Jul 102014
 

Using a Zoomfinder

By Steve Tsai

Hello Steve Huff Photo community, I have stumbled across an invaluable side benefit of a zoomfinder in my photography process and would like to share my experience with it. It is for wide-angle application and architectural interior photography in this report, but hopefully it can be beneficial for other applications as well!

For those unfamiliar with a zoomfinder, it is an external finder with a zooming capability for compositional aid, typically used on a rangefinder or a non mirror-reflex camera. It mounts to the hotshoe and there are a few choices out there. In my case I use the Voigtlander Zoomfinder, Arca Swiss Vario Finder, and to a small extent the Alpa eFinder App on the iPhone.

Framing aid Apps on the smart phone is pretty handy indeed but the requirement of an external wide-angle lens adaptor and the annoyance of dealing with electronic device where multiple button presses, non-instantaneous viewing, and concerns of battery life hinder the speed and usability for me so I am skipping it in this report.

Below are brief descriptions of the zoomfinders in use:

The Arca Swiss Vario Finder

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Along with different masks it simulates framing including rise/fall and shifted lens positions. Users zoom the housing to desired lens focal length marking and put a corresponding metal mask on the front which clips on by the recessed magnets in the front frame. There are 3 masks in total but for my use I only need 2 of them. My finder is an older design, newer finders have guided pin slots which is even cooler for keeping orthogonal movements.

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The mask can be slid in both axis to show movement – each dot simulates 5mm of movement and can be seen through the viewfinder. Here is a view that simulates 10mm of rise and 10mm of left shift.

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The image quality is nice and bright, with apparent barrel distortion, gets much better when zoomed in though. The image appear to be slightly blurry on the periphery if your eye is not in the right position or not square to the eyepiece which acts as a clever visual feedback to put your eye in the right position for accurate framing. The proportion is 4:3 which corresponds to medium format digital back sensor size.

Here is how it looks like when mounted on the technical camera, it has mounting foot for both landscape and portrait orientation.

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Voigtlander 15-35mm Zoomfinder
This a well designed and solidly-built finder which operates similar to a zoom lens. There are notched positions for focal length presets similar to aperture ring on a M rangefinder lens and has a built-in diopter on the eyepiece. Depending on the model it will also indicate equivalent focal lengths for various cropped sensors. In use on a rangefinder it is a bit of a dance as Steve explained in a previous post. Metering and framing are carried out by viewfinder on camera and the Zoomfinder separately. Due to the larger distance it mounts away from the lens, parallax effect is more exaggerated for closer distance subjects with the super wide lenses. Here is how the zoomfinder looks like when mounted to the M9-P.

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The experience is similar to an SLR where views are masked instead of frameline overlay of a rangefinder, there is a dotted line on top to indicate close range frame edge. The images quality is excellent, distortion is very mild and zoom simulation works extremely well. There is slight fringing if you point at bright sources. The proportion is 2:3 which corresponds to small format sensor size. Here is a comparison showing 15mm and 35mm views, note the slight fringing.

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Now to the main point of the article – how the zoomfinder can make our lives easier. For years I have looked for solutions that will help with certain challenges I encounter on a shoot – which the zoomfinder eventually solved for me.

Here are the benefits:

1. Scouting Aid
Prior to the shoot, one can go around the space and preview contemplated scenes using various focal lengths in a very nimble fashion. For architectural interiors, one frequently gets pinned to confined space during framing, it is much easier to handle and preview with such a small and light device.

2. Visualization and Focal length selector.
For those of us sensitive to the compositional impact related to exaggeration of perspective inherent in various wide-angle focal lengths it is sometimes hard to choose the proper prime lens without preview. The zoomfinder shows the effect in combination with the physical distance to the subject. You can quickly decide if you want to stand back and use a 28mm or get closer and use a 24mm along with the look of each lens. It is such a time-saver. The relatively low optical distortion in the viewfinder just makes the preview actually enjoyable and non-distracting compared to lower grade viewfinders.

3. Stitching Preview
For those of us that use shift lens and stitching capture workflow it is hard to see the composition during the shoot. Through my own tests I have worked out equivalent focal length of the stitched focal length. The 24 PC-E becomes 18mm with cropped sides or 21mm safe frame. The 45 PC-E becomes 28mm with cropped sides or 35mm safe frame. Safe frame is for cropping out the corner vignette when maximum shifts are used. You can quickly preview the finished image with the zoomfinder. Here is an image that shows 3 images from capture and the finished stitch.

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4. Camera Position Aid
The effect of camera height is very important in interiors. With the viewfinder I can preview the scene and determine exact camera position very quickly. Once I identify the desired position, I will hold the zoomfinder in place with one hand and then drag the camera + tripod over with the other hand to match the optimal position quicker and then fine tune to suit.

For the benefits above, the zoomfinder has become so invaluable that I carry it on me during the shoot at all times. Previously I used a mini ballhead along with a tripod button and a safety noose.

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Early on in the year I dug into my luthier roots and made a stabilized hardwood handle for it. A belt clip gun holster provides easy reach and secured carry. I often have to move furniture and arrange items in the scene so the belt clip is the best carry as it will not swing around during active motions.

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I know this is a very specific application and a small camera with a wide zoom can achieve the same function. However the small size and simple, convenient use during a physical shoot just makes it so much easier for me. If there is a wish to make it even better… a 15 to 50mm zoomfinder would make it out right amazing although definitely not at the expense of distortion though! The experience is so important and can make your shoot enjoyable when scenes do not appear warpy like a Salvador Dali painting. I have considered a dual hot shoe that mounts both the zoomfinder and a separate 50mm finder but it will make the size much larger and stability would be of concern.

If one can make a custom precision mount that adapts the zoomfinder to a smartphone it can be used as a good quality wide angle zoom adaptor as well. Maybe it will be a project for the DIY crowd with a 3d printer out there!

Maybe in 5 years google glass will have a thought controlled view window that can zoom and crop to simulate a viewfinder – consider this a free idea if anyone wants to take this on with crowd sourcing!

You can find me at:

Website
http://www.stevetsai.photography/

Stevie Rave On blog
http://stevetsaiphotography.com/wp/

Flickr
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevieraveon/

May 222014
 

titleryk

The Wotancraft Ryker Camera Bag Review

This is mainly a video review of the beautiful Wotancraft Ryker bag. I will add some words after the video below:

Not everyone is a camera bag kind of person. Many just prefer to take their camera and one lens out on the street with them and roll. Others like to have choices and bring a bag with a lens or two just in case they want to change it up while they are out. There are hundreds, if not thousands of bags manufactured in the camera world. Some are cheap but functional, some are mid priced and functional and some are high priced and built more for fashion then actual use. I have seen them all from Domke to Crumpler to Fogg to Billingham to Artisan and Artist. I have probably had 60 bags through my house in the past 5 years as many get sent to me for review. Many times they do not even get reviewed (if they stink) and they get thrown to the side and sent back.

Occasionally a bag comes along that I really like. For example, there have been bags from Tenba, Artisan & Artist, Think Tank, Fogg and Ona that I adored. I even enjoyed the Camslinger bag and still do from time to time. But never has a bag come through that spoke to me in the way this Wotancraft Ryker does. In fact, it is the most beautiful, well made, useful and overall nice bag I have ever come across in my life. I prefer it to the Fogg bag that I owned (that was more expensive), I prefer it to the ONA bags I have had (and still own) and I prefer it to just about ANY bag, ever. Why? Well, there are many reasons and I go over them in the video above. What it boils down to is that this is just about as perfect as a camera bag can get for those who want a nice looking, well made leather bag. It is stylish, it is durable and it is comfortable. It holds a Leica and 2-3 lenses as well as an iPad mini and accessories. It feels good across the shoulder and the inside is well padded and protective as well as being pretty snazzy with the purple microfiber lining. The leather is soft and pliable not hard and stiff.

