Jun 022012
 

Some fun low light shooting with the Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5 and Leica X2

Here I am, wide awake. It’s early Saturday morning, around 2AM. I have been up at my computer for the last 2 hours checking out some photos I shot last night in Phoenix at “first friday”. I drove down there to see if there would be any cool photo opps and to test out the Black X100 , OM-D and Leica X2 in low light, night-time situations. Mainly I wanted to see how the AF did with all cameras in challenging situations so why not? I had nothing else to do and it WAS Friday!

My 1st shot of the night was with the X100 and I did not nail the exposure perfectly but it came out nicely anyway. The camera focused FAST..much faster than it did when I reviewed it long ago. The new firmware did indeed fix a few things like AF speed, menu speed, and overall gave it a snappy feel. I am impressed with what Fuji has been able to do. Click image for larger. It was shot at ISO 1600.

If you saw my post from yesterday you would have seen I had a black Fuji X100 kit arrive to my house. Yes, I caved and bought one after dwelling on it for months. With all of the talk of the new firmware greatly enhancing the speed I had to give it a shot. I also wanted to see how it did side by side with the Leica X2 and seeing that the X2 is brand spanking new I figured it would trounce the X100, but that was not the case. But in reality, the X2 focused amazingly well in the dark. MUCH better than the X1 but IMO it still did not beat the X100. They are about equal in IQ (with the Fuji possibly taking the lead) but the X2 did impress me with its new-found speed and high ISO performance. ISO 3200 wasn’t a problem, even in low light. It is indeed a nice improvement to the X1 in regards to AF speed and high ISO performance when using it for taking photos :)

The X2 at ISO 3200

As I sat here at my desk and reviewed the photos I shot I was amazed at how far these small cameras have come. It has gotten to the point now where you can literally take a small and light camera like and X2 or X100 with you anywhere and anytime and get AMAZING results, even at night. Fast AF, great low noise performance and overall amazing designs. I applaud both of these cameras for night low light use. I did prefer using the VF on the X100 though and felt a bit odd holding the X2 out (did not bring the EVF) at arm’s length.

Another ISO 1600 X100 shot. I focused on the barrel in front so she would be out of focus with the flame in the sky. I like this one.

I was having so much fun shooting the “X” cameras that I forgot I brought along my little OM-D powerhouse. On the camera was the Panasonic 25 1.4 and I have to tell you, this combo seems like they were made for each other. Fast AF, no rattlesnake noises and superb sharpness/bokeh, even when wide open.

OM-D E-M5 ISO 640 with 25 1.4 at 1.4 and then 6400! – click for larger

even adding noise to this ISO 1600 image looks great. BTW, this is the girl who was breathing fire in the images above..

and ISO 6400 on the little Olympus? No problem..the next 4 images were all shot at ISO 6400 on the E-M5. No way the E-P3 could have pulled this ISO off. Also,  THIS WAS the fastest focusing setup of the night.

So while I only shot about 30 shots in all, I had fun with all three cameras because they all performed without fail. They all focused quickly and gave me great results and they all have their own kind of user experience and file quality. Yes, I have been talking quite a bit about these cameras lately but I believe in not only talking about my experiences but also showing images from my experiences so you guys can see what comes out of these new cameras.

Take your pic. They are all good and yes, It’s a good time to be into photography. :)

In case you missed them, you can see see my original reviews of the Fuji X100, Olympus OM-D and Leica X2

OM-D at ISO 1250

X2 at ISO 320

X100 at ISO 1600

Jun 012012
 

Look what popped into my house. The Black Special Edition Fuji X100!

I could not resist. I went ahead and ordered a black X100 kit. Partly because I love all black, partly because I really do like the X100 quite a bit and partly because i wanted to see how it is with the new firmware, which I have not yet experienced. I also wanted to see how it stands up next to the new Leica X2. I made a video showing me taking it out of the box and I have to say it is much sexier in person that it is in photos. MUCH better looking than the X-Pro 1 IMO. Sleeker, smaller, and even more stealthy. Yes, this black kit is $500 more than the standard X100 but still $400 less than a Leica X2.

The SE kit has the extra though and when you pick up one of these kits you also get a black full case that strips down to a half case, and it fits very well. You get a filter for your lens and a lens hood and adapter. These are all extras that you would have to buy for your standard X100 so in reality, buying this black kit sets you back an extra $250 or so just to have all black and a limited edition set. This is Fuji milking the X100 much like Leica milks their models. If it works for Leica, why not Fuji?

In any case upon taking it all out and looking it over I have to say it is amazingly gorgeous and much nicer looking than the silver, but this is my opinion. The case is quality, the camera feels a little bit more sturdy than an X2 and as for focus speed? Well, I updated the FW to the latest and greatest and have to say it is much much faster than it used to be. MUCH more responsive than the X-Pro 1 and 35 1.4. The whole menu system is fast as well. So far so good.

Check out the video of the black X100 below to witness its sexiness :)

So my house is loaded with cameras and I feel a bit overwhelmed but am happy as can be as I love it! I also just received a Sony A57 and a couple of lenses and just had to return the D800 which put out some amazing files (more on this one soon). But today, right now, I am in the mini mode of the X2 and X100. Seeing that the X2 is new I was curious to see if the X100 could still match it in all aspects. So this weekend I will be doing some shooting with the X100, X2, NEX-7 and OM-D. I attached the Olympus 17mm 2.8 to the OM-D to see how it would do and it’s doing mighty fine on the new Olympus. Giving me the same 35mm view as the X2 and X100.

The facts are that today, in 2012, all of these cameras are REALLY great at image quality. The ones we choose to work with are all down to our hearts and preferences. It is getting to the point where digital has matured that any something like an OM-D or X100 could last us for MANY MANY years.

In any case, I am doing this comparison all weekend but here is a quick sample from the X100, X2 and OM-D. All at f/4, all with a 35mm equiv lens.

UPDATE – THE COMPARISON WAS RE-DONE AND IS NOW POSTED HERE. THANK YOU!

May 302012
 

Leica X2, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D – One more quick comparison! Sharpness, color and DOF

Just thought I would post one more comparison between these three cameras while I could. Basically, this is just to show what will come out of each camera in the same light, same moment, same aperture. Each camera was shot at its base ISO of either 100 or 200 and the matrix/evaluative style metering was used on each camera so it could choose its own exposure. Just wanted to show what comes out in regards to sharpness, depth of field and color. DOF will be different on the Olympus as I am using a 25mm lens on a 2X crop sensor. Still, what you see is what you get. X2 and NEX-7 will give a 35mm equivalent and the 25 on the OM-D a 50mm Equivalent.

Each image was resized down to OM-D size of 16MP. So the Sony was resized from its native 24MP to 16. You can click on any image for the full size file, processed from RAW.

May 302012
 

The Leica X2 Review – Can Leica still win us over with their charms?

Here we are at the end of May 2012 and I have been shooting with the new Leica X2 for just about a week. I have shot quite a few snaps and images with it already (I am a slow going type of shooter, NOT a machine gunner) and have found it has given me some really cool keepers that I am happy with. It’s a funny thing because when the original Leica X1 came out I loved it, and for good  reason.

The IQ the little X1 put out was astonishing, especially for the time it was released

When that good looking X1 was released there was not much out there that could compete in that size and weight for IQ until a while later when the Fuji X100 came out. That X100 must have sent a chill down Leicas spine as I know for a FACT that it ate into the X1’s sales…and thunder.

With the Fuji we have an APS-C camera that has retro styling, a built in hybrid OVF/EVF, a nice and fast (and very good) built in 35mm equivalent lens with a fast aperture of f/2 and even though it was a bit quirky to operate, many felt that it was a better alternative to the Leica X1…and get this, it  was even $800 less expensive!

