Apr 282012
 

Snusmumric’s Photothoughts

By Alexander Hessentswey

Good time of the day! Thank you very much, Steve, for the opportunity to participate in this great project! I visit this site every time a new article or some news appear. And I see here interesting photographs quite often. I’d like to tell you some thoughts. Sometimes it’s well known points of view that I share but sometimes that’s what I’ve noticed.

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Jupiter-3 (copy of Carl Zeiss Sonnar 5cm f:1.5, m39)

The Criticism of Elder Times

I meet this argument time to time: Our forefathers shot with the cameras that were way less perfect than ours and they’ve got beautiful photos. So a good shot isn’t about sharpness and quality. You can get it with any equipment. That’s right. You can make a good shot with anything. But, we have to notice some limitations here.

Photo industry produces lenses not better than 30 years before, in general. Sometimes you get more resolution and sharpness. But that classical rendering can come from old, not so well corrected lenses. All the time photography exists, lens designers try to compensate aberrations to get sharpness and neutral colour rendition over the frame field. (If the lens vignettes, it’s one of 3 reasons. It can be because of the current technology level, or it can be great in some other area (large aperture or great macro), or it can be cheap lens which you couldn’t compensate properly not making it 3 times more expensive.)

In fact, an SLR came out in 1960-1970 have ALL you need for a great photography. But there were two things that were improved in lenses – lens coating and sharpness. That’s it — beautiful old lenses grow blind shooting in the back light but modern ones do not. Lens designer will say it’s progress. And what do we think?

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm

Why are the old photographs, that were shoot with the less perfect equipment, better?

In the good old times when lenses had an aperture of f:3.5 and films with ISO100-200 had really big grain the things were different. Look at old photographs, the best ones, and you notice that sharpness isn’t so important. Even shoot with SLR focus could be not exactly on a subject. There were no autofocus nor focus peaking nor frame center enlargement. So large grain or slightly missed focus can’t show you how sharp the lens is. If you see a person with a trees behind him and focus isn’t on this person, it’s a good shot. And if it’s not close-up photo sometimes you can’t even see the face because of grain or lack of sharpness.

As for the digital cameras both sensors and image processors constantly improve. By the way, films improve too. And one more thing – light metering.

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm

In the first half of XX century photography was closer to painting and used its rules more often and so it could be better. Now there are lots of photographers and shooting is much easier, that’s a fact. (I’ve got film SLR Canon 300V with Summicron 50mm mounted via adapter. Shooting in aperture priority mode is easy even without autofocus. And then I take a film to minilab and scan it at home. I shoot film without even developing it. Film shooting is just as easy as you wish.)

But at what point is a modern lens better than an old one? What’s the purpose of sharpness?

Here’s my answer: sometimes details make all the difference — you either can see one’s facial expression or you can’t. When we need details we need sharpness.

Simon Bolivar the Sailing Ship, Panasonic Lumix G1 + MC Volna-9 f:2.8 50mm Macro 1:2 (m42) — click to enlarge and see some more details

You see, they want sharpness in modern photography… as they wanted art expression in old photography. And that’s expression that makes old lenses quite as good or better than modern ones. But sometimes an old photo could become a bit better if it could get a bit more modern lens. At least you could see a face on a beautiful photo.

So you can make a good shot with anything – an old lens or new lens and with any camera. But not EVERY good shot. Many shots need some image quality or camera options.

The Sand Snake, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm

 –

Way of Life

Now I’ve got several lenses so I can tell I like its rendering. All in all, you photograph ‘cause you like it. I think photography is important as a key to your memories, or as your way of life, or as a way to show something unusual or beautiful you’ve noticed.

So if we are talking not about your memories that are definitely important and not about a way of life. And if you show a shot to someone you’ve even never met. In that case you ask yourself is there something unusual or beautiful or important or remarkable on this photograph. And if yes – that’s enough.

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Super Takumar f:1.4 50mm (m42)

The Function of a Sunset

Do you know what’s the most terrible in photography? That’s sunsets and forest. Our eyes see trees as something solid, as a tree crowd. But we can notice a single tree from this crowd and peer at it. We feel this atmosphere, some feelings from this place. Our camera could literally scan a forest so we’ll get a tree crowd. It could keep white balance right. And it’s fail. What we should do is to add some expression and contrast and embrace single trees so that we finally get what we see and keep this place atmosphere. We can do this with an old town backyard much more easily than with a forest.

A sunset… We see these amazing vivid colours so we can’t believe this can happen on a sky. We press shutter release and we get this photo, one of the billions we can find on internet. That’s it, we need to be uncommon in this case. Or we need something that look close… to a painting. How can we? I don’t know…

 Steamboats Parade Day, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm

Equipment

We think of a camera as of a tool. We can use any. But every professional prefer to use quality tools. That’s the difference – if we know exactly what we are trying to do, the equipment can help us or prevent us to do this. And a good tool won’t trouble you at least. I never shoot sports and my camera can’t do speed shooting. It couldn’t be a tool for a sport photographer. Sometimes we need microcontrast or details and we need quality. Like a face in a crowd or wooden texture being an important object. So the wrong camera will loose details we need to save in this shot. And if this shot is somehow important it’s a sign that we need to acquire some other equipment. But we need neither sharpness nor details for most of the shots. In a portrait we need to show emotions and enchantment and it’s done not via megapixels or some camera chip. That’s a fortune this human meets his photographer. An argument about some tasks makes sense if you have that very task. If a shot don’t need that depth or details you can choose equipment more freely. BUT. When you shoot portrait the lens with portrait rendering will help.

Seddov the Sailing Ship, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Yashinon DS f:1.7 50mm (m42)

Lens’ Preferences

One day you figure out what you like more. Some focal lengths or particular lens rendering. May be they say to shoot with Lensbaby to come out of the box of the equipment you get used to. And one day you see if it’s what you need or not.