Wotancraft has a reputation for making super high quality hand crafted bags and leather goods. They are not a cheap fly by night operation and this bag is my perfect bag, end of story. I even use it for a video rig I carry around sometimes with a digital recorder and other items. Makes me want a undone in brown, one for my camera and one for my video setup.

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The leather is durable but soft as you can tell just by looking at the image above. The protective zipper leather flap protects your goods inside in the event of rain or snow. I have had this bag all over with me and even took it to New Orleans for the last Olympus media trip I went on. The bag still looks brand new. It has so far survived rain, water splashes and being set down on concrete several times. It looks and feels brand new. There was even one point when a beer was spilled on the bag (about 1/4 of a beer). No cloth to stain, no worry of water getting inside, no worry of your camera getting scratched up while inside. There really has not been anything left behind. The iPad pocket is inside and is nice and protected as well with a pocket and all.

The price of the Wotancraft quality does not come cheap. At $379 it is an expensive bag, but one that will last you a lifetime. Again, for me, it surpasses any bag I have owned or come across in quality, design, usefulness, size, weight, materials, and style. Some will say it looks purse (or murse) like, but so do 90% of camera bags. When on and walking around it looks like a shoulder bag. A nice shoulder bag.

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At $379 US it is well worth the cost, especially when a Fogg bag will set you back $600+ these days. This bag is perfect for a Leica system or Mirrorless system from Sony, Olympus or Fuji. All will be great for this bag. I have had compliments on it already while traveling. What people have liked is the soft luxurious feel of the bag and the features such as the purple lining and leather flap that protects the inside.

You can order the Wotancraft Ryker HERE.

It was out of stock for over a year and most thought it would not return. It is back, but I have no idea for how long. A brown one should be coming soon as well, but not sure how long away that is. This bag is in the Urban Classic line.

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

 

Feb 262014
 

garizm240

The Gariz Leica M 240 case is in stock again, act fast!

When I reviewed this case a few months back they sold out on Amazon within a few hours. They not only have them in black but I noticed today that they also have 10 BROWN cases in stock over at Amazon via the seller “Viva Outfitters”. I have purchased a couple of items from them in the past and shipping was super quick, no issues.

In any case, one of my fave cases for the M 240 and it can be bought for $199.

If you want to take a look, see more or buy it, click HERE to go to the Amazon page. They also have it in RED. Also in BLACK!

See my review of this case HERE. 

Jan 312014
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Classic Cases Leica M 240 Case

Hello to all! Today I wanted to share some news about a case I am trying out for my Leica M 240, made by classiccases.co.uk. Paul Glendell is the guy who is behind these fabulous cases and he makes them for the Leica Monochrom as well. You can see the Mono in his case HERE in my part 1 review of that camera. He also offers M8 and M9 cases and all of them have different options available (with back flap, without, etc). These are all hand-made with quality leather AND hands.

His M 240 case is of fantastic quality and it is a bit too stiff, and not too soft…which IMO will break in well over time, maybe a year or so. It is a case I really like and much different from the Gariz case I reviewed a while back (can see that HERE). While the Gariz was nice, small and fit like a glove the Classic Cases 240 case is more traditional when it comes down to the case design and offers a little bit of grip to hold on to. Not because there is a grip but because it adds a little size to the camera and those with larger hands will get a better grip when shooting the camera. It FEELS like a higher end product as well.

Take a look at the case on my M from all angles…

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I had planned to do a video review of 3-4 M240 cases all at once but the two others I was expecting over the past three months never showed up for review. Paul was the only one who sent in the case so his is the only one I will be posting about today.

In the hand it feels nice and the fit is very good (better than the Luigi I had for my M9 that I couldn’t use due to the fit being so off). In fact, the fit of the classic cases case is superb and if I had to complain about anything it would be that the live view button is slightly covered, which is a bummer (UPDATE: Paul told me he has corrected this for all future cases). It is tough to design a full half case for the 240 (that wraps around the full back, top and bottom) without this happening though. The upper sides, unlike the Gariz, are well protected and the leather feels like a real quality leather.

Some of you out there love cases and some of you out there hate them. I like cases but sometimes i prefer to go naked because it is much easier to unload batteries and memory cards without having to remove a case to do so. On the other hand, there were times when I went naked (my 1st M 240) and it got beat to hell when I dropped it. So these days I prefer a case.

There are quite a few cases out there for the M240 and this is the one of the good ones. It is not cheap at about $285 US Dollars (ships from the UK) but it is one of the nicest cases among the sea of half cases to protect that $7000 investment. Many wonder why a case would be so expensive but think about it. A full leather, hand-made and stitched case for under $300 to protect a camera you spent $7000 on (without a lens) is not bad at all. You can go up to $390-$490 and buy an Art Di Mano case which offers a different design and colors (my review of the Arte Di Mano is here, and it is a beauty) and spend even more for a famed Luigi. $285 is about right for the Classic Cases M 240 case and offers up some style, beauty, protection and luxury to your already luxurious M. You can get better but it will cost you almost 2X the amount.

if you are one who enjoys cases, you can check out all of what they offer HERE at the Classic Cases website. 

Jul 082012
 

LOADS of used Leica Lenses and Cameras NOW available!

Just browsed over at B&H Photos used department and saw all of these USED Leica lenses and cameras. Here is what they have available now and there are MANY lenses here!

Noctilux F1 – latest F/1 design – $7895.00

LEICA 90 SUMMICRON ASPH APO, with case – $2799

Leica 35 Summicron PRE-ASPH – $1999

Leica 50 Summicron f/2  - latest pre APO version – $1499

Leica 28 Elmarit ASPH 2.8 – $1949

Leica 24 Elmar 3.8 – “10″ in box as new – $2394

Leica 135 f/3.4 Telyt APO – $2449

Leica 28 Summicron ASPH – $3499

LEICA 21 ELMARIT ASPH f/2.8 – $3699

and now some cameras!

Leica M9-P Silver Chrome with hand grip and in the box, 9 condition – $7199

LEICA BLACK PAINT MP – $3199

Leica M8 – $2499 – Black

LEICA M7 – BLACK – $2499

Leica X1 – Black – $1399

NOW THAT IS A LOAD OF USED GEAR! Hopefully some of you can find what you are looking for and get better pricing than new. Leica glass is always a good buy as they never really fall in value. Here are a few more I found at pop flash and Dale Photo!

Popflash also has a 50 Summilux 1.4 pre-asph for $2997

Leica 35 Summicron ASPH – $2797

Dale has a used Zeiss 50 Planar for Leica M – $900

Also a used 75 Summarit which is a GREAT lens!

Also, don’t forget Ken Hansen. He always has new and used Leica in stock. You can e-mail him with whatever you are looking for at [email protected]

Jun 052012
 

Great cheap goodies for your lenses – Soft micro lens pouch is a GREAT buy.

I had to let you guys know about these as my buddy Todd makes and sells these and I have been using them for the past month or so and LOVE them. They are called the “Micro Lens Pouch” and are made for smaller camera systems and the lenses that we pay so dearly for. The is a great way to protect your glass and offers much more protection than just throwing them in a bag. I have the 3 pack here and the small fits a Leica summarit or summicron type of lens, the medium fits my Panasonic 25 1.4 or equivalent size and the large even fit a Leica Noctilux. The lenses are super soft with great cushion and protection. The great thing is you can buy all three for $29.95 and they are sold at Amazon, and shipped by Amazon.

While Todd makes and sells these I am not writing this because I know him or because he paid me (he did not). I am writing about them because I feel they are truly a great buy. Ive been using them almost daily for a while now and they have held up well for me and even helped protect my little 50 Summarit when I dropped it out of my bag.

