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Anime LA 2011 in Slow Motion PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Saturday, 15 January 2011 20:11
SMJ CosplayFanime 2010Usually?

Cosplay photography kinda bugs me.

Yeah, I've been doing it for a while, whether it be for friends at cons or (rarely) at private photoshoots.  I enjoy photography, and I appreciate cosplay, but I've always considered myself more a con photographer than a cosplay photographer.  A cosplayer facing the camera with a practiced pose never struck me as quite so interesting as the con itself: a huge writhing beast, barely in control by the executive decision makers at the top and the gofers at the bottom; always undulating, creeping forwards with the funk of con attendees and the cries of memes.

Con photographs, pictures showing the convention in action, comprise the vast majority of my personal favorites.

Fanime 2010A Haruhi in hand makes...Taking Orders

I usually took these pictures with a a digital SLR.  However, I didn't have one available by the time Anime Los Angeles rolled around this year.  Instead, I had a Casio pocket-sized point and shoot camera.  Honestly, I felt like I couldn't give the con or the cosplayers a proper service with just this cam, especially next to the guys rocking out things like $1000+ Canon L lenses and even more expensive Steadicam rigs.  Still, I had to do something; if I couldn't be better with the Casio, I could be unique.

One of the reasons I got the Casio was because of its slow-motion video recording.  The Casio EX-FH100 can record video at 640 x 480 resolution with 120 frames-per-second speed.  If I can't do comparable quality-wise, maybe I can do something unique...

Here are some videos of cosplayers which follow logically from typical cosplay pictures...





And here are some videos of the con being... well... a con...


This last one, I particularly like.  We see pictures of organized cosplay gatherings like this all the time, but few see it from the cosplayers' perspective, especially as they are being called to the front.

So... yeah.  Though I did do some typical picture stuff (see: my flickr set), I did a lot of slow motion video (see: my youtube account) and... I enjoyed doing something different.  Despite a different process, I think I did a decent first attempt of sticking with what I enjoy, which is: conveying the con itself while letting the other photographers focus on doing the usual cosplay photography.

Review: The Olympus E-3 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Wednesday, 09 June 2010 05:08

My current camera system!

After nearly two years with the Olympus E-3, it's time to put this DSLR back out on the market and into the hands of some other photographer.  Unlike the Pentax K20D that immediately preceded it, I'm letting this camera go with my respect for it and happiness with it at a high... and that's pretty darn high, considering I originally got this as a replacement for the Nikon D700 that disappointed me a while back.  This is a really good, really underrated camera and, under different (financial) circumstances, I would have kept it around for much longer as I continued building up my collection of Olympus gear.

Guess it's high time I do my usual song and dance.  Like I did earlier with the Pentax K20D, here's a rundown of what I liked and what I disliked about the Olympus E-3...

Review: The Horipad EX2 Turbo PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Monday, 10 May 2010 12:25
More Horipad EX2 pictures...

The Horipad EX2 Turbo is a good pad for Xbox 360 gamers needing a pad for fighting games.  After all, it's got six face buttons and a responsive cross-style directional pad: everything a fighting game player who prefers pads to sticks needs, right?

Actually, let's go a bit further and say: The Horipad EX2 Turbo is the best fighting game pad for Xbox 360, but it can't be your general purpose pad, even if it sports the usual analog sticks and triggers.  If you are worried that it shares a name with the poor EX2 stick Hori issued a while back, rest assured: it is a significantly higher quality product worth having as an option for players during your next fighting game party.  It may even grow to be your primary controller for fighting games.

More Horipad EX2 pictures...

The Horipad EX2 Turbo features 13 buttons compared to the standard 360 pad's 11, the extra two being the result of the bumpers featuring on both the top and the face of the controller.  From the pictures, you can see the extra charcoal color buttons featuring next to the colored ABXY cluster.  Those two extra face buttons actually have a slightly different shape compared to the main four; in practice, however, one doesn't notice the difference in shape as bothersome.  Similarly, it looks as though the buttons are situated a little too close to the right edge of the controller for comfort, but the buttons were always easy to access quickly, whether you play with a standard console grip (using primarily the right thumb) or an arcade style approach (using the fingers of the right hand, from index to ring finger).

