Copenhagen with the Leica M 240 and 50 APO Summicron by Howard Shooter

Copenhagen with the Leica M 240 and 50 APO Summicron

by Howard Shooter

Copenhagen is a difficult city to shoot. The buildings are spotlessly clean and beautiful, the roads are spotlessly clean and beautiful and guess what…the people are spotlessly clean and beautiful.

This presents the street photographer with a problem; no urban decay, no old men with interesting creases which tell the story of their lives and therefore no photography which is focusing on the contrast of modern society. Denmark, like their most famous invention, Lego, is designed beautifully.

My wife and I managed our lucky annual weekend away without our gorgeous children to have a little of us time leaving our three children, happy as could be with the grandparents.

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Copenhagen is famous for Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”, Canals that look like they are straight out of Amsterdam, (as a result of the Dutch building some of them), interior shops, posh designer food, beer beer beer, bicycles and a design ethos which is evident everywhere.

I was looking forward to using and testing my newly acquired Holy Grail of lenses, the Leica 50mm APO Summicron with the Leica M240.

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These shots are a miss mash of images and colours taken from around the city. I didn’t take hundreds of shots as I was there to relax and soak up the atmosphere rather than document it but I was pleased and I’m still learning all the time what this lens is capable of. I feel I always need about six months to a year to understand a lenses characteristics and this little gem is no different.

Now I think this is a lens which once purchased needs some financial justification as it is stupidly priced. I am not rich, I am quite sane (sometimes), and I am not a man who easily jumps on bandwagons. However I am a professional food photographer, I did sell two lenses to help pay for this piece of glass and I do use the Leica for the odd professional celeb chef portrait when the opportunity arises. I had ordered one of these, cancelled it and then six months later wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

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I think with lenses there is a misconception about what quality is all about when all of these graphs and charts and grids are produced by scientists who are comparing various tolerances across various apertures. I’ve seen enough shots of bookcases and scenes of toys with colour charts to last me a lifetime. Lenses are not solely about sharpness and yet this lens is sold partly because of its incredible sharpness. This, in the grand scheme of things definitely isn’t the main part of this lens that interests me. I did have a Leica 50mm Summilux and on the M240 it does display a little softness but it is a beautiful, quiet lens displaying subtlety and beautiful bokeh which is arguably nicer than the 50mm APO.

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What this lens does better than any other on the M240 is incredible dynamic range to the point where shots properly look like medium format film. The bokeh is nice but not incredible in my opinion, but the 3D pop combined with the sharpness and dynamic range is remarkable. It gives this lens a versatility like no other. Images can be deliberately overexposed and look subtle and beautiful without the whites bleaching out, and yet dark shots are rich and saturated with black blacks and eye popping colour. Black and white converted RAW shots look so authentically Bressonesque in their tonal values that the digital Leica feels like it has come of age.

The big question surely is “is it worth the money?”….. well for me it makes using extra lenses on the Leica seem superfluous and to that extent if you have a few lenses and traded up to the 50mm APO you wouldn’t be disappointed… I wasn’t… but blimey…. how much!

Howard Shooter

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  1. Wow your picture of the couple in the at table is by far the best black and white photo that I have seen in a very long time. There was so many technical difficulties in the shot and you nailed all of them.

    Did you retouch that photo or is the camera and lens that good?

    On my computer that photo really pops out and it is head and shoulders above most others that I have seen.

  2. These pictures show neither the creativity/enthusiasm of the photographer nor the quality of the equipment used. I fail to see the purpose of the initial post. This is a great site btw : )

  3. Hallo Howard;
    I agree with all statements about the APO to 100%. Your statements coincide exactly with my own experience.

    Best regards from Cologne, Germany


  4. I thought the photos were okay, in general. And that’s okay, isn’t it? 😉 I do like the photo of the young woman, and that’s not just because she’s gorgeous.

    Sometimes I have a high hit rate for any given assignment (say, 50%). Sometimes it’s very low (say, 5%).

