Jul 152014
 

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The Sony A7s: A New Camera for Leica M lenses

By Ashwin Rao – HIs flickr is HERE, his Facebook is HERE

Hello, gang. It’s Ashwin, back from a bit of a hiatus to discuss the camera du jour, Sony’s impressive A7s. The A7s has gotten quite a bit of press, in particular for it’s remarkable ISO sensitivity/performance, for it’s 4K video, and for it’s buck-the-convention 12-megapixel sensor. It’s been hotly debate, in light of the already-exceptional performance of its two siblings, the A7 and A7R, which offer different full frame sensors. I have extensively shot both bodies, and while I enjoyed the experience, I was left a bit in the lurch for entirely selfish reasons. Unfortunately, extensive shooting bore out that the A7r is really not a great option for Leica M lenses due to the critical nature of the sensor and how it plays (poorly) with M lenses, causing excessive vignetting, color casts, and detail smearing at the edges. The Sony A7 is better with regards to its capacity with M lenses (most lenses 35 mm and above do “okay” to “great” on the A7), but after shooting these 2 cameras, I came to the conclusion that perhaps Leica M lenses were best suited to be used on Leica M camera bodies, from a purely imaging standpoint. One can argue endlessly about the rangefinder (beyond the frame lines) vs SLR/mirrorless (tunnel vision) way of seeing, and there’s really no right answer there, as it’s more a matter of preference. But until recently, while the A7R and A7 were capable of using M lenses, they didn’t really make M lenses shine. And thus, I moved on, continuing to genuinely enjoy my Leica M bodies for my M lenses.

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A few months ago, whispers of a new camera began, and what resulted was the Sony A7s….a low megapixel (in today’s market), high ISO monster reportedly designed for videographers ready to make use of its full frame sensor and 4K recording potential. What people did not speak so much about was whether it would handle Leica M lenses better than its siblings. Maybe it was a lack of interest, and maybe the conversation moved on, but for me, my curiosity was piqued. I wondered whether the sensor’s lower megapixel (less critical) sensor, coupled with its gapless sensor design, would allow it to handle rangefinder lenses, which notoriously bend light into difficult angles at the periphery of digital sensors. My curiosity was also piqued by the high ISO capabilities of such a camera. If the A7s could handle high ISO’s as well as was being made out, suddenly, one could use compact, relatively “slow” M lenses such as the f/2 Summicrons, f/2.5 Summarits, f/2.8 Elmarits, and f/4 Elmars in low light conditions at high shutter speeds. Further, faster M lenses, such as the f/1.4 Summiluxes and f/0.95-1 Noctilux options might allow the photographer to see into the dim light of night like never before, and the lenses remain relatively compact to top it off. Leica M and other rangefinder lenses are generally much smaller than their mirrorless (at least FF mirrorless) and SLR counterparts, and balance quite well on the A7(s/r) bodies quite well, so one could make incredibly versatile images at very low light, using a very small kit…..in theory.

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To top it off, the Sony A7s was soon announced to have a “silent shutter” option, allowing the photographer to shoot with a full electronic shutter that would not announce itself whenever a photo was being taken. To me, this was one of the huge potential benefits to the Sony…Silence means that a photographer can work discretely, and the A7s, for the first time, offered this option to the photographer choosing a mirrorless body for work…For a Leica photographer-nutball such as myself, the value of discretion is part of the “rangefinder way”, and now, here was a mirrorless body that did it even better than the Leica M3 through M7, with their lovely/subtle shutter sounds….Here was a camera that could offer silence when shooting (albeit with the risk of a rolling shutter effect for fast-moving subjects)….wow, the A7s was now really grabbing my attention.

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But, All of this was fine and dandy, but only, and only if M lenses would play well on the Sony….

So the early reports came in, including Steve’s own detailed, fantastic, glowing review of the camera, using mainly FE lenses…Steve was blown away by the camera’s AF performance, high ISO performance, and it’s overall handling, for a full frame camera. But the images that intrigued me most from his review, as well as those of others, was the performance of the tiny Cosina Voigtlander 15 mm Heliar lens. Many of you know that while this lens one of the widest fields of view for a rangefinder lens, it plays quite poorly with the M9 and M240, and doesn’t do well on cropped sensors in many instances, due to excessive color shifts (magenta) and vignetting, due to the physics of the optics at play and how they project light through the lens and onto most sensors…Yet, the Sony A7s was handling the CV 15 mm lens, no sweat.

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So off I went to my camera store, armed with a host of Leica M lenses, ranging from a 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar through a 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron. After a few preliminary shots, I took note of dramatically less vignetting and what appeared to be more uniform color through the image field (i.e. no color casts). Hmmmm, great start, I thought….

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But what about smearing? One issue with using lenses 35 mm or wider at full aperture, is that many lenses start to smear details at the periphery of the imaging field. It’s a dirty little secret that Leica’s own wide angle lenses tend to do this on digital bodies, and this was one of the reasons that it took so long for Leica to introduce a digital rangefinder (and ultimately, the Leica M8 with it’s 1.3x crop sensor, designed to avoid the physics causing some of the issues mentioned). At one point, Leica’s CEO at the time mentioned that it might never be possible to produce a digital M body, but we know how that prediction turned out….

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Smearing has been a major issue for me with full frame bodies such as the Sony A7r and A7, and when added to intermittent color casts and high levels of vignetting, I had previously found that files just took too much work to get things right, and I gave up. Now, sitting home at my computer with a variety of files from a variety of lenses ranging from wide to telephoto, I was not seeing any objectionable colorcasts and much improved vignetting. How about smearing, then? Well, the jury is still out, but for the most part I have been entirely pleased. Of the wide lenses in my possession, I found that the 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar did exhibit slight detail loss at the far edges of the image, but this was not objectionable, just more than what I had seen on the M9 and M240 bodies. The lens that continues to “misbehave” on the A7s was the Leica 28 mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. This lens gives even Leica M bodies some trouble, and in the case of the Sony A7s, it has continued to produce moderate smearing at the edges. For real world street photography, in which edge sharpness may not be important, the smearing rarely matters, but if one were shooting landscapes, he or she would notice this, so it’s I lens I have considered avoiding for those moments when edge sharpness matters (For most other moments, the 28 ‘cron works great). Beyond that, I have had no issues with edge smearing. Everything works great. My Wide Angle Tri Elmar (WATE) works perfectly at 16 mm on the A7s, though this lens’ design plays reasonably well with even the A7r. My 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE, which didn’t work well on the A7 due to odd vignetting, works perfectly well on the Sony A7s.

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To add to the story, I have found that the Sony A7s does a great job with colors. It presents a palette similar to that of the Sony A7 and A7r, so if you are used to the files that those cameras make, the A7s will be similar. One nice added perk is that at higher ISO, while dynamic range does start to drop off a bit (particularly past ISO 4000, though files are totally useable, in my opinion, through ISO 12,800), the color reproduction at those high ISO’s remains solid. There’s only so much you can push today’s sensor tech, in terms of dynamic range and high ISO noise and color performance, but the Sony A7s is today’s state of the art.

Ultimately, I have been thoroughly pleased with my time using Leica M lenses as my sole lens set up for the Sony A7s. Everything works well. High ISO – check! Silent shutter – check! Minimal muss and fuss with edge image quality – BIG check! Colors and skin tones. Check that as well. Handling of camera with M lenses…big HUGE check! It all seems to work well.

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In summary, I have found the Sony A7s to be a great option on which to use Leica M lenses. If you have an investment in rangefinder lenses, or intend to do so, the Sony A7s is the current camera that you’d want to have on a budget. Sure the Leica M9 is fantastic, but it has high ISO limitations. The Leica M240 is great, but tends to start banding around ISO 3200. Those are fantastic options and allow one to see in the “rangefinder way”. But separating yourself from that, the Sony A7s is an incredible imaging machine. Sure, it has a lower megapixel count, but 12 MP files are plenty for the vast majority of us. The camera’s incredible ISO performance allows for the use of slower lenses, and thus more compact lenses, in low light shooting circumstances. Suddenly, your Elmars and Summicrons become relevant options for night photography, and lenses such as the Noctilux allow you to pear into the night better than your own eyes….it’s rather incredible. Creative possibilities open up, and I see new photographic horizons ahead! The Camera’s EVF is sufficient to reliably focus lenses, particularly if one uses the “Focus Magnify” option to achieve critical focus. The silent shutter allows for very discrete shooting, and for most street photography moments, it’s a perfect option (I have yet to see the Rolling shutter effect for my style of shooting) that’s silent and discrete. And year, silent shutter means no shutter shake to blur your images at that pixel level. Speaking of pixels, the camera’s lower pixel count allows for easier achievement of sharp images at slower shutter speeds, if desired, as 12 MP is much easier to hand hold than 36 megapixels in nearly any circumstance…something to consider if pixel peeping for sharp images is your thing.

The list goes on and on, but you can see that I am quite convinced that the Sony A7s is a viable option for those of you who want to use small, high performance rangefinder lenses on a mirrorless body. It’s the way to go. By the way, every image you see here was shot with the A7s and a M mount Leica lens. Now go out, test one out, and see if it satisfies you. The Sony A7s has certainly satisfied me.

All the best to you, my friends!
Ashwin (July, 2014)

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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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Jun 092014
 

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The Phoenix Comicon. Portraits with the Leica M, 50 APO and Alien Skin Exposure 6.

Hey guys, I know it is only a few days after I posted Part 1 of the Leica 50 Summciron APO review but I just wanted to sit down and write-up a quick photo article as I just got in from shooting the M 240 and 50 APO at the Phoenix Comicon and once again, the lens continues to impress me when used on the M 240. Take this as a companion to part one of the review. Part 2 is still to come! 

Make sure you click on each image to see it larger. A few of these have a filter applied (where noted) using the new Alien Skin Exposure 6 film filter set. I have used Alien Skin Exposure since Version 1 and love it. You can download a free trial of the new Version 6 HERE.

Shooting the 50 APO on the M is a dream. The focus is easy and I used the Rangefinder 100% of the time. Take a look at the image below which was shot wide open, all natural light. A quick grab shot and it has that medium format look. This was shot in the sun at 2PM in Phx, AZ so you know it is harsh light. This combo did excellent. 1st a B&W conversion, and 2nd, direct color out of the M 240.

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Again, the color is superb. Add to that the sharpness without being harsh or analytical and you have a winning combo. I used the Alien Skin Exposure 6 Astia preset for this one. 

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Click the images to see them larger, PLEASE! They look much better ;) The detail in the full size shot of this one is amazing. To see that full size, click the image below (open in new window for best view)

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The Bokeh of the 50 APO is ethereal with some similarities to the Noctilux (when the Noct is at f/2 or so). For this one I used an Alien Skin filter but can not remember which one. There are so many to choose from and it is fun just experimenting with them all. 

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1st…Here is an OOC JPEG, cropped. The 2nd is using a film filter from VSCO. Not Alien Skin but VSCO, which is a bit different as it applies the filter to the RAW file itself.

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Had some shade for this one..again a B&W conversion using the new Alien Skin Exposure 6 (I have used Alien Skin since Version 1, and love it). Below it the color version. 

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Again, the harsh sun..no problem even with the high contrast of the 50 APO.

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Beautiful detail, tones and color once again in less than perfect light. I do not use flashes, ever. 

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Every one of the images here were shot at f/2, wide open where this lens is designed to be shot. In fact. I am not seeing more sharpness at f/4. You just lose the oh so slight vignette that is there at f/2.

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Two girls having fun taking a selfie with a dude wondering why I am taking their picture ;) He looks confused. 

