Englishman in NewYork By Paul Bartholomew


An Englishman in New York.

By Paul Bartholomew

After following this site for a number of years and being intrigued by how a rangefinder camera experience might work out for me, I finally pushed the boat out and bought a pretty pristine used M9. My first lens was a Carl Zeiss f/1.5C Sonnar – I felt it would match the sort of portrait and model work I normally do with my 5D MKIII.

As a low depth-of-field junkie, I had this lens calibrated to focus at f/1.5 (it focus shifts and is set at f/2.8 by default but can be adjusted). Although I love the lens (and I still have and use it), it was the wrong first lens for me. Once I had the Leica, I was eager to get out of the studio and on to the street. Once there, I found the field of view of the 50mm was too restrictive for street work – I knew I would need another lens at some point.

Then, a few months ago I needed to go to a book-writing symposium in Michigan – both my wife and I were co-authors and we decided to spend a couple of days in New York en route. I knew that I would need that new lens
if I wanted to get some nice street images while I was there. After much deliberation looking at reviews of 35mm and 28mm lenses at this site (thanks Steve!) and others, I ended up buying the Carl Zeiss ZM 28mm f/2.8 Biogon. I’d already worked out that I was going to be shooting with a zone focusing technique at around about f/5.6 and so I felt that the Zeiss 28mm f/2.0 lens would just cost me more and be larger without giving me much more bang for my buck (or pound!). Of course I did look at Leica and Voigtlander options too, but the Carl Zeiss offerings just seemed to hit that sweet spot of image quality, build quality and price!

So, how did the lens choice work out? Below I offer a set of images configured as a bit of a photo-essay. All images were shot with the little 28mm lens, all have been square cropped and all were taken within walking distance of our midtown hotel. It was tempting to try to just shoot the edgy and the eclectic, but instead I wanted to acknowledge my identity as a tourist – an Englishman in New York, and to produce images that captured that context.

Below then, I first offer an index image to the photo-essay series and then the individual photos in a sequence. After the images, I finish this report with a few words by way of reviewing this great little lens and offer my thoughts on my adoption of the Leica M system. But first…

9 Blocks: An Englishman in New York

Image 1: Lure of the Empire

Lure of the Empire

Image 2: Lady on the Corner

The Woman on the Corner
Image 3: A populated space

A Populated Space
Image 4: Argument

Image 5: Nonstop

Image 6: Lunchtime

Image 7: Skate

Image 8: View


Image 9: Don’t Walk


Why a Leica M?

Prior to buying my M9 I had hankered for a way of shooting that was more involving than the technically focussed SLR experience. I’d had a Olympus E410, a Canon 5DII and then my current Canon 5DIII. All capable tools – the 5DIII especially, but the experience of shooting DSLRs is, to my mind, rather like flying-by-wire – you control the electronics of the camera and the camera takes the shot. It’s all a bit sterile. My initial foray into trying to pull myself more into the shooting experience was to buy a Lensbaby Composer for my Canon – it forced me to focus manually, take my time and choose my moment. All good training for the Leica M to come!

When I invested in the Leica I was rewarded with exactly the sense of engagement I had hoped for – only it was much harder to shoot than I had anticipated! Using my 50mm f/1.5 at f/1.5 on the street was laughable – everybody moved too quick, I couldn’t keep up. Stepping the aperture down and zone focusing gave better results but the 50mm frame size was way too small for me to get decent results. I knew I needed a wider lens and (as you know) the 28mm f/2.8 was my choice.

So how does the lens perform? Well, on the streets of New York (and elsewhere since) it has been a fine choice. It feels really nicely made, the lens hood I bought for my 50mm seems to work just as well on the 28mm (I like to use a hood to protect the front element) and the quality of the images I have been getting – in terms of sharpness, contrast is exemplary.

Couple the image quality with a compact form factor and ladies and gentlemen we have a winner! Although I have little experience of other lenses on the M system, I still recommend this lens highly. I do have a bunch of Canon L
lenses and I would say the little Zeiss 28mm is my second favourite of all the lenses I own – second only to the rather special Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

I know my M experience is limited, so perhaps I’ll splash out on a Leica lens for my M9 at some point – just to compare, but in the meantime the price and quality point of the Zeiss lens line up remains tempting and furthermore I’d contend that the ZM 28mm f/2.8 Biogon is right up there at the zenith of the quality/price curve.

Thanks for reading.


Nine Blocks

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  1. Excellent Pics, Paul. Just the way i like to shoot. Step a little back and take Photos of the environment. You show a lot of the city as a background, but take the people in front, like in Pic 8 and 9. You never forget that the town is build for the people and without them a city is nothing but sufficient.
    I´ve got a M8. Your first Pic shows me that i was right with the decision to take a Voigtländer 28/2. At 2.8 it seems to be more creamy an because of that it looks just a tad sharper. But to compare i should have stood right beside you.
    Once again, like your Photos a lot.
    But please take this a an opinion, other Photographers experience may vary, of course. And sorry for my bad, non-native english.