    Some people say that the gear doesn’t matter. Is that code for “My $6,000 Nikon takes photos just as well as your $6,000 Leica?”. But no, I’m being too cynical.

    The people who say those things (and who are sincere) can afford expensive gear, but don’t feel they need it. So they are happy with DSLRs which are 5 years old and lenses which cost no more than $100 each. And it’s true that this sort of equipment can produce lovely, sharp images. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s soft!

    I often wonder why Nikon users would want the 58/1.4 G when the 50/1.8 AF-D does the same job with fewer aberrations at a tenth of the price. Then again, I have not much respect for the Noctilux, either, especially when the Summilux is just as sharp, better corrected, and half the size (and merely double the cost of the optically inferior Nikon 58mm). Trophy lenses?

    C’est la vie.

    • You wonder why people prefer the 58 over the 50 you mentioned (or any other 50 for that matter)? You obviously haven’t used one, and you also seem to confuse sharpness and absence of optical errors as the proscribed way to producing interesting images.

      À sad misconception.

        • With all due respect, that’s a gross generalization from someone who, as I said, obviously has not used the 58.

  5. Enjoyment of the gear you use and pride in it is nothing to be ashamed of. But please don’t think that shouting that off the rooftops will make your images any better (“Look at these fabulous images! They were made with the fabulous gear I own!”). It’s an often made mistake.

    Anyway, as good as the APO is (and it is), I can’t really see how those extraordinary qualities would jump at the viewer in images like these.

  6. First shot I like, good geometry
    2nd, with blues is nothing special
    3rd B&W works thanks to face expressions
    .. others… no reaction

    gear is 100% unimportant to artistic image value, professional / commercial point for professionals earning money in photo business is a thing apart
    nice expensive is gear is just like jewelry, nice to have, does not make you anything more than what you already are… girl in gold and diamonds is no prettier, only more attractive in material value

    70 years ago Russian FED was just as great as today’s Leica or Nikon… if you know what you are doing and have vision what you want to achieve

    novel written with 0.1$ pen is just as good as one written with Mont Blanc one…

    today, I am using Fuji XT-1, but my shots made with old Canonet QL19 were just as inspiring (to me at least), I love new camera, using it, having it, but I do not need it, just want it
    I also have 420$ ONA bag that is less practical than the small LowPro 35$ one… either does not make my shots, I do

    Camera does not matter – for the photos, it only matters to the owners.

  7. Dear Howard (and others)
    Living in and around Copenhagen for the last 45 years, I can asure you, you got it all wrong.
    But I guess that is what happen when you only get here few hours, few days or few times. One sees only what one by chance jump into.
    And yes like many places around i western city’s you can find the smart, the sleek, the spotless and boring people everywhere. But its just a surface.
    But in this our highly praised welfare state, things are getting departed, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, and the middleclass too. But you have to look under the surface. You have to avoid the fancy or hip café’s.
    Cityrenovation have meant that lowincome or poor people are been pushed out of the centre of Copenhagen, where they belonged for about 30 years ago, and way too liberal conditions for speculation have meant that you cant find a cheep apartment in the city anymore. And that’s a shame and a consequent of a so-called social-liberal policy that has unfortunately has been way more liberal than social.
    But I guess that’s happening in many of the western cities nowadays.
    But Copenhagen is wonderful, but you have to look for the diversity, and open your eyes.

    • Interesting comments, Thorkil. Mange tak. I’ve visited (semi-business, too) Denmark three times in the last 8 years (from Australia) and see it as a much more interesting place than what Howard’s shots reveal.

      But it’s not just Copenhagen; much of my time has been in central Jylland in the rural and coastal communities where photo opportunities abound, West Stadil Fjord, for example or Ringkobing. And of course, the odd BBMF Lancaster overhead may add an extra dimension!

      Maybe we need a Dansk week sometime..