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As hundreds were in line shuffling in I was snapping images from anyone who looked my way. Alien Skin B&W filter without the noise added.

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A Mother and Son who were exited for the event. I wish they had these events when I was young, my Mom would have so taken me in costume!

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This guy asked ME to take his image..

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There were tens of thousands of people at the event. I believe there was an estimated 70,000 there on Saturday. Next year I am going for all three days and hanging out for a few hours a day. Not only did I get to see some cool costumes and take photos, I met a couple of other photographers as well! This couple went all out…

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The color, Bokeh (see the reflection in the BG), the sharpness from edge to edge..nice. 

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I meant to take a picture of the Minecraft head guy, but noticed the other kid smiling at the camera, so focused on him instead. 

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In the harshest most brutal mid day Phx AZ sun…I did not use an ND filter. Used an Alien Skin Neopan filter minus the grain. 

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and inside just ONE of the many sections/buildings – it was a MADHOUSE!

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Inside this guy looked a little spooked when he saw me pointing the camera at him..

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So there are just a few photos from my hour or two at the Phoenix Comicon. I was not prepared for the mass amounts of people so did not enjoy it inside so much but it was a blast outside. Next year I am going all three days just to hang outside. If any local Phx area shooters want to go with, let me know! Will be a blast. The M 240 and 50 APO is as one would expect, a rock solid pairing. The lens is also literally made for the Monochrom. But I will state again as I did in part one of my review for the lens…you do not need a lens of this caliber to get good photos. The old Summicron is also lovely as is the 50 Summilux. The old cron can be had for about 1/4 the price so it is up to you to decide if the perfection and qualities of the 50 APO are worth it to you in money and in the long wait required to get one.

Happy Monday!

Steve

Jun 062014
 

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The Leica 50 Summicron f/2 APO Review, Part 1

by Steve Huff

Technically, the best 50mm lens I have ever shot with. Period. End of Story. Done Deal. No contest. Really!

This is part one of a 2-3 part long term review of this lens. When all is said and done I will have shot this lens on the M 240 extensively, I will have shown you comparisons with the standard cron and other 50mm lenses, I will have shot it on the Sony A6000 and A7s and will do a complete video breakdown on this lens and what and why it is. For now, enjoy part 1 which is basically the introduction to this special lens for the Leica M system. Enjoy!

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The perfect 50mm lens..does it even really exist? Many say that this exact lens that I am about to write about is the best 50mm ever made, without question or doubt but I will tell you that what is determined as “the best” for you comes down to personal preference. To some, the best 50mm lens may be a 50 f/2 Rigid Summicron or for others it may be the 50 Summilux pre-asph, for others the classic 50mm Summarit or Summitar.

If someone were to want the 50mm lens with the most perfect specs, this Leica 50 Summicron APO f/2 would be the ticket though, without question. It would also be the one that will melt your credit card because at the price of $7,350.00, this is not a lens to consider lightly, nor is it a lens that is really “needed’ by 99% of us.

Yes my friends, perfection does not come cheap and this is a wallet buster for sure, even if you are well off or have cash in the bank. For quite a while I was upset that Leica priced this lens the way they did and I remember early on after the announcement I was ready to give up my Leica for good as they were pricing so many out of the M system. I mean, $7,350 for a 50mm f/2 prime when the still current non APO sum micron is $2300?

Well, time has passed since then and it was not until after I really understood what it was, and how hard it was to make and the that Leica is reportedly losing money on this lens that I decided to really take a look at it. When I actually had one in my possession for a while, which just happened recently, I realized how special the lens is. Even with that said, no 50mm lens is really “worth” $7,350 to 99% of people but I do understand why it is priced at this level and I do understand why so many of us Leica M shooters lust after this particular piece of glass.

Sure, I enjoy using a $600 50 Summarit just as much as I love using this APO cron but one thing is certain, I can not fault this lens in any way. From packaging, to construction, to quality, to the hood, to the size, to the pride of ownership that comes with it. It is a thing of beauty and just holding it you can feel the quality and care that went into making it.

It is beautifully made, beautiful in size and technically the best 50mm lens I have ever used. No distortion, amazing contrast, super detailed and sharpness, sweet color and smooth as you can get bokeh in an M mount 50 next to the $11,000 Noctilux. But just because this lens has all of those qualities does not mean that other 50′s now have to be dumped. In fact. Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander make some fantastic 50mm lenses for the M mount and they come in at a fraction of the cost. One could buy a Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 for $800 and take the $6500 saved and go on a massive photo trip :) One could buy the original summcrion for $2300 and save $5000 to use for whatever else they desire. Just because this lens is as good as it gets in a 50mm for 35mm does not mean it is needed to create good photos. I have taken many bad photos with this lens, I should know :)

The Leica M 240 and 50mm APO Summicron makes for one hell of a combo, but at $14,000+, it is pricey combo.

One thing I love about the M system is that I can capture moments just when I want to. Here I was prefocused and waited…looking through the viewfinder until the one moment that I wanted to capture happened. Ahhh, to be young.

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At the cost of this lens and how long it takes to get a hold of one (9-24 month wait after ordering) I do not expect many to actually buy or own this lens. Only the camera crazy G.A.S. stricken few will dare take the plunge into this kind of investment for a single lens, especially when it is a common focal length, 50mm, and common aperture of f/2. But yes! There is a long line for it and that line extends at some dealers for what would equal a good 2 year wait.

But me, I bought one as I have spoken with a few of you who have bought one and swear up and down about this lens. I also never did get a chance to do a full review of this lens so as a service to all of my Leica readers here, I felt I owed it to all of you to write about this lens, lol. Well, that is my way to justify buying it. That and I remembered just how good it was when I had it for a few days over a year ago.

But it is even better now because the latest version of this lens that is shipping has now been fixed of the “flare” issue that was reported on this very lens and the earlier batches. It seems if you bought one early on then your lens may have a flare issue, which was a big no no as this lens was supposed to be perfect. Well, Leica admitted the problem and fixed it. If anyone has an older version of this lens and it fares you can send it to Leica and they will send it back to you flare free. My version would not and could not flare so I know mine is the latest and greatest

Shot at f/2. this one has detail and pop. 

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50mm = the new crack

In reality, I am a 50mm junkie. I think I have tried just about every 50mm lens ever made for the Leica M system. I have loved many of them, even the old 1940′s lenses. Lenses like the Canon 50 0.95 were very cool and fun to use and the old summitar was beautiful and cheap.

I have used the 50mm Summilux ASPH for years, and feel that it is a legendary lens. A lens that is still expensive but more realistic in price at $4,000 (though still high compared to other 50mm lenses). The 50 Summilux offers a faster aperture at $3300+ less than the 50 APO, so for most, THAT is the ultimate Leica 50mm lens. I have captured many precious memories with a 50 Summilux ASPH on the M6, M7, M8, M9 and M 240. It has stood the test of time and still today is probably the most sought after Leica 50mm lens. With the Summilux being so good, why would one spend $3300 more on a slower aperture lens?

That is what I wondered myself but again, the 50mm Summicron APO is for those who want perfection and those who want the best technical 50mm lens ever made. For Leica, this lens is a statement lens. A lens that shows that you do not need a big fat housing to have a perfect 50mm lens ;) Proof that you can have no distortion, nearly no CA and perfect across the frame sharpness even at f/2, when the lens is wide open. The Bokeh of the 50 APO is much nicer than that of the older 50 Summicron, which has been known to have “busy” bokeh. The ONLY fault of this lens is slight vigneting when wide open, but it is slight and adds to the photo IMO. This lens uses very high-end exotic glass, the  best Leica can source.

ISO 3200, Leica M 240, 50 APO at f/2. Click it for larger and see just how nice this looks at 3200!

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or in color. Even at ISO 3200 in a dim restaurant the M creates acceptable color and smooth bokeh with minimal non offensive noise. 

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A True Masterpiece

The 50 APO is tiny. Smaller than a 50 Summilux. It is also gorgeous and has the coolest and smoothest twist out built-in hood ever. It is like a fine jewel in feel, use and in quality. The lens even ships in a large deluxe box that houses a fancy presentation case much like the Noctilux box does. The lens comes with two lens caps, one old school brass (black paint) and one plastic. I keep the black paint one in the box so I do not lose it and just use the standard plastic one. When on the camera it feels like I am shooting the normal standard summicron but when I look back at the pics the level of color fidelity and contrast and pop is on another level.

In use the lens is a joy, It has a focus tab so is easy to focus but I do have one quibble. The aperture ring is a little too loose. I keep the lens at f/2 as it is PERFECT for my tastes at this aperture. I find that sometimes it has slid to f/2.8 and I do not realize it until after the images has been taken. It needs to be a little stiffer to avoid shifting on accident. Other than that, I can find no negatives with this lens at all.

I know that when I grab my Leica M and head out the door for a day of shooting and this lens is attached..well, I know that when I return home and load up my photos to my large 27″ screen that I will be in awe of the colors, the details and the beauty of the files. Being who I am though, I know that I will also be telling myself constantly “You spent HOW MUCH on this lens…you could have used that money for something much more responsible”. So with my guilt of spending so much money on a small tiny lens, when this 2-3 part review is all done, it MAY go up for sale but then again, seeing that this lens makes such an amazing one lens kit with the M, that would be very hard for me to do. :)

Here are a few more of my 1st photos from the 50 Cron…

Bokeh is about as good as it gets in a 50mm Leica M lens (besides the ultra creamy and smooth Noctilux, but that is a whole new look all in itself) f/2

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Mid Day in Prescott, AZ – This little guy was looking at me, probably thinking “Damn, that is a sweet camera”! Click image for larger and more detailed version. f/2

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Debby enjoying the day. This is right out of camera at f/2.

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The color pops with this lens and the M 240

Many who shoot the M 240 notice that some of their favorite lenses performed quite differently than they did on the older M9. Color was different, the POP was a bit different, the sharpness was even different. In the case of the 50 Summilux ASPH I noticed a big difference in rendering from the M9 to the M 240, though I enjoyed both cameras way of presenting the files. Even so, the color was the trickiest part of the M. With this 50 APO, the color coming out looks rich, deep and much like a nice slide film. As close as you can get in digital anyway. For color on the M, there is nothing like the 50 APO. From pop, punch, depth, and tone…this lens rocks color on the M.

Kids playing at a mall in Scottsdale AZ. Click the image for larger size to see the detail and color depth. Shot at f/2, which is where this lens SHINES.

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The 50 APO is a lens that brings a little bit of medium format to the Leica M. Not fully, but a hint of that look from file richness to detail to perfect sharpness and no distortion.

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Smooth..

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This lens, in my opinion, is meant to be shot at f/2. Wide open BABY!

With most lenses and camera systems such as DSLR’s we have been trained to know that stopping a lens down from its wide open aperture will always deliver better performance. In the case of the Leica 50 APO Summicron, I do not feel this is the case. While you will lose the slight vignette that is there at f/2 when stopping down to f/2.8, you will also start to lose some of the signature of the wide open look that this lens creates. When shot at f/2, this lens creates a look that is part classic, part modern but never in an analytical way (which is what I thought it was going to be when I first tested this lens over a year ago). It has a beautiful smooth presentation and at f/2 you get all of this character. Stopping the lens down, say to f/4..well, this is when you will start to lose some of the reason you paid so much for the lens as there are quite a few 50mm lenses out that there perform just about perfect by f/4.

So if you test this lens, buy this lens or borrow this lens make sure you are NOT afraid to shoot it wide open, which is where it has been optimized to be shot.

