Aug 292014
 

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A night with the Monochrom at ISO 10,000

So yesterday you saw where I wrote about the new Leica M-P and the silver Monochrom. Last night Debby and I decided to take a drive down to a cool hangout here in Phoenix called “The Lost Leaf’. We have been there a few times now and it always offers a great atmosphere, a huge selection of beers and drinks and every single night, live music. The last time I was there I brought along the Sony A7s and tested it in the torturous low light conditions of the Lost Leaf, which at times borders on near darkness. The A7s did well, even when pushed to over 80,000 ISO and seeing that I was going that high in ISO with the A7s, I did not think the Monochrom would be able to handle it, especially with the 50 f/2 lens I had on the camera. But I gave it a shot. I cranked the Monochrom to ISO 10,000, which is the max ISO for this camera, and I snapped a few frames.

Before heading in I set the MM to ISO 6400 and snapped a shot of this mural on the wall across the street. Click on it to see  the tones, graduations and sharpness. It was shot at 50mm and f/2, wide open.

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At ISO 10,000 the Monochrom puts out files that look like Tri-X 400 film.  All images below were shot at ISO 10,000

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People hanging out on the patio waiting for the nights musical act, Copper & Congress. 

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As the band started to play I took a test shot from my table to test the lighting and to see if ISO 10k and f/2 was enough. I managed to get 1/60th second.

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I feel the Monochrom puts out convincing B&W that does remind me of my M6 ad M7 film days..

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I moved in closer to get some shots of the band..

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By far my fave shot of the night, and this one is a JPEG from camera. ISO 10,000, f/2 – click it for much better viewing experience.

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The Sony A7s was also with me…

I also brought the Sony A7s with me along with the 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 Zeiss. It focused so accurate and fast for me using auto focus, even in these dim conditions..it was amazing. With that said, I had to crank the ISO higher on the Sony as I was using an f/2.8 lens so I used ISO 16,000 and 32,000. Only problem was I had the camera (by accident) set to JPEG only, and was shooting in the gimmicky “high contrast B&W mode” which killed the tonality of the image. None of them looked good, but it was my mistake for using the HC B&W option. Here is one example below of what that setting will do when used at high ISO and low light:

The next two shots were taken with the Sony A7s at ISO 16,000 and 32,000 using the 55 1.8 and 35 2.8. Problem is I had the camera set to JPEG only and used the High Contrast B&W mode which destroyed the tones. Lesson learned.

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As you can see, using high contrast B&W on the A7s destroyed the details, the tones and the overall look of the image (IMO). From now on, no more gimmick modes for me! If it were set to standard B&W it would have looked great. I can also see the NR at work from the camera even though it was set to low. Still, the A7s performed like a beast. Fast AF, quick and easy shooting, no issues. If I had it set to RAW and JPEG I could have saved my photos so user error on that one.

At the end of the day though I soooo loved shooting the Monochrom last night. It has been a while since I shot anything like this with a Leica and with the insanely low light here (It’s literally lit up by one red light bulb) I did not think the Leica would cut it, especially with a 50 f/2. While the Noct would have been amazing here, the little Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 did well. For me the Mono images have a teeny something about them that is beautiful and now I know that I can go up to ISO 10k in the dark without issue. It’s all about the exposure and if you nail it then you will have minimal noise.

I will be back to the Lost Leaf soon I am sure because it is great fun to see and shoot these live acts in such a cool inmate environment.

You can check out the Lost Leaf here and if you are ever in Phoenix I highly recommend stopping in. You can check out Copper & Congress at their website HERE. 

Aug 282014
 

VIDEO: The Leica M-P and Silver Monochrom

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Ahhhhhhhh, the beauty of Leica. No matter what anyone will ever say, there is nothing like the beauty and feel of a Leica M camera, and I feel this way about the M3, M6, M7, M8, M9, M9-P, Monochrom and M 240/M-P. To me, they are just what I want in a digital camera and have all that I could ever need (except an affordable price and super low light which the A7s covers for me very well). Even after all of these years the Leica M is the ONLY digital rangefinder on the planet (not counting the no longer made Epson RD-1) that is available. So if you are an RF fan, this is it.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus..none have even attempted it although I was hoping Nikon would do so a few years ago. So as of today, mid 2014, Leica is the only game in town if you want a real life back to basics digital rangefinder camera and NO, Fuji do not have ANY RF cameras (some seem to think they do).