You can buy each size separately or the get the three pack of various sizes for $29.95

The three pack can be found Here on Amazon

You can also just buy the Small, Medium, or Large for just over $10 each. Highly recommended!

Also available in a 2-Pack, small and medium!

BTW, I might as well add a plug for the 2012 Photo Cruise since the guy who makes these pouches is also going to be joining us ! I still have a few cabins remaining and if anyone is interested I need to know before July 1st! Check out the cruise page here, but imagine a full week on the seas and photography at every stop! Of course guests are welcome and can participate in all shooting! Will be a blast and free lens pouches for all :)

and…Don’t miss the street strap!

The street strap is also a very cool strap that I have attached to my new black Fuji X100 and it is a black cloth strap that looks similar to the A&A Silk cord strap, but this is not silk and it is longer so you can wear it around you. This is also on Amazon and shipped by Amazon so no dealing with 3rd party vendors. I like this strap and I also like my Barton strap and A&A strap! Just like with bags and cameras, all personal preference. But if you have been wanting a nice black strap that is comfy and long enough to strap around your body when carrying your camera this one is great. You can check it out on Amazon HERE.

Feb 152012
 

My Favorite Camera Strap!

The Leather Braided Barton Strap 

For the past several months I have been shooting my M9P with a strap that I have fallen in love with for several reasons. You may have seen it in pictures with my M9P, in fact, I know some of you have because I get at least one e-mail a day asking me where to buy this strap! First of all, it is an all leather braided strap and is very well made. It is soft, and stretches so if you are shooting with a heavy lens this stretch takes the strain off of your back/shoulder. I have had zero issues with the strap over the past months and in fact, it has broken in quite well. It also always gets the looks and compliments.

You would think that a strap like this would set you back over $100. With the Artisan & Artist straps fetching well over $100 and more for their silk straps and about $70 for their really good cloth straps (my fave in the A&A line, and they are here) this hand braided leather strap comes in at $79 SHIPPED. Yep, shipped. You can browse the straps at barton1972.com and they come in several colors. Red, brown, blue/grey, black, etc.

I can HIGHLY recommend this strap and it even comes in a cool box. I may order a couple more and even try one of their bags soon. I love a good strap and there are so many out there that are good but this one represents great quality, great price and a great experience.

You can browse ALL of the straps they have to offer at their strap page. Looks like there are quite a few to choose from, even a double braided for $10 more!

Sep 202011
 

Fast and Prime Leica M9 Case/Holsster 1st Look Video!

Received the case I was talking about earlier today via Fed Ex from fastandprime.com and had a chance to give it a quick try and decided to make a quick video showing you guys what it looks like and how it works. Mine is the all black version which is fitting for an all black M9P :)

This is a hand made case from fastandprime.com, a brand new company that started up to provide these cases and accessories. There are thousands of M9 owners who read this site so I thought this would be interesting for those of you who enjoy cases and a way to carry your camera. This design is pretty unique as you can wear it around your waist or your body. It is a holster style that also locks in your M9, much like a gun holster actually.

When you want to shoot you simply pull out the camera and return it to its protective case when done. I could see this being great on all day street shooting outings. The case is quite firm and stiff out of the box but it would soften up with use. The case ships with a 5 year warranty card and a serial number stamped on the back of the case.

The only negative I found with it so far is it can be tricky to slide the M9 OUT of the case but this could be because I do not yet have the wrist strap (should be here tomorrow). Usually the wrist strap would be on and you could just pull it out in that way. This case is different than the Luigi cases which are made to stay on the camera at all time. This case is more for when you are out shooting with the camera and is a way to protect it in style, plus like I said, it is very functional.

You can also buy a lens case that slides on to the adjustable strap to hold an extra lens. Overall this is a very nice and premium product but it is not cheap! You can check out the options over at fastandprime.com and to see pricing options and color options click on “Catalog”. This will not be for everyone as many M9 shooters go naked but there are also many who love protecting their cameras when out shooting. Fast and Prime made a very unique case solution here IMO for those with the Leica deep wallets :) It is a beautiful product.

Jun 082011
 

Three bag ROUNDUP!

The Artist & Artisan 7000 and 7200 and the Think Tank Photo Airport Airstream video Review!


Today I wanted to do a video on three bags that are all SUPERB! The first two I have become quite fond of, the Artisan & Artist ACAM-7000 for the days when I want to carry along my laptop, Ipad and more than one camera and lenses. The GCAM-7200 is for those days when I just want to bring along something like an M9 and two lenses, or even an M9, lens and Fuji X100/Leica X1. I retired my Domke F-803 as I fell in love with the looks, feel and functionality of these A&A Bags.

I also purchased a rolling bag from Think Tank Photo for my airport travels, the Airport Airstream. This is a semi compact roller that holds a TON of gear and can be stored in an overhead compartment on an airplane. This is a TOP quality bag that is made extremely well. Watch the video for the details!

Where to buy?

Think Tank Airport Airstream – Buy direct from Think Tank Photo for great service, and fast ship.

Artisan & Artist ACAM-7000 – Dale Photo & DigitalPopflash also has the 7000, IN STOCK.

Artisan & Artist GCAM-7200 – Dale Photo & Digital or Popflash Photo

Here is the 15 minute video review of all three! Video shot with the Fuji X100!

 

Mar 082011
 

I’ve been busy organizing and packing!


Lots of you have asked me to list what I am packing for the Seal tour this week so I decided to post my list! I will be out for three weeks with one goal in mind..kick ass photography with my Leica gear! Well, I am actually packing a medium sized kit (by photographers standards) believe it or not. Besides one huge suitcase with 3 weeks worth of t-shirts, clothes, and hygiene necessities I am taking along a few cameras.

First off, I am bringing my Pelican bag to hold all cameras for the plane ride. This bag is pretty nice and has been with me for years now. It will hold TWO Leica M9′s, a few lenses, and my X1 along with all cables, chargers, and accessories. It’s so cool to be heading out and shooting this tour and packing so light (well, not really that light). No need for a DSLR and huge lenses. Nope, give me an M and a 35, 50, or 90 any day!

I want to thank Leica Camera for sending me some equipment to use for the tour, also Ken Hansen who came through for me last minute and Dale Photo who also helped me out for this trip! It is so cool to be associated with such great people! Of course, thanks to Seal for having me shoot this tour and B&H Photo for shipping my new Macbook Pro out so quickly. I think I am ready to rock…

Here is my UPDATED checklist of what I am getting together and bringing with me to South America!

  • Big Suitcase to hold my clothes and hygiene necessities. :)
  • This Pelican camera and laptop bag to hold all cameras, lenses, and my laptop/cables/chargers and snacks. I have had this bag for three years and it always does its job well. It holds SO much!
  • This Macbook Pro 13″ – Latest model which is awesome! It will be nestled inside its cool green leather sleeve. I just bought this laptop it to replace my 4-5 year old Macbook Pro. I always buy my Apple computers from B&H. Cheaper and no tax!

I always get my Apple computers through B&H Photo. You save quite a bit as they sell cheaper and you do not pay tax. They also offer free shipping! This is the latest 13″ model…

  • Two Leica M9′s – Thanks to Ken Hansen and Leica Camera! One is mine, one is a loaner backup courtesy of Leica.
  • Leica 28 Elmarit, 35 Summicron and 90 Summarit (Thanks to David at Dale Photo for hooking me up)
  • I will also be shooting with the Leica Noctilux f/0.95 once I meet up with Seal.
  • Four Sandisk Ultra 16GB SDHC SD Cards
  • External Hard Drive for backup!
  • Jawbone JAMBOX for my hotel stay music listening and movie watching.
  • Snacks for the long plane rides..have to eat! Hmmm…nuts, jerky, granola…all sounds good.
  • My passport of course.
  • My Iphone 4 and Mophie Juice Pack Plus.
  • This cool photo vest to hold all of my goodies while shooting! Well, maybe the vest is a bit geeky but will come in handy when shooting.
  • This BEEP, and M9 screen protector from Popflash Photo to help out my grey M9.
  • and Cash – Oops, I am all out!