As the newer cameras in this class starting hitting the scene, the X1 started to appear more like a beautifully designed dinosaur with no EVF, slow focusing, no video (some prefer this) and limited close focusing capabilities. It was obvious Leica needed an X2 so they could get back in the game with an X camera that had the IQ of the X1 with the speed and usability of the newest cameras. Just imagine a speedy X1 with a built in EVF, low noise up to ISO 6400, a faster lens to match the F/2 of the Fuji and that same beautiful design of the X1. Hmmmm. Well, that is what I was REALLY hoping for in an X2 and spoiler alert… that didn’t happen.

I highly recommend clicking on all images in this review to see the larger versions which have better sharpness, color and look much nicer!

The Leica X2 at ISO 2000

Speaking of Fuji, Even Fuji has appeared to rip off the X name from Leica with the X100 and now X-Pro 1, throwing it in Leica’s face. By releasing an X2 with a sturdier design, built in EVF, longer battery life and faster AF without raising the cost would have surely put Leica over the top in the small camera/large sensor market wouldn’t it? I think that YES it would have, and they could have shown Fuji a thing or two in the process!

So we all waited and waited.

Then small camera started appearing out of the woodwork as manufacturers decided they wanted a piece of the mirrorless pie. Nikon released the small and very solid performing V1 and even though the sensor is a small and tiny, the V1 excelled at fast AF, motion tracking, video, exposure metering and it even had a GREAT EVF built in. It had limitations of slow lenses and almost no shallow depth of field but I really like the V1 for what it is and what it does as it is SO much more than a point and shoot and pretty much foolproof. With the V1 we have once again a highly capable camera at around $750 that kills the X1 in usability, AF, tracking, close focus, EVF use and video. BUT OF COURSE, not image quality. No it doesn’t match the Leica IQ but then again, it is much less expensive and does everything else better.

Then we have other cameras like the Ricoh GXR, Sony NEX-7 and the new OM-D which now all surpass the X1 in ALMOST all areas. To my eyes, the only camera that surpassed or equalled the X1 in IQ is the Fuji X100. It is true that the X1 files have a look.. a crispness and beauty that is hard to find in other cameras. I think it is a combo of the Leica glass, the larger sensor, and Leica’s color signature that helps to make those X1 files look so good. The only problem with the X1 TODAY is that it suffers from slow use, slow writing, low res LCD, slowest AF in its class, fragile build, dials that move too easy, and a few other niggles I won’t get into, but one more is that there is NO EVF.

But how is the new X2? Did Leica deliver?

So now that I have been using this gorgeous looking factory fresh chrome X2 (and yes, you can see how gorgeous it is in the title pic at the top of the page), how do I feel it stacks up against the X100, the NEX-7 and the other cameras in the same class? Read on to find out but keep in mind that this review will be much shorter than the over 10,000 word X1 review I posted almost three years ago (this one will be around 6400 words) simply due to the fact that this new X2 is really just like an X1, but with a new sensor and a few new features. The IQ has really stayed the same with the same overall look as the X1 but maybe with even better color. But then again, maybe not. As I look back, those X1 pics are just as good looking as the X2 pics.

The X2 at f/4 and ISO 100

I do have to say that this camera is physically GORGEOUS in the silver chrome finish (wait, didn’t I say that already)?. At first, I did not really care for the newly introduced black hump that can now house a Leica EVF that sells for $575 but have since gotten used to it, especially since I added the EVF. But I did not buy a $575 Leica EVF, I simply used the $215 Olympus EVF, THE VF-2. The best thing about this EVF is that it is tillable and that equates to some really cool angles you can get when using it.

But remember that the Olympus VF-2 is the same exact EVF that Leica sells for $575 except that it says Olympus instead of the big LEICA letters on the Leica version and it may have a little bit of a different shape up top..more rounded. So the design and name is different.

UPDATE: There was one occasion where the Olympus VF-2 did scramble the image in the EVF display and  had to restart the camera. I have since been testing the Leica EVF and this has not happened. So I am not 100% sure that they are both 100% the same. They both work the same but there could be something in the Leica that is not in the Olympus as far as compatibility. The scrambled view only happened ONCE with the Olympus VF-2.

So what is new in the Leica X2 over the X1?

Here is what is new in the X2:

  • Brand new 16MP high performance sensor with ISO up to 12,500. It is really not very usable at 12,500 and really noisy at 6400 if you shoot in low light so I would stick to going up to 3200, which is what I did on the X1 anyway. The color is great as is the sharpness and detail. The X2 retains that “look” so many loved about the X1 though I wouldn’t say there is a huge improvement in higher ISO shooting say at 3200, which to me appears  to be really close to what the X1 gave us.
  • Slightly new design and beefier build. Yep, Leica has officially ditched the steel grey and I am happy they they did so. The Steel grey M9 and X1 were so easy to scratch and the chrome is classic Leica, so this is how it should be. The X2 is available in Chrome and Black and I prefer the chrome. The new covering is improved as well and is more “grippy” with a rubber like feel. The flash has been redesigned to stop it from accidentally popping up and to also give better and more even flash performance. The dials are not much stiffer and do not turn nearly as easily as they did on the X1. You actually have to put some force behind it, which is good. The back remains the same with the same crappy low res LCD (shame on Leica for this one) and the same button layout and control scheme. Overall the X2 is more beautiful to my eyes but some will prefer the even simpler and more laid back X1. The X2 is also slightly heavier and somehow feels a little more solid and substantial than the X1, just as it should be for a Leica.

  • Better Battery Life – Much better battery life. I shot all weekend with it and still have 3/4 of my battery left. This is great.
  • Ability to use the new external tilting EVF. This is good and it is  bad. I really wish it were a built in EVF but this is a case of “we get what we get and shouldn’t throw a fit”. This is it guys. A big wart of an external EVF made by Olympus. The good thing is that is swivels for waist level shooting.
  • Faster Auto Focus – THE ONE thing that plagued the X1. Has it improved? Leica says so, but what do I think? Keep reading to find out.

The ability to add an external EVF, though it does add a huge bump to the camera which in turn takes away from its beautiful design. It’s a pro and a con because it adds great functionality but takes away from the size and design. WHY OH WHY did Leica not put in a built in EVF? To me, this is sort of a fail as they could have put one in, even if it was a simple optical VF. THIS alone would have made this camera so so so much more desirable, trust me Leica! With that said, the performance of the Leica/Olympus EVF is superb. The fact that it swivels is really cool as you can place the camera by your waist and look down into the finder/EVF. If you must have the LEICA text written on the front, buy the Leica :)

 

The X2 at f/2.8 and ISO 100 – WOW. Such depth and color and detail here, even wide open.

Many SCREAMED! “Leica Dropped The Ball With The X2”!

So after three years and all of the competing cameras it seems Leica did not learn much of anything, either  that or they said “screw it, we are Leica..we do what we want”. They omitted a built in EVF and decided to charge $575 for a $215 Olympus EVF. They kept the same low res LCD on the back that was in the X1 when ALL other cameras today have MUCH better LCD’s on the back of the camera. They kept the same design and just modified the flash and color/design of the camera. The grip covering has changed as well (for the better) and they did NOT add any video whatsoever. The AF has indeed improved though. So basically all we get is the new sensor which in reality doesn’t do too much but add 4 more megapixels, higher ISO capabilities and supposedly faster AF speed. The GOOD thing is the price has stayed the same at $1995. Yes, this is GOOD because if this was  raised to $3000 then Leica would not have sold many of these at all. At $1995 Leica has managed to add just enough to the camera to improve upon it while making us Leica fans WANT IT.

So do I think Leica dropped the ball? Well, yes and no. I think if they added a BUILT IN EVF or OVF and even if they had to raise the cost to $2295 it would have been a grand slam hit. This design and this quality with a built in viewfinder would have NAILED IT for me because I LOVE LOVE LOVE the image quality the X1 and X2 pump out. I also love the design, the simplicity and controls, and the 35mm focal length equivalent. But you have heard me before..I think ALL enthusiast cameras today should have a built in VF of some kind. PERIOD. So in this way Leica dropped the ball and lost some sales but in other ways, they have stayed true to what Leica is all about.