With that out-of-the-way, here we are a couple of months before PHOTOKINA where all kinds of goodies get released and announced. I am sure Leica will have something new, Sony will have something new and huge and Nikon and Canon will probably have the same old same old. Olympus will have something new, probably Panasonic as well. But just a couple of months early Leica not only announced but released the black paint M-P.

The M-P is basically an M240 with a larger buffer, sapphire LCD screen and all black paint without any markings on the front. This means NO “M” and no RED DOT! On the top you have the classic Leica logo which appears just as it did in the M-9P (which was crazy popular, sold out at launch for months). The M-P is not selling out at launch and that is mainly due to the fact that at the price of $8,000 it is too expensive in 2014 even for a Leica. With Sony rocking the A7 series that have an even better sensor at 1/3 the cost it makes it hard to justify a digital Leica today. With that being the case, why did i just purchase TWO of  them? EEEK!

The deep rich tones of the MM (with a Zeiss 50 Planar, one of my fave M lenses ever due to bang for the buck)

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Well, part of it is passion. Part is foolishness. Part is from my heart and the rest is due to the fact that no matter how many times I drift away from Leica…I ALWAYS COME BACK. I have an emotional connection to the M and when I am out with it I enjoy it more than any other camera, even if other cameras can do more for me. The Leica M 240 is my favorite camera of all time, previous to this it was the M9. When the Sony A7s was released it was tied with my M 240 and I said “why would I keep this M when I love the Sony so much”. So I sold my M 240 and banked the money.

Two months later, while I still am in love with the A7s and have no desire to get rid of it, the M has creeped back in to my head. Just days before the M-P was announced I was looking for a used deal on an M 240 yet again. So away I go and email Ken Hansen who said “I will have the M-P week, if you want one let me know”. Too easy. Bam. Ordered. He also said “I have a few silver chrome Monochrom’s in stock” – and that was it, BAM! I went crazy..I was foolish..but do I regret it? No, because I now have an M-P which is the most beautiful M 240 yet and the chrome MM is a sight to see and about as unique and pure as a digital camera can get. Both have their uses as does my Sony A7s.

In fact. I will use my A7s for low light, macro,  and some times when I need a hassle free AF camera. I will use the MM on those occasions when a pure B&W mode strikes me and the M 240 on all other occasions. The great thing is that the lenses can be used on all three cameras without issues.

Here I am almost 45 years old and still being stricken with GAS. Today though I will acknowledge that the prices required to get into a Leica M system are way too high, but for those who gain happiness and joy from it then it doesn’t really matter as long as you can swing it. Life is short and I would rather LIVE IT than sit around on my couch all day watching TV, waiting for something good to happen to me. So that is what I do and how I live life.

So the new Leica M-P is available and shipping NOW! For those interested, you can order them at Ken Hansen, PopFlash, Pro Shop, B&H Photo, Amazon and Leica Store Miami. The Chrome MM is also available from all of those dealers.

Below is my video featuring both cameras. Enjoy!

Aug 122014
 

Copenhagen with the Leica M 240 and 50 APO Summicron

by Howard Shooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Shooter

www.HowardShooter.com

Jul 302014
 

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My Photo and Camera Journey

By Steven Crichton

The first act: Style and Ergonomics.

I suppose the first time I realised I had a look to my work was when a lecturer watched a group project and exclaimed “That’s a Crichton shot if ever I saw it”. I suppose it was at this point it dawned on me that I’d finally achieved the personal nirvana that so many of us dare not mention to ourselves in our work. I had a style unique to me.

I’ve been involved in photography since about 1996, when a few friends were applying to go to Art School. I looked at their portfolios and said to myself, “I can do that” and that was the point at which I paid £5 for a beaten up Fuji ST501, started to invest my pocket-money and hard-earned cash from a dishwashing job in film. I was abysmal!

I tried every technique. Read every book. I could never stick to one thing and dipped my toe into every known stylistic pattern I could achieve with a 50mm lens and a darkroom. Just the other day I found a bundle of solarised prints, no doubt borne out of a section in a book borrowed from the library on Man Ray, along with a passage in a John Hedgecoe Darkroom Techniques.