  2. Took considerable interest in this, as I own both the Zeiss 28 and 1.5. The latter generally not great for street type shooting, but is fantastic for portraits and still lifes. I have had no complaints with focus shifts on the 1.5 but am shooting film exclusively. I also got the Zeiss 21 4.5, which is astounding. I have been contemplating selling the 28 for a 35mm of some sort. I have no interest in owning both a 28 and a 35.

    FWIW, I cared least for the HDR effects but found everything else very pleasing. Incidentally, the 28 is very serviceable for architecture and landscape. Perhaps I’ll have an M9 someday.

  3. I like these images a lot, Paul. It’s funny, I’ve recently purchased an old Rolleiflex and was surprised to find that I really like the square frame. So, like you, I’ve been playing with cropping some of my M9 and M3 shots and am enjoying the results immensely. I also have the 50 1.5 and the 28 2.8 — which, indeed, use the same filter size and shade. It’s a great 2 lens combo and, seeing how terrific the 28 looks in square frame, I’m going to slap it on my camera for awhile. Don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t crop. Particularly when its a consistent creative choice.

    In terms of post processing — converting your original RAW files to B&W is far superior to using the OOC jpegs. Those files are nice for a reference, or for a quick posting… but the RAW files give you the color channels to play with in post and the ability to adjust the original as many times as you want without file degradation. Do I think some of your shots are over cooked? Yeah… a little. But that’s just my taste and entirely your choice.

    Finally – congrats on the Jupiters. The 50 Sonnar J3 is a fantastic lens and a big favorite of mine. The 85mm J9 is also an amazing bang for buck lens, although my copy does exhibit focus shift.

    Cheers – Jim

  4. Great images! Like them very much – HDR look or not. Actually, I will go so far and say that this is exactly B&W look that I prefer!
    Do you care to share your PP steps? Thank you very much
    Hope to see more of your work – you have any online gallery or site?
    BR / Alex

  5. Great shots; I too found my 50mm (Summilux) too restrictive in NYC and used my 28mm Elmarit more than I ever have before, not just for the speed of shooting but also those canyon-like spaces and crowds worked perfectly with the best a 28mm can offer as a street lens. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Wonderful article. Great photos. You expressed yourself very well in this article.

    Personally, I have a series of focal lengths at my disposal, ranging from 21mm to 135mm. I prefer, these days, to use my 90mm and my 135mm lenses the most for my street shooting. The reason is I found myself aggressively cropping many of my photos in post, which bothers the heck out of me. Another reason is, in order to use the wide angle lenses effectively you really have to get up-close-and-personal with your subjects, and that can be a bit dicey on big city streets. A way around this problem was for me to “shoot from the hip” using the zone focusing technique, which produced less than desirable results for me for a number of different reasons. With the longer focal lengths you can study your subjects from a distance, and more carefully compose your shots without the feeling or sense of intrusion. My 90mm and 135mm lenses are not extreme tele lenses, which still allow me to be in the midst of the action, as it were, without being intrusive.

  7. @Brian Seems to me that those “silly “HDR effect” naysayers” are quiet constructive and civilized in their reactions

  8. Hi Paul
    I think some of the critics were too harsh, most of the pictures are sharp enough for me, and i am a” sharp photos “addict
    It is true that no 4 isnt sharp and i dont like no 3 for its over details, and yet i loved your skating pic which in my opinion is fantastic, i also liked -dont walk very much.
    I think you did a lovely job here , with that said i also think you should try thr Leica lenses on your Leica camera, if you can

  9. I really don’t understand the above criticisms of over-processing your shots. It’s only a mistake if it’s ruining the images, which it isn’t, you went stylish and with flare but not over-the-top and I think they make quite artistic renderings of your images. Your cropping is also excellent and I like the square frame presentation of your images. Personally I’m not as wild on some of them as others but the processing has about .005% to do with that, cause hey man, I like the photo or don’t like the photo itself first and last.

    Really nifty street photography. Ignore this hash about the processing or alternatively, send those guys the raw and see what they’re rather do with it. Then they can keep it that way for themselves.

  10. Nice images. I used to have a Zeiss Biogon 28mm f2.8 and thought it was an excellent lens. I use an M8 so the 28 mm was great. It was nice in colour rendering with wonderful colours. The Leica summicrons I own were a bit more neutral to my eyes so I sold my Biogan 28 which was probably a big mistake so beware.
    I like your images but to my taste they are too contrasty but hey that’s just me !
    I use Lightroom and find the Leica M8 and M9 produce wonderful black and white images straight out of the camera. I find I have little to do with them in post. Check out Silver Efex Pro as I have seen some reaally nice black and white work done with that program on Leica DNG images.
    Nice work keep shooting………..

