Dec 242015
 
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Through the Looking Glass – A In-Depth Review of the Leica SL

By Ashwin Rao

Dear friends, I am here with a review of the Leica SL, Leica’s latest system camera and its first serious foray into the mirrorless digital interchangeable camera market – if you don’t count its rangefinder cameras. By now, you know that the SL is Steve’s 2015 Camera of the Year. He praises the camera for its design, build, utilization, and amazing VF, as well as its overall implementation. I wanted to offer my own experience with the camera, having spent several weeks using the camera with its native 24-90 lens, a variety of modern and vintage Leica M lenses, and several Leica R lenses. I have found the Leica SL to be the modern evolution of Leica’s ethos and vision, representing both its present and its drive to create a bright future.

Leica’s marketing campaign for the SL highlighted its professional attributes and its ‘mirror-less’ designation. For Leica, this is much like viewing the story of Alice in Wonderland “Through the Looking Glass”, in which Alice climbs through the mirror into the new and fantastic alternate world beyond. This turns out to be a very appropriate analogy for Leica’s effort with the SL.

If you are not interested in reading past this first paragraph, I will say this: The Leica SL is a highly useable, well-built, well-conceived, functional camera that targets both M users and new users seeking the Leica brand with autofocus implementation. Its clean design harkens to such well-designed cameras as Leicaflex and subsequent R system cameras. However, some of its design queues come from the M system. Its layout, once learned, allows the user to meld his or her photographic style and eccentricities with the camera’s functionality. In many ways, as I will come to discuss, the Leica SL represents Leica’s ultimate bridge camera, a “Jack-of-all-trades” device that ties together many systems into a cohesive package. And, you know what? It does a great job accomplishing this task in a way that only Leica can achieve.

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At first glance….

I first caught wind of the SL like many of you, in the weeks preceding its official announcement. Reading the tealeaves and given the recent release of the incredible Leica Q, I presumed that Leica was set to release an interchangeable Q or something of a Q/M hybrid. It only made sense to carve out a niche aimed squarely at Leica’s base, that is many of us who enjoy quality craftsmanship coupled with the Joy of photography. Given Leica’s install base of rangefinder users, many of us who are not getting any younger, a mirrorless camera, less reliant on the RF focusing mechanism, made sense to permit its users to focus their manual focus lenses with precision while being afforded an opportunity to use newly designed AF lenses. A compact, sleek competitor to steal back those of us, including myself, who had taken to using our M lenses on Sony A-series bodies for a compact solution.

Well, Leica certainly threw most of us a curve ball when they officially announced the SL. At first glance, I was dismissive. Here was a camera, that looked much like an overweight Sony A series body. It seemed boring in its design, offering nothing new that others had not already designed. I was doubtful that it would be ergonomically useful for M lenses. I was uncertain that a camera/lens system using contrast-detect focus only could achieve reliable and quick focus. As much as I love the size and functionality of many Leica cameras, including the M series, I also am a huge fan of a camera’s haptics (how it feels in hand) and design cues (how it looks). With the Leica SL, I was far from convinced on first viewing. However, coming from my overwhelmingly positive experience with the incredible Leica Q, I decided to reserve judgment and keep my order in place with Ken Hansen (honestly, one of the best Leica dealers on the planet) to see what Leica had up its sleeve.

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In the weeks that followed, the initial reviews by such great reviewers as Jono Slack, Kristian Dowling, Sean Reid, Jeff Keller (DP Review), Jim Fisher (PC Mag), and Lori Grunin (CNET), who had the privilege of first trying the camera, were overwhelmingly positive Despite its new release, it was never described as a limited first generation product. Very few bugs were encountered, other than those described as issues related to user preference (grip size, for example). The camera was described as operationally fast, built to the highest standard, and remarkably facile as an image-maker.

I was able first to test out the Leica at the Leica Store Bellevue (another great dealer) when the regional representative, Brad Weeks, brought in the camera for a first look. My first impression on holding the camera was…doubt. Yes, on first handling, I admit that I became even more uncertain about the camera. While I found that it was incredibly well built, it felt immediately larger than expected. The body itself is not much bigger than a Leica M, until you factor in its large grip. At first, the grip was a turn off, to be honest, but over time, I have found it to be very well implemented (more on this later). Further, as I attached the SL 24-90 mm lens, the only lens available for the camera on launch, onto the SL, I was daunted by how large the camera felt…It felt like a bulky SLR!!!!

I had given up on such cameras due to size years ago, as I found that I could produce more pleasing images with smaller cameras. Now, here in my hands was Leica’s SL (minus the R)…a funny play on words/letters/what have you, but drats, it felt like an SLR. Next up on my concern list was the button system and menu layout. On first handling the camera, I found the lack of clarity and definition around the buttons to be frustrating. I was not sure what buttons to press, or how to press them to get the camera to do what I wanted. I was quickly told how to focus magnify, and then futzed around, taking a few shots, leaving me with an uneasy sense that I was not sure how to use the camera…
Bummer, right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all… Read on…..

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Learning the interface, and giving the camera second chance

I must say that the Leica elves in Wetzlar sure had magic up their sleeves. The more that I ended up using the camera which I first doubted, the more I began to see an output that is a genius of design implementation. Let’s get into this a bit more….
Let me come out and say it right away. The Leica SL is not an immediately intuitive camera. However, in the case of useability, all good things come to those who wait and who actually use this camera. At first, I was daunted by the camera’s “4 button” (IT’s actually got a few more than 4) interface, but as I began to sort the camera out things became clear.

1. Each button has different purposes. A quick push gives you one level of access, primarily allowing you to get into the camera’s menus. A LONGER push & hold allows custom assigned tasks to come to light. Even better, one can custom-set each of the button’s functions to suit one’s user preference. For me, I set the camera’s principal 4 back buttons to select: 1) ISO, 2) Exposure Comp, 3) lens selection – to choose what M lens or R lens, if such a lens was not coded), 4) white balance. I set the front black button to select metering mode.

2. The rear scroll wheel, if pressed and held, allows access to P, A, S, M modes. When shooting with M or R lenses, I generally use aperture priority or manual modes (with aperture set to whatever I want). In Aperture priority mode, the camera can be set to recognize the 6-bit coding of a lens and correspondingly set minimal shutter speed to 1/focal length or other options. I personally chose 1/2x-focal length)

3. The top scroll wheel is not active for aperture priority mode with manual lenses, but in manual mode becomes a shutter speed dial. Nice implementation again…

4. The joystick: Another great way to move around in the menu systems, as well as a way to review and zoom through images. It also functions as an AEL button. Now, with an updated firmware, the joystick is repurposed to allow focus magnification with Manual lenses mounted…This is a great update and allows one to use his/her thumb to zoom in without having to use his/her other hand to magnify field of view and achieve critical focus.

5. Menus. Once you get used to moving around in the menus, using both the 4 buttons and the scroll wheel, things become gradually more and more easy.

The Leica SL represents a product of clean, modern, minimalistic design. I found that it took me a few days to adjust to the menu design and layout of the camera, but once set, I have not had to make any changes, save for updating the firmware and thus permitting use of the joystick for focus magnification, making the camera even more pleasurable to use.

In the end, I settled on the following configuration for my assigned custom functions:

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Key feature – the viewfinder

Many of you have experienced the Leica SL’s incredible 4.4 megapixel “EyeRes” electronic viewfinder. In my opinion, the SL’s viewfinder represents the state of the art as of 2016. In decent light, the viewfinder’s refresh rate seems fantastic, and there’s no lagginess. Even in low light, the EVF performs admirably. Leica has even implemented a focus aid that many have not talked about. When magnifying the image (when an M or L lens is mounted), the image is artificially brightened. This effective trick is effective even in the lowest of light, and such enables accurate focus with M and R lenses in circumstances in which focusing may not be otherwise achievable.

When you first stare through the EVF, you’ll be amazed. It’s much like viewing a 4K TV for the first time. The experience is a bit overwhelming, and while it’s not quite as clear as looking through an optical viewfinder in good light, the benefits of being able to “see” in any light with the added perk of additional focus aids or shooting information makes the EVF spectacular.

Further, the viewfinder feels HUGE, providing a 0.8x magnification, one of the best available on the market, far surpassing the EVF’s produced for Sony and Fuji cameras. Thus, we have a huge viewfinder, capable of providing the user with accurate and precise focus in any light. Might this sound like a great non-rangefinder solution for your M lenses? Um, yes!

On further use with M lenses, I found that I could achieve my post precise focus with lenses with narrow depth of field. Lenses such as the Leica Noctilux, Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2, and all Summilux lenses, have dramatically shallow depth of field that is incredibly easy to focus using the EyeRes view finder. In fact, it could be said that slower lenses with deeper depth of field (particularly wide lenses), take a bit more effort to focus critically, and one should be sure to focus-magnify to confirm critical focus.

Speaking of focusing aids, the EyeRes EVF permits focus peaking. However, when enabled (somewhat awkwardly by selecting different views by quick pressing the bottom right button), focus peaking effects are quite light. For me, using the “red” focus peaking permitted the easiest-to-see focus peaking effect. That being said, I am not sure that most people would need to use focus peaking to confidently achieve focus with their manual focus lenses on the SL. The viewfinder is that good, and the EyeRes viewfinder sees the plane of focus quite easily.

Manual focusing with the SL is a true joy, and the SL’s viewfinder is a convincing complement for autofocus composition as well.

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Haptics (How the SL feels in hand with SL, M, and R lenses)

In hand, The Leica SL is a surprisingly comfortable and responsive camera. It’s equally nimble working as an autofocus camera, when the SL 24-90 mm lens is mounted, though in this manner, it become a large, hefty camera, very similar in field to most medium size SLR cameras. Thankfully, it’s as responsive as most of its SLR cousins, though I’d imagine that a Nikon D3 series or Canon 1D series may be more responsive for sports shooting.

Make no mistake. The SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 lens is bulky. It’s not terribly heavy, though when mounted on the camera, the set up does feel somewhat front heavy. I certainly do hope that Leica future lens efforts for this system balance somewhat better and are somewhat smaller, though I suspect that Leica is not going for a size win with the SL. The upcoming SL 50 mm f/1.4, which is rumored to be the optically best 50 mm lens ever made, looks rather bulky. Certainly with all of the extra real estate, Leica can really push the performance of these lenses to the bleeding edge.

The camera does change character when using Leica M lenses. Instead of feeling large and voluminous, as it feels with the 24-90, it becomes far more nimble. The SL body in fact occupies a footprint that’s not all that dissimilar to a Leica M with half case added (with grip), and thus, after using the camera with M lenses via the M-adapter-T accessory, the camera began to feel like a great option with larger M lenses, such as the Noctilux. Even smaller M lenses, including the 50 mm f/2 APO Summicron, feel like nice fits for the camera, though truth be told, they seem slightly small on this body.

With R lenses, the difference is split. R lenses seem, in many ways, to be a natural fit for the camera. They are mounted using a slightly awkward dual lens adapter setup, coupling the M-adapter T to the R-adapter-M. Doing so then permits access to the R lens menu, which allows the camera to correct appropriately for any lens specific aberrations. Thankfully, the dual adapter set up works well, though I am personally waiting for the R-adapter-SL to be introduced to make things simpler and potentially to enable additional features in ROM lenses. With R lenses mounted, the SL is transformed into a “small SLR” in terms of feel. R lenses seem to be appropriately sized for the SL, particularly its prime lenses, and are a joy to use on this camera. For those of you looking for a more permanent set up for your R lenses, the SL is a far better body for your lenses that the M240 body.

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Image quality

So how does the Leica SL perform? How is image quality? I can say convincingly that the camera’s sensor performs admirably, producing fantastic, beautiful, natural colors in outdoor/natural light. Some inconsistency is encountered, particularly in skin tones, when certain indoor lighting or mixed lighting is present. Skin tones, as with many digital sensors, tend to take on an orange hue, and the red channel seems overemphasized. Some have commented on a “tomato face” tendency of recent Leica sensors (M240, in particular), and at times, in artificial light, the SL does not escape this. It takes a bit of effort to adjust colors to obtain pleasing skin tones. Yet the possibilities are there. All of that said, I continue to prefer the M9’s color palette to the current Leica offerings, but the SL does reasonably well to produce nice colors most of the time.

Such affects are generally abated through careful selection of white balance. The SL adds a nice “Grey Card” white balancing feature which can be very helpful in achieving consistent white balance. Colors coming from the sensor behave much in the same way as output from the Leica Q, and as many have postulated, I suspect that the sensors are very similar or exactly the same.

However, I will say that the high ISO and shadow performance of the SL surpasses the Q, with less banding when underexposures or shadows are lifted. In general, the camera does a great job at suppressing noise or producing tasteful grain-like noise through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, dynamic range is noticeably decreased, through grain is reasonably controlled and detail remains crisp.

In good light, the SL is a dream camera, producing some of the most natural and convincing images, regardless of lens used. I have used modern and vintage M glass, R lenses, and the SL24-90, and the sensor seems to play quite well with many types of glass from many different eras. In darker, muddier light, the SL tends to perform well through ISO 6400, and I generally have avoided ISO’s higher than 6400.

Many of you would ask if I prefer the output of the SL at base ISO to the venerable Leica M9? For me, finally, I have found a camera rivals the M9 in its color and crispness reproduction and sensor that suits me so well for my M lenses. I loved my M9, using it steadily for 5 years, but ultimately moved on to try new gear due to the limitations and issues with the M9’s sensor (limited ISO, corrosion). I was first impressed by the output of the Q, and now, I am equally impressed, if not more so, by the SL, which improves upon the Q’s sensor performance while performing admirably with SL, M, and R lenses. Colors are natural, and white balance is more consistent than the M9. Images from the SL do pop in that 3 dimensional way, much like M9 files. And to benefit the SL, ISO performance FAR exceeds the M9’s CCD sensor output. Summicron lenses are capable in low light. Noctilux lenses can see in the deepest and darkest of nights, in the shadows of this mirrorless world.

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Autofocus performance

The Leica SL achieves accurate autofocus of daily life activities without any issues, as long as a scene is reasonably light with reasonable contrast. I would say that AF is quite convincing in bright light almost all of the time. I have only occasionally had issues achieving infinity focus when shooting low contrast images (such as a hazy horizon), but this is a rare occurrence.
The Leica SL’s focus algorithms are challenged by very fast moving subjects coming in and out of plane (such as a sporting event), and I am yet to be sold on the camera as an autofocus option for fast moving sports (US football, soccer, basketball) That being said, it’s quite possible that my own technique is the limiting factor, though my hit rate, using both AF-S and AF-C, with various frame rates, was variable at best. I suspect that for slower moving action (such as fashion shows, slower moving sports, and weddings). Ultimately, I do not believe that the SL is designed with sports photographers in mind. After all, how many sports photographers would shoot a 1 lens rig (24-90 is all that’s available) at a 12,800 price tag? Not many that I know, especially when Canon and Nikon offer so many more options.

That being said, there are many professionals who will adore the SL and will find its autofocus capabilities to be exemplary. I suspect that the camera may well be aimed at professional wedding photographers, particularly those who can afford an expensive rig. Destination photographers and fashion photographers would be likely added targets. In fact, most pros that have invested in a Leica S system may well be suited for using the SL as a back up or second body, particularly when an S lens adapter is made available.

All in all, I have found autofocus performance with the Leica SL and 24-90 to be more than adequate for most shooting circumstances, save very fast moving sports in which the action is unpredictably moving in and out of the plane of focus.

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SL lens performance

While I can honestly say the the SL 24-90 lens deserves its own review, I will say that performance of the SL is equal to having a selection of primes within the focal length range. If you are willing to live with the size of the SL 24-90 and its variable and somewhat slow aperture, the lens produces incredible results on the SL, with pleasing out of focus (bokeh) areas and critically sharp in-focus areas (save at 90 mm, were there’s a subtle drop off in sharpness, which I’d call minor).

A camera with Multiple Personalities

The Leica SL is truly a camera with multiple personalities, depending on what system of lenses is employed on the camera. As mentioned earlier, the system feels very much like a pro SLR rig when the 24-90 lens is used. I can see this as a perfect camera set up for wedding and landscape or wildlife photographers, who benefit from weather sealing, fast autofocus, and incredibly image quality of the SL lens.
The camera becomes a “big” M camera when using M lenses. With R lenses, the camera feels like a compact SLR.

As mentioned above, performance of the Leica SL 24-90 mm lens is admirable. Similarly, Leica M lenses perform very well on the SL, and I have yet to see any images, which would have been improved by using the M240/9/Monochrom sensor, in terms of edge performance. I have found that using the SL with M lenses provides a different, yet equally effective way of seeing the world with M lenses. Many will prefer the rangefinder focusing method, particularly those with good eye sight and familiary with RF focusing, but for most others, it will be easier to focus your M lenses on an SL body with far more consistency.

R lenses perform equally well. To date, I have tested the 50 summicron R, the 80-200 Vario Elmar f/4, the 60 mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit R, and the 180 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt lenses. Leica R lenses are known to be exemplary performers and will surely do well on this 24 megapixel sensor, which does not stretch the lesnes’ resolving powers to the max. Given the telecentric design of R lenses, they are likely to perform marginally better at the corners than M lenses, though many, including Sean Reid and Jono Slack, have tested M lenses and found them to perform well on the SL (and not as well on Sony full frame bodies).

All in all, the Leica SL performs admirable in all of these venues. It’s truly Leica’s bridge camera, allowing users to tie many systems together, use any number of lenses on the body with adequate to admirable performance. Leica should be applauded for managing such a feat in a body that’s designed to be its own high performance pro camera. Color me impressed…

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Who is this camera for?

I can see the Leica SL as an appealing camera for several types of customers.

1. Leica brand loyalists who wish for a bridge camera with the Leica badge
2. Individuals with reduced eye-sight and a large install of M lenses or R lenses
3. Previously abandoned R lens users
4. Wealthy amateurs or pros who want the Leica brand in a pro rig
5. Leica S users wanting a second body
6. Individuals not pleased with M240 image rendering (preferring the M9’s rendering…this camera is closer to that)
7. Landscape and destination photographers who benefit from weather sealing
8. Wedding photographers seeking brand identity and the highest possible IQ

Ultimately, the market will dictate the case regarding who the SL is aimed at. I consider myself to be a Leica brand loyalist, and I am a dedicated M camera shooter. My eyesight (so far) is fine, and I don’t have a large install of M lenses. I occasionally shoot professionally, but most of what I shoot is for my own pleasure. Leica’s are my one life’s guilty pleasure, and thus, I am inclined to try what they offer as long as their offerings provide a new appeal. The Leica SL is a camera with great appeal, a camera that will likely grow on you with time. I imagine that a mature SL line may eventually steal some M users, but at the end of the day, may create more fans of the Leica brand by offering a camera that’s capable of broad appeal and impressive functionality.

Pros
1. Incredible EyeRes EVF – 4.4 megapixels, 0.8x magnification, minimal lag – best in class (for now)
2. Build quality – Built like a tank
3. Weather sealed for use in all conditions (with SL lens mounted)
4. “Jack-of-all-trades camera” – Can take M, R, SL, Cine and eventually S lenses. Works well in many settings, using different approaches to imaging focus and composition.
5. Clean interface (once you are used to it)
6. Color reproduction, particularly in natural light
7. Robust high ISO images.

