Mar 182014
 

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The Leica X-Vario as a Travel Camera

By Thomas H. Hahn

Hi Steve and Brandon,

Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to share some insights & outsights on the Leica X-Vario. I travel a lot, sometimes overseas, and am always interested in what type of camera might be a good travel companion to my other, more “serious” gear, which at present comprises the Sony A900 and a Leica M9. I’m a big believer in trying first, buying later. For example, I rented a M9 twice from LensRentals before buying one. When the silver X-Vario was announced in February, I became interested. Doing the LensRentals thing again, a black X-Vario arrived at my doorstep on a Monday, giving me a whole week to run it through its paces.

What I was mostly interested in was how it would stack up against its fellow travelers, namely, the Leica X2 (which I sold again after some nine months), and the Sony RX100 (passed on within the family now). As is well documented, the little Sony is an extremely responsive, lightning quick little unobtrusive silent black stealthy high quality tool delivering very satisfactory results especially in its various b/w modes (see http://hahn.zenfolio.com/rx100 for samples). The X2 on the other hand is a rather deliberate tool, its DNGs providing a more robust basis for further development.

Some odd but important numbers on the X-vario first:

1. 2,850. That’s the official price. Without grip, EVF, leather case. There seems to be some movement here in the past few weeks, as Ken Hansen for example sells the (black) XV these days new with warranty for $2200. That’s still a bag full of shekels, but a substantial cost reduction nevertheless.

2. f/5.1. The maximum F-stop for the Vario-Elmar lens at the 50mm mark. I suspect that might well be the slowest 50 normal that Leica has ever made, in any form, zoom or prime. For someone who uses the latest f0.95 Noctilux as a standard 50mm lens on the M9, the XV’s value of f5.1 was a bit of a shock I must admit.

3. 70. The tele end of the Vario-Elmar. Sort of an oddball in my book, as it’s neither here nore there, neither “normal” nor “portrait” ready. The little Leica D-Lux 4 started out with a 24-60 (equivalent) lens, whereby the 24mm was very useful indeed, more so than the long end. Leica/Panasonic then increased the tele end to 90 on the subsequent offerings, which I personally find much more useful. Likewise, the Leica Digilux 2 (and the XV is sometimes thought of as a successor to this cult classic)was equipped with a 28 to 90mm lens. But 70 it is for the all-in-one X-Vario.

4. 12.7. That’s DXO’s dynamic range rating for the X-Vario’s sensor. It’s an amazing value really, in fact exceeding the M9 by quite a margin. The two cameras consequently produce entirely different DNGs, mostly of course due to the different sensors: CCD for the M9, CMOS for the X-Series and the M240. I would describe the XV DNGs as very even and smooth, and the M9 DNGs as Kodachrome 64 raw and untamed before processing.

5. 12.500. The highest ISO value which was still useful (two samples below). With the M9 I usually hover low on the ISO floor, rarely going above 640, whereas the XV produces excellent files up to 3200 and in some cases, well beyond.

6. 3:2. The XV’s aspect ratio. In fact, the XV’s only aspect ratio. No soft or hard switches to change over to a more landscapy 16:9, a more printer-friendly 4:3, or a more artsy 1:1 (all of these provided in the D-Lux series for example)

7. 30. The closest you get to your subject in terms of distance in cm. Much better than with any M (Visoflex and specialized macro lenses excluded). It opens up a whole new universe, and broadens considerably the scope of one’s imaging versatility.

With these numbers out-of-the-way, how did the XV perfom as a travel camera? Btw., my specs for a travel camera are ruggedness (weather sealing preferred), reasonable size to fit in a pocket or small case, satisfactory IQ and color integrity throughout a useful ISO range, and yet simple enough to just set up once to be ready for action. As is evident from this spec sheet, I am taking a rather pragmatic approach. It is not ultimate IQ I expect (whatever that may mean in the end), but versatility, a healthy measure of common-sense physical layout, responsiveness and durability.

Here are the “tests” I subjected the camera to:

Countryside drive, exploration of a 19th century model farm, snow on the ground, minus 15 C, static subjects, withered wood and metal, very bright and sunny, EVF, JPG only (by accident). No issues at all. ISO stayed low, f-stops as fast as they would go, A-mode; nice background blur in fact on occasion, crackingly truthful colors, absolutely amazed at the results. I had feared that since ending up with JPGs I would practically have to toss the entire day’s output, but far from it: These are the best and most useable JPGs I’ve ever seen from any digital Leica to date.

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Main control wheel drove me mad…

Nighttime outing, mixed city lights, window reflections, interior designs, street, minus 15 C, A-mode, high ISO, EVF, DNG. Surprised by the high ISO results. Camera did some override on my settings and had its way with the situations it confronted, pulling through admirably. I’ve never taken (nor processed) an image at ISO 12.500 in my life, the XV delivered absolutely remarkable results.

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Main control wheel drove me…

Museum outing, interior, AWB, mixed lighting, medium high ISO, flat, static surfaces (mostly), EVF, DNG: No issues. Almost flawless AWB, truly excellent color reproduction of the artwork on display. I do that a lot, taking pictures of artwork, so that was an important aspect of judging the XV’s overall performance. Based on my experience, this camera is well suited for repro art work. Colors are underhanded and a tad muted to begin with, which is a very good basis for PP. Lens is sharp from corner to corner, too (maybe a tad less so at 70mm).

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Main control wheel drove…

Street photography in NYC; sunny, harsh contrast, moving targets, A-mode, S-mode, manual mode, every-which-way-mode, EVF, blind hipshots, complete disregard for f-stop and DoF issues, DNG. Hmmm…the XV inherits the X2 genes when it comes to AF performance, although I also used it in manual mode, with focal distance preset to something like 7 feet or so, at 35 to 40mm, spot focus, EVF on, sometimes shooting blind without looking. It worked remarkably well I must say, and after a day’s work I came away with some decent images.

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There’s really no debating the XV’s IQ at this point, it really is a matter of operability, responsiveness, and it’s usefulness under a variety of conditions. I managed to keep track of joggers along the Hudson piers, but lost track of bikers gliding alongside. A matter of experience I suppose, but a faster AF module in the XV would certainly help. One annoying thing was the slow wake-up time (2 seconds or so), I missed quite a few shots that way in the beginning, until I just kept my finger on the shutter button half pressed regularly every 30 seconds or so, just to keep the camera awake and alive. Can’t do that very long, though, there’s a penalty involved in terms of battery life.

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Main control wheel…

Art fair, thousands of people all at once, mixed lighting, tight spaces always emptying and filling up again, AWB, DNG, EVF. I use this as a separate “category” from the museum visit above as one function of the camera actually came in really handy under these circumstances: the VARIO aspect. Duh! It is really useful to have a zoom at times! Leica M users are zoom-deprived creatures, we zoom with our feet. We focus by hand. At eye level. It’s often quite conspicuous, especially with the M9′s shutter sound. Well, the XV changes all these parameters, constituting a very flexible tool which, when needed, stays totally silent. Among the crowds, I managed to capture images and situations which would have been much harder (if not impossible) to do with my M9.

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Main control…(I was told it’s less prone to accidental setting changes with the grip or the case, but you get the idea)

I have put together a gallery of sample images at http://hahn.zenfolio.com/xv  (Warning: rampant eclecticism)

Thank you.

Thomas H. Hahn

Mar 062014
 

Buying Leica M8 in London – First experiences

by Ruben Laranjeira

Hi Steve, I am Ruben from Portugal and I have 28 years old. I visit your site every day, since late 2008. And you have influenced me to be passionate about Leicas, and Leica look in photos.

So here I am, 5 years later, ready to buy my first Leica. Due to Leica high prices, I have chosen to buy a used Leica M8 in London, and a new Voigtlander 40mm 1.4.