      • I was in Copenhagen on a brief business visit one very rainy Monday last May. I’d left my raincoat at home. My (non-Danish) taxidriver took me to Frederiksborggade instead of the Frederiksberggade I asked for. I got very wet. Lunch at Lumskebugten was good though.
        The only picture taking I did was on the airport, coming in and going out. I think i binned most of them.

  8. i love the first shot…just gorgeous color and tone very cinematic
    I also love the kitchen shot…..stunning, i ordered this lens as well
    i am a professional fashion and beauty based photographer in New York
    I find most people just love the cliché‘s and don’t pick up on the simple beauty in a shot

    • Good points, but exactly for the shown genre of shots you don`t need/want optical perfection. A ZM 50 Sonnar, for example, would be my preferred tool. For products, landscapes, stills, architectures, it`s a different question.

  9. Lol, sorry but I cannot be upset like some about these images. I really liked the blonde with the perfect legs and her self-satisfied boyfriend. Got my head thinking of a lot of things in society, and for me, this is one of the great powers of photography; to freeze a moment so our minds can run with it! 🙂

  10. So, demonstration pictures. For what? That an extremely expensive lens (the qualities of which are a known quantity) can deliver images that cannot be distinguished from the mediocre?

    Copenhagen is a wonderful town, and so many interesting images can be captured there, whatever the gear and its cost used.

    The pretense…

    • Completely agree. If the pics had been made with anonymous equipment we would probably have had only a couple of comments like “nice pics” or “great colours” and that would have been it. However, the up-front mention of pics taken with a top Leica and the “Holy grail lens” raised at least my expectations. Sadly I was disappointed with the demonstration.Interesting discussion none the less.

    • I feel like submitting a series of images taken with different gear to Steve’s site, with the caption:

      ‘The camera doesn’t matter…really’

      …and then letting people try to guess which images were shot with which formats, brands, etc.

      • Hi, Thought the same thing.I would take similar scenes with 2or3 camera/lens combinations that are diverse and anonymous. Let the viewers comment and give the answer in a later series.Please do it.

  11. Guys, can I make a suggestion for future posters on this site. When you are intent on gear evaluation – Please explicitly state that the photos you have posted are simply experiments to show in a simple way what you believe to be the characteristics of the camera / lens you want to expound on. They may not express the totality of your talent or be the final word on the performance of the camera. ( you can direct readers to your web site to see the full extent of your work).
    It would be even better however for obviously talented photographers like Howard to try his best to include some “better images ” as befits his talent by way of showing the creative potential possible.
    Many times I have seen Photographers post very ordinary work here only to see superb work on their websites!
    So to sum up- post a few ordinary shots for discussion and a few nice images for us to enjoy.
    From what I am hearing this new Leica 50mm is really superb and I hope Howard enjoys it to the fullest and I am sure he is more than capable of using it to maximize on the technical and artistic possibilities it may allow.

    Best Wishes

  12. What a strange discussion considering this is Steve’s website. I find it incredibly difficult to go out with a new camera or lens and immediately expect to get portfolio-worthy photographs, but I don’t think that is the point of the “daily inspiration” column. Thank goodness this is not another website featuring artsy-fartsy conceptual “fine art” photographs on a daily basis. There are certainly enough websites showing “nude self-portraits with a paper bag on the head” or the “abandoned shopping cart in wheat field No. 5.”

    I am fascinated with the 50 Apo and how it draws wide open. The contrast between out-of-focus background and bitingly sharp in focus areas is amazing in my opinion. Therefore, I really appreciate this post, and I hope that comments about artistic merit of the photographs featured don’t discourage other potential contributors. This is why I like this website and if I don’t like the photographs, which does happen, then I just don’t click on the post because there will be more new articles up soon. Thank you for sharing your photos.

  13. There are lots of urban decay just outside ‘Kødbyen’ (meapacking district) where 4 out of your 5 pictures are taken. Just take a short walk away from the hipster and tourism sites. Isn’t that what you should do in any city if you want to do something other than sightseeing?

