May 162016
 
LEICA

LEICA

The Leica 90-280 f/2.8-f/4 Lens review with the SL

Hello again and welcome back to SteveHuffPhoto.com! Today I am reviewing a lens that is the largest and biggest lens I have ever reviewed, but at the same time, almost one of the most, IF NOT THE MOST beautiful lens I have ever shot with! Sure, it’s like a bazooka, and it’s expensive. I mean, it is a Leica after all, and it is made for what I feel is probably the best 35mm digital format camera on the market today, the Leica SL.

Remember my SL review? For me it was “Camera of the Year” in 2015 and I still stick by that statement. I have yet to use a camera that delivers this type of quality on build. EVF, pro features, usability and image quality. It’s slimmer than an equivalent DSLR and feels so much better in my hand. While not small, it’s not meant to be. For small, Leica has the M and other solutions. So no, the SL is large, in charge and this new 90-280 is a masterpiece of optical design, proving that Leica is still the best lens maker in the world.

A day at the Butterfly Farm with the Leica SL and 90-280 – COLOR POP

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This lens, and this camera is not for everyone. It’s for those who love Leica, who love quality and who love to have this kind of focal length zoom, in the highest quality possible. This lens, and the 24-90, go above and beyond 90% of M lenses IMO, and on the SL, these two native lenses are stunning. I can not wait to see the 50 Summilux for the SL. I think that will be the best 50 Lux EVER, even though it will be the largest one ever as well :)

Leica sent me the lens and asked me to write down what I thought of it. Most here and in the photo community know I am not a huge fan of big lenses, yet Leica sent it along for an honest opinion, so that is what I will give here as well as show some images I snapped with the lens along the way.

All images can be clicked on for larger versions – EXIF has been embedded

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THE BEAST ARRIVES

When the box containing the lens was exposed, I thought it was the SL box! Nope, it was the lens. It was a monster and before I opened it up to bring out the lens, I thought to myself “THERE IS NO WAY I WOULD EVER CARRY THIS LENS AROUND ALL DAY”! Then I pulled it out and thought…”Well, it’s not THAT huge”…then I added the lens hood and I admit, it looked kind of funny being so large, on the SL. It made the SL look SMALL. So at that time I figured I would just need to go out and use it, and for me, the rendering and image quality would have to be at a 10 out of 10 for me to ever consider this lens. Remember, I’m a small prime guy, and have never been a huge zoom guy though lately with these high quality zooms from Leica, Sony and others I am starting to warm up to the new generation of zoom lenses.

After I started using it I realized that the size here doesn’t matter. I mean, many out there are used to the huge 70-200 f/2.8 lenses from other manufacturers, and this lens is only about an inch longer. It was me who was so used to little M lenses and smaller Sony lenses that made this one feel EXTRA huge. IN reality, for DSLR shooters anyway, it will not be that big of a deal.

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Coming in at $6395.00 it is NOT cheap, but Leica is NEVER EVER cheap, especially for a true German made Leica product. Leica is about end game quality, and they achieved it with the SL (IMO), and the 24-90 and now again with this. Image quality perfection from the color, the pop, the depth, the bokeh, the way it renders and records light, the intimate connection you feel with your lens and camera after using them for a while…that bond, all enhanced with a Leica camera and lens, for me anyway.

So there should be no complaining these days about Leica pricing as it has been this way for a LONG LONG time, longer than most here reading this right now have been shooting ;) It is what it is, and Leica has grown quite a bit from the days of the M8. Today they offer up a complete line of options from the bottom to the top. So that should be applauded as they could have dropped it all and just sold the M line. Instead they are trying to offer up solutions for all, or anyone who has been bitten with the Leica bug. Thats a good thing in my book. More choice for us.

So after the lens arrived, I took it out to see how I could handle it for a few hours of shooting.

I have always loved the colors the SL put out above any and all other digital cameras. 

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There are no other lenses out there quite like this 90-280 from Leica. Sure, many have their 70-200 pro lenses from Canon, Nikon or whoever but this one offers up a unique focal length. While not an f/2.8 aperture lens throughout, at 280 we get to f/4 and that seems to be just fine for a 280mm focal length.

While using it, I was trying to judge it on weight, size, usability as well as color, sharpness, pop and all of those qualities we associate with Leica. Would it be to heavy to even be enjoyable for an enthusiast? Is this strictly for those who are working pros or could an amateur or enthusiast get along with it and enjoy it as well? When I review, I review from a real world standpoint. I do not worry about scientific specs, or pixel peeping. I have always been and always will be a normal guy who LOVES photography and LOVES the gear we use to practice this craft.

For me it is just as much about the images and quality as it is about the usability and design. It is just as much about the memories as it is making those memories, for me. So at the end of the day, how did my time with the SL and 90-280 go?

FAN FLIPPING TASTIC. 

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Yes, it was heavy. YES, I was getting stares from all of those shooting with their phones. YES, it looked like some form of weapon or cannon hanging around my body. At the same time, I knew that when I left, my images would offer up a quality that I could NEVER EVER get from my iPhone.

It’s funny. Five to six years ago, when at a place like this (Butterfly Farm) I would see DSLR after DSLR. Usually huge zooms, and big flash units attached. This week, 99% were shooting with smart phones, which is showing us where the photo world is headed. I feel that within 10 years, cameras and lenses like this, and the type I write about will be a dwindling breed. Sure, there will ALWAYS be higher level cameras and lenses, ALWAYS. BUT, I feel that most of America who used to come here to look for a nice camera to buy are now out there shooting with a phone, and a majority of them are more than happy with that.

Me, I will ALWAYS have to own a nice camera that I can get along well with. I would never be satisfied with a phone as my sole camera. With that said, my 2nd most used camera is my iPhone ;) Because it is ALWAYS with me, 100% of the time and that is why these phones have taken over, we always have them and they put out decent quality, especially if you like a huge depth of field.

We now live in a world of social media, selfie obsession and phone addiction. But now I am getting off topic, let’s get back to the lens and camera as it is a beauty and I wish I had loads of cash as I would own it just to own it even if I would use it on only a few occasions per year. To me, there is something special about the SL with its native lenses. While the SL also is great with M lenses, to see the ultimate quality, one must try one of the native lenses. Then it goes to WOW. But it also goes to LARGE, which blows it for some. Even so, I had fun with my dull day carrying and using this lens.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Keep in mind the two shots below were handheld, and one was at 90mm (1st shot) and the other at 280mm and f/4 and 1/250th. Third one was at 280mm and f/4. Click on each one  to see the 100% crop. 

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While I could have lugged my tripod with me, I always like to shoot handheld and if a lens like this is not capable of that, then I would not even review it. But it is capable and it is usable and it is manageable using it handheld. Look at the bird shot above. Handheld at full zoom of 280mm. I have found no issues with the lens at any focal length. It is just as sharp and contrasty at 90mm as it is at 280mm. No distortions, no lens flare issues, not focus problems or zoom issues. In use, this lens is about as perfect as it could get. 

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How about Auto Focus?

The 90-280 on the SL focuses fast. It is silent as can be, and focuses internally so this is not one of those zooms that grows and grows when you zoom. It does not get any larger, thank God. I also tried continuous AF on a butterfly but that was impossible. I do not think any camera could lock on to a fast moving fluttering butterfly and track it reliably. But even so, the SL tried very hard to get there and almost did it. But AF was fast, spot on and always accurate. No misses. If it said it was locked on, it was.

This setup focused faster than my A7RII and 70-300. So there ya go.

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Today, Leica seems to have matured into the digital age quite nicely. In the beginning with the M8, it was a bit hit or miss but today they are creating and putting out TOP NOTCH quality and SIMPLE TO USE gear, and that is sticking with the Leica philosophy. No confusing menus, not a million buttons on the back, not cheap LCD’s or EVF’s and a quality that is hard to understand until you use a real Leica product. The M, The SL, The S or the T or Q, all of these cameras are simply gorgeous in all ways. The designs are unique and simply, there is nothing like them from other manufacturers.