You can shoot the most of photos with almost any lens. One of the important exceptions is a portrait.

They say some lenses have a character. So I see an occasions when a lens and a person on a photo didn’t match characters. If this lens doesn’t match this human it can make shooting much harder. A photo you could get naturally while shooting will require a lot of hard work to look just bad and not extremely bad. It’s so strange to believe that your camera doesn’t matter and to find this obvious exception.

Sometimes this happens. You find the one you’ve been waiting for ages. The dream comes true. That happened with me and some of my friends. Someone appears and you feel you needed just him. That happened with some lenses. I start to photograph and feel THAT is the lens I can come with in various situations, that I can trust. It paints an image I just saw or I want to see and I like it. Now that’s fate. That happened with me and Leica Summicron-R II 50mm. That happened with Tair-11, Yashica, Jupiter-3 (a copy of Carl Zeiss Sonar 1.5), Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f:1.4, and others. I’d like to write about those lenses.

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm 

I met Summicron on various photo sites and every time I liked images. Than I read about it on Steve Huff’s site. And on some other sites. And once I’ve realised if I’ll get an SLR version for R mount, used, it will be expensive but affordable and I’ll be able to shoot digital and film and it will be That Very Lens, you know. From that time I go out from home every time with Panasonic G1 and Summicron.

I think, we choose lenses and lenses choose us.

I’d like to thank my camera. Panasonic G1 almost every time do its work great so it became a dream camera for me. Its image quality and beautiful colours allow to get great shots every time even without post processing. So that’s my turn. If something went wrong it’s about my skills, ‘cause this camera do all its best.

You know there is an art of seeing (perception, reading) and an art of creating, both are important. But there is an art of bringing something beautiful to life, some stories, also. And it’s much more important. To notice and create a fairytales in our lives. And if we’ve noticed a fairytale, why not to photograph one?

Bubbles, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm

Panasonic Lumix G1 + Yashinon DS-M f:1.4 50mm (m42)

With the best regards,
Alexander Hessentswey
from Saint Petersburg, Russia

twitter: @snusmumric

Want to see YOUR article or post here? E-mail Steve and let him know what you want to write about! 

Apr 262012
 

PRESS RELEASE

GROUND-BREAKING CEREMONY FOR NEW LEICA CAMERA AG HEADQUARTERS IN WETZLAR

Solms, Germany (April 26, 2012) – Leica Camera AG commenced ground-breaking on a new headquarters at the Leitz Park in Wetzlar on April 25, 2012. Once complete, the new Schanzenfeld site will mark the company’s relocation from Solms. Attending the celebration were dignitaries from Salzburg’s ACM Projektentwicklung GmbH, the majority shareholder of the company, the board of Leica Camera AG and representatives from Leitz-Park GmbH, the project’s developers, in addition to Volker Bouffier (CDU), Prime Minister of the state of Hesse, members of the media and invited guests.

The plans, prepared by architectural firm Gruber + Kleine-Kraneburg, will bring forth an ultra-modern location for the production, administration and customer care divisions of Leica Camera AG in November 2013, with a projected ground-plan area of around 27,000 m² (approximately 290,625 ft²). The new site, built in accordance with the latest energy-efficiency standards, will then be a new home to around 600 Leica employees. Openly visible production areas, a Leica Museum, a Leica Galerie, a Leica Store, a photo studio and a restaurant expand the spectrum of engaging features for visitors, friends of Leica and anyone fascinated by photography. A central plaza will create a binding element between the new headquarters of Leica Camera AG and the existing facilities occupied by Weller Feintechnik GmbH and ViaOptic GmbH on the Leitz Park site. The overall investment volume for the Leitz Park construction project amounts to 55 million euros.

‘Leica Camera AG is a traditional Hessian company with a worldwide reputation for excellence. We can be proud that a company so important in the optical industry maintains its manufacturing and administrative facilities in our state,’ said Volker Bouffier, Prime Minister of the state of Hesse. ‘With the new company headquarters in Wetzlar, Leica remains loyal to its Hessian origins. I am certain that the company’s employees will ensure that Leica will continue to be an internationally renowned name that is always equated with the highest quality.’

‘The Leitz Camera set out from here to conquer the world and revolutionize photography almost exactly 100 years ago. Now that Leica Camera AG is returning to its birthplace, we are confirming the utmost importance the city possesses for the entire optical industry segment in Germany,’ added Dr. Andreas Kaufmann from ACM Projektentwicklung GmbH, emphasizing the signal sent out to the world for the ‘Optical City’ of Wetzlar by the new headquarters project. ‘Leica Camera AG is returning to Wetzlar, to a new home that will be open to visitors and photography enthusiasts and will offer a unique experience with valuable insights into the past, present and future of photography.’

‘The production and administrative buildings in the development are being built to the latest environmental and energy-efficiency standards and will allow us to rapidly satisfy the enormous demand for Leica products without the delays we have sometimes suffered in the past,’ stated Alfred Schopf, Chairman of the Executive Board at Leica Camera AG. ‘Our colleagues will enjoy a modern and attractive working environment that motivates, promotes creativity and enables us to provide Leica’s familiar technical perfection, satisfying the most stringent quality demands. The new headquarters development is a further milestone in the history of our company that benefits not only us but also our customers and visitors.’

 

About Leica Camera AG

Leica Camera AG is an internationally active, premium-segment manufacturer of cameras and sport optics products. The legendary status of the Leica brand is founded on a long tradition of excellence in the construction of lenses. And today, in combination with innovative technologies, Leica products continue to guarantee better pictures in all situations in the worlds of visualization and perception.