    Best Wishes

    • Thanks Fergus – especially for the moving to Leica lens word of warning. I did use SFX Pro II, but as you know it is highly customisable!



  11. Paul, awesome images in spite of the silly “HDR effect” naysayers need to pipe in here. There are nearly complete whites and blacks in your photos but nothing is blown out to excess. They look great to me but do not expect to please everyone. Maybe the naysayers can post there own “correctly” done images so everyone else can give them some feedback as well.

    • Thanks for your kind comments Brian. I have to accept that the images have a certain look that may divide opinion. I’m glad you found something you liked. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  12. Terrific set of images, particularly the first two and last three. I think Empire and Skate are my favorites. Although I don’t own a single Leica product, I can hear the red dot whispering to me.

  13. Love the feel of these B&W images. I don’t see the HDR that some are commenting on. Actually, I find it to be the unique quality produced from the Leica M9 when converted to B&W. A lot of tonal range can be extracted from the M9 files. I came across this post because I have the same name except I use my middle initial “Paul S. Bartholomew”. I owned the Leica M9 for a while and now own the Leica S System. I’ve been trained by Leica and also have been featured on their blog a couple times. These Leica cameras are incredible and I use mine heavily for commercial work.

    • Hi Paul

      Yes – I was familiar with your name and work for the same reason. Architectural stuff if I remember?

      Many thanks for taking a look. I’ll try to find your Leica S work to look at.



  14. I really don’t like the idea of cropping the images and make them square after shooting. If i want square images, i get my 6×6 camera for that. There’s a bit HDR effect (be careful with silver effect & high structure preset) but i’ve seen much worst here on some posts 🙂 so i’ll say not bad for a first time.

    • I don’t always square crop – but I often do (and have done for years – see response above). You’re right, I am keen on the structure slider in SFX Pro.

      Thanks for your comment.

  15. Thanks for these wonderful images and your story. Love the rendering. I shoot an M-E with Zeiss lenses, so I get it! Again, thanks.

  16. Great images, lovely b&w. Normally I’m not a big fan of centering the subject (seems to happen a lot with rangefinder photography), but it works really well with the square crops.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Many thanks. I do a fair bit of square cropping across my systems. I post to a photography competition site that limits the maximum dimension. A square crop maximises the real estate. And for these images and the 9 blocks theme, I set out to specifically make all of them square crops.

      Thanks for reading.


  17. Hi .. great shots … I started with an M8 and two Zeiss lenses 28mm F2.8 and 50mm F2 … both served me very well through 2 years with the M8 and then onto the M9 for another 2 years and I added the90mm Elmarit M which is a cracking piece of glass … a couple of months ago I wanted a change and traded the two Zeiss lenses in for the 35mm F2 Summicron … sticking to my goal of just two lenses for the rangefinder … all have been great … the Leica has a different warmth to the Zeiss .. both brilliant in different ways …

    • Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comment. I’m sure I’ll but a bonafide Leica lens one day – probably the 35mm FLE. Saving my pennies.

  18. Some great shots there! Zeiss lenses have the most pleasing rendering in my opinion. The focused area is super sharp and out of focus butter creamy, just perfect. Combined with the excellent contrast and color I’m stunned everytime I look at my Zeiss pictures. One is getting addicted though, lower quality lenses never find the way on my camera any more…

  19. I’ve been twiddling my thumbs: should I comment? ..Should I not?

    But I’ve decided to – these are just MY opinions: they don’t mean that “I’m right and you’re wrong” ..they’re just my responses to your photos. They’re no more valid than anyone else’s – or your own!

    Firstly, the HDR effect – why? To my eyes (..or what’s left of them..) those fist two pictures just look weird. But perhaps I’m so used to the ‘normal’ response, or behaviour, of black-&-white film that I can’t take delight in some other, non-film-like B&W processing.

    And the sharpness of that lens at f5.6 should be eye-searingly, bitingly sharp. But here, on my Mac screen, they all look slightly, how can I put it? ..”smeared”. No.5, the man with the phone, “Nonstop”, and number 8, “View”, look sharper, or clearer, than most of the others, but why, I wonder, are these far less sharp than that lens should normally deliver? ..Something to do with the “post-processing”, I guess.

    It’s great that they give you so much pleasure and delight ..but I can’t understand why you’d buy an M9 and a Zeiss lens, and then – in my terms, anyway – “degrade” the images so much. If you’re keen to “post-process” the photos, I’d have thought that just some simple dodging and burning might have been better – I mean, might have given more, erm, “likeable” results; isolating, perhaps, the man by the fountain (no. 6, “Lunchtime”) a bit more from his surroundings.