While we have the Sony A7RII, which is also a masterpiece for what it is, it does not match the output, for me, of the SL when it comes to color, and overall smoothness of the files. While beautiful in its own way, the A7RII, is not the same level of camera in any way as the SL. It just isn’t, even though my A7RII gets more use (DUE TO SIZE) and let’s be honest here, that A7RII can do amazing things and has no real weaknesses that I have found. So we are lucky to live in this world today with CHOICES that can bring us all some sort of personal joy from day to day.

LEICA SMOOTH

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Leica has created a fantastic system with the SL, and now with this new and only 2nd lens for the system available, their streak of perfection continues. While not for those who want a small solution, the 90-280 and SL system is top of the field for everything us enthusiasts and pros love about a camera system. It is borderline perfection in design, control and performance. While other systems can beat it for low light and high iso as well as versatility, if you want ULTIMATE quality and have a fat wallet, do not discount the SL system.

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How about VS the Sony A7RII and new 70-300? Or the Olympus PEN and the new 300mm Pro?

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Now this may seem like a silly comparison, and to many it will be. Shooting a brick wall and nail with an SL and 90-280 side by side with an Olympus PEN and 300mm as well as a Sony A7RII and 70-300 G lens if truly a crazy comparison. The Sony G 70-300 is more of a Budget (but very good) 70-300. The Olympus while being a stunning lens, and probably the best optics of them all, is giving you a 600mm equivalent. So not the same focal length. Even so, I wanted to add it to show you what you get from each system, with the same shot.

It’s funny but the Olympus, while having WAY more noise at its base ISO, is the sharpest and most detailed of them all. The Leica has that balance of medium format looking smoothness and sharpness while the Sony here falls flat. To be fair the Sony is using the 70-300 G which is not a pro spec lens while the Olympus and Leica are. With that in mind, the Sony keeps up very well, even with their “budget” zoom.

Leica setup here is $14,000.  Sony setup here is $4500. Olympus setup is $3800.

Let’s see how they do. You must click them for larger and full 100% crop. 

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The one with the most detail is the Olympus, the smoothest most pleasing file, for me is the SL.

BOTTOM LINE ON THE Leica 90-280 f/2.8-f/4

This lens is a masterpiece of modern lens design. The build is Leica all the way. Never cheap or hollow feeling, it feels like it will last 1000 years. Size is the only weakness here for me, as it is the largest lens I have ever used, owned or reviewed. It truly looks like a bazooka or some sort of paparazzi lens. With the size taken out of the equation, everything else is stunning. From the buttery smooth focus ring to the nice zoom action to the high quality exotic glass used to create the lens, the 90-280 can not be faulted optically, in any way.

Contrast is high, higher than even the 24-90. Sharpness is there, detail is there. Color is up there with the 50 APO M lens, which is quite the feat. (Part 2 of the 50 APO review, as used on the SL is HERE).

As for size, sure take a look at it compared to some DSLR 70-200mm Lenses…It’s not that much larger, maybe an inch or so..but you get 280mm vs these which max out at 200mm…

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If you do not mind the size, or the cost, and you own the SL system, this lens is a MUST see, MUST check out. Head to your local Leica shop, or email Leica dealer Ken Hansen for the lowdown at [email protected]. The 90-280mm means business and wedding pros will LOVE This lens as I feel for weddings, this lens will create some stunning masterpieces.

WHERE TO BUY?

The Leica 90-280 can be purchased from any of the highly recommended Leica dealers below:

Ken Hansen – E-mail him at [email protected]

PopFlash.com

B&H Photo

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

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

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link (not the B&H) and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

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One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees nor do I (nor will I ever) charge for reviews, so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. If you choose to help out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

May 132016
 

Reviews Next Week: Leica SL with 90-280 and more!

Next week I will be posting two new reviews and one of them is giving me the best IQ from a non medium format camera that I have ever seen.

Yep, the Leica SL with the new 90-280mm f/2.8-f/4 lens was sent to me by Leica to check out and while it is the largest lens I have ever worked with, personally, I feel it is also one of the best quality lenses from a color and IQ standpoint that I have ever used, next to the Leica 50 APO! We can argue all day about its size, and believe me, it is MASSIVE. Like a Cannon (NOT the Camera company, but rather a real CANNON)…take a look.

BBL (BIG BEAUTIFUL LENS)

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This lens is heavy, large and makes the 24-90 look like a baby, but if QUALITY is #1 on your list above all, this lens will NEVER EVER disappoint anyone. It’s quite amazing, and even during my day one silly test snaps, it just has that Leica feel, that quality and smoothness, the bokeh quality and the way the subject just pops a bit. This is why many love Leica. The SL is a camera I LOVE and while many do not care for it due to size, it is a true “pride of onwership” kind of camera for me. Feels amazing, the design is very cool (IMO) and the battery life is superb, dual SD cards is nice to have and the EVF…the EVF makes it for me. Nothing else like it in 35mm format digital today…yet.

I am heading out today to shoot, and will be using all of what Leica sent so I can review this lens next week for you guys. Below are a couple of test snaps.. CLICK THEM for larger versions and to see that 100% crop of the bird.

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I also just started working on getting the Sony A6300 reviewed where I will use the 28 f/2, 50 1.8 and 70-300 along with the Voigtlander 15 f/4.5. for E mount.

I also have the Sony RX10III to shoot more with, the Olympus PEN-F and 7-14 and 300mm pro, and quite a few other goodies here to put to use! Soon!

So check back next week for  these and much more!

Steve

PS- If you are interested in the Leica 90-280, give Ken Hansen an email at [email protected]

Can also be found at PopFlash.com and B&H Photo

May 032016
 

My opinion of the Wotancraft Ryker, Scout and the new Leica 28 Cron

by Dan Bar

Hello Steve and Brandon!

About a week ago I received my new 28 cron. It is the first time I use a 28 as I am a 35\50 guy. I was really curious to see how I felt about it. I also read Steve’s articles about the Wotancraft 2 bags + read all articles related, so I bought a new Scout a few months ago, and when I heard a friend of mine ( Tomer Vaknin) wanted to change his Ryker ( his was brown and he bought a new Ona Berlin Black) I immediately gave him one of my BLACK bags and took his BROWN Ryker.

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There are a lot of article\reviews about those bags and i am no expert, so I will just emphasize my opinion and thoughts. Both bags are beautiful , the Ryker is is made of the finest smooth leather and looks beautiful, as a matter of fact to my eyes it is the most beautiful bag on the market. It is not big and it can hold two Leica M cameras with lenses and no more ( in the main department of course). The front department has no zipper which is not safe, so I will never keep batteries of memory cards there. Next is a zipped pocket which can hold the cards + batteries but it is not separated into 2 pockets and that makes it uncomfortable to carry a few things together.

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Nobody mentions it is a heavy bag. You could go to the articles and see it is 1.675 grams but I don’t intend to write a review. I simply mention my feelings. It is a heavy bag, even with one camera ( no BATTERY and charger). It is heavier than the scout wich is bigger. That of course is a leather side effect.

So I will use this bag for only one camera + charger, some batteries , memory cards etc. All being said i love the look of this bag, the leather quality. Everything here shouts top-notch. Oh, unlike my friend Tomer I love the brown color which will age nicer than the black version ( in my opinion). You can see more at WOTANCRAFT.com

THE LEICA 28 CRON

As said I received my 28 Cron a week ago, so I did not have much time with it, As with the bags I shall only write about my feelings. The lens is a beauty. It is small beautifully built like all Leica lenses , very comfortable to use, it is not a heavy and the best thing is the metal hood which is compact and this time screwed to the body so no more accidents with it. I think it is a very sharp lens with a nice bokeh. It is very light and I know LEICA people love the Cron version.

Here are some of the photos of the 28 shot with the Leica 246 of my family..

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Thank you and take care!

Danny

Apr 152016
 

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Fine Art Portraiture with the Leica Monochrom

by Jan Hartmann

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What is FineArt Photography for me?