Leica Camera AG has its headquarters in Solms, in the state of Hesse in Germany, and a second production site in Vila Nova de Famalicão, Portugal. The company operates branch offices in England, France, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Italy and the USA. New and innovative products have been the driving force behind the company’s positive development in recent years.

Apr 162012
 

TONS of Leica used deals and buys!

It has been a while since I posted used deals and special, mostly because I have been too busy to do so! But tonight I have been browsing B&H Photo, PopFlash.com and Dale Photo and found some used Leica deals some of you might enjoy :) Looks like many may be trading in their M9’s in anticipation of May 10th! At the time of this posting, ALL of these were IN STOCK from B&H, PopFlash or Dale Photo.

 

RARE FIND! LEICA 90 SUMMICRON F/2 ASPH!$3499 – Click HERE to see it as it is IN STOCK now!

Leica M9 – Black  – 9+ – IN BOX – $5899

Leica M9 – Black – 9 – In Box – $5799

Leica M9 – Black – 8+ – In Box – $5649

GREAT BUY! LEICA M7 – Black – 9+ – In box! $2749

Leica M8 Chrome  – 8+ – In Box – $2599

Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 – “10” – In Box as new – $1699

LEICA X1 – Grey – $1499

LEICA M6 TTL – .58 BODY – CHROME – 8+ and in the box! $1699

Leica M6 classic – chrome – $1699

Leica M7 SILVER CHROME – $2377

Leica Silver Chrome M9-P with less than 140 Actuations – $7297

Leica 21 Elmarit 2.8 – Used Deal

Black Leica M9-P with less than 120 Actuations – $7297

Black Paint Leica MP, almost new!

Used Leica Noctilux F1, latest and last version of the F1 – $7300

Summilux 35 ASPH (not FLE) – $4250

Leica 35 Summicron Black – $2900

Apr 132012
 

Sony NEX-7 with the SLR Magic Hyperprime 50 T0.95 and other ramblings…

I recently updated my rolling  review of the SLR Magic “Hyperprime” 50mm T0.95 lens, which is their statement Leica mount lens. I Just added a few images shot with it on the Sony NEX-7 and have to say it did great. You can see my full review of this lens, which again is a Leica mount lens, HERE.  FYI, SLR Magic sold out of their initial order run after just a couple of hours of being made available for order a few weeks ago. Not sure when they will be accepting more orders but do know that many are really excited to get their hands on one soon. The images embedded in this article were all shot with the NEX-7 and the SLR Magic lens. 

Bonding with your camera

It has been a while since my NEX-7 review. In fact, it seems like it has been a really long time and in fact it was about half a year ago already that I wrote about this new Sony flagship from their NEX series of cameras. Now that I have my own NEX-7 and have been using it more and more for my personal photography and family snaps I can say that I am really enjoying this camera more and more. That is saying a lot because remember, it is hard for a guy like me to stick with one particular camera due to the fact that it is my job to try out all of the new stuff!

The only camera that has always stood the test of time with me has been my Leica quite simply because I never found anything else I enjoyed shooting with more. But that doesn’t mean I do not enjoy shooting with other cameras, because I most certainly do. But I feel it has taken months to really get to know my NEX-7 like I know my M9. Not because it is so difficult to get to know, but because I really just started getting serious with it a few weeks ago. These days I have been shooting it more than my Leica M9 and I admit, for me, I have been preferring it to the Fuji X-Pro 1 as well mainly due to the fact that when I shoot with the NEX, I do not have the quirks I find with the Fuji but damn, I so love the Fuji IQ and look. The NEX-7 is not perfect but I have to say it makes a wonderful companion to the M9 and it is especially good with Leica lenses.

These days it seems to be about the latest and greatest for many shooters and gear heads. For others, they are happy to stick with the older ‘classics” and this is good as they can often times get BETTER results because they KNOW their cameras well. I am preparing an article on this subject because I find it so important to really get to know your camera. If you bond and know your camera as well as you know yourself, then your images can go to a whole new level of great. I feel this “bond” with my Leica M and this is the camera I pull out when it is time for me to get serious, simply because I KNOW THE M well. The same can be said for anyone, doesn’t have to be a Leica though. That is just my camera of choice. My #1 pick. Anyone can easily bond with whatever camera they really enjoy.

With so many mirrorless cameras coming out at a blistering pace I have narrowed down my faves to what you see on the “My Gear” page but there are always new cameras on the horizon so if a camera sticks around the Huff household for longer than 3 months that is pretty impressive :)

Choose your digital film stock

The fact remains, even in todays digital world, that a camera and lens is simply a box that gathers light. Instead of that light hitting a frame of film, it now hits a digital sensors. Most digital sensors today are good but all are different and when shooting different cameras it is almost like shooting different film stock. For example, Fuji cameras will deliver a different look due to their color signature and tonality. Sony is the same way as is Leica, Canon, Olympus, and others. So choosing a camera today can almost be like choosing a film stock in the past. Sort of. This is true when you shoot JPEG as the camera will process the colors, the contrast, the sharpness and any effects you choose. Shoot RAW and you will be controlling this using the software you prefer. Even with that said, there are differences in sensors and cameras even when using RAW files.

The way the camera renders a scene…

The Sony NEX-7 is sort of neutral in my opinion. Fuji gives us nice dynamic range and very bold colors. Canon gives us softer more pastel like colors. Nikon goes for rich lifelike colors and detail and Olympus has a signature many love with it’s great rendering of blues and reds. Leica gives us the much sought after “Leica Look” (which yes, does indeed exist) and colors but most of that is down to the lens and full frame sensor of the M9. After years of shooting these brands I can usually see an image and get a feel of what camera shot what image. Not all of the time, but most of the time.