More images shot wide open at f/2 and  feel free to click them for larger versions! EXIF is embedded in each image. 

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Full Size files:

The files coming from the M 240 when this lens is used, to put it mildly, is the best I have ever seen the M 240 files. The complete lack of distortion, fitness or soft corners is amazing. There can be teeny amounts of CA but it is the best I have seen.

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This is a TORTURE test for CA. The 50 Summilux and 50 Noctilux would be full of CA in this shot. The 50 APO is amazing. 

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The 1st photo in this article, but this time full size…right click to open in a new window for best viewing

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One more full size…

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Wrapping up part 1 of this lens review

Again, this is only part 1 of a 2 or 3 part review. I have lots of shooting and comparing to do with the Leica 50 APO Summicron lens but so far, so good. It is a beautiful lens with amazing build and contrast and sharpness across the entire frame, even wide open at f/2. After my 1st couple of weeks with it I feel that I could be just as happy with a 50 Summilux or maybe even a 50 Zeiss Planar (well, almost as happy). While this lens surpasses those other lenses for all out performance, as I said early on, performance of a lens will not instantly make you a magical photographer. I feel that this lens is for those who crave, desire and lust after the “perfect” lens. I am on of those nerds myself, so I love it but I do have hesitations about spending so much money on this little guy, especially when that money could have been used elsewhere that is, in reality, more important. Still, I am having a blast shooting the lens and over the next few weeks I will be taking this lens to the always photo rich Comicon, to the California desert and Lazy Meadows Airstream park/hotel, Joshua Tree Park, San Francisco and all of the photo opps it has to offer, Long Beach, CA, the Queen Mary, and a few cool spots as I go on a 7-10 day road trip in about 2 weeks from today with the love of my life, Debby.

I will be posting part 2 when I return, so in about 3 weeks. I will also be doing comparisons with the original 50 Summicron and Zeiss 50 Planar, two other 50mm f/2 options. ;) So stay tuned and check back soon for all of the good stuff. I will leave you with a few more early shots with this lens and the Leica M. BTW, my 50 APO came from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) but no one has this lens in stock, there is a wait but you can put your name on that list. Or you can pick up a standard 50 cron or 50 lux or 50 summarit :)

katie

at2.8

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

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

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Apr 292014
 

The Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic Lens Review

by Johnny Ciotti

(from Steve: I will be reviewing this lens on the M 240 in the next 2 weeks. For now, here is a review from Johnny on the Sony A7! Thanks Johnny!)

With so many individuals moving on to the growing trend of the more sensible mirror less interchangeable lens camera bodies more than a few are finding a lacking in the tele range. Well, at least without destroying the smaller form factor by using larger SLR adapters and lenses or breaking the bank.

Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic mounted on Sony a7 via Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter

Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic mounted on Sony a7 via Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter

Enter the Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic. Before getting into my thoughts I’d like to share with you a few tid bits of information in hopes of giving this some credibility and not just a “this guy bought the lens and rambled on about it” type of post. Being a photographer can mean many things to many people. A hobbyist, a professional, a collector, we all have different reasons for our purchases. So take what you will from this review but I’ve written it for the most decirning digital photographer who might enjoy premium quality at an affordable price. Myself being one of those that doesn’t care to own more than a few pieces of glass in the effort of simplifying the way he shoots. My clients shouldn’t have to pay for my gear acquisition syndrome when I can get the job done with a lot less.

As with most modern Voigtlander lenses, this 75mm is beautiful in a classic sense and refined to meet todays standards. No frills, no extras, just a clean black metal barrel and bright beautiful glass. Lens caps front and rear do as they should with my favored center pinch on the business end. Screw in metal hood feels wonderful and still allows for the front cap to be positioned properly when stored. All that needs to be visible is crisp and easy to read. No sloppy or unneeded branding to tarnish the over all aesthetic of this short tele focal lens.

Voigtlander 75mm Heliar Classic without lens hood attached

Voigtlander 75mm Heliar Classic without lens hood attached

The feel is better than what would be expected from such a bargain. The aperture ring clicks smoothly and precise with little effort. As effortless as it is to hop up or down a stop I’ve had no issue bumping into the wrong setting even with “rough” use. The same characteristics are followed by the easy to use manual focusing ring, clean and well dampened are the best way to describe this short throw. People often toss around the term “cheap” when they mean inexpensive, this lens is not “cheap” even though it is beyond affordable with a meager asking of sub $700 new.

The barrel extends slightly when focusing adding some length to this long piece of glass.

Barrel fully retracted

Barrel fully retracted

Barrel fully extended

Barrel fully extended

With having hit the ball out of the park in the presentation and tactile sensation department, I’d like to focus on the look the lens provides to the user while peering through it and not at it. Because this is what is important, right? You know, the images we make and not how awesome we look while making them. Voigtlander is not new to the lens manufacturing game. The company as a whole has been around since 1756, that’s not exactly a short stint. The new lenses have been manufactured by Cosina since 1999, another reputable name in optics. I hate to think of any piece of glass with such heritage as second-rate.

The lens provides a wonderful rendering of depth, sharpness, and contrast in appropriate proportions for such a piece of kit. The colors are as accurate as you are at insuring the proper white balance is selected. Vignetting is mild at most for a lens like this.

Vignetting

From left to right f1.8, f2, f2.8, f4

Vingette-top

From left to right f5.6, f8, f11, f16

Vingette-bottom

Clarity being one of the stronger aspects, taking a back seat only to the fantastic out of focus qualities and subject separation. The lens is more than sharp enough at f.18 for anything that needs to be shot at f1.8. Stopping down quickly takes these 3 groups of 6 conventional spherical elements from above adequate to what would be considered ridiculously sharp.

Bokeh

From left to right f1.8, f2, f2.8, f4

Boek-top

From left to right f5.6, f8, f11, f16

Bokeh-bottom

The multi coated process allows for deep contrasting that compliments the in and out of focus portions of any well thought composition. The straight 10-bladed aperture creates a lovely organic display of bokeh that is typically only found in much pricier prime optics at this focal length.

Iris opened to f1.8

Iris opened to f1.8

Having used this lens in many situations I have noticed flaring occasionally in the studio environment where a flag might have not been used with other more modern designs. This isn’t necessarily crippling for a rather flawless lens as it is easily correctable in most situations. Outdoors I haven’t noticed any flaring as long as the lens hood is implemented.

When possible I highly recommend shooting with a lens hood/shade, especially when it is this good, as it increases contrast by not allowing stray light to bounce around in your nifty chunk of glass. Often times sharpness is confused with lack of contrast and can plague the reputation of lenses from the miss informing improper user. The lens hood should be considered a part of the lens design for delivering optimal image quality. Why skimp when you’ve paid for the tools to be made available to you?

Raquelle Lawrence was gracious enough to model for this lens review.

High contrast outdoor location for recent head shots. Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic & Sony a7 stopped down to f9

High contrast outdoor location for recent head shots. Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic & Sony a7 stopped down to f9

The compatibility of legacy glass has been often questioned with digital sensors and their performance together. I find in this particular combination between the Sony A7 and the Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic that the two work together most desirably. User skill level and purpose for creating the image should be questioned as often as image quality. How sharp do you need the bottom right pixels to be if it’s a faded off-white stucco wall?

Gate

Gate

100% corner crop also showing minor color fringing.

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This lens really wouldn’t be my first choice for something demanding critical corner to corner image quality. Use a tilt shift and/or stitch multiple frames if that is the case. Picking the proper technique and tool for the job will make things work much easier. Now what this lens does do well is allows for a no fuss operation in creating wonderful stories with heaps of character. This is really important for me as I’m a dedicated wedding and headshot photographer. My equipment needs to allow me to make connections with my subject in a natural way.

Are we really looking at corner sharpness?

Are we really looking at corner sharpness_

The biggest draw back of this lens is it having such a long minimum focusing distance. Common with rangefinder lenses, this can be problematic if you work in cramped conditions often. A false sense of breathing room can be created with the coupling of the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter. The two increase the usability of the lens and open up a new world of creative options while giving the ability to increase subject separation in close foreground objects.

VM-E Close Focus Adapter

VM-E Close Focus Adapter

Now while I seem to praise this lens in high regard for its technical merits I cannot stress enough that the joy of using the lens as an artists tool can often help produce more meaningful images for yourself or clients. The way it feels and operates is ever as important as how many coatings the elements have. From day one it felt like an extension of my eye, something that if it cost even more could not be afforded.

You can buy this lens and the adapter from CameraQuest by clicking HERE. 

Mar 312014
 

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The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2 Lens Review & Comparison

By Steve Huff

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT AMAZON HERE

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Hey hey! It is review time again and I have been a busy man shooting this Panasonic/Leica Nocticron lens for the past two weeks and let me tell ya, it is a serious lens my friends. It is large, it is expensive, and it is FAST with an f/1.2 aperture for those “NOCTurnal” moments.

Panasonic decided to create a “statement lens” to show that Micro 4/3 users can have some fun with shallow DOF, subject isolation and 3 Dimensional POP just as much as the APS-C guys :) The only problem is that they must have forgotten that Olympus has the 45 1.8 Lens that one can now buy for $350 or so. Yep, almost the same focal length and almost as fast in the aperture department for about $1100+ less. Oops.

But is it really an Oops? I do not think so because this Nocticron is so so so good that it beats the 45 1.8 in most ways (besides size and weight and cost). Is this Panasonic jewel $1100 better? No, but the Nocticron is a lens for those who want the best of the best..the unique draw and style, a taste of a real Noctilux and yes, the LEICA name.

Indoors, a coffee shop..I raised the Panasonic GX7, aimed, and fired. F/1.2 wide open and sharp as a tac. This Nocticron offers it all. Color, contrast, sharpness, gorgeous bokeh, build and more. Click the image below for a larger and much better view. 

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It seems that some think that Leica makes this lens. They do not. It also seems that some feel Leica supplies the glass for this lens. They do not. This is a made in Japan Panasonic lens made by Panasonic. Panasonic has a deal with Leica where they use the Leica name on certain lenses because Leica helped with the design. So in reality, Leica did help with the design but the construction is all Panasonic, made in Japan.

So does the LEICA name on the front of the lens mean that this lens at least has some of that Leica mojo and magic? Previous lenses from Panasonic with the Leica name included the now legendary 25 1.4, which has been considered as the best Micro 4/3 lens available when you want that Leica look and quality. There is also been the older 45 2.8 Macro, which was astounding in the IQ department though slow to focus. Panasonic also recently announced the new 15mm f 1.7 with the Leica name and that one looks like a 100% winner at $599. A 30mm equivalent with a fast 1.7 aperture. Yummy.

After using this lens extensively I would say that YES, it does indeed have a little of that Leica look, feel and rendering..or as I call it “MoJo”. I will go a bit farther and say that this is an overall better lens that the old Leica F/1 Noctilux that sells for $6500 or so used.

Olympus E-M1 with Panasonic Nocticron at f/1.2 – IMO, nothing beats Olympus colors.

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So if we look at pricing..the “PanaLeica” 25mm 1.4 is around $529. The 45 2.8 comes in at $719. The new 17 1.7 will be $599.

So why is this Nocticron nearly $1600?