So, have I forgotten anything?

Check out the tour schedule and if you are going to these shows be sure to look for me or even e-mail me and let me know which show you will be at. Would be great to meet some of you if I can! I will be updating the site as often as I can with tour updates and of course loads of great photos. Three weeks of shooting a tour, awesome. Am I dreaming or what?!?!? If you missed my report on the week I spent with the tour last year you can read about it HERE at the official Leica Blog.

 

Jan 282011
 

“Pimp My Leica”

A Guide to Appointing, Mod-ing, and Dressing up your Leica M Digital Camera to make it uniquely yours

By Ashwin Rao

“Part 1- Bags, Half Cases, and Hard Cases”

Hello everyone, it’s Ashwin, back with you all to discuss how to customize your Leica M8 or M9 to suit your aesthetic and functional taste. Like cameras of other manufacture, there has been a burgeoning cottage industry geared toward custom-fitting Leica M cameras to one’s taste and photographic peculiarities. In fact, given the cultural and aesthetic heritage that accompanies the Leica brand, many artisans have thrown their hats into the fray in designing customized bags, straps, cases, grips, and a variety of other accessories for the Leica M digital system. The Leica M system has always been accepting of this industry that has formed in and around the manufacture of its M-line of cameras, but it seems that the introduction of the Leica M8 and M9 have pushed the fold evermore. Thus, it is my goal to introduce you to some of the wonderful products that have been designed with M shooters in mind, and other products that can allow you to make that fancy Leica M8 or M9 your very own, individualized, shooting machine, both in terms of look and in use. So, let’s get started, shall we?

Bags

All of you know that the first question a sales person will ask, after you decide on a camera, is what kind of bag you want? Well, when it comes to Leica, there are some very specific choices of camera bags that are meant to work well with Leica M cameras and the rangefinder system. Traditional SLR bags, manufactured by Lowepro, Tamrac, Crumpler, Tenba, ThinkTank, and the like, are typically designed with SLR’s and their specialized ergonomics, and thus these bags are not often ideal fits for a rangefinder camera. Further, Leica shooters tend to be a unique breed in preferring camera bags that “don’t look like camera bags”, or bags that have a certain vintage look or quality about them, that goes in line with Leica M cameras, even the digital M8 and M9, looking like cameras of an era long past. That being said, Leica M digital cameras are very modern creations and deserve bags that will do the camera justice. In general, Leica and rangefinder shooters prefer bags with some degree of discretion, not only in terms of look, but also in terms of size. Bags for the Leica system, in general, should be small, discrete, and generally not too flashy (though there are exceptions to that rule). They should generally [resemt a classic or classy look that echoes the elegant lines of the M camera itself. Generally, bags for a Leica system should be capable of holding a camera, with lens attached, and 1-3 additional lenses. What bag you chose depends largely on what your kit is; that is, if you are a 1-camera-1-lens kind of shooter, then you’d probably want a bag that fits that system. If you have a larger kit (many of us own 3-4 lenses), many of us might desire a bag that fits this kit, or a couple of bags that fit different purposes (i.e. carrying your whole kit, vs travelling light). Of course, there are many opinions out there about what a bag should or shouldn’t be, but this is just my opinion, and I think it is reflected in many shooters with whom I have discussed such topics over the past several years. With all of that said, let’s go through a few of the manufacturers who design camera bags with Leica M cameras in mind.

Billingham - ( http://www.billingham.co.uk/pages/about.php )

Billingham makes the quintessential Leia camera bag. Their bags tend to embody the classic camera bag look, with high quality fabic, leather appointments, with bags that favor latches over zippers (though not exclusively). Like many camera bags that I will discuss, Billingham bags are typically waterproof, but they do a great job shielding your cameras against the elements, as long as the elements are not too trying (i.e downpoars, blizzard conditions)….

Billingham bags tend to go well with casual and semi-formal wear. They look great whether you are wearing a pair of faded jeans, slacks, or more formal wear. The bags come in a variety of colors ranging from black, tan, to olive, and leather appointments and stitching tend to be of high quality.

The bags come with outstanding internal dividers with outstanding padding. Pockets and divider sizes are designed for rangefinder-sized lenses, so you won’t have to reach far in to grab your lens of choice.

Billingham bags are a great place to start your Leica Bag journey, and you will likely find yourself entirely satisfied with the form and fit of these bags as a warthy companion for your Leica M kit.

Billingham bags tend to design their bags around functionality, that is allowing easy and rapid access to your cameras, while providing sturdy, weather resistant designs. Many of their bags have a overhanging flap, which latches and unlatches rapidly for access the the main compartment, which is designed to hold a body with attached lens and potentially other lens compartments.

Some models that bear particular mention are the Billingham “Hadley” line, the “Billingham for Leica” line, and the “Pola” line of compact camera bags. I started my Leica Journey with a “Billingham for Leica” bag, which was a great way to carry a camera with 3 additional lenses, and ultimately settled the wonderfully compact Billingham Pola Bag, which is an outstanding potion for a Leica M with 2 lenses.

B&H Photo sells the entire line of Billingham Bags - Check them out HERE

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Artisan & Artist - (http://www.artisanandartist.com)

Artisan and Artist are another outstanding manufacturing company that designs products with the Leica brand in mind. This Japanese manufacturer has assumed a very “German” aesthetic to its product line, and A&A bags are very well build, having a slightly more modern look than their Billingham counterparts. A&A bags tend to have a “designer look” and may attract slightly more attention. They tend to display a bit more of the “urban chic” aesthetic, yet they are functionally outstanding in a manner quite similar to Billingham’s products.

One issue that I have discovered in trying out A&A bags is that the internal padding and dividers are not as robust as some of the competitors in this segment. A&A bags use a red cloth based divider that’s thinner/less firm that that employed by Billingham, and dividers can end up getting scrunched down when cameras are place and replaced in their housings.

Artisan and Arist make several lovely bags for Leica cameras, that bear mentioning. “The Image Smith” Bag, “Oskar’s One Day Bag,”, “penn’s Pad & Pencil Satchel”, and “The Evans Walker” bag designs all are worthy companions for your Leica system, and I, in fact, own the low profile “Image Smith” as a way to carry a bulky kit of 1-2 cameras, and 5-6 lenses.

Dale Photo sells the Artisan & Artist line. They can be found HERE.

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Fogg - (http://www.foggspecialistbags.com)

Above photo courtesy of Chiif

Fogg bags are the “Rolls Royce” of Leica bags. The Fogg brand was established by Nigel Fogg and Bee Berman in 1987. The company’s designs immediately were met with critical acclaim, winning a design award from the “London Design Centre. These bags are costly, and often look the part, in terms of aesthetic and design elements. In fact, on their own website, they claim to intentionally disregard product pricing in preference to selecting the best materials for their products. These made beauties are sold by only a few vendors in the US, whie their manufacturing base is in France.

Fogg bags are crafted of high quality fabrics, higher quality leathers, and the finest attention to subtle details such as stitching, form, fit, and function. But their bags can cost $400-$500 and don’t protect your cameras that much better than a Billingham, Artisan & Artist, or any number of more cost effective brands. However, some people would rather prefer driving a Rolls Royce to a Toyota.