But in this article I am talking about the NEX-7, which is a great “all around use” kind of camera – great reds that at times can get a little too bold if you are not careful, but nice natural yellows and greens and great depth when using a good lens. It is true what you hear, that lenses are the heart of any camera system. Once you pick your “film stock”, which is your brand and type of camera with the sensor you desire, you need a great lens to go with it. Attaching cheap kit zooms will give you decent results but attaching great glass will give you much better results. This is why Leica has the reputation it has these days. It’s not the camera bodies as much as the amazing glass they produce. I can safely say that todays Leica lenses are the best lenses made in the world. Period. If someone says otherwise they are either bitter at Leica prices, jealous, or has never seriously tried a Leica M lens. My Leica photos have always stood out more than others it seems and I would not be saying so if I did not believe this.

Now I am not here saying that the Leica M9 is the best camera ever made as it has been filled with flaws, cracked sensor glass, SD card issues, focus issues and the higher ISO of the M9 is not that great by todays standards. I love the usability of the M9 but at times it has been frustrating so taking breaks from it and shooting these smaller mirror less cameras has been great fun for me, and at times, eye-opening. I LOVE and ADORE my M but these days there are many great alternatives that get you in the same ballpark for much less cash outlay. None will feel like a Leica or give you the RF experience though.

Back to the NEX

I was out and about shooting the NEX-7 with an all new Leica to NEX adapter made by SLR Magic and was very happy with the results, even in the full ugly and harsh AZ sun (which is horrendous for photographers). Keep an eye here for news on this adapter because it is very unique. It is an adapter that you can twist and make the minimum focus distance limitations of the M lenses disappear! Yep,  you can focus super close now with your M lenses on the NEX system, so this is really cool. The adapter is not ready for sale just yet but seems to work very well though I did have a teeny bit of play when mounting my 35 Lux ASPH II and Hyperprime. The only adapter I have found that has no play at all is the $250 Novoflex adapter which is super pricey but rock solid.

I have been told this new adapter from SLR Magic is almost ready to be released so when it is I will post about it and show you how it works, and how to get one. The fact that you will have the ability to focus super close is pretty cool. As for the Hyperprime, I continued to be impressed with it and I believe it is one of the coolest lenses you can get for your Leica M. It looks damn good on the Sony as well.

On the NEX-7 and super close focusing using the all new adapter from SLR Magic.

So I guess what I am saying here is that I am still digging the NEX-7. I am NOT happy about the video capabilities anymore though as my camera has been overheating after a few minutes of constant video shooting, at which time the camera just shuts down. Other than that I have had no operation issues whatsoever. Great design, great body, great versatility and the ability to shoot Leica glass with focus peaking is fantastic. I have been enjoying the EVF quite a bit as well as the tiltable LCD. While its image quality and rendering is quite a bit different from the Fuji X-Pro 1 it is a great solid camera that one could easily bond with. :)

You can buy the NEX-7 kit here at Amazon.

Apr 092012
 

The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout – Part 2 – Close-Up and Wide-Open

By Brad Husick

In part one of “The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout” we tested several lenses in a typical landscape scene, setting the lenses at their infinity focus points and shooting at f/4. This represented a fairly typical scenario of grabbing a lens off the shelf, setting it for mid-aperture and taking a photo of a picturesque subject.

Quite often 35mm rangefinder lenses are used in other photographic opportunities. The 35mm focal length is excellent for tighter, indoor settings where the subject is closer. These situations also often call for wider apertures, demanding higher performance from the lenses. In part two of this test we have tested the lenses in both ways – A) a closer indoor setting and then, B) wide-open to see how they render out of focus areas – their bokeh.

For both parts of the test the subject was illuminated by a single 5500K continuous fluorescent light source in a small softbox and outside light was reduced to a minimum. The Leica M9-P camera was set to ISO 640, white balance of 5600K and each lens was shot at f/2.8, with the exception of the Perar that was shot at its maximum of f/3.5. For some of the lenses f/2.8 was also the maximum aperture, while others had wider apertures available. Shutter speed was set to 1/180 second.

In the part B “bokeh” part of this test the same light source was used while each lens was opened to its maximum aperture. For example, the FLE was shot at f/1.4 while the Zeiss was shot at f/2. Shutter speed was adjusted to maintain the same overall exposure. ISO was maintained at 640.

As in part one of the shootout, the RAW images were brought into Adobe Lightroom 4 and default settings were used to output full resolution JPEG images. 100% crops were taken in Adobe Photoshop CS5. The “bokeh” shots were reduced to 800 pixels wide for web display.

In this test we included six lenses from part one:

MS Super Triplet Perar f3.5 Mark II (Perar)

Zeiss Biogon f2.0 T* ZM Silver (Zeiss)

Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Chrome (Cron)

Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

Leitz Summaron f2.8 LTM/M circa 1959 (Summaron)

 

Part A: The Closer Subject

Despite careful focusing, slight variations in focus occurred across the different lenses. This is an important factor – precise focusing, even when using a tripod as in these photos, can be tricky. I suggest using a viewfinder magnifier when possible, and focus-bracketing your shots with minuscule changes in focus so that you can evaluate the images at 100% zoom on your computer to choose the best one. Leica makes the M9 without the capability of tethered shooting (some workarounds are possible but are mostly unreliable), the camera doesn’t offer live-view, and the LCD is not high-resolution, so critical focus is challenging in many situations. Many Leica shooters are hoping that Leica includes a more state-of-the-art LCD and perhaps live-view in a future M digital camera.

In the center crops of these photos all of the test lenses performed well. In fact, the images were all surprisingly good, from the least expensive to the most expensive lens. Center crops showed very little chromatic aberration, as was expected. There’s little variation here that can inform a decision to choose one lens over another.

