, I went shooting at Arimatsu. They are known for their cloths and tie-dying industry; no, not hippy tie-dying, but the kimono type, as you’ll see below. So, I thought it would be a great chance to do a real life test of the Gnarbox.

 

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu.

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

To prepare this blog post, I’m using the WordPress app, the Gnarbox with my iPad Mini 4, the Gnarbox app, and an ice-cold Chocolista from my favourite cafe in Japan. Firstly, the wifi connection doesn’t show in the top bar of the iPad, and so I thought it wasn’t connected. After five minutes of trying different things, I thought I’d just try the viewer. Lo and behold, it was connected. It was showing 40% battery. Then I realised it didn’t automatically import the +300 photos from my SD card. It took a slow 5 minutes or so to do the job. In the meantime, it was sucking the battery dry.

 

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully's Chocolista Tall size.

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully’s Chocolista Tall size.

 

Additionally, the top surface of the Gnarbox was getting too hot to touch. A point of no concern for their snow-based “real world” testers. It seemed like they really did most of their testing in the Californian winter alps (just check their Instagram feed). I mention this, as I’ve not seen any other sample images and videos from the Gnarbox Instagram account. Previous blog posts describe how I was blocked by Gnarbox after complaining about yet another missed delivery date, and the social media censorship that coincided with the start of the prestigious CES exhibition. They obviously wanted to hide their missed deliveries and angry customers.

 

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It's simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It’s simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

There are good points and bad points. Mixed in with this are the two facets of the Gnarbox, the box and the app. The box itself is heavy, but feels quite sturdy and rugged. The data connections including card slots are protected with environment proof flaps. In the app, the thumbnail display didn’t complete loading, and so I sat there waiting using up valuable battery life. I eventually found the refresh button; a problem I probably won’t have again. The main concern I noticed right away with the app was the skin tones; the gamma levels seemed off. Also, it doesn’t seem to be able to manage the transition from highlights to normal very well. I’m certain this isn’t a lens or sensor issue. Admittedly, no one wants to shoot in the midday sun, which of course contributes to the problem, but the point of editing software is to reduce this issue, which it failed. However, I do love the “punch” slider. I’m not exactly sure what it does, but I do like the outcome. It is probably like the vibrance slider in Lightroom. It does manage recovering details from dark areas wonderfully. The app seems good, but lacks a range of features when compared to the older and more mature Adobe Photoshop Express. However, the Gnarbox app can manage full resolution images, in raw format and video.

 

Two men sitting in the shade in front of a store at the Arimatsu festival.

Two men sitting in front of a store at the Arimatsu kimono and cloth festival. The man on the right is wearing a summer kimono known as a yukata. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Other issues aren’t major ones. My camera was set to raw + jpg, as it is the only way for the Toshiba wifi card to work and connect with my phone. However, Gnarbox can work with raw files, no jpgs needed. However, the index view doesn’t indicate which is raw and which is jpg. Furthermore, as nice and neat as it looks, the cropped images make it hard to choose which photo is worth editing at a glance. You have to tap on one, check, then flick through and find out which you want the hard way.

 

The index view in the Gnarbox app.

The index view of the Gnarbox app. Using square cropped previews is nice, but which one will you want to edit? Which are raw and which are jpg?

 

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival.

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

I don’t do much video editing, and so I probably struggle to use this feature. Which may explain why I couldn’t figure out how to stitch two separate videos together (if it is indeed possible). It is said that the Gnarbox comes with some basic music that can be overlaid into your in-field created video, and you can add more sound tracks to the box yourself. The video colour editing function didn’t work. The error message said something about a firmware update is needed first, something not possible while working on the fly.

The Gnarbox battery went from 40% to 9% within 45mins, which hints that the claimed 4-6 hours might not be possible on this particular unit. It was at about 50% when I opened the box minutes after receiving it from the mail man. There were issues regarding battery life reported online; I hope mine isn’t one of the affected ones. Some buyers have had to return theirs and get a replacement. The Gnarbox took some hours to charge, it was charged overnight, and so I’ll now have the opportunity to test the full battery life in the future.

 

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu.