This is a short story about a dream come true.

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Since I began searching for photography and for photo machines, it didn’t take to long until my search got into stevehuffphoto site.

This site amaze me since my first contact with its very best articles on internet about real photography. For amateur/enthusiastic/professional people interested in photography and it’s gear. We can find here very precise technical information, and principally how to get passion about this form of art.

So since 2008 I knew I want a good-looking camera, with strong capabilities to turn my day by day pictures into something memorable. I ended buying a canon 50d and started shooting inside water the surfers riding waves. But I knew one day my little Leica would ended on my hands. This moment appears when I realized that used Leicas on eBay, and no Leica lenses was cheaper than I thought.

So I tried to put all together and planed not to buy that online, but buy than in London.

One month planning the trip with my girlfriend, reading every single day every article about M8 or M8.2, about voightlander wide-angle or 40mm, etc etc… So my plan was first get the lens, and then get the camera, because I can’t imagine have a Leica in my hands for a second with no lens attached.

Ok, voigtlander 40mm 1.4 lens with me, let’s get to the Leica dealer. Two nice cameras to choose, one mint condition 1600 actuation M8 and one 36000 actuation M8.2 with strong sings of use and 200 dollars cheaper. For what I read online, I have chosen the M8.2 with 6 month warranty.

I never had used range finder in my life, or manual focus, but my first shoot wide open, on a LFI magazine was easy and in focus. So I have thought, so far so good! Let’s do the payment and get outside with this beautiful day in London.

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With this camera I really feel the inspiration to record the best moments I will find trough my life, and I can get the camera inside my coat easily with no big monster point to people’s faces. I have found this camera really easy to use, even with the big ISO issues, but you can do just awesome B&W when the colors are not good. I have used aperture priority on almost all the frames and tried to put ISO160.

All the photos have little LR process, some B&W haven’t nothing to retouch.

I found the photos super sharp, and you can see the CCD Leica look, and you can get beautiful black and white pictures. The camera is not perfect but “After all, a photograph that is technically perfect that has no soul isn’t memorable.”

The next photos shows you a little what I got with my very first experience in RF world with the best RF you can get in a big beautiful city with a beautiful girlfriend as a model.

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Curiosity Numbers:

The prices are around 1900$ US for the used Leicas M8′s

Voigtlander SC 40mm 1.4: 459$ New

I bought a new Leica batery for 150$

first day: 66 photos

second day: 59 photos

3th day: 30 photos

Focus missed: 15

 

And here is some of my other work:

https://www.facebook.com/clickbyuriel

Mar 052014
 

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In praise of the Leica Monochrom

by Colin Templeton

Hi Steve,

I’ve been a regular visitor to your site over the years, and thought it was time I contributed something, rather than continue to sit on the sidelines.

I work for a national newspaper in Scotland. I love my job – I’m based in Glasgow, as is my newspaper, so much of my work is in and around the city, although I also get to see a fair bit of Scotland.

But the city is what fascinates me. And when I’m not working I get out and about with my Leica M Monochrom. I love to document everyday life on the streets. I’ve owned, and used, a Leica M6 since the mid-nineties, and always liked the images it produced. They seemed to have more life to them, dare I say it, more soul than the pictures I got from the Nikon F5 I used for work, and the rangefinder camera was simply much more fun to use.

When I started at the newspaper full-time, around five years ago, they supplied the camera gear needed for the job, so I was left with all the Nikon kit I had used as a freelance. I sold it all (thank you, eBay) and bought a Leica M9. That camera was a revelation – essentially the same as the M6, but with the advantages of being digital. And when it was announced that Leica were launching a black and white only M, I didn’t hesitate – I traded in the M9, and found myself with an M Monochrom. I’d been converting the majority of my shots into black and white anyway.

Eighteen months later, I’m still smitten by this camera. Picking it up make me want to go out and shoot with it. And I do, pretty much every day (I post a daily photograph on Blipfoto: http://www.blipfoto.com/contraflow). A lot of praise has been heaped on the M Monochrom, and I find myself much in agreement. The camera is very small, light, unobtrusive, a joy to shoot with, and the files it produces are like nothing I’ve seen before. You can step on them hard and they just don’t break up. Not that you need to be hard on them, because if exposed correctly, they need hardly any work. Everything is in the file – it just needs to be breathed on a little to coax the best from it.

One of the best things about the M Monochrom is that you get to use Leica lenses on it. I’m an ex-Nikon user, and now a full-time Canon user, so I know all about the image quality of those two systems. But the tiny Leica lenses have detail and character in spades, by comparison. It almost seems ludicrous how heavy and large a pro Canon DSLR is, when the diminutive Leica has the same size sensor, and much smaller, faster, sharper lenses. Any DSLR I’ve ever used feels like the computer it is. I can’t bond with it. And when I see the results, they fulfil the brief, but it almost feels as though the camera made the picture, not me. That’s a good thing, because it makes the job easier. But there’s no fun involved. Using a Leica rangefinder is fun. You have to really slow down and think. Just take a single shot and make it count. When I get a picture from a Leica M that I’m happy with, I really feel as though I made the image, not the camera.

My two favourite lenses for the M Monochrom are the 50mm M Summilux ASPH, and the 28mm Summicron ASPH. Occasionally I’ll use an old 1960′s 90mm Tele Elmarit “fat” version 1, but generally it’s just the two lenses for me. And mostly it’s the 50mm. A lot has been made about the modern aspherical lenses being too sharp, too clinical in their rendering for the M Monochrom sensor, but I just don’t see it. I think the modern 50mm and 28mm render beautifully, and with plenty of character. But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I could go on and on. I adore the M Monochrom. It doesn’t get in my way, it just allows me to take great pictures. It’s like my M6, loaded with an endless supply of all my favourite black and white films.

My website is: http://colintempleton.com/

I’m also a member of the Elephant Gun photography collective: http://www.750grain.com/colintempleton/

And I’m on Twitter: https://twitter.com/colintempleton

Very best wishes, and thank you,

Colin

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Feb 192014
 

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One Journey Two Cameras

by Jason Howe - See his Website HERE, his Flickr is HERE

I’ve not long been back from a trip which took myself and my family back to the UK via a few other places, this wasn’t a photography trip but I’ve included a few of my favourite images picked up along the way. The are more images along with a more extensive write-up on my blog here – The Reluctant Tourist.

I have no idea how much time I wasted thinking about what gear I should take on this trip, certainly it was too much time. In the end I tried to keep it simple and went with what I’m most comfortable with, the Leica M Monochrom. For lenses I went all Voigtlander – 21/1.835/1.2 and 50/1.5. I also had a cheap PROST adapter which was all I could get hold of initially.

My gear plans went out of the window when the Sony A7R arrived by courier just a couple of hours before departing for the airport, at that point I really had little choice but to take it as leaving it meant I’d not see it again for 2 months. Obviously any new camera monopolises your attention and it also means a bit of a learning curve, it certainly did with the MM and the Sony A7R was the same just for different reasons.

I had a rocky start with the A7R, whilst I immediately fell in love with the OOC JPG’s I found focusing accurately at wide apertures to be almost impossible without magnification. Yes my eyesight is fine…

Image 1 – Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II – OOC JPEG

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Image 2 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 3 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Eventually, I started to get to grips with focusing the A7R utilising the magnifier but for me it’s a little clumsy and I still can’t achieve focus as fast or proficiently as I can with a rangefinder.