At the corners the lenses started telling a more interesting tale. Corner sharpness of the Leica FLE was astonishing. It’s as if Leica engineers were told to solve this problem above all others when developing this new lens. Not far behind in corner rendering were the Zeiss and, surprisingly, the old Summaron. In general the Summaron is a lower contrast lens than the modern formulas, but that doesn’t reduce its ability to render detail. Post processing can add more contrast if desired, but it can’t make a contrasty lens softer without a loss of detail. The Summicron showed some about of distortion in the corner that the others did not. The Skopar is a lens that can achieve sharp results at the center but in my experience this falls away at the corners. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the Skopar has a very short focus throw – the number of degrees of rotation between infinity and close focus endpoints. This means that the smallest movement of the focus ring results in large changes. I resorted to focus-bracketing when shooting the Skopar, taking multiple photos with tiny adjustments to the focus in successive shots, then comparing the results in Lightroom and choosing the sharpest image. This is not my idea of entertainment.  The Perar was particularly challenged in the corners, showing distortion and lower resolution.

Interestingly and rather unexpectedly, the FLE lens showed a fairly high level of chromatic aberration in the specular highlights in the corners. I am including a couple of crops here to show you the unprocessed corner and the same shot when processed by Lightroom 4 using the “Defringe – All Edges” control in the Manual setting of the Lens Corrections panel of the Develop module. Default lens corrections using Lightroom’s preset lens profiles of Leica lenses reduced but did not eliminate the color fringing while the defringe control did a more complete correction. Again, the purpose of this test is not to show what’s ultimately possible with each lens given any amount of post-processing, but this example is particularly illustrative of how good software can help even super-expensive setups.

Leica 35 Summilux FLE corner crop

and after the Lightroom 4 “Defringe – All edges”

 

To my eye the old Summaron did a splendid job in this part of the test. I have a feeling the demand for Summaron lenses will increase soon!

Perar Center 

and corner

Zeiss Center

and corner

FLE Center

and corner

Summicron Center

and corner

Skopar Center

and corner

Summaron Center

and corner

 

Part B: Bokeh

I have included full frames reduced to 800 pixels wide for the comparison of the bokeh rendered by each of the lenses. I find little value in comparing 100% crops of the out of focus areas. Obviously the lenses that have the largest maximum aperture create the shallowest depth of field. These lenses throw the background out of focus most, usually giving the smoothest rendering and a very three-dimensional look to the images. The Leica FLE is an excellent example of this shallow depth of field.

In the time when film was dominant, most photographers were limited to relatively slow color films (ASA 25 or 64) and fairly slow black and white films (ASA 100 or 400). Consequently, large aperture lenses were necessary for most indoor subjects. There simply wasn’t a choice – you needed a fast lens to get any photo at all.

With the advent of today’s digital cameras, it’s common to shoot at ISO 640, 1250 or even higher. Lens speed isn’t critical to getting the shot, it’s now more of a creative choice. Photographers who love the look of a shallow depth of field reach for the Summilux (f/1.4) or even Noctilux (f/1 or f/0.95) lenses to give their photos that “look”. Many choose these lenses in bright light situations, mounting neutral density (ND) filters on the lenses to reduce incoming light by as much as 9 f-stops or more depending on the available light. The Leica M8 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second while the M9 has a maximum of 1/4000 second, requiring one slower stop of light for wide open shooting.

Rather than trying to rank order the bokeh test shots, I present them here for you to study and draw your own conclusions about what type of rendering is most pleasing to your eye. Naturally, the Perar lens with its maximum aperture of f/3.5 will have the most in-focus background. There are small variations in the lighting between shots, but the overall look of the photos are easy to compare.

Perar

Zeiss

Leica Lux FLE

Summicron

Skopar

Summaron

 

Bokeh is an image attribute that can also be achieved in software. Alien Skin makes a Photoshop plug-in product called Bokeh 2.0 that does an admirable job of creating bokeh in images after they were shot, even going so far as to model the attributes of several well known fast lenses, although not Leica lenses. Photoshop 6 (now in beta test) has an advanced blur filter that also mimics the behavior of different lenses to give a natural-looking bokeh effect.

Some photographers eagerly use many tools to give them the look they desire in their photographs while others see the digital manipulation of images as something to be avoided, something that diminishes from the photographic experience. My personal view is that except for photojournalism where truth is paramount, creative control is in the hands of the photographer and creative tools have always been at our disposal, in the analog and digital worlds. The development of more advanced and even easier digital tools is not taking us further away from “real” photographs, it is making it possible for photographers to show us how they “saw” a scene from their own perspective.

Finally, it’s important to consider several factors when choosing from among these lenses. The size and weight of lenses can be important, so clearly the Perar, Summaron and Skopar are the leaders here. If size and weight are not an issue, the Biogon, FLE and Cron are the image quality leaders. One of these lenses is remarkably heavier than the others – the Summicron ASPH Chrome. It’s a solid-brass lens that feels extremely dense when you lift it to mount on the camera. All of these 35mm rangefinder lenses are small and light in comparison to 35mm SLR lenses from Canon or Nikon.

All of these lenses are easy to handle, except the Skopar due to its short focus throw. Even the tiny Perar with its pin-shaped focusing tab is easy to focus with just a little practice. As I pointed out in part one of this test, prices vary widely among this group of lenses, starting at just over $300 for the Color Skopar to more than $6000 for the Leica Summilux ASPH.

My advice is to first decide what type of look you like most in your photos, then see what choices there are at the prices you’re willing to spend for a 35mm lens in your kit. Some photographers like to have two lens “kits” to choose from – a “small-and-light kit” for maximum portability and a “fast kit” for low-light situations. At the 35mm focal length there are plenty of good choices for the rangefinder shooter.