SIMPLICITY and QUALITY

The camera is small, sleek, nicely designed, light but hefty, and has a very sharp and crisp lens. The camera puts out amazing IQ and color and you can tell just by looking at it and using it that it is a true Leica. So by Leica not adding gizmos and gadgets and video, they have stayed true to what they are and retained many customers who will WANT to upgrade their X1 to and X2. Besides with the X2 you can also use the optical external VF which some prefer.

How about the AF speed? The one big weakness of the X1..has it improved? Well…YES!

Ok. This is what everyone wants to know. How is the AF speed of the X2. At $1995, almost $2000, we should expect the X2 to at least be as good as modern day mirrorless cameras right? Well, maybe not so much.  I was hoping so but the fact is that while it is quite a bit faster and responsive than the X1, the X2 is now about the same as the firmware upgraded Fuji X100, maybe a teeny but quicker to lock focus. My Olympsu OM-D blazes with every lens I have tried on it, even the 25 1.4. The Nikon V1 is instant in its AF. The NEX-7 is medium fast so the X2 is doing MUCH better  than the older X1. I do find it faster than the X-Pro 1 as well. I also noticed in low light the X2 is now MUCH faster to AF than the old X1. It doesn’t seem to hunt either (unlike the X-Pro 1, which was a deal breaker for me). Overall I was a bit let down by the AF speed boost but at the same time, when in real use, I had no issues. I had no mis-focused shots or missed shots due to hunting. Well, I did have one but I was shooting blind :)

The only shot I had that missed focus, but that is because I held out the camera blind, so this one was my fault :)

So the bottom line on the X2 AF abilities? Do not use it for action, sports or running kids and you will be OK. Much better than the X1 but not as speedy as an Olympus OM-D, which boasts the fastest AF in the works BTW.

All of this should come as no surprise as it is not a camera meant for those sorts of things anyway. I see the X2 as a “mini M” with a permanent 35mm equivalent focal length attached and it has that Leica feeling when you hold it and shoot it, and yes, even when reviewing the photos. It is a camera that does its best when you see the shot, compose the shot and take your time getting the shot. It is NOT a run and gun type of camera. In fact, the overall performance of this camera is on the slow side. Writing to the card is slow and on a few occasions I had the camera hang up while it was writing but unhang when it was finished writing. Just for a second or so though. It does not feel like a fast operating camera like the Olympus OM-D and Nikon V1. It feels more like the X100 in use (speed wise)..a working and thinking mans camera.

Me and my fiancée Debby Window Shopping with the X2 and EVF

ISO 3200 at night time – Yes, it can get grainy when shooting at night but I dig the look and feel of this one anyway!

Man washing windows…

Compared To the NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D. Oh, and now the Fuji X100!

UPDATED! Now added a comparison with the Fuji X100!

Honestly, the hot camera around my house these days is the Olympus OM-D with the Panasonic 25 1.4. When the X2 arrived I was wondering if it would have what it takes to bump that OM-D out of my hands :) In many ways it does, and in others NO. The IQ and images I get from the X2 I have been liking a bit more than the images I am getting from the OM-D. I just like that “X” look, and yes there is a look to these files that is NOT in seen anywhere else. But using the camera is slow going when directly compared to the OM-D.

I decided that since I had these cameras here in the house, why not do this comparison? I took a shot with each camera. The Leica X2, the Olympus OM-D and The Sony NEX-7. All were using 35mm or equivalent focal lengths and the Olympus had a 50mm equivalent so it’s NOT a scientific test at all. Just a few shots to show how each camera rendered the scene. These are all from RAW. All were shot at f/4 and base ISO of each camera was used.

Click each image to see larger version and full 100% crop

To me, the OM-D takes the #1 spot for sharpness and detail though it is so so sharp, almost too sharp. The X2 colors are really nice and the NEX-7 looks good.  One thing to note is that the OM-D was the quickest in operation, the NEX-7 2nd and the X2 was the slowest to focus, shoot and write to the card..AND to shut down as it takes about 2-3 seconds to do so. So while Leica has improved a few things with the X2, they are sort of minor things that were improved upon. It is not like going from an M8 to M9. More like gaining a little bit of a speed boost, much better battery life, sturdier build and of course the EVF capability. At the end of the day the images coming from the X2 look like they could have come from the X1, and I guess that is a good thing. Actually, I KNOW this is a good thing.

Compared to the Fuji X100

I shot these on a tripod at f/2.8 and f/4. No processing or sharpening was done to these at all and these are as they came out of the RAW converter, which was Adobe Camera Raw. One thing you can notice is how warm the X2 white balance is (auto was used to see what each camera puts out at these settings) which his what lends to the pleasing images that come out of it. In comparison, the Fuji rendering is cooler/bluer. I am a fan of warm but remember, these settings can be changed during RAW conversion if desired.

Click each image for larger size and full size crop. ALL from RAW, no PP, NO sharpening added. 

Compared to others (in words)

X2 compared to the OM-D E-M5 – OK, I have raved about the OM-D and for good reason..it is a fabulous little camera, and I am not the only one to say so. Just about everyone who has shot with one has stated that THIS is the camera that has finally matured Micro 4/3. The OM-D is FAST, has amazing in body IS, great image quality, a high res swivel LCD, superb fast lenses to choose from, weatherproof so no worries if in the rain, amazing quality video, and a nice built in EVF. All for about $1100 or so. $900 less than the X2. Add a kick ass amazing lens like the Panasonic 25 1.4 and that brings you to $1600 or so, still $400 less than an X2. So why would anyone buy an X2 that appears to use outdated technology (no IS, old low res LCD, no built in EVF, slow write times, etc) when you can get the hottest camera of 2012 for cheaper? Well, at the end of the day it’s about the images right? If a camera is easy to use AND capable of giving superb results then isn’t that what really matters? IMO the E-M5 is indeed the better bang for the buck camera, no question. BUT the X2 will give you a bit better and dare I say…more film like and richer files/colors. It will be slower but you will get less digital looking images from it. This comes down to asking yourself what you need. Do you need speed and versatility (OM-D) or ultimate IQ and simplicity? (X2) The X2 is also much slimmer and smaller.

X2 compared to the NEX-7 – The NEX-7 was the big camera of 2011 and 2012 because it was the 1st to offer everything in one body full of technology. The only issue with the Sony is that the damn thing operates more like a computer than a camera. It is so filled with technological advances and controls you really feel like you are out with a “device” instead of a camera. Other than that, once set up and with a good lens it delivers great results. It is a little faster to AF than the X2 and operates quicker as well. But the lenses are lacking in the NEX system though the Zeiss 24 1.8 is as close to the 24 Elmarit as you can get, it is just larger. Again, personal preference here. Do you want ultimate control and customization? Video capability (though the 7 overheats after a few minutes of HD video)? Tilt high res LCD and nice OLED EVF? Then the 7 may tick your buttons.

X2 compared to the Fuji X100 – THIS is the ultimate comparison (and I just updated the review with samples from each above). I did compare the X100 and X1 quite a while ago HERE and some of you preferred the X100 and some the X1. Well, the X2 is not much different than the X1 in regards to IQ and it is a little faster, just about on par with the X100 if not a but slower (the Fuji X100 firmware update sped up the AF quite a bit). BUT these two cameras do have much different looks to the images. The Fuji has the Fuji colors and “look” which is a little soft when wide open up to f/4 and after f/4 super sharpness and detail. But you will get those Fuji yellows and greens and blues as well as a cooler white balance when using Auto. The Leica has its own look which is nice and contrasty, great warm and rich color and that Leica look you get from their lenses. Some may prefer the Fuji look, others the Leica look. I do feel the X2 is the more attractive camera. I also feel the X2 is much more basic and simple and focuses on one thing…the photos. The X100 and X2 are neck and neck at high ISO. Now that I have shot both side by side, as for focus, the X100 and X2 are also neck and neck. Maybe the Fuji is a split millisecond faster but it’s close. What you choose comes down to preference. Do you want a made in Germany Leica X2 with warm colors and rich files (but slow in operation, poor LCD, no EVF and slower lens) or do you want the X100 which is $800 cheaper (with EVF/OVF, faster lens, video and better LCD)? Your choice! I choose BOTH :) Well, I actually did just that!