Cons
1. Bulky if thought of as an M camera replacement
2. Grip may not suit everyone. Best for big hands
3. Haptics with small M lenses is a bit unusual, though functional
4. Learning curve. The camera is not immediately intuitive
5. Very limited native lens selection

Pride of Ownership

Over the years, I have owned and used many camera systems from many manufacturers. Each camera that I have used has had its merits and weaknesses, and some have engendered an intense pride in ownership, given a number of factors that made me excited and motivated to take photos. For me, the ultimate example of such a camera for me was the original M Monochrom. I found intense joy from this camera, as it both challenged and inspired me to become a better photographer. I was and am proud to own one, and when showing off photos taken with the camera, I will happy report that the image was made with this camera.

Each camera engenders a joy of ownership for different reasons. It’s the rare camera that engenders a pride of ownership. The Leica SL is such a camera. When you use it, you feel the confident build of the camera. You experience the detail and effort that was put into designing a tool for you, the photographer. You sense the history of the Leica brand as it stands by this product, with Leica’s incredibly rich history to back up and substantiate the camera’s existence. Yes, the Leica SL is a 1st generation product. While it may be the natural successor to the Leica R system, it’s really a unique system with its own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, it’s not as compact as an M system camera. Yet, it uses M lenses with aplomb. Sure, it does not have the R system’s amazing optical viewfinders, but this mirrorless camera offers a novel way of seeing, with a clarity not seen before. The fact that you can use literally any Leica lens within Leica’s own ecosystem engenders further confidence that this is a camera that has enormous capabilities. In your hand will be a camera that can handle many styles, many perspectives. IT can serve as a color solution for your M lenses. It can serve to give re-birth to your dormant R lenses. The SL 24-90 may be the best performing normal zoom lens ever designed.

All in all, I am proud to own the Leica SL. I am excited to present the images here as representations of how the camera has inspired me. I am sure that if you elect to pay the steep price for this camera, you will be similarly motivated to go out and shoot, and that you will be impressed by the results coming from the camera. I hope to see you out and about, Leica SL in hand. Ready!….Aim!….Image Capture!

Best,
Ashwin

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Dec 212015
 
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The Leica 50 Summicron f/2 APO Lens Review Part 2 – Leica SL

By Steve Huff

Ever since shooting the $8,000 Leica 50 APO on the Leica M 240 a year and a half ago I have been smitten by this tiny, compact and amazing performing 50mm lens. I have never experienced a 50mm quite like it and it was the ONLY LENS I used on the M 240 (and I used them all) that made the camera perform on another level than it normally does. The color, the contrast, the pop, the details, the smooth bokeh that is reminiscent of classic and modern, the super smooth slide out hood, the complete lack of distortion and CA, the ability to turn 35mm full frame into what starts to look like Medium Format.

I have never used any lens like the 50 APO as it has the ability to bring out the best of your sensor when used on the Leica M 240 or SL. When used on the Sony A7s and A7SII it is equally as amazing but on the A7RII it does suffer from soft edges and a tad bit of softness in general when compared to using it on the A7S or a Leica. I will show you a side by side later on down in this review of just that.

50 APO, f/2, SL. Love the way this lens and camera does B&W. MUST click the image to see it the way it was meant to be seen.

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But let’s be clear, this lens is made for a Leica. Also, it is better than my photo abilities and skills, and would probably remain so for the rest of my life. :) At this price, it SHOULD be reserved for real pros who earn income from their photographs, well, that is how I would expect it to be, but us enthusiasts also love it as many of us dream about this beautiful hand constructed 50mm masterpiece. I think many of us WANT IT simply because of the claim it makes…BEST 50 IN THE WORLD. Some even say BEST production lens in the world, period.

The Color. The Rendering. The Buttery Smooth Bokeh. Leica SL + 50 APO

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If you missed my review of this lens on the Leica M, check HERE. Then click HERE to see some shots on a Sony A7s (gorgeous rendering). Then see more of it on the M when I shot some COMICON photos.

This lens as shot on the M 240.

The 50 APO and the M 240 are a perfect match, without question, best lens I have used on the M 240, ever. More of these are at my Comicon report HERE. Had great lighting that day as well!

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OK, so here we go!

This Part 2 review will mainly go into how it does on the SL, Leica’s new, and IMO, best ever digital camera (and my camera of the year 2015). The SL is a marvel for SO MANY reasons. It is so hard to convey in words and the fact is, no one will really “get it” until they use one for a day or two and use it with M lenses as well as the native 24-90. Then you will say “Holy Shit, this is amazing in all ways”.

As of today, December 21st 2015, the SL is my #1 go to daily camera with a 28 Elmarit M lens and the 50 APO with a 90 APO to be added soon (when I can afford it). No camera, even the M, has given me as much joy of use as this SL. It truly is like shooting a Mini S Typ and the EVF WILL SPOIL YOU, it really will. But hey, we are here to talk about the 50 APO on the SL, so let’s get to some samples!

This shot was taken at night, in my home. The only light source was the one behind Debby and the one above her, in my Kitchen. So indoor Kitchen lights. Shot at f/2, this is pretty damn good for the circumstances. 

YOU MUST CLICK IT to see it correctly! 

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…and a quick and dirty B&W conversion, just by sliding down the saturation, no filters or tricks. 

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If you read the 50 APO review as used on the Leica M, you will see that it gave some of the best color, contrast and pop ever seen from the M sensor. This lens performs mostly the same way on the SL. It has striking contrast, gorgeous color, and sharpness anywhere you need it. Again, click on the image below of this CD cover and marvel at the detail. bokeh, color..and keep in mind, this is out of camera as shot at night in my Kitchen, with my nasty Kitchen lights. The AWB nailed this, and the lens brought out the amazing pop of this lens.

CLICK IT! Shot at f/2 wide open, where this lens LOVES to be shot. In fact, it is optimized for f/2 and I would NEVER shoot this lens at f/8 as that would be a crime. IN fact, once you get to f/8 diffraction will lower your IQ, so stay with f/2-f/4 for the best IQ and character. 

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Using an ICE LIGHT 2 that I am testing, I shot this with the light at its lowest output setting in a totally dark room. ISO 4000, f/2, JPEG

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Details and Bokeh. Look at the detail where I focused (crop can be seen when clicked on) and look at the silky smooth bokeh. No, the 50 Lux can not do this, I tried. 

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It will cost ya!

The Leica 50 APO lens price sounds absurd to 99.9% of those who love photography. Some get mad about this lens as I see some saying “My 50 1.4 Nikon can do this”, or “My 50 Lux beats the APO”…this happens with people due to the cost of the lens. The high price makes some out there get negative and mad without even realizing what it took for Leica to even release this lens. This lens was a nightmare for Leica early on. HUGE amounts of finished lenses would be thrown in the dumpster as they were not perfect.  A much higher number of lenses were thrown out than kept and Leica was probably starting to regret ever having this lens made. The 1st batch sold had flare issues, and had to be corrected yet again by Leica. Today though, all new 50 APO’s sold are perfect, or at least they should be. Leica has the production of this lens down by now, without question. Mine is distortion proof, artifact proof, flare proof and gives me the same bite and color in any light I use it in. It’s a special lens for sure.

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It was also a statement piece from Leica to tell everyone “This is the best lens we can make at this time, period”. Coming from the king of optics, Leica, we knew it had to be special but I am a big fan of the old 50 Summicron, which I still adore.

But when side by side the color difference between the two is MASSIVE. The micro details with the APO are just not there in the standard, the Bokeh of the old version was considered by MANY to be awful. I never had an issue with it but it could get busy in some situations. Not the APO. This lens has the best of everything, and while we do not get the classic slight bokeh swirl of a Summilux at f/1.4 we do get a unique rendering that is very pleasing to the eye.

Many I know who own it call it “BUTTER”.

The rendering is just so nice. I shot these roses at a gravesite and added some Vignetting myself for effect. The 2nd shot, again, in my home at night! The color, bokeh and details are incredible. 

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This lens was designed by Peter Karbe. A genius and IMO, probably the best and coolest lens designer in the world. See the video below where he talks about the 50 APO. Then click here to read an interview with him by Thorsten Overgaard where they discuss the details (and Thorsten’s skepticism) of the 50 APO.


The old 50 Summicron was designed by Mandler and is one of his last designs. It is also a legendary lens that has stood the test of time again and again, always considered at the top of the 50mm heap. It has a way of shooting poeple and portraits that borders on magical at times, if your lighting is just right. With the new 50 APO, it seems any light is OK as this lens takes what you aim it at, and somehow, even in the worst of light makes it look great. It is a huge step up from the old version but even so I still love the old one as it gives a totally different rendering.

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1st image  – in my office, no light on, at night. Only light source is my display. I shot this at ISO 2000 on the SL with the 50 APO at f/2. Click it to see how smooth it is, how fantastic the color rendering is, and how it just looks so good, even at ISO 2000 without any noise reduction. Must click it!

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This is my dog Olive sitting in a light patch that was coming in from my window. For this I converted to B&W and enhanced contrast more to give a striking look. I missed perfect focus on this one as she was moving her head..

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Using the 50 APO on the Leica SL was a treat. No rangefinder to worry about (going out of alignment) so nailing focus was pretty easy (unless you are trying  to focus on something that is moving, then the 24-90 would be perfect) with that massive bright beautiful EVF (which should be on all cameras today) I managed to use no peaking, peaking and magnification and nail photos. The best method though for me, using a manual lens is using the magnification. It will ensure you nail focus every time. I maybe missed focus on 1 out of 10 shots using no peaking, and maybe 1 out of 20 using peaking. By comparison, using it on an M you can get 100% in focus shots if your RF is in alignment. If it is not you have to learn tricks on how to nail focus and it’s a hassle and rarely works, until your M’s RF is fixed. So on the SL this lens is a joy to use. Never frustrating.

More 50 APO..all should be at f/2. Click them for larger versions. 

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But who would pay $8k for this lens when a 50 Lux is less than half price?

That is the question and to be 100% honest, this lens will not make anyone a better photographer. As I said, it goes beyond my skill set but I still love the lens. Do I need it? NO WAY. Would the older 50 cron do me just as good? Sure, as I no longer shoot pro for money. My main shooting these days, personal shooting, consists of family, trips, friends, etc. Something my Sony RX1000 IV is perfect for. So why do I have a 50 APO? Because I love camera gear, lenses, and many of you do as well. We know we do not “need” an item such as this, but we “want” it and wanting something like this is dangerous!

Luckily there have been special prices on this lens recently. Overstock cleared out three of them at $6000 last week (see post here) and you can find special prices every now and then on PopFlash.com or by emailing Ken Hansen. I received mine, new in box, as part of a trade deal I did with Ken Hansen because there is no way I could just part with $7-8K for a lens like this. The mental strain would be awful as I would constantly be saying to myself “Why did you buy this…you do not need an $8000 lens”!!! Lol.

With that said, shooting with and owning  this lens is a special thing. I feel blessed to actually own it, along with my other gear (SL, A7RII, RX100, RX1, etc) and I know that one day wether that is tomorrow or next year, I will get a shot using this lens that I will want to frame, and then it will make it all worth it. Hell, the joy I get from it is massive and I do indeed prefer it to the 50 Summilux ASPH I just traded towards it in all ways, though I still love the 50 Summilux.

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LENSRENTALS.COM TESTED THE TOP 50’s, and here is what they found..more HERE. The 50 APO beats the others..OTUS, SIGMA ART and more..so no, the Sigma or Otus or any other 50 does not technically match the smallest of them all, the 50 APO.

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Leica has a way of making you want ALL of their lenses. If I had 10 million in the bank I’d buy them all, and just put them in a shelf/case to use when I wanted. But as it is, I will be happy with my 28/50 and eventually my 90 cron when I can get it.

I know of over 10 who own this 50 APO and all of them love it and say its a lifetime keeper. Many prefer it to the Noctilux as the Noct look is magical but must be used sparingly otherwise your images start looking the same and you may start relying on the 50 Noct bokeh to make your images stand out (many do this). I feel shooting a lens like a 50 f/2, any version, will make you think about composition more than a Noct as with the Noct your main effect is blowing out anything but your subject. While it is a cool effect, once you shoot it daily for 2 weeks you will tire of that look. With a lens like this, the 50 APO, that will never happen. This is a legend already. A classic even today just a few years after its release. There is today, no 50mm like the 50 APO from Leica. Many may claim there is, or that their 50 can do the same but they really have no clue as you can’t until you use it. Put this lens in the hands of someone who can do magic with it and it will create magic.

if you have the cash and want a special 50mm for your M or SL, I’d go for the 50 APO hands down. If you do not have the cash, the 50 Lux, old 50 Cron or even the Zeiss 50 Planar can do the trick. All three of those have completely different rendering and I know a couple people who own them all and use them all. The 50 APO is about having the best 50 ever made, and I agree that it most certainly is the best 50 ever made so far. Yes, better than the big DSLR Zeiss Otus.

CLICK the images for larger and better!

The 50 APO is like going from full HD 1080 to 4K

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Quick Test By Request: The 50 APO on the SL and A7RII…

Sure, you can use the 50 APO on the Sony A7s and A7SII and get results up there with using it on a Leica. On the A7RII though the edges softness is there when shooting an image that would require sharp corner to corner performance such as a landscape at infinity. On the A7RII I’d take the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 over the 50 APO as you may get better results in most areas. 

Many asked me to do this comparison, so here it is. One landscape, and a couple of more normal shots.

Take a look below at two landscape style shots that I snapped. One with the SL and 50 APO and one with the A7RII and 50 APO. NO, these are not scientific as I do not do that for so many reasons. These are basically shots where I put the APO on one camera, aimed and shot and then did the same with the other. I was only testing here for soft edges, to see if it was an issue on the A7RII with the 50 APO. I’d love to see something from Sony like an A9 PRO that steps up the build, adds weather sealing, provides an EVF like the one in the SL and offers perfect performance for M glass, as the A7 series could be an amazing platform for M glass. They are almost there..and I feel like they will release a PRO body soon that aims at the SL. Just a hunch.

OK, here are the two quick shots. Take it for what it is. A shot with each camera using the same lens, same aperture. 

YOU HAVE TO CLICK THEM to see the crops correctly. 

1st up the Leica SL shot. Click it.

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Then the Sony A7RII shot..click it.

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You can see the soft corners on the Sony shot, and this is not a fault of the Sony, it is because this is an M lens adapted to be used on a camera it was not made for. Each generation of Sony A7 (now on Gen 2) improves on the M lens experience. As for now, the SL wins this one when using the 50 APO on each camera.

How about in normal shots?

Now, this is where it gets interesting. When shooting normal day to day shots of poeple, things, and generally shooting anything close in and wide open, you will not see these issues with the Sony and M lenses. Take a look:

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I STILL prefer the SL colors here but you can see the lens is now usable and workable on the Sony as the issues ONLY come into play when you want sharp edge to edge performance like the shots of the landscape above.

Yea, this lens is awesome..BUT…

This lens is a stunner but it’s not something we need to take great shots. Any lens can do that as the skill lies with YOU, not the lens. The lens becomes your paintbrush and yes, having as good of a lens as you can get will make your photos look better, it is up to you what you like in a lens or camera. Many will prefer cheaper alternatives because all lenses have different characteristics but if you want buttery smooth files, bokeh and micro contrast for days..the 50 APO will get you there.

VS the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2

One of the highest rated RF M lenses by Ziess is the 50 Planar f/2 which is an alternative to the old Leica Summicron, and yes, even the APO. While not as sharp, and with busier bokeh and some barrel distortion, the Planar will never match the APO but it will get you 75% there for under $1000. Here is a comparison.

1st Image up top, the 50 APO and SL – MUST click it to see crop.

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And now the Zeiss 50 Planar at f/2. Not nearly as sharp, has some distortion and the Bokeh is more nervous. But even with that, at under $1000 this is a great lens. 

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I will be shooting the 50 APO lens more and more and will be adding more images to this review over the next 3-4 weeks (Already added many new images since posting this a week ago). You can also check out my Leica SL gallery which will also be added to every week with the SL and all kinds of lenses. You can see that page HERE. 

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You can buy this lens at my preferred Leica dealers if you are interetsed:

Ken Hansen – [email protected]  – just e-mail him with any questions!

PopFlash.com – See their website, they will sometimes have great buys on this lens!

B&H Photo – The #1 photo shop in the world!

Amazon – You can find this lens there, even with Prime shipping often.

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Nov 302015
 
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The Leica SL (type 601) Camera Review. My Camera of the Year 2015!

By Steve Huff

(NOTE: You must click on the images in this review to see them how they were meant to be seen. If not they will appear soft and dull)

So here I am, another year older and another year of some amazing camera’s that have come through the Huff Household. I can not believe I am now 46 years old! Seems like yesterday when I started this website but I was 38 going on 39. Time flies when you really enjoy life, love what you do, and live as happy as you possibly can. I believe in loving every moment of life, avoiding negativity and being a nice person to all. Usually when I am about to write a new Leica review I get a bit tense as many HATE the Leica brand simply due to the cost of their cameras and this means that just by me being honest in this review, there will be Leica hate comments coming in.

Leica is a brand that is understood by some, and misunderstood by many. Whatever the dialogue here one can not take away the fact that Leica has created, for me at least, the best digital camera I have ever used, owned or tested. THAT is a HUGE claim, I know…and as much as I love and adore and use my Sony A7RII, the SL beats it out for what it offers, and yes, the quality of the images and the camera itself.

Also, since the Leica SL comes in at $7500, this review will be a 7500 word review with over 75 images ;) Not quite the over 10,000 words of my Leica M 240 review from over 2 years ago but close enough!

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It was a hard choice as to which camera would make my “Camera of the Year 2015” as the amazing Sony A7RII had it in the bag a few weeks ago. Then this SL hit me and surprised me with an amazing overall user experience, which is VERY important when using a camera. It’s the main reason I do not give the Sigma DP series much love here as the user experience is awful with those cameras even though the IQ is incredibly good. I prefer a camera that looks great, is built to a high standard, is easy to use, reliable, fast and has amazing image quality. While the Sony A7RII has all of this, the Leica has a little more, and even though its more than 2X the cost of the Sony, you can really tell this when shooting with it so it’s not just an inflated price for a red dot sticker. If someone tells you it is they either have never touched the SL or are lying or had no idea how to use it (as it will take a few days to learn the controls).

The build alone will tell you this is a serious camera.

One of my 1st test shots with the Leica SL and 24-90 Zoom. My beautiful Debby ;) 

CLICK IT TO SEE IT CORRECTLY!

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But the SL is TOO expensive you say?