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Anyway as time went on I jumped about gear too. As I aged, my credit rating aged, my earning capacity increased and by the end of my initial film use period I was deep into a canon EOS system. With a healthy splattering of M42 adapted lenses. A Russian fisheye and a motor drive meaning I’d achieved 7th heaven for a then aspiring Skateboard photographer. However, around this time I started wearing glasses and this is where the second part of the tale comes in.

I’m left eyed. I wear glasses. Find me any camera designed for eye level use for a left eyed glasses wearing photographer! My right eye had been damaged by spray painting accident as a 5-year-old in helping dad fix the car. An incident where a man underneath a dismantled engine, holding a crankshaft doesn’t sometime have the time to realise he forgot to put the safety cap back on the spray can. I cried yellow and didn’t get the chocolate I was promised. Other than that I became predominantly left eyed and forever the last person the R&D department of every camera manufacturer would think about.

Back to the rest now.. It was about the time of starting university that I gave up taking photos as voraciously as I did before. I stopped carrying a camera and concentrated on playing the Guitar. Also as many camera toting musicians will know if gear is addictive in photography, with electric instruments my word the possibilities are endless to allow your hard-earned money pour from your pockets. Anyway, University ended, I bought a car .. cue next money / energy waste. Then I met a girl! (I had met them before, just not a significant one)

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She was an art student and did a film course. Bang I was back. Starting out with the most beaten up canon F1n you had seen. I alas didn’t get to meet Crocodile Dundee whilst using it ( I later stupidly refused an offer to buy the actual camera from the film ), but I found my love again. This combined with a purchase of a proper film scanner a DSLR and a Seagull TLR camera I dipped my toe back in. Excited as well by the advent of Flickr. A wonderful place where we can all have our backs patted and have a serious amount of paid work time wasted if your then employer doesn’t understand what you really do for a living.

Hasselblads, Contaxes, Leica R’s, Nikons (to which I stayed loyal on the periphery) , Linhof’s. Even a B17 Bomb-door Aero-Ektar mounted into a Graflex to shoot handheld. I jumped about a lot. My nose firmly planted behind the back of each of them. Glasses pressed to the side of my head. Still jumping between a lot of things as formats and my taste changed.

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Then suddenly. Something worked.

It’s that moment I hope all of you will have one day that. The camera comes up and goes down. You don’t look at the screen and you know what you saw you captured as you intended.

It came in the form of a Bessa R3a and a 40mm Nokton. Plus add into the mix Kodak UC 400 and Ilford HP5. I’d bought the hand winder, so no more poking my face winding on. I’d bought the grip to push the winder into my hand that looks like a dildo. Plus I’d actually read and paid attention to the wonderful font of knowledge that Roger Hicks and Frances Schulz bestowed upon us in their book of Exposure. ( for anyone looking at it .. take older sensors as slide film and newer ones a little more like print film)

It’s about this time things became consistent. I found my eye.. I found the lenses that fitted my thoughts. Then got an M2 then an M4-P to use in tandem. Looking back now at work from then it’s almost the same as it is now in the composure, the colour and ways I’ve torn a set of shapes my brain was faced with into a picture to draw someone in or hopefully let them see a little of what I saw in someone.

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The Second Act:

Life sometimes deal’s strange a strange hand to us and I was given the opportunity to study an Imaging masters at Duncan of Jordanstone art school in Scotland. I jumped at the chance, after being so angrily denied previously by my parents.By then video in DSLR’s had hit, I had a D90, I’d wasted countless hours reading about T stops, Focus Pulls, made dubious home-made rigs and all the like. I’d even written my own video editing software as by trade I’m a programmer. I sold almost all my film stuff keeping the M4-P and 2 lenses and hit Nikon hard for a range of lenses, tripods and bags.

The Crunch. No one tells you how much you will hate something when you are forced to do it!

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Creative work for me had been an escape. It now became a battle when I had to justify it with research and abstraction in every way. I wished people would get it ..

“If I think it’s interesting and cool and so do you, why do I need to back reference this to some made up back story or delve into the battle that art has with science”.