  14. I live near Copenhagen and go often. Could I suggest you go back and take another look? You can find decay and old men and social contrast in plenty – as well as all the nice things. I really, really don’t like your blue in the first two images – Danish colours are red and white!

    • and just for the record. H. C. Andersen has nothing to do with the mermaid in Copenhagen.

  15. Howard said:
    “This presents the street photographer with a problem; no urban decay, no old men with interesting creases which tell the story of their lives and therefore no photography which is focusing on the contrast of modern society. Denmark, like their most famous invention, Lego, is designed beautifully.”

    Yes, that is the way of the world. Most people and countries get richer. People will be healthier and therefore better looking, despite the fact that they still might have to fight an evil disease or have lost a loved one. Something like that applies to cities and whole countries as well.

    That rises the question: what is street photography? Is it really only about shooting decay? Then go out and shoot some poor drug addict, obese, homeless or other person without access to good food and/or good health service. You will find them amass in developing countries (some US inner cities seem to qualify as well).

    Actually, since you are so focused on decay, I think you did pretty well. The question remains however: what did a 6000$ plus lens do for you in these circumstances? Except of course improving the dynamic range of your sensor that is 🙂

  16. I don’t see why you are so hard on Howard’s photos – EH above is right. BTW: I did look twice at the café scene. I disagree with Howard’s initial assumption that Copenhagen is spotless and difficult to shoot. As with any big city, decay and debris can be found. Try the massive reconstruction going on at Radhuspladsen or around Nørreport station:

    Difficult to shoot? Nowhere else people react so friendly to street photography and even smile when they find out that I just took their picture.

    Just my 10 cents.

  17. IMHO, the lack of optical default of the Summicron 50 APO is also its main default.

    When you look at an image, there is zero vignetting, and it is extremely sharp, corner to corner.

    But it almost feel like the image is a center crop of another photo. And I dislike that impression, it feels too unreal, almost photoshopped.

  18. Hans Christian Anderson should be Hans Christian Andersen. Having a “sen” name myself, I loose count on often Americans are changing it to “son”. How hard can it be?
    I think the pictures were ok. Introductory pictures on the food scene in Copenhagen…maybe.
    Why you need this lens and camera to get the same tonal qualities as you did with a small format camera 70 years ago, I really cannot understand….but maybe you were just provoking us to think of another HC Andersen tale (The emperors new clothes)?
    (Sorry for beeing an old twart)

    • “Having a “sen” name myself, I loose count on often Americans are changing it to “son”. How hard can it be?”

      Apparently as hard as getting the difference between ‘lose’ and ‘loose’, whatever your nationality.

  19. Hi, thanks for all of your excellent comments. Genuinely all comments posted are gratefully received. The shots from Copenhagen were sort of split into two parts…. I did the slightly predictable touristy stuff and they were nice but a little dull if I’m honest… and then I found this industrialised area which I found tonally beautiful. The shots are a little minimal (or boring, dull, etc…if that’s how you see them) which was sort of the point. The area is quiet and abandoned at the weekend and I found the backdrop to the people really fascinating. I did photograph this area for about 15 minutes as I was having dinner with my wife and I really love the quiet in these shots although I respect that they are not to everyone’s taste. As a series I think they look wonderful and there are about 12 shots in the series. Printed up, the shots really resonate with me.

    The reason I wanted to post the shots is because the 50mm APO changes what I thought were the characteristic in the slightly harshly criticised sensor in the M240. It really does make the camera lens combo sing. I have only just starting using it and I’m learning…. as always. It does increase the dynamic range btw… lenses can do that.

    I am a professional photographer but when I’m out an about on holiday I may as well be the 12 year old amateur as it’s the pleasure of shooting which re-invigotrates my professional work which couldn’t be more different. (btw I love my job!)