Beside my work on commercial projects I am still someone who needs a kind of artistic photography. In Short, Fine Art is only another word for artistic photography. Doing Fine Art Photography allows me to express myself and to get into a creative process. Within in this process i can realize my visions and ideas. What I like most about it that I can slow down and have more time to put the focus on composition, expression of the model and the overall impact of the emerging image. And one important element for this kind of work is the Leica Monochrom. The concept of the camera does not have big menus as other digital cameras and reduces everything to the basic parameters of photography – shutter speed, Aperture and ISO. That’s all you need. So you can concentrate on the main part of your work. The Model, The Moment and the Composition. That is where you have to be and not lost in menus.

 

Working with Models

I am not that type of photographer that is frequently looking for new models to work with. A decisive aspect is that I can establish an identical human level and good communication to the people I work with on a free basis. Consequently I prefer working in longterm corporations with a fine selection of models that share my philosophy of teamwork.

One of them is Amelie Lezcano Mendoza“ with who I have just worked 2 times before this project. We both love the timeless character of black and white photography and prefer a natural and authentic look.

The Location In the tradition of working in a Team Amelie was responsible for scouting locations and selecting one. She had chosen a very nice mansion in the architectural style of 19th century. The rooms had a really esthetic interior and big windows that are perfect for the work with natural light.

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The Monochrom in Action

So the Day came and we were drove to the mansion and went into it. While Amelie started to dress herself and have a final look on her makeup, I checked my to M Monochrom Cameras. Both of them are in silver-chrome.

On the first Monochrom a 50mm Noctilux ASPH f/0.95 is mounted and on the other I use the 50mm APO-Summicron ASPH f/2. You will wonder why the hell I use two 50mm lenses and indeed the most expensive in the whole leica lineup. I am 50mm junkie. The first I owned was the Noctilux, a dream of a lens, of which I had a lot of sleepless nights until I got it. The APO is truly another beast and renders totally different. I use them for different shots and situations.

But there is not THE SITUATION for each of these lenses.

My favorite lens is still the Noctilux. No other lens I used has this special rendering. It turns every scenery into a dreamy and aesthetic look. It is amazing to see these soft and natural skins of the models when using the Noctilux. The 50mm APO Summicron ASPH f/2 is more for the “real world“ shots. It renders like there is no lens. And in combination with the Monochrom the results have a look that tends to medium-format-quality. This is visible in the high amount of details and the areas from sharp and unsharp in the final image.

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When Amelie finished her preparations we just started on one of the windows. The first thing I always check is the right exposure. In this case the histogram is very helpful, because if you overexpose than the whites are blown out with no information. That is the Achilles heel of the Monochrom Camera. You just have always to expose and take care for the highlights. If you do so, the rest is just easy.

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To work with Amelie is a joy. She doesn’t need detailed instructions, only smart corrections. Her posing and facial expression happens very intuitive and natural. What always impresses me is here authentic expression.

This is something not many models have. That is a big advantage and influences the final results in a positive way. The big and bright optical viewfinder is something I like the most about the Leica Monochrom. I just see the whole scenery and so it is a lot easier to frame and make the composition.

The 1.4 viewfinder magnification enlarges everything and this help a lot to set the focus plane where you want it – especially with the extremely thin DOF of the Noctilux 0.95. That is much more precise than working with Manual Focus on DSLRs I used before I went to Leica. One general aspect that makes the Leica Monochrom outstanding is the richness of tones. Especially the middle grey tones are unbelievable. I am a fan of the CCD Generation. For my eye the rendering of the CCD is very much like film and does not look so digital.

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The Relation between the Leica Brand and Passion for Photography

Now it is nearly a year that I started to work with Leica. My initial reason to change was the fascination for the Noctilux. What i noticed when i had been working with Canon DSLRs before that there was no real relation to the equipment. You just used it for its function.

But with Leica it is another game. I really love the work with rangefinders and manual focus lenses. With the Leica Monochrom you just get the essential feeling of photography with the basic elements. And what makes Leica unique in this times is the mix of technical perfection, lifetime-built-quality and the simplicity. I am getting nervous when I can not work with my Leica cameras for some days. This is truly very subjective. But for me it is important to have the equipment that makes you passioned and inspired and this is definitely the case with Leica.

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Aspects in my Fine Art Portraiture Work

The most important thing in my work is the emotional aspect. That means the final images should transport a certain feeling. When I work with models I don’t want to see a program of studied poses performed like a machine. My pictures should get an authentic and natural character. In the interaction with the model I try to bring them to be as they are. So when I look at the image I want to get an idea of the person and the character.

Communication is the base of a successful portraiture project. If I have not the right communication, I don’t get the results I want. And these are important requirements that I can go into a creative process, looking for light, the right framing and composition.

At the end I just want to show you some pictures from the Fine Art Portraiture Project with Amelie.

Web: www.janhartmann.photo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/janhartmann.fotografie
Email: [email protected]

Apr 142016
 

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IN USE: The Leica T and the new 35 1.4 Summilux T Lens!

THIS IS AN “IN-USE” REPORT – Giving my thoughts after a week or so of use. Shorter than a full review, with plenty of image samples. Click ’em for larger! 

Hello to all of you here! It’s another beautiful day (90 degrees in sunny Phx AZ in mid April) and here I am looking at one hell of a gorgeous lens today. Now, I will admit up front that the Leica T camera is lagging today when it is compared to its competition, it just is and this is a fact. Yep, it is slower than most, not good for moving subjects as its C-AF is sluggo, it has a lag after every shot and will not give you cutting edge low light or high ISO shots that can compete with the newer cameras today (that are less expensive than the T), but then again, neither does a Leica M but it still has its charms and has many buying it at $6-7k, it’s the Leica way after all. We buy with our heart, at least I always have.

As for the Leica T, I expect that a new T model would be in the works by now, but who knows. Maybe, maybe not.

EVEN with that bit of info, and even though the T is not great at high speed, high ISO, or 2016 functionality (no built in EVF, no tilt LCD) when compared to newer APS-C offerings, it does one thing better than all of those other APS-C competitors and with this lens, even more so.

IMAGE QUALITY!

With the new 35 1.4 Summilux T lens, the T has some new life breathed into it as this lens is a stunner, even outperforming the M version (if it were to be used on the T) and that is saying A LOT. This new lens for the T system is gorgeous, and can also be used on the new Leica SL in crop mode. THIS IS an APS-C lens as is the T itself but it has the traditional Leica build, feel and performance.

YOU MUST CLICK ON ALL IMAGES HERE to see them the way they were meant to be seen! The 35 1.4 for the T has a beautiful way of rendering. 

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I was actually VERY curious about this lens and wondered if it would be worth a look so when Leica asked if I wanted to give it a try, I could not resist! I am glad I did as I really enjoyed using it, and it had me, at times, wondering if it was worth it for me to own just to use on the SL as I do not own a T and have no plans to buy one at this point in time. With a price tag of $2395 new, this lens is NOT cheap. It’s more expensive than the full frame top tier professional new Sony G master lenses, and those are some mighty fine pieces of glass (of course, they will not work on a T, was just comparing cost) though much larger and heavier, and again, for Sony not Leica.

For most, a crop sensor prime lens for $2350 is tough to swallow but then again, all of Leica’s cameras and lenses are on the pricey side. That is no secret or mystery as it has been like this forever. Just look at the 35 Summilux M lens for a REAL expensive but oh so gorgeous 35 1.4 lens that is small, built like a tank and delivers that Leica look and glow we all love :) Just under $5k. Makes this one look affordable ;)

If you own a Leica T though, and If you have the money to spend, you could do worse than buying this lens. Believe me when I say that this lens is a stunner in every way. Sharpness, Bokeh, Color, Contrast, Build, Feel, AF accuracy and speed (limited only by the T itself) is as good as it gets in a 35 1.4 APS-C lens.

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I am not sure how many of you that are reading this own a T but if you do, and love fast prime lenses, this is one you WILL want to take a look at.

While being a 35mm lens, the equivalent focal length of this lens will be more like 52mm so many will see it as a 50mm lens. Due to the APS-C crop factor of 1.5, 35mm is not the field of view you will get, so keep that in mind. But hey, 52mm may be even better for most as 50mm is usually a goto for most prime shooters.