Image 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II

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Touching on my original gear selection and with the benefit of hindsight it was totally flawed. I may prefer B&W but I still needed a colour option, fortunately the A7R filled this void. My biggest mistakes were in lens selection though, this was not a light bag!!! I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me and selected the recently acquired 35/1.2 over my v.1 Summicron. The 35/1.2 is optically superb but it’s huge and consequently heavy, in contrast the v.1 Summicron is tiny, light and optically superb. The 21/1.8 I just didn’t use, another weighty option. Instead I found myself wishing I’d taken the Summicron 90/2 on lots of occasions, a lens I’d been using quite frequently before I left. Now I didn’t carry all this everywhere, each day I’d select a camera and lens, on odd occasions I’d take two lenses but when you’re away for so long size and weight are big issues. The real winner was the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Asph, I really do love everything about this lens.

Image 6 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 7 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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You’ll notice the next two images were taken with the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, having tried and failed to get my hands on this in NY I managed to get one in the UK. There were a couple of factors that drew me to the Sony A7R initially, one of those was having a FF camera with the ability to autofocus, there are certainly times when I’ve missed this and I’ve missed shots.

Image 9 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

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Image 10 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

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Image 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 12 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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I’m still very much committed to working things out with the Sony A7R, Indeed I’ve just added the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA to the kit and I’ll be endeavouring to become more proficient with the camera on all levels. For now, well the Leica M Monochrom is still my favourite camera, you can get great B&W’s from other cameras but there is just that bit of something special in the files from the MM, to my eye at least.

Cheers, Jason.

Feb 182014
 

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A Year in “M” Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

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Hello, my friends, the time has come to reflect upon a year seen primarily in black and white (and many, many shades of gray, which really is life, now, isn’t it ?) through the eye of Leica’s amazing Leica M Monochrom. I have previously written about my experiences with the “MM” after 6 months of use, and following journeys with the camera in Paris, Italy, New York City, and the Palouse. In this world of constant camera turnover, where every M9 is replaced by an M240, with Sony and Olympus seemingly staking their claims to fame in the digital camera world in place of Canon and Nikon, and with Fuji surprising and delighting us with every turn, the MM is now a venerable camera that remains unique as the only current mass-produced camera with a black and white sensor. The camera’s sensor, stripped of any ability to see in color, rid of the capacity to block moire, ends up being a photon eater, proving and incredible tool for capturing light in its many presentations.

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While it has not yet been around long enough to be deemed “legendary”, the MM is already ascending that ladder, and for those whom have had the privilege of using it, you’ll see that glimmer in their eyes of the prize that rests in their hands. So come along with me for my ride, should you choose, in words and images, of this camera that is destined for legend.

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Over the past year plus, I have taken over 15,000 shots with the Leica MM. I can truly and honestly say that the camera has delivered me the most joy of any camera that I have owned. The camera’s incredible CCD sensor that seems capable of coaxing the very best out of nearly any lens that you could put on it. In particular, the sensor seems to play particularly well with older rangefinder lenses, which in some cases were designed and coated for black and white photography. It provides a rich modern look with today’s aspherical glass, almost providing “shockingly real” views of the world, which I have yet to see from any camera. For me, the look of the MM with most modern glass is almost surreal, and I have thus primarily stuck with using older, “cheap” rangefinder lenses with the camera to great satisfaction. What’s interesting to me, and what I have heard increasingly from users of the camera, is that the camera’s sensor itself seems capable of coaxing something special out of these lenses, even when the M9 and M240 may not be able to coax the same look, clarity, or detail.

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Seeing in Monochrome

First and foremost, the Leica MM is a tool for image capture, as is really any other camera that the photographer may use. However, the sensor’s capacities and limitations have forced me to change my creative perspective. As I began my journey with the MM, I had to accept the challenge of only “seeing” the world around me in black and white. Color was no longer an option, and could not be used as a crutch or a tool ton lean upon. Having converted many of my M9 images to black and white, I initially did not see an issue with the process of only seeing in black and white, but after using the M monochrome a few times, I suddenly realized at what I had given up. Shooting in color offers its own creative possibilities and limitations, and when I suddenly forced out of this option, I found myself jarred. I decided to re-calibrate and try my best to see the world around me in black and white, before I even composed or took the shot. In a sense, I began to focus on light and dark, highlight and shadow, essentially in luminosity. I began to “ignore color” to the best of my abilities and focus instead on the remaining elements of any scene that I wished to capture Over a few months, what first was a challenge soon became inspiration and motivation. I was starting to see the world in monochrome. Just as switching from the AF-10FPS SLR’s to rangefinders is freeing to many photographers who are stuck in a rut, shooting with the M Monochrom re-invigorated me to explore the world around me in new ways. I called it “Going back to finishing school.”

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Monochrom magic?

There is just something about the MM’s sensor that seems magical to me. I know that this may come off as overly dramatic, but for me and for others out there with whom I have discussed the camera, it is true. The images that I have been able to capture seem to defy my own meager skills as a photographer. Lenses that were forgotten or passed aside on the M8 and M9 suddenly took center stage in the manner of how they interacted with the MM’s sensor. Let me say a few more words about this (The following is entirely theoretical, so feel free to disregard)

I have said in many instances that the MM seems to play particularly well with older lenses. Many vintage lenses from Leitz, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku were designed and used in an area of black and white photography, where color options were rare, limited, or non-existent. Thus, such lenses utilized coatings and design that was suited to capturing monochrome images, or so I have gathered. Whereas some of these older lenses’ coatings provide poor color reproduction on digital cameras, they seem to offer subtleties in tonal capture that modern lenses of aspherical design, aimed at gathering maximal contrast and detail across the frame, seem to miss. I have noted than many modern aspherical designs seem to limit the M Monochrom’s abilities to capture shadow detail, in particular, while older lenses, which tend to capture much lower macrocontrast, save these shadows, and instances, highlights as well.

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Second, I suspect that some of the MM’s magic in interacting with old lenses actually may have come from within. When I consider photographers that have inspired me, I have tended to prefer the “look” of the works of the early Magnum photographers, Sebastio Salgado, and others who shot in an era where my “vintage” lenses was their modern options. In a sense, I learned to prefer a way of seeing in black and white in the manner that was reflective of their gear…i.e. older lenses.

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Third, the MM’s sensor seems to be unique in being able to hold incredible detail with post-processing. This seems to be due to the dynamic range that MM images seem to possess in the mid tones. The MM has been roundly criticized for its tendency to clip highlights, and this is absolutely a reasonable criticism. What is often not discussed, however, is the incredible detail and flexibility of tone that preserved in the midtones captured by the camera, as well as the shadow detail that the camera preserves. When I first used the MM, I was enamored by the near infinite shades of gray captured within the RAW file, and as a result, my initial images with the camera tended to look generally grey. Over time, I found myself exploring these greys more and more, and using Adobe LR and other post processing tools to extract the contrast and detail that I desired from this more “boring” grey. One can push and pull the images in any number of ways, and MM files will not fall part, especially those captured at ISO 3200 or less. When used in “decent light”, the camera does just fine at ISO’s as high as 5000, capturing fine detail and suppressing noise appropriately (not really like film, though, but still pleasing).

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Finally, there may also be something to the M Monochrom’s naked sensor that coaxes the most out of vintage lenses. Lenses such as the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, which seem soft and washed out on color rangefinders, simply sparkle on the MM, both in detail and tonal rendition. I was surprised in particular, by the amount of detail and resolution that some lenses, over 50 years old, are capable of capturing when paired to the MM. I theorize that the lack of the low pass filter and Bayer array allows for optimal capture of unfiltered detail. No blur or image loss is imparted upon the captured image, as light does not have to pass through any barriers.

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The journey from new to old

So here I am, a year later, a year older and hopefully a year wiser, and my journey with the MM continues. The MM continues to be my favorite camera and my preferred way to see the world around me. My aspherical lenses continue to be relegated to my M9, while the MM continues to be mated to classic rangefinder lenses. I feel that for me, what was a casual experiment with vintage lenses has turned into a serious enterprise in how I prefer to see the world around me. It mates the rangefinder experience with a unique way of seeing the world around me and brings me closer to my own idols in the photographic world.