Well, the real answer is because it is a costly design AND an amazing performing lens and as I said earlier, a Statement piece from Panasonic. Panasonic will not sell loads of these due to the cost and the fact that it is really a specialty lens. So they can not spend millions to design and create it only to sell it for $500! Even the old 45 2.8 is $720, for an f/2.8! This Nocticron is not or in any way a $500 lens. In fact, when I first saw it and held it it reminded me of the real deal, the $11,000 Leica Noctilux f/0.95. It has the same design on the outside. In that regard it has some “Noctilux” character to it. The Leica is $11,000 for a 50mm f/0.95 and that lens is a tour de force of optical magic. Is it worth $11,000? No. But it sells well at that cost for Leica because there is nothing like it, at all. It is one of a kind and sharp even at 0.95 with a creamy Bokeh that melts into the frame.

The Panasonic is $1600, or $9400 less than the Leica Noctilux! While the Panasonic is NOT a Leica Noctilux it does indeed offer some of the flavor of that big money lens, for MUCH less money..MUCH less. I will state right up front that the Panasonic Nocticron has the best Bokeh I have seen next to the real deal. It competes and compares with the Leica Noctilux in this area 100%. The Bokeh is amazingly creamy, dreamy and NOT headache inducing like some lenses. Many exotic lenses fall short in this area..the out of focus background areas. Not this lens!

This is also the area where the 45 1.8 falls a bit short as the Bokeh can get busy and neurotic during certain scenes. The Panasonic has gorgeous Bokeh quality above and beyond any Micro 4/3 lens I have seen to date. In fact, I will call it the “Bokeh Master” of the Micro 4/3 world.

E-M1 and Nocticron at f/1.2 – click it for larger

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Is smooth and creamy background blur worth $1600? No, not really but in this review I will be taking a look at this lens as a whole from build, to O.I.S., to AF speed to sharpness at all apertures, bokeh and a comparison with the Olympus 45 1.8 and Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 (that comes in at $1000 but is manual focus only). Then I will decide if as a whole “is this lens worth $1600″?

I have used this lens exclusively for the past two weeks and what you will read below is my experience with it in all aspects. If you do not want to read the full review let me just say that after my time with the lens I bought one for myself from Amazon right HERE. Yep. I found it is just as special as the real Leica Noctilux (in a Micro 4/3 kind of way) and offered me more character, more pop, better contrast,  and much nicer Bokeh than the $350 Olympus (which I also own). I guess that answered my question of “is it worth it” pretty quickly! I will get more into why I bought one of these expensive lenses when I already own the $350 marvel in the conclusion of the review :)

The Nocticron Arrives

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I originally rented this lens because I did not want to buy one to review it. I figured I would rent it for a week or two, use it, review it and say “Buy the Olympus 45″ and be done with it. But as it went, I was wrong. When the lens rental arrived I pulled it out of a case only to say “wow, this LOOKs like the Noctilux”! It is not built like the Leica Noctilux, not even close…but it does resemble it. It is much lighter than the Noctilux as well. Still, this lens looks and feels mighty impressive for a Micro 4/3 lens. I instantly knew that this was the best built AF lens for the system, hands down. While all Olympus primes are built nicely and feel like little light jewels, this Panasonic is more of a brute..a serious light gathering machine..more importantly “An Artist’s Tool”.

Olympus E-M1 and Nocticron at 1.2 – ISO 12,800

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I say “An Artist’s Tool” because this lens has that capability, that extra something that is lacking in most lenses to call it just that. The rendering when wide open, at the right distance from your subject gives you the 3Dimensional Pop (not as much as an f/1.2 lens in full frame) as well as the color and contrast characteristics of high end lenses. The Micro Contrast is also very good here, among the best I have seen with Micro 4/3 (Olympus 75 1.8) and the Bokeh is phenomenal.

But before I go on and on about the qualities of this lens, let me start by talking about the specs:

Focal Length 42.5mm - Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 85 mm (classic portrait lens)

Aperture Maximum: f/1.2 – 16.0 (starting at a super fast f/1.2 this gives us true light gathering of an f/1.2 lens, so for night this is #1 in M4/3)

Camera Mount Type Micro Four Thirds

Minimum Focus Distance 1.64′ (.5 m) (pretty close min focus, Leica Noctilus has a 1 meter min distance)

Elements/Groups 14/11 – (14 elements, 11 groups)

Diaphragm Blades 9 (for better and smoother Bokeh. The Fuji 56 1.2 has 7 blades)

Image Stabilization Yes – (built in O.I.S. which is what makes it so large)

Autofocus Yes

Filter Thread 67 mm

Weight 14.99 oz (425 g)  -(Leica Noctilux is 700 grams)

Additionally, there is an Extra-low Dispersion element that increases contrast and sharpness and an Ultra High Refractive Index element allows for a uniform look to the edges of the frame.

The above specs are impressive for this lens no doubt and one of the most controversial will be the f/1.2 aperture. Micro 4/3 hater and naysayers always are quick to point out that an f/1.2 lens in Micro 4/3 is like having an f/2.4 lens in full frame. Well, this is not true. FOR LIGHT GATHERING AND LOW LIGHT USE, this is a true F/1.2 lens. Period. For DEPTH OF FIELD it is more like a 90mm f/2.5 lens. Something like the $1800 Leica 90 f/2.5 Summarit but with a closer minimum focus distance and true f/1.2 light gathering ability and for less money. :)

The lens breakdown…

103975_lens

The key to this lens is that you are getting pure state of the art performance for your Micro 4/3 camera and yes, Micro 4/3 is a legitimate format that is used by pros, enthusiasts, amateurs and every day camera Joe’s. The performance of the latest M 4/3 camera bodies (specifically from Olympus) is up there with any APS-C, and as I have reported about before, in some areas they are better. Cameras like the E-M1 are a whirlwind of performance in every way. I also feel, after using everything out there, that Micro 4/3 offers the BEST quality lenses for any mirror less camera system (besides Leica M). They are that good in build, speed, and IQ.

These Leica/Panasonic lenses take it up another notch when it comes to color, contrast, micro-contrast and overall IQ.

Was in my kitchen table at night, Brandon was in front of me and I called his name and fired. The E-M1 was at ISO 800, lens was at f/1.2. CLICK it for larger and sharper.

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This lens will work for portraits..

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or even candid street moments..

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Bokeh is smooth and free of the nasties, even in a bokeh torture test condition like the one below  - click for larger. E-M1

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Yes this lens works well with Olympus or Panasonic bodies

This lens works with the Olympus Micro 4/3 bodies just as well as it does with the Panasonic bodies. Yes, I have been shooting a GX7 and E-M1 side by side and I get consistent results with the E-M1 in regards to color and lower noise. The GX7 files have SLIGHTLY more noise (RAW, without NR) even at base ISO and I prefer the color rendering, build, and quick menu of the Oly system. But the GX7 produces IQ almost the same as the E-M1 with some color differences but the build is of a lower standard with the Panasonic GX7 vs the E-P5 or E-M1.

It is a fact! The Olympus bodies are built so so well. The E-P5 feels like a solid brick of metal with quality switches and dials. The GX7 feels plastic with lower quality dials and levers.

But with that said, the lens works well on either camera and on Panasonic bodies you will be able to use the manual aperture dial. On Olympus bodies the Aperture ring is useless and can not be used so you just use the normal aperture thumb dial on the E-M1. It is a give and take I guess.

The manual aperture dial reminds me of quality Leica M glass, much like the real $11k Noctilux (which I have owned long term in the past). 

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So wether you have an Olympus OM-D or PEN this lens works wonderfully. If you have a Panasonic you get the Aperture dial function.

Inside of a restaurant at f/1.2 – Olympus E-M1

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Built in OPTICAL IMAGE STABILISATION

The Panasonic Nocticron has O.I.S. built in, so for all of you Panasonic body shooters this is very important and useful. For Olympus shooters that have one of the 3 or 5 Axis IS bodies then you will want to use the in body 3 or 5 Axis over the lens O.I.S. as the Olympus IS system beats the lens O.I.S. hands down. I have said it before and I will say it again, there is NOTHING like the 5 Axis IS of the Olympus bodies, nothing. The few who put it down just do not shoot Olympus and prefer Panasonic but the real story is that the 5 and 3 Axis IS systems of the Olympus bodies is revolutionary and offers HUGE benefits, even for video use.

Below is a snippet where I tested the built in O.I.S. of the lens vs the Olympus E-M1′s 5-Axis IS – same shutter speed but the 5Axis provided a clear image vs the lens OIS blur.

lensoisc

So having the OIS in the lens is good for those who shoot without a body that has the advanced IS built in. On the GX7 this is mandatory to have in a lens like this so it is good that Olympus packed it in, they really had no choice.

A Closer Look

Below is a comparison between the amazing little Olympus 45 1.8 that comes in at around $350 as well as the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95. It seems I had an issue focusing the Voigtlander on the Panasonic GX7 due to the small EVF. When the 42.5 Voigtlander is focused correctly it is razor sharp, even wide open, in the center of the frame. See my review HERE. 

1st up, YOU MUST click on the images below to see them correctly. 

The Nocticron is 1st at f/1.6, then the Olympus at 1.8 and then the Voigtlander (slightly mis-focused, sorry!)  The Olympus has more magnification going from 85mm to 90mm and is quite good for a $350 lens! The Olympus offers more of a “telephoto” look with more compression..flatter. The Nocticron offers a gentler more 3D rendering similar to a real Leica lens.

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Below is a more visible example of the difference between the Nocticron rendering and the Olympus 45 1.8.

Click the images for correct and larger versions..

The 1st image below was shot with the Noctiron and GX7 at f/1.2, wide open. Here you can see the 3D pop between the subject and the background. There is a clear distinction between Debby and the background, with a superb fall off from in focus to out. This is the hallmark of a good lens IMO. 

nocticrondebby

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Below is the Olympus 45 1.8 and when you click and view this side by side with the Nocticron you can see the differences. To some, you may not even see it. To others it will be huge and to some it will be slight. The 45 rendered the image in a duller way from color to a flatter look. As good as the 45 1.8 is, it does not approach the Nocticron, which is one reason why the Noct is so expensive. 

oly45debby

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And now and image from over a year ago in the same spot taken with the Leica Noctilux at f/0.95 on an M 240. This is the most 3D of them all but it should be considering the combo of lens and body will run you about $18,000. :)

realnoct

Full Size Files and a crop

I am finding the Nocticron to be sharp even wide open but at the same time it is not clinical in any way. It is more organic and flowing, much like the original F/1 Noctilux from Leica. It has a certain character to it wide open that I like, a lot. Below are two full size files, one wide open at f/1.2 and one that should have been f/4 but the EXIF reads at f/3.2

Thanks to “Baby” my little Chihuahua we rescued for being extremely still while modeling :)

1st up, wide open at f/1.2. Right click image and open in new tab or window for full size from RAW

babyfullwideopen

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again, right click and open in new tab or window for full size at f/3.2

babyfullat3.2

The lens is RAZOR sharp wide open and gets sharper as it is stopped down. I actually love the lens at f/4 as well as f/1.2. It is an all around great performer and for this focal length, the ultimate lens for Micro 4/3. HERE IS ONE MORE wide open at f/1.2 – look at the sharpness, color, detail and Bokeh. Amazing..

CLICK IT for larger and better version – the way it was meant to be seen..AMAZING detail at f/1.2, superb color and Bokeh. This was shot with the GX7. THIS simple test shot reveals why this lens is so special. Bokeh gets an A, sharpness gets an A+, color gets an A, 3D pop gets an A. 

detailcropshop

Distortions

While shooting this lens in real word scenarios I never saw any kind of distortion or had an issue with CA. I do not do scientific tests nor do I shoot white walls looking for vignetting, because if I do not see an issue while using the lens for what it was designed to do (take photos) then I do not see a problem. When shooting the Panasonic Nocticron I had no issues with Vignetting or Distortion. Period. The lens does have slight vignetting wide open though but so does the Noctilux f/1 and 0.95.