The Leica 50 Summilux has always been their most popular lens for the M mount, and this lens will give you a 50mm reach (though not a 50mm character) when used with the T or SL, so what is NOT to like?

The struggle for some will be the price. Many have been wondering what is going to happen with the Leica T line as it has been sort of slow out of the gate and talk about the T is quiet sparse on the forums, even the Leica forums.  It never seemed to take off even though it has a slick interface, is created from a solid block of aluminum and hand polished for hours in Germany :) My full review from when it was launched can be seen here. It is like a camera that APPLE would create in so many ways.

Even so, many have been harsh critics of the T. When I originally reviewed the T, I enjoyed it and thought it was great for the time. The IQ stood out with the Leica X style of IQ and color, and the only issue at launch was the two lenses you had to choose from. One a slow expensive zoom and one a 23mm Summicron f/2 prime that stopped down to a slower aperture if you focused closely.

These days there are a few more lenses to choose from with the T but jumping into the T system could cost you more than jumping into other possibly more attractive systems. $4100 is what it would cost you for a T camera and this one lens. Around the same cost as a Q and $1000 more than an RX1RII. More than an A7II or Fuji X-T1.

Is the T worth buying just for this lens? For some, it just may be. For others, no. For those who own a T, it is a MUST to at least look at it, rent it or give it a try.

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LEICA = SIMPLICITY – PASSION – GORGEOUS BUILD AND IQ

Leica offers simplicity, solid build and gorgeous IQ and lenses. That’s what you can expect from them in todays world of whiz bang cameras that are really computers in disguise. Many buy into Leica just for that reason as many feel, myself included, that Leica IS photography. There has always been a mystique around the brand and while many cry they are only for the elite, I say this is NOT true. Leica is for the passionate photographer which is why I jumped in with an M7 many many years ago while my income at the time was below poverty level. I saved, and saved and sacrificed other things to own it and that camera was with me for a long time, and I adored it.

My 1st Leica was an M7, and I adored it and shot hundreds of rolls of film through it with my 50 Summicron

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I was not ever any kind of “elite” and never will be but I appreciated the design, the form, the way it worked and the small jewel like lenses that were just at times, GODLY. I enjoyed the history of the company and knew I had a product in my hand I could be proud  to own, happy to own. It’s a special thing when you own a Leica as it is the passion inside of us that attracts many of us to the brand.It truly is. So not all Leica users or owners are “Elite’ or “Rich’ or “Snobs”. Many are true working class photographers, others are hobbyists and enthusiasts and yes, some are collectors. But most of the friends I know that shoot Leica, are in no way rich. They just really enjoy the Leica experience, and contrary to what many may say, you do get a Leica experience with the T, as there is nothing else like the T from any other camera manufacturer. While not an M or an S or an SL or X, the T is like the red headed stepchild of the Leica family. The oddball in the bunch.

But odd as in good. Different. Unique.

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So in my opinion, this is who a lens and camera like this are made for, the passionate photographer who has always had a thing..a spark or a love for the Leica brand of cameras. It is expensive, sure, but gear like this always rewards you with gorgeous results and that pride of ownership that many cameras lack. To some, a camera is just a tool they use occasionally. For others, they bond with their cameras and make the most of owning that camera. They use it daily, learn its weaknesses and strengths and exploit those strengths.

The Leica 35 Summilux T is by all accounts a fantastic performer in the real world. While I have never done scientific chart testing, I am sure this lens will test out great as the real photos from it bring out the best of the T itself. FOR ME, it is the best T lens available to date. If you love your Leica T, this is where it’s at! I always say these days, buy ONCE and be done with it. Meaning, I quit buying cheap lenses as I never liked them or loved them, even though I knew I was saving money. Buy once, and you will not lose money as you will have something you love and can bond with. QUALITY.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can pre-order the Leica 35 Summilux T at the dealers below, all whom I recommend 100%

KEN HANSEN – Email him at [email protected]. Ken is a legendary Leica dealer.

POPFLASH.COM – PopFlash.com is a huge Leica dealer as well. Tony Rose is very well respected in the Leica world.

B&H PHOTO – Order the 35 1.4 at B&H HERE

A few more samples with the Leica 35 Summilux T on the T. CLICK the images for larger, better versions. EXIF is embedded on all of these shots. 

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

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

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link (not the B&H) and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

Outside of the USA? Use my worldwide Amazon links HERE!

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

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees nor do I (nor will I ever) charge for reviews, so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. If you choose to help out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Mar 092016
 

The French Quarter of New Orleans

By Anthony Killeen

The French Quarter has to be one of the best places for street photography. It’s full of interesting scenes and people, and it’s a hive of activity all day and night.

All of these were taken withe a Leica M-A and Summilux 50 mm f/1.4. For the first shot, I used CineStill 800T, which is a relative newcomer to the film market, made by the Brothers Wright. It’s made from film stock produced for the motion picture industry and is color balanced for tungsten lighting. The anti-halation layer at the back of the film has been pre-removed to make it possible to develop in routine C41 chemistry. The consequence of this removal is that the film is subject to halos around bright lights, but in this kind of shot those halos only add to the drama of the lighting.

The other two shots were taken with Kodak Tri-X 400.

Thanks for considering these!

My blog: www.anthonykilleen.com

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Flying around

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Street preacher

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Anthony Killeen

Jan 212016
 

Old and new :Leica M vs Leica R Lens comparison on the SL

by Jean-Marc Bottazzi

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Hi Steve, love your site.

Here what I was thinking with the SL being more SLR like in the leica world I got interested to look a bit at R glass on the SL and do some not so serious comparisons. Those lenses also are a popular choices for duclos cinemod. That is way cheaper than the new leica cine offering (which I am sure is better but well…). Anyway I bought the novoflex R adapter since I cannot find the leica one yet and bought a few old R lenses and decided to compare a bit with the 50 apo and the new vario elmar I own. I shot the same scene from the same spot with all lenses with the intention to compare crops.

I bought:

-the 80mm summilux R f1.4
-the apo macro emarit 100mm f2.8
-the old vario elmarit 35-70mm f3.5

The scene is the following:

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I used a lightbox making sure the speed is always at least 1/250s. I focused on the same flower in the shaded rectangle and here are the crops of that flower.

First two pictures are the 50 apo at f2 and f4 respectively… great as expected.

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Next come 3 pictures with the 80mm summilux R @f1.4 2.8 and 4 respectively. A bit soft by comparison … if you step down to f4 the summilux gets sharper but there is room for more sharpness. At f1.4 you can get as much isolation of subject as the 50 APO at f2 but you pay with less sharpness on your subject. If you step down you lose isolation as more of the picture gets sharp and busy. The 80 summilux R overall is no match for the 50 APO.

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The next two pictures are taken with the elmarit apo macro 100mm at f2.8 and f4 respectively. Now that is sharp! Especially at f4, but so should it be, it is a macro lens after all and a good one at that. But note that the 50mm apo is keeping up quite even when scaling up. In spite of the different focal length the APO manages to isolate its subject with micro contrast highest sharply around focus plane only — in other words the picture is less busy more on its subject — for the macro and the 50 apo more than the other lenses in this batch we have this nice combination of incredible sharpness in focus combined with strong isolation ability.

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Next something very interesting : the new vario elmar 24-90 @50/f4 80/f4 and 90/f4 respectively now that is sharp as well at all focal lengths. Zoom will have more depth of field than the primes previously introduced but the new zoom looks extremely sharp.

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Finally the last two picts are the old vario elmar R at 50mm/f4 and 70/mm f4. Not too bad especially given that the old vario elmar is much more compact than the new one. It makes it an interesting lens for travel in my opinion even without autofocus it almost keeps up with the new vario elmar in terms of sharpness. Now at same aperture it looks to me that the new vario elmar is better at being sharp only around the focal plane only (while the old vario elmar is more zero to infinity sharpness). This shows when you compare the 2 shots 70mm f4 between old and new vario elmar. Of course prime are more isolating that the zooms but the new vario elmar is showing an interesting behavior especially compared with its ancestor.