X2 compared to the X1 – Well if you are an X1 owner wondering if you should update to the X2..think about it. What would you like to see improved in your X1? If it is only IQ, then you won’t get much of that with the X2. The IQ seems about the same to me. If it is AF speed, you WILL get a boost and you will be able to AF in low light much easier. If it is high ISO, well, you will get that as well. You also do have the 6400 and 12,500 options though they are pretty noisy. How about the EVF? Will the size turn you off from using it or will it be a welcome addition to your shooting? If you crave what the X2 brings (new look, EVF, faster AF, 4 more Megapixels) then you will like the X2. BUT the used market for the X1 these days ranges from $1150-$1400 from what I have seen so you will lose some cash on that X1. If you are already happy with the X1 there may not be a real need to upgrade. BTW, you can see some extensive comparison images in my older X1 vs X100 post HERE!

The X2 catches the cat

High ISO of the Leica X1

Another improvement Leica has made is in high ISO shooting. The X1 was actually a great high ISO shooter and up to 3200 was really nice and usable for most things. If you read my X1 review you will see that ISO 3200 of the X1 beat ISO 1600 of the Olympus E-P2 at the time, and ISO 3200 looked very usable. The X2 now has the capability to go up to ISO 12,500 though it is not usable at this speed (in my opinion). Below see some higher ISO shots at night and also some crops. One thing I was happy with is that the X2 now has much faster AF at night. The X1 was very slow in this area, even unusable at times. The X2 is usable at night in regards to AF. No more waiting and hunting around like the X1 did.

The next 6 images were all shot at ISO 3200, what I feel the the highest usable ISO on the X2

So while the Leica X2 may not be noise free when shooting at ISO 3200 in low or no light, it keeps the color fidelity and the grain is not offensive at all. In fact, I really like shooting at ISO 3200 at night with this camera as the images are very usable and they still seem to have that Leica feel. I would not go out and use ISO 6400 or 12,500 (at night) as they start to get ugly so keep it at 3200 tops if you are night crawling and use 6400 in a pinch.

High ISO crops 

Below is a shot I snapped in a grocery store to check out how ISO would do in decent light. You will see the image and then the crops after it starting at ISO 800 going through to ISO 12,500. When in decent light it appears you could get away with using ISO 6400 if you had to, but then again, in decent light you wouldn’t need to.

ISO comparison to NEX-7 and OM-D

One thing I found odd is that at ISO 3200 in both sample shots from the X2, the one above of the bottles and the one below of the Polaroid (I tried three times, same results) show a blurred result. These are all from RAW and I did not add ANY Noise Reduction to any of the samples. It appears these three cameras are just about next and neck for indoor low light high ISO. These were taken in my office at 2AM, with only one light bulb going. It appears lighter than it really was.

You can clearly see each camera has a different color signature which is what helps to give each image from each camera its specific “look”. Noise wide, the X2 is about equal to the NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D, which is very good though not as good as the Fuji X-Pro 1 or possibly the Fuji X100. What is surprising is how well the OM-D E-M5 did here. Not bad at all!

JPEG vs RAW High ISO

Here is an out of camera JPEG shot in high contrast B&W mode, ISO 3200 – right from camera resized with 100% crop embedded – you must click them for larger views and this shot was taken AT NIGHT so there was no light, but the camera AF’d just fine.

and the same image but processed from the RAW file

Detail of the X2 files

It’s funny because I really am not getting razor sharp clinical results with the X2 but I think that is what makes the images look so pleasing. It is very sharp, but not “clinical, flat and digital” like I see with some cameras. The output of the X2 seems just about right. In other words, I like it. BTW, at f/2.8 it is sharp but not super sharp..very pleasing. By f/4 it is even sharper.

Click the images below for larger versions with full 100% crop embedded…

THIS is a sharp shot no doubt…f/4 will do it…

UPDATE! Want sharp? CLICK THIS shot to see the larger version and check out the detail in the 100% crop. This was wide open at 2.8!

The Leica X2 Pros and Cons – 15 Pros but 12 cons…

PROS

  • The design and look of  the chrome is sexy and gorgeous.
  • The packaging makes you feel like the money you spent was well worth it, lol.
  • The AF speed has improved from the X1 no question!
  • We can now use the external EVF on the X2
  • The color of the X2 images are really nice and beats almost all others in its class (in my opinion)
  • Overall image quality remains as it was with the X1 – sharp, crisp and Leica like
  • High ISO up to 3200 is really usable, 6400 if you need it!
  • AF speed has improved greatly in low light and it is accurate.
  • Build seems to have been beefed up a little, which is great.
  • Same fantastic 24 Elmarit 2.8 lens of the X1!
  • Nice leather strap is included in the box, just as with the X1.
  • Flash is re-designed and improved, no more accidental pop ups in your bag.
  • Dials are much stiffer now so no accidental changing of your aperture or shutter speed.
  • SIMPLE controls and basic operation make this a real photographers camera, just a little slow :)
  • Finally, this camera is SILENT if you turn off all electronic sounds

CONS

  • By todays standards, the AF is still slow
  • By todays standards, there should have been a built in EVF!
  • Expensive for a fixed lens camera at $1995. $800 more than a Fuji X100 which has a built in EVF and an F/2 lens built in but it’s a Leica.
  • EVF is LARGE and EXPENSIVE if you buy Leicas at $575.
  • ISO 12,500 is there for marketing as it is not really usable.
  • Forget AF tracking.
  • Lens aperture chatters as the camera is on, ala Fuji X-Pro 1
  • No real in body or lens Image Stabilization!
  • Can not close focus, no macro mode!
  • Same old low res LCD that is in the X1. Boo.
  • Slight barrel distortion when up close and wide open (watch your straight lines)
  • Manual focusing still sucks. Only good for setting it and forgetting it or Zone Focusing for street.

Out of camera JPEGs are sharp!

Just as with the X1, the X2 can output a nice sharp JPEG if you nail the focus. In some cases I actually preferred the JPEG output of the X2 over the RAW files. Check out the shot below, which was from a JPEG. I resized it to 1800 pixels wide and converted to B&W. Click it to check it out. Shot wide open at 2.8.

My final word on the Leica X2

It has now been close to three years since Leica released the X1 and in that time there have been many happy X1 owners as well as many frustrated X1 owners. The flaws of the original were easy to look past when it was released as there was not much else out there to compete against it. Today we have so many great mirrorless cameras to choose from, and mostly all come in at a lower price than the Leica X2. This means that Leica really had to step up their game if they wanted to sell mass amounts of this X2 camera. While the X2 is beautiful to look at and rewards your efforts with beautiful file quality I feel Leica should have concentrated on upping the game with a built in EVF, FAST AF and a fast responsive feel. Instead they added EVF capability by adding a hot shoe where you can add their $575 EVF, so it is NOT cheap.

BTW, they did not send me the EVF for review, (only the camera itself in a factory fresh box) so I used the old Olympus VF-2 and it worked throughout my time with the camera but one time the image in the LCD did scramble and I had to restart the camera. Does that mean I am saying you should use the VF-2? Well, I was using it but if anything were to go wrong with your X2 from using it, I am NOT responsible. :) The good thing is that the EVF swivels so it does give you more flexibility than a built in would, and it is a high quality EVF. The bad thing is that when attached it makes the camera look funky and it takes away from the beautiful design. It’s kind of a win/lose situation. You win by having access to a great EVF, but you lose by it being so damn ugly. Also, it does NOT lock down on the shoe like it did on the E-P3.

The X2 CAN do portraits as the lens has minimal distortion. 