Brad Husick

Apr 032012
 

Three Approaches to Shooting a Classic Screwmount Leica by Khoa Tran

See Khoa’s Flickr HERE

Before the introduction of their famous M-system of cameras and lenses in the 1950s, Leica (then Ernst Leitz DRP) produced a rangefinder system now known as the Leica threadmount, screwmount, or, simply “Barnack” cameras, after their inventor, Oskar Barnack, who developed the original Leica camera in the 20s and was one of the pioneers of 35mm photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson developed his famous street photography style with one, and the mount was adopted by Canon, the Soviet Union camera makers, and a whole host of others. Though the youngest Leica screwmount cameras are now at least sixty years old, they remain plentiful and are inexpensive, relative to the more sought-after M-series cameras and lenses.

[photo: Leica IIIc with Summitar 5cm f/2, shot with a Nikon Coolpix P6000]

These cameras are steeped in history and romance. My own Leica IIIc was made in 1946, in allied occupied West Germany. It’s quite an understatement that the world was different then: the world powers had been rearranged, and the post-war boom in the first world was just getting into swing. Many lives had been lost, and many more would begin anew. I also have a Leitz 3.5cm Elmar lens, which, according to a serial number lookup, dates to 1939. One can only imagine what this lens has lived through. At the same time, a Barnack camera is cold, and practical, though in no way inelegant and un-beautiful. The top plate of the camera is reminiscent of the funnels and superstructure of an early 20th century dreadnought battleship. Made of nickel, steel, brass, and chrome, the camera is solid.There is no plastic of which to speak. The best description I’ve read is from Stephen Gandy, who says that these cameras are like “mechanical jewels.”

Shooting a Barnack camera isn’t incredibly difficult, but does require quite a few more steps than with modern cameras. First, there’s no film advance lever, but you have to use a comparatively slow knob to advance the film and cock the shutter. Secondly, you can only change the shutter speed once the film has been wound and the shutter cocked. Thirdly, the rangefinder and viewfinder are in separate windows. You have to focus first, then flick your eye over to the viewfinder to compose. Lastly, there is no hinged back to the camera, and the film, which you need to trim to fit beforehand, must be loaded from the bottom. Imagine being a photojournalist being shot at, while you’re trying to load your camera…

So I’ve thought about things, and have come up with a few ways of look at shooting with a screwmount Barnack Leica.

i) As a Point-and-Shoot Camera

I think, really, if Cartier-Bresson were alive today, he’d shoot with a camera phone or some sort of digital compact. He valued composition and rhythm and timing over technical image quality. His oft-underexposed, and ever-so-slightly-out-of-focus shots never killed anyone, and have become regarded as classics. So one way to get around the camera’s slow operation is to preset your focus and pre-expose for a given shooting condition. The adage “f/8 and be there” and the “Sunny 16“ rules work very well if you are willing to give up a tiny bit of pixel-peeping bragging rights, and if you accept that you can, with most negative films today, get two stops over and one stop under of exposure latitude at the expense of some dynamic range.

[photo: la rue du st-sacrement, Leica IIIc and Summitar 5cm f/2 on Ilford FP4+, developed in Caffenol C-M]

 

[photo: pass me by, Leica IIIc and Summitar 5cm f/2 on Fuji Neopan 400, developed in Caffenol C-M + table salt]

 

[photo: jean-talon, Leica IIIc and Summitar 5cm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X, developed in Caffenol C-L semi-stand]

 

ii) As a way to develop one’s “photographic skills”

A Barnack camera has no light meter, like most M-cameras, but is also significantly slower to operate for the reasons mentioned earlier. However, one can also look at it as: “if I can keep up with a moving subject whilst focusing wide-open, or learn to shoot slide film (which has basically no exposure latitude) without a light meter, those might be some worthwhile skills to apply elsewhere to “modern” photographic equipment.” Sure, you can look at it as being able to do arithmetic without a calculator. It’s not essential, but damned useful.

[photo: pour, Summitar 5cm f/2 on Arista Premium (aka Kodak Tri-X), developed in Ilfosol-3]

 

[photo: au coin de mill et riverside, Summitar 5cm f/2 on Fuji Sensia 100]

 

[photo: the droughte of march hath perced to the roote, Elmar 9cm f/4, Fuji Sensia 200]

 

iii) As a portrait and people-shooting camera

With the usual considerations for parallax on a rangefinder camera, a Barnack Leica can be a wonderful portrait camera. The lenses from that era may not be as pin-sharp as modern equivalents, but their signature (in addition to whatever “flaws” may have been picked up over the years) and rendition can be very special, and unlike anything made today. You might also get a positive reaction from your subject, using such an unusual camera, and this can only be a good thing in establishing a rapport and connection with him or her.

[photo: “m”, Summitar 5cm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X, pushed to ISO2500 or so in Caffenol C-L semi-stand]

 

[photo: “tessa,” Jupiter-8 5cm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X, pushed to ISO800-1250 in Caffenol C-L semi-stand]

 

[photo: “safe,” Summitar 5cm f/2 on Kodak Portra 400]

 

Any classic camera, well cared-for is a thing of beauty. In the case of my IIIc (literally, in the EverReady case), I found part of the box of what must have been the last roll of film shot by the previous owner of the camera. It was a Kodak colour film of some sort, ISO64. Was it Kodachrome? Was he or she the original owner? Has this camera lived a relatively uneventful life, or what, really, has it seen in its 66 years of existence? Thinking about all of this makes me feel less like a camera-owner, but more of a steward. This camera might belong in a museum or a collection, but I can still use it to make images that are satisfying and beautiful (to me, at least!). As long as film is still available, it might even outlast me; could anyone make this claim of any modern digital camera?

 

Apr 022012
 

Trying out the Sony NEX-7 in Vegas with the Leica 35 Summilux ASPH and Zeiss 24 1.8

This past weekend I was super busy (sorry for the delays in answering e-mails) as I was in Vegas with 6 others for the quick Vegas weekend trip that I maxed out to 7 attendees so we could all stay in the same suite and hang out. It was a crazy day as I arrived at the Palms Hotel at 11:30AM, hoping to get checked in by 12-1. Upon arrival I was told the Suite I had reserved would not be ready until 4, even though I was told 12-1 would be fine.