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Again this is not meant to be serious but it helps me having a bit of intuition on how to compare those lenses.

 

Jan 142016
 

Leica releases new versions of 28 Summicron, 35 Summicron and 28 Elmarit!

Seems like Leica has updated some lenses and they will start shipping in Feb. A new 28 Summicron ASPH f/2, and an updated 28 Elmarit and 35 Summicron. They all have all new metal hood designs which is AWESOME as the 28 and 35 Cron hoods were awful, always falling off. The new metal screw in design will keep them intact! If this floats your boat, you can pre-order these new “refresh” lenses at my top recommended Leica dealers Ken Hansen (email: [email protected]) or PopFlash.com or B&H Photo. Links below for B&H.

What I am unsure of if these lenses have been changed OPTICALLY at all, I do not think they have been.

UPDATE: A reader commented below that there are new optical formulas for these. The 35 cron  used to have 8 Aperture blades, it now has 11. Others have less field curvature, so YES these are improved optically as well!

If you have been in the market for a new 28 or 35 for Leica M, I’d be sure to grab the newest versions here, if buying NEW of course!

The new 35 Summicron ASPH f/2 – ships Feb – $2799 – – B&H Link – Ken HansenPopFlash.com

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New 28 Cron ASPH f/2 – $3995 – B&H Photo, Ken Hasnen, PopFlash

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New 28 Elmarit ASPH f/2.8 – $2195 – B&H PhotoKen HansenPopFlash

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Jan 112016
 

A Look at The Leica 50 Summilux ASPH Black Chrome Special Edition. Beautiful!

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Ahhhh, gorgeous! Recently I was able to get a hold of a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH Special Edition. This is the beautiful matte black edition of this legendary lens with a different design (from 1959) and even smaller filter size (43mm vs 46). The last time I had a 50 Summilux ASPH that looked like this was during the M8 days when I bought the LHSA Special Limited Edition version, which was exactly the same as this one, just in black paint (also came in Chrome) instead of matte black chrome. That lens..I paid $3600 for back then and sold it for $8000 later on as it appreciated like mad. Even today that version of this lens sells for $7500+ USED. It came in Black paint of Chrome. Take a LOOK HERE at a used LHSA 50 Lux on B&H. $7500. It is exactly the same as this new limited edition inside and out! Design, hood, everything. SO why would one pay $7500 for a used version of this lens when you can get it new for $3900 or so? Well, if you are a hardcore collector and want the LHSA edition for the LHS name (on the box) then maybe you would. If you want to use the lens, this new Limited Edition is the way to go over all versions of this lens, IMO.

My video showing you this lens and why I think it is the best 50 Lux you can buy today..

To date I have tried around 8 50mm lenses on the Leica SL and Sony A7RII so far and my faves have been the 50 APO cron and now this 50 Lux SE (others are the Zeiss 50 Planar, Zeiss 50 Sonnar, Voigtlander 50 1.5). But for me, this Lux Limited Edition makes much more sense to be my main 50 for my SL and my Sony as only 500 were made, and it is a lens that will go up in value instead of down like all other lenses today. Just like the limited number LHSA edition that even today sells for $7500 used ($4k more than it sold for new), this version should creep up over the years, not down.

50 1.4 Lux ASPH LE at 1.4 – click it for better version – All images here shot on the Leica SL

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This one was sent to me by Ken Hansen to try out and what a beauty it is. The lens has a heft to it that makes it feel UBER solid. Much more solid feeling than the standard 50 Lux. The focusing is also smoother, and no focus tab which is a plus for me. The scalloped focusing ring is easy to twist and dial in. This and the LHSA edition are the most beautiful 50 Lux ASPH’s I have seen, and I also have one more reason I prefer it to the normal Lux. Overall Quality.

For some  reason when I used to own the LHSA LE edition of the Lux ASPH it was sharper and performed better than the standard Lux ASPH I had at the time. Same here, this Limited Edition is PERFECT and seems snappier and crisper at the focus point than the standard Lux I have here. I feel that these limited runs may be made to a higher standard as I have now experienced this TWICE. I feel these LE’s may be assembled with a little more perfection as they are a limited run. No other way to explain it.

Must click images to see them correctly – always best on large screens!

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Sof or the obvious reasons of beauty, construction, perfection and the fact that this lens will not go down in value (as it is a limited edition) means this will be my main go to 50mm on the SL or A7RII for me, and after testing all the 50’s I had interest in for my SL, this is the winner even though the 50 APO is technically perfect (this one is a better deal IMO at half the cost) It just feels so good, looks gorgeous and is much easier to focus without the tab (some may prefer the tab though). It has a serious little heft to it but as you know, it’s small. This lens also comes with a very nice and solid brass hood and cap (black chrome) and it sticks to the old 1959 version in all ways having to do with looks and design, but with modern internals. This means no slide out hood, instead you must attach it on and off manually.

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Here is what Leica has to say about this Special Edition:

Resembling its predecessor from 1959, the black-chrome edition Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Lens features a unique matte black finish along with a classic exterior design akin to the first production run of this renowned lens. While recalling its past on the outside, this edition is also characterized by its contemporary optical design that incorporates one aspherical element and one floating element, as well as elements made from anomalous partial dispersion and high refractive index glasses.

This sophisticated construction helps to reduce chromatic aberrations and distortions throughout the focusing and aperture ranges, which contribute to high overall sharpness and clarity. Further benefitting the lens’ overall versatility, the fast f/1.4 maximum aperture also aids in working in difficult lighting conditions as well as offers greater control over focus for shallow depth of field techniques. Pairing a classic outer design with innovative optical components, this black-chrome edition is the epitome of Leica’s penchant for mixing both form and function.

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As part of a limited edition of 500 pieces, this black-chrome finish Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens features a matte black exterior as well as an outer design that resembles the first edition of this lens from 1959. Other distinct design elements include a scalloped focusing ring, red-colored focusing distance scale in feet, and a finely-knurled aperture ring. In addition to the unique appearance of the lens, this edition also includes a metal front lens cap as well as a metal round lens hood.

One aspherical element and one floating element are incorporated within the optical design, along with anomalous partial dispersion and high refractive index glass elements, to control aberrations and distortions at all aperture and focus positions.
Fast f/1.4 maximum aperture benefits working with selective focus and shallow depth of field techniques, as well as working in difficult lighting conditions.

Manual focus design provides a minimum focusing distance of 2.3′ (0.7 Meters) with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:11.3.

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WHERE TO BUY…NOW..for a NORMAL PRICE!

If you want this lens do not pay $5,6 or 7k on E-Bay where sellers are trying to take advantage of the limited edition name tag on this lens (it is limited to 500) Ken Hansen has a few IN STOCK NOW. You can e-mail him at [email protected] if you want one! Tell him I sent you! He has only a limited few left!

PopFlash had one. It seems to now be gone.

B&H has them IN STOCK as well.  Normal retail price of $3950

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

By Ashwin Rao

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

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

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

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At first glance….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning the interface, and giving the camera second chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Key feature – the viewfinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image quality

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

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

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

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

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

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Autofocus performance

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

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

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

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SL lens performance

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

A camera with Multiple Personalities

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

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

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

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

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Who is this camera for?

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

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

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

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

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

Pride of Ownership

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

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

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

Best,
Ashwin

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

By Steve Huff

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

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

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

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

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

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

This lens as shot on the M 240.

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

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OK, so here we go!

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

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

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

YOU MUST CLICK IT to see it correctly! 

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

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

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

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

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

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It will cost ya!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK the images for larger and better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU HAVE TO CLICK THEM to see the crops correctly. 

1st up the Leica SL shot. Click it.

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Then the Sony A7RII shot..click it.

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

How about in normal shots?

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

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

Yea, this lens is awesome..BUT…

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

VS the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steve Huff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK IT TO SEE IT CORRECTLY!