As you all can gather in an art school this is like presenting a lecturer with a freshly scraped up piece of roadkill. So I stopped. Completely. I graduated and stopped. 3 years passed and thankfully, the bitter taste of pressure gone, I wanted to enjoy the process of photography again.

Moving to a city such as London, you downsize, rapidly and totally. I went from a 4 bedroom house to a single room, so the loss of equipment was brutal. No more Leica’s, 1 Nikon d300s and an old F3 I had if I wanted to shoot some film. After a year of the city I left, but in the strange hand of fate kept a full-time night job with the Tate gallery, as well as my new full-time position back in Scotland at a Medical School in Dundee.

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I had money!

I mean I had the kind of money you either put a deposit on a house with or you consciously waste on every childhood dream toy you ever wanted. I drove a fast car, toted a Nikon D3s. Had the best zooms, the best primes (according to reviewers) and still had the same style! At last consistency in my work. Alas my nose and my eye hated placing a D3s shaped brick to it, but I went on.

The Final Act:

Then I sold it all. 4 backpacks of lenses bodies, supports, diopters you name it. If there was something in a drawer and it had Nikon or was “compatible” I put it in the camera bags I had and jumped on the train. 8 hours later standing in the North of Scotland I had an M9. Along with it, 4 lenses and the viewfinders needed. I genuinely felt like I had just come back home.

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A bit of time with adjusting the focus to allow for my eye being at an angle to the viewfinder and a soft release to boot I haven’t looked back. Throughout all of this time since getting it my shots look like my shots, I know what to expect and I know how it will all sit together still.

Then all of a sudden I’d expanded this kit a bit. G.A.S struck! Things like the voigt 12mm the summicron v4 etc .. all lenses that are according to the internet “sub par” on an M9. Little do they know .. I don’t shoot test charts and I actually print stuff I like out. I also work to the limits of what they can do. Then came along came Sony!

The crowning glory that Sony have managed, that is ignored by all. Is that the A7 range cameras can use every lens known to god and can nearly accommodate a part Italian Scottish nose when combined with a left eye. People bang on that lens X is awful, and continue to do so. “You need a Leica M240 or if only they had …” I say to you, when you use it does your style show through? Does it fit you? As nothing else matters. (unless it’s a biogon lens then yes they are awful… sorry Zeiss and sorry for the double standards people of the internet these are bad on the A7 ranges even adobe’s DNG light field correction filters can rescue them).

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So what do I grab now? I grab what works. I don’t assume a lens will deal a magic blow and I don’t assume the camera has an automated mode that makes me a grand master selling work for more money than I earn in a year. I grab the M9 or the A7 dependent on weight/laziness/feeling/weather and go out and shoot.
Probably by this time you are all very bored with this and looking for a conclusion. Well it’s in the Title; Style and Ergonomics.

If you can get a style stick with it, keep on working with it. If you can find something that fits you as a human, even if it’s not resolving 100000 lph or has a dash of vignetting and aberration, you will use it more than the 20kg Zeiss Otus that your wrist screams at. For me it’s a badly worn M9 and an A7 with a ragtag bag of lenses and I’ll be keeping it that way for years to come.

http://www.zuikomedia.com/

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Jul 102014
 

Leica Monochrome Mojo

by Matthieu Fassy

My name is Matthieu Fassy I am a French expat in Dubai. About a year ago I started getting into photography, encouraged by my dear wife and some close friends. I decided to acquire a Canon 5D Mark III and a few lenses and started carrying the whole kit in each of my trips abroad. Pretty quickly I got really tired of carrying a huge and heavy bag around… I am shooting Street, Landscapes, Architecture and Sports. I found that the 5D was giving me great results in Sports photography but that for my favorite type of photography, which is Street, it was just not convenient at all.

So I went Leica…

I am a fan of Black & White and I must say that the M Monochrom is making me really happy. There is something difficult to explain about the rendering of the files coming out the M Monochom… Some kind of 3D / Sharp magic mojo giving a unique touch to the images! The M 240 is producing mellow colors which suit my taste well but I must say that I often convert those color images to B&W… As for the lenses they are perfection! Fast and razor-sharp! I only shoot in natural light and often wide open so for night Street photography, these lenses are great!