    I’m not trying to be nasty, or unhelpful, or disrespectful, but why not a much cheaper second-hand Epson R-D1, for instance, for getting to know manual-focus photography, or a second-hand NEX, or something – anything – with manual-focus lenses? The nearest comparison I can think of is someone who’s used to a manual gearbox (“stick shift”) car wanting to get to try an automatic gearbox, and therefore buying a Bentley, but filling it with low-grade fuel so that it doesn’t deliver the proper Bentley experience.

    The pictures are nice touristy photos – just as you set out, you say, to shoot. Well done. But why didn’t you just set the camera to B&W and see what it – and the lens – can deliver, instead of this post-process “blurifying”?

    I hope you don’t mind my asking .. I s’pose I should say “Sorry for seeming so mean”, but I’m just surprised at these results and can’t understand them (..I expect I’ll be in a minority with these comments, and I hope that cheers you up!)

    • Nice set Paul, thank you for sharing !

      I (partly) agree with David regarding the “hdr” look, especially photo #3 ( populated space). The use of “structure” or “clarity” often results in this look, or sometimes it’s a matter of reducing contrast. Anyway a matter of taste, but I would suggest to “try” the in-camera Black and White jpegs … M8 and M9 are doing a great job ! You might even like it ! Happy shooting !

      • David, your not in minority. Why with a M9 and a Zeiss lens with its own pop and 3d do you need to add HDR to me it spoils a couple of these otherwise nice shots.

        • Many thanks for your comment. Only one shot was subject to a dedicated HDR software process (A populated space) – the others will likely have had some structure added and some compression of the tonal range through highlight and shadow recovery.

          • In the majority or minority I am not sure, but I really like the effect you have achieved in the first two images. The second image, lady on the corner is particularly striking.

            The HDR in 3 is maybe a bit strong, but I don’t understand the aversion to PP in general. It has always had its place, particularly in the days of printing negatives, before everyone got in the habit of scanning negatives for editing on the computer.

            Anyway, I really enjoyed the set and definitely an inspiration to me.

    • David

      Thanks so much for investing the time to comment so thoroughly. You’ve certainly made me think.

      The images don’t look ‘smeared’ to me on any of my screens (including some Mac ones) – but I think I do need to acknowledge some glow – probably through use of Nik’s Color Efex Pro Glamour Glow filter? Evidently not to your taste – but bitingly sharp (especially across a whole frame) is not something I enjoy the look of. Perhaps I got carried away with the glow a little for you?

      I do find that ‘under-postprocessed’ images especially when converted to jpeg and viewed through a browser exhibit a degree of harshness that I don’t enjoy. Foliage presented that way drives me bananas!

      I read your camera suggestions with a smile, I suppose I could have elected for such a tool but the feel of a camera in the hand is important and the M9 feels nice to use.

      I was never really going for supreme sharpness here though – indeed, (you may need to cover your eyes here) I’ve just bought a couple of Jupiter lenses (the recycled chip fat for my Bentley?) just for the fun of it!

      Once again, thanks for your comments – I really do appreciate the time you took and on my next outing I’ll switch to B&W jpeg and see what I get – just as you suggest.

      Warmest regards


      • “..Color Efex Pro Glamour Glow..” ..er, no: not my cup of tea; not for these specifically “tourist” shots. But that’s just me.

        “Foliage . . . drives me bananas” ..what a great phrase!

        I think the Russian lenses are great! Like the 1970s and ’80s Olympus lenses, Russian lenses are very contrasty in the centre, giving very sharp “brisk”-looking results (..compared with similar Nikkor and Minolta lenses, which give finer tiny detail across the whole picture – and are better for misty-morning photos). Russian lenses are great value for money. Their mechanical performance may be a bit dodgy, but their optical results are usually excellent. (They are based on original Zeiss lenses, as after the last big European war the Russians took the machinery and people from the Zeiss plant in Jena, east Germany, and carried them back to Mother Russia. The Americans took some of the Zeiss personnel, and re-established them in Oberkochen, west Germany, along with the ‘Contax’ brand name ..hence the two Zeiss brands.)

        “..I’ll switch to B&W jpeg and see what I get..” ..just set the camera to RAW & jpeg, and then set Menu>Color Saturation>Black&White, and you’ll get both a raw colour picture – to manipulate any way you like – along with a crisp black&white jpeg for every shot.

        No, I don’t think Jupiters are like recycled chip fat; they’re more like taking out the Bentley (now Audi) engine, and putting in a little rougher, slightly more primitive, loud-exhaust sports car motor. Should still be nice and nippy, but a little rougher round the edges. But quite exciting!

    • ps. Englishman in New York is one my fave songs of all time .. the wonderful Quentin Crisp.
      Branford Marsalis sax, Manu Katche Drums, Sting’s lyrics & arrangement.

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