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Onward and Upward

The journey continues, and I hope to report back to you as I gain even more experience with this wonderful camera. Obviously, I can no longer wow you with reports of impressive specs, more megapixels, and quieter shutters. I hope to bring you more images, as my explorations with the camera, its files, and my use of processing, continues. These are exciting times for many of us, as photographers. Gear these days is so excellent that it’s really up to you to choose what tool suits you best. For some of you, it may be the camera phone that is always on your person. For others, it’s the latest greatest offering, with ever improving dynamic range, color reproduction, detail capture, and camera performance. For some, it’ll be the increasing capacity of cameras to deliver images and an experience that can be instantaneously shared. For me, it’s the simplicity of a camera that’s not capable of any of this, not even capable of seeing in color, that will continue to inspire and challenge me to grow my photography in new directions and to new summits. All the best to you all in your own journeys, and I’ll be sure to check in again soon!

Yours truly,

Ashwin Rao

February, 2014

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Feb 172014
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My favorite ND filter for fast Leica lenses!

Finally! I found THE ND filter to own for my fast Leica glass (Thanks Ken Hansen)! Yes my friends, in the past I have owned many ND filters and I always had to figure out which one I would get. When shooting a Summilux lens or Noctilux lens an ND filter is MANDATORY if you want to shoot your ones wide open where they were designed and optimized to be shot. Over the last few years I have had MANY e-mails come in asking me “which ND filter should I get”..and I am happy to say that the one I own now is hands down my #1 favorite that I have ever owned/used.

It is a made in Germany Heliopan Variable ND filter that gives you a range to work with..from 0.3 all the way up to 1.8 or from 1 to 6 stops. This means you can use this single one ND filter for all of your ND filter needs. From slight brightness to brutal harsh light (like I shot the images in below), this ND filter will give you what you need with a smooth twist of the front ring. When Ken Hansen told me about it I had to give it a shot.

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If you are not familiar with the purpose of an ND filter I will break it down for you very quickly.

Let’s say you love shooting your Leica and Noctilux but you love shooting that lens wide open at f/0.95. If it is sunny outside or the light is bright you will not be able to shoot wide open because the shutter speed in your 9 or M 240 only goes to 1/4000s. This means that without an ND filter you will have to stop down the lens to f/4 or f/5.6 or in some situations even f/8.

With an ND filter in place you can shoot that lens wide open as the filter blocks some of the light. With this particular filter you can adjust how much light gets let in and it is marked from 1-10. I tested this filter in the super harsh mid day sun of Phoenix AZ and my filter was usually between #3 and #6 with the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at f/1.5.

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Using this filter it allowed me to shoot wide open to retain that classic Zeiss Sonnar look that disappears once the lens is stopped down. I shot the SLR Magic Hyperprime 0.95 M lens a couple of years ago with an ND filter as well, and all of the images shot in that report were with a Leica M9, the images below were shot with an M 240 and the Zeiss.

You can also use an ND filter if you want to shoot at longer shutter speeds, for example, a running waterfall. The ND will block the light to your sensor and allow you to drag out that shutter for as long as you need.

Anyway, this is an amazing ND filter and is the only one you will need for ANY situation. No need for 2-4 ND’s, just one. The build is superb and of very high quality, the ring to adjust the strength of the filter is smooth as silk and this filter is available from Ken Hansen in the two sizes any Leica shooter would need. 46mm (35 Summilux, 50 Summilux) or 60mm (Noctilux 0.95). These filters are NOT cheap but no good ND filter is. I believe this one goes for $260 but I found it to be a very worthwhile investment because it is the last ND I will ever need and will fit any 46mm lens I attach to my camera.

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I tested it with the Zeiss 50 ZM Sonnar which also has a 46mm filter thread and the filter presented no issues or problems at all. The Zeiss ZM Sonnar is a very unique lens and when shot wide open at f/1.5 it almost resembles a Noctilux in its rendering. Not quite, but close. The best part is that the Sonnar comes in at around $1100. B&H is back-ordered but Tony at PopFlash has one or two in stock right now (in silver) for anyone looking for this now legendary classic lens.

You can e-mail Ken Hansen here if you want one or have a question. ([email protected]) Not sure how many he has but he did tell me he had a “few” available in 46mm and 60mm filter thread sizes and I recommend this filter 100% for ANY users of these filter size fast lenses (Leica). 

Below are the images I shot with the ND attached, all with the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm ZM and all wide open at f/1.5 at the local Ren Fair here in AZ. BTW, it was almost 90 degrees in mid Feb and the sun was HARSH. AZ mid day sun sucks for taking photos, but I purposely took these at the worst time to test this filter, which did fantastic. 

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Feb 092014
 

Munichs oldest cemetery with Leica M and Monochrom

by Andreas Cornet

Dear Steve, my name is Andreas and I live in Munich, Germany. I follow your great blog for about a year but so far did not post anything. My photographic life started some 11 years ago when our daughter was born. I started shooting with several Nikon DSLRs with growing fascination. My entry into the Leica world happened with the D-Lux 3 and the brand did a nice job in “trading me up” with a M8 via a M9 to a M240 and a MM right now.

For a long time already I had the idea to start a photographic project on Munich cemeteries. Steves recent article on post mortem photography and Jim Fishers great cemetery shots together with fantastic light two weeks ago finally got me going. I chose the “old south cemetery” in Munich which was founded in 1563 for the many poor victims of the pest epidemic. At that time it was “extra muros” – outside the city borders. No need to explain that this has changed with the growth of the city … .

In terms of gear I took the M240 and MM together with a 35mm Summilux, a 50 mm Noctilux, and a 90mm Summarit. I did not use 50 mm a lot in the past but since buying a used Noctilux 1.0 (not the current 0.95 version) this has changed significantly. Most of the shots you see are done with this lens, only few are 35mm or 90mm. However, I do not use it wide open only. I also like it very much at 5.6 or 8.

Great winter sun, several crows/ravens and some nuns going for a walk created an almost surreal atmosphere. Like a quite island in the middle of the city bringing back the past. I hope you get part of that from the pictures. Although I liked some of the photos in color very much I decided to transfer the M240 files to b/w using Nik Silver Efex. If you are comparing the M240 with the MM files (that’s what I did …) keep in mind the MM shots were taken a bit later with sun fading away already.

Next will be the “old north cemetery” as soon as the light gets right … .

Thank you and best regards,

Andreas

Pic 1, M240, 50mm, f 5.6

Pic 2, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 3, M240, 50mm, f 1.0

Pic 4, M240, 50mm, f 11

Pic 5, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 6, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 7, MM, 35mm, f 1.4

Pic 8, MM, 90mm, f 2.5

Pic 9, M240, 50mm, f 1.2

Pic 10, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 11, M240, 50mm, f 8

Feb 032014
 

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A poor man’s road to Leica

By Westerhuis & Westerhuis

As our name ‘Westerhuis&Westerhuis’ already suggests: we are brothers. Willem Hendrik and Arend-Jan. It would be safe to say that we grew up with photography. Our father had a Leicaflex SL with a range of lenses. Back when we were kids, going out with the family meant that we would both get ‘one frame’ to shoot with the camera. That is how we learned to see the world through a frame: looking for the scene we wanted to capture.

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In May 2005 digital photography found it is way into our family. It was an Olympus E-300, which compared to the Leicaflex, was equipped with highly technical features such as automatic exposure and focus. Suddenly we were able to shoot more than six images a year, and dad did not have to share his Leica anymore. (Something that took a while for us to understand.) The learning curve suddenly became steep!