So I waited..and waited..and waited. I even visited a Psychic in the hotel Lobby and had a reading done.

By 3pm some of the guys were showing up so we hung out for a while waiting for the room. By the time 5PM came around I had complained a few times and then was told my room would NOT be ready until 6pm. Seeing that this was not acceptable I complained and after I said “Do you know who I am”?? (Joke, lol) they decided to upgrade the room to the “Real World Suite” which is the room MTV used to film one of the seasons of the Real World, and at no extra cost.

How awesome is that? A world famous suite and here we were, a few photo geeks just hanging out to shoot and talk shop. The following photos of the room were shot by Todd Hatakeyama with his Leica M9.

After they put us in the “VIP” room to wait for the room to be made available we waited more and when we finally made it into the room at 5:20 we were all going around taking snaps of the kick ass room and checking out the bedrooms. This room was AWESOME and I am thinking of doing a yearly mega Vegas meetup for up to 30-40 poeple and renting this suite for 7 of us to sleep in for the weekend and all of us to enjoy during the day as HQ  – could be a blast.

By 6pm, all of the guys had arrived and we decided to head out and shoot in Vegas instead of blowing all of our cash at the blackjack tables. Photo below was also shot by Todd and his M9.

I had the Fuji X-Pro 1 with me along with the 18 and 35mm lenses as I wanted to shoot with that camera 98% of the time to test out usability, speed, accuracy, and image quality for my upcoming review. I also brought along the Sony NEX-7 with a Leica 35 Summilux ASPH and the Zeiss 24 1.8 “just because”. The other guys had Leica, Olympus, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic so we had a great variety there.

We started walking and shot from 6pm to around 10:30 PM and then headed back to the hotel for some drinks. We had a good time but it went by crazy FAST. I will be including some shots from Vegas in my X-Pro 1 review but I just wanted to show a few snaps I took with the NEX-7 a nd Leica 35 Summilux ASPH FLE from our room. After comparing side by side with Todd Hatakeyama (who took the 1st photo at the top of this page of me shooting with the NEX) we both decided we preferred the richer rendering of the Sony with the Leica over the Fuji with the Fuji 35 1.4. Then again, the Sony combo would cost you about $7k where the Fuji would come in at around $2200.

My Fuji review is coming soon, so stay tuned. For those wondering if I even like it I can say that the IQ is phenomenal but usability is very X100 like. For image quality  – to me, I still feel the best of the best comes from the Leica M9 with Leica glass and the 35 Summilux FLE is IMO, one of the best, of not THE best Leica lens you can buy. Paired up to the NEX with the focus peaking, it is quick and easy to focus and the results are rich and show you the Leica character.

My opinion on the whole NEX system? I find the NEX-7 is a great camera with some limitations. When shooting the 7 it demands the best glass you can give it. With lesser lenses it suffers a bit but with the Zeiss and Leica glass it excels. The body is simple and easy to shoot with, it is fairly quick and very versatile. I did get a few mis-focused shots where the camera told me it locked focus but clearly did not. This was with the Zeiss 24 1.8 and I also had that issue at times when I did my review of this camera months ago.

The NEX-7 is not the best at high ISO in the Sony lineup as the lesser NEX-5n beats it in this department and the video capabilities of the 7, while gorgeous, have been giving me some overheating issues. Other than that I have been enjoying my time with my NEX-7. YES, YES…The Fuji stuff is coming!

The images below were shot with my NEX-7 and Leica 35 Summilux ASPH FLE

I also shot a few with the Zeiss 1.8…

and another one from Todd of me…good timing todd, lol (the truck was driving by behind me when he snapped)

I want to thank all of those who attended! It was quick and fun, and even though I was wiped out from my 6 hour wait in the hotel lobby and 4 hour drive to Vegas I had a great time. We all headed back home on April 1st and before leaving I found out that I would be touring the entire world with Seal as part of a Leica promo deal. Wow, I wasn’t even aware of this news! Lol.

Next up for workshops  – Hong Kong with Gary Tyson at the end of May and a 7 day East Coast and Canada photo Cruise (Yes, as in Cruise Ship)! Can’t wait!

As for the 35 Lux ASPH II…they are hard to find but the best bet would be Ken Hansen (e-mail at [email protected]), PopFlash or Dale Photo.

Apr 022012
 

If you’re “just” photographing your family, get the BEST photo equipment you can afford (that you are able to use, or can learn to use).

— Peter | Prosophos.

___________

I was prompted to write the above after reading yet another, “if you’re just photographing your family, get a cheap point-and-shoot” comment on one of the internet forums.  It always leaves me shaking my head when I come across that sort of statement, not because I have anything against inexpensive cameras (which I’ve used and continue to use, and which can be used to take wonderful photos), but because of the implication behind the words, that – for whatever reason – your family is not worthy of the best* equipment.

Nonsense.

Documenting your family’s timeline – the various trials and tribulations, the tears, the joy, the exciting, the mundane, the…  the anything – is one of the most important things you can do with a camera.  The snobbery around exclusively using “pro” equipment (whatever that is) to photograph athletes, celebrities, or otherwise “important” individuals is laughable.  As if most of us are able to remember more than a handful of “pro” magazine cover images we’ve ever seen…

Instead, it’s all those images reminding us of the births, marriages, and deaths of our loved ones, that burn themselves into our brains.

—Peter.