The one shot that slightly missed focus but this so reminds me of the Leica Noctilux F/1 Rendering! I love it.

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AF Speed

The Af speed of the lens is VERY quick in good light and slows down in low light but it always locks on and the only time it missed for me is in the above shot of the dog but I think it was trying to focus on the dirty glass instead of the dog, so maybe it did NOT miss. AF speed was a TAD faster on the E-M1 vs the GX7 but both were comparable.

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VIDEO USE

This lens SHOULD be a video shooters dream. I have yet to shoot video with this guy but plan on it soon and when I do I will post a sample video right here :) So check back in a week or two!

Bottom Line Conclusion

So is this lens worth $1600? THAT is the question, especially when we have lenses like the Olympus 45 1.8 which is similar in focal length and slightly slower in aperture speed for $350. The Olympus is also MUCH smaller and MUCH lighter and slightly faster to AF. So wouldn’t the Olympus be the “No Brainer” decision? Why yes, it would.

BUT! If you are like me, and DO notice those small differences such as contrast, color, bokeh quality and rendering then you might want to take a serious look at this Nocticron. The Panasonic/Leica lenses have all been SUPERB. The 25 1.4, the 45 2.8 and now the Nocticron all use a Leica design and in the case of this Nocticron, more exotic glass than a normal Panasonic lens. When good glass is used you can tell and this lens has a way of lighting up a scene just like a real Noctilux does.

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Sometimes a lens comes along that is special. This is one of those lenses. It has it all built into one monster shell, though it still comes in smaller in size and lighter in weight than a comparable full frame lens. Built in O.I.S., great sharpness and rendering at f/1.2 AND Auto Focus, something that the Voigtlander lenses are missing and those lenses can be tricky on a smaller EVF camera like the GX7. I am thrilled that Panasonic created this lens.

Many will argue that this is not an F/1.2 lens, but it is indeed a true f/1.2 aperture lens. I will repeat: THIS IS A TRUE 42.5MM f/1.2 LENS.

Yo will get f/1.2 light gathering capability. You will be able to shoot at f/1.2 in the dark and you will be using a true f/1.2 aperture with 1.2 light gathering ability. THIS is what an f/1.2 lens is made for..low light and in that regards the Nocticron is true to its name..NOCTURNAL.

The image below was shot on the E-M1 at ISO 10,000 at f/1.2. It was inside my house at night with barely ANY light at all. ZERO noise reduction. Reminds me of something that would have come out of the Leica Monochrom! Good lenses can make all of the difference in the world. 

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So if you shoot Micro 4/3, Olympus or Panasonic, and you want a fast portrait length prime that offers a bit of EVERYTHING such as fast aperture, delicious bokeh, amazing sharpness and detail/micro-contrast which also happens to shoot great video then PUT THIS LENS ON YOUR LIST. Yes, it is $1600 and yes it is expensive but this lens will hold value over the long-term, moreso than a standard M 4/3 lens.

Micro 4/3 has come a long long way since the early days and today it offers astounding IQ, fast speed, the best built mirror less bodies as well as the fastest and the best collection of glass out of any mirror less system. From wide to tele and macro, there is nothing that a Micro 4/3 system can not do. Olympus and Panasonic are rocking it big time and this lens just solidifies the fact that Micro 4/3 will NOT go away despite the doom and gloom of some large sensor fans. Many have asked me about the new Fuji 56 1.2, which is also a fast portrait prime for the X system. I have NOT tried the Fuji yet but HAVE handled it. The build of the Panasonic is better. I have seen numerous shots from the Fuji and they look gorgeous as well but no OIS in the lens OR body for Fuji. Also, the Bokeh from the Fuji is a little on the busy side in comparison.

If a man came up to me and said pick one and keep it..for free. Either a Fuji X-T1 and 56 1.2 or an Olympus PEN E-P5  with finder and the Nocticron, I would not hesitate for a nano-second. It would be the PEN and Nocticron. Easy choice for me. Still, Fuji is another company that seems to “get it” when it comes to releasing what many of us enthusiasts want. I say, keep ‘em coming!

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I feel that the Panasonic Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2 lens is the best built AF lens for the Micro 4/3 system. Period. It is also the fastest aperture AF prime for the system. It is a true “Noct” lens in its rendering and style and deserves to be up there with other well-known “Noct” lenses that cost MUCH more than this one does. For me, I had to own one so I bought one after shooting the review sample for 2 weeks, so that may say something right there.

In regards to the 45 1.8 which I also own, I bought the Noct as it inspires me more to go out and shoot with it. It offers am ore creamy and organic rendering over the 45 1.8, better color and contrast and is more of an Artists tool than a lens. I am a sucker for fast glass and I did not believe for a nanosecond that I would spurge and purchase this lens, but it is that good. It has more Leica than Panasonic it seems, and that is a good thing as you can not get a real Leica lens for less than a few grand new (50 Summilux f/1.4 is $4300). This is why I purchased one for myself.

So I highly recommend this lens for any and all Micro 4/3 shooters who WANT and DESIRE a lens such as this.

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WHERE TO BUY THE NOCTICRON!

You can buy the Nocticron using the direct links below to Amazon or B&H Photo. Using these links will help me to keep this site going and costs you NOTHING extra so if this review helped your decision, I thank you for using the links below!

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT AMAZON HERE

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT B&H PHOTO HERE

More samples from the Nocticron!

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

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

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK - Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

Mar 052014
 

colintempletont

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 132014
 

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The Leica 90 Summarit f/2.5 M Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Welcome to yet another Leica M lens review! It has been a while since I have posted a Leica lens review mainly because I have already reviewed nearly all of them over the past few years. But!!! There are a couple that I have not reviewed and one of them is this 90mm Summarit that I just received from Ken Hansen (Thanks Ken) Yep, the “lower end range” of the Leica line! The 90 Summarit may be lower in price when compared to the mega buck 90 f/2 Summicron but I’ll be damned if I do not like it BETTER than that megabuck 90 cron on the 240, and that is no lie or exaggeration!

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I guess that comes as no surprise as I preferred the old f/2.8 90 Elmarit to the 90 Summicron as well, mainly due to size and weight and of course, COST.

One from the 90 at 2.5, converted to B&W on the M 240

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Always, always click on the images to see the better and larger and sharper versions that are not down sampled like what you see embedded below!

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Many of you have seen my review of that older 90 Elmarit 2.8 lens and 4+ years ago when I wrote that review it was indeed my favorite 90 for the Leica M system. It all came down to size, performance and the fact that I had zero focus issues with that lens which is always nice when it comes to Leica.

I’ll just go ahead and spoil it now but I like the 90 Summarit just as much as the Elmarit and now that I have been shooting with it for a while I realized how much I enjoy this focal length on the Leica M 240. It is a joy to shoot with, a joy to focus and the results coming from this lens with the M 240 ROCK & ROLL non stop all day long. Results are rich, sharp and have nice sharpness and texture. Colors can pop and Bokeh is quite nice.

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In the past, with the M9 and M8 I was not a huge fan of the 90mm focal length because it seemed that no matter what 90mm lens I picked up there was a slight to massive focus problem (Until that old Elmarit). With the M 240 this 90 Summarit is extremely easy to focus and spot on when using the rangefinder, and what a relief that is. There is nothing I hate more than a mis-focusing Leica M camera and on a few occasions it has frustrated me so much that I almost gave up on the M all together. But since the new 240 I have not had any issues with focus (except when I dropped my 1st M, almost off of a cliff during the last Palouse workshop) and it has been smooth sailing ever since its release.

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These days I enjoy the M with a Voigtlander 15, Voigtlander 35, Leica 50 and this Leica 90. I am close to pulling the trigger on the 21 Super Elmar to finish it off and maybe in the next year I will save up for a classic Noctilux F/1. Maybe. But one thing keeps nagging at my brain and that is the fact that these lower cost Summarit lenses are just OH SO GOOD on the M 240. It really is all one needs. A 35 Summarit with a 90 Summarit would be a superb combo and add in a 50 Lux for those times you want that Lux look and you would be all set. A nice mix.

Click the image to see a larger 1800 pixel wide version. Plenty of sharpness with fantastic color pop.

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The size and performance of the Summarit line is perfect and they are just as good in the IQ department, if not better, than their more expensive brothers and sisters (Summicron and Summilux). Yes, just as good in the sharpness, detail and color. They will offer a different “look” in the Bokeh and rendering but this does not make them lesser than the more expensive lenses. What it comes down to is SPEED, and SPEED costs big fat money in Leica land.

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Yes Sir! The Summarit Line is SUPERB but seems to get the least attention…

This is a true statement. I have used all four of the more affordable “Summarit” lenses including the 35 f/2.5, the 50 f/2.5, 75 2.5 and now the 90 f/2.5. All three lenses share the same semi-fast aperture speed, the same build quality and the same price range. They all come with a protective carrying bag instead of a leather case but all are Leica in build, feel and use as well as the most important..IMAGE QUALITY. But for some reason many Leica fanatics disregard these lenses because they feel that if they are less expensive they must be compromised in some way. This is not really true.

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The only compromises that come with the Summarit line is that the aperture is not f/2 or f/1.4, it is f/2.5. So it is all about speed. The focus rings are quite nice and I prefer them to some of the more expensive models. Focus distance is also a tad longer at 0.8 meters instead of 0.7 for the 35, 50 and 0.9 for the 75. The 90 has a 1m minimum focus distance.

All in all, the entire summarit line is quite amazing because they give us a mix of classic and modern rendering. Actually, the 35 Summarit has some of the best Bokeh to be found in a Leica lens and is also smaller than the cron or lux!

Just take a look at the image below of a bird I too a very quick shot with using the 90mm at f/2.5 on the M 240. This is a full size file so RIGHT CLICK it to open in a new window to see it in its full size form.

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If you viewed the entire full size image above in a separate window (right-click the image, then open in a new tab or window) you will see that the Summarit 90 is sharp even when used wide open at f/2.5. The Bokeh melts into a creamy classical blur that resembles a painting with rich color and nice medium to high contrast. In fact, this lens makes my M 240 render somewhat like an M9 but with extended Dynamic Range and better color, and yes, I 100% feel that the M 240 has MUCH better color performance than the M9. Perfect? No, but no digital camera is. NONE. The M 240 offers better color, better dynamic range, better noise performance, better battery life, better LCD, nicer feeling and sounding shutter, better RF experience with the light up frame lines, live view if wanted and so far, no focus issues. After one year with the M240 I still prefer it in every way to the M9. Every way, IQ included.

Like to keep your distance? The 90mm focal length will help you do just that :) 

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So to be clear, the Summarit line of lenses is 100% Leica all the way giving Leica results. The funny thing is that I have shot with them all and NONE of these Summarit line of lenses have ever given me any focus issues (besides an early 75 Summarit that had a loose element inside). The 35, 50, 75 and 90 always focused spot on. I can not say the same for the 90 Summicron..at all. Not only is it large, heavy and very expensive..two of the three that I have had in my possession were a bit off in the focus. That is why I gave up on the 90 cron quite a while ago. Don’t get me wrong, the 90 Summicron is very special and magical when it is “on” but when something is special most of the time and frustrating some of the time I tend to drop it after some time. After four 90 Summicrons over the past 5 years I decided to stick with a slower 90 for my Leica, if I have any 90mm at all.

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One thing to note…Many who own the 90 Summicron and have focus issues feel like it is them who is making the focus errors. I have spoken with quite a few 90 Cron owners who were having issues and two of them I met in person during a meet up. I tested out the lenses on their camera and mine and I was able to verify exactly what I told them it was, which was a mis-focusing lens that needed an adjustment.