Leica did speed up the AF of the X2 over the X1 and it now appears to be about as fast or slightly faster than the Fuji X100 (after the last FW update). It is slower than the Olympus E-M5 but faster than the Fuji X-Pro 1 and doesn’t really hunt like it used to do. Overall is it just about fast enough to not get frustrating. Also, when it locks, it locks. It never seemed to mis-focus in any of my shots which is awesome as that really irritates me when that happens (X-Pro 1, NEX-7).

The image quality of the X2 is pretty much just like the X1 and continues that Leica tradition of simple basic control and superb image quality. With the X2 around your neck you will be carrying a light, sleek, beautiful, and highly capable digital camera that will give you outstanding results. Just be sure you can be accustomed to shooting ONLY 35mm as the fantastic 24 Elmarit lens in this camera gives you a 35mm equivalent focal length, just like the X100 does. I can not stress enough how beautiful this camera is in its design and control execution. SIMPLE, as a camera should be.

When I sat down and really thought about it and looked over images I took with the X2, OM-D and NEX-7 my fave shots seemed to have come from the Leica X2. No, It is not perfect and yes it is pricey but it is simple and is indeed improved over the X1 in style, build, EVF, and speed. If you want a real made in Germany Leica and the M9 is out of your range, the X2 would and could fit the bill. It will give you everything a Leica is known for including the motivation you get from shooting something basic and simple like a Leica camera. Just know what you are getting before you buy and you will be happy. If you are used to a DSLR then you may not like the X2 as it doesn’t really do much of anything that a DSLR does well (telephoto, macro, FPS, video, etc).

Just so you know, you can still use the optical Viewfinder leica sells for $330 as well as the X1 grip…

…and here is the black X2 with the Leica EVF

A video showing the new $200 Leica X2 Ever Ready case – but there is a flaw!

The X2 will not shoot action very well, is not a wildlife camera, can’t and won’t do macro and is not the best choice for moving or running kids. The X2 is basically a “life” camera. A camera so sleek and small, so well made and beautiful and one that you can take with you everywhere to record your life, your family, your friends and everyday situations. You can shoot street with it if you set it to manual focus and use Zone Focusing (which the X2 works very well with) and it would be great for environmental portraits, landscape, still life and anything with bold color. I enjoyed the X2 far more than I enjoyed the Fuji X-Pro 1 but I am still unsure if I like it more than the Fuji X100.

I do know the X2 is a bit more polished than the X1 and possibly X100. It feels like a completed camera, just a slower than average one. You can’t argue with the results though and the strengths of the X2 are it’s IQ, accurate AF, AF at night capabilities, ability to use an EVF and even high ISO shooting. It’s also SMALL and sleek so I am overall happy with the X2 though as it gave me a fun time with frustration free shooting. I do wish the EVF were built in but there is always the X3. :) I can recommend this camera IF you don’t mind the cost and if you know you are not getting a speed demon. For the X2, it’s all about IQ and simple controls and use. I really enjoyed it. Thanks Leica for sending it out to me for review :)

Oh, I almost forgot! In the title of this review I asked “Can Leica still win us over with their charms”? Well, all I can say is that they DID in fact win me over as I am bought one for myself and for extended testing use. Yea it is slower than the current crop of cameras, yes I own the really really good OM-D and yes this Leica is pricey but if it has anything, it has charm and charm goes a long way for me in real world shooting. Cha Ching!

Where to buy the Leica X2

The X2 starts is available in all black or chrome and black. The list of dealers below are all dealers I have used extensively for buying gear and I can HIGHLY recommend them:

Ken Hansen – Legendary Leica dealer – No web site but you can e-mail him here to buy an X2 – [email protected]

B&H Photo – I have been buying from B&H for over 20 years. SUPERB shop, service and FAST shipping. You can pre-order the X2 in Chrome or Black.

AMAZON – We all know Amazon, they have the X2 for pre-order in Silver Chrome and Black as well.

POPFLASH PHOTO  – everyone knows Tony at Popflash and he has been a Leica dealer for YEARS. You can order the X2 is Silver or Black.

DALE PHOTO – Dale Photo is another top notch Leica dealer I have shopped with on many occasions. Here is the X2 in Silver and Black!

A few More Samples from the X2

EXIF is embedded for those who want it

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May 292012
 

Leica Monochrom – Flat or not? Plus side by side with the X2

OK, this will be my last post on the Monochrom until my review in July but after my last post where I showed some quick images from the Monochrom that were processed using Snapseed on my iPad I noticed some have commented on how the images looked “flat”.  To be honest, I noticed this as well with the files from the Monochrom. Compared to the M9, the files coming out of the new Mono are indeed very low contrast and flat but remember than you can enhance them with PP just like any other camera file. The images do look a bit different from what you see coming out of the M9 and you can see a GREAT comparison here at the red dot forum between the M9 and Monochrom. The Mono clearly wins in the ISO dept. but also has a different rendering of the tones as well.

I have found that the files from the Monochrom are a bit tricky to edit as they do not react to the same PP tricks as the M9 files do. I had to return the Monochrom back  to Leica today but I had fun with the pre-production camera regardless. Still not sure if it is for me though. Again, full review in July sometime.

I am posting the samples below as they all have had some quick editing (contrast, brightness, exposure, etc) unlike previous samples that were pretty much out of camera. I also added a quick comparison with the Leica X2 at the bottom. Enjoy and Thanks!

Steve

Now a quick comparison between the Monochrom and the Leica X2

1st the Monochrom, from RAW with some contrast enhancements – image is full size so click it for the full file

and now a shot from the new Leica X2 which was converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure (Neopan Preset, no grain). Again, click it for full size.

I did not have the M9 with me for this walk so did not shoot one with the M9 though I do plan on showing some side by sides with the M9 when I do my final review of the Monochrom. What do you think on the comparison above? It is NOT to show DOF or sharpness. I only shot these to see how the X2 would fare with a conversion against this pre-production Monochrom. The 24mm lens of the X2 is not going to be the same in any way as the 35 1.4 on the Monochrom, so again, this is a B&W only comparison…I guess a “tonality” comparison.

Do you see any advantage to the Monochrom when it comes to B&W performance? I can tell you that the high ISO capability from the Mono kills the X2 and the M9, that is without question.

May 282012
 

Why Leica Rules by George Sutton

A friend recently commented that the future of photography is the software. I know the marketing people would love hearing that. I like following the new stuff as much as the next person. Without that sites like this would not have a lot to talk about.

But despite the wave after wave of new camera offerings, I am increasingly drawn back to the Leica. It is primitive. The M9 body is ridiculously expensive and lacking in features. It is the anti software camera, which is quixotic to say the least. But I find that increasingly useful (maybe even intentional on Leica’s part) to keep my attention on what remains the truly outstanding quality of the camera–the lenses. It teaches that its the lenses stupid, not just with Leica but with all cameras.

A recent essay on another site discussed the notion that one of photography’s great powers is capturing a kind of hyperreality. Freezing an image gives us an opportunity to see details and things we miss in the flow of perception. Freezing the image reveals how rich reality is. At its best this effect is fascinating and occasionally mesmerizing. The importance of the camera is its ability to capture that effect. An enlarged image doesn’t work if it lacks detail and shows flaws of the lens and the sensor. The flaws are what the viewer sees. The hyperreality effect is directly proportional to the level of detail and depth. That is why lenses are basic followed closely by the camera sensor, and only then does everything else begin to matter.

What differentiates Leica is that it designs a body as an accessory to the lens. Most other systems take the opposite approach designing advanced bodies with accessory lenses. That doesn’t mean the lenses in other systems have to be inferior, but I think only the best professional lenses (Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, etc.) to get close to Leica quality, and even then I think Leica is often better. According to many reports the Nikon D800E may have made medium format cameras obsolete. Imagine putting that sensor in a M9 body. Wow. It would not work as well in other small cameras because the lenses are not good enough.

I was reminded of this after taking some photos of my son and grandson on a recent trip. These were only intended to be snapshots of my family, of no meaning to anyone else. The first is a simple shot of my grandson eating breakfast. Nothing special except it is not posed. The second is a crop of just his face. It is as rich and detailed as if the original was a full frame close up. I can get lost in that face. Of course I am highly biased and this may just be my foolishness but I think it is a good example of this effect.