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But the SL is TOO expensive you say?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Red the Rose, Leica SL and Leica 50 APO

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Blue Pop – Leica SL and 50 APO

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

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

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Leica’s have Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Glitch Free SL

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

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

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

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

Next shot also with the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH 

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My 1st use with an M lens

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

The Leica 50 APO on the SL 

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

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

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

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

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

Shoot RAW! Details..

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

Click the images for larger view and true 100% crop

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Start Up & That Glorious 4.4MP EVF

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

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

Manual Focusing M Lenses

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

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

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

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

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Touch Screen!

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

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

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VIDEO! DOUBLE BUTTON!

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

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HIGH ISO on a Leica? Yep..

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

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

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

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ISO 4000 – 24-90

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

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

Full Frame but T mount?

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

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

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

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

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

Next two with the  24-90

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

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VS the a7RII – HIGH ISO 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VS the a7RII – STRAIGHT COMPARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

More…

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

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

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

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

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One more with the 35 1.4 Zeiss on the Sony…

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

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

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

Out of camera color (AWB) and JPEG comparison

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

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

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

The SL with the soon to be released Grip

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VIDEO with the SL?

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

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

Video Specs of the SL

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

An OOC JPEG from the SL with 50 Lux ASPH

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PROS AND CONS (focus button, etc)

Pros

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

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Cons

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here is why…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHERE TO BUY?

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

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

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

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

Leica Store Miami – They have the SL listed HERE

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

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

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

Ashwin Rao SL Review (HERE on this SITE)!

Jono Slack Leica SL Review

Kristian Dowling Leica SL Review

One more thing…

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

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

 

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

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

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link (not the B&H) and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

Outside of the USA? Use my worldwide Amazon links HERE!

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

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees nor do I (nor will I ever) charge for reviews, so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. If you choose to help out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Oct 272015
 

Sony A7II plus Leica lenses meet Mexico City

by Alejandro Ilukewitsch

Hi Steve,

One more I found myself writing to your blog, this time I wanted to share with you and your readers a few pictures from Mexico City, taken with the A7ii and Leica Lenses.

I wasn’t contemplating buying an A7ii, but after a recent trip to San Diego and your posts about the camera, couldn’t escape the GAS bug :)

The camera is quite easy to handle, fast, and has great image. I have other cameras so this is not my main camera but indeed is fun to use and the results are satisfying.

I still prefer the experience and results with my Leica M240, but its easier carrying the Sony instead of the Leica in Mexico streets.

I am using a Voigltander adapter, (not the close up one) with Leica Lenses and a Metabones for Nikon.

Off all the lenses I have, the 35mm and 50mm, both 1.4 pre asph, as the 75mm 2.0 asph work like a champ on the Leica. I also have a 28mm 2.8 asph and a 21mm zeiss 2.8 which are beautiful on the M240, don’t really work as good in the Sony. All the Nikon lenses do work great.

Enough talking, here are some picts from Mexico. Hope you like them :)

All taken with the 35mm 1.4, except the one of the cars and the portrait of the person with the cowboy hat, which were taken with a 28mm 2.8.

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Here in my blog you can have a look at more picts from Mexico. ailukewitsch.wordpress.com, and here is my flickr. www.flickr.com/malabito

Thanks!!!

AI’s Photography
AI’s Photograpy Blog

Sep 112015
 

Brief Encounters with the Leica M & Noctilux

By John Tuckey – See his website HERE

Nothing provides dramatic effect quite like a classic train scene. The half-empty carriage loaded with intrigue is a key Hitchcock device. Steam-wreathed platforms give Brief Encounter emotional tension on a grand scale. And where else, but the ridiculously romantic Gare du Nord, could Anouk Aimee have finally thrown off her angst and thrown herself into Jean-Louis Trintignant’s arms in the closing scene of A Man and a Woman? Unfortunately they don’t make rail travel like they used to.

My goal was to create a set of deeply atmospheric noir shots, intimate yet grand and tapping into a rich seam of old school Hollywood drama and elegance. As it turns out it’s not something you ‘just find’ and it needs more than a little planning – with a couple of false starts thrown in, it took me a total of 8 months to get access to the perfect location and an appropriate model aligned.

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Planning:

For a model, I was after more Ingrid Bergman than Grace Kelly, and I wanted styling to evoke the very feminine masculinity of Orry-Kelly’s women’s tailoring c. 1945. After some searching, I found the perfect coat and hat on ebay – an endless source for vintage clothing and less time-consuming than dealers and flea markets – the luggage, I already had.

Surprisingly, finding a period railway location in the UK was the easy part. Thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts all over the country there are still several beautifully preserved working railways, charming stations and impeccably restored trains.

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I didn’t need a quaint station platform or too much intricate background detail. But I wanted steam-wreathed shots and authentic steam wasn’t an option – too time-consuming and unrealistic to expect a real train all stoked up on demand. So I knew I’d need a smoke machine and a partially enclosed set that would fill quickly and realistically with the smoke.

Recceing a location in advance is always good. You then get at least an idea of what lights to bring, what available light you have and what your limitations are in terms of space. Setting up and lighting is much easier and you’re aware of any potential issues beforehand. It turns out a carriage shed in Didcot was just what I needed: semi-enclosed, full of lovely old rolling stock, very fillable with fake steam.

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The Shoot:

After months of planning and delays, finally the big day: Location? Check! Model? Check! Hair and makeup? Check! Smoke machine? Check! Camera, batteries, cards, lights? Check! Shot list? Check!

Working on location, it’s essential to know exactly what you want for each shot in advance so you have everything on site. You can’t plan for the unexpected, but if you have set parameters, you know what you want to achieve and you can work efficiently within your timeframe.

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Actual shooting time? it took less than 2 hours, to pace, check, rehearse, shoot, trigger the smoke machine and shoot again. The rest of the day? 1 hour travel each way, 2 hours in hair and makeup, 30mins lugging kit and props across site to the location, setting up and breaking down.

The smoke machine was worth its weight in gold, It took less than 10 minutes to fill the shed with ‘steam’, radically altering the contrast of the scene and the nature of the images as it did so. Well worth it.

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If there is a single piece of advice you take from my experience … I hope it’s to forget ‘f/8 and be there’, because sometimes ‘Preparation is everything’.

Best regards

John Tuckey

Jul 292015
 
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A Mega Leica 28 Summilux f/1.4 Lens Review

by Kristian DowlingSee his BLOG HERE!

Review disclaimer:

*Lens was used entirely at f/1.4 for the entire review, in every picture unless stated otherwise.

*No protective filters were used.

*Editing was kept as simple as possible in Lightroom, with no clarity added/subtracted to maintain the lens’s true signature.

*This is not so such a technical review, but more so focused on the lens in field-use.

*Pictures are meant to represent a variety of achievable results, typical of the average Leica M user (nothing overproduced).

*No distortion or lens correction tools have been used.

*Special thanks to Leica Camera Australia for the loan sample.

I can’t express how excited I was when Leica announced the limited edition M100 set, commemorating Leica’s 100th Anniversary, with a new Summilux-M 28/1.4-ASPH lens in chrome, a little over a year ago. I’ve been lusting after a 28/1.4 M lens since I started M photography some 21 years ago. I knew it was only a matter of time before it would become a regular production lens, and I’m very happy that it has finally come to fruition.

My experience with the 28mm focal length has been quite extensive over the years. My first experience with using a 28mm prime came in the Nikon 28Ti compact film camera, followed by the Ricoh GR and the Nikon AF-D 28/1.4 lens, which at the time delivered fantastic results (at the time). Fast forward to 2015, and we now have the ultimate (and only) ‘fast’ 28mm lens ever produced – the Leica Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH lens.

Image shot with Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH on Monochrom

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I first got to see this lens at the Australian Leica Q launch last month, and was lucky enough to have been lent the only Australian copy for the last month (no pressure for a good review). During this time, I have been able to use it in many different situations, over a variety of genres, which you will see throughout this user-review. The 28mm focal length isn’t easy to get along with, but once you get to know her, she becomes a very, very versatile focal length – probably the reason why Apple employ it in their iPhone 6 and 6 PLUS smartphones, making it the most used focal length in the world.

