Running Out of Time

I am 36 years old this year, no shame about it. Pretty soon I will be crossing over from “young adult” to “middle aged” and what I wear must evolve accordingly.

I’m saddened, not because of growing old, but because I will inevitably be giving up some of the things I love, such as sneakers. I recently got hooked into collecting, but I am considering to give up the hobby soon. After all, a man in his 40’s wearing retro Nike Air Jordan V’s would not be age appropriate.

For now I have given myself a deadline: buy all the sneakers my wallet can bear until the end of 2013, which is friggin’ less than 90 days from now! Next year onwards, I would disallow myself from purchasing any pair of “kicks.” Alas, I would have to do with rotating the few that have now. A rubber shoe has a life expectancy of five to six years, after which its EVA midsole will naturally crumble with age and wear. My current collection will practically be unwearable by the time I’m in my early 40s, forcing myself out of “the game” (that’s how kids nowadays would call the sneakerhead addiction). Sounds like a plan right? I hope so; rehab is tough.

Below are photos of some key pairs in my humble collection. I grew up in the golden age of sneakers so as you can see I tend to collect only retros and try to stick to original colorways. I buy and wear them for sentimental reasons. Plus, retros are (obviously) more classically designed and more suitable for men who are far beyond their teens.

Top to Bottom:

1. Nike Air Max 1 – OG, the first sneaker with a visible air bladder in the midsole  originally released in 1987 in the same color and design
2. Nike Air Jordan Retro IV – Fire Red, exactly how Jordan wore it back in the days
3. Asics Gel Lyte III – Navy/Orange, a retro of an early 90’s design
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asics gel lyte iii

P.S. If you think this blog entry sounds like a personal justification to burn a black hole in my pocket copping a crapload of rubber shoes for the next few months, you’re absolutely right! 😉
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Quick Take: Voigtlander Bessa R3A and Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC

First of all, I have to get this out of the way: major guilt trip for not having written a blog for more than a month. I’m just glad  I finally got my self to write this one.

I grew up in the generation of film photography, so I guess it was natural for me to miss it. So much, that I even sold my 50D and the awesome EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8, so that I could fund the Bessa and Nokton combo. When I was a lot younger I toyed around with SLRs, from the full manual Nikon FM-10, the semi-auto Minolta X-300 to the full auto Canon T-50. I had no experience with rangefinders, which made the Voigtlander kit an even more exciting proposition.

This kit isn’t new; it’s been around for a few years and you can find tons of reviews on the web. That’s one of the good things about basic film cameras: it’s immune from frequent tech updates. One of these four things will happen first before you will find the need to replace the camera: 1) it breaks, 2) you die, 3) the world runs out of 35mm film, 4) you get rich enough to afford a Leica.

This isn’t a review of the camera, but more about my initial experience with it. I’ve only been with this camera for six months and I must say that learning process to use a rangefinder is fun as it is challenging.

Most of the adjustments I had to make with how I shoot with concerns the viewfinder. For one, there is some parallax error. Also, the frame lines (that are supposed to indicate the borders of the frame) seems to be only an approximation. Because of these, the end results I get are always slightly different from how I composed the shot, and this lack of precision may turn off SLR/DSLR users. And speaking of the frame lines, they are quite difficult to see on the R3A, especially when you wear spectacles. A tip to eyeglass wearers: use contact lens on days you intend to use this camera.

The viewfinder has some positives about it too. I love the fact that it is a 1x magnification, meaning what you see with your naked eye is the same “size” as what is seen through the viewfinder. As far as I know, the R3A is the only rangefinder currently in production that is spec’d this way. And of course there’s the absence of “tunnel” effect and there is no flipping mirror to obstruct the view as the shot is taken.

On top of all these, I’m also undergoing a lot of adjustments going from digital to film. There’s the sniper mentality: I have to keep in mind that I only have 36 exposures in between rolls as opposed to a virtually infinite 16GB memory. There is also the [re-]learning curve of manual focusing, add to that the impatience of my subjects who are now used to digital’s split second focusing.