    I mentioned the price because I think that for non-professionals this is a difficult purchase to justify on so many levels and I think I wouldn’t have been able to justify it to me…. But actually what people do with there hard earned cash is up to them and it always feels like a cheap shot for Leica owners.

    So thanks for ALL your comments… keep them coming and if this set doesn’t float your boat then that’s the fun of photography…



    • Thanks for posting and maintain an open heart Howard. Trust me when I say that these shots are not as bad as some of the “genius” here says…and they do show something about the APO, as it is really one of the intention of your post.

  20. I have to laugh at how people can be so critical without putting thought into what they say. If you look at Howards web page, his portfolio is amazing and he is obviously a talented photographer. I love his Cuban shots. He did preface this article by saying it was a family holiday and also that it takes a few months to work out the nuances of the lenses. I know that when I went to Thailand with my wife, I was not able to focus on the photography that I love, so obviously for Howard it would have been the same thing. Maybe the first shot is to show the bokeh he talks about. Anyhow if you want to look at amazing photos go to his web page!

  21. Ouch, some tough critics here today!

    As EH mentioned above, Howard was pretty upfront about testing out his new lens, so give the guy a break. Steve does these sorts of ‘real life’ tests all the time and they are often appreciated, so I think this post is totally fitting in the spirit of this site.

    I guess these style of shots exist somewhere between casual documentary and technical demonstration, which is fine. I don’t think they’re supposed to represent the ‘best’ capabilities of either the photographer or his gear …they are but only a taste.

  22. So the question for me is whether or not the 50mm APO is worth double than the 50 Summilux Asph.? It´s all about the pictures and image quality in my opinion.

  23. Be fair to this guy. He is taking the stroll easy and picture taking is not intended to be an intensive activity to begin with. And he is also in the mood to test this legendary lens. He stated his objective very clearly upfront.

  24. I have a M240 and if I had to rate their 50mm line up the Noc 0.95 is by far and away the best. Then second best is the Summilux 50mm (faster and a lot better bokeh) both these lenses are worth the price Leica is asking for them. If a Summicron is on your mind I would go for the 75mm APO it’s cheaper and gives similar results.

    • I disagree. Without question, after extensive use of all of Leica’s 50’s, the APO is in my opinion the best 50 they make (or best 50 from anyone). Then the Noct. The Noct is unique for its one trick, the bokeh. It has bad CA, is heavy, large and unruly. Slow to focus and gets thrown out of whack with heavy use. At $11k, it is the most unique Leica 50 but not the best. The Summilux is under the APO IMO as well. Totally different rendering and look. The 50 APO is the only lens that will make the M240 appear like Medium format when used correctly and with nice light. Add in the size, lower weight and design and it is a home run statement piece. Expensive and not worth the cost to 95% of us but it is a damn fine lens.

      • Hi Steve! Congratulations as always on your site! Do you have any expected date for the 2nd part of the review on the 50 apo ? Many of us I think are anxiously waiting!

      • I highly anticipate a full comparison of the 50lux aspherical vs. the 50APO. I was only able to play with the 50Apo for a short time at the Leica store and my side by side snap shots with the 50lux are very inconclusive. I am on the list for a 50Apo, but I am not convinced it makes sense. I have heard different opinions on the topic and I really want to see a good comparison because nobody has done one yet.

      • If it’s it’s not worth it to 95% of us then who are you talking to Steve, my comment took in the value for money Summilux it is the second best to us 95%, because we can afford it. Hmmm reviews or comments to 5% I don’t know about that, anyway if I did have the money and became one of those 5% I would take a .095 verses a f2 any day of the week. Last point please show me this lens versus a MF lens on a PhaseOne or Pentax 645n and we will see how close it gets.

  25. Maybe this is the problem with flash/expensive cameras and lenses. Owners get so wrapped up with them and forget that they are a tool, and that image making should happen in their brains.