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May 272012
 

The Leica Monochrom – more early 1st thoughts with a pre-production camera – Part 1

So I was told by Leica today that the Monochrom body I have is a Prototype and not ready for a review as they are still working on firmware (this one has .009). They tell me full production models will be ready for review in July. So for now, all I can give you guys are some more of my thoughts and a few samples instead of a thorough review.

YES, more Monochrom madness!

I have been shooting the Leica Monochrom for only 1-2 days and have been trying my hardest to see what it is that draws me to it. A B&W camera for $8000. Doesn’t sound like it makes ANY sense but I personally know 6 guys who already have their pre-orders locked in. I even heard about a guy who traded in his 0.95 Noctilux even up for a Monochrom. But why? Why is this camera luring photographers and even hobbyists in? I think it’s a mix of a few things like mystique, the fact that there is nothing else like it, pure simplicity, and partly because there is just something classic about it. Also, some guys will just buy anything new that Leica releases because once you really shoot Leica you tend to have a hard time really bonding to lesser quality. That is MY experience at least because Leica is and always will be my true love in the photo world.

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Even so, I do not think Leica will sell as many Monochrom cameras as they did the M9 but there will be people flocking to this camera due to it’s uniqueness and overall quality. I have heard rumblings about “who needs ultra sharpness”? Well, you really do not need it to make a good photo but it sure does help when you are using those amazingly crisp Leica lenses. It doesn’t make a bad photo a good one but it can help a good photo become great just due to the look and feel, much like medium format film has that rich depth and “big” feel. The Mono feels like you are shooting a medium format camera loaded with B&W film. Rich quality, sharp details, and loads of tones not full of hard contrast. Basically not so “black and white” but more “Monochrome”. Click on the image below to see it in higher quality and you will what I mean.

Of course there will be those die hards who will always complain about digital saying NOTHING can replicate film. Well, they are absolutely right! The Monochrom will not replicate the look and feel of a good B&W film but quite honestly…why should it? I feel the M9 and Monochrom can EXCEED film in many ways and it is not like B&W film doesn’t suffer from blown highlights or the “flat and dull” syndrome, as it can and often does. Film is nice but it is just a different way to record those images. I have tons and tons of film files scanned at crazy high resolution on my hard drives from the years past and I was looking over some of them tonight before writing this so I had a fresh perspective.

Grain Vs Noise. Digital noise will not look like film grain as it is not grain, it is noise. But the future for the masses is digital, plain and simple. Film is slowly fading, slowly getting more sparse and yes, even more expensive. Those who LOVE film will never give it up and an $8000 camera is not the answer for the ones who really love and cherish film for its unique qualities. But for many others it will be. Again, I love to shoot film as it does offer that classic look and feel but I also accept the fact that digital is indeed the future. Still, even though I am really “feeling” this new Monochrom I am having a tough time wrapping my head around the cost..for ME. I have no doubts about its capabilities and if I were loaded with cash I wouldn’t think twice because I happen to love B&W.

As for film, I do not have that illusion that only B&W film can create a great B&W image or print because that is not the case. I have seen gorgeous images from digital cameras in B&W on screen and in print. I shot a whole Seal show in B&W with the M9 (using Silver Efex Pro to convert) and had wonderful results that were printed in a tour book. I even wrote about creating moods with B&W. If you visit that link you will see the B&W results the M9 gave me. They are good but the Monochrom does give you a different feel IMO. Still, the M9 is no slouch nor is the M8 when you take those files and convert them with software. ANY of these will provide you with acceptable results but the Monochrom will give you that little bit more.

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Yep, from what I have seen of this Monochrom “prototype” it is the real deal IMO. Both this and the M9 (or any decent digital for that matter) can give you great B&W images but the Monochrom seems to give you a richer, more detailed and more “Monochrome” look. When I get a hold of a production sample in July I will post a full thorough review with the comparison shots as Leica is still working on firmware and tweaking things with the camera. I will also be shooting a bunch this weekend and will post more from it next week, hopefully some portraits and street stuff. The BIG question will be, are those differences worth the price tag (same as an M9-P that gives you color or B&W options)?

The Leica is expensive, but again, it is Leica. We all know how their pricing works. It is not an impulse buy and to even consider it means you have to accept the fact that you can not shoot color with it, that it is $8000 for the body only, that it is manual focus only, using a rangefinder system and that you get a 3 year warranty. That is a ton of cash when you can buy a used M6 for $1300 or even an M9 for $7000 and convert the files to B&W. You can also shoot a little OM-D and convert to B&W as it does quite well itself, though the files are not as rich, detailed, smooth nor do they have the depth of the Leica. I feel many Leica shooters will buy the Monochrom and come July we should start to see many reviews when the production models are available. Me, I really do not need one, but that doesn’t mean I do not WANT one :) It does have that classic charm and lure..the one that speaks to and pulls at your heart :) So far I am not fond that the ISO starts at 320 and the shutter speed tops out at 4000. Using fast glass in daytime situations (yes, many of us DO this regardless of why these fast lenses were designed in the past) so I am finding that during the day we have to stop these lenses down a a bit. Other than that, it’s an M9 with the modified B&W only sensor and crazy sharp output as you can see if you click the image below.

So do I think Leica will put an end and destroy B&W film with this camera as they claimed? No. Maybe if it were priced at $2500 and the masses bought it, but at $8000 film is not going anywhere as this price is still way to out there for most to afford. But those who are passionate enough, those who are the “real” photographers who live and breath for this, they will want one, and probably find a way to get one. It does appear to have a special appeal, like it or not. Leica had the balls to create it so I do applaud them for that – it is once again, a quality product regardless of cost.

I will try to post some more larger samples this week as I updated this from my iPad so the last few images are small as they were out if cam jpegs imported to the iPad. I will also have samples from the Leica X2, which I have to say is really really good in the IQ dept.

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May 252012
 

Hi Steve,

I recently came back from travels in Asia and Asia minor and am sending you a few shots from my Istanbul leg of the journey.
Istanbul was cold, grey and bitingly cold (winds, rain, snow) but after Istanbul Kerala in India awaited with tropical heat and humidity. On top of that I decided to go on this three-week trek with just a small piece of hand luggage. I have to say that my beloved Leica M8, Summilux 28mm and iPad proved everything I needed for the trip.
Here are some of the shots, more on www.igornovakovic.com/istanbul/
May 242012
 

The Leica X2 1st Look Video and yes…Unboxing

The Leica X2 has arrived to my house for review so I made the video below to show you guys what it looks like. When the original X1 was released I did an unboxing video to show off the really cool box and the X2 keeps that same exact box and styling/packaging. Check it out below :) Also, I will be traveling this weekend so site updates will be slow until I return on Monday night/Tuesday. Enjoy!

May 232012
 

Leica Monochrom 1st Look Video and Sample – Review in July

 

 

OK! I have had this PRE-PRODUCTION Leica Monochrom camera for about 18 hours and have only shot a few things around the park and my house but did manage to make a quick 1st look video. 1st thoughts on the Leica Monochrom? It looks like an M9, feels like and M9, works like an M9 and even smells like an M9! Yep, basically, this is an M9 with a modified M9 sensor. No color channels. Pure B&W. Monochrome. My 1st thoughts are…who would pay $7,950 for a B&W only camera? Well, I feel many of you reading this will in fact do so because it is a niche camera..a specialty item that you can not get anywhere else. For those who love and adore B&W film and shooting, this camera is a dream. Sure, you can shoot an M9 and convert to B&W but will you get the same results? I did this test, side by side, same lenses, same subject and there are indeed differences with some subjects, not so much with others.

I will show these results in my upcoming review (Review not until July when I have a production camera) but can say that the IQ from this sensor is beautiful. Sharp, detailed, rich in B&W tones. During my week evaluation with this camera (Thank you Leica & Steffen K.) I am going  to decide if I want to buy my own Monochrom. If I fall madly in love with it, and that is possible, then I will. That means I would then use my OM-D as my color camera and sell my M9-P. We shall see, but my decision will be in my review as well, and that is a huge decision to make.