Photo courtesy of Jono Slack

The Fogg bag that best fit’s the Leica aesthetic, in my opinion, is the “B-Laika”, a lovely bag that includes padding within the fabric material and is a near-perfect match for a Leica M-camera with 1 attached lens, and an addition 3 lenses, with a side pocket to store memory cards, microfiber cloth, batteries, or other accessories.

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Domke - (http://www.tiffen.com/products.html?tablename=domke )

Domke bags are very popular among both rangefinder and SLR shooters and represent a more affordable entry into accessorizing your M8/9 camera. The Domke name stems from its creator, Jim Domke, who was a photojournalist who turned his passionate “kitchen” project into a successful enterprise and line. Of camera bags. Domke bags are manufactured in the U.S. and emboy an aesthetic of rugged discretion that permeates their entire line. These bags are durable, weather resistant, and low key. Most bags are manufactured from a cotton canvas material, though some lines use ballistic nylon for improved weather resistance. Straps tend to have twin track s of a high friction rubber liner that improves gripability of the shoulder strap, so that it won’t fall off your shoulder anytime soon. Domke bags embody a far more casual look than any of the camera bag lines I have discussed above. Many Leica shooters find Domke bags appealing for their workmanlike charm. Of particular note, for your consideration as a rangefinder shooter, are the F-series line of Domke bag, including the versatile F-3x, the F-803, and the smaller F5XA and F5XB designs.

There are so many camera bags out there, and I simply don’t have time to mention them all. However, let me list a few other brands for you to consider, and you can do your own research. Black Label Bags have long tempted me and appear to be a more robust copy of Artisan and Artist designs. Tom Binh bags are lovely bags, suiting multiple purposes, which can serve as discreet camera bags. While I stated up front that manufacturers such as Lowepro, Tenba, Tamrac, and Crumpler are geared towards SLR and ultracompact shooters, some of their lines of bags can be easily adapted to suit rangefinders, be it with a little creative modding or through the use of cushioned inserts (Billingham has several of these for sale to simply insert into an otherwise unassuming bag. There is really no right answer to what is the “best camera bag” for the Leica digital rangefinder system. I suggest that you try a few and see where you end up. Even these bags tend to hold their values, so you won’t be out too much money for trying out a bag for a while.

I can tell you for certain, that chosing the right bag for you is more art than science. Many shooters go through many bags during their photographic adventures. The term “Bag Acquisition Syndrome”, which correlates well with “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”, is a well known phenomenon in the Leica photographer community. So prepare to lust for and own a variety of bags. I certainly have, and ultimately, I settled for a kit that includes 3 bags. You will find your own comfort zone as well. It just takes time.

B&H pHoto is a dealer for Domke Bags. They can be found HERE.

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Hard Cases

Before moving on, I briefly wanted to mention hard cases, which are a way to store your precious Leica ware in a weather proof, climate proof shell that essentially hermetically seals your camera and lenses away from the elements. While stashed at home, my gear is generally stored in Pelican weatherproof cases. I take care to keep silicon packet inserts to absorb any stray moisture, but these Pelican cases do a great job at protecting my gear, not only in the field during more inclement weather circumstances, but also at home, where the elements can creep in to cause subtle damage to your gear.

Pelican cases (http://www.pelican.com/ ) represent some of the most popular hard weatherproof cases used in photography, but in truth, they are adaptable to a wide range of usees. Pelican cases usually come with foam inserts that you can customize to fit whatever size/shape lens and/or camera you chose, making these products quite adaptable. Their outer shells are made of a advanced, ultra high-impact copolymer resin which is both shock absorbing, protective, and low-profile. In fact, Pelican cases are a trusted product employed by polic, fire, and rescue professionals, so they are more than up to the task of protecting your fancy-pants camera gear ; ).

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Half cases

Okay, now that we have moved past camera bags and hard cases for your Leica M8/9 system, let’s move on to half cases. Leather half cases are among the most popular methods by which to dress up your Leica M body. A variety of artisans have produced their take on these half vases, which essentially wrap your M8 or M9 in a leather or similar shell, providing additional shock absorbing capacity, protection, and grip. Maybe more importantly, many photographers favor leather half-cases because they make the Leica M8 and M9 look oh-so-damn cool ; ).

1. The Luigi Half-Case (http:///www.leicatime.com )

By far the most sought after brand of Leica Half case is the “Luigi case” branded half case, manufactured by Luigi Crescenzi in Italy (see http://www.leicatime.org). Luigi is possibly one of the three most famous Leica-centric artisans on the plan, along with Tom Abrahamsson (of RapidWinder fame) and Tim Isaac (the masterful creator of the Thumbs Up grip line, see below). He is a master leather worker, and he and his elves/minions/collaborators manufacture magic out of fine leather. I am not joking, and let me say it here. Luigi Half cases are a work of art in and of themselves.

Luigi manufactures all of his lovely cases in Italy. Most of his lines are hand-crafted and sewn, while he has now begun to offer machine stitched options, which are slightly cheaper and just as nice as the hand made versions (these versions look a bit less organic, due to the lack of imperfections that are part of the charm of Luigi cases). Regardless, imperfections or not, Luigi cases generally fit Leica M cameras like a glove. They are exceptionally well crafted, and will add to the charm of your camera. Some cases will include cut outs to accommodate a Thumbs up Grip. Others can be modified to include a grip that effectively replaces the Leica grip. Luigi’s cases are quite customizable.

There are several issues with procuring a Luigi case, for which you should be made aware. Luigi’s website, for all intents and purposes, is terrible…it’s ridiculously hard to negotiat, crowded with text that’s hard to understand, and with directions that are even harder to comprehend. The infinite customizability and Luigi’s willingness to manufacture so many varieties of cases leads his site to be nearly non-navigable. It’s really the worst site I have ever seen, in terms of user-friendliness, but I suspect Luigi keeps it that way on purpose.

Here’s the bottom line: Take a look at his site. Browse around and find the case that you want, in the color that you want it, with appropriate modifications. Then just email Luigi. Usually, he’s pretty good about getting back to you, and if you wire him money via Paypal or bank transfer (they are quite expensive, I forgot to mention, usually $200-$350 USD), he’ll get you one of these jewels within 2-3 weeks, and you will forever be thrilled. Luigi cases are that great. So Luigi, if you read this, I apologize for trashing your website, but your products make up for the site! I personally own 2 of Luigi’s cases (both bought second hand, I couldn’t deal with his site), and love both of them dearly. My camera will never be without one….

2. Leica “Eveready” half and full cases (http://en.leica-camera.com/photography/m_system/accessories/cases_and_straps/2221.html )

Leica itself manufactures Leither half and full cases, the latter which add a top cover that protects the top aspect of the camera. I personally have no use for the top case, but in the past, these have been quite popular to protect the Leica M and one attached lens (think Summicron-sized lens).

Leica’s half case is well crafted, but the Leather used for these cases does not seem up to the standard of other manufacturers such as Luigi and A&A. Still, if you must have all things “Leica”, these cases are worth a glance.

3. Artisan and Artist Half-Case (www.artisanandartist.com) - (From Steve: These are my personal favorite half cases for my Leica M's. Soft, supple, fit like a glove and not bulky)

We talked about A&A’s wonderful bag line, but Artisan and Artist also makes a variety of other products, including Half Cases. A&A use high quality leather, an their half cases are very well machined (I suspect that these are not hand made, but rather machine sewn). Their design element is somewhat different than Luigi cases, and their line is far more limited. A&A half cases do not include built-in grip options, and their fit seems to be better for Leica film cameras than Leica digital cameras, in my experience.

The major benefit of A&A half cases is that they are far easier to obtain than Luigi cases, and comparably well made, albeit missing some of the charm of Luigi’s products.

Dale Photo sells the entire line of A&A Cases HERE.