When we grew older and went to University, the camera spent more time in the closet than in our hands. Occasionally we used it for holidays, fraternity activities etc. Never too serious and certainly without ambitions..

Then something happened we had not foreseen: some friends were getting married and since they were on a low-budget, they asked me (Willem Hendrik) to shoot their wedding. Apparently they had seen me holding a camera the right way up and were somehow assuming I knew where to find the shutter button. I did not dare to bare the burden of a screw-up with only myself to blame, and so I asked my brother to come with me.

The results however surprised a lot of people, not only the bride and groom, but more important: other couples. Several weddings came along; we bought new bodies (Olympus E-600) and lenses (the legendary 50mm f/2 and 25mm f/1.4) and began enjoying photography again. We moved from weddings only to portraits, graduation ceremonies and group shoots. But most importantly it was street photography that got our attention.

We found that street photography was a powerful way of improving our photography skills. When shooting on the streets it rapidly became apparent that a great photo is not about sharpness, subject isolation or ISO performance, but about the narrative. A sharp, clear and in every term a high fidelity portrait of a cat is in the end just a photo of a cat. The technical perfection does not make up for the lack of talent. We found out it is more important to train yourself to ‘see’ notable things happening than to rely on your gear to create something out of nothing. Minor events can be captured and still tell a complete story on their own.

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Story telling in wedding photography

Naturally we began incorporating this storytelling style in all our assignments. This meant a observative way of working without interfering and only with the use of available light. We have shot in very different and difficult environments where we had to adapt to the conditions. The good thing about shooting a wedding is that you need to deliver; you have to know what you are doing to be able to get the best out of a situation

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Being with two photographers

Although we both did some weddings without the other, we stuck together for the most part. Shooting a wedding together has some major advantages: we always use a basic lens set-up such that one knows, based on lens and location, the type of photo the other is taking. Therefor one is able to take the corresponding shot from the opposite direction without being in each other’s frame. Because we both shoot with different prime lenses, a nice reproduction of the day from multiple perspectives can be delivered. Secondly, we are both very technical; if variables get tough, we communicate our strategy in ISO, aperture and exposure, we developed our own sign language for this to be able to come up with similar results.

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Buying a Leica

After launching our own website, the amount of inquiries was vastly increasing. This made us able to invest in our company, and so we decided to go back to our roots. And so two second-hand Leica M9’s were bought, despite our philosophy about gear being second to content (After all we are both engineering students and firmly believe in the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ paradigm. As for the lenses concerned: we bought a Summicron 35 and 50 from their first owner. Both versions IV, which are almost 35 years old. Not only did they feel very familiar, even the smell brought back memories. By using Leica we could also continue our philosophy of carrying the least amount of gear with us. Although the Olympus E-600 was one of the smallest DSLR’s around, we would rather carry M9’s for a day.

Of course we are, as much as any photographer in constant battle with the GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).The M240, 50mm Summilux, and 35mm Nokton are all nymphs singing their songs. For the moment we choose to sit tight with the old Summicrons we have. Our M9’s do not limit creativity in any technical way which is proven by legends from the past, as these lenses were the tools of many great photographers. If we cannot make this work then no mountain of gear can fix that deficit in our talent. At the moment we feel it is more important to master this simple camera than to acquire next gen lenses with their fancy appeals and new possibilities.

So yes, this is where we now stand. Both of us have a single lens setup. Which, as it turns out, is more than adequate for wedding photography. As always: it is not the camera that shoot people, we do.

Willem Hendrik Westerhuis

https://www.facebook.com/WesterhuisWesterhuis

http://www.westerhuisenwesterhuis.nl

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Jan 152014
 

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USER REPORT: The 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II meets the Leica M8.

By Elie Bescont

Hi Steve,

Opening this review section was a really good idea. I discovered very talented people here lately, like Neil Buchan-Grant who stroke me with his review about the OM-D E-M5 and E-M1. His portraits are amazing. Brett Price, also, delivered fantastic vintage looking images in his review about the M240. Bravo.

A few months back, I read your review about the 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II lens. You seemed to like it, and you made me want this piece of glass, because it’s a f/1.2 lens which delivers quite good images for a fraction of the price of the 35 Lux 1.4.

So, it’s done. I got it for around six months now, I shot thousands of pictures with it in France, Australia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Japan, and I’m ready to share my thoughts about this lens. I decided to buy it after reading a review about it on this website, so I thought I should debrief about it here. Of course, since this is about the 35 Nokton 1.2 ASPH II and since I shoot it on the M8, all pictures of this review were taken with this combo. Here we go.

First remark, it’s quite a big lens for a rangefinder camera:

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Bigger than the 35 Lux 1.4 Yanidel uses:

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And nothing like my tiny 35 Summaron f/3.5 my girlfriend Marie shots on her M2:

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Still, it’s way smaller than a DSLR lens and its size is not a problem at all. I’ve been carrying it with me everyday for around six months and it was never bothering to do so.

Second remark, the finish is not that good. The paint goes away very easily, and ‘lens made in Japan’ quickly became ‘lens made in apan’. I don’t know that country. The ’1.4′ indication on the aperture ring disappeared after three months of using this lens. But is it that bad? I could just get some white paint and get it fixed quickly, and considering the price of the lens, I prefer it to have a bad finish than a bad image quality or bad ergonomics.

And talking about this… Third remark, this lens feels really good in hands. Focus is smooth and easy, the aperture ring clicks, everything about this lens feels just right. Actually, it feels like having a Leica lens in hands. According to some friends who got the first version, this second one has a way better feeling.

The other important point is image quality. I use it on the M8 without an IR-cut filter and I fix eventual chromatic aberrations on Adobe Lightroom. As you may know, the sensor of this camera doesn’t have any IR-cut filter on it. The M8 sees the infrared spectrum, and this can cause chromatic aberrations. Black synthetic clothes look purple under artificial light, for instance. So, why do I use this camera without any IR-cut filter? As the camera sees infrared, its spectrum is not red + green + blue, but infrared + red + green + blue. As a consequence, the Leica M8 is one of the best digital cameras for black and white photography, because infrared adds dynamics in greys that other cameras can’t possibly get. Well, that’s all about the camera, now let’s talk about the lens. Images at f/1.2 are not razor-sharp, but you have to take in account the fact that this is a f/1.2 lens wide open. So, I think they are sharp enough. And you? This is a portrait of a random guy I don’t know, at f/1.2:

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Marie and the cat, big time, at f/1.2:

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A friend, Stan, at f/1.2 and ISO320, 1/45th:

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At f/1.4, it gets sharper. The portraits of Yanidel and Marie with her M2 above were shot at 1.4. Another one at 1.4, a portrait of Didier Bourdon, a famous French humorist:

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Colors are nice, the contrast is good, sharpness is there, the bokeh is quite nice, for around 1/4th of the price of a 35mm Summilux. I’m very happy with it, and even if it’s big for a rangefinder lens, it’s still small. Remember, rangefinder lenses are tiny. So, it’s a pretty good travel lens.

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But let’s get back to the jazzy city of Paris for the last ones:

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And a final bokehlicious picture:

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Here is what you can get with this lens.

Let’s summarize a little bit. Pros and cons:

+ It’s cheap for a 35mm f/1.2 lens.

+ It feels good and looks solid.

+ Good image quality for such a price.

 

- It’s big and quite heavy compared to other RF lenses.

- The finish is pretty bad, even if the lens looks good.

 

That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this review, and if you got this lens, I hope you agree with me on this. If you liked the pictures, you can follow me:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalFragrancePhotography

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/92813485@N05/

On Tumblr: http://digital–fragrance.tumblr.com/

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElieBescont

Or in the streets, but don’t scare the shit out of me.