    Same sort of thing : Would you read a novel just because it was written with a Mont Blanc pen (or even a Fulgor Nocturnus)

  26. With posts like these (incidentally, I’ve been to Copenhagen many times, but that must have been a different city altogether) I always wonder they’re images we’re supposed to look at or demonstration images.

    • Likewise, Michiel.

      The colours and b&w tones were great, and they might be the sole purpose of the illustrations, but shot 1 seemed like pretentious nonsense, less so the cafe scene.

  27. Guys we are always making the same mistake ! Photos taken with magnificent gear does not have to be brilliant -it would be nice if it was -but it is just about a photographer using and enjoying his or her equipment enjoying making images they find significant and having a good time. These photos are about happy memories and should be seen as such. Not everybody is going to produce masterpieces and it would be crazy to expect that. People do not always post stuff to showcase their talent -more often just to say how much they are enjoying their photography. That is worth celebrating .

    Best Wishes

  28. Sorry, but in my old age, I cannot see anything in the pictures that reflects such an expensive lens. I am a Leica owner and user and frankly apart from pride of ownership,not a bad thinking itself, I think there are many excellent and much cheaper lenses which could also give snaps. Leica has a compelling marketing strategy, and I am sure true believers will shoot me down, but please lets leave the marketing hype to Leica.Many sites quote problems with the quality control of this lens.Holy Grail ?????

    • Here we go again. 😉

      Leica makes a great tool.

      So does Nikon. And Canon. And Olympus.

      Practically any good camera today can produce IQ superior to what its operator can imagine…provided its operator knows how to use it properly.

      And that’s really what’s key here: vision trumps gear every time. As long as you have a tool capable of getting the job done and meeting your creative needs, you’re good to go.

      I wouldn’t use a Leica M to shoot wildlife in Africa; I wouldn’t rapid fire a Nikon D4s at 11fps to shoot a violin recital in a near-silent auditorium; and I wouldn’t use an Olympus OM-D with a 25mm f/1.8 lens for astrophotography or gigapixel panoramas (though with time and attention to detail you probably could).

      One picks the right tool for the job.

      But when it comes to IQ — particularly for most applications — that debate was rendered largely moot long ago.

    • After the third viewing I’m tempted to go for number 4. Having lived in CPH for almost 2 years around 10 years ago I must say these few snaps not only not only capture the essence of the city but also showcase an amazing lens – great work Howard

      • Well, I’m glad you are amused.

        Uh!, what IS the point? Are you inspired by the second picture for example?

        I’ve followed this site for several years and watched endless groups of photographs being praised day after day as the quality (in general) has fallen.

        Isn’t it time to be a little critical?

        • I believe you are, as a generality, spot on. There have been, and still are, some wonderful images posted on Steve’s site, but even here this is very much a personal response to a particular photographer’s work. Those images I like, others may not.

          But I wholeheartedly agree that there is has been undue praise heaped on what are oftentimes nothing but very ordinary images.

    • I really don’t understand this comment. This is a site where people get to post a story and some photos. They are called “daily inspirations”. Some are more gear oriented than others (I like to read about both). Many good pictures are posted. Some may even be great, but I didn’t believe these was supposed to be an “artsy site”.

      Maybe you don’t feel like looking at them twice and to be honest I have never gone back to look at any daily inspirations because I found the images incredible, but I still enjoy them very much. These included.

        • Quite right. The mere publishing of an image is to invite comment, whether this be positive or negative. Is it only permissible to praise?

    • Because going for sensations (even with top gear and lot´s of skills and experience) don´t make a good photography.The little authentic things that happens in social interaction, often very subtle and almost invisible, is what makes a good street photography. Yes, the pics up there are unspectacular and nowadays we are used to consume a hundred eye catching photos an hour, but Howard has a feeling for those “fine tones”. And it shows in his work.

    • My thoughts exactly… So much talk about gear but so often the pics don’t stand up on their own… There is nothing Bressonesque about the B&W image above….

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