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It may come as a surprise that Leica is focusing their two latest products (including the Leica Q camera) on the 28mm focal length, but in my opinion it is a very smart move. There is no shortage of great 35mm lenses, and while the Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH is an excellent lens with a very smooth character, the ability to isolate doesn’t make it stand out amongst a lineup of fast class-leading lenses, like the Noctilux for example. Leica are arguably the best in the 35mm-format game when it comes to lens design, quality and performance, so it is important for them to showcase their abilities – and the new Summilux-M certainly makes a strong statement.

Previously, there were a couple of 28mm options in Leica’s lineup, and all have their unique place and usage intentions. The previous models were all mainly focused on the Elmarit as the demand for fast 28mm lenses only came about in the last decade. All previous generations of the Elmarit-M were fantastic, with the quality really stepping up in V3, where wide-open performance was significantly improved across the frame. Currently, the two Leica-M lens alternatives to the Summilux are:

· Elmarit-M 28/2.8 ASPH – small compact, well-priced and well-controlled distortion. Great for the traveller who doesn’t need speed and is more focused on keeping their gear lightweight, compact and values the lack of distortion over speed.

· Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH – A nice mix of speed, performance and size in this compact lens that is a nice jack of all trades, known for it’s smooth character due to the transition from sharp to soft wide open.

Build Quality and Design

As expected, everything about the 28 Summilux-M is typical Leica. Superb German, handmade craftsmanship, along with great handling and smooth focus and aperture action. It only comes in black (currently), most likely to keep M100 kit owners happy with their unique purchase, but knowing Leica, I would expect them to release a chrome version sometime in the future. The size fits directly between the 35 Summilux-M and the 24 Summilux-M, which was really good to see. The initial fear was that it was going to be very similar to the 21/24 Summilux-M lenses, which are a little on the large and heavy side, bordering on Noctilux territory. Thankfully, it’s not much bigger than the 35 Summilux-M so it’s great as a carry-everywhere, everyday lens, and balances really well on the M body.

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The newly designed lens hood is similar to that on the 35-Summilux-M, only a little thicker which is a nice change, and screws in firmly and perfectly aligns right on the center as it should. I’m happy to report that during the last 5 weeks using this lens, it has never come loose. Finally, it has the typical Leica depth of field scale, which is very important to those who employ the hyper-focal focusing technique, which works very well on a 28mm lens due to the extended depth of field over standard and telephoto lenses.

Optically, this is what Leica has to say about the new Summilux.

“The Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. rounds off the range of high-speed M wide angle focal lengths. It offers exce lent image performance over the entire image field even at full aperture and in the close-up range thanks to a „floating element“. With its exceptional contrast, the lens delivers the same recognized high performance level as the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH., and in some respects actually outperforms it. The vignetting that is typical of every optical system is naturally more defined on a wide angle lens, particularly a high speed one like this, than on standard lenses or those with a long focal length. At full aperture in 35mm format it is a maximum, i.e. in the corners of the image, of around 3.4 stops, around 2 stops on Leica M8 models with their slightly smaller format. Stopping down to 5.6 visibly reduces this light falloff – to 1.8 and 0.8 stops respectively. Stopping down further does not bring about any notable reduction as essentially only the natural vignetting remains. Distortion is extremely low for a wide angle lens at a maximum of 1.1% , which is rarely noticeable in practice. A total of ten lens elements are used to achieve this exceptional performance. To correct color defects, seven of these are made of glass types with anomalous partial dispersion, while one has an aspherical surface. To maintain performance in the close-up range, one element towards the rear of the optical system is a “floating element” that moves independently of the rest of the mechanism.
Summary: The Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. offers maximum image performance with a focal length / speed combination previously unavailable in the M system. This extends the composition options of M photography, particulaly for available light shots, but also thanks to a previously unattainable reduction in the depth of field combined with large field angles.”

Here are the graphs important to you techy-geeks out there. The MTF especially suggests that performance wide open is incredible, and equal to many other brand lenses stopped down to their best. This is truly where Leica stands above the crowd.

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Depth of field at f/1.4 is very narrow, but compared to what many are used to with 35mm, there is a little more room for error, and allows greater possibilities in certain situations where having focus is more important than not.

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Depending on how picky you are, the chart suggests excellent distortion control, and when you consider the speed of the maximum aperture, this is a design Leica should be very proud of, at least on paper. In the field ‘could’ be entirely different (though it is not haha).

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> Keep reading to see how Leica’s words translate into image quality during my field test.

Handling

Due to the size and weight distribution, the lens handles wonderfully on the M, enabling focus and aperture changes to be smooth and accurate. I have a full production sample, and the focusing action is even smoother than most 35 Summilux’s I’ve used. I believe ‘perfect out of the box’ would be an accurate description. You do notice a weight increase over the smaller 35 Summilux-M but it’s not a lot more and the size is comparable in operation. In fact I found the 28 more comfortable to use than the 35 because of the slight increase in length, making focusing and aperture changes easier with my medium sized hands. As the lens hood is screwed in flush with the lens, changing the aperture is very easy, compared to previous Elmarits and Summicron that use a large plastic clip-on hood.

Leica M | Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH

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Leica M (Safari) | Summilux-M 35/1.4 ASPH

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Leica Q | Summilux-M 28/1.7 ASPH

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In the Field

The 28mm Focal Length

Those who don’t have much experience using the 28mm focal length may need to be patient with this lens. Some say it’s too wide and others say it’s not wide enough, and the others say it’s too ‘in-between’. A comment I’ve been hearing a lot lately (since the Q’s introduction), is ‘28mm is the new 35mm’. Well I’m not so sure I totally agree with that, but considering the iPhone has a 28mm (approx) focal length and has the most used camera in the world, there is some argument that suggests the comment isn’t so far fetched. Back when the great Henri Cartier Bresson was roaming the streets of Europe, the 50mm focal length was the norm. Later, photographers started getting closer to their subjects and preferred the wider frame of the 35mm focal length. Considering today’s style of shooting (including paparazzi), it’s understandable how the 28mm focal length has several advantages over 35mm.

Firstly, it is wider, fitting more into the frame than 35mm at the same shooting position, also creating a slightly more dynamic ‘in-your-face’ perspective, if used correctly. You can also get closer to your subjects, while fitting more background into the frame, giving you more compositional options. Having said that, this may not be an advantage, depending on your style of shooting. The one thing I’ve always loved about shooting with the 28mm focal length is that it’s the widest focal length you can shoot without having to worry too much about tilting or placing subjects/objects on the side of the frame. When you go wider to say 24mm or 21mm, perspective distortion becomes a real issue, making it quite annoying for documentary purposes. While the 28mm perspective does come with some distortion, it is tolerable, and even when tilting, it is negligible and I have no issues with placing my subjects off-center.

Simple Model Shoot

Shooting with the 28 Summilux-M for portraits takes some getting used to, especially for 35/50mm users. The angle of view is extended quite a bit for only 7mm, giving much more depth of field and background to work with. Nailing focus is quite easy as the f/1.4 aperture is more forgiving at 28mm due to the increase in depth of field, but the drop-off from sharp to unsharp isn’t as abrupt as say the 35 Summilux-M.

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot  at f/2.8 on the Leica M240

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The colour signature is as you would expect from most Leica lenses – very neutral, and with medium to high contrast, but in these samples bear in mind that the light was strong, emphasising the contrast even more. When the light gets low, this is when the 28 Summilux-M really shines.

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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General Photography

For general street and travel photography, the 28mm focal length is an ideal choice as you don’t often feel limited for a majority of scenarios, unless shooting architecture or grab shots of people from a distance is your thing. The lack of distortion for such a fast wide angle lens is quite impressive and never felt it hindered my pictures of building etc. If you don’t like tripods, this lens will delver. At f/1.4, sharpness is already close to it’s maximum resolution so there is never a compromise in sharpness throughout the f/1.4-f/11 range, and at certain distances, the f/1.4 depth of field will provide adequate focus throughout the entire image.