Yes, Leica is expensive… but so what, they always have been, nothing new here so everyone reading this knows the Leica pricing structure, so it should come as no surprise. Rolex makes an expensive watch. Porsche and Rolls Royce make expensive cars, and those who go to buy them know this. Some poeple live in million dollar homes while others live in modest $79,000 homes (what my home cost in 2010). That is the beauty of life..we have choices and can live our life the way that makes us the most happy, depending on our life situation and budget. If someone has loads of cash then Leica is not expensive to them. If someone has little cash, Leica seems ridiculous in their pricing. Either way, there is no denying they make beautiful cameras and lenses and with the SL I feel they created a whole new class of Mirrorless Camera, one of the best, if not THE best mirrorless body on the market, period (for mirrorless). Sure, only one native lens so far but more will come, and using M glass has never been more enjoyable. This camera is much more than just for the rich..see, I am not rich but I am happy and feel lucky and blessed to own one.

My 1st look video I did when the Leica SL 1st arrived. My excitement is still here after much use.

 

So enjoy this real world review of the new Leica SL and try to keep negativity and hate away as we are not learning anything new here…Leica is an expensive brand, but as with many things that cost more than the competition, sometimes you actually do get what you pay for. Sometimes. 

My “Movember” Selfie with the SL and 24-90 at 24mm

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The crisp files and rich color make the SL files POP. Click this and marvel at the crispness of it…

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In the case of the SL, this is true as you do get what you pay for indeed. The SL is not like I originally thought…as in, it is NOT a Sony A7 copycat. Instead, it is like a whole new class of camera that for me, even outshines any DSLR or mirrorless camera in construction, feel, EVF, and when shooting…the SL gives you an amazing feeling..it’s one of the very few cameras I have “bonded” with in life. Using M lenses on the SL is a dream as the EVF is mind blowing good and the best EVF made to date, from any manufacturer…and yes, you can quote me on that one. Nothing like it exists in 2015 but I am sure the SL will force others to create better EVF tech in their bodies. The EVF is not hype or a myth, it really is as good as everyone is saying it is. Another class, league and when I go back to my other cameras I immediately notice the massive drop in EVF quality. That’s how much Leica has upped the EVF game with the SL.

The Zeiss 50 Sonnar C ZM on the SL. Gorgeous.

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Strange that Leica was the one to build a better EVF as they rarely innovate. This time they did in more ways than one! Good for them.

Low light with only ambient bar lighting here yet this OOC JPEG looks great (click it) and color is rich and deep. The AWB did great here considering the challenging conditions. Yes, all of that yellow was there but this is an OOC jpeg with boosted colors so the yellow and red jump out. 

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When the SL was announced and I saw the A7 like body style and the price  tag of $7500 I assumed Leica partnered with Panasonic to create an A7 copycat and were trying to charge a premium for it. When I received one for loan to review I quickly ate those words as the SL is on another planet for the way it was designed and how it works. This true made in Germany Leica feels like a precision camera..a tool that inspires confidence and one that makes you feel like you WANT to get the shots when using it. Many cameras fall short of this but Leica has a history of being amazing with it due to their cameras simplicity and basic nature. BTW, for those spreading false rumors out there..this is not a panasonic, this is a true Leica.

The SL is in reality, more like a Mini S Type camera. You know, the insane crazy expensive camera with a medium format sensor that went for $22,000 not too long ago? Shrink an S camera, make it sleeker with the same level of build (even higher IMO with the SL) and you have the 35mm full frame SL with the 24 MP sensor from the Q (tweaked for the SL), which is an outstanding sensor much improved over what is in the M 240. The color and detail is so so good here, best I have seen from digital Leica. BTW, the Q sensor here has been “tweaked” for the SL.

So Red the Rose, Leica SL and Leica 50 APO

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Blue Pop – Leica SL and 50 APO

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But do know that this is in no way a small pocketable camera. It is larger than the A7 series, the M and while thinner and sleeker than any DSLR, it is still large when using the 24-90 zoom lens. Thrown on an M lens and it is compact, and feels perfect. In no way does it resemble a DSLR with an M lens as it is thin and tall where DSLR’s are short and squat and feel like a hunk of plastic usually. But use the 24-90 and it will get large if you are used to small cameras. With the zoom, it’s DSLR like in size and weight.

1st image below with the 50 Summilux at 1.4, 2nd image with the 50 lux at f/2

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Leica’s have Character

Leica’s have a way of giving you back beautiful and at times moody photos. That “Leica Look” as many call it…well, I call it “life photos”. It usually is a by product of the lenses as Leica makes some serious lenses with some serious IQ and pop/character. The new 24-90 f/2.8-f/4 zoom, while huge and massive, is the best zoom lens I have ever used from any manufacturer, without question, period. Now of course I have not used every zoom lens ever made, but have used quite a few. The 24-90 renders like a beautiful Leica prime and has the most amazing colors and details I have seen from any zoom at any price. It’s the only Zoom I have ever used that makes me WANT to use it and want own it!

WOWZERS! THIS 24-90 Zoom is INCREDIBLE. The 1st zoom ever that makes me want to use it (and own it)

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Is it expensive? YES, crazy expensive but if you have the cash, and want the best standard zoom around, the 24-90 f/2.8-f/4 will not disappoint. I call it like I see it and while I have never liked Zoom’s..I love this one. I did not originally order it but was able to buy this one that was sent to me. It is that good..yep… Steve Huff bought a Zoom Lens, and a crazy expensive one at that (that required me selling other things to afford it). That says A LOT as I usually avoid zooms like the plague but this new Leica has swayed me with its beauty, solid build, semi light weight and incredible performance across its range plus you get an extra 20mm compared to a Nikon or Canon or Zeiss 24-70 ;)

Both images below with the fantastic Leica 24-90 Zoom. Click them for better view.

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You do not have to like the SL, but you should respect it.

I see many bashing the SL camera on forums without seeing one, using one or even testing one. Same old thing that the Leica haters (or any camera brand hater who defends their brand) do every time a new major release is out. Hell, I was not being so nice to the SL the day it was announced but I had the same impression many got after seeing images and specs. After it arrived to me, I fell in love with the SL and admit I was wrong in my initial thoughts, in every way and I am happy to admit I was wrong. 

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The fact is that after using the SL I would choose it over the M 240 these days due to the great feel and build, the sensor, the EVF and the joy of using M glass on the camera (Until the next M of course). In fact, I ordered my own SL and 24-90, which is so out of my character but once I shot this camera and lens, I knew I had to have it. I was spoiled. I will use it from time to time but am most excited about shooting M glass with the SL. The 50 Lux is gorgeous here and no, the lens does not look to small for the camera as the camera is not that much larger than an M 240! Really!

Two more lenses planned for 2016. The 50 1.4 Summilux and the 90-280

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But yes, I prefer this SL  to the M 240. How crazy is THAT? I am a hardcore M lover so for a camera to sway me from the M means it has to be special and the SL is. It’s also comforting to know there is no rangefinder mechanism to drift out of alignment every few months to a year, so using M glass means you will never have to wonder if your images will be in sharp focus.

50 Lux ASPH in action on the SL (click the images for much nicer looking images)

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So let’s get to it… what is this SL? Who is it for?

The Leica SL, according to Leica, takes aim at Canon and Nikon PRO users. Yes, an impossible task, and even I will say that they will never get market share from Nikon or Canon. Not enough Native lenses (only one so far) and well, it’s not CANON or NIKON. Even so, the SL will have a place for many enthusiasts and pros anyway, and Leica never intends to sell Canon or Nikon numbers. The bottom line is, many will buy an SL from Pros to Enthusiasts to Leica lovers. It’s not just for pro shooters, it is for any passionate photographer who enjoys the craft, respects the craft and wants a VERY solid, amazing feeling and performing camera. I see Wedding Pros using the SL and feel that is where it will spread around as it is the perfect wedding or portrait camera.


Leica has the Q for hobbyists and enthusiasts (see my Review here), they have the M for rangefinder lovers (My huge review HERE) and they have the T (review here),  and the X (review here) or even the D-Lux and others for those who want smaller more compact Leica’s. The SL is for the Pro or the one who wants the best made body in existence for mirrorless, best EVF with a killer sensor that delivers amazing color and richness to the files. It supposedly offers fantastic video (even 4K but I do not test the video as I am not a video guy) as well and with the ability to use M lenses, R lenses, T lenses or even S lenses in addition to the new SL lenses…

…well, we now have the ULTIMATE Leica camera for the true Leica aficionado. The SL does it all “LEICA”, and it does it with ease and a very mature “flow”.

In all honesty, it is responsible for lifting me out of a “funk” I was in with my shooting as it is very inspiring and it just makes you want to go out and shoot. It is a very inspiring tool.

TOP: Leica 50 Summilux ASPH. Bottom, Leica 24-90 at 90. Both fantastic lenses on the SL.

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Glitch Free SL

This time around the new out of the box Leica is not glitchy nor has my SL frozen or gotten stuck. I have not had to remove the battery for a reset … no issues at all, and the camera as a whole has been stellar in every way. In the old days, new major Leica releases would be buggy or need fixes right out of the gate (M8, M9, etc). This time, I think they nailed it. The IQ is so so nice and for me, slightly edges out my previous reference, the A7RII for depth and color. But tastes vary and this could go either way depending on your preferences. The Sony A7RII has BEAUTIFUL Image Quality. The SL has just as beautiful IQ but it is slightly different as it will offer a different color signature and character.

Want to see these images how they were meant to be seen? CLICK THEM :) All 50 lux here…

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I say “edges out” because it is slight. For me, I prefer the Leica color character and the biting detail at the focus point. I like the way M lenses work on the SL as using that HUGE bright and crystal clear EVF makes manually focusing and framing a breeze (I can not stress this point enough, the EVF is fantastic). As far as technical IQ, the Sony edges out the SL with more resolution due to its 42MP sensor vs the 24 of the SL. The Sony also has tons more lenses that can be used on it, so paying a little more than double for the SL for someone trying to decide between Sony and Leica will be a tough choice, as the Sony A7RII is a lot of camera for the money and for many, the best choice because of this.

The Leica SL is the appropriate camera for the money as in it is not overpriced for what you are getting. In other words, if you have the extra cash you will not regret the Leica IF YOU HAVE M lenses to use for it as there is only one native lens for it at launch. But a fine lens it is, one of Leica best.

Next shot also with the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH 

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My 1st use with an M lens

When I unboxed the SL, held it and shot with it… and after using M mount lenses with it I knew I had to buy it for myself. It’s a special thing and Leica may just be starting to “get it” and while many enthusiasts see this cameras as an overpriced body that has less features and specs than competitors at half the price, Leica knows they have a quality camera here and one that offers the most “pride of ownership” I have seen in a camera, ever. So I think the SL will take off as much as it can and IMO, it should sell better than even the M 240 because it offers so much more while still retaining that Leica feel and experience.

The Leica 50 APO on the SL 

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Yes, you get WAY more than the M for your money in build, specs, IQ, features and versatility.

I take this out every day with a 50 Lux and its light and not large on me. Those who have seen it, they all say the same thing “That is much smaller than I thought” as many have the impression it’s giant sized. Well, it’s smaller than a Nikon D810, D4 or Canon 5DIII or 1d series. Its much thinner and feels like a solid block of metal while not feeling like it weighs like a solid block of metal. It makes the other “pro” bodies feel not so pro anymore, and I am 100% serious and honest when I say this. It’s not that much larger than an A7RII, though it is bigger without question. Use it with M lenses and its never heavy or a burden. Throw the 24-90 on and it can get to be heavy after a little while.

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While Leica may or may not sell a bunch of these, they did in fact create a camera that anyone would be proud to own and shoot, and once a few start giving it a go, I think word will spread about how special the SL really is in all areas.

1st shot with the 24-90 (added a VSCO filter to this one, so grain is there from the filter) – 2nd shot to test sharpness of the 50 Summilux M at 1.4 while indoors. Third image with the 24-90.

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So How does it Perform? Let’s Get to the Tests…

Shoot RAW! Details..

The SL performs to a level (or above) that is right at the top of the 35mm full frame heap when it comes to Image Qualiy. RAW is best of course as I find the SL to put out VERY contrasty JPEG’s even when the contrast is turned down. So JPEGS are not the best and I recommend shooting RAW 100%. The RAW files are gorgeous and detailed and have a nice natural rendering and color to them. See some images below with 100% crops..plenty of detail to be had here…but a camera is so much more than the detail it can pump out as IQ is only one of many things I look at when I am evaluating a camera…

Click the images for larger view and true 100% crop

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Start Up & That Glorious 4.4MP EVF

When you start up the SL you are ready to shoot, and the 1st time you power it up you will be treated to a nice fancy start up sequence on the LCD. Lift it to your eye and take a look through the 4.4 MP EVF and bask in the hugeness of it… the clarity. It’s like looking through a window. A very clean crystal clear one. Movement is smooth and never ever jagged or rough BUT if you get into really low light it will get a little choppy as with ALL EVF’s made. In daylight it is quite incredible to frame with. In all of my camera review career (7-8 years) I have never experienced a nicer more informational and useful viewfinder. You SEE much better than with an OVF because you have the brightness, clarity and detail of an OVF but you are seeing exactly what you will get when you press that shutter, with a HUGE HUGE view. This embarrasses many EVF’s that are in other cameras, even the A7RII or RX1RII. The diopter control is in the form of a dial around the viewfinder and it is solid and great feeling. Easy to adjust as it is large and natural to adjust.

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Throw on the 24-90 Zoom and you will be treated to quick snappy AF (no lag or hunting that I have noticed unless you are in pretty low light) and gorgeous IQ. Throw on an M lens (Via an adapter, I use the Leica branded T to M) and you will be treated to a really nice manual focus experience. With peaking and the large view it is easy to manually focus (make sure to have peaking on by clicking the lower right button until you see it active). I do not even use the LCD magnification. No need.

Manual Focusing M Lenses

But speaking of magnification for using manual focus lenses, there is one flaw I found with the SL (UPDATE: THIS WAS FIXED IN FIRMWARE VERSION 1.2 RELEASED DECEMBER 2015)!!. There is only ONE WAY To magnify the EVF or LCD when manually focusing, and that is to press the lower left button on the back, which is in a bad spot as no fingers are near it when looking through the EVF!

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Leica’s v1.2 FW update allows the SL to now go in to Manual Focus magnify by pushing in on the back joystick which is right where your thumb lays. PERFECT!!! My ONE flaw was fixed within 2 weeks, way to go Leica! 

This button is not changeable or assignable and it should be as I need a button near a finger so I can activate the magnify if I so desire. Where it is placed now makes it very hard to use, so this needs a firmware fix so you can assign it anywhere. It really does as whoever decided to put the focus magnify there..well…bad move. It needs to be programmable and at the time of this review, it is not.

With that said, manually focusing M lenses is a breeze. With the huge EVF, focus peaking or magnification I did not miss any shots due to missing focus. In fact, I was able to focus M lenses without any MF aids at all just due to the large clear EVF.

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Touch Screen!

Keep shooting and you will soon discover that the SL has a touch screen which can be used for focusing or image preview. The SL has features such as interval shooting (time lapse) and 4K video (as well as 1080P HD) that looks gorgeous. Even the built in mics sound big, rich and full but of course we can add external mics to the SL for those who want pro audio. To date, best internal mics go to SONY, then the SL but whoever is shooting serious video..again, will use a mic anyway.

Look at how clean and nice the back looks? Not 10-15 buttons, loads of small white text and a mish mosh of controls and wheels. Nope, the SL is simplicity at its finest and after an hour or so os use it becomes second nature. Amazing how effective and simple the Leica setup is. All cameras should be like this.

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VIDEO! DOUBLE BUTTON!

BTW, I LOVE the way the video button has been implemented, and feel all manufacturers of cameras should do this. To start shooting video one must press a button to the left of the video start button to activate video mode. If you do not do this, the record button will not record! THIS IS GENIUS as it keeps that button from bring pressed by accident, which happens to many… OFTEN. So another innovation though a simple one from Leica. Brilliant. Double button video ;)

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HIGH ISO on a Leica? Yep..

The new SL has an ISO capability of up to ISO 50,000 and it can be usable at 50k if you do not get banding, which I have gotten in shots from ISO 25K to 50k but not EVERY time. The ISO capability of the SL is quite shocking for a Leica. Gone are the days of ISO 640 max on the M8 and S2 and 1250 on the M9 or even 3200 on the M 240. This guy is giving me beautiful shots even in low light at 12,500. Later on I will do a comparison to the Sony A7RII for high ISO but for now, a couple of higher ISO shots using the SL.

1st shot of my Dog Baby on the bed at night. ISO 12,500, no noise reduction (I never use it and the SL does not use it) – 24-90

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Just some clouds at night at ISO 25,000 ISO – 24-90

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ISO 4000 – 24-90

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Mr. Kurt Kamka with the 24-90 at ISO 12,500

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With the SL, there are no ISO worries. Even at high ISO the detail is there with a nice noise pattern. Man, have we come a long way!

Full Frame but T mount?

The new SL is full frame but uses the T mount. The T camera is APS-C but Leica made it with a mount large enough for full frame. Larger than even the M mount. I guess that they had plans all along :) For this reason, to use M glass on the SL you need the T to M adapter from Leica. This will send info to the camera when using authentic Leica M lenses. This means the SL will adjust for corrections just like the M does. IT’S THE ADAPTER YOU WANT. TRUST ME!

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After shooting with the SL for a while I started to realize that this IS INDEED a very PRO camera, in every way. The file quality is just superb. Rich colors, fantastic AWB performance (best I have used), snappy Auto Focus with the 24-90 and wonderful performance with M lenses, which many of you reading this own. When shooting it I feel like the asking price is exactly what it should be, as the SL is a camera I would choose over ANY camera in the 35mm world, even the Pentax 645 series which is larger, slower, more cumbersome and much more limited, and you can not use M glass on them. Id even take the SL over Leica’s own S if both cost the same. The Sl is smaller, has a nicer design, and I prefer the full frame 35mm format over medium format for day to day shooting, without question. I have spoken  to a few pros, at least 7 of them who are switching to the SL from other cameras. They tested them and fell in love and a few of these are high-end pros who rely on a camera for their bread and butter. As I said, once you use one for a couple of days, you will NOT want to be without it. It’s addicting.

A few more images with the 24-90 which ended up being the lens I used most with the SL.

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If you clicked on the images above you will see just how good they look. The SL just continually pumps out amazing quality from Dynamic Range (though Sony wins in this dept. and beats the Leica in DR with the A7RII) to color, to AF to build, design and responsiveness. The SL is a camera that you will appreciate and want to keep for years and years. In fact, the AWB is probably the best I have seen in a camera. The high ISO is remarkable for a Leica and the speed and response is so out of character for a Leica (it’s fast)!

Sure, with Nikon and Canon you get hundreds of lenses to choose from..with the SL you get one Native lens, lol. BUT this will grow with time (remember Sony’s FE lens roll out? 2 years and they have a TON of amazing glass). The key here is that one can use M, S, T or SL lenses with the SL.

Next two with the  24-90

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With all of this out of the way, let us get to the testing. ISO, Comparisons and more…phew! 4100 words in and we are just getting to the comparisons! When I get excited about a new camera you can tell as the reviews get long. Sorry!