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When any Leica lens is adjusted and focusing properly it is EASY to nail focus. This goes for the Noctilux 0.95, 90 Summicron, 50 Summilux, etc. Focusing a 50 0.95 at 0.95 is just as easy as focusing a 28 Elmarit at 2.8. When that focus patch lines up you are in focus. If your image shows you otherwise something is out of whack.

The 90 Summarit is never frustrating. It just seems to deliver the goods no matter what I decide to aim my M at and not one shot was out of focus during this review period.

Click the image below to see my dog in all her sharp glory :) The 90 at f/2.5..no problem-o!

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Compared to the classic and legendary 90 Elmarit f/2.8

As already mentioned, back in 2010 I reviewed the now discontinued Leica 90 2.8 Elmarit. I LOVED and still do LOVE that lens. I no longer own it but do remember when I reviewed it that I enjoyed it immensely. That lens along with the M9 created eye-popping quality and sharpness. I am not sure why Leica discontinued the lens but they did, and its replacement is this lens here, the Summarit. They did downgrade the hood as the 90 Elmarit 2.8 had a built-in slide out hood where the Summarit has a screw in hood. (sold separately) I much prefer the slide out hood but you can’t always get what you want. Some prefer a screw in hood. Leica wanted to create the Summarit line of lenses as sort of a classic styled lens. They give a classic metal lens cap with the Leica logo and hoods are screw in.

Whatever the reason, I remember when I used this 90 Summarit on the M9 I found it to be a little more clinical than the Elmarit. When shooting the Elmarit the results seemed organic and very rich. When shooting the Summarit back then on the M9 it seems al title “colder” and not as rich or warm.

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Now with the M 240 being the hot M I decided to give the Summarit another shot and I am glad I did as it gives me much of what I enjoyed with the Elmarit on the M9 – contrast, pop, color depth and sharpness. There is a very evident color difference with the new M 240 over the M9 (warmth vs cool) , and I prefer the M 240 100%. I feel it is much more natural though there may indeed be a pinkish hue going on with the M 240 but then again, it could be the off color hue of the M9 images making the M 240 look off because I now see a green/yellowish hue to the M9 images that I shot back then.

One thing I learned is that when editing images I just go with what looks good to MY EYE instead of worrying and stressing over calibrated displays, etc. I have sold images for thousands of dollars without stressing about any of that. I just enjoy shooting and eyeball the color. With the new M it seems easier to get a rich warm color I like. The M9 with this Summarit was cooler in the output. Take a look below…

First the 90 Summarit on the M240 here in 2014

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…and now the 90 Elmarit on the M9 in 2010

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This is the least expensive NEW 90mm Leica lens for your M! 

When the Summarit line was launched (BEFORE the M9 was launched during the end of the M8 days) the 90 came in at $1600 or so. Today it is $2150 because Leica lenses go up in price every single year. This means if you bought a Summarit back then and wanted to sell it today you could probably get about what you paid for it.

This is the good thing about Leica. If you buy a lens and keep it for a long time you will not lose money. The Leica lenses are legendary and due to the fact that they have the balls to raise prices every year means that a Leica lens is indeed and can be an “investment” if you keep them long-term.

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At $2150 the 90mm Summarit is NOT cheap..no way, no how. BUT, it is a REAL Leica German optic and a REAL Leica lens! Anyone who says differently has no idea what they are talking about. It feels, shoots and gives the IQ of a pure Leica lens and like I said, the value does not drop like a rock after a few years, instead, it holds value. You also get the warranty when buying new so that is always a good thing. The 90 is on the higher contrast side when looking at out of camera images (most of what you see here) but of course with the extended DR of the M 240 you can make  them much loess contrasty if you wish.

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Detail..is this lens sharp?

Yes, this lens is sharp. Take a look below and click on the image to see the 100% crop embedded inside.

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My conclusion on the Leica 90 Summarit Lens

My lens reviews always seem to be short, especially when a lens is fantastic and has no real weakness. The 90 Summarit is one of those lenses. It is small, light, high quality in build and feel and performs exceptionally well. The rendering is a mix of modern and classic and can be as sharp as a tac. The colors are rich, saturated and lovely, especially on the new M 240. (See my M 240 review here). While I have not traditionally been a 90mm shooter I am starting to enjoy it more and more and understand why so many love this focal length.

An all summarit kit would be killer for those wanting the true 100% Leica experience without going bankrupt buying the Summilux and Summicron models. All you lose is some speed (which may not really even be needed), a slightly longer minimum focus distance and the Leica leather case (instead you get a nice felt style cloth bag).

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If you are not 100% committed to the 90mm focal length I suggest giving the 90 Summarit a try. It may not be as exotic as the Summicron but for me it was more enjoyable to shoot due to weight and no focus issues with the Summarit. Highly recommended for those wanting a 90mm solution for their Leica M!

Mine came from the legendary Ken Hansen who is a TOP Leica dealer with amazing service that has to be experienced. Ken is the man. He has this lens in stock and if you mention me, who knows..he may cut you a deal. (Don’t hold me to that though..I have no idea if he can or not). :)

You can e-mail Ken at [email protected]

I will leave you with a few more snaps that I shot around town from the 90 Summarit on the Leica M 240!

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

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

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK - Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

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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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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 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)

Common Differences...

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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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Dec 292013
 

A Noctilux is for Life, not just for Christmas!

By John Tuckey

Hi All, Season’s Greetings!

Some of you may know me from previous posts, for those who don’t, my passion has always been black and white – particularly the timeless quality that it can impart. Black and white allows an element of ‘anywhen’ into an image which with just a couple of props can suddenly be your own personal time machine.

Anyway, I finally gave in to the ultimate in lens lust and bought a Noctilux f1 for christmas. I’ve been blown away, so I wanted to share a few of the first images with you.

Steve’s written extensively about this lens, and frequently uses the word ‘magic’ – he’s right!

There are those who say it’s too big and heavy – but to be honest it’s only 120grams heavier than my silver chrome summilux ASPH. Yes it blocks a chunk of the viewfinder – which doesn’t bother me in landscape – but really freaked me at first in portrait, the models head was completely obscured – yikes! Yeah thats a pain, but it’s not so scary once you remember there’s no reason why you can’t hold the camera the other way round so the lower corner is blocked rsther than the upper ;-)

Viewfinder aside, what’s the picture like – does it deliver the magic that so many others have raved about so much? I’ve gone through most of the 50′s: the 50′Cron, the Lux ASPH, the Sonnar C, the Nokton 1.1 and the 1.5 – will this really be worth all that money on top of say the Lux ASPH and Sonnar?

You can judge for yourself below, here’s two sets of three from my first shoot with the Nocti on an M9 yesterday. The Shots with the shirt are f4, ISO 80, Shutter 1/180 with Elinchrom flash at 4 stops firing through cardboard flags. The vintage styled portraits are done using the same flash heads just as modelling lights (not firing) while switching the lens down to f1, 1/60 and letting the M9 sort it’s ISO out which turned out to be 800.

The last one just shot into the 500px ‘popular’ section within 15minutes, and got placed in the LFI’s M9 mastershots gallery overnight – which tells me there’s plenty of magic in here to go around.

This is one Noctilux that will be for life, not just for Christmas!

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All the best

John Tuckey

http://www.jrtvintage.co.uk

http://www.facebook.com/jrtvintage

http://500px.jrtvintage.co.uk

Dec 022013
 

maintitleshot

A weekend with the Sony A7R – A companion review

By Ashwin Rao – His Flickr is HERE

Hello, friends! I am back with a user report and second perspective to the review that Steve’s put together for the much-anticipated and ballyhooed Sony A7R, which I had the privilege of shooting over the past week-end, just ahead of its U.S. release. Interestingly, the U.S. appears to be the last major market to receive the A7R, and while many of you around the world have already begun to use the camera, it’s been rarely seen in these parts. All of that said, I was one of the lucky few to get a taste, and here’s my report.

The Sony A7R, as you know, is an incredibly compact mirrorless camera, housing an impressive 36-megapixel sensor, which forgoes an accompanying low-pass (Anti-Aliasing) filter. It’s a not so distant cousin to the 36 megapixel sensor found in the Nikon D800e, which was also produced by Sony for use with Nikon cameras.

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Sony has been very ambitious with this camera from the get go. The A7 and A7R bring a new compactness to a body capable of holding a full frame sensor, something that previously only the Leica M9 and M240 were capable of providing. In fact, the A7R feels even more compact in hands, in heft, and in feel. It’s a robust feeling camera, feeling solid, and Sony credits it with at least partial weather sealing (when using Sony’s own FE lenses).

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I became interested in the Sony A7R when I began hearing whispers of this camera online. Having been a devotee on the Sony RX1 and RX1R, I have had the joy of working with incredible images produced by these cameras, which produce results that are hard to ignore. As is well known now, Sony’s full frame sensors tend to produce the highest DXO Mark ratings, and while many (myself included) are not fans of such schemes to rate sensors, there is no denying that Sony has been making incredible sensors. When paired with the incredible Zeiss 35 mm f/2 Sonnar lens of the RX1, what is produced can be pure magic. Additionally, I am one of those individuals who decided against upgrading my primary rangefinder system, and I have kept both the Leica M9 and M Monochrom as my primary system. As I scoured the internet trying to find reasons to be convinced to buy the Leica M240, I ultimately felt that I would be best served staying put with my M9, due to availability, cost of upgrade, and the sensor’s interplay and color reproduction with M lenses, some which have reported to be “less sharp” on the new CMOSIS sensor housed by Leica’s latest offering. I know that my opinion is controversial, but many Leica devotees out there share it. Whatever you may call it (CCD look, etc…), the M9 brings something unique to the table with its rendition at base ISO, but it is a crippled camera beyond ISO 800, as its low light capabilities lag far beyond modern cameras, including the M240 and RX1R.

With all of this in mind, I have long had my antenna up looking for signs of another camera that might be adaptable to M lenses and produce solid results. I spent over a year with Fuji’s APS-C offerings, but ultimately the X-trans RAW conversion issues, and APS-C crop pushed me away. While I enjoyed by time with Sony’s NEX-7, the same APS-C crop factor and the sensor’s limitations in bringing the full charm of M lenses to the table pushed me away. I even considered picking up the lovely Olympus EM1, but the m4/3 crop has never been for me, despite all of the camera’s other advantages, which I hope trickle down to Sony someday, now that Olympus and Sony are partners in the camera making business.

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Into the fray arrives the Sony A7R, a sensor delivering a whopping 36 megapixels of AA-less goodness, a true test for M lenses. My curiosity was so piqued that I ordered one from my local dealer a week BEFORE the camera was even announced. Having been thrilled with the output of the Sony RX1R, I vividly imagined the possibilities of an AA-less Sony sensor paired with my stable of M lenses. Would this be a modern sensor by which to play with my M lenses, a camera that I could take out into the night to make color pictures without worry of ISO limitations? Would it be worthy second camera to my now principal camera, the Leica M Monochrom?

Thankfully, one of my great friends Chris Y, a Leica friend of the highest regard, emailed me last week. He had received an A7R from an overseas distributor, and he wanted me to give the camera run with my stable of M lenses. I jumped at the chance, and was able to use the camera extensively, exclusively with M lenses using my Novoflex M-to-E mount adapter, for a 3 day period. Let me just say that the experience was both exhilarating and educational. Did I find the A7R to be the long lost solution for which I had been waiting? Was it a cheaper full frame camera capable of using M lenses of all sorts and producing high quality results? Was it a camera that I would enjoy, having to rely on an EVF with focus peaking and magnification to make images? I would soon find out.