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4. Zhou Cases - (http://members.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewUserPage&userid=jiozhou )

The final entry, of which I am aware, in the Leica half case repertoire, is the Zhou half case. I have never owned one of these, but I have seen several people who have and have been very satisfied. Zhou cases are manufactured in China by a younger guy who makes lovely case designs, similar in many ways to Luigi cases, but with a more machined look. These cases are not hand sewn, to my knowledge, and have a look of machined manufacture to me. The leather used in these cases appears to be of lower quality, more sythetic, than Luigi’s line, but Zhou cases are far more affordable. Zhao himself sells these cases from his ebay store for a variety of rangefinder cameras for $60-$80, and thus these cases represent the best bang-for-the buck in terms of half case lines, with both nice product fit and finish at an affordable price. I think of these as the “Honda Accord” of half case designs, while A&A make the “Lexus” level of quality, and Luigi represents the “Maserati” line, in terms of quality. Once again, there’s no right choice here, but rather what aesthetic appeals most to you.

Look forward to “Pimp My Leica, Part 2”, subtitled, “Wrist Straps, Next Straps, Grips, Baseplates and Soft Shutter Releases”

After that, I will conclude with the article, “Pimp my Leica, Part 3”, sub-titled, “How to Disguise your M9- Black Dots, Camera Leather, Screen Protectors, and Tape Jobs”

You can see more from Aswin Rao at his very own blog HERE!

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Aug 302010
 

A Trip With an Old Friend, The Leica M3

By Max Marinucci


I have recently gotten back from a short trip to South Korea, visiting family, and one of the major () decisions to make before leaving was…film or digital? As you may know, I would rather shoot film any time over anything digital but, when traveling, there are some conveniences (or inconveniences, depending on one’s point of view) to be considered. The main hurdle was to possibly waste time at airport security to have film hand-checked or let it go through x-ray. Big deal..the decision was easy: my old friend, the mighty Leica M3, was taking the trip with me! Well, actually two M3 bodies and three lenses. I have recently bought another M3 body, as I want to have more flexibility by usually keeping a 90mm on one body at all times or go 50/35 without swapping.

The reasoning behind not traveling digital is simple for me: I feel like that with the M9 I would have had to bring my laptop with me to at least back up all the files every day and not risk losing anything and, more importantly, it would also mean that I would most likely find myself playing with files instead of enjoying my time and family. That’s another major reason for me to shoot film when traveling: there is no wasted time while on vacation and I have a lot of fun while looking forward to developing a bunch of film when I get back home.

Security at the airports was an absolute breeze, with no questions asked, and/or issues of any sort. Fifteen rolls in a clear ziplock bag and off I went.

The Leica M3 – Yes, Leica’s pride…and curse. How do you improve on a camera that was released in 1953 and still stands today as a pinnacle of design, functionality and craftsmanship? You really can’t and that has, frankly, been Leica’s problem until the release of the M9, which finally breathed some new life into the company. The M6, MP and M7 are wonderful cameras but, let’s face it, aside from a meter, and the Aperture Priority setting in the M7, I can find more steps backwards than actual improvements. They are merely a follow-up to the M3 and dictated by the need to stay in business and feed the markets. That is the reality of it, no matter how you turn it.

One needs only to look through the M3 viewfinder to understand: a big, bright, .92 finder and the subject is clearly in sight, with no distracting frame lines or flaring of any sort. Composing through that is always an utmost pleasure. With the thick 50mm frame lines and the 90mm/135mm popping up when the lens is mounted, it is uncluttered, clean again, most of all, BRIGHT! The 35mm lenses do need a separate finder but I usually mount the wonderful Summicron or Summaron with the goggles. Looks great and retro and they are absolutely stupendous lenses, which perform spectacularly well, especially for street-shooting.

A solid piece of brass, it makes the M9 feel like a toy (dismount the lens, take the battery out of the M9 and you pretty much got a hollow piece of nothing) while giving you a sense of security: close to nothing can go wrong, no batteries, no electronics, no distractions, and it’s you and the camera, free to take your vision to new heights. Talking about finders, do you want to know THE most annoying thing I can find about all the newer Ms? The finder windows, no matter how hard I try, constantly get dirty from fingerprints. Cannot avoid it and here is a perfect example where the M3 was a pinnacle of design and further “improvements” have actually failed.

In an attempt to give a more “modern” and updated look, newer models have the glass flush with the body. It is a stupid design flaw and most annoying, if you ask me. The Leica M3 has the finder glass slightly recessed with a tiny “lip” around it and I sincerely doubt it is there “just because”. I basically have to go poke in there to get my finder dirty and trust me, it is annoying when trying to focus on something after eating french fries, or a donut, and your fingers have been wiped all over the camera.

Now, before all the gear-heads, Leica-haters jump on my throat, the usual disclaimer:

Gear means nothing! I shoot Leica because that’s my choice and that is what I enjoy and two M3 bodies still cost far less than many of the new digital pieces of junk out there that are worthless within two months and are used to take mostly forgettable snapshots. Just remember: one can take thoughtless, worthless pictures with an M9 and .95 Noctilux ($18K worth of equipment) while others get published or sell prints with images from a Contax T2 and a roll of Tri-X ($300 worth of equipment).

Your vision, composition, paying attention to your surroundings, light, how geometry plays into your shots, a moment, interaction with a subject, is what makes or break a picture and it has nothing to do with the gear you have used to take it.

It is certainly true that different cameras will bring you to shoot differently (a Rolleiflex VS a Leica certainly does) but again that should not be relevant to what makes a successful image.

The lenses: well, this time I went with modern, as I wanted to bring something faster knowing that I would be shooting in a few low light situations. The weather in S. Korea has been absolutely horrendous and I knew I would be facing very hot, very hazy and very humid days with flat lighting. Knowing what I would be confronted with, I also wanted a little more contrast and sharpness so I brought the 35 and 50 Summilux asph and the great 90mm Elmarit. Having the flexibility of two bodies is really helpful, and I kept one with a 90mm on at most times and with a different film stock in each body. Everything performed beautifully, even with all the heat and humidity and it was nice to have that f1.4 for a few night shots with fast film.

Film: choices were simple: again, based on the fact that I would be mostly doing some street-shooting, maybe some portraiture and very little to no landscape, I grabbed a few rolls of Tri-X, TMax 400, TMax P3200 and a couple of Agfa APX 100 (my favorite 100ISO of all times but, as expected, only shot one roll, again due to weather and light condition). I have even brought a couple of rolls of Kodachrome but, again, the weather was so gloomy that it just didn’t make any sense.

What about meters? Screw meters! Kidding aside, there is very little need for metering for street shooting, if you keep a few things in mind and have good memory from experience. I did bring a tiny Gossen Digisix just in case but used it very little.

On a dull, flat day, with a 400ISO film, f8 + 1/125, your golden most of the time. By judging the scene and light, I usually either open up 2-3 stops or go to slower shutter speeds, again depending on the situation.

50mm Summilux asph. Kodak Tri-X developed in HC110

The place is Cheongju, a nice bustling, progressive city that is about 2-3 hours drive from Seoul and a population of about 615,000. The “Avenue Tunnel”, a 5km long stretch of beautiful trees forming a tunnel leads to the entrance of this old city. Koreans are very proud people and their commitment is best summarized by this “Citizen’s Character”:

1.I will work to enhance the nation based on our beautiful tradition.

2.I will fulfill my social responsibility and hew out a career for myself.