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VS the a7RII – HIGH ISO 

Many are asking me to go head to head with the Soy A7RII, so that is what I did, 1st up, ISO comparisons between the two. The Leica shocked me here in this test against the Sony A7RII for high ISO/Noise performance.

1st shot, ISO 12,500 on the SL and then 2nd, 12,800 on the Sony

Sony has the Zeiss 24-70 at f/4 and the Leica has the 24-90 at F/4 but we are testing noise here not lens or sensor performance. Click them to see full 100% crops as they are meant to be seen. ZERO NOISE REDUCTION ON THESE!

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Now ISO 50,000 on the SL and 51,200 on the Sony (closest ISO match) – same deal, click them to see them correctly. THIS test surprised me greatly as I thought ISO 50K on the SL would fail. They knew when to cut it off because even 50K may be useful in some situations. 

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Not believing my eyes on that one I did another test in my dimly lit office at night…this time ISO 25k and I see some banding in the Leica shot this time. So banding is possible with the Leica at ISO’s past 12,800 but does not mean you will get it every time (as you can see above)

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Without question, this is Leica’s best high ISO camera ever and it performs to a level I never thought a Leica could go. 50K ISO? Wow. But what about daylight and base ISO? How is the RII against the Leica SL using a nice lens on the Sony? Let’s find out…

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VS the a7RII – STRAIGHT COMPARE

For normal IQ with base ISO who will win the IQ battle? Sony will have more megapixels at 42 vs 24 but which one will offer better color out of camera? Which one will offer more micro contrast and pop? One would think Sony has this tied up WITH THE NEW 42MP SENSOR.. and they just night but let’s take a look…

1ST up, the Leica SL. 24-90 at 35mm and f/4 – from RAW – CLICK IT!

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Now the A7RII with the 16-35 at 35 and f/4 – from RAW – CLICK IT!

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Leica SL, 24-90 at 35mm and f/4 – wow.. – CLICK THE IMAGES!

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The Sony has less detail at 100% here which shows a limitation of the lens at 35mm and f/4

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ONE MORE TEST COMING WITH THE SONY 35 1.4 INSTEAD OF 16-35!

More…

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AND BY REQUEST, I ADDED A TEST WITH THE SONY/ZEISS 35 1.4, which is what I feel is Sony’s best lens for the A7 system

Now slapping the gorgeous and magical Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 (review here) on the A7RII to make it a fair fight…

1st up, the SL with 24-90 at 35mm and ISO 100. Tripod mounted. Click it to see the 100% crop and detail in that crop..

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Now the Sony A7RII with the 35 1.4 at f/3.5 and ISO 100. Tripod mounted. Click it to see the 100% crop. The Zeiss 35 did much better here than the Zeiss 16-35 above. Sharp, detailed and with the cooler Sony rendering. The Leica for me edges out the Sony in color and detail but we are splitting hairs here. Both are fantastic. 

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One more with the 35 1.4 Zeiss on the Sony…

The Leica again, same setup as above. Click it to see the crop correctly

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Now the Sony..again, the color of the Leica edges out the Sony IMO, but we can go either way with the detail crop. You may get more resolution with the Sony but the Leica edges it out in detail. The lens and sensor combo of the Leica are stunning. The Sony sensor is also stunning and needs a lens like the 35 1.4 to get the most of it (Or Zeiss Batis, Loxia, etc)

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At the end of the day, the Leica slightly edges out the A7RII in IQ (for me) in color, and crispness and pop. Take into account the other things that best the A7RII and we have the $4k difference in price that is justified here. (Build on another level, EVF on another level, usability much better, pro features and competing high ISO (with more detail) and the SL shows it is worth the cost to those who want to make the jump. Again, for quality of all current model mirrorless cameras available today, my top three are Leica SL, then Sony A7RII and Rx1RII with the Leica Q in 4th.

Out of camera color (AWB) and JPEG comparison

Here are two simple snapshots showing the out of camera color from each camera, the SL and A7RII. The Leica will give you a warmer rendering and the Sony a cooler rendering which is how it always has been it seems…

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And both with an out of camera JPEG. Again, the Leica AWB here nails it with rich color and  tone. The Sony AWB misses a but and has an off color leaning a bit to yellow..

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After I did these tests I was incredibly surprised. I thought the Sony would win in all areas. But what I saw is that the Leica wins in perceived detail, color and even matches the Sony (almost) at high ISO minus the banding issue with the Leica when shooting at 25-50k (sometimes). This is not your typical Leica! It is polished, smooth, feels mature and feels like a product that has been refined for years.

The SL with the soon to be released Grip

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VIDEO with the SL?

Will add a video here soon shot with the SL, stay tuned!

Shooting video on the SL is not something I will do often but I did shoot some video and it looked beautiful and even the built-in mics are very good with a huge beefy sound much like the Sony A7 series. The SL can shoot 1080 or 4K video and it does it very well. It has pro level video specs but if you want to know more about the video, I suggest  reading elsewhere as this review is focused on the image performance. Even so, I can even tell that this is Leica’s best video to date. It’s not an afterthought like it was on the M 240, it’s the real deal.

Video Specs of the SL

4K Super 35 (4096 × 2160p) at 24 fps
4K-UHD (3840 × 2160p) at 25/30 fps
Full HD (1920 × 1080p) up to 120fps
Video RAW/log format recording
10-bit output
Time code (for video editing)
Integrated stereo microphone
Audio interface for headphones and microphone
UHD resolution (3840p × 2160p) at 25 or 30 fps
In all 4K mode, the APS-C formatarea of the sensor is used and the viewing angle is reduced by a factor of 1.5

An OOC JPEG from the SL with 50 Lux ASPH

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PROS AND CONS (focus button, etc)

Pros

  1. Build is as good as it gets without being too heavy
  2. Weather sealed!
  3. BEST EVF EVER
  4. Battery Life = Amazing
  5. Simplicity at its finest
  6. Fast AF, and yes, this IS a Leica!
  7. Versatile as it can use just about any Leica lens ever made from M to R to T to S to the new lenses
  8. Manually focusing M lenses is a breeze due to the EVF, Peaking or Magnification
  9. EVF touch screen for focus point and viewing images, very smooth
  10. Leica did not skimp ANYWHERE on the SL
  11. A true Pro level camera
  12. Image quality is stunning
  13. Best ISO performance of any Leica digital, EVER
  14. Video is pro level and the two button design is genius
  15. Feels and shoots like a $10k camera
  16. MUCH nicer than lugging a medium format rig around
  17. At home on the street, landscape or in the studio
  18. Packaging and presentation is top-notch as usual
  19. Diopter control just like on the S, so easy to dial in!
  20. Best mirrorless camera experience all around that I have ever used
  21. Will be able to use Nikon or Canon or 3rd party lenses when adapters are available. That’s the beauty of mirrorless.
  22. DUAL SD CARD SLOTS! Can back up #1 or use both as storage and door is solid.
  23. GPS is built-in, just turn it on in the menu to activate it!

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Cons

  1. Only one native lens at launch. Should have had THREE at least! (more coming in 2016)
  2. Need an expensive adapter to use M lenses or R lenses, etc
  3. Wallet Buster for mere mortals! Body only $7500. The one SL lens, $5000. $12500 for body and lens. Ouch.
  4. Sony A7RII is an IQ monster with all kinds of goodies for less than half the cost, but in mirrorless, that is the only real competition to the SL.
  5. You can/may get banding at higher ISOs around 25k and up.
  6. With the 24-90 it is a large and somewhat heavy system if you are used to an M. With an M lens, it is not heavy or cumbersome at all though.

 

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FINAL THOUGHTS on the Leica SL (lenses, versatility, build, quality 100%)

Well well, you made it this far (or skipped over the rest) and I can happily say that I had a blast writing this review and using the Leica SL over the past weeks. It is a new era for Leica as they have created a system camera that IMO beats every single mirrorless camera made today, and IMO, beats any DSLR (but I am not a DSLR guy) with its build, simplicity, EVF, and overall quality and usability. While this will not replace a Nikon D4 or 1d series body for many, it will be the ultimate Leica for the Leica fan as you can use ANY Leica lens made on it from M to R to S to T, the SL can handle it.

Using it with manual focus M glass is a treat due to the huge clear EVF and the connection one can have with a camera that is working WITH you instead of AGAINST you.

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Really, the SL has amazed me every single day with what it can do, and I am shocked because in the past there was usually a compromise with Leica. With the M8 and M9 it was ISO, limited to shooting at low ISO’s. With the S2, it was also limited to ISO and most stopped at ISO 640 with the S2. With the M8 and M9 we had quirks and issues from SD card issues to cracking sensor glass and more.

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The SL is without question the best digital camera from Leica I have ever used. In fact, and this is a HUGE statement, it is my favorite camera I have ever tested and it knocked my Sony A7RII to #2. The Leica SL has everything one would want in a true German Leica….and I enjoy it more than the M8, M9, M240 or Q. No contest.

Here is why…

  • BUILD – Weather sealed, sturdy, feels like a solid chunk of metal (oh, it was made from one)
  • Speed (fastest Leica AF ever)
  • Versatile (Uses any Lens Leica has ever made via adapters)
  • New lens line is STUNNING in quality
  • EVF – Best made today, period.
  • Simplicity (WOW, this is how a camera should be..trust me on this one)
  • Low light – (ISO 12,500 is fantastic and goes up to 50k but Sony still leads in high ISO)
  • Battery Life (One charge lasted me a week)
  • Controls (joystick is AWESOME for picking on the fly focus point – – -for example, the eyes)
  • Menu system is SWEET and SIMPLE and EFFECTIVE
  • Beats the M 240 at the same price in IQ, build, versatility, and more
  • Video mode is VERY nice and the double button system is genius (1st Leica with AWESOME video)
  • New 24-90 is the best zoom I have ever tested or used or owned
  • Not big when using M glass, feels fantastic in the hand
  • IQ is somewhere between M9 and M 240 as far as rendering, and this is good
  • Best AWB I have seen in a digital camera, ever. 
  • Built in GPS
  • Dual SD Card slots with pro build solid door
  • You get what you pay for, is it worth $7500? To me, yes. 

Now of course we have the incredible Sony A7RII which is still one of my top fave cameras EVER. It offers SO MUCH for less than half of the Leica SL and I will never sell mine. But it feels like a $3400 camera where the Leica feels like a $10k camera. This SL truly feels like a Mini S camera, and that is a good thing but truth be told, the Sony A7 V2 series is probably better for most reading this as you can get an A7RII and a couple great lenses for the cost of the SL body only. The A7RII IQ is different but not worse or better, just different. This Leica will be for the Leica people or a studio pro or even street shooter who wants a camera that will last them much longer than a normal camera would.

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Congratulations to Leica on this one, for me it is my Camera of the Year for 2015 due to the innovation here. Best ever EVF, amazing battery life, crazy good pro build/features and weather sealing, stunning IQ and color performance, more refined than my #2, the Sony A7RII in every way from IQ to operation to build to the use of M lenses… and a nice start with the incredible performance of the new 24-90 f/2.8-f/4 Variable zoom.

Leica deserves the accolades here and while many will trash talk the SL (without ever using one) the facts are clear. It’s an amazing camera for usability, battery, and build. Period. It is IMO, not overpriced at all. Well worth the asking cost for those with the deep wallets that can afford it. As I have said, sometimes yo DO INDEED get what you pay for.

Throughout 2016 I will do new lens reviews on the SL, testing various M mount lenses and maybe a few R lenses. Will be fun to do for sure.

So yes, the 2015 Camera of the Year for me is the Leica SL with the Sony A7RII coming in 2nd and the Sony RX1RII in third. Honorable mention goes to the Olympus E-M5 Mark II.

The Huff House where all of these goodies arrive for testing :)

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WHERE TO BUY?

My preferred Leica dealers are below. All are fantastic and will treat you right!

Ken Hansen – E-mail Ken at [email protected] to get on his SL list

PopFlash.com – Click HERE to check out PopFlash’s SL Page!

B&H Photo – CLICK HERE for the B&H SL Page

Leica Store Miami – They have the SL listed HERE

Below I will leave you with a few more snaps with the Leica SL.  Thank you for reading this review as it was my pleasure writing it for you. My life is truly blessed to be able to do what I love to do each and every day. Thank you all!

Want More? Here are some OTHER Leica SL Reviews :)

BTW, if you want to see more reviews on the SL you can see a couple below that I recommend!

Ashwin Rao SL Review (HERE on this SITE)!

Jono Slack Leica SL Review

Kristian Dowling Leica SL Review

One more thing…

Why is it that many people feel a camera should only be judged on image quality? When I review a camera it is a review of the entire package. Build, Feel, Controls, Menu System, Speed, Response, ISO, AF accuracy and Speed, AWB, COLOR performance, EVF/LCD, built in Mic for video, and every little thing. IQ is just one little aspect of a good camera and ALL serious cameras today have astounding IQ that is good enough for ANYONE, pro or enthusiast.

So when looking for your next camera look at all aspect of it to make sure it is something you jive with for the long haul. One reason the Leica SL made CAM OF THE YEAR 2015 for me is due to all of what I just said as there is no mirrorless camera made today that can compete with the SL on build, AF accuracy and response, AWB, EVF, Simplicity, menus, even retaining detail at up to ISO 25k. No other mirrorless made today is at the level of the SL which is why the SL is $7500 (and well worth it if this is truly your passion).

 

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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 7 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 dedicated 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 receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!!

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, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

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 (not the B&H) 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.

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Nov 172015
 
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LEICA SL – 1st HANDS ON Look! 

So today I received a Leica SL and 24-90 Lens along with an M adapter so I could test M lenses on this new Leica. This is a loaner that I received to test for a while as the one I ordered for myself (from Ken Hansen) will not be in for a little while. In any case, this new Leica SL is absolutely incredible in build with a pro feel that not many cameras have besides the Leica S. In fact, it feels and looks more like a Mini S but with a full frame 35mm sensor instead of a medium format sized sensor.

My 1st Look Video Below!

When you look at it from this perspective, the SL is not a Sony A7 copy..instead it is like a whole new class of camera. Leica says they are aiming for pro users, and I can see this now as any studio shooter, wedding shooter or concert shooter would fall deeply in love with the SL. Even the 24-90 f/2.8-f/4 lens is stunning in its quality from build to image quality, which renders much like a superb prime lens would.

I have to eat my words on what I wrote about the SL based on 1st thoughts of the specs and images. Now that it is in hand, and I have studied it, shot with it a little and experienced this amazing drop dead gorgeous EVF, dual SD slots, pro battery, and full weather sealing..I can say the SL is in a class all by itself, even when compared to the Canon 1d’s and D4’s of the world.

It’s larger than a Sony A7 series body but not by much. In fact, in the video you will see that it is not much larger than an M 240. With M lenses, this EVF ROCKS and makes it a breeze to shoot with M glass…much easier than even the M 240 and the IQ beats the M as well due to the new sensor.

Three quick snaps 10 minutes after getting the camera. These are just snapshots of my house, in my house and outside of my house. I wanted to see the color, detail and pop of the 24-90 Zoom. In my upcoming full review I will have TONS of image samples just as I always do for my big reviews. 

Last two are with the 50 Lux ASPH

These are all Out Of Camera images and color looks great indoor and out

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Shooting the SL with something like a 28 Elmarit, 35 cron and 50 lux would be so much fun and provide stunning IQ.

My full massive review will include video samples, comparisons to the Sony A7RII, Leica M 240 and even the Sony RX1RII. It will include TONS of images samples, crops, ISO tests and usability reports. It may be my most jam packed review to date so will take around 3 weeks to do. So….

Stay tuned ;)

Steve

PS – You can order a Leica SL from Ken Hansen ([email protected]), PopFlash.com, B&H Photo or Leica Store Miami

Jun 222015
 
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The Leica Q…in Review

By Ashwin Rao

Buy/Order the Q from Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, or B&H Photo. 
Let me just start by saying that the Leica Q is one of the most engaging, inspiring cameras that I have owned to date. I would also suggest that it is this decade’s version of the legendary Digilux-2…read more below to understand why….

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If that’s all that you take away from the review, that’s great. An educator once told me that you should say what you are about to say, then say it, and finish by saying what you jyst said. With this article, I intend to proceed as such. The Leica Q is a great camera… Even at it’s price. Even though it’s not a rangefinder. Even though it’s unlikely to be a Leica through and through. It’s capable of harnessing one’s spirit, capturing the decisive moment, and challenging the photographer all at once, all in the most facile of ways. See there you go, I have gone and said it again, in a slightly different way. Okay, now getting that out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Hello, my friends and photographers. By now, many of you have read the glowing reviews that came alongside the announcement of the Leica Q. Such luminaries as Steve himself, Jono Slack, Ming Thien, Sean Ried, Michael Reichmann, and others deconstruct, reconstruct, and then deconstruct the camera again. I am not here to re-hash this territory, other than to say that I agree with much, if not all, of what these reviews have said in their uniform praise of the Q. I am here to give you my own impressions and take on the camera, it’s build, its DNA, it’s capacities as a tool for photography, and it’s operation, and I have now had the chance to spend a bit more time with the camera, having been one of the first lucky few to have received my camera from the Leica Store Bellevue.

For those of you who have not read the reviews, here’s the low down. The Leica Q is a fixed-lens autofocus, Leica M-styled camera that’s not an M camera at all. It’s built to an incredibly high standard and sports a 24 MP full frame sensor and a fast 28 mm f/1.7 Aspherical Summilux Lens. It sports an industry leading 3.7 megapixel non-OLED EVF with a solid refresh rate (read not many shuddering images while moving the camera through the scene) and a design that allows for easy use even with glasses on (thanks for thinking of us old folks wearing glasses, Leica). It’s not weather sealed. It has a mechanical leaf shutter that moves from 1+ sec through 1/2000 sec, after which an electronic shutter kicks in, capable of achieving shutter speeds as high as 1/16,000 sec (thus, there is zero issue with shooting wide open in the brightest of daylight settings). The leaf shutter is nearly silent in and of itself, and the camera is thus very operationally discrete, while obviating issues such as shutter shake. There’s no built in flash, but this can be added via hot shoe. It records video, for those who care about video (I don’t). It’s layout is very simple. 5 buttons to the left of the screen, and a click wheel to the right. There are only 2 other dials up top, one for shutter speed and one to adjust exposure compensation, which is not marked. There’s the On-off toggle switch, which houses the shutter release. Oh yes, that video button (I don’t use it, unless I inadvertently push it). The awesome 28 mm f/1.7 Summilux lens has a very “M-lens” like feel, with a hood that echoes the most recent Summarit line. The hood screws on, once you remove the included protective retainer ring. The focusing tab on the ring allows you to easily focus manual, as the lens has a nice, shot focus throw, but also readily clicks into full AF mode by turning the barrel fully counter clockwise until it clicks into place. There’s a macro ring, that can be turned to enable a lovely macro option, that allows focus between 0.17 and 0.13 meters, while the standard non-macro setting focuses between 0.3 meters and infinity. The menu system is very clean and simply laid out, more so than even the current generation of M digital cameras. The screen is a touch screen, and one can use finger touch to set focus if desired. In image review mode, images can be swiped or pinched to allow for zooming or image review. Finally, there’s a small unmarked button on the back of the camera just below the shutter speed dial, that allows you to enable 35 mm of 50 mm “frame lines”, basically a digital crop for those who wish to use the camera at “other focal lengths”.