Farewell and all the best,

Elie

Jan 102014
 

Hi Steve

I had a huge dilemma, I own the Leica MM ( which I love) and on the other hand I was curious about the Leica M 240 ( I know how much you love her, and so does Thorsten Overgaard and many others). So on Wed Jan 8th my friend who owns the 240 and I drove to Jerusalem in order to try to learn about the M 240.

The first few hours I took his M and put in my SD card and he took mine. Than we changed again to our own cameras. From what iso, the M is a very nice camera, built like all M rangefinders which means good and solid , so it does not take much to understand the very few changes and get used to it.

I loved the new shutter which is even more silent than my MM, what I did not like was the wheel on the upper right side, I kept bumping into it not really wanting to but I am used to holding my MM there while taking photos.

One more thing I did not like was the line of knobs-5 – on the left side instead of 4 on my MM , as they added the LV- Live view, this does not leave enough space for ones fingers ( and mine are slim) so sometimes instead of pressing the play I pressed the LV.

The colours are nice and yet I saw some tendency to red colour , especially on the faces which i had to fix on Lightroom. All in all it is a fantastic camera , easy to manipulate , simple and yet gorgeous.

Here are some pics from both

Take care

Danny

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Jan 032014
 
Puerto Rico, India, Family… 2013 & the Leica M240
By Bob Boyd

Hey Steve,

2013 was a very busy year for me. Lots of work. Lots of travel. We took a family trip to beautiful Puerto Rico in July (our first ever outside the states as a family) and then I had the opportunity to return to India this past fall to document some mission work in the field. I’ve shot both an M and an SLR for the last 5 years but for personal work, it’s almost always the M. I made the decision to jump to the M240 early – mainly because of the ISO limitations of the M9 – and was fortunate enough to get an early copy last spring through my longtime Leica dealer, Ken Hansen.

I thought I would share some of my favorite images from this past year with a brief description.

Here’s to a great 2014 for you and your site!

All the best,

Bob Boyd

www.bobboyd.net

A bay near El Morro, Puerto Rico. (Zeiss 21mm f/2.8)

Bay near El Morro, Puerto Rico

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Paths… (Left) a path of doorways at Fort El Morro and (right) Two brothers walk along the beach at sunset in, Puerto Rico. (50mm Lux ASPH)

Paths...

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Coast Guard boat at sunrise near the ferry for Culebra, Puerto Rico. (35mm Lux ASPH)

Coast Guard at sunrise

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Ocean play at sunset… Isle of Culebra, Puerto Rico (50mm Lux ASPH)

Ocean play at sunset...

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Graffitied Tank… The kids inspect an old rusted out tank on the beach in Culebra, Puerto Rico. (35mm Lux ASPH)

Graffitied tank

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Room with a View… Windows of a watchtower open to a beautiful scenic view in the Puerto Rican rainforest of El Yunque.  (Zeiss 21mm f/2.8)

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Fire in the sky… A firey sunset illuminates the post-rain mist on the mountainsides in Puerto Rico. (50mm Lux ASPH)

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Amritsar, India… A Sikh woman bows in the middle of tourists at the entrance of Harmandir Sahib – the “Golden Temple”. (50mm Lux ASPH)

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A Sikh man and his bike outside Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. (50mm Lux ASPH)

A Sikh man and his bike outside Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar.

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A Sikh man in Amritsar, India (right) and a Christian woman in Punjab, India (left). (50mm Lux ASPH (l), 90mm Summarit/ISO6400 (r)

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Indian Corridors… (Left) Golden sunset light pours into a market area in Amritsar, India. (Right) A mother walks her children to the village school bus stop.

(50mm Lux ASPH (l), 90mm Summarit (r))

Indian Corridors...

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A remote village area. Punjab, India (35mm Lux ASPH)

A remote village area. Punjab, India

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Two young boys playing in a village in Punjab, India.
(50mm Lux ASPH)

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An elderly man in a remote village in Pujab, India. (50mm Lux ASPH)

An elderly man in a remote village in Pujab, India.
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Brick Factory A worker hauls new bricks at a brick factory in Punjab, India. (21mm Lux ASPH)

A worker hauls new bricks at a brick factory in Punjab, India.

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Children playing with tire inner tubes along a dirt street in Punjab, India. (35mm Lux ASPH)

Children playing with tire inner tubes along a dirt street in Punjab, India.

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A Mother’s love and pride on display as she holds her child. Punjab, India (21mm Lux ASPH)

Mother and child. Punjab, India

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Two women rest on cots at a home in Punjab, India. (21mm Lux ASPH)

Two women rest on cots at a home in Punjab, India.

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Village street scene. Punjab, India (35mm Lux ASPH)

Village street scene. Punjab, India

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A woman prepares an evening meal in a small hut. Punjab, India (21mm Lux ASPH)

A woman prepares an evening meal in a small hut. Punjab, India

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Market traffic… Punjab, India (21mm Lux ASPH)

Market traffic.  Punjab, India

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I’ll end on one last personal image… My wife visiting her 88 year old grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. (50mm Lux ASPH)

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Nov 152013
 

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Yes I Do: The Leica M240 as a wedding photographer’s tool

By Joeri van der Kloet

I have shot a lot of weddings with my M9 and M9P. Actually, buying the M9 after using Canon DSLR’s for almost ten years was a pretty good move. Before that, I only took my DSLR if I could make money with it. Not just because my kit was big and heavy, but also because I lost the fun in it. I remember visiting the Leica Gallery in New York – a year before I bought the M9 – and holding a M8 and looking through the viewfinder. My wife told me that I should try to switch to the rangefinder system, because the small camera would suit my documentary approach perfectly. I told her I couldn’t imagine myself shooting a wedding without autofocus…but I kept thinking about it.

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So now, four years later, I’m one of the few photographers shooting weddings with a rangefinder and I couldn’t be happier. The last four years have been a challenge, because I needed to learn photography again. There have been moments where I wanted to toss my M9 out of the window, but there also have been moments of pure photographical joy. I never spent so much time learning to use a camera before, but I needed to make it work. A wedding is a strange event: it is packed with beautiful moments, but most of these moments last just for a second, or even less. And I need to capture them, without zooms and without autofocus. My approach in wedding photography makes it even harder, because I shoot in a very pure, documentary style – that style justifies the use of a small camera of course – . I never stage any settings, never ask my clients to pose, so I’m completely dependent on real moments to happen. Sometimes, my clients and I visit a place to take some shots, but even then, I just let them do whatever they feel like doing. Usually, they take a walk and I follow them, trying to get the best position for a shot. I don’t ask them to kiss, or hold hands, or go to the good light, I just wait and see what happens. So if there is a quick kiss, or a sensitive moment, I need to get it. On many occasions I get the best shots when the couple walks from the church to their car. They are even less aware of the camera and they are overwhelmed by emotions, which makes it a perfect opportunity for photography.

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A few weeks ago, the bride entered the wedding venue through the back door and on her way she crossed a square with a beautiful rectangular sculpture on it. The light was perfect and I took the shot. I know my clients want these real moments in stead of the staged and posed settings that are more common. It means I really need to be able to focus very fast, also with moving subjects. And after four years, I can say that I’m starting to feel confident about it, although I haven’t even come close to mastering it. Every single wedding is very, very hard work and I’m usually exhausted after a full day of shooting. The biggest difference with a ‘non-documentary’ shooter is that I am never sure what to expect, whereas the more traditional shooter creates his own settings and takes the shots he thinks he need to take.