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Do you really need a Gnarbox? For day trips, it’s probably not needed. Just use a $50 wifi SD card and the Adobe PhotoShop Express app (set your camera to raw + jpg). For extended trips, as a backup device in case you lose your memory cards, for some people it’s good to have. For immediate social sharing it’s a must have (if you can’t or don’t want to use a wifi SD card). For an overseas jaunt, it’s perhaps quite under capacity at a mere 128Gb. An hour or so of shooting at Arimatsu created 198 photos taken at raw & jpg, which created a 5.92Gb folder. Plus two short videos at 100mb (1:09min) and 35mb (0:24min). I usually take about 300 plus photos at an event and more video. So, I typically walk away using about 12Gb of storage space on memory cards. Consequently, for a trip away, I think the last few photos won’t be transferred onto the Gnarbox. For videographers and vloggers, you might want to wait and see if Gnarbox creates a second generation product with more capacity. Of course, this is my own take on things on its first outing, and as based on my needs and uses. You may see advantage in it, or not. Overall, I will use it, but not as often as I might have 22 months ago. Would I buy one now? No. I’ve never lost a memory card, and my next camera will probably have wifi built in anyway. I have to say this once more, the Gnarbox app does a great job of recovering details in the dark areas, and the punch/vibrance slider is awesome.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says “Arimatsu” in Japanese script.

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Naked Man Festival in video

I’ve covered the Kounomiya Naked Man Festival in the past; Kounomiya is the place and shrine near Nagoya, which is known in Japanese as Hadaka Matsuri, Hadaka means naked, and matsuri means festival. Below is the bigger spectacle in Okayama covered by the BBC just yesterday. Ceremonies for the Nagoya Kounomiya festival starts from this week, but the main event is on the 28th Feb 2018 (Kikuko Nagoya). If you want to participate in the this festival, you have less than 24 hours to can email Kikuko. Enjoy.

Correction: I just received an email alerting me to an error on a source website. The event is not 28th Feb 2017, but in 2018 (which is 13th January of the lunar year).

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Coming of Age Day in Japan


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Hong Kong model Sabrina visiting Meiji Shrine in Tokyo during the Coming of Age Day in Japan. The Coming of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) is celebrated annually on the second Monday in January by only young adults who have recently turned twenty years of age. They return to their high school to attend ceremonies, and then go to shrines and temples to pray for their futures. Typically the guys wear a nice suit; the same one they would wear for job interviews, but the ladies dress up in kimonos.

Unfortunate for the young ladies who chose too come to Meiji Shrine, there were hordes of tourists, photographers, and Sabrina and I waiting to harangue them into photos and selfies. It was almost masochistic the attention these ladies received from almost everyone there. Anyway, with the ladies pictured above we were nice and respectful. In fact, they were happy to talk to a Hong Kong model, were pleased with the photos I took, and then asked me to take exactly the same ones with their own camera. Because they did us a favour, I was happy to oblige.

It was great working with Sabrina, I hope she had a great time in Tokyo. Update to the JapanesePhotos Instagram at: http://bit.ly/2kpZFbj. Also see other photos from this collection at the Sabrina gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

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#POTW Girl in taxi

This Photo of the Week is of a great model I recently worked with, Eri in Tokyo. Every once in a while I take a photo that seems special; this is that photo. The interaction of the interior light and the outside light, the reflection; and importantly the model’s own talent. I’m very grateful for her talent, assistance, and the patience of the taxi driver who helped with this shoot.


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Tourists to Japan now over 24 million annually

In 2015 the number of tourists to Japan was just under 20 million. However, 2016 saw a rise up to 24 million tourists (Japan Today). JT also reports that most visitors came from South Korea and China. Most travellers stuck to the so called “golden route”, and not visit the lesser known destinations in Japan. Japan Today did not define it, but it can only be supposed that the “golden route” must be the main guidebook attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.


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A young Japanese lady standing in front of Zojo-ji Temple, which Tokyo Tower in the background.

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Sabrina at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Sabrina exploring Tokyo.

Sabrina exploring Tokyo.

Sabrina at Meiji Shrine. A big thanks to Hong Kong based model Sabrina for her time and talent. You can find more of Sabrina at http://www.modelmayhem.com/sabrinayiu Update to the JapanesePhotos Instagram at: http://bit.ly/2ic1asG.
This photo, and others like it will soon be published onto my PhotoShelter portfolio.

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