So far I’ve exposed and developed only a hand full of rolls and the resulting shots are quite satisfying. I would be fooling myself to say that the photos out of my rangefinder has superior image quality and fine detail over my previous DSLR kit. But for certain, the results I get now have that warm analogue quality without being playful like Lomography or fake like Instagram.

Film rangefinders bring back the glory of photography to the photographer and not the sophisticated gizmos that he employs. It challenges the photographer and forces him to think, rather than letting a computer chip do the work. It enthrones composition, and condemns pixel-peeping. Ultimately, film photography celebrates the photograph, and not the technical specifications behind it.

NATO Straps: Second Life for Old Watches

I’m not quite sure when the fad started, but I’m quite certain that it’s nothing new. The so called NATO straps are a dirt-cheap way of giving new life to an old watch. I did a Google search on these nylon watch straps but didn’t find any credible info on its history. They do look and sound military inspired. You can say they’re retro too: Sean Connery has worn his Submariner with a NATO in the first few Bond movies. Speaking of Google, it’s your friend in finding an online store that sells them. The straps roughly cost an equivalent of Php700 apiece, which makes them more than worth it in giving a watch the fresh, preppy look.

Got an old watch with a tired, loose steel bracelet? It’s the perfect candidate for a NATO makeover. All you have to do is have the original bracelet or strap of the watch removed, get the width of the watch lugs–they’re usually 18, 20, 22 or 24mm–and buy the NATO strap with the correct width. The best thing with NATO straps is they’re easy to put on your watch and replace; it’s just like wearing a belt (again, Google is your friend with the how-to).

NATOs are available in different colors and are either plain or striped. What you can do is collect a few of them and change on a whim, depending on what clothes you are wearing! Of course, the colors of the straps you’ll get should compliment or match the color of your watch’s dial and body. Lucky you if you have a watch with a stainless body and white dial (like I do), that’s a safe combination that would match any color of NATO strap.

Let’s say you get 5 straps, setting you back Php3500. It’s like having 5 different watches, all for the price that’s cheaper than a Swatch!

My 18mm NATO strap in olive drab.

They Don’t Make Them Where They Used To

Celebrated my birthday last week, and as a gift to myself, I bought a few cheap Takara Tomy die cast miniature toy cars.

Yeah, I love Subarus!

These little goodies–which back in the late 70’s was generically and collectively called “Matchbox”–really made me sentimental. Remembering how I used to collect them as a toddler, I brought out my old set from storage.

I used to collect so much as a child, I even had a carrying case for them.

Heres my collection from decades ago...or whats left of it. Im pretty sure I had more but have already been misplaced.

I just had to compare the new toys against the old. In my opinion the old ones had better craftsmanship as well as slightly better detail in the casting of the metal.

Old Tomica (left) and new Takara Tomy. Would you agree that the old is better made than the new?

Another key difference of the old versus new is where they’re manufactured. The new Tomys are now made in Vietnam or China. I’m guessing new Matchboxes are made in China too. Check out where the classic ones were made:

Classic Tomica: Made in Japan!

Classic Matchboxes are Made in UK! And check out the year on this one: 1973! (I wasnt even born yet!)

There was a 3rd die cast toy car brand back then: Majorette. They were made in France.

Classic die casts (From L-R: Matchbox, Majorette, Tomica). Which of these brands produced better quality toys? You decide.

It’s really sad that nowadays, majority of stuff is made in China. Don’t blame us thirty-ish year old guys for comparing.

Early Adapter

Proud to be one for iPod, specially now that it’s heavily proliferated (about 300 million sold to date!). I was a major major fan of portable audio since my youth. Think late 80’s long before walking around with headphones became a part of mass culture (see footnote below). I’ve always wanted an iPod since it was launched, but it was hella expensive out of reach: not only was the device pricey, but it required that you have a Mac to sync it with. The 3rd generation was the first iPod to offer Windows compatibility, and therefore opened itself to “the rest of us.”

Very recent photo of my first iPod (20GB 3rd gen). It's still working today. I love the classy indigo and red-orange backlights!

I’m even more proud to say that (like a true blue geek) I take utmost care of my gadgets, with the photo above as proof. I still use it today, mainly hooked up to my car. But the battery has deteriorated so badly that I have to charge it everyday. Still pondering if I should still invest in having the battery replaced.