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Being a documentary photographer means I don’t use flash. Ever. I don’t want my clients and the guests to notice me when I’m working. I’ve covered receptions with my M9’s where the couple was dancing and I was shooting at ISO 2500, at 1.2 at 1/15th of a second. It was so dark that it was hardly possible to see something through the viewfinder. Sometimes I would focus just by muscle memory – that’s why I actually train focussing with my camera every day! – and it always worked out. Not for every image of course, but I always got the shot that I wanted. Still, I was pretty excited when the M240 was announced and reviewers reported about the high ISO capabilities of the new M. I got myself on the list and after some waiting, I was able to get one.

I didn’t need much time of practice with the new M, because it felt just like the M9. A little heavier, beefier, but much more responsive. The shutter appeared to be more silent, maybe not just in the amount of sound, but much more in the type of sound. The M240 doesn’t have the whine the M9 shutter has and the sound is shorter. Also, the feel on the shutter button is much better. With my M9, I used a soft release, but with the M240, it isn’t necessary at all. The only thing I took from my M9 is the thumbs up, because the built in one, just isn’t big enough. With my M9, I never was a machine gun shooter and neither am I with the new M, but it is very nice to have a bigger buffer when you need it. I never use the continuous mode, but sometimes I do take two or three shots in a rapid succession.

Another thing I absolutely love is the new battery. I can shoot on just one for almost a whole day, whereas with the M9, I had to change batteries twice. And I really needed to plan these moments, because you don’t want to change batteries in the middle of the ceremony. With the new M, I don’t need to worry about that.

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I heard a lot of complaints about the M9 screen, but I only used it for checking the histogram every now and then. I don’t need to check focus on my screen. First, because I usually get one chance for each moment and second, I know when I’m out of focus. The new viewfinder is even better than the old one. I don’t know what they changed, but it is somehow easier to focus.

Of course, I laughed about the live view Leica implemented. Who would need that? Well, I’ve learned and now I know there are circumstances where live view is pretty convenient. During dancing I still prefer my rangefinder, because it just works better with all the movement. However, if it is very, very dark and people are standing still, I sometimes use the VF-2, the Olympus one – I’m not a fanboy…- and I find it to work nicely. Yes, there is more shutterlag and it takes ages before the blackout is gone, but I can focus very precisely and with my 50/1.1, it is the only thing that really works. My 35/1.2 is easier to focus, because of the longer focus throw and there is just a tad more tolerance, because of the shorter focal length and the quarter stop slower aperture. When I bought the M240 I thought that I wouldn’t use the 35/1.2 any more, but I have come to like it even more than I already used to. With the new M, the 35/1.2 delivers creamy, lovely bokeh and very nice transitions and very acceptable sharpness. Also, with the new M and the 35/1.2, I can handle the worst light you can imagine. Sometimes I tell my wife that my clients must have known that I gained two extra stops, because they reduced the light with two stops, but usually, I can use faster shutter speeds than I used to. And with people dancing, that can be very convenient. Another good thing is the improved dynamic range. Now that I also switched to Lightroom 5, the difference is really big. Sometimes, the DR is even so big, the image gets a kind of HDR look, which I don’t like. Of course, it’s quite simple to lose some detail in highlights or shadows. It all comes down to taste. At least, with this combination (M240 and LR5) you have a choice.

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Yes, there is a difference between the M9 and M240 files. But you need to process them in a different way. I still love the way the M9 CCD renders and with low ISO, it is almost unbeatable. However, I don’t work for my portfolio, or for pixel peepers. I work for couples that don’t care about CCD’s and CMOS sensors. They do care for a photographer that works with a small camera and doesn’t use flash. With the M240, I can be a little more certain that I can get the shots, no matter the circumstances. And because I pay my mortgage with the money I get from my clients, that seems like a wise decision.

Getting two M240’s was not an option, simply because I’ll need to wait for at least a few months again. My M9, or M9P, features as a backup camera, but one of the new Sony’s might also be interesting, since their high ISO capacities are even better than the M240.

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I wouldn’t have bought the M240 if it wasn’t the tool I need to make a living. I was perfectly happy with the M9 as a camera for travel and general photography. And also for wedding photography. However I knew that I was using it on the limit and that a somewhat more forgiving camera could be a smart investment. On my journey around the world I used the M9’s 160 ISO setting for 99% of the many thousand pictures I took. And I love them. Seriously, if you don’t need the high ISO, you might want to check out the M9, because it might be all you need. Lots has changed in photography and – as I write this – Sony just launched the A7 and A7R for much less than the price of a used M9. If you’re just after technical image quality, this might be your camera. To me, the simple layout of a rangefinder, with everything manual, makes me happy as a photographer. I have owned the M8 for some time, as a backup for my first M9 and even though that camera is ‘technically challenged’, I just loved it, because it isn’t cluttered with buttons and stuff I don’t need or want. Some people say there is no future for rangefinder photography and that the rangefinder mechanism is not suited for fast, demanding photographic assignments. Well, I do shoot dancing people in near dark situations and I need to deliver. I hope my work proves the opposite. If you train enough, you’ll be fast enough. And when the going gets tough, the light gets bad, you’re even faster with a rangefinder…

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I’d lie if I’d say there haven’t been moments of doubt. It’s not without a reason most pro’s use fat and fast DSLR’s. They’re pretty reliable, cheaper and there’s more lenses to choose from. Also, IQ-wise it is hard to beat a modern DSLR. It is however a fact that I have shot quite a lot of assignments – also weddings – because I use this weird little camera. Believe it or not, people hire me to work with it. And in the last four years it has become my trademark. A few weeks ago I was invited at a wedding as a guest and I had a nice conversation with the wedding photographer. He didn’t know my name, but when I told him my business name, he suddenly shouted: “You’re that guy with the Leica!’. More recently, I shot a wedding for a Dutch film maker. He also owns a M9 and he really wanted me to get my documentary shots of his wedding. During the reception I managed to get very close to all the people dancing and take my shots without flash. Afterwards, the couple was very happy with the results. And when I read all these kind words and see the pictures I get with my M, I have no doubt. In the world of wedding photography, competition is fierce and working with the M and shooting my pure, documentary style, makes me stand out the crowd. And the fact is: my business is still growing.

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I have started with one on one teaching in the Netherlands where I teach Leica users to focus their lenses faster. I’m still working on a tutorial that I hopefully will finish this year. It is a very practical book with many exercises to improve your focussing, without too much technical details. I’ll let Steve know when it’s finished. He might be interested in a review…

www.luta.nl

Oct 282013
 

My Thoughts on the Leica M 240

by Brett Price

TUMBLR: BRETTPRICE.TUMBLR.COM

WEBSITE: IAMBRETTPRICE.COM

Hey Steve,

Had a few articles on here before. I mentioned in those articles that I’ve been on a waiting list for the Leica M(240) for over 6 months and had not received it. Well… It finally came! I now own a Black Leica M type 240 and oh man… Its good. On a side note, I was on B&H’s waiting list for around 7 months with no luck. I took a trip into london and headed over to R.G. Lewis to check out their Leica Boutique store and after talking with them for a while I decided to drop my name from B&H and get on the list with R.G.Lewis… Had the camera in a month! They are excellent guys and the whole experience (buying internationally) which scares the hell out of me, was handled in an efficient and top-notch manner. I highly recommend them.

I’ve written two other reviews on here about Leica cameras and gear related to that. I had images from the M9 with the Zeiss Sonnar f1.5 (a lens that I found ultimately frustrating) as well as images shot on film the with Summilux 50mm ASPH on film with my M7. I don’t own the M9 anymore but I still own the Summilux and my trusty M7 and I can tell you right now that the pairing of the 240 and the Summilux is nothing short of amazing. I know you’ve written extensively on this combo before but I thought I would share a few of my own that I shot this last week at my home in Nashville, TN & on a recent trip to NYC. I don’t know why but it seems like my purchase of new Leica gear is always accompanied by a trip to NYC, not on purpose, but I’m not complaining….