These are details that most of you already know, but I wanted to summarize it all in one place. With that summary out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Colors

The Leica Q offers a moderately different color palette than either the Leica M240 or the M9 before it. Leica has not announced from whom the sensor comes from. I have my theories, and will get to that later in the article, but suffice it to say that colors are punchy even for out-of-camera DNG files. Unlike the muted palette of the M9 and M8, there’s a lot more color pop up front from the Q, which can take some adjustment. However, once you get adjusted, what you are left with is a camera that produces some of the best colors seen in Leica land.

I struggled mightily with skin tones and colors when attempting to use the M240 during my brief sojourn with that camera. Suffice to say, I was quite concerned about a “repeat performance” with the Q, but thankfully, this is not the case. For those of you who enjoy the M240’s color palette, prepare for a different experience. Same goes for you who preferred the M9 color palette. However, I must say that many of us M shooters who enjoyed the M9’s color palette may be quite pleased by what the Q offers.

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At times, skin tones can drift towards an “orange” bias, but this is easy to fix in Lightroom or other similar applications when encountered. Fact of the matter is that most of the time, colors coming out of the camera properly represent the color palette of the scene. The camera is nicely transparent in this ways. Auto white balance does great outdoors, slightly less so indoors, but this too is easily correctible during editing, and truth be told, most of the time, colors under incandescent or fluorescent light are appropriate.

All in all, the camera performs very well in this department.

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ISO performance

Let’s get this out of the way. This camera is middle-of-the-road for full frame ISO performance. It’s totally adequate and appropriate in the ISO department through ISO 6400, but once ISO 12,500 is reached, things can get a bit iffy, particularly if processing heavily. If properly exposed, you get a very useable file through 12,500, but in general, I would hesitate going any higher, due to noticeable horizontal banding that is encountered within shadows. But with a fast lens attached at f/1.7, I rarely felt challenged by any low light limitation. While the Q is no Sony A7s, it stands up quite well to the Sony A7 and other cameras considered to be low-light stars or keepers of the night.

 

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Image quality

The image quality coming from the Leica Q is astounding. The 28 mm Summilux is capable of achieving incredible detail, while producing a pleasant, non-distracting, painterly out of focus. If I were rating bokeh, as I have in the past, the Q’s 28 mm Summilux rates as a 9/10. Images are nicely sharp, particularly in the center, at f/1.7, and by f/4, the images sharpen up from corner to corner. I suspect that the lens produces a slight curvature of field that contributes to softer edges on plane when shooting brick walls, but in real world application, this slight curvature of field may actually enhance subject isolation (for aspects of the image that are in focus) while creating a 3 dimensional effect, which can be very pleasing even for a lens this wide. Coupled with a fast open aperture, the whole image is rendered beautifully. While I will leave it to others to do ISO test and aperture comparisons, I will say that the Leica Q has simply never let me down in the image quality department. Coupled with the color performance of the sensor, the lack of an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, the Leica Q becomes a powerhouse, if judged only by the retina-searing quality of image that it produces.

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The 28 mm lens

did Leica use a 28 mm lens? For many, 28 mm is too wide. It is nearly impossible to get a portrait shot, and if you do, you’ll get a ton of distortion, and your subjects will be mad at you, unless you step back a few feet.

Leica states that the 28 mm lens was designed in-house with a goal of allowing those who chose to use the camera a great option for street and reportage photography. While I think some of this is marketing know-how, I do feel that the 28 mm lens may well have been chosen for a few other reasons. First, the camera’s implementation and design makes it clear to me that Leica’s positioning itself for both its base (aging shooters with progressive vision deterioration), alongside a younger customer base with money to spend), bringing the camera’s operational capacities into the 21st century, with amenities such as wifi, NFC, phone apps for teathering, and a touch screen. 28 mm is exciting to the Leica base, as a lens that offers great opportunities for street and reportage photography. 28 mm is a popular focal length particularly popular with many shooters who don’t even know it: cell phone shooters. The iPhone, for example, has historically employed a 28 mm equivalent lens. It’s a great option not only for street photos, but for selfies, for family outings, for gatherings with friends. It’s the focal length that’s social-media savvy, and Leica knows it.

Second, Leica is trying to establish a branding identity and a sense of novelty in the market. Never has a fixed full frame digital camera been released with a fast-wide lens such as the incredible 28 mm Summilux. Most people who have shot the Q or thought about the purchase wonder: why not 35 mm or 50 mm for the lens? Leica saw the success of the Sony RX1/R with it’s 35 mm f/2 Sonnar lens, and saw an opportunity to make something similar, yet slightly different, to separate it from Sony’s past offering to which the camera is most often compared, as well as to any future RX2, which is likely to come sporting some of Sony’s latest and greatest tech.

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The lens does include a separate ring for macro photography mode. One turn of the inner most ring into “MACRO” allows the camera to focus (manual or AF) between 0.17 m and 0.3 M. In fact, turning the ring procures a separate focusing scale, which is hidden from view when the camera is used in standard operation. This feature is incredibly handily when shooting near-field objects (think food photography). The implementation of the MACRO ring itself is one of the camera’s few weaknesses, as it’s a bit hard to turn the ring when desired. Maybe that’s by intention, but it feels that the ring could have been designed for smoother operational execution.

I also suspect that Leica introduced the 28 mm lens, as it may have been particularly adept at working with the sensor that they are using in the camera. I find it incredibly fascinating that Leica is choosing not to disclose the manufacturer of the sensor, but here again, I have my theory, so read on to find this out . Ultimately, I suspect that to some degree, lens and sensor were designed with one another in mind, and the performance of the lens-sensor combination in the Leica Q is astounding.

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In hand

I find that Leica Q’s haptics to be fantastic. I have been using the camera since day one with the accessory handgrip and attached loop. The grip and loop make the camera very easy to hold steadily, with confidence and no fear that it may slip out of hand. The Q itself is a slightly airy camera, clearly lighter than the M line, but with the added grip, there’s an addition of slight heft that gives the camera more confident feel. Without the grip, the camera is truly a bit slippery, and the thumb indent that Leica added is positioned to far to the far edge of the camera to permit comfortable hand holding. The grip fixes this issue. ‘’

The camera’s edges are nicely rounded, and unlike the Leica T, with it’s more angular build, the Q does not seem to cut into skin as much. The Q is substantially heftier than the T series and it’s girth and bulk will feel quite familiar to users of the M system. Some may raise concerns that it’s not nearly as compact as Sony’s RX1/R, but then again, I think Leica made the proper choice in proportioning the camera as a Leica M to attract its base of M camera users. To the Leica M shooter, the camera will feel “familiar” in hand.

I do wish Leica would use traditional vulcanite leatherette, as the pebbled texture of Vulcanite used for older M cameras truly enhances the photographer’s hold on the camera. The Q comes equipped with a grip that may be familiar to X camera owners. It’s not as tactile, and looks decidedly more modern. It’s a decent look, but one that could use refinement.

With the accessory grip added, the camera’s haptics feel more complete. It’s heft is pleasant. The grip firms up the hold on the camera.

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In operation

It’s at this point that I will begin to GUSH about the Leica Q. Leica (and Panasonic) did their homework on this camera, and it shows. The camera is truly a dream to operate. The menu system is well laid out, complementing the camera’s operational simplicity. In fact, this is a camera that one can pick up, figure out within a few minutes, and begin shooting happily. It produces RAW files in the DNG format, thus immediately portable into most photo editing applications (in my case, Adobe Lightroom)

Autofocus is fast and accurate. This has not been talked about in glowing detail, but deserves to be highlighted. In my experience, the Leica Q has the most responsive autofocus of any mirrorless camera that I have tried. Not only is AF responsive, but also focusing is accurate. The Q gives the photographer the brilliant option of setting the focus point anywhere on the screen, and this system works well when the photographer is permitted the time to set the focus point (be it center or off to the side). Once focus zone is set, the camera nails focus every time. For many of us whose eyesight wanes with each year, having a camera with accurate and responsive AF in the design/build of a M camera (yes, not an M, but it sure feels like one, doesn’t it?) is a marvelous thing.

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While most of us will use the camera in single-shot focus mode (AF-S), the camera is quite adept at tracking focus if using the AF-C mode. Whole it’s not a sports shooter, it can easily track faster moving children and nail focus. The camera can be set to single- or multi-shot modes, and can acquire up to 9 frames in a second using the high speed burst rate. I was suitably impressed while employing AF-C with a high burst rate, while capturing fast moving children on a slip-n-slide, for example, to feel that the continuous AF mode coupled with burst shooting would allow me to capture a “mobile” decisive moment opportunity .
Using the lens in the field is also great. One can easily click into autofocus mode if one chooses, but one can also use the manual focusing option by rotating the focus wheel out of the AF position, at which point the camera uses focus magnification and peaking to aid the photographer in achieving focus. Coupled with the camera’s magnificent 3.7 megapixel EVF, focusing is not challenging. Added to the mix is diopter control, allowing the operator of the camera to adjust the diopter to his/her liking.
Menu layout is clear, clean, and intuitive, and the LCD screen can be used in broad daylight without much difficulty. Some may sight that the camera does not possess an articulating LCD, but this stands against Leica’s simplicity-is-utility design ethos, and I am fine with it. The less fiddly the camera, the better, in my opinion. With a clean user layout, and clean menu structure, operational simplicity, and very fast autofocus, what we are left with is a camera that is incredibly inspiring in operation. The Leica Q is a camera that simply does not get in the way of the photographer’s experience. I would say that the Leica Q’s operations enhance photographer’s user experience and motivates and inspires those who shoot it…to shoot it more. It’s that good. Really!

Crop Mode

I wanted to discuss crop mode briefly, as most simply cast this “feature” aside when discussing the camera. I belive that Leica considers the crop mode to be important, or else they would not have included a dedicated button to enable digital cropping. Implementation of the crop mode is fantastic. By clicking the button once, the EVF is “enhanced” by frame lines, thus producing a very rangefinder like experience. Shooting in 35 mm produces a 15 MP image, which is plenty sufficient to adjust in processing. Given that 28 mm and 35 mm are not that far apart, the camera can be used quite comfortably in 35 mm crop mode without much loss of feel.

Once cropped again, into 50 mm mode, things get a bit murkier. Now, the file produced is digitally cropped down to 7 MP. Editing becomes more of a chore, since less of the image is present to work with. Further, distortions present due to the 28 mm effective field of view are introduced, making portraiture in the 50 mm crop less than ideal.

I suspect that Leica envisions a certain group of photographers using the digital crop button to permit the camera to be used as a “Tri-Elmar” , but the compromises at play, while seeming acceptable at 35 mm, are less so at 50 mm.

All of that said, it’s nice to have a digital crop when operating the camera. Further, it’s nice to know that the camera has saved the full 28 mm field of view in the RAW file, so it’s easy to reclaim “lost data” in post processing if needed.

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Compared to the RX1

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Herein lies another question that comes up often, since the Leica Q was introduced. What’s Leica doing that Sony was not doing 2 years ago, when the RX1 was introduced and made its splash? Should I get the RX1 for it’s more desired 35 mm lens?

The choice of lens is a very personal. I would say that for those who don’t enjoy wide-angle photography and prefer 35 mm to 28, the Leica Q may not be an ideal companion. Further, the Q feels and is truly a bigger camera than the RX1, so if compactness is the ultimate goal, the RX1 achieves this better than the Q. Finally, image quality. The RX1/R produced and still produces brilliant files. This is no different today, and in fact, many, myself included, consider the Sony RX1 to be a modern legend in digital photography. Is the Q better? In a word: YES.

The fact of the matter is that the Q does so many things better than the RX1/R that the comparison is somewhat silly. The Q sports a built in EVF, which allows the camera to be used more like a traditional camera. Autofocus and operational implementation is far superior. The Q features a far more intuitive layout, with a less-is-more approach. While the RX1 is more compact, the Q feels fantastic in hand and retains enough compactness that it will fit in many of the same outfits for which the RX1 was purposed. Certainly, Sony’s RX2 (you know it’s coming) will feature a new degree of compactness, but Sony have never been known to design a camera for those who value simplicity and intention of use. Some complain that Sony cameras feel like computers. I don’t feel strongly, in this regard, but I will say that the Leica Q feels convincingly like a camera designed by and for photographers who appreciate simplicity of design. With the Leica Q, all of the key controls are readily accessible, while the rest are found easily in the camera’s sub menus.

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Compared to the Ricoh GR

Ricoh produced the pocket dynamite Ricoh GR 2 years ago, and it’s truly held up to the test of time as a camera that many street and documentary photographers carry in the pocket. Like the Q, the Ricoh GR sports a 28 mm equivalent lens, albeit on a APS-C size sensor.

The Ricoh GR has been one of my favorite cameras, and it’s a camera that I have had by my side for 2 years. It’s a dramatically different camera than the Q, as it is much smaller and is truly pocketable. Thus, the Leica Q will not replace or supplant the GR for my purposes. It’s form factor is just too different.

I would say that the GR’s file quality is more clinical, with better edge-to-edge sharpness wide open than the Leica Q demonstrates even when stopped to f/2.8. However, the Q offers a full frame sensor, Leica’s operational simplicity and haptics, and a fast/remarkable lens.

Both cameras are great. Choose the one that fits your needs the best. I chose both.

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Panasonic collaboration

Here’s the topic that no one’s really gotten into, and I wanted to shake a few trees and see what leaves fall down…Bottom line.: think it’s too much to say that Leica designed and implemented this most of this camera on their own. While the camera proudly reads “Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany” above the rear LCD, it does not clearly state “Made in Germany by Leica”, now does it? Nor does it say Leica Camera AG Germany. I say all this while laughing a bit, because none of it matters, other than in branding efforts. If you are reading this article, would you rather be buying a Leica or a Panasonic camera? I know where I’d fall in this regard
If one looks closely, the Leica Q has Panasonic’s fingerprints all over it. From implementation of the touch screen, to the wifi implementation, to the use of a Panasonic battery (DMW-BLC12) that’s been used extensively for Panasonic’s FZ1000 and Leica’s V-Lux line, this camera “reeks” of Panasonic influence. Heck, it’s clear to me that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the Leica Q’s autofocus system. It’s too good to be a Leica design of its own. Some have gone as far as to say that it maybe Panasonic through and through, including the Summilux lens with an interesting f/1.7 maximum aperture, which is rare for Leica lenses but a common choice for Panasonic-designed lenses. Oh yeah, then there’s that sensor, which Leica refuses to disclose it’s source of manufacture, other than to say that the sensor is not manufactured by CMOSIS or Sony…Well, Panasonic is another company who sits ideally positioned, through its relationship with Leica, to offer up a chip of this high regard. Might not the sensor be of Panasonic manufacture? These are all of my theories, but ultimately, I suspect that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the camera’s innards. From the outside, the Leica Q is truly, thoroughly a Leica, just like the Pana-Leica Digilux 2 before it….

Thus for me, the Leica Q is this generation’s Digilux!

 

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I find the Leica Q to be a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable camera, one that’s inspired new levels of creativity in me. I am truly fascinated by the camera and would easily say that it’s one of my favorite digital cameras of all time. It’s really a perfect, take everywhere companion. It’s incredibly well thought out, laid out, and implemented in a way to appeal to photographers who want their camera out of the way and photographers who want to grow into their photographer ever more. The Leica Q forces you to grow, and for that growth, you will be rewarded by fantastic images.

I hope that you have enjoyed the photos, all taken during my first week with the camera. For those of you who want to see more, follow this link to my flickr site:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/sets/72157654470404392
Enjoy the ride, and I will see you soon enough, just down the road, around the corner, Q in hand.

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Jun 102015
 
QREVIEW

QREVIEW

The Leica Q Real World Camera Review

by Steve Huff

When I was told I was being sent the new Leica Q camera for review, weeks before it was to be announced, I was excited. I have heard rumblings and rumors about what this Q could be, and most of it was pretty exciting, and sounded to me like Leica was finally getting it “right”. While I usually do not take stock in Rumor sites (as they have one mission, kill the surprises and to make loads of money) I was hearing some things that I liked about the supposed new “Q”.

It appeared that Leica was finally caving..giving us, the Leica fans, something very close to what we have been asking for all of these years.

I was  critical of the recent Leica Mirrorless concotions..Leica X-Vario and Leica X, and while I adored the original Leica X1, and loved the X2, the Vario and new X lagged behind for me due to many reasons. I did enjoy the T, VERY much, but it too was not what everyone wanted, so it lagged in sales. So if we look at the recent past 2-3 years Leica has had some not so successful cameras, and I feel that is because they were not listening to their base of users.

YOU must click the images below to see them correctly. DO NOT judge them from these resized soft samples. Click ’em to see them larger and better.

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What we asked for and wanted:

A TRUE Mini M. Full Frame. EVF/RF built in. Scaled down from the real M to allow a lower price so more could enjoy the true Leica quality and feel. Simplicity, Beauty and Built by Leica, not Panasonic. 

The First fail for me with the X was no EVF or VF built in. We were forced to buy a $600 external wart of an EVF that killed the looks and usability of the camera. Then there was the sensor size of APS-C. It appeared Leica would never release a smaller true M like camera with a full frame sensor as they would be afraid of hurting their M sales. So they kept releasing APS-C sized cameras, and each one lagged in sales as everyone was crying for full frame, and we were correct to want full frame, as we wanted to shoot our Leica’s but here we are with Sony who released the stunning RX1 and RX1r years ago..without an answer from Leica. To be honest, the RX1 was more leica like than the X Vario and X 113.

One of the main issues with the X Vario and X were the slow and clunky lenses they attached to them (well, the Vario anyway). Clunky, slow in aperture and in AF, these cameras just did not feel “finished”. Sure the lens on the X 113 was and is a Summilux f/1.7 but even so, the fact it was not full frame and had no EVF/VF killed it for me and while IQ was stunning I remember telling myself..“if Leica releases a full frame version of this with a nice fast lens and EVF, look out”!

Enter the new Leica Q

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Well, they have now done just that with the new Leica Q. The Q is a 24 MP full frame camera with a beautiful sensor that can shoot up to ISO 50,000. It has a built in EVF that is quite good and a great LCD on the back. It is not a rangefinder, nor is it an interchangeable lens camera, it has a great fixed lens.  So while it is not the true Mini M we had asked for, it is damn close.

The menus are very M 240 like and very clean and simple. The Lens is a 28 Summilux f/1.7. Not sure why they chose 28mm instead of 35 but I enjoyed having that slight bit of “extra” as I have been getting more and more in to the 28mm focal length. It shoots HD video and man, the color out of this camera is SO SO DELICIOUS. Best color I have seen from any camera since the original X Vario. Always been a fan of the color from the X line, and this Q keeps that color but improves on it slightly.

My 1st look video on the Leica Q. Check it out…

So yes…

I have used and shot with the new Q, and it is beautiful. In fact, for Leica, it changes everything as we now have a full frame M shaped body with fixed lens and EVF all in a pretty polished and finished feeling camera with gorgeous Leica like IQ, pretty fast AF and simple operation. 