3. I will become a polite and good citizen who puts public interests first.

4. I will try to live frugally and diligently in order to achieve an affluent society.

5. I will work with faith in and in cooperation with my local community for its betterment.

50mm Summilux asph. Agfa APX100 developed in Rodinal

There are many old neighborhoods that retain the character of days gone by but much is unfortunately getting swallowed up in the “modernization” phase, which means nothing more than shopping malls, austere 20+ stories apartment buildings and very little consideration for heritage or any architectural direction that I can discern. Not having visited in four years, I couldn’t help but notice quite a few more sprawling new areas complete with Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins which, thankfully, still seem to be a mere fringe, with the masses viewing them, generally, as a sporadic “treat” (if you can imagine that) and not a way of life. The most attractive places for a photographer are the older corners of the city with their wonderful outdoor, covered markets filled with old timers, genuine people who have worked extremely hard throughout their lives. Many of them, and especially women, will show it with their arched back, sunburned, leathery skin, and hands that could crush a stone. The oppressive heat (95-100 degrees with a heat index of well over 100) never seemed to bother them. These fabulous markets, filled with all sorts of fresh produce, meats, fish, and other “delicacies” none of us would touch with a ten-foot pole (dried grubs didn’t look so appetizing), represent a wonderful opportunity for candid street-shooting. Unfortunately, the downside at times is that, a westerner, especially in a smaller and non-cosmopolitan city, does stick out like a sore thumb and one needs to be mindful of that. Although I have received mostly smiles, a few people have given me a dirty look and likely told me to go screw myself in a language I did not understand, to which I simply smiled and politely waved goodbye.

50mm Summilux asph. Kodak Tri-X developed in HC110

Wandering through the streets, I did come across a few camera shops that were extremely well stocked with film and lots of old gear, including some sweet looking Leica M2s, M3s and IIIFs. I have even walked into a small shop where there was a guy behind the counter inverting a small tank, developing black & white film for a client. Film seems to be alive well there, although the bigger markets, a la CVS or Costco, only carry digital and the usual Kodak Ultramax etc.

There was also a lot of noise in the skies, as they had military exercises while I was there and Cheongju airport has a major air-force base. Crazy cool war jets were zipping around at low altitudes quite frequently and, although fun to watch and hear, I was hoping a new Korean War wouldn’t start while I was there.

50mm Summilux asph. Kodak TMax400 developed in TMax developer

I came back home 10 days later, very tired after a 20 hours trip and with a nasty case of jetlag, but also 10 rolls of film to develop. All were developt in my go-to guys, Rodinal and HC110, with a little TMax and Iford DDX thrown in there as well, depending on what I had shot and the look I was looking for. Since sleeping certainly wasn’t happening, I immediately got to work on them with the excitement of a little kid. That is the beauty of film, each and every time: when those rolls come out of the tank, it’s like Christmas every day!

90mm Elmarit – Kodak Tri-X developed in HC110

Hope you enjoy the following images and check out more @

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leicaman/sets/72157624615787177/

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Jan 202010
 

Improving the handling of a Leica M by Ashwin Rao: Hello everyone! Once again, it’s a privilege to write to you,. A big thanks goes to Steve for allowing me to share a bit of knowledge that I think may greatly help any of you have may have concerns about handling your Leica M camera.

A brief background on me

Plain and simple, I am a Leica enthusiast. If you have read my prior article on Steve’s website (click here to check it out), that should come through clearly. During my time owning the M8, M9 and film M’s, I have endlessly tinkered with the camera’s ergonomics, trying to find the ideal way to use the camera and to allow it to blend seamlessly into my photographic work flow. Over the years, this tinkering has lead me to several conclusions:

The Leica M camera is a beautiful tool to look at, hold, and handle

The Leica M camera is artfully crafted, but a times, this artfulness can make its handling challenging and even difficult

There are many tools to improve the Leica’s ergonomics, and there is no consensus in which modifications are the best ones

Modifying the M to your satisfaction is part of the ownership process and part of the pride of owning a Leica. Don’t be afraid to personalize this beautiful camera and make it your own.

The Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip, fashioned by Tim Isaac of MatchTechnical Services, is one of the most elegant solutions to make your Leica M much more stable when held in-hand.

A background into handling Leica rangefinders, from my perspective

I have owned and used Leica rangefinders as my primary tool for photography for nearly 4 years. I know that’s not long for some of you, but for many others who have just begun to enjoy your journey into this world and style of shooting, there is so much to learn, and maybe I can help.

As I began to shoot rangefinders, I found that handling the Leica M body can be a challenge. While Leica bodies are sleek and ergonomic, they can be a bit slippery to hold in the hand. There’s not much to hold onto with grabbing an M body, with its clean lines, gentle curves, and carefully-machined structure. Many of you who are new to rangefinders may find that your shots may not be as sharp as you’d like. The little bit of blur that makes an otherwise amazing picture rather ordinary may be due in part to the challenge of holding the Leica M body.

Having come from the world of Canon SLR’s, I was quite comfortable with those cameras’ built-in grips, which allow for camera holding and shooting with one hand. While this adds to the bulk and profile of the camera, it is quite an elegant solution to being able to comfortably hold and shoot SLR’s for a long time.

Leica rangefinders, including every body from the M3 through the M9, do not have a built in grip. Leica would claim, as do many purists who shoot their bodies “naked”, that the grip is not necessary. They might say that you should simply apply the neck strap, wear it around the neck or one shoulder, and head out for a day’s shoot. For 2 years, I applied this philosophy, but was never quite satisfied with that solution. I am not much of a neck strap guy, preferring a wrist strap or grabbing a camera out of a bag for the times when I shoot. And I kept coming back to disliking that slightly slippery feeling of handling the M. And so, my tinkering began. How could I improve the Ergonomics of the rangefinder?

How’s I found the “Thumbs Up Grip”

About 2 years ago, I began my quest to “improve” the ergonomics of the M. I completed a comprensive search of several well known Leica forums, including the Leica User Forum (LUF), GetDPI forum, and DPReview’s Leica forum. These forums are populated by many members with far more experience with the rangefinder system than I. Many of these individuals feel quite passionately about their way of shooting. In fact, this seems to be a common trait among Leica photographers: Pride in ownership and pride in their unique shooting style and experience. If you ask their opinion, they will certainly give it to you, and the advice may not always be kind or candy-coated.

Based on the advise gleaned from countless hours reading forum topics, I began to tinker and “Mod” my M. I started by trying out a variety of cases, which only seemed to add bulk to the camera. I purchased and used the Leica M grip, which did help to a large degree, but seemed a less than elegant solution, as it added substantially to the bulk of the camera.. I then took a look at a variety of Half Leather cases manufactured by Leica, Luigi Crescenzi and Artisan & Artist, all of which received very positive reviews. It was then that I came across several references to Tim Isaac and his Thumb’s Up Grip. People seemed to endlessly rave about this little add-on, which attaches to the hot shoe in the back of the camera and provides a place to rest one’s thumb (where the film reloading lever may otherwise be) when holding the M. It did not add much, if any bulk, to the profile of the camera. It was secured well in its hot shoe and would not inadvertently slip off. And better yet, many claimed that the additional stability that it afforded the Leica M provided shooters with at least “one stop” of hand held stability, allowing them to shoot their Leicas at even slower shutter speeds. In other words, this extra stop might allow me to shoot at lower ISO’s or shutter speeds! Whoah! Cool. I had to try this device out.

I read up more, and the more that I read, the more I became convinced that the Thumbs Up grip might be the tool of choice for me. I found that Tim Isaac had made a variety of modifications to the design of his grip over the years, and that it was nearing design perfection, according to recent reviews at the time. Luck had it that I saw a post on LUF from a Seattle Leica shooter that Tim Isaac actually had decided to travel to Seattle and was in town. Amazing! Just as I was considering this option of purchasing the Thumbs Up grip, Tim Isaac happened to be in town! So I went to Tim’s website, www.matchtechnical.com, and shot him a quick email….