Anyway, my last trips were in Japan where I was in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo and the Netherlands. Japan is a very interesting country, with great history, culture, food, art, architecture and traditions. It is a country of contracts in many aspects, very graphic and very photogenic. As for the Netherlands I was there during Kings Day (The King’s Birthday), which is a day of massive popular celebrations across the country! It is very colorful and full of orange, which is the Country’s color. Here are a few shots from these trips, which I wanted to share on Steve Huff’s WEB site, which is a great source of inspiration and a must visit site every day for me!

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Jun 252014
 

Still enjoying my Leica M8

By Jochen Utecht

Dear Steve,

It has been a while since you published my latest “inspirational” email (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/01/14/daily-inspiration-494-by-jochen-utecht/). This time I would like to share a few images taken with my Leica M8, which I love and hate at the same time. If I had to decide which camera to keep, it would be the Fujifilm X100s. But the M8 is capable of outstanding quality. It only is a slow and quirky device, which sometimes is a good thing.

You can hardly push the ISO beyond 640. There is too much noise showing up. Focusing often takes too much time for snapshots. But prefocusing can make looking through the viewfinder obsolete. Compared to the X100 it is a heavy piece of metal. But it feels soo good!

I don´t have Leica lenses, because I am by no means rich if money matters. But I could get hold of a few nice lenses second hand:
Voigtländer 21/4, VC 15/4.5, Minolta 28/2.8 and Minolta 40/2.0. The Minolta´s are the same in quality as Leica glass. And the 15/4.5 is fantastic. Very sharp lens. I use the 21 and the 28 most of the time.

Usually I shoot RAW (DNG). The wide-angle lenses from Voigtländer get a treatment with CornerFix first. Then I develop a bit with Photoshop (Camera Raw). After that I go into Picasa and make some adjustments to the jpg´s. (First I try the I´m-feeling-lucky-button) That works well enough for me at least.

VC 21/4, edited in PS (correction of converging lines)

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They don´t earn much money, but are really childloving people.
Minolta 28mm/2.8, prefocused image.

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The forbidden city is always a joy to walk around. I usually hate images taken from behind. They are cowardish and mostly don´t say anything than that the photographer was there and didn´t have the guts to ask for permission. But sometimes you cannot do anything else and the picture still works.
VC 21/4.

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The same goes for this one. This Panorama was also with the 21/4. I stitched it from 6 portait-style images. There is barely any distortion in the VC21/4, so PS didn´t have problems putting it together. I don´t mind that some people appear as doublettes. Next time I might bring a tripod and blur the people.

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First of all I asked for permission to take a picture of these beauties. After a posing picture was taken they immediately went back to watching their smartphones and I could capture the scene I had been seeing before.
Minolta 28/2.8

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Sometimes you get nice results if you hand the M8 to a stranger to have your picture taken. This was on the first of May. I even had to tell that chinese fellow which button to press, but made the settings prior to handing the camera over. It would have been a fun pic if my face had been replacing Mao. I will try that next time. That might not be possible with a rangefinder camera though.
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I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if you don´t want to show all 6 pictures, feel free to choose three of them.

Thanks, Jochen
5intheworld.de

Jun 162014
 

A classic! A Leica X1 review article

By Adam Grayson

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Greetings!

As long time follower of your site, I am excited at my first opportunity to contribute. I have written an article about the Leica X1, titled “Yesterday’s News: The Leica X1 Review”. Below is the review for your, um, review.  Yesterday’s news: The Leica X1 review!

Released 09/09/09, the Leica X1 is certainly not today’s hot topic (the T is the current title holder now) and has likely been forgotten about as yesterday’s news by most of the photographic community. Heralding in a new era of the digital camera world with its fixed focal length, APS-C sensor in a small body, retro look and manual controls, it was considered to be the first of its kind that started a trend continuing through today. As the Leica T system ushers in a new kind of interface to the photographic world, I thought it would be relevant to share my experiences with this quirky but still very capable camera that was the talk of the town in 2009.