YOU must click the images below to see them correctly. DO NOT judge them from these resized soft samples. Click ’em to see them larger and better. 

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While only having this camera for a whopping three days, I managed to take it with me EVERYWHERE I went over those three days as I wanted to get as much use with it as possible so I could write this review after having 72 hours with the Q, and wow, for the 1st time in years I am truly “wowed” by a Leica camera that is not an M version! This is good, for all of us and for Leica. 

This little Q has most things I/WE have been begging Leica to make for the past few years:

1. A full frame sensor and a damn good one. The color, detail and tones this camera can produce is stunning. It has the true Leica look with the full frame sensor and fast glass attached. It renders much like an X or X Vario but with the full frame look and rich files.

2. It has a built in EVF, and it is a good one. FINALLY! No need to add on that huge external ugly $600 EVF.

3. It has a fast 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, and it is astounding in quality giving that same Leica X vibe but with a creamier rendering and faster aperture.

4. They kept it shaped and styled like an M. This is good as it keeps with the classic Leica design and feel. 

5. The camera is simplicity  – we have a shutter button, aperture on the lens, a macro feature (on lens), fantastic manual focus or pretty fast and snappy auto focus, and an exposure compensation dial (something the M doesn’t even have) and shutter speed dial. We have a movie button as well, and a great LCD on the back. This camera is beautiful in every way and I so want one. In fact, as soon as I tried it I contacted Ken Hansen ([email protected]) and said “Leica’s next new camera, put me on the list for whatever it is and whenever it comes out”. Seeing that I signed an NDA I could not utter the words “Leica Q”..so I hope he knew what I meant! 

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Here are the official stats, direct from Leica:

• 24-megapixel, full frame, CMOS sensor precisely matched to its lens. The Leica Q delivers richly detailed pictures with almost noise-free, richly detailed pictures at ISO settings up to 50.000.

• Fastest autofocus in the compact full-frame camera class. Precision focusing in real time.

• High speed burst shooting. The newly developed processor from the Leica Maestro II series sets an enormous pace in this category with continuous shooting at a rate of ten frames per second at full resolution.

• Integrated 3.68-megapixel electronic viewfinder. The highest resolution viewfinder of its kind displays both the fixed 28 mm view along with focal lengths of 35 mm and 50 mm on demand.

• Conveniently placed functions provide instant access to all the essential controls needed when taking a photo. Not only can you control the focus manually, but the Q is also equipped with a touchscreen that can select a focus point with a simple touch of the fingertip.

• Ability to save two versions of the photograph. The JPEG image files are saved in the selected framing, while the RAW files in DNG format preserve the entire field captured by the 28 mm lens.

• Video recorded in full HD. Depending on the scene, users can choose between 30 and 60 frames per second for video recording in MP4 format. The video setting also features a wind-noise filter which guarantees crystal-clear sound.

• A WiFi module for wireless transfer of still pictures and video to other devices. The app also allows you to remotely control settings such as aperture and shutter speed from your smart phone or tablet. The free Leica Q app to access these features is available on both the App Store and Google Play Store for iOS and Android.

• Free downloadable Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6. This processing software offers a comprehensive range of functions to enhance and edit your Leica Q images.

• Full range of accessories. Just like the camera, every item in the range of accessories and technical equipment for the Leica Q is functionally designed for easy handling and manufactured from only the finest materials to ensure versatility, reliability, and durability.

The Leica Q, priced at $4,250. 

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This mini review will be full of my thoughts on the camera and light on the comparison tests as I only had it for 3 days, and did not have time to do loads of comparisons. In fact, those three days felt like 6 hours..it went by so fast. When you are doing something you love and adore, time flies.

What I can tell you is that this Leica Q is stunning in almost every way. Every time I snapped a photo with it and saw it on my display at home my jaw would drop at the color and overall character of this lens and sensor combination.

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Shots that I thought were bad, soft or just not good turned out to be fantastic. I experienced no issues with focus, dynamic range, speed, reliability or ANYTHING. I was having a blast shooting this camera as it was such a joy to shoot. In many ways I felt like I was walking around with a true MINI M, but with an EVF and AF and fixed lens. It was a beautiful thing and when a camera is such a joy to shoot, you just want to shoot, shoot and shoot more. This happens with some cameras and not very often. The M gives me that feeling, the Olympus E-M1 does as well. The Sony RX1, which this camera is VERY close to, does as well.

It is silent, stealthy and also has a touch screen LCD if you want to shoot by tapping the screen and pick you focus point. Works very well. Leica has finally caught up. :)

I loved the Sony RX1 and even made it my camera of the year when it was released. It had that special MoJo about it and it delivered amazing rich quality files. How does the Q stand up to the now 3 year old RX1?

Well, it not only stands up to it, it exceeds it in a many ways and says  “I’m the new premo fixed lens full frame mirrorless champ”! That is in NO WAY knocking the Sony, as it is still today a legend, a beauty and a camera capable of amazing things, better than most modern day cameras. It does need an update though with a built in EVF, better battery life, faster AF, etc. Maybe Sony is working on it right as I type these words ;)

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But yes, Leica delivers here and gives us a TRUE German made Leica with TRUE Leica images quality and design. Adding the full frame sensor really changed everything as full frame offers richer color, better dynamic range and in many cases better “everything”. It’s a camera that gave me no quirks, issues or problems during my little 3 days with it. The IQ is very different from the Sony RX1 image quality which I felt was organic, rich, delicate but beautiful and WOW. The Leica Q delivers snappier color, a wider angle lens that is slightly faster, and a crispness that I see in Leica X files but with a full frame character. In other words, the IQ is fantastic.

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Back to the old RX1..yes, I feel the Q beats the Sony RX1 in many ways. Body style, built in EVF instead of external, AF speed is a bit faster with the Q, manual focus the Q wins as it is just as joyful to Manual Focus as use Auto Focus. Manual Focus feels like true manual focus here.

The other areas where the Q wins for me is color performance and “SNAP”! These Leica files just pop with a crispness and bite that give it that “WOW” factor. Exposure is usually dead on or slight overexposed to give it some glow, and the focus locks on quick with 100% accuracy.

YOU MUST click the images here to see them in much better quality. DO not judge the IQ of these files unless you click them 1st!

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Leica seems to have finally created the camera many of us have wanted for so long. Like a true digital Leica CM.  Even in the dark, just shooting by firelight, the new Q had no issues with AF or getting the shot. The camera has an impressive ISO range and while not one of those night time high ISO kings, the Q does a decent job for being a Leica…a brand that seems to lag behind in the high ISO race. Even shooting at ISO 4000 in the dark yielded nice results.

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So finally Leica has created the camera I begged for since the original Leica X1. They have come a long way since that little slow poke of a camera that did so well for them. NOW we have a fully featured, matured and highly capable camera that I can see many enthusiasts wanting as it will be much less expensive than buying a true M 240 or M-P and a lens. Maybe 60% cheaper.

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The camera has no issue with sharpness or detail or color…

More images below that when clicked on will show you the color, detail and pop that the Q puts out.

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ISO Performance

Below are some samples from ISO 1600 to 50,000. When I get the camera for a longer loan (or when I own it) I will do a more comprehensive set of tests and comparisons. But take al look and click the images below to get them to pop up larger.

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My Final word on the Leica Q after my 3 Day Evaluation

The new Q is not cheap. Leica never ever is and while I was hoping for $3500 (I feel that would have been PERFECT and sold a ton of these for Leica), it appears the Q comes in at $4250, about $750 over my “hoped for” price. Yep, $4250. True Leica style ;) I loved my time with the Q. It felt nice (though not nearly as solid as an M), it looked nice and it shot like a dream. Quick (Though not Sony A6000 quick), and a joy to use and shoot. It inspired me, gave me excitement to want to go out and shoot and that is one way I judge a camera. If it makes me WANT to go shoot with it, then it is a winner in all ways to me.

The Leica Q does just that and if you have a spare $4250 and always have wanted a true Leica, the time is now as the Q has landed. You will get “better than M 240” quality with better color, more crispness and more pop. The lens is, after all, designed for  the sensor and camera body. It’s a perfect match. Now to see what Sony comes up with…RX2 on the way? Hmmm.

Keep in mind the original RX1 was $2795 without the EVF which set us back an additional $450. So the Q is priced about $1000.00 over the RX1 and EVF at launch, beats the RX1 in mist ways, and is a true German made Leica. When you look at it like that, the price is fair for being Leica. To those who will moan about the cost, you must not know how Leica operates, it is normal and yes I feel this Q will indeed be the one  that breaks Leica’s slow streak.

At least I hope so, it is a lovely camera worthy of the Leica badge.

For now, I will say the Q is the best mirrorless fixed lens camera made today if IQ, beauty and simplicity are at the top of your list.

The only way this would have been better is if they made it in a body only version for $3500. Then we could have added our M lenses to the Q for more options. Then again, why would Leica kill M sales by releasing a Q version at half price? They wouldn’t , and there ya have it.

Below are pre-order options for the new Leica Q, all from dealers I highly recommend and use myself…

B&H Photo Pre-Order the Q

Ken Hansen – E-mail him [email protected]

PopFlash.com

Leica Store Miami

BEST THING about Pre-Orders? You are not charged until it ships, it is cancelable at any time, and you are 1st to get it ;)

A few more snaps I shot with the Q before I had to send it back…click them for better versions! 

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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 7 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 dedicated 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.

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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, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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Jun 032015
 
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When Leica announced the M60

By Kristian Dowling – http://kristiandowling.com

My Leica M quest started some 22 years ago with the Leica M6 (classic). I haven’t shot film for over 12 years, and in this time I have developed an insecurity that has been derived from digital technology, allowing me to view images immediately after pressing the shutter button. This insecurity has led to many missed opportunities, missed moments, and ultimately – missed shots, and this results in a form of failure. Sure, I’ve learned to accept this failure by knowing that the security of ‘being sure’ I have the shot saved on a plastic card is reassuring enough to understand it’s all worth it…..but what if the LCD was taken away?

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When Leica announced the M60 (LEICA M EDITION “LEICA 60”), the news was met with a lot of mixed emotions. Its claim to fame is that it is the only Leica M camera ever made in complete Stainless Steel. Described by Leica as ‘The essence of photography’, and ‘an homage to the art of photography’, you wouldn’t really understand unless you shot with a Leica film rangefinder camera…..or with the M60. Why? Because they decided to remove what’s most valuable feature to the modern photographer. The one thing we all rely on, and the one thing that makes us insecure when shooting – the LCD. Now I know what you’re all thinking. “I’m not insecure because I use the LCD. I don’t NEED the LCD. Why would they remove it, when it’s the one feature that completes a digital camera and truly makes it useful?” – let me answer that shortly.

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There were 600 Leica M60 packages produced, and they’re almost completely sold out now, yet I haven’t seen many photographers out shooting with them. This is a shame because while it is a highly collectible camera, it’s also designed to be a ‘shooters’ camera, and in my opinion, begs to be used! I first came into contact with the unique camera in Singapore recently, where my good friend Alwyn Loh showed me his new baby. When placed into my hands I could not believe the feel of it. Super solid, sharp lines, more heft than any M, and looks to die for. The finish on the camera is impeccable and really shows that Leica has maintained their standard of first class finishing into the 20th century.

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A week later in Bangkok, one of my friends, Lawrence Becker pulls out what looks like an M60, only he tells me it’s ‘not quite an M60’. Upon further investigation I see that it’s actually an M60 prototype, 9 of only 11 made, with matching lens and body. The beauty of purchasing Leica packages like this is that you can be assured that the body and lens are calibrated perfectly to each other, ensuring ultimate calibration, and perfect image quality. After doing some research I haven’t been able to find any information that points out the differences between the prototype and the M60, so felt there’s only one thing left to do – shoot!

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The design of the M60 is minimalistic and clean. There is nothing on there that is not essential to basic picture taking. The shutter release has no option for soft release, and there are no lugs, so there is no way to attach a strap, unless you use the included leather case/strap combo, or buy an aftermarket strap that attaches to the tripod socket on the bottom plate. As there is no LCD (replaced by ISO selector), there are no menu options. There is no way to select white balance (AWB only), but there is a button allowing you to see how many frames you have left, as well as battery percentage in the viewfinder – very smart, and needed. All files are recorded in RAW only.

In the hands, the camera feels like no other digital camera I’ve handled before. It is the same thickness and shape as the current M240, yet has a higher weight, and the edges are much sharper. The covering is grippy and really well done, with little grove cut-outs I’ve not seen on an M camera before. The finish is smooth to touch, and doesn’t show finger prints, unless you have a lot of oil on your hands. Put simply, it’s the best-finished digital M to date, possibly alongside the M9Ti.

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Walking around carrying this exquisite piece of Stainless Steel in your hands comes with an initial fear of dropping it, and exposing the steel underneath the finishing. After a while, the fear turned into confidence once I got my feet wet and snapped a few frames. After using standard M’s all my life there is something special about carrying around such a unique piece of machinery. Sure, it’s essentially an M240, but the heft, finish and rarity instil a feeling of excitement too.
The M60 is designed to feel and function like a film camera, with the versatility of being about to record images in digital. Where the LCD is usually positioned, on the back cover, you now find the old ISO selection wheel, completing the film-camera look and feel.

When shooting, the first thing I noticed was the shutter. I assume it’s the same in all-digital M240 variants, but what changes is the sound. Due to the acoustics of the stainless steel frame, the shutter sounds sharper, faster and quieter. The next thing you notice is that what made you insecure when shooting is no longer present, and now you’re in withdrawal. It’s an empty feeling knowing that you cannot view the picture you just took, especially when you know you’re using a digital camera. At that moment, I’d never felt more insecure shooting, ever.

Upon shooting my next few frames, Déjà vu struck! I began to reminisce about the good old days where I would shoot without thinking about the camera, or the photos. Photography was ‘all about shooting’, and not reviewing, and now I could be free of my insecurity and be 100% in the moment. I can’t explain how refreshing this feeling was. Needless to say, I was happy, and felt my love for photography starting to re-evolve. I know it sounds corny, but wow, what a feeling of relief.

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The next question I asked myself was ‘what do I do about exposure?’ In the past I used a handheld meter and rarely relied on the built in meter. Sure it is good as a guide but it’s certainly not 100% trustworthy because it meters off reflected light, and not the actual ambient light falling onto my subject/scene. Since moving to digital, I’ve never used a light meter in a camera. My 22 years shooting in manual with a hand held meter allowed me to record a mental database of exposures I recall and input into my camera……but, I usually use my LCD to confirm I am correct, or at least close, then adjust accordingly.

Seeing there is no option here, I would have to rely on my mental database, and use the built-in meter as a guide if I was unsure, as I had no access to a handheld meter at the time. Once I became comfortable with this, I was free to shoot without concern. I only had about an hour with the camera, but in this time I could see why Leica took a chance and created the M60. From the very beginning, Leica cameras have always been about keeping things simple, and putting total control into the hands of the user, without gimmicky functions getting in the way or becoming a distraction. The less the user has to think about the camera, the more they can focus on the moment and capturing it with total focus and concentration.

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I even noticed that interacting with subjects is easier because they can see that I’m not looking at my camera to review images, and this has a huge effect on my ability to get what I need from a situation. While there are a lot of benefits from sharing the images with subjects during a shoot, there are a lot more benefits of not sharing, especially in street and documentary scenarios.

The M60 (prototype) is ALL about the experience of shooting – taking photographs in the exact same way as you would with film, yet with the advantage of being able to view, edit and distribute the images immediately with convenience of digital technology. The results were pin sharp, as sharp as I’ve ever seen from a 35/1.4 ASPH on any Leica M, somewhat like the pin-sharp results from an M-Monochrom. Again, this shows how important it is to have a lens and body perfectly calibrated to obtain the best possible image quality.

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From my limited experience, I believe the M60 concept is a winner. Not just for collectors, but for those who value top quality Leica products – along with the added benefits of shooting in such a pure way. The price of the kit has just dropped by 12%, and there are some good deals to be had. Worst case, in years to come, the lens alone will hold the value of the kit, considering there are no more stainless steel lenses/kits like this produced.

Blending the worlds of analogue and digital may sound like a stretch on paper, but in reality it really proved to be a rewarding experience, and one I would love Leica to pursue further. I’m not saying they should remove the LCD’s from all their cameras, but it would be nice to see them releasing a version of the M without an LCD to cater to those who value the true and traditional M shooting experience. I know for me, it’s a very good fit for those times I want to shoot and be completely in the moment and focused the way I’m supposed to be.

Kristian Downling

http://kristiandowling.com

You can buy the M60 from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) or Leica Store Miami.

May 202015
 
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In loving memory of first Leica Mono!

By Massimiliano

Dear Brandon and Steve

Here is Massimiliano from Rome, again!

Now that the second release of the Leica Monochrome is on the shelf I would like to remember the still fantastic first Leica Mono that at its arrival seems to be a strange tools for freaks and rich (more than standard Leica users…) B&W lovers. Many jokes on camera’s price instead of the few dollar to buy a used SLR and many rolls of films, but indeed who has the chance to own or use for a while this tool as me it has remained astonished by the quality of the camera. I was at the time a Leica M9 owner so ready to use a “downgraded” version of my camera , but realistically what I had in my hands for the Rome’ Fashion week of 2013 was an incredible instrument to catch the very real moment of models and workers. In fact at the time I was working on a personal project on the Fashion’s market and in detail on what is hidden in the background (or better in the backstage). So for me was important to have a discrete tool (a large DSLR was too cumbersome) able to manage properly low light. M9 was good enough but Mono was incredible, with 90mm summicron III version I was able to do my job without problem and this is what a photographer want.

I was impressed by this camera that I always regret to share files via web or Facebook because the compressed JPG does not give the right feeling on its file quality. Only print or big monitor can do.

It worth the money? Yes and probably the new Mono also, if its better than the first version as it looks like.

I think today is still a great piece of hardware and probably a good deal for many.

If you like to see more visit my works here : http://blog.massimilianotiberi.com/portfolio/alta-roma/

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May 182015
 
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New Leica Monochrom Typ 246, 1st Look Video & Samples

NOTE: YOU MUST click on the images here to see them correctly. If you do not, you are seeing resized and resampled softer images. Click them for larger size, and to see the correct sharpness. 

It has only been 2-3 days with the new Leica Monochrom but man, I can say with 100% authority that yes, for ME, this is a huge improvement over the last Leica Monochrom (M9) in EVERY way from file quality, to body, to features, to battery, to LCD, to Rangefinder, to the modern features like video and live view (which I will most likely not use). Just as the M 240 did over the M9, the new Monochrom Typ 246 does the same over the old M9 Monochrom.

The new MM 246 with my $30 Jupiter 8 50mm f/2 lens. The MM works well with old, cheap, classic lenses. Click for much better version!