Also the X2 JUST ARRIVED to me 10 minutes ago so I will be doing a 1st look video and review of that one as well but it seems i have more time with that one so I probably will not start shooting with it for a week or so.

Here is ONE sample I want to show you. I shot this as a test for DR, Sharpness and Tonality with the Monochrom. Click it for the larger view and 100% crop.

I am taking the Monnochrom with me to Chicago this weekend along with a 35 and 50 Lux ASPH and I may be shooting around Navy Pier Saturday night. My review will be up in about 10-12 days and will be full of samples and even comparisons with the M9 files converted to B&W. Should be fun. Enjoy!

May 222012
 

SLR Magic Raises the price of the T0.95 Hyperprime Leica mount to $4995

Due to lens productions costs industry wide, SLR Magic has just raised the price of their 50mm T0.95 Hyperprime lens to $4995. I asked Andrew, head honcho over at SLR Magic why this was and he stated it was all due to cost of materials going up. Sony told me this as well as Leica so it is a true statement. SLR Magic sold out of the initial pre-order batch of this lens and there is now a 7-9 month wait for one after you order. This lens is amazing but if you order one, be sure that your camera is calibrated perfectly, just as you would need with a Noctilux. When your body is spot on, this lens is razor-sharp at all apertures. You can see my review HERE as well as some shots with this lens on an M6 HERE. I also used it with the Leica Monochrom HERE.

This lens is razor sharp, even wide open (which equates to f/0.92) – shot on Leica Monochrom

You can order this lens for Leica mount only and it comes in two versions. One that is RF coupled at $4995 (this allows you to focus using the rangefinder) and one that is not RF coupled (for use with adapters on NEX, Micro 4/3, etc). The price of the NON RF version is $2995. They do sell a Hyperprime for Sony NEX and Micro 4/3 but this is a totally different lens and not in the same league as the Leica M version.

May 182012
 

UPCOMING REVIEWS

Leica Monochrom and Nikon D800 with Zeiss 35 1.4

Hello everyone and Happy Friday to you all! This weekend I will be a busy man as I have a Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 in hand to test out for the next week or so. THIS THING IS A BEAST! After shooting with all of these small mirrorless cameras and a Leica M9 for so long this D800 feels like a monstrosity and my wrist starts to hurt after 20 minutes of use BUT that is just because I am used to the small guys. Take a look at the image above with the D800 parked next to the OM-D and 12mm. The D800 makes the little Olympus look tiny and this is one reason why I appreciate those great Olympus lenses. Small size AND great quality.

But as you may well be aware, this Nikon D800 is a 36 Megapixel machine capable of beautiful rich quality. I have not yet taken it out for serious shooting (hope to get out this weekend with it) but did snap a few “snapshots” in my yard and around my house. The RAW files bring my aging iMac to its knees but other than that there is nothing to complain about. The files seem to be gorgeous. Rich full frame color quality, depth and some of that Zeiss magic from the $1800 35 1.4.

The very 1st snap I shot with the D800 to see how the image quality looked with the Zeiss wide open. 

This would be an amazing combo for serious pro work. Probably a live convert shooters dream. Then again, I am still happy with my Leica but you can not ignore the fact that the D800 and Zeiss 35 is still $2k less than a new M9. body. It appears that for all out image quality the D800 may be THE ticket for those searching for high res full frame magic. Maybe the M10 will share a similar sensor? Hmmmm. Look for a D800 review soon :)

Again, wide open to test DOF and Bokeh/Sharpness – click it for larger

The Leica Monochrom

To date I have only had an hour with this camera, and I really liked it. I liked it enough that I put my name down on Ken Hansen’s pre-order list. (you can get on his list by e-mailing him at [email protected]). I have been trying to get a review sample and just found out today that I will have a Monochrom next week and I will have ONE WEEK with it to review it. I was hoping for 3 (for a 3 week road trip to test the camera) but one week will do for a review. I will NOT be getting the new 50 to try so I will be testing it out with other glass.

So look for  this one in about 2-3 weeks from today. I will do as much as I can while I have it and I am excited to put it through its paces and see how it differs from the M9 when it comes to B&W performance.

So check back here often for Monochrom and D800 updates! 

Monochrom Pre-Orders – B&H Photo, PopFlash, Dale Photo

May 162012
 

Grab this card now, or a bunch of them as this deal JUST popped up at B&H Photo. $6.99 for a Lexar 8GB Platinum II SDHC card. I need to grab about 10 of these so act quick if you have been needing some good SD cards! YOU CAN BUY THEM HERE.

Also, for the Leica people…the wonderful Zeiss Sonnar 50 1.5 ZM lens is IN STOCK in Black and Silver right now as well. Enjoy!

May 132012
 

As requested: Full size Leica Monochrome samples

Many of you requested full size out of camera samples from the Leica Monochrome so here you go! These were shot during that one hour walk and they are RAW conversions without ANY adjustments whatsoever, so these are out of camera from RAW – what you see if what you get and this is about all I have :) This is NOT a review, just giving you guys the images you requested in full size, without editing. EXIF is embedded in the images. As stated in the previous article all images were shot with the Leica Monochrom and the SLR Magic 50 Hyperprime T0.95.

It appears I should be getting a Monochrom and X2 for review REALLY soon and if so I plan a long road trip for 2-3 weeks to review them both – The M for B&W and X2 for color. Stay tuned!

CLICK ON IMAGES FOR FULL SIZE FILES

DOG  – T0.95

BUS LADY – T/1.4

RAIN – T/2

T/0.95

May 112012
 

My one hour  with the new Leica Monochrome by Steve Huff

Hello and here I am once again writing from my hotel room in Berlin. I just ordered room service as it is pouring rain outside and I just returned from an hour long walk Sean Reid who e-mailed me this afternoon asking if I would like to use the M Monochrome that he has with him since I did not get a chance to shoot one at all from Leica. Very cool of him. He did already post a review of the M Monochrome and the X2 at his subscription site if you would like to check it out. So I thank Sean for letting me use the camera for an hour or so. Without that, I would not even have been able to really check it out at all.

1st, MY thoughts on this Leica event and how I would have done it differently

I have to first thank Leica for inviting me to this event. I was invited to the 09/09/09 event but could not make it out that time but I always said that when they announce their next set of cameras, I AM THERE! So I was excited to be here and enjoy the whole “Leica-ness” of it all. As we all knew from the rumors there was a dedicated  black & white camera coming from Leica and possibly an X2. Both of these things were indeed true.

No WiFi at the event

When I arrived to the event I walked in and was asked for my invitation (glad I didn’t forget it)! After handing it over I entered the building and noticed that there were MANY people there. It was a packed house, full of suits, dresses, and a few people I recognized. After talking with a few of the Leica people I made my way to the stage area and had a seat. I pulled out my laptop as I assumed there would be wifi there for the bloggers and press that were in attendance. NOPE.

If this were MY event, I would have wifi setup. No questions about it. The fact is there were many of the big players here and it would seem that Leica would want the press and live coverage. I was all set to do live blogging and was disappointed to find out that would not be possible. Sure I could have paid for some sort of card but I was told there would be wireless there so I didn’t.

No cameras to try out at the event

If this were my event, or if I were in charge of it I would have made sure to have a few cameras to pass around to the blogger guys/girls. The thing Leica wants and needs is coverage of these new cameras. I would have handed out one to every major blogging person and said “use it for the day tomorrow”. That would have been great. We would have all been able to shoot with it, evaluate it and write about it. But no cameras were to be found. I was able to stare at them through a glass case though and did eventually get to fire off 4 shots with Jonathan Slacks camera he has been testing. I shot 4 shots only because I wanted to take a quick look and Jono kindly handed over the camera. (Thanks Jono, his photos from the Monochrom can be seen here)!