More Horipad EX2 pictures...

The button configuration isn't totally perfect, however.  It would be nice if there was a little more space between the buttons, in order to better accommodate a four button Neo Geo style layout.  I tried playing Garou: Mark of the Wolves with thumb on A, index on X, middle on Y, and ring on LB; while I could maintain the security of having every finger in contact with buttons throughout for round after round, my right hand cramped up much faster than using the same style of play on a Sega Saturn pad (still the gold standard for fighting game joypad design) or ASCII FT pad (that sports an even better button layout than the Saturn pad, thanks to its even larger button spacing and consistent button shape).  A few millimeters here and there could have elevated the buttons from very good to great.

The d-pad is in the classic cross style, and it is an excellent pad indeed.  If you're familiar with the cross-pad Hori used for their classic fighting pad for the GameCube, then you'll be right at home with the EX2.  It's not the exact same as that earlier iteration: the EX2 sports a slightly larger crosspad than on the GameCube version, and the points are slightly raised (thankfully not to the blister inducing level of the ASCII FT Dreamcast pad).  If anything, it is slightly more responsive than that already excellent d-pad.  More importantly, after a few months of intense play, the d-pad has maintained the same level of sensitivity as when it was new; no need to smash your left thumb to register directions.  Whether it be Super Street Fighter IV, Samurai Shodown II, or Soul Calibur II, motions proved as easy to do with the EX2 pad as any other.  It's easily on par with the circular pad of the Saturn and, in my mind, significantly ahead of the MadCatz Street Fighter pads when it came to performing everything from dragon punches to 720s to "how the heck do I do this!" ridiculous (read: weird SNK style) motions.

Besides the standard controller acoutrements, the EX2 features turbo button functionality and the ability to change your analog stick sensitivity.  These features worked.  I didn't give them a super rigorous test, but it might be worth noting that I've never had higher scores in Outrun Online Arcade than when using the EX2 with the lower sensitivity analog engaged.  The extra functionality didn't really enhance my play of After Burner Climax, but using only the left analog stick, the controller felt comparable to the experience using a standard 360 pad.

More Horipad EX2 pictures...More Horipad EX2 pictures...

If you need to dual-stick, whether in Call of Duty or Geometry Wars, the slight difference from the standard 360 pad made using the pad both frustrating and uncomfortable.  The left analog stick is decently positioned, but the right stick simply felt too far away from the right hand grip, a consequence of the controller face gaining those extra buttons.  While the difference is a matter of millimeters, the slight change in position combined with the slightly longer throw of the stick meant that aiming in shooters was a much less insignificant task, causing myself and other players who used the pad to underestimate motions, overcorrect shots, and cuss.

Horipad EX2 Turbo

While I'd discourage you from using the EX2 as a substitute for the standard 360 pad for all of your game library, the fact that it has all those standard features on top of the fighting game specific features while maintaining a street price at or below the going price for the d-pad only MadCatz Street Fighter IV FightPad makes Hori's offering a no-brainer when it comes to value.  The MadCatz pad has gained a decent following thanks to being the most marketed of fighting pads available for the current gen consoles.  Neither the 360 nor the PS3 version have a space in my home, now.  It used to be that I only played fighters on PS3 thanks to its ability to use Saturn USB pads.  My Xbox fighting game library can finally be enjoyed with the Horipad EX2 Turbo.

Now if only I could continue to play Street Fighter III: Third Strike over Xbox Live...

Undergoing the Otaku Transformation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 20:47

Back in 2006, when (former?) game designer Will Wright was entertaining questions about how awesome Spore would be, he talked for a decent amount about: his inner otaku.