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BELOW: Crop from image above

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As you can see here, there is some viewfinder blockage which is a bit annoying, but not a deal breaker. While some may prefer to use an external finder which gives not only as clean view, but an accurate perspective of distance and framing, they are a hassle if you’re shooting in situations that require speed.

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Below: Crop from image above

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Below: Crop from above image

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There is some field curvature, but at further distances this is not a problem, and in this image the entire frame is sharp at f/1.4 – quite amazing!

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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Bokeh is very, very smooth, much like the Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH, except at f/1.4, the focus drop-off is much more dramatic and compelling for times where you’re trying to isolate your subject from a background.

Shooting in a nightclub with screaming fans for UK pop star Craig David was no match for the 28 Summilux-M, delivering crisp images, even against backlights and fairly poor lighting……oh and did I mention it’s damn sharp too?!?

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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It wouldn’t be a Leica review without at least one cat or flower picture right?!? Well considering I’m a cat-lover, no flowers were shot during the testing of the 28 Summilux-M.

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Below: Crop from image above

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Shooting with the 28 Summilux or any 28mm on the Leica M can be a bit frustrating due to the incorrect perspective you see through the built in finder, which is more suited to the 35mm/50mm focal lengths. When you first start shooting a 28mm lens on the M, you need to remind yourself that you’re further away from your subjects than how it looks through the viewfinder, so getting closer is important.

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240 at ISO 1600

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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CROP from above image:

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Shooting as a Wedding Guest

I was fortunate to be the guest at a very special wedding of two very good friends, Lawrence and Tukta, in Hua Hin, Thailand. Lawrence is also an avid Leica user and owns an M60, so the pressure was on to capture a couple of nice moments before the alcohol got to me, hehehe. Here Lawrence is seen waiting for the wedding to begin.

Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH shot wide open at f/1.4 on the Leica M240

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Using the 28mm Summilux-M at a wedding all day was a real treat. I love to get up close to my subjects and combined with the stealthy M, I was able to move in and out of places without people looking directly at the camera or feeling intimidated by the usual large and loud SLR cameras seen in these scenarios.

I found that my hit rate of in-focus shots was at about 90-95%, which is a little higher than my normal 85-90% on the 35 Summilux-M. Obviously the increased depth of field at f/1.4 helped significantly.

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Crop from above image:

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I’m not a wedding photographer, but like any documentary work, there are always those little moments happening around the bride and groom you need to look out for. Here, I love the way the focus drops off to a smooth background, and while I don’t condone shooting wide open ‘all the time’, I do enjoy keeping this lens at maximum aperture most of the time.

Below you can start to see the effects of distortion creeping in on the top corners, but it is totally fine in my opinion, and is more so due to the tilting, rather than the geometric distortion occurring.

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It doesn’t matter what the situation, I felt so comfortable shooting wide open all day long and f/1.4 always seemed to be the right aperture choice for all the scenarios. It’s perfectly sharp wide open, has beautiful contrast and colours, and drops off focus like a champion.

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It doesn’t matter what the situation, I felt so comfortable shooting wide open all day long and f/1.4 always seemed to be the right aperture choice for all the scenarios. It’s perfectly sharp wide open, has beautiful contrast and colours, and drops off focus like a champion.

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Due to the mixed lighting I found that the final two images look better in Monochrome. For the first I pre-focused on someone in the crowd and waited for the subjects to hit their mark before firing, ensuring accurate and sharp focus. What a great end to an amazing weekend!

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Muay Thai Camp – Coaching One-on-One

As a photographer and coach, I was employed to train an enthusiastic Thai photographer named Miti. During his training he was using the Leica Q entirely, and I was snapping a few test shots on the M with 28 Summilux-M. I had previously shot a story on this place around 7 years ago and a lot has changed. Please keep in mind this is not a complete story, but a selection of images I shot while coaching my student.

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Below: Crop from above image

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Below: Crop from above image

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While this looks like a slow moving wrestle it was anything but. I was shooting at ISO 1600 with 1/1000sec to ensure sharpness at the plane of focus. Due to the extreme movements I had to prefocus and guess my distance and pray for focus where I wanted it at the time of shutter release. Dare I say it, a majority were out of focus, so I have to say, the M isn’t exactly recommend to those wanting to shoot erratic, unpredictable action. I am pleased to say that my student Miti was able to achieve a good number of sharp in-focus images with his autofocusing Leica Q.

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extra

Muay Thai fighters are often viewed as celebrities in Thailand so vanity also comes with the business of winning. Let’s just say the mirrors are used more often than you’d probably expect from young men, capable of breaking you in two.

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Below: 100% crop from above image

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The previous time I shot a professional Muay Thai fight, I was using an autofocus SLR with a short zoom lens. Using the M and 28mm, my ability to be effective was lessened and I certainly relied more on hope and luck. Luckily my 21 years experience helped me pull out a few keepers.

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Compared to the Leica Q

While some may assume this is an unfair comparison (either way), I think the two lenses should most definitely be compared. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time, nor patience to compare side by side – sorry, I’m travelling and working. Though I will give a brief analysis after spending time with both lenses/cameras.

Leica Q_Production_2_cmyk

Firstly, there is no debate that the M lens is superior in sharpness wide open, and there is a more dramatic fall off from focus to blur. Other than that, they are quite similar lenses, though the Q lens has one major advantage. It was not only designed for the sensor it is attached to, but it has processing built into the Q body that corrects the image for any lens limitations, including distortion. Currently, there is no Lightroom profile for the new 28 Summilux-M lens, so any corrections need to be made manually if desired – at least until a profile is released by Leica.

The question on many M users’ minds will be whether to buy the Leica Q or buy the new Summilux-M, which is actually more expensive. My answer is “it depends!” It depends on price (US$1500 difference) or how you like to shoot and whether you want a second camera. Personally I prefer to shoot on an M, regardless of the better sensor used in the Leica Q. Image quality is important to me, but picture quality and the shooting experience is more so. I love shooting with a rangefinder and while it has a lot of drawbacks (compared to the Q) like I experienced in shooting Muay Thai, I still prefer the feel and manual focus elements enough to accept what I cannot change in the M.

Another difference between shooting the Leica M240 and Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH vs the Leica Q, is that the Leica Q files come out of camera with more vibrant colours and slightly higher contrast. This may no may not affect your decision if considering either of these two fine tools. Finally, the one major factor to consider is that the Q’s electronic rangefinder not only shows 100% of the frame without lens blockage, but it also shows you the exposure and correct 28mm perspective, whereas the M does not, which can be very frustrating. The Q also has macro focus ability using the maximum aperture of f/2.8, and of course AF, which could be the deciding factor for many.

On the flip side, the constant use of EVF and/or LCD can be draining on the battery, which is quite average compared to most cameras so extra batteries will need to be stocked up. Long story short, if you can afford it, buy both.

Conclusion

My long 21 year wait for the Leica Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH has been well worth it. I’ve always been more of a 35mm user, but while the Summilux-M 35/1.4 ASPH FLE is a great lens it’s never really got me excited. It’s sharp and has very neutral rendering but I always preferred the Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH due to it’s soft rendering and smooth character. The new 28 Summilux-M has combined my two favourite lenses into one and delivers big time. The only real flaw I found was that like most lenses, it is prone to purple fringing in high contrast situations, which is easily removed in Lightroom in 2 seconds.

At about US$1500 more than either a Leica Q or a 35 Summilux, it’s arguable whether that figure represents good value for money or being too pricey to consider. From my experience with this lens, and having used lenses like the Noctilux and 50 APO which cost a lot more, I think the Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH represents fantastic value for money – considering that value is represented by the effort the user makes to use the lens to the best of their ability. A photographer and his tools are only as good as the opportunities he/she creates with them.

If you are after a fast 28mm M lens, there is no substitute, no alternative available. If there was, they would be trembling with fear because the Summilux-M 28/1.4 ASPH is the real deal. Think 50 APO incredible, and there you have it – it is THAT good!

Be sure to visit Kristian’s Blog HERE!

You can buy the Leica 28 Summilux from any of my top recommended Leica dealers below:

Ken Hansen: Email him at [email protected]

PopFlash.com Website

B&H Photo

Leica Store Miami

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