No real WOW factor

I hate to say it as I love Leica and the guys that work there but I have to say the event was a bit on the dull and lackluster side. Sure there were drinks, food and people to mingle with but the overall presentations were lacking. Not a big deal but I remember a few occasions yawning as it dragged on and on it seems. We were all there for the announcements and the way they were announced was also a bit on the dull side.

IS Leica HIGH?

OK. I have to mention it. $7200 for a Leica 50 Summicron ASPH APO. I have to admit…when I heard that I was like..”MAN OH MAN..I AM DONE WITH LEICA”! I thought it was ridiculous and borderline insanity to price the new lens like that. I mean, a SUMMICRON for more than the legendary 50 Summilux? Really? We all know how amazing Leica glass is. That is their main claim to fame. The GLASS! But pricing the new lens at $7200 US is really alienating 75% of Leicas new users.

I know for a fact there have been thousands of you who read this site, who are NOT rich, who went out and bought an M9 even though they really could not justify or afford it. Many of us, myself included, stretched our budgets to be able to purchase the camera and one or two lenses max. Why? Because while we may not have all of the money in the world, we have passion and we want to shoot with what our heart tells us to shoot with. For me, it’s usually Leica.

There were so many new Leica users over the past three years and Leica has been enjoying this success. When they release a lens for $7200 and it is a 50 Summicron ASPH APO..well, I am afraid they just went and priced MANY of us out of the market, which may be what they want.

I know for a fact I will never ever buy the new lens, no matter how good it is. Why? Because the 50 Summilux ASPH is astounding, and cheaper. The old 50 Summicron may have some character flaws to some, but you can buy them used pretty cheap. $7200 to gain some sharpness and micro-contrast?

On the other hand I have a feeling they need lenses like this for their M10 which I think is coming at Photokina. I think the sensor in the M10 will be so high res and so capable of crazy detail that they needed a new lens to showcase it. I also have a feeling many changes are coming with the M10. I have no inside info, Leica tells me nothing… but my crystal ball thinks so.

I get releasing a new lens like this for those that want absolute perfection and beauty. Those who can afford it, and there are many, will buy the lens. I just do not see them selling them in any kind of mass quantity, which again, is probably what they want.

I happen to know the lens is amazingly beautiful in its design, size, and rendering. The samples I have seen from it blew me away. I am just disappointed in the price point as they knocked so many out of the game here.

But I assume they know what they are doing and maybe they just want to go after a specific market for their new cameras and lenses. Either way, I can not deny the fact that the new Monochrome M and the new 50 are gorgeous and this lens may be the best lens they have ever made. I will give them that for sure. I would love to do  full review of it using this new Monochrome so maybe one day I will get to try it out and let you guys know how it is. :)

My one hour with the Leica Monochrome

So as I started this article writing about how I finally managed to spend an hour with the new Leica Monochrome camera I will now talk a little about this camera and my 1st impressions after spending just under an hour with it. The images you see embedded here were all shot with the Monochrome and the SLR Magic 50 T0.95 Hyperprime lens.  Click on any image for a larger view.

So it was raining, it was grey and it was all kinds of dreary but I headed out for an hour with the new Leica Monochrome in Berlin, which is a beautiful gorgeous place to shoot. The people also seem friendly as no one had an issue with me taking their images. Had a great time for that one hour for sure!

It’s just like shooting an M9

The Monochrome is just like shooting an M9 or M9-P except you have no color available. It’s all black and white. Monochrome (that sounds cooler). You can read the techie reviews for the details on the sensor but basically, in real world terminology this sensor will yield better dynamic range and high ISO capabilities over the M9 or M9-P.

If I can be honest, I am strangely attracted to this camera even though it is priced at $8000, the same cost as a Leica M9-P. I remember years ago people on various forums were asking for a dedicated B&W sensor Leica M camera. It made sense right? Leica has always been known for classic B&W photography. So many of us shoot B&W with our M cameras or even shooting B&W film. So why not a dedicated B&W sensor camera? With the Monochrome you get better high ISO and beautiful B&W capabilities.

I know that as soon as I knew this camera was coming, I wanted one. I even came up with an idea to travel for a few weeks and shoot only B&W. Do a huge project. Take my time. Just me and the camera as one. Ahhh, sounds so good huh?

It’s true. B&W has a way of tugging at your soul, your heart, your brain. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s real. No, it’s not real as in what we see with our eyes but for some reason when I view classic B&W images I can see deeper into the image. It has more emotion and soul. I LOVE B&W. The problem has always been that traditional digital cameras usually sucked with Monochrome imaging. Sure we can use plug ins like Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin but imagine a simple camera we could have that just allowed us to be pure. To be MONO. Yep, this new Leica allows us to do that and gives us superb IQ, great sharpness, and the ability to capture that real emotion that so many of us love to see.

Shooting B&W takes me back to the time when I had my M6 or M7 around my neck with a roll of Tri-X loaded. For some reason that camera inspired me to get out and capture people on the street. I lost my fears and was motivated to shoot. Holding that Leica Monochrome in my hand, knowing its potential, well, that was enough to motivate me and get me excited to shoot today. It’s a funny thing these Leica cameras. They almost are like some alien life form that sucks you into wanting to shoot. Always happens with an M around my neck.

I walked and I shot and shot and shot, maybe about 75 images total. Not too many really and I knew that I would not get any great shots or amazing artistic images but I knew that shooting this camera for even an hour would let me judge it’s capabilities. Again, it is the same body and menu as an M9 or M9-P with a couple of minor things added. So if you have shot an M before, you will feel right at home shooting the Monochrome. In a way, reviewing this camera is easy as it is only about the images, the tonality and the high ISO performance. Notice in the title image how many tones you can see in the sock. Gorgeous.

$8000!

When I found out this body was $8000 I immediately said “WHAT”??? I mean, many will see this as a crippled M9! No color? Well, those are the people who either are not really into B&W photography or just do not get what this camera is all about. I know for a fact that I can not afford $8000 for this camera, but maybe if I scrimp and save and save some more than maybe I would be able to swing it, though I’d have to sell my M9-P to do so. I am NOT a rich guy :) Yes, this blog gets loads of traffic but that also means much higher costs to run it.

So after my one hour with this lovely camera I asked myself…”would I sell my M9-P to buy an Monochrome”? Well, I wouldn’t want to… but yes I would. Because after viewing my sample images I do see a difference between this output and what comes out of an M9 with conversions. Yes, $8000 is INSANE and much to expensive (it really is) but damn Leica, you always have a way to get to my heart and soul, and I feel that the Leica Monochrome, even at $8000, will eventually become a classic due to its simplicity, design, feel, use, and beautiful output. I do not think they will have a problem selling this one though I also do not think they will sell as many as they did the M9.

When I get more time with this camera I plan on spending MUCH more  time testing it with landscapes, studio portraits, and more street photography as well as some travel stuff. So c’mon Leica, send me one along with the new X2 so I can get started! :)

A few more samples during my one hour with the camera…exif is all embedded. I hope you enjoyed  this quick one hour walk with me :) Also, I have to say that this SLR Magic 50mm t/0.95 Hyperprime is GORGEOUS. Be sure and read all about it HERE. (UPDATE: Funny how there have been NO MORE reports of lens failures of this lens after  the 1-2 who went on the attack? Yep my friends this was a Leica calculated attack on a lens they were afraid of (I know because someone high up told me). I know of many who still own and shoot this lens without issue in focus or build and they all call it a masterpiece in image quality and build. Remember, I had an $11k Noctilux fall apart TWICE while using it professionally. Never did the SLR Magic do this. Think about it for a few…)

BTW, you can now pre order the M Monochrome for $7995 at the following sites:

B&H Photo – M Monochrome Pre-Order, 50 Summicron ASPH APO Pre-Order, Leica X2 Pre-order

PopFlash Photo – they are all on the main page!

Ken Hansen has a list going as well – E-Mail him HERE – he will ship worldwide

and a higher ISO with crop

and an ISO 10,000 – yes, it’s got grain

 

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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