Oh yes, was he an otaku.  He loved him some crazy Russian space ships and rocked books about astrobiology a little too hard.  And we all loved him for that.

During both his Comic-Con and GDC talking stints that year, he encouraged people/game devs/creative types/aliens to "develop your inner otaku."

Me, well...!  There's a whole lot of otaku in me.  Or rather: otakus.

(Yes, I know you don't add an 's' to make Japanese nouns plural, but I needed it for the effect there, see...)

I've got the anime otaku and the game otaku, sure, but then there's: the music otaku; the camera otaku; the audio otaku (who is always at odds with the music otaku); the computer otaku; the food otaku; the sports otaku; the HCI otaku; the gun otaku; the dollar store otaku; the... the...

I'm sure there's more, but they're probably hiding in here, somewhere.  Probably pretty close to the anime and food otaku, who seem to have shrunk as the months have passed.

Yeah, I'm just not the anime otaku I used to be.  It's been years since I've downloaded a fansub.  My most recent anime purchases were merely series I had watched long ago and felt the need to buy to show some modicum of support for the since imploded US anime industry.

Now, back in the day, I probably would have chalked it up to me deciding to be "mature" and forego the "otaku lifestyle" or some other nonsense that my younger self would have only a vague idea about.  Honestly, I buy in to what Will Wright was saying back then.  Even now, I can see him in some thousand dollar suit echoing shades of Gordon Gecko, proclaiming, "Otaku.  Is.  Good."

Ultimately, the problem lies in me: I'm just not that awesome enough to sustain continued development of all my inner otaku.  Which is okay.

In 2010, I'm no longer the heatsink otaku I was back in 2001.  Back then, I could get into a debate about cold-forged heatsinks (such as those from Japanese manufacturer Alpha... remember the 6035?!) being better than skived fins (was never the biggest Thermalright fan... and you could never have one big enough to deal the CFM those things needed for performance).  Nowadays, I just use the heatsink that came with my Shuttle PC and I'm done.

Back in 1998, I fit way too many facts about anime and game seiyuu into my brain.  I could rattle off all the voices for the Sotsugyou Saturn games... never mind that I didn't have the games, or even if I did, I wouldn't understand a lick of what they were saying.  (Not that I can now, but that's another problem...)

Back in high school, I prided myself on reading almost entirely non-fiction.  Now I've got Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman sitting on top of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Max Brooks's World War Z.

Curses on my memory, that keeps me from realizing the path that I've taken to become this shell of VINCENT DIAMANTE that houses such different otaku within it today...

...and... oh.

Oh.  I'm okay.  I guess I'll hang around the way I am for now... until some other otaku decides to take up residence.  Maybe I should redevelop that cosplay otaku that used to be in here... hadn't seen him in more than a decade.  Or maybe I should find that Scriabin otaku that used to dominate my musical personality...

In the Richard Linklater film Waking Life, a woman in a cafe talks plainly about the earnest fiction of identity in the simplest, most comforting biological terms one could conjure with regard to the human condition: "Our cells are completely regenerating every seven years.  We've already become completely different people several times over... and yet we always remain quintessentially ourselves."

Seven years, eh?  Let's see if I can get it to the point where I can at least remain the same person from the beginning of writing a short blog post to the end...


Ah well.  No can do!

Here's to a good 2010: one that finishes stronger than it starts. 

A little off-camera flash goes a long way... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Monday, 19 October 2009 21:55

Yep... It's been a while.  I've been busy.  Teaching classes, writing music, and trying my best not to go crazy.  Mostly succeeding at it.  But that's not what this post is about.

This post is all about some pictures I've taken using off-camera wired and wireless flash.  Because man do I like flash.  Rhymes with smash.  And panache.

When I was a kid, my first autofocus SLR was a Minolta Maxxum 3xi.  This was a pretty mediocre camera for photographers.  Couldn't manually set the film speed.  No spot meter.  No shutter speed and aperture viewable in the viewfinder.

But it did have one of my favorite features ever: wireless camera flash.