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Now..before anyone gets in a HUFF over my words, as I know there are many die-hard fans of the original Monochrom and M9, what I say here is MY opinion, for my uses and needs. To me, and many others, this new MM is a full mature camera, a niche camera of course, but a full mature camera capable of astounding B&W imagery. It is like having an all B&W camera loaded with EVERY B&W film ever made, as your files can be made to resemble many B&W films. Of course digital will never replicate the look of film, but I feel what this camera can do…well, let’s just say I think it can output BETTER than film, without the hassle, costs and time involved. Personally, I would not choose a B&W film over a Monochrom 246 if given the choice. Of course, others will disagree, the film crowd.

A quick test shot after getting the new MM. 75 Summarit, f/2.4 – click it  to see it how it is supposed to be seen

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I feel the new MM is fantastic. It has the amazing battery life of the 240, the MUCH improved LCD, the MUCH improved menu system, quieter shutter, faster operation and larger buffer, increased DR (yes, it has more DR than the previous MM) and much improved high ISO performance. It is now 24 MP vs 18 MP and while the old MM was a detail MONSTER, I am not so sure yet if this one offers any advatage in resolution. This is something I have not seen, but will have to test.

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When it comes to IQ, the differences are that the new MM has files that are more creamy and rich, where the previous MM had files that were more RAW and hard. Just as those who moved to the M 240 from the M9, if moving from the old MM to the new MM, there will be a period of 1-2 weeks of solid use where you will need to get used to the differences.

Another with the little Jupiter lens at f/2.8 – click for better view

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I can say that the files from the new MM are much easier to process. With the old version, there was a learning curve. The new version seems much easier to get where you want to go when “developing” those RAW files.

This is NOT MY REVIEW, I repeat, this is NOT my review. This is simply my very 1st thoughts after having the camera for 2-3 days. My review will be up after I get to use the hell out of it with carious lenses. I’d say 2-3 weeks.

For now, take a look at my 1st look video of the new MM. Enjoy. My MM came from Ken Hansen, you can email him here for your Leica needs. You can also order the new MM at PopFlash, The Pro Shop B&H Photo, or Leica Store Miami. The new MM is $7450, a bit cheaper than the previous which came in at $7995.

Apr 302015
 

The New Leica M Typ 246..or “The New Monochrom”

Seems the rumors were all true! The new Leica M 246, or “New Monochrom” has just been announced by Leica and it is basically what we all thought it would be..an M 240 body with an all new 24MP Monochrom CMOS sensor. No more CCD as with the M9 to 240. This new Monochrom appears to be a beauty. Me, I ADORE and LOVE my M 240 body. For me it kills the Leica M9 body in so many ways from feel, shutter sound, LCD, battery life. quality of controls and the way they feel, menu, RF frame lines and so much more. It is for me, the best digital M body ever designed so I am thrilled to see it make its way to the new Monochrom.

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The big question many have is “will this give the same amazing B&W as the previous CCD version”? That remains to be seen as I haven’t seen one, tested one or tried one. I should be able to soon. Expected to ship in just a couple of weeks, around mid May the new Monochrom 246 comes in at $7,450 and as before will be a niche camera that users will cherish and adore. Many do not understand the concept of a B&W only camera but it does have its benefits for sure. The previous M Monochrom put out B&W files that no other camera could match for B&W purists. It was truly the digital version of film, but instead of being stuck with one film, you could get the looks of many types of film. Of course, NO DIGITAL will ever replicate real film, but we can get in the ballpark.

You can see some 1st samples over at the Red Dot Forum, and to my eye, they look fabulous. 

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Some specs:

Outstanding imaging performance with low noise up to ISO 25,000
Live-View and focus peaking
Large buffer memory and Leica Maestro processor
High quality full-HD video function
Easy to use – reduced to the essentials
Body made of high-strength magnesium alloy and solid brass top and base plates finished in black chrome
Sapphire crystal glass cover plate and 3” monitor
Access to a wide range of M lenses from 16 – 135 mm
New filters solely for the Leica M Monochrom widening creative possibilities
Compatible with all accessories for the Leica M (Typ 240)
Access to R lenses with Leica M-Adapter-R for pictures and video
Adobe Lightroom available as a download
Made in Germany

I think the new M 246 Monochrom will be amazing, but I love Leica. I love their cameras. I love how they work, how they feel and that they are the most beautiful cameras made today for 35mm full frame.

Expensive, yes. Worth it? Maybe, that depends on you. Oh, it also now shoots video..only in B&W of course :) 

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You can pre-order the new Monochrom from Legendary Leica Dealer Ken Hansen by e-mailing him at [email protected].

You can also pre-order at the Pro Shop for Photographers, PopFlash.com and Leica Store Miami. 

I wil not be able to buy one but I should be able to test one as I have already spoken with Leica, so look for info soon from me with samples. How soon? Probably a couple of weeks.

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE:

Leica Unveils Its New M Monochrom Camera,
Taking Digital Black-and-White Photography to New Levels

Fresh Features Focus on Unsurpassed Imaging Performance, Rich Details,
Peak Low-Light Capabilities, HD Video Capability and Live View Options

April 30, 2015 – Leica Camera introduces the new Leica M Monochrom (Type 246) today, the next step in its hugely successful digital black-and-white photography concept for the Leica M rangefinder camera system. The new Leica M Monochrom, the first and only digital camera to enable a real black and white image – still or moving – without image processing or filtering, will be available May 2015.

“With never-before-seen imaging performance, outstanding low-light capabilities, and richness of detail, the new Leica M Monochrom surpasses the high standards set by its predecessor,” said Roland Wolff, VP of Marketing and Corporate Retail for Leica. “At the same time, it keeps its primary aim sharply in focus: black-and-white images with top quality across the board.”
Thanks to its high-capacity 2GB-buffer memory and Leica Maestro processor, the new Leica M Monochrom captures sequences three times faster than its predecessor. The new processor also enables extremely fast display of the captured images in review mode, making the new Monochrom even more versatile.
The Leica M Monochrom follows the successful route taken by the Leica M and captures decisive moments with 24-megapixel resolution. The monochrome CMOS sensor produces exceptionally sharp pictures at all sensitivity settings up to ISO 25000. As the M Monochrom has no color filter array over the sensor, it requires no interpolation for the calculation of luminance values. The result is 100% sharper images with brilliance and detail contrast that far exceeds what color photography can do.
The new Leica M Monochrom can also capture high-quality full-HD video in black and white. The optional Leica microphone adapter set, comprising an adapter and a stereo microphone, ensures perfect sound. The high-resolution 3″ monitor with 921,600 pixels ensures that photographers have complete control of composition, exposure, focusing and depth of field.
Moreover, the camera now offers full visual control with its Live View function, which provides two focusing methods: the up to 10x magnification of Live View Zoom mode, enabling full control of the sharpness of details in the image on the monitor or the closest focusing distance; and Live View Focus Peaking mode, where sharply focused edges in the image are highlighted by colored lines.

Another advantage of the new CMOS sensor is that, in addition to the M-Lens portfolio, almost all lenses of the Leica R series can now be used with an optional adapter on the Leica M Monochrom to expand the creative capabilities of the Leica rangefinder system, as is also the case with the Leica M. Additionally, all equipment and accessories from the Leica M series are compatible with the new Leica M Monochrom.

Other new features include:
• Nearly unbreakable sapphire crystal cover glass for the LCD monitor, treated with an anti-reflection protective coating to ensure precise assessment of images in any lighting situation.
• A body manufactured from high-strength magnesium alloy, with a top- and baseplate made from solid brass blanks and finished in black chrome.
• New yellow, orange and green filters, available in July.

About Leica Camera
Passion for creating perfect pictures. Leica represents a union of craftsmanship, design and experience. It is a beautiful collision of art and engineering, and the future of form and functionality. Leica Camera is an internationally operating, premium-segment manufacturer of cameras and sport optics products. The legendary status of the Leica brand is founded on a long tradition of excellence in the supreme quality and performance of cameras and lenses, and the iconic images that artists and photojournalists everywhere captured with them. Leica Camera AG is headquartered in Wetzlar, Germany.

For more information about Leica visit www.leica-camera.com

So what do YOU think about the new Leica Typ 246 Monochrom? Leave your comments below! 

Apr 152015
 

West Coast Monochrom

by Phillipp Wortmann

These are photographs taken along the California West Coast during a trip in march 2015. The route was roughly LA – San Clemente – Joshua Tree – Morro Bay – Big Sur – Santa Cruz – Point Reyes – San Francisco.
As I like to keep it simple I brought only my M6, 35 Summicron IV and a bunch of Kodak TriX film. It doesn’t matter if it’s cameras, lenses or film – if I bring more than one I can never decide what to use so limiting myself in that way actually gives me a lot more peace of mind.

For the past year or so I have been almost exclusively shooting 35mm color film but for this trip I wanted to give the black and white another go. This decision was actually made a couple of weeks prior to the trip when I went through my archive and rediscovered some of my older black and white film photos. You can check my little user report on that HERE.

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Another reason for going with black and white was that I had already been to do southwestern US the year before where I shot all Kodak Portra 160. So to avoid ending up with very similar photos from two different trips using Kodak TriX 400 made sense. If you like you can see the color shots from last year here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157648794789646/

So overall the trip was a blast and although I didn’t shoot as much as I had hoped/planned/anticipated I’m really happy with some of the shots I got. I will probably need to find a darkroom to do some prints soon.

The entire album can be viewed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157651692347201/

You can also see more of my photos here: lifeon35.tumblr.com and instagram.com/derphilipppp/

Best regards and thanks for the opportunity to showcase my work!

Philipp

Apr 132015
 

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The NEW Leica Summarit Lenses. 35, 50, 75 and 90 2.4. Part 1.

These lenses were sent to me to review by Leica Dealer Ken Hansen. He has these and many other Leica items in stock, so email him if interested at [email protected].

**This review will be in two parts. This part will mainly focus on the 35 and 50 with a few 75 samples thrown in. I will show many images and talk about the character of the lenses. Part 2 will feature more 75 and 90 and go over my final thoughts on the Summarit line as well as some comparisons. So my conclusion, comparisons, and more images will be in part 2 in about 1-2 weeks. Enjoy!**

1st, a video showing the Summarits with my new Safari Leica M-P 240 

Man, these brand new 2015 Summarit lenses from Leica REALLY surprised me, and these days it takes A LOT to Surprise me. The fit, the finish, the build, the design, the smoothness, the hood’s, the caps, the whole package with these little Summarit line has gotten better than ever before with the new improvements. Optically they are STUNNERS and IMO beat many of the classic Leica lenses. For example, I prefer the new 2.4 Summarit 50 to the older 50 Summicron f/2 (non APO). The 35 Summarit is TINY but STUNNINGLY sharp. The 75 is probably the coolest of the lot with its 2.4 aperture, close focusing distance of .7 and the slim slender profile. I loved the old summarit line (which are not really that old) that Leica introduced at the end of the M8.2’s life as they released them to create a more affordable lens for what would be the M9. They did a great thing with that lens line as they were Semi Affordable in Leica terms and they were fantastic performers. 

The new line is even better with a new design, new metal hood designs, new metal lens caps, new silver or black finish, improved optics, new closer focusing distances, and each lens comes with a real Leica leather case (the old line came with a bag). So the prices have went up from $2000-$2350 but they are still the least expensive REAL Leica lenses made today for the M and they give up nothing in performance to their more expensive siblings.

The 35, 50, 75 ad 90..look at the stunning silver finish. I am not a HUGE fan of the black focusing rings on the silver body but I would still choose Silver for my Safari M-P. 

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After shooting with the 35, 50, 75 and 90 I can say that I would love to own the 50 and 75 AND 90, but may end up buying the 50 for now, and one of the other telephoto options later. I own a 35 Summicron so do not need another 35 but man oh man. The details and color..some of these have that old M9 pop that many look for IMO – all from Leica’s latest and most affordable lens line for the M.

Click this image for a larger 1800 pixel size to see the details, and depth. This was with the 50 f/2.4 and it is STUNNING at any price. If Leica packaged this as an all new special 50 with a new name, they could have priced it at $3000. It is crisper than a Summilux, sharper and has better color than the old 50 Summicron, along with a smoother Bokeh and it is smaller and sleeker and looks amazingly beautiful on the camera. Click the image of the Cowboy to see the depth, detail and character of his face. Amazing lens. 

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When you view the above image, you will see that Leica pop and look from the contrast, sharpness, color and the WOW. It is in a class of it’s own. The gentle transitions from focus to out of focus is organic, the color is scrumptious and the glow is here as well. Take a look and click on the image below. From raw, wide open at f/2.4 on the new 50 Summarit.

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But let us keep going as I think I want to make this review more image based as the images are what tell the tale.

Click on the image below for a larger sized version. Here, you can see Leica’s color signature, the glow, the detail (see the eyes) and the smooth transition from sharp to butter. :) This 50 2.4 is a smashing lens. Many will feel they need a Summicron or Lux and they will miss out. Today, there is no need to spend more for better. Each Leica lens, the Summarit, Summicron and Summilux each have a different character, but ALL are stellar and better than any DSLR 50 ;) 

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The 35 Summarit inside at ISO 2000. Still crisp, still “leica” in the feeling. Nothing special about the image but it does show that even in dark indoor interiors the 35 Summarit and M 240 can pull it off.

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Always love old doors and this one was taken in Tombstone, AZ at an old abandoned building. The 35 now has a .8 meter close focus distance, is made to a higher standard, has improved optics and again, comes with metal hood, leather case and the full Leica treatment. This 35 goes for $2250, much less than the 35 Summicron or 35 Summilux. This lens feels amazing on the M. Small, solid, smooth focus. Not much more you could ask for. Click images for larger. 

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Another with the 35, right out of the camera (RAW)…

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The 50 has its own unique mojo and character that sets it apart from the Summicron and Summilux. I know of one guy who has ALL of the Leica 50;s and chooses which one he wants to shoot depending on what he is going for in looks. For me, the 50 Summarit provides a crisp and “perfect” style of image while not being analytical or hard in any way. Look at the image below. The man WAS this red as he had a slight sunburn and he was HOT wearing his MARSHALL uniform. The Leica did color here better than my A7II did the same day and place. So Leica has finally got the old color issues settled. Now I see Leica color I remember. 

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Another with the 50, which became the most used Summarit for me while having them all. I shot with the 90 the least as I never use 90 but it is beautiful none the less. Look again at the detail the Summarit gives as well as the overall character of the rendering. 

50cowboy

A quick grab shot this guy was a blast. He hung around all day dancing and playing his finger instruments. Never hounding anyone for money, just smiling for all who passed by. I used the 50 here again. 

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These two were on the street in the harsh AZ sun and I thought there is no way this image would come out OK. Usually these harsh sun images lead to faces in shadow, uneven exposure, etc. When I arrived home I was able to easily pull out the shadows on the faces while retaining highlights. 

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RICH reds here with the 50

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Again, the 50 shooting a happy young man on the Trolley Tour. LOVE the way the 50 renders images..so crisp and so colorful..with ACCURATE color. I think Leica enhanced these for use on the M 240 as the color that comes from these lenses is superb. 

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The 75 is a lens I have a love hate relationship with. Not because it is a bad lens, because it is SO GOOD and SO gorgeous, I want it. Problem is, I rarely use anything above 50. Even so, I will own this lens one day. I loved the old version of the 75 Summarit and this one is even better. Retains the Summarit look of crispness, great color, smooth transitions and this time with the new 75 we get .7 meter close focus, which is AWESOME. 

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Horse with the 75 in the direct sun. Look at how it handles the harsh light. Contrast is a but high but that is what gives these lenses the pop and 3D separation. 

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The local high school band from Nogales Mexico in Tombstone. They sounded great! The 75, even from across the street gave me detail, snap and pop. Color is spot on and the M handled the harsh light VERY well.

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I saw this lady having a BLAST watching the parade..she had her bubble machine and was getting the biggest kick out of it. She was enjoying life with a smile. I snapped this one with the 50..

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One more with the 50..love the dog ;) 

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Just a simple shot to show the detail and the Bokeh of the 75mm at 2.4

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…and a shot with a 100% crop from the 75 inside my home, no special light. Wide open at f/2.4. 

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It is safe to say that I am enjoying these Summarit lenses. I will be shooting over the next few days with the 75 and 90 more so my next report, which will be part 2, will go over these lenses more as well as a couple of comparison like the 35 Summarit vs the 35 Summicron vs the Zeiss 35 Loxia on the A7II.

REFERENCE: My old 35 Summarit review is HERE. My old 50 Summarit review is HERE. My old 90 Summarit review is HERE.

So that is all I have for now on these fantastic new lenses from Leica. ALL are stunning in their build, performance, styling and included accessories (Hood, caps, leather case, etc). The Summarits are now better than ever and are in no way handicapped by the more expensive line besides being a tad slower at f/2.4 vs f/2 or f/1.4.

If you want to save some cash and some weight, you will still get that Leica quality from the entire line of Summarit lenses. Watch for part 2 SOON which will have more on these beauties. Again, these came from Ken Hansen, email him and mention me for a GREAT buying experience ;) His email is [email protected].

MORE SOON!

Steve

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Apr 092015
 

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Leica M-P Safari Set & Summarit Lenses Hands On Video Overview

My Safari set came from PopFlash.com 

The Leica brand has always been known for crazy special edition versions of their M camera line. Some speculate they do them when they want to clear some stock of bodies (and paint them to match the special editions) and some just accept it as part of Leica’s way of doing business. Like it or not, Leica has a base of fans and buyers who LOVE the special edition sets. From the Titanium M7 and M9 to the Stainless Steel M 60 to the Safari sets that go back to even the R bodies.

My video look at the Safari and Summarit Lenses

I remember when Leica released the Safari M8.2 and I wanted it badly. At the time, it came with a silver 28 Elmarit and was under $10k if I remember correctly. I loved the Olive Drab color and thought it was a great looking camera while others thought it was tacky and ugly.

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When Leica released the M9 there were no Safari sets but they did release many M9 and M9-P special editions such as the all WHITE edition and the Hammertoe LE set. Today Leica has the Lenny Kravitz Correspondent edition as well as the new M-P 240 Safari and of course the M 60. Out of these sets, the best value is with the Safari because it actually comes in CHEAPER then if you were to buy the pieces in the set separate in a normal standard production run color.

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The M-P 240 is a Leica M-P 240 ($8000) with a Leica 35 Summicron f/2 Lens in Silver with an old school Lens hood and metal lens cap included. This lens in standard black will set you back $3200, so already with the M-P and 35 Cron we are looking at $11, 200. Add in the strap and accessories and you can easily add another $300. So say $11, 500. THAT is if you went out and bought a standard black or silver set yet this special limited run of Safari sets will set you back $9800, or in some cases a little less. So yes, it is odd that Leica did this as usually their special editions cost you MORE, by anywhere from $1000 to $10,000. So if you can deal with the Army green color you will save a couple thousand dollars, and have a limited edition to boot!

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The set is complete with an amazing display box, typical of Leica Special Edition cameras. Open the top box and you will see the camera in Olive green with silver knobs and dials. You will see a 35 Summicron with old school metal lens hood and metal cap. An exclusive Leica leather strap and wallet is also included. I acquired this set in a trade deal from POPFLASH.COM. They had six of these in stock when I acquired this one, not sure how many they have now but I do know the Safari set has sold pretty well considering Leica sales have been slowing lately (just due to not having anything new and WOW….yet).