About a hour later, Tim had replied! He was willing to meet me locally, and see my reaction to the Thumbs Up Grip in person. It turns out that Tim loves to get direct feedback about his products, and he uses this feedback to further master the design elements of his products. Tim also wanted to show me some new models that he had worked on to improve the function of the the Thumbs Up grips. Boy, was I excited! The guy who I had heard so much about on the forums, was going to meet with little ole’ me! We organized a meeting for a few days later, and the rest, shall we say, is history!

My morning with Tim Isaac

I was quite excited to visit with Tim, as I was about to leave on a trip to Vietnam with my M8 in hand. Anything that I could use to get more keeper images would be a worthy investment. Tim and his wife met me at a local eatery at Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle, a picturesque place where many of the boats that are featured in “The Deadliest Catch” use as their port of call. It’s a fun place to do some photography, for sure, if you are ever here.

Meeting Tim was all that I expected and more. He and his wife are truly two of the nicest people that I have ever met. Tim brought along a series of his latest wares and designs, along with his own M8 and Noctilux! For those of you who may be interested, Tim makes a variety of items, including his excellent Beep, Bip, Bip, Bug, and Beast soft releases, His E-Cyplse viewfinder magnifiers and Eye-Cups, as well as an M-coder kit, for those of you who wish to add a 6-bit code to your older lenses, so that they can be optimized for Leica’s M8 and M9 digital bodies. All of these can be seen and purchased from his website. I was there, however, to view his latest Thumbs Up Grip Designs.

As a side note, all of Tim’s products are artfully packaged, and the Thumbs Up Grip is no exception. The box is artfully decorated, with a personalized note, magnetic clamp, and allen wrench provided to secure the grip to your Leica M. It’s clear that the Thumbs Up is made and packaged with a sense of pride, which makes owning it even more enticing to me.

The Thumb’s Up grip has gone through a series of modifications, as I have mentioned, and I was able to view 2 of his most recent designs, the CSEP-4 and CSEP-1. The CSEP-1 is pictured below, attaching to the hot shoe, and providing a stable grip for any M body

THE CSEP-1

In my eyes, the Thumb’s CSEP-1 provides a very elegant solution to improving the camera’s ergonomics and suited my needs perfectly. The CSEP-1 minimizes bulk while maximizing functionality. Tim has designed the CSEP-1 to blend with the camera’s own classic lines, and it allows for hand placement in a way that makes shooting simple and and elegant. The protruding element of the grip is positioned to allow the photographer’s thumb to rest in a fashion that further secures the camera while in hand. It is a simple and elegant solution to the Leica M’s inherent slipperiness.

Below is an image of the Thumbs Up, mounted on my Leica M9:

The Thumbs Up CSEP-4

The CSEP-4 takes the design 1 extra step, providing a cold shoe that is positioned directly over the camera’s own viewfinder. This would help greatly for wide angle lenses (up to 24 mm on M9, and 21 mm on the M8), whose frame lines may not be visible in the camera’s native viewfinder. The photographer does not have to reposition his eye when switching between the camera’s viewfinder (which is still used for focus) and the external viewfinder, which is necessary for composition.

Given that my preferred focal lengths for shooting range between 35 mm and 90 mm, I didn’t personally see the added benefit of the CSEP-4 as necessary to my shooting needs, though you wide-angle freaks out there may find the CSEP-4 to be better suited to your needs.

I elected to purchase the CSEP-1 for my M8 and 2 of his BEEP soft releases (one for each of my film bodies), as I discovered that these soft releases, which screw in to the shutter release, add greatly to discreet shooting function (a word on this is below). All in all, purchasing these items was one of the BEST investments that I have made in my quest to make my M8 and M9 more useable. I ultimately sold my M8 to fund my M9, but the very first items transported from 1 camera to the other were my Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip and the Beep soft release. Tim’s Thumbs Up has now traveled along with my rangefinder bodies to Vietnam, Egypt, Italy, and throughout my travels in the US. Like American Express, I “Don’t leave home without it.”

Applying the Thumb’s Up:

Applying the Thumbs Up Grip is simple. You simply slide the unit into the hot shoe, using an included Allen wrench to tighten the lug nut at the center of the shoe. This process does not affect the electronics or functionality of your M, other than rendering the hot shoe cold, meaning that flash units won’t be useable with the Thumbs Up grip in place.

My take on the Thumbs Up CSEP-1

I have now owned the Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip for over 1 year. As I have mentioned, it hasn’t left my camera body even once, other than to be transferred from my M8 to my M9. The grip is fashioned to accommodate the photographer’s thumb comfortably along the right upper margin of the camera. The thumb rest has a slight taper to it that improves the resting point of the thumb, while the remaining fingers can curl around the front of the body to provide a secure, 1-handed grip.

So what do you gain in using the Thumb’s Up Grip? I think that you gain a great deal. The camera becomes much more of a pleasure to hold. Hand fatigue from contending with the Leica M body’s slipperiness is greatly reduced, as the CSEP -1 allows the thumb to naturally fall into a position of comfort that aids the camera’s stability. The CSEP-1 is elegantly fashioned, and its tiny profile actually adds to the camera’s aesthetic. I picked up a black model, which has brassed slightly in my year of using it, which only adds to its aesthetic charm. Functionally, the Thumb’s Up grip adds a fair amount of stability to the shooting experience. I would agree with the statement that one gains about a stop of hand-holdability in using the M with the Thumbs Up grip attached. Further, I am no longer nervous about dropping my M9 inadvertently. I also find that I can handle the camera well, with little hand and arm fatigue, even with the heaviest of lenses such as the Summilux 75 mm f/1.4 attached.

So what do you lose in applying a Thumbs Up Grip to your camera? Well, for one, you lose the function of the hot shoe. The CSEP-1 is a cold shoe (hence, the “CS” part), so adding a flash to the M is not possible if you wish to use the CSEP-1 or 4. In circumstances where you wish to use a flash, the Thumbs Up grip must be removed. For you Leica photographers out there who like to use flash, this may be a reason to consider other options in purchasing a grip. I, for one, have never used a flash unit on my Leica M, so a hot shoe is not necessary for me.

What doesn’t change when you use the Thumbs Up grip? You still have a cold shoe, which can be used to attach accessory viewfinders. You can always remove the grip and add a flash, if desired. In my experience, the camera body does not get damaged in any way from using the Thumbs Up grip.

In summary, I believe that the Thumbs Up grip is an invaluable and essential tool for those using any Leica M body. For many of you, that will mean the M8 or M9. If you are interested in the Thumb’s Up grip for your Leica M, www.matchtechnical.com, learn more for yourself, and consider this as a worthy addition to your Leica M arsenal. As of this writing, the Thumbs Up CSEP-1 retails for $162.38 when purchased directly through MatchTechnical.

Disclaimer

I have no received financial benefit or incentive from any source in writing this review of Tim Isaac’s Thumbs Up grip. I simply love this tool that Tim has crafted and write as a very satisfied customer. I suspect that you will love this addition as well

A Brief word on Soft Releases

Soft releases are adds for the Leica M that screw directly into the camera’s shutter trigger. They add a bit of height to the shutter, and provide additional stability for the finger, when placed. They are “soft” because they can dampen the shutter trigger, making that action softer. If you do a search, these items come in a variety of shapes and signs and are fashioned by a variety of manufacturers. I settled on Tim Isaac’s releases and have tried a variety of his models over the years. MatchTechnical’s models are fashioned from brass and seem to have more substance than others that I have tried. I find that using the soft release allows me to more gently trigger the shutter when shooting. I like the way the soft release allows me to trigger the shutter. It’s mainly a feel thing, and it may be worth a try, if you are curious.

From Steve: Thanks Ashwin for this superb and very informative article! Also, be sure to check out his great photography blog HERE! You can see more of his photos at his flickr page as well!

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