Wide-Eyed Wanderer: Kyoto

Facade of Shoryuji Castle, Nagaokakyo

For the first time since I went digital, I have no zoom lenses – and it’s one of the most liberating travel experiences I’ve ever had. When I bought my Fuji XT-1 last September, I got only two prime lenses, then added a third: the 18mm f/2, the 60mm macro f/2.4, and the 56mm f/1.2. Last December Cathy and I were able to go to Japan again, this time to Kyoto via Osaka. I determined to bring the XT-1 instead of the Canon 7D for the lighter weight, plus the chance to shoot using only primes. I also determined that for most of the day I’d use only one lens, the 18mm, switching only for detail shots. It would be a voyage of self-discovery, or should I say re-discovery, for me.

Rock garden of the Hojo Hall, Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto Teenagers selecting fox-faced ema tablets at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Packing the lighter camera, with simpler gear, gave me a lot of flexibility. I could move faster and without tiring. My neck and shoulders didn’t hurt from having the camera hanging off them. There was no longer a bulky backpack to deal with, get in the way, or get left behind when shooting after a change of lenses or filters. Another advantage of having a small camera was the change in how others perceived me. I was simply just another tourist.

Detail of a bridge at Tofukuji, Kyoto Mother and child Rakan statue, Otagi Nembutsu-ji, Kyoto Shrine detail, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

It was also fun to do detail shots with the wide-angle lens. The Fujinon 18mm f/2 can focus quite close, focuses quickly, and can get pretty decent bokeh. It also encouraged me to get closer to my subjects, as of course filling the frame requires getting that much closer compared to having a tele-zoom. I’ll go a little Zen here, or maybe Shinto, and say it actually helps to make me feel more connected to the subject. In fact I used the 18mm exclusively starting on our second day, leaving the other lenses behind in the hotel room so I didn’t even have to pack a bag.

Bamboo-shoot tempura udon, Sobadokoro Hiko, Arashiyama, Kyoto

I even used the 18mm for shooting food.

Memorial to the courtesan Gio, Gio-ji Temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Couple enjoying a late afternoon walk on a path with lamps and torii, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

And as the short winter day’s light began to fail, I also got to appreciate the speed of the lens and lightness of the camera even more. I’d have problems hand-holding this shot with my 7D and the heavy zooms I have for it. With tripods now being frowned upon in Japanese temples, the Fuji light-and-fast combo made even more sense.

Entrance arch of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Best of all, I think having a single lens, and a wide one, helped me relax and enjoy our destinations more. Not only were there less choices to make, but the wide view also helped me take in the whole and let it soak in. This is the way I’ve always wanted to travel: wide-eyed and wondering at what I see, and with just the right tool for recording that to bring home.

— Dariel

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