I wish I can post photos if its cables and packaging. I still have them, but the latter is kinda misplaced.

The graphic on iTunes when the 3rd gen is plugged is charmingly retro.

Footnote

A little bit of history: I got my first generic portable cassette player in 1989, and upgraded to several Walkmans and Aiwas, including those with Dolby B, C(!) equalizers and even auto reverse! Then I moved on to CD players. I didn’t own Sony Discmans, as I was more loyal to Aiwa and Panasonic because of their anti-skip buffer and thinnest/lightest headline specs. Before finally jumping (early) into the iPod bandwagon, I walked the streets with portable MiniDisc players.

Sundays are for Playing Vinyl

Lazy Sundays are in fact opportunities: to tidy up the house, wax the car, replace a busted light bulb and, in my case, to listen to good old vinyl.

My Technics SL-1200 Mk3 with Ortofon OM30 Super needle cartridge.

So in this age of digital media, why would anyone still want to play records?  My answer in 3 simple points:

1. The Tangibility – Today we are used to tapping the shuffle “button” (if you would call it that) in a glossy iPod Touch, the music stored as bytes in a solid state device plays and we walk away. Such a cold, cold experience if you ask me. On the other hand, listening to LPs demands attention: You pull out the record from its sleeve and feel the fine grooves against your fingerprints. You place it on the platter, clean it with a brush and cue the needle by gently laying it on a groove. As the music plays you watch the needle gently glide in between the grooves which are the actual musical vibrations etched in vinyl. The sight of the needle playing the groove is hypnotic, somewhat like a car in a spiraling, endless and lonely highway… This level of involvement and tactile experience makes one appreciate music more. Cleaning, cueing and flipping records may be time consuming, but well worth it and as the blog title says, its best done on lazy Sundays.

2. The Sound – I will not say that music played through turntables sound better. Without an argument, uncompressed digital music is indeed cleaner as compared to vinyl that is prone to crackles, pops, skips, rumble, distortion and even speed fluctuations (the latter eliminated by the now legendary SL-1200 ‘tables). But somehow, it is actually these imperfections that add character to the music. And it ain’t that bad; if you have good clean copies of vinyl and your turntable is properly tweaked, the noises mentioned should be minimal. Inexplicably, music coming out of a black, rotating disc sounds more raw, dynamic, warm and emotional.

3. The Software – By default, a person’s vinyl collection is that of music in the heyday of the turntable. Depending how old that person is, his records will be from the ’50s to the ’80s. My personal collection includes Duran Duran, U2, and the like. (Dire Strait’s Your Latest Trick is my favorite track to listen to on vinyl!) As such, turntables are virtually time machines, and playing old records can bring back fond memories. Sure you can download Queen from iTunes, but retro music is still best reproduced on its rightful medium which is the record player (see #2).

Sightings #2: Cassette Tape

Ok, there’s already too many tributes about the most popular music medium of the ’80s and I’m not here to make another one…

But…

While walking down Pasong Tamo Extension one Saturday morning, I chanced upon this abandoned piece of audio relic lying on the sidewalk:

Abandoned Mixtape

By the way, the tape was unaltered: I took a pic of it as I found it, with the tape ribbon pulled out and what not. The cracked pavement and the autumn like fallen leaves added drama, I couldn’t help but get sentimental at the sight. Indeed, making mix tapes, high-speed dubbing, auto reverse, Dolby B, cleaning heads and capstans, TDK D or the more expensive but better sounding chrome and metal tape types, Walkmans and setting the correct record level are all part of an audio culture long forgotten. Oops! I promised I wouldn’t write tributes. I’ll stop right there.

Here’s a close up of the tape, so you can see the label that was written on it:

I wonder what songs were in it...

I was tempted to bring it home and to give it a listen (yes, I still have a working tape deck!). But I reckon the tape was in such disrepair and couldn’t be played; the music contained within, lost forever. Was it a time capsule that contained well recorded and rare classics or just a crappy compilation of Elvis and The Beach Boys?