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For many folks who are planning an upgrade from an APS-C sensor camera to the A7R (i.e. you NEX users and Fuji folks), the upgrade is certainly worthwhile on several levels and difficult on a few other levels. APS-C sensors, with their cropped imaging plane, can hide many faults that would otherwise be an issue outside of the cropped field of few. Rangefinder lenses tend to have small exit pupils and provide short incident paths of light between the closest posterior lens element and senor. This and other factors, such as the chief ray angle of light bent by the lens, require a sensor, which is able to see light that’s been bent at a steep angle. If a sensor does not accommodate these matters with “offset microlenses” (i.e. hot topic word of the month), then one might expect to see quite a bit of light fall off at the periphery of the images.  Further, these steep angles can also produce shifts in color reproduction at the edges of the full frame field of view, and one can see magenta casts and other color shifts that can pollute image quality.  The Sony marketing team claims that the A7R includes offset microlenses to help address the issues described above, and the A7R was originally trumpeted as the camera to get for those of us interested in adapting our RF lenses to a full frame mirrorless solution. Did Sony work it’s magic again? Well…sort of….

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First off, I will tell you that the shooting experience of the A7R with M lenses can certainly be pleasurable. If you are a SLR shooter, you will have to adjust to using lenses with manual focus, focus peaking, and magnified views to achieve critical focus. If you are a RF shooter, you’ll have to adjust from shooting manually using the RF parallax solution to focus peaking/magnification. I have used Sony NEX cameras, and so the experience was not unfamiliar to me. It took me about a day of heavy shooting to become accustomed to the A7R’s “way of seeing the scene”. Unlike the Rangefinder, with its fixed viewfinder and frame lines, in which one can see around the field of view and predict what may be entering or exiting the scene, the A7R offers a tunnel view that’s become common and comfortable for SLR devotees. Shifting from one version of shooting to the other can be disconcerting, even more so when using RF lenses, but after about a day, I was off to the races and enjoying the experiences.

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As Steve has mentioned, focus peaking must be seen only as an aid to shooting. Unless you are shooting wide lenses or are shooting stopped down past f/4, you will likely need to use the camera’s magnified view to achieve critical focus. This can be disconcerting, as by “zooming in” while trying to grab focus, the photographer loses the framing and composition for a moment, before being able to zoom out and recompose as necessary. After a day of shooting, I felt more comfortable “zone focusing” using focus peaking, then rapidly magnifying to get critical focus before zooming back out to make the image. This method is not nearly as spontaneous as focusing using AF or rangefinder focusing, but it works and suffices to capture images that are less mobile. Shooting kids, pets, or birds, using this method is challenging, but less mobile scenes, including street scenes, are easily captured once you get used to the method of focusing. Keep this in mind when shooting the A7R.

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As I continued to shoot with the camera, one concern began to dawn on me. The shutter of this camera is loud, and it’s not very well dampened.  This is not necessarily a camera by which to shoot events that require quiet. For example, the shutter could be distracting at a wedding or quieter music venue. On the street, it’s not an issue, in terms of noise.  The vibration generated by the shutter was of concern to me while I shot. While I have no scientific way of proving it, I was worried that the vibration generated by the shutter and translated to such a compact body could make for un-sharp images, particularly when coupled with a 36- megapixel camera. To compensate, I tended to shoot at the fastest possible shutter speeds, limiting myself to shutter speeds no slower than 1/200th of a second. This is actually not a major issue, as the Sony A7R’s ISO capacity is really solid. Despite it’s high pixel count, it’s an entirely adequate and solid low light performer, doing just fine through ISO3200, and sufficient through ISO 6400. Relying on higher shutter speeds in dim settings forces one to choose high ISO’s, and this isn’t as big an issue as I worried about.

Having moved past the focusing method and shutter sound/dampening matter, I really began to enjoy the camera on the streets and at parties in all different lighting settings. I found the EVF and tiltable LCD’s to both be fantastic. I really enjoy articulated LCD’s as they offer the photographer the ability to shoot at difficult angles without guessing. That being said, whenever possible I relied on the camera’s fantastic 2.3 mp EVF, which is awesome. While it’s not quite an optical viewfinder in terms of image clarity, it has very little shutter lag and allows the photographer to see a wealth of information (shutter, aperture, histogram) at his or her discretion. It’s really a lovely tool that Sony seems to be mastering. I found the EVF and LCD to be entirely adequate for focusing and composing.

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On returning home, I downloaded Adobe Lightroom 5.3 (release candidate), which is capable of reading Sony A7R raw files, and I was greeted by a host of images of incredible detail many of which you see here. The first thing I noticed were the colors. Sony has done an incredible job to bring, vibrant, yet not over the top, life like colors to the fray. They seem to be true to the scene, and I was rapidly able to process them in a manner to look like files from my beloved CCD camera, the Leica M9 (with the added benefit of superior ISO performance, of course).  To me, this was HUGE. Having a camera with a modern sensor, putting out files comparable to my M9, was what I have been looking for and craving for years now…..and here it was.

To boot, one of the less discussed “features” of the A7R is it’s top shutter speed of 1/8000 of a setting. For fast-lens geeks like me, having this feature is amazing, as it allows us to shoot wide open in daylight, while foregoing the use of an ND filter. Lenses like th Noctilux f/0.95 can suddenly be used in daylight circumstance…a world of creative possibilities thus opens up with ultrafast lenses on the A7R!

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So was all well in the world?!? Well, in a word, NO! As I started to look around at images, I began to see a few issues with colorcast. Given the way the rangefinder lenses manipulate and bend light, I could easily see colorcasts and detail smearing at the edges of the images made with lenses wider than 28 mm. Once I pulled out my 28 mm Summicron, I was slightly more satisfied, as there was no substantial detail smearing, but the color casts, while less objectionable, remained. At times, the edges would take on a magenta hue. In other circumstances, a slightly bluish hue.  The effect seemed to be far less noticeable for 35 mm lenses such as the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph Pre-FLE and FLE, but it is still there and noticeable if shooting shots of the sky or uniformly bright, backlit scenes, such as the “foggy morning” captures presented here. What surprised me is that I found this color shifting and vignetting to be present at times even with my 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux aspherical. It turns out that M lenses are really demanding on these full frame sensors, demanding enough that Leica once claimed it to be impossible to design a full frame digital rangefinder. Well, they eventually did find away, but it took a lot of cunning, know how, and a bunch of in-camera color cast correction applied to RAW files before they ever got onto Lightroom. Unfortunately, the Sony A7R does not have such software corrections. It’s offset microlenses do not suffice to correct these color casts, so if you decide to buy this camera and shoot your RF lenses, be prepared for some frustration and to adjust your post-processing techniques to accommodate for these matters. There are programs, such as SilkyPix, a RAW converter that allow one to create lens profiles and correct such color casts. There are workarounds in Lightroom 5.3, such as using the digital graduated ND filter creatively, that help reduce the effect of these color shifts. One other issues is chromatic aberration, which tends to show itself when lenses are pitted against demanding sensors. In fact, lense such as the Noctilux f/0.95, which have known CA issues, seem to even more prone to showing CA on the A7R.  In summary if you are looking to seamlessly shoot your M lenses on the A7R, be prepared to pause.

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If you are a black and white shooter, color casts and CA won’t matter, and then it gets down to correcting for some vignetting, which is more easily accomplished within a LR workflow. IF you only shoot telephoto lenses, then you are safe with the A7R, and I would argue that you will find yourself getting far more consistent results with lenses such as the 75 mm Summilux, as the focus peaking/zoomed focus method works really well to achieve critical results here. However, if you plan to use lenses wider than 35 mm, the results can occasionally be objectionable. For photographers like me, who prefer to work between 35 mm and 90 mm focal lengths, you’ll be plenty satisfied most of the time with files coming from the A7R. It’s not a panacea for the photographically inclined, but it’s worth the effort. That being said, Sony will hopefully partner successfully with Zeiss to offer a range of high quality AF lenses in its FE lineup. At this time, there are reports that they will release as many as 15 AF FE lenses in the 2 years following the A7R’s release, and we’ll see if this holds true. For many of us, simply having a 35 mm, 55 mm, and an 85 mm lens will suffice.

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As I didn’t have these lenses on hand, I cannot comment on the A7R’s autofocus capabilities, but it seems that they will suffice for most types of shooting, save sporting events.

All in all, I found my time with the Sony A7R to be pleasurable. Was I won over? In the end, I’d answer a cautious “yes.” It produces wonderful files that are full of detail when properly exposed and captured, and in most circumstances, will give you results with which you can be proud. Just be prepared to adjust a bit in your workflow.

Thanks for taking the time to read. As you might imagine, all images presented here were taken with the A7R and a host of M and LTM lenses including the:

Leica 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit

Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph and FLE

Leica 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux

Leica 90 mm f/2 APO Summicron Asph

Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM

Canon 100 mm f/2 LTN

W-Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8 LTM

Nikkor S.C. 50 mm f/1.4 LTM

Nikkor H.C. 85 mm f/2 LTM

Canon 50 mm f/1.5 LTM 

Zeiss ZM 50 mm f/1.5 C-Sonnar

All the best, and enjoy life behind the shutter.

Ashwin

 

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Nov 212013
 

Shooting the legend: Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 with Leica m Monochrom

By Dierk Topp

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom

This lens fascinates me since it was announced in the late sixties in a version as a fixed lens in a Zeiss Ikon body. And some time ago I bought this very special lens with Leica M mount and used it on the Leica M Monocrome. It is a Contax G lens, converted to Leica M mount. The price for one of the few original Hologon 15mm/8 lenses are about 17.000$ (if you find one). My price was less than 3.000€, still a lot but it is for a very special lens.

If you are interested, you may find some interesting information on this site:

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/RF-Nikkor/Contax_RF/Zeiss-Hologon/index4.htm

The lens has a fixed aperture of f/8 and uses a ND center filter against the severe vignetting making it an effective fixed f/16!

Due to its almost symmetrical construction it has near zero distortion and superior DOF at f/8 and it is ideal for architecture and images for great DOF. The severe color/magenta shift is no problem on the MM.

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8

If you are interested, I would like to prepare some explaining text and and as many images, as you want.

My Hologon album is here on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157636630037335/

and I append a few images, to show, what I am talking about :-)

regards

Dierk

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom with center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Oct 312013
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My 1st look wrap up of the Sony A7 and A7r cameras!

NOTE: All images posted here are JPEGS from the cameras, NOT RAW. 

Hello to all and good morning on this spooky Halloween day. I decided to take the morning off from this Sony event (off-road driving) because I am so backed up on work as well as tired and in need of a refresh. So I have a few hours free this morning to catch up on work, doing some tests that have been requested and charging my internal battery.

An OOC Jpeg with the A7r – 55 1.4 Otus

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Over the past few days I have been writing and showing samples from the new Sony A7 cameras. This will be my final wrap up on my 1st look of them from using these bad boys all week. To catch up you can see parts 1-3 below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I have also stated that this is basically a first hands on look, and NOT a full review. When I get a review sample at home I will do a full review of the cameras. (As for all of the requests..there is simply no way to get them all done during this week as every minute of every day is jammed packed but I will be posting my first look wrap up and opinion on my experience with the new camera so far).