My experience with the X1 started in late 2010, well after its initial release. Not being able to financially justify the hefty price tag of a new X1, I patiently waited until the price in the used market came down to what I considered to be reasonable enough to make the jump. At that time, the camera brought me mixed feelings. The image quality was outstanding when everything came together, but most other times it was maddeningly frustrating. Maybe because I expected it to be as quick and versatile as my trusty old DLUX 4, or as reliable as my M8, but my initial experience left me wanting. After a few months of dedicated use, I decided to sell the X1 and chase photographic glory elsewhere.

So began my search for the ultimate APS-C fixed focal length camera. This journey took me through almost every form of the genre released on the market; from the retro-rific Fuji X100, to the uber-compact powerhouse Ricoh GR. Even the X1′s replacement model the Leica X2 passed through my hands at one point. All of the cameras had their strengths and weaknesses, but none of them really grabbed me, not even the X2 (a whole other story).

The closest camera that came close to staying in my stable was the Ricoh GR; what an amazing camera! It bests the X1 in many ways but it still did not have that feeling; the tactility in my hands, the manual controls, the desire to go out and take pictures with it. Something was always missing with the other cameras. You know, that elusive feeling that comes every so often when you really connect with a camera.

So what brought me back to the X1? It took an epiphany while shooting with the venerable Contax T2 (a fixed lens compact film camera) to see what I have been missing all along; stop trying to use the camera like a modern digital and shoot it like a film camera. Use a slower, more deliberate style of shooting. After coming to this realization, I had only one camera in mind to test my theory out. The X1.

Fast forward to February 2014. Found a great deal on a black X1 and went into the experience with a new mindset; don’t treat the camera like an automatic small-sensor point and shoot, treat it as a film camera like the Contax T2. Guess what? Yep, things went much better. Where blood pressure raising frustration used to kick in, now the zen calm of measured photography took place. Is the camera perfect? No. Will it hit the 100% “keeper” zone, especially with my ever-moving two-year-old? Certainly not. That being said, I find my keeper ratio close to that of my film cameras, even with the toddler in questionable light. I only use a 2 or 4GB card to ensure that I do not get in the digital “shoot, chimp, dump and repeat” mindset.

For those that may want to look at the X1, here are a few tips to get you on your way. First, keep your shutter speed above 1/60. Although you may think that 1/30 would work (as it does for me with Leica rangefinders), it tends to let the image get blurry quick, especially if the light is less than optimal.

Second, shot in DNG, all the time. No, really, all the time. Unfortunately the camera only takes DNG+JPG, and not just DNG (something about the camera’s software that cannot preview DNG files, so it grabs a stinky JPG). Delete the JPG and keep the DNG, even for black and white conversions. The latitude that the X1 DNG files give is pretty amazing. I have taken some photos in the unforgiving Florida sun and have been able to recover most of the blown highlights or deep shadows from most areas. The X1 can be frustrating, and a lot of shots can be missed if the camera is not understood. Used properly the X1 will reward you with some amazing photographs. My first time with the X1 stands testament to that, which is a good part of the reason why I came back.

The hype and fervor surrounding the Leica T is reminiscent of what the X1 went through in 2009. As a photographer, I look for cameras that create a connection with me. While the Leica T will one day end up in my hands, the X1 will still be in my bag bringing me exceptional photos that will last a lifetime for me and my family.

my photo blog can be found at www.uninspired.me

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Jun 102014
 

Tibet with my M9

By John Kurniawan

Hi Steve/Brandon,

I am a frequent visitor of you side after I got my first M9+cron 35asph. I have not using rangefinder type of camera for 20+ years since my FM2 rest inside the drawer as I am busy building up my business.

Around 10 years ago when I got a second daughter I start to get D300 and shot occasionally not seriously yet till last Jun we are on a vacation trip where I have to carry bag pack, a DSLR+zoom lens and for sure shopping bags…..

Leica M9 has been my dreams since it launch but back and forth hesitate to get one as have the mind-set difficult to focus, everything else must be manually set, so last August I took the plunge and get a pre-owned M9 from a friend. The first 2 weeks quite frustrating to get use to it, but I determined must get over it and since then every where I travel only one cam and one lens to off some of the load.

Herewith I attached some shots of my recent trip to Tibet, hope all of you enjoy the colorful Tibet.

Cheers

Gangway

Prayers

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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
 

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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

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