I personally cannot stand DSLR’s and they almost ruin photography for me as an experience. I’ve owned a D800 for my digital setup for the last 8 or so months and I frankly hate the camera. Not because it isn’t a good camera, it’s truly a fantastic sensor and perfect suitable to take good photos but I hate it. I hate it because its easy. I hate it because its big and bulky. I hate the way people react to it when I point it in their face. I honestly cannot wait to sell and be rid of it. End rant. I consider myself a film shooter, it’s what I know and have always been able to get the best results out of. Up until recently Medium Format was my favorite format to shoot because the resolution and detail that you can get from it is fantastic and in my opinion, lenses today just don’t have the look and pop like a Hasselblad or Pentax 67. But the Leica Summilux has that look. It has that pop and glow and sharpness, I knew that even when I shot 35mm with it…

But on to the 240. Wow. So a camera with a sensor like the d800 with none of the things I hated about the M9 but everything I loved? Yes please, sign me up. I’m not a pixel peeper or worry to heavily about how each individual digital camera performs on paper. Thats why I love this site and the reviews on here because they don’t pull a “ken rockwell” and analyze with graphs and pie charts. It’s all about the images, nothing else matters, if it looks good, then it looks good. I have been nothing short of amazed about how much I like “digital” files now. I feel like it’s almost blasphemous for me to say but I finally think I’ve found a digital camera that I like as much or equally to film. Thats a big statement and I think the 240 deserves all the credit. It’s wonderful to use. Its quick, responsive, quiet, the battery lasts forever, the files look gorgeous and have so much detail and pop, and with a little tweaking they look spectacular.

I loved shooting with the camera so much I never felt the need to pull out the film camera I brought with me. I wanted to test myself to see if it gave me the same satisfaction and it definitely did. It’s a rangefinder, it’s not something most people can pick up and understand. It takes practice and effort in deliberation to get the photos you want. you can shoot off the hip like you can with an autofocus camera at some guy on the subway and hope he doesn’t notice, you’ve got to get in his face, knowingly point a camera at him and take his picture hoping he doesn’t promptly beat you up afterwards. I love that. I think effort and getting closer to things with always trump autofocus and a zoom lens any day. I enjoyed shooting with it so much that I’m going to sell a few of my film systems to afford a Summilux 35mm ASPH v1. A lens I played with at B&H and really loved. (I also tried the FLE and didn’t love it. Aside from price I felt like the v1 had the same look as my 50lux and the FLE looked much harsher, to each his own…)

To sum this write up…up? I’ll say that for those of you who liked the M9, you’d love this camera, all the kinks have been worked out. Trust me. My only annoyances with it at first were WB issues (fixed with latest firmware) and the dumb M button. Just let me program it to be some other button please. I don’t want to auto shoot video. Ever. Actually, it would be hugely awesome if it was a temporary spot meter button… just press and you meter the rangefinder patch only. Are you listening Leica???

And for those of you who I’m sure will ask. I’ll never stop shooting film… but I might shoot it less now…

Anyway, I hope you all like the images with follow this post.

For all the tech-heads out there here are some details:

-Leica M240 w/ Summilux 50mm ASPH

-Processed in Lightroom 5

-VSCO film presets. Usually Portra 800HC/400 or Tri-X 400++ or Ilford Delta 3200

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Oct 082013
 

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A user experience of buying a second hand Leica M9-P with a 50mm summicron.

The love to portrait people around me

By Boudewijn Klop

Hello Steve,

Your website has inspired me a lot and made me decide to buy a used Leica M9-P together with the latest 50mm summicron (NON APO). I am a 29-year old amateur photographer who likes to photograph the people around me who I love and care about. Therefore, the Leica M9 would suite me perfectly since it is relatively compact, robust and simply a joy to shoot with. When I bought my used Leica M9-P I was quite nervous and in doubt whether I wouldn’t be better off buying a brand new Leica M-E for an extra 1000 euros. In the end it turned out that buying a used Leica M9-P was without problems. I bought it from a person who owned a shoe store in Amsterdam and wanted to upgrade its camera to the new Leica M. My newly acquired, but used Leica M9-P came with all the boxes and original receipts and is working perfectly.

I used to shoot with a Fuji X100 and with the Leica M9-P I am so pleased to have full control over my focussing and how well this camera chooses its exposure times. Its rangefinder focus system and almost never failing centre weigth light metering system adds to its ease of use and its capability to shoot the pictures I want to take.

When I was dreaming about buying a Leica I was convinced it should come with the 50mm summilux ASPH. Instead I came across a nice used version of the latest 50mm non APO summicron. Its maximum F2.0 aperture is actually fast enough in 99% of the situations for available light shooting and it also provides plenty of creamy background and foreground blur when desired. In addition, it is small and light weigth, which adds to the portability of the camera system. I just simply put them in my backback when going into town or visiting friends and I take the camera out when I feel the need of taking a picture.

The 50mm focal length is capable of capturing portraits as well as larger scenes. However, it is definitively not wide enough to capture city streets, which needs a lens with a 35mm focal length or less. On the other hand, the 50mm focal length is perfectly allround for shooting friends and family and it can still provide enough “space” to put the photographed people into a context.

I hope you enjoy the sample pictures I provided. They were all shot with the Leica M9-P combined with the latest version 50mm summicron.

Boudewijn Klop

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Sep 292013
 

The Leica M 240 and the 50 Summilux ASPH make for a great one lens combo!

I have started to shoot more with my M 240 again and have to say that even today, as it was with the M9, the 50 Summilux ASPH is probably the perfect ONE LENS to use with the M. The 50mm focal length has always been one of my top two faves, alternating with 35 and while there are quite a few other 50mm options for everyday use such as the Zeiss 50 Planar, Leica 50 Summicron, Zeiss 50 Sonnar and Voigtlander 50 Nokton 1.5 VM there is usually nothing  that matches the look and feel of the 50 Summilux ASPH.  I can say that I love lenses like the ones I just mentioned just as much but they all give a different look, feel and color signature. The Zeiss lenses POP more with punchy color, the Voigtlanders offer duller color and sharp results with a Bokeh all of their own and the Leica Lux has its own signature as well.

While not as crisp as it was on the M9, the 50 lux still has an etheral quality about it with a certain way that it transitions from in and out of focus when shot at a wide open aperture of 1.4. This is a “lifetime lens” and while I have owned a few and sold a few I always gravitate back to it. These days I have a few 50′s  - this Lux and some classic glass that gives me the old school charm but for everyday use? The 50 Lux is hard to beat.

I’ve shot only a few images with my M over the past week but all with the 50 Summilux ASPH. Mine came from Ken Hansen, and he has plenty in stock in black or silver. You can e-mail him here if you are looking for any Leica glass.

I also think the M waiting list is starting to dwindle so you may want to ask him about that as well :) You can also pick up an M (or preorder without deposits) at The Pro Shop, PopFlash.com.

A little Birdy told me that the Pro Shop has a Leica M 240 IN STOCK right now. btw.

Click the images for larger views. Enjoy your Sunday!

From RAW at f/2 – 97 year old “Sir Jack Leslie” who mingled with us during the Olympus E-M1 event. He is the one who owns the castle.

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Same shot as above but converted to B&W using a Tri-X 400 preset

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Thomas Leuthard – Amazingly good street shooter – see his blog HERE (he shoots an OMD)

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This Radiator was shot at 1.4 and ISO 2500

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At 1.4 this lens is sharp as you will ever need while giving you the “Lux Look”

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International Travel Essentials – Ona Brixton, Cole Haan Shoes, and Rimowa Topas Luggage :)

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