Sony A7r and Zeiss Otus

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Auto Focus, Lenses and more…

So are these the dream cameras many of us have waited years  for? Is it the “RX1 with IC lenses” that many of us wanted? Is it a Leica M replacement for a fraction of the cost? Well, that remains to be seen but the camera is not perfect (no camera really is) and its biggest issue right now is native lens availability. At launch we have the Kit Zoom 24-70, a 35 2.8 and a 55 1.8 (a couple of weeks later). The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are superb lenses. Lightweight and sharp as can be. BUT in low light, with either of these cameras, these lenses can hunt for AF which has always been a Sony thing it seems. It’s not “bad” and you CAN get the cameras to AF in really low light, it is just there me be a time when the camera hunts and misses if shooting in low light conditions.

The Sony 55 1.8 at 1.8 on the A7 – OOC JPEG

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Sony 55 1.8 on the A7 – ISO 6400

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55 1.8 on the A7

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If you have at least SOME light then you are good to go but I can state right now that these Sony’s will not win AF speed awards with either of these cameras. Keep in mind, my reference is the Olympus E-M1 as I have found this camera to be the fastest to AF of any I have ever used, period. The Sony’s in comparison to that reference are nearly as fast in daylight but in low light they drop to about 50% as fast. I noticed this last night when shooting Ben Folds at the historic Ryman Theater using the 55 1.8 and A mount 70-400. There were a couple of occasions where it would hunt for AF due to the lights being so low.

In other words..FAST AF in daylight. Slower AF in low light. This goes for both the A7 and A7r. 

Ben Folds with the 55 1.8 and A7

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Using the 70-400 A mount lens with Adapter at 400mm, ISO 6400 and I accidentally had my camera set for -2 EV comp!

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The 55 once again..during soundcheck

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Before you read any further, take a look at the video I made for the A7 cameras comparing them side by side, taking a listen to the shutter sound of each and sharing my verbal thoughts about using the cameras.

The 1st Look Video on the A7 and A7r

The Build

The build of the A7 and A7r are fantastic. I have had no issues with this and while to me, the OM-D E-M1 feels slightly better made, I am not sure this is really the case. Both are built nice though the E-M1 may feel better in my hand. I am comparing it to the E-M1 as I have that camera with me on this trip and just held both side by side.

Same size, both feel great but the Oly is a little more “slick” in its design.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The A7 and A7r are weather sealed as well so should not be an issue in the rain if you need to grab some shots while it is coming down.

As for the differences in build, the A7r has better made dials but in use you really do not notice this. Both feel the same to me in the hand as well as look the same. To me the build feels like a beefed up NEX-7.

No issues there.

The 55 1.8 on the A7 at 1.8 – Country Music legend Porter Wagner’s old suit and guitar displayed at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, TN

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General Use

In use the A7 and A7r are just fine. Menus are easy to navigate as they use the Alpha menu system and NOT the NEX menu system. To those who were saying it has the NEX Menu system available, it DOES NOT. End of story.

After setting up the camera to your own preferences it is simple as pie to use.

Exposure:

Some who are with me that have been using the camera have been saying they were having overexposure issues. Well, I have not had any when using most lenses..until I was shooting with the 55 1.8. Then I noticed the camera was over exposing just a little and I had to dial it down with some negative exposure compensation. When using the manual lenses I had no issues so not sure if this is a firmware thing or a lens thing but do know that overall I had no issues with exposure. I am sure that if any bugs are found that Sony will address these before the camera ships in the form of firmware updates.

Other than that, the exposure metering seems solid to me. I know there have been some reports about exposure issues but I have been posting loads of JPEGS..do they look overexposed? :)

Manual Focus:

When shooting any lens in manual focus, even a Sony FE lens, for me it was easy to nail focus without a problem. Some have been saying the focus peaking is not accurate..well..focus peaking is more of an aid, not a sure-fire way for critically manually focusing. I think that many testing the camera now have never really used peaking much, but using it requires some practice as well as making sure to not just rely on the peaking but on the subject in the EVF as well. I kind of mesh both..when the peaking is telling me something is in focus, and shooting wide open at 1.4 or close to it, any slight movement of the focus barrel can knock it out of whack. You have to be precise and peaking is not really precise (nor is it on any camera). Just remember it is an aid to manual focus and does not replace your own eyeball. It can also be turned off if you do not want it. You can also press a button and have instant magnification if you want to critically focus.

For every photo I posted here over the past few days using a manual lens I used peaking without magnification. I had no issues and 98% of my images were in focus. But I have used peaking quite a bit over the past few years so I am used to it and know what to expect from it and what not to.

For those who are not used to it, practice makes perfect and after 2-3 days of shooting using peaking it should not be an issue.

As for manual focusing the Sony FE lenses, I had to switch on MF last night while taking photos in a bar where Sony had us gather for some really low light shooting. Now, the place was DARK and while I could AF on some things I had to MF for others. Manually focusing a Sony lens will automatically bring up magnification when you turn the focus barrel. This makes it foolproof to nail the AF.

So for me, I had no issues with manually focusing any lens and nailing focus. At all. In fact, I found it quite easy..just as easy as manually focusing on the E-M1.

Using Leica M Mount Lenses

The Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4 – Sharp just how I remember it from the M9 days…through a store window at 12AM..Hmmm, I used focus peaking here :) Wide open…and it worked!

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After using these cameras extensively with a variety of Leica M mount glass I can say that if you shoot 35mm and up, there will be no issues on the A7 or A7r with color fringing or magenta edges or focusing. If shooting lenses such as the crazy 12mm Voigtlander or the 15mm or a Zeiss 21 2.8 or Voigtlander 28 f/2 you will see different degrees of either Vignetting or Color issues on the edges.

This also happens on the worlds only other full frame mirrorless camera, the Leica M 240 (and previous M9)

The next few are from the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, wide open at 1.4 on the A7. I am happy to see that it keeps its signature look. It works just as well on the A7r, was a breeze to manually focus and the color is great, even in these plain old JPEGS from the A7.

EXIF is embedded so be sure to check out the ISO on these :) AND click them for larger versions! THESE ARE ALL JPEGS, NO RAWS YET.

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I am happy to see the 50 Lux retain its quality and look on the new A7 and A7r. For some, an A7r and 50 Lux would be all they would ever need. Throw in a 35 f/1.2 or 35 f2 and then 75 or 90 and you would have a nice little tiny lens kit with a powerhouse camera. Truth be told, I loved  shooting the A7 and A7r with these tiny RF lenses. Not only did it feel good in the hand, they were easy to work with and focus as well as putting out amazing results. Anyone who is saying this lens will not do good on the A7 or A7r do not know how to use them correctly on such a camera (or are trying to knock it down for Leica’s sake).

But back to the wide-angle thing…some of these ultra wides lenses are just not meant to work well with full frame digital bodies. The good news is that if you like B&W you can use the 12, 15 or any ultra wide you like. Just convert to B&W and you will not have problems. :) Lol. But seriously, if you are primarily an ultra wide Leica M lens shooter, you may want to skip these bodies. If you shoot 35mm and up, to me, these two cameras put out better IQ than the Leica M. Quite the fear for Sony so I applaud them for that.

Many of you have asked for a slew of samples on each body with different lenses. First of all, I am not a Leica lens storage cabinet, I only have certain lenses I was able to borrow for this trip (from cameraquest.com) and they are mostly Voigtlander and some Zeiss (which came from lensrentals.com). I have also had zero time until today (only because I skipped the morning trip) to do ANY sort of testing. I can tell you this though…

What I have found is that my favorite lenses on the A7 or A7r have been the Voigtlander 35 1.2 II, the Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 and  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH as well as the little tiny Zeiss 50 ZM Planar (amazing colors). All amazingly beautiful in color, sharpness and overall look. I am a huge fan of rangefinder lenses so I am happy to see that the Sony A7 and A7r can use most of them to their full potential without issue. (besides ultra wides).

A friend of mine, Ashwin Rao has a slew of Leica M mount lenses..something like 30 of them or so. If I can get an A7 and A7r to review and take home I will fly to Seattle to test these lenses with Ashwin, one by one, spending a full day or two to do it right. He has lenses ranging from 16mm to 135mm and also ranging from vintage to modern.

THAT would be a cool test. I will let you guys know who have interest in that soon if it will be a reality.

For now though, seeing that I am in a hotel room in Nashville, all I could do is what you see below:

Lens Testing – M Mount from 15 to 50mm

1st set on the A7R

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2nd set on the A7

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So there you go. What you see is what you get with each lens on each camera. These are direct from camera JPEG using AWB. Exactly as I expected from shooting them over the last few days. The A7 will give you slightly better performance with ultra wides though none will give you clean files with the 15mm Voigtlander. No full frame camera in digital can. The A7 with all of the lenses besides the 15 look pretty damn good though. As I said, my faves are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 f/2 and  the Zeiss 50 f/2 (as well as the 50 lux).

Wrap it up!

There you have it! My 1st look wrap up after using these cameras for the past 4 days. Sony has  created a unique camera with a nice build and feel, a full frame sensor and the ability to not only use their new lenses, but adapted lenses as well (with some exceptions in wide angle M mount) as their older E Mount lenses (which will crop on these cameras, killing the full frame look they are bought for).

I saw a guy yesterday shooting the Nikon 14-24 on the A7R without issues and man oh man was it sharp. So the camera is very versatile when you think about the possibilities of what lenses can be attached to this little guy. There are hundreds of classic RF lenses to try and loads of Canon glass as well. Pretty limitless.

I have not yet been able to test things such as continuous AF speed or full on ISO comparisons but I can say that by using both, I really did see the resolution increase in the 7… but do I need it? Not really. Do I want it? Probably.

Many have been asking me…”Which one do I get”?

To answer that ask yourself if you want powerhouse resolution or huge resolution. Either one delivers plenty of detail and resolution but the A7r takes it up a notch. For Leica users who want to use M glass, I recommend the A7 if you want to shoot with some wide angles (some work fine) and the A7r if you are 35mm and up. It’s that simple. Both excel at low light and high ISO, both feel the same and work the same.

What about the 35 2.8 Zeiss Lens? 

For those wanting more from the new Sony 35 2.8 FE, I have posted samples and thoughts in previous posts but will do more in my  upcoming full review. The 35 is a SUPERB lens and if you want AF it will be tough to find a sharper 35mm for this system. In fact, that would be impossible. It focuses fast, is sharp as you could ever need and it is small.

Below is a full size JPEG from the 35 2.8 at 5.6 on the A7R, Handheld out of my hotel window..click it for full size (saved as a level 8 JPEG)

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A7 or E-M1?

For those asking me if they should buy an A7 or Olympus E-M1, that is not for me  to decide. Best thing to do is read reviews and go from there. As I said a few weeks ago, I will own both and will explain why in a future detailed article because it may cause some commotion :) The E-M1 will focus faster, feels even better in the hand, is more repsonsive and has many more lenses available. BUT it is not full frame, which is what the A7 and A7r are all about.

Also, many have asked about the new RX10 as well, and I have not even touched one yet but will be doing so today for the halloween costume contest Sony is putting on later. Again, it will just be my 1st thoughts, not  a full review.

So with all of that I must leave now to go get ready for the rest of the day ahead of me, this took me a few hours to put together so time to join back up with the group. Will be back home tomorrow evening so looking forward to getting back and resuming my normal schedule!

Happy Halloween!

OH and if you want to order one of the Sony cameras, doing so at my list of links will greatly help me out here on this site. Those tiny commissions I get help to keep this site up and running everytime one of you use my links to buy ANYTHING. CLICK HERE FOR THE SONY a7 PRE ORDER PAGE!

Also, big thanks to Stephen Gandy from Camera Quest once again for letting me use these lenses! His site is HERE. 

Steve

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