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I like the fact that Leica did the Safari in the M-P style and not the standard M 240 style. So we get the Leica log engraved up top and the special Sapphire LCD as well. So if you have the itch for a new Leica M, and want to save a couple grand over a black or silver and do not mind the Olive Green, this set is actually the rare deal from Leica where you will spend less and get more. I think this may be a first ever. ;)

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This set came from PopFlash.com and they are a fantastic Leica dealer, highly recommended. Their Safari set page is HERE. You can also pick this up from Ken Hansen (email: [email protected]), Pro ShopLeica Store Miami and B&H Photo. 

Also, all four of the new Summarit lenses have come in for review, so you will see them here soon (they are also shown in the video above, beautiful set of lenses)

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Mar 242015
 

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LENS BATTLE: CANON  vs LEICA 

by Paul Bartholomew

Dear Steve

This is my second user report I’ve written for your great site but this one is quite different from my last one (An Englishman in New York).

I’ve been a Canon user for years having had a 5DMK II, a 7DMK I and the camera I shot for part of this review the excellent Canon 5D MKIII. I have a little Olympus E-PL 1 and a Canon G11 too but my pride and joy is my Leica M240. That camera is the second M I have owned having upgraded from an M9 about 18 months ago. And what an upgrade! I really can’t understand those who prefer the M9, the colours, the noise, the dynamic range – all much better on the M240 to my mind, with live view to boot with EVF support (this is important for this article).

I’m not exaggerating when I say the Leica M240 is the camera I had hoped the M9 would have been, but whenever I shot with the M9 I found the images a little muddy in their tones – like the files were missing some information – not so with the M240.

After bumping along happily with both the 5D MKIII and the Leica M240, I realised the Canon was mostly staying in its foam-lined drawer in my study, I preferred to shoot with the M240. This wasn’t something that had happened with the M9 – the 5D MKIII gave me better images, but not so when compared to the M240. So, I began to wonder whether I actually needed the 5D MKIII… Of course letting go of the body was one thing but letting go of the lenses was quite another. At this point in time I owned a 300mm f/2.8L (easy to get rid of, I seldom shoot long), a 24-105 f/4L – a nice enough lens but not one that I actually used that much, a 16-35mm f/2.8L II – a lens I was nervous to lose (the widest I had for the Leica was 28mm) and a 85mm f/1.2L II – a gem of a lens that I loved. These two lenses were the anchor of my Canon system – they were preventing me from moving on.

However, when I sat down and worked out how much I would get by selling the Canon kit new possibilities opened up, but first I needed to see whether I could fill the niches of my Canon anchor lenses with a couple of Leica compatible lenses. Here’s what I bought: For the wide end a Voigtlander 21mm f/1.9 and for the fast portrait niche a Leica 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R (with a Novoflex R to M adaptor) – my EVF for my little Olympus would be put to good use! These two lenses complemented my existing M lenses – a Zeiss 28mm f/2.8, a Jupiter 35mm f/2.8, a Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 (calibrated to f/1.5) and a Jupiter 85mm f/2. To be honest, I never really used the Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 that much – too long for street work and for portraits I found it to have too much contrast for my taste.

Once I’d secured the lenses I thought I would do a comparison shoot before I made a decision whether I could/should divest myself of the Canon kit (although by this point the 300mm had already gone). So, I booked a model that I’d worked with on previous occasions and set to work. Some notes first though… I’d never done a lens test before so apologies for any errors in the process I may have made, also – the M240 doesn’t record lens data from my non-coded lenses and estimates the aperture based on the exposure settings. In some of the pictures my model Holly is holding up fingers to help me record the aperture I was shooting at.

Long end first – the Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II @ f/2.8 at 21mm (TOP) vs the Voigtlander 21mm @ f/2.8 (Bottom) – click images for larger!

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Of course with all of the camera and lens changes, I forgot to let Holly know that the Canon would collect its own data! Indeed the EXIF data let me know that I was actually at 22mm, not 21mm.

I don’t think there is that much in it in terms of sharpness but the Canon lens shows less divergence of vertical. Nonetheless I prefer the tones from the Leica. I also think more shadow detail is captured, look at the purple sofa and Holly’s dress in the Leica/Voigt. combination. Unsurprisingly, both lenses show some chromatic aberration in the window frame.

At f/5.6 both lenses now have the chromatic aberration broadly under control:

Top is Canon, bottom is Voigtlander. Click images for larger!

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Differences in colour balance / colour rendering aside, the Leica/Voigt. combination seems to hold much more detail now and is much sharper at the edges of the frame, look at the green Tibetan chair-bed bottom left.

Peripheral sharpness picks up on the Canon at f/8 (TOP) but it is still outperformed by the Voigtlander (BOTTOM):

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This was enough to convince me that despite the 16mm to 21mm wide end variance, the Leica and Voigtlander would look after me. And…. The Voigtlander could shoot at f/1.9:

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I then went a little longer and compared the mid-range of the Canon with my Zeiss 28mm f/2.8. First, wide open. TOP is CANON, bottom is ZEISS, both at f/2.8:

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Here, it’s a mixed picture, more chromatic aberration in the window frame with the Canon but it is giving better shadow detail (look at the front of the cabinet) and it is sharper in the peripheries of the frame. The Zeiss is sharper in the middle and could be said to have greater contrast (the flip side of the lower shadow detail). I prefer the colours with the Leica/Zeiss combo though.

At f/5.6, the Canon looks really good, the chromatic aberration is under control , central sharpness is higher too. Slight exposure differences aside, the Canon is still showing less contrast than the Zeiss – which is now showing sharpness to rival the Canon right across the frame.

At f/8, it’s really only the higher contrast of the Zeiss that is separating them:

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So, after all that I felt I was OK at medium wide – especially give the relative sizes of the two setups!

Just for fun, I thought I’d compare the long end of the Canon 16-35mm with my diminutive vintage Soviet – the Jupiter 35mm f/2.8 – I was not expecting comparable images and the differences were clear at f/2.8. Canon on top, Jupiter and M on the bottom:

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The Canon, even wide open at the long end of its zoom range, seems to control chromatic aberration well and is offering significantly more contrast than when zoomed out. It’s pretty sharp right across the frame too. The Jupiter is another story altogether, unable to control the bright window light, the veiling flare lowers the contrast significantly and although centre sharpness is at least as high as with the Canon, it drops off drastically as we move away from the centre. Look at the candle on the left and even Holly’s feet on the right. I do like that vintage look though, it’s why I bought the lens.

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As shown above, at f/5.6 there’s little to complain about with the Canon and it is significantly sharper than the Jupiter everywhere, including in the centre of the frame. And although contrast and sharpness is better with the Jupiter than it was at f/2.8 it can’t keep up with the Canon. This is the same for f/8 too, as shown below. Canon is the 1st image, the Jupiter is the 2nd.

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Of course, the Jupiter was never going to be the equivalent of the Canon, but it is a fun little lens to have nonetheless. However, I may need to get myself a higher fidelity M lens if I want to shoot with precision at that focal length.

Now for what I think is probably the main event of this head-to-head review – a comparison of portrait lenses. Mainly, it’s about comparing the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II with the Leica 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R. But, I’m going to throw in the Soviet 85mm f/2 for good measure too.

First of all, at the widest common aperture of f/2, they really are quite different. The Canon is sharp and exhibits high contrast – it is crisp, as one might expect. But when you cast your eye from that image to the clearly softer and lower contrast Leica image, the Canon begins to look a little ‘crunchy’ – I wonder if others would agree? Then comes the Jupiter, like its 35mm cousin it is low in contrast, but nonetheless it does appear to be pretty sharp:

TOP: Canon 85 L at f/2, MIDDLE: Leica R 80mm at f/2, BOTTOM: Jupiter 85 at f/2

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At f/2.8 things aren’t particularly changed – same differences, perhaps just a little less extreme:

Canon, then Leica, then Jupiter

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Jupiter85mmf2.8

Of course, one really buys these lenses to shoot wide open – we’ve seen the Jupiter wide open but what about the other two? Firstly, both at f/1.4:

TOP: CANON – BOTTOM: LEICA

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I don’t believe the Canon is any sharper now – look at Holly’s eyes on both. The Canon still has more contrast, but I am struck by the sophistication of the Leica image – sharp and soft and the same time. Also, look at the decoration on the wall and the edge of the sunlight, the Canon is exhibiting some chromatic aberration. OK, let’s see the Canon at f/1.2 – that aperture is the reason for buying this lens after all:

Canon85mmf1.2

To me, on the eyes – this looks a bit sharper that the f/1.4 shot. I was shooting from a tripod but perhaps this is just the difference between hitting the eyeball with the focus point rather than the eyelashes. I just don’t know – although Holly’s mouth is sharper too.

All this out of camera comparison is a bit artificial though isn’t it? I’m never going to shoot models (or any portraits for that matter) without editing – I pretty much edit everything. So, given that – if I had to work on the three wide open images from each lens (I pretty much always shoot portraits wide open), what do I get? I’ve deliberately over-edited a little – particularly the eyes (using a detail extractor) because I wanted to see what information was there to be had and to share it with you. They are all edited slightly differently but with the aim of them bringing the best out of the lenses while getting them to a fairly similar end point:

1st CANON, 2nd LEICA, 3rd JUPITER – all wide open

Canon85mmf1.2Edited

leica80mmf1.4Edited

Jupiter85mmf2Edited

I found the results surprising. The ‘crunchiness’ of the Canon (something I’d have never attributed to it prior to putting it against the Leica) was difficult to overcome. Transitions between light and shade seemed to accentuate really easily in the edit and I found the highlights difficult to control too (perhaps related to the sensor rather than the lens). The Leica on the other hand is, I think, quite beautiful – I’ve been able to reveal the sharpness of the lens (look at the eyes) but the softness and smoothness puts the Canon to shame – at least in my view. Then there’s the Jupiter – a dark horse: with a careful edit, it performs really well. Given that it cost me less than 5% of either the Canon (new) or Leica (used) that’s remarkable. I should say I used the EVF for both the Jupiter and the Leica. The Leica isn’t coupled so that was a must, but my Jupiter was designed for another camera and can be a bit focus shifted on an M.

For me the quality of the Leica has surprised me and shows that sharpness on its own can leave you wanting. This test allowed me to be happy to let the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II go, and with it the 5D III and the other lenses too. That’s allowed me to buy a Sony A7 II, a Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, a Voigtlander close focus M to E adaptor and a Canon 50mm f/0.95 rangefinder coupled lens, which I will get back in a few days when its conversion to M mount is done. I’ve also bought a dinky Nippon Kogaku (Nikkor) 5cm f/1.4 SC for a bit of fun after having let my Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar go too. I’m finding I’m preferring a more classic low contrast look nowadays. So with those bits of kit and some LTM to M adapter rings, I can use all but the Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 on both cameras and I’ve kept some autofocus capability for shooting moving targets too. Additionally, I think the A7 II with its in-body stabilisation might be useful for some low light work when the need calls.

Altogether I feel I have gained flexibility from making the change.

A final word on the Leica 80mm f/1.4 though… It might not stay. I love how it looks, I’ve included a couple of real (non-test) shots below, but as an R lens it is a bit of a pain to use. Shooting it wide open requires precise focus and it doesn’t exhibit enough contrast for focus peaking to be effective so focusing through the EVF (it can’t be done any other way) needs to be done in zoom. Since there is no coupling, this requires the button on the front of the camera to be pressed, the eyes located, precise focus found (without peaking), the button pressed again to de-zoom, and the frame recomposed. By which time your subject is frustrated. As am I.

So there you have it, a long and rambling lens comparison posting that started out as an exercise for me to inform myself. I hope sharing it will be of interest to others too. I’m not sure how many comparisons between those particular portrait lenses are out there – I haven’t come across any.

At the moment then, I’m really looking forward to getting the 0.95 Canon back, something I wouldn’t have been able to justify buying without selling on the Canon SLR kit and I do feel broadly happy with the lenses I have. I may yet get a stronger 35mm and I may yet swap out the Leica R too.

So, thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with a couple of shots that I made with the 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R. After all, I may not be keeping it for long…

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I hope this reads alright Steve. I’ll send the images on in following emails – it might take two or three.

I hope you will be able to let me know whether you think it is suitable – I hope it is!

Cheers

Paul

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From Steve: As always, for your Leica needs I recommend Ken Hanson, PopFlash.com and LeicaStoreMiami.com

Jan 192015
 

My Time With the wonderful Leica M8.2

By Justin Halim

Hello everyone!  I’m a long-time reader of Steve’s site and I’d like to share my experiences with the most influential digital camera I ever owned – the Leica M8.2.  I really can’t describe just how excited I am to write this post, as nothing I am about to write about would ever have happened if not for Steve’s site.

First some background:

A few years ago, I was starting to really get into photography with my new Canon T2i.  I loved that thing and was shooting mainly macro and still life, just learning the basics about exposure.  However, one day I was rummaging around and happened to find a Leica M6 and 50mm Summicron (in perfect condition) in my father’s cabinet.  He had completely forgot he had it, so he gave it to me.  I had always heard about Leica and its status, so I couldn’t have been happier, or luckier for that matter.  After putting a few rolls of film put through it, I was in love.

Fast-forward a couple of years; I was finishing my sophomore year of high school.  The M6 had followed me everywhere, but it was getting difficult to justify the cost of shooting primarily film (I didn’t have a job), and using the Canon just wasn’t the same after using the Leica.  So, I began toying with the idea of a digital M to get the best of both worlds – the convenience of digital, and the experience of shooting a Leica rangefinder.  I researched the M9, and was immediately turned away by the price ($6000 at the time).  Discouraged by the M9, I looked into the M Monochrom, thinking a B&W camera would be cheaper (I was pretty naïve).  Let’s just say I was disappointed once again.  I had never felt so discouraged, until one day I remembered that, numerically speaking, there must have been an M8!

With newfound hope, I did more research, but was again discouraged to find countless reviews bashing the M8, particularly for its “lack of features.” I lost hope of ever owning a digital Leica. But one day, I found Steve’s site, which had many glowing reviews of the M8.  As I read them, I began to realize that these were the first “real-world” reviews I had found of the M8, from real photographers, and not some clinical spec chart from pixel peepers.  And every single one of those reviews praised the M8 for its unique shooting experience, which was exactly what I wanted.  However, what really sold me were the pictures taken with it, which looked so much like the images I took with my M6.  Now I had my mind set on an M8.
So over the summer before junior year, I got a job and worked 60 hours/week to save up for an M8, which was a much more realistic $2000.  By the end of the summer, I had saved enough not only for the M8, but an M8.2, which I found for a great price.  I also managed to scrape enough for a Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 II (for landscapes) and Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 II (general purpose), to accompany my 50 Summicron (for portraits).

m8.2

The camera:

I won’t go too in-depth with this, as just about every other M8 (and every other M) review covers this, but this was perhaps the most solid and attractive camera I have ever owned, aside from my M6.  Compact, sturdy, and beautiful.  I had the M8.2 black version, which adds the sapphire screen, black paint, and quieter shutter.  The M8.2 just exudes stealth and beauty.  No one would see or hear me shooting with it, which made it the perfect street photography/candid camera.  If people did notice it, they were always  intrigued by it and loved having their pictures taken (Leicas are a surprisingly good way to make friends).  One especially nice quality was how clear the rangefinder was, which was much brighter than the one in my M6.  But what was most important was how surprisingly versatile the M8 was. With the 15mm Heliar, the M8 makes an astounding landscape/architecture camera – the rangefinder is especially useful when using ND filters since the viewfinder doesn’t black out when filters are mounted, which can be a problem for SLRs.

The M8 practically introduced me to street, portrait, and landscape photography.  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Leica M’s are not practical cameras – I used the M8 for just about everything except video and macro, and got much better results than with any other DSLR I used, as well as having a lot more fun.

The experience:

Picking up an M8 after using the M6, I felt almost no difference.  The M8 is astoundingly similar to a film camera in both look and feel.  At its heart is the infamous CCD sensor that records in that unique, Leica-film way.  Even with the luxury of unlimited digital frames, I still found myself being picky about which shots I took, taking around the same number of shots as with a film camera.  Anyone who writes about M cameras mentions their zen-like experiences, and as much of a cliché as it must be at this point, I just have to emphasize this – THE M8 HAS SOUL.  It’s indescribable, and it can’t be put in a spec chart, but it is there, and it makes all the difference.  It’s why we put up with manual focus, manual exposure, and limited focal lengths.  With the M8, there is nothing between the subject and how I portray it.  And that’s what makes the M8 so versatile, just set your exposure and take the picture – no distractions, no worries or second-guesses, just confident shooting – just like with film.  I take the picture, not the camera.

Of course there were many “issues” brought up by others – 10MP, no IR filter, poor low-light capabilities, and low-resolution screen.  Honestly, I hardly noticed them:

·      – 10 MP is more than enough for me, and if anything, it forces me to get the composition right the first time around to avoid cropping later.

·       – The lack of an IR filter was never a problem – Leica gives two free IR/UV filters with every M8, even if it’s pre-owned.  But having no IR filter has its perks too: the M8, with decent glass, is blindingly sharp, and makes for a fantastic B&W and IR camera.

·       – The poor high ISO performance did get to me sometimes.  The M8 really maxed out at ISO 640, but could be pushed to 1250 if it was in B&W.  To avoid extreme post-production noise, you really have to nail the exposure at higher ISO’s.  However, my Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 (a fantastic lens) solved all my problems.

·       – The low-res screen is a very overrated “problem,” even for the M9 I suppose.  It’s perfect for working the menus, and it gives a decent view for image playback. But the M8 is so much like a film camera that I often wouldn’t even look at the image playback.

·      –  In my experience, one could easily learn to work around the M8’s supposed issues, and, if anything, become a better photographer in the end.  To anyone wanting to get into a digital Leica system, the M8 is still a great choice even 8 years after being released.

I had the M8 for a little over a year, and I took it everywhere – out into the sands of the Jersey Shore, into the bustling streets of New York City, into the festive alleys of Barcelona, and into the rainy, overcrowded streets of Shanghai and Beijing.  I used it to photograph all my family events, and even used it for the school yearbook.  Unfortunately, I sold it because my neck strap broke and the camera fell, which ended up damaging the shutter.  When I got it back from repairs the circuit board failed and it wouldn’t turn on.  I sent it back again, but decided it wasn’t worth keeping anymore.  I sold it and moved onto a Canon 6D and a Hasselblad 500CM, as I needed a video camera and wanted to try medium format.  But that doesn’t change the fact that an entire year of memories was recorded, quite beautifully, by my M8.  To this day I still regret selling it – when it worked, there really was nothing that could compare to it.  While I’m only a teen with limited experience, I definitely learned more than I ever thought I could with my M8, and that makes it all worth it.

Now I am saving up for the day I can purchase an M9.

Thank you everyone for reading, and thank you Steve for letting me write for your awesome site!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/112710288@N03/

http://instagram.com/justinhalim/

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