So there I was, this snot-nosed elementary school kid wielding an SLR in the right hand and holding a flash in the left, taking "artsy" looking pictures (read: abstract with lots of dutch angles) of his classmates courtesy of some strong handheld sidelighting.

It's not all that much different nowadays.


Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles

By far my most well known picture is one I took last year of some of the participants in the Los Angeles Anonymous protest of Scientology.  Thanks to a Creative Commons license, the photo has been seen by way too many people on sites from CNN to Fox News.  It's a pretty good shot, and it was incredibly easy to do.  All I did was walk down the street, see those three guys standing together, asked the fourth to come join them, and then I take a picture of them the same way I took pictures back in 6th grade: camera in the right hand, flash in the left.

Back in the day, the Minolta film flash auto exposure system was arguably the best in the world.  The Sony digital flash system that succeeded it is perhaps not quite so awesome (more to do with the physical properties of digital sensors vs. film than inability on Sony's part), but it still did an amazing job at lighting up the extremely close foreground and maintaining the background.  The combo of bright sun backlighting the scene, a single sidelighting flash, and Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer locally raising shadows in the scene maximized the final image impact of the subject, shot ultra wide at super close range to accentuate the subjects' eye-lines.

Lately, I've been noticing cosplay photographers talking about using large-aperture normal to telephoto lenses to get their subjects to really pop in the image.  Me, I also like having the subject of the image pop.  I just tend to think first of doing it with my portable lighting setup than with a wide aperture lens capable of delivering super smooth bokeh.  I've gone through three digital interchangeable lens camera systems in the last decade (Minolta/Sony, Pentax, and Olympus), and with all of them I've made extensive use of off-camera flash, both in automatic and manual settings.

Here are a couple of examples:


Alice @ Fanime 2008

This is one of my favorite night shots.  I had one of my other cosplayer friends hold a single wireless flash aimed at Alice directly to the right of her.  Yeah, the Pentax's auto focus system wasn't perfect, and you can tell this copy of the lens isn't the best, but the picture doesn't rely on that.  Instead, it's all about the super high contrast, well-lit subject, save a half-illuminated face, shot in pitch darkness.  I actually had two wireless flashes at my disposal at this time, but I can't remember if it was me being smart or dumb deciding not to fill the other side.  I'll go with smart.  :)


Anime Expo 2008

Here's another one from the same year, shot with the same system.  Now armed with a slightly better copy of the lens I used above, I shoot not just the subjects, but also the background (the unused Kentia Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center).  This time I've got flashes out in front of the subjects, both left and right, and both on manual power settings.  I actually expose for the practical lighting (note the 1/5th sec exposure) and I just sorta "kiss" the subjects with very low power flash, maintaining the strong shadows and the industrial mood created by the ceiling lights while establishing the proper look and feel of the costumes.


Hikaru Plays in the Pool

And now back to using daylight flash.  Here's one that was done with a single flash on an umbrella behind my right shoulder, a Canon Speedlight 430 EX triggered through an Elinchrom system.  Full manual on the camera, full power flash.  People talk about using large apertures to separate the subject from the background.  Here, I think the flash did a pretty good job at that while I shot at f/6.3 to ensure more than enough DOF and optimum lens performance.


Chun-Li and Sakura

Now to end this post with one from Anime Con Carne.  Compared to this crazy action shot that dominated the shoot, this one took literally seconds to conceptualize and execute.  Here we've got Chun-Li ostensibly downed momentarily by a smug Sakura.  Both are well front-lit by the sun, but off picture left, one of my friends is aiming a flash right at Sakura, helping her to pop out of the fairly bright background and establish herself as a subject equal to Chun-Li, despite occupying significantly less space.  (Yes, I know I blew out the highlights, but that's just what I do...)

So there's my post on how I've used flash over the years for costumed subjects.  Of course I've used off-camera flash for plenty of news and documentation purposes.  It's not like good lighting is solely for the realm of fashion photography...


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