Mar 312012
 
Painting Zürich with vintage spring colors with 50 mm Summarit 1.5 on an M9-P
Hi Steve! As a long time visitor from your site I enjoy the practical information and the reviews from other users on your website. In the past I used to visit other sites , but looking back to these sites with all these graphs and technical information this was probably an overkill. At the end of a review you would be dounted with numbers but having little visible information on how serious the issue might be or not for practical use!
Currently I am the lucky owner of an M9-P, I was introduced to it by a working colleague, it is one nice piece of machinery and feeling shooting with it. I had to get used to it, using an EOS more or less only for sports shooting! I am slowly getting the hang of it. What lenses are concerned I own a 35 Summicron, the latest version and two vintage 50 mm lenses. A 50 mm Titanium edition summilux (which looks quite good on a total black M9-P!!) and a 50 mm Summarit 1.5 – which this practical review is about. The pictures in this review are not post processed in anyway – some are a little cropped – but all are directly converted from RAW to JPG using iPhoto – i resized them using LR. With the M9-P I shot DNG and Black and White JPG. The black and whites pictures therefore are straight out of camera. Unless otherwise noted the pictures were taken wide open (between 1.5 and 2.8) unless otherwise noted.
During the past months I have read a reasonable amount of reviews on vintage lenses and the results always amazed me. If you look around on the web on these lenses you read about people who love them and hate them and you read a lot of warnings as well. Until recently al these warning actually held me back acquiring one until just recently I saw this 50 mm Summarit 1.5 on display here in Zürich and after a short “inspection” I couldn’t resist buying it. The glass was clean, there was a little bit of oil on the blades – but I thought what the heck lets get this lens and try it!
Since there might be enough people out there that might have drawbacks as well on getting such a lens I thought of providing you my experiences until now and real world samples so that people with an M/Nex/M4T/Fuji might have some leverage in getting it. The lens can be easily found on eBay within the range of $600 to $1500 – depending on the quality.
The first tests I did was making sure if the focus was alright and it was snap on from the closest distance until 10 mm and infinity. Actually I thought I could focus quicker with this 50 mm summarit as with my 35 mm Summicron – but that might  just be a personal preference.
The colors you get from this lens are just as putting a vintage filter on your eyes – they are flatter – even though I think red and blue’s are sometimes a little more pronounced and of course there is this famous Leica Glow on it!
The flat colors can be easily tuned in LR, on the other hand preparing your pictures to look vintage is a completely other story and such a lens does the trick in every shot! Actually if you look at the black and whites straight from the camera – these are lovely!
The Bokeh of this lens is similar to the results you have obtained with your rigid summicron test – a nice swirly bookeh – just as with the rigid summicron. I think this might not be everybody’s cup of tea but it adds character to the pictures and as you can see from the pictures it is not always as pronounced.
I can support the results of older lenses that wide open these lenses are a little soft – but oh man – look at the results I got on this fountain wide open with this lens – simply amazing! If you close it down from up 2.8 upward this lens gets almost as sharp as current lenses!
Lets move on to the pictures – enjoy!
Mar 302012
 

PRESS RELEASE

LEICA CAMERA ANNOUNCES LEICA STORE WASHINGTON DC

Retail concept debuts in North America with inaugural location grand opening May 2nd – 3rd

Allendale, NJ (March 30, 2012) – Leica Camera Inc., the legendary German camera and sport optics brand, announces the debut of its new retail concept in North America with the opening of the Leica Store Washington DC. Located at 977 F Street, NW, in the heart of downtown Washington, DC’s Penn Quarter, the store will feature the entire Leica photography and sport optics product portfolio.  Serving as a gateway into the world of Leica Camera, the Leica Store Washington DC will celebrate an official grand opening on Wednesday, May 2nd and Thursday, May 3rd.

“Perfect for Leica enthusiasts, professional photographers and new customers alike, the Leica Store Washington DC creates a completely immersive experience into the world of photography,” said Roland Wolff, Director of Corporate Retail at Leica Camera Inc. “Leica Camera has always represented the best in German engineering and the special culture of the picture. We are now able to offer a complete showcase for our products and services as well as a creative setting for our customers, bringing this central mission to life in a new way.”

A unique lifestyle destination, the Leica Store Washington DC will provide customers the opportunity to discover the art of photography with a retail space, a photography gallery featuring exhibitions shot with the Leica portfolio and a studioset up to demonstrate the exceptional performance of the Leica S-System. Keeping in line with Leica Camera’s commitment to increasing the enjoyment of photography and deepening photographic knowledge, the Leica Store Washington DC will also be an ideal setting for the immensely popular Leica Akademie workshops. In addition, the store will be designated as an S2 Pro Dealership and provide specialized demonstrations, consultations and support for professional photographers utilizing this revolutionary digital camera system. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic team of retail and photographic professionals will deliver expert information and advice to create the finest customer experience.

To celebrate the grand opening of the Washington, DC location, Leica Camera will host programming throughout a two-day event May 2nd – 3rd which includes workshops highlighting Leica’s product portfolio, a cocktail hour for professional photographers and an official opening ceremony showcasing the new setting to invited guests. The gallery space will feature an exhibition by internationally acclaimed Photojournalist Peter Turnley. As part of a new Leica Lecture Series, Turnley will present “Peter Turnley: Moments of the Human Condition” on May 2nd. Attendees of this lecture will not only view Turnley’s iconic photographs but also hear the stories behind the images that have shaped views of world history from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe to the devastation at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 and most recently, the turning point in the Egyptian Revolution.

Leica Stores complement an extensive dealer network and serve to further grow the brand in North America. At present, Leica Camera has confirmed two additional store locations in the United States slated to open later this year, Leica Store New York SoHo and Leica Store Miami. Additionally, the company’s store-in-store concept will continue to expand with the Leica Boutique in Rancho Mirage, CA (located at Camera West) and Leica Boutique in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada (located at Broadway Camera).

The Leica Store Washington DC will be open seven days a week and provides customers with the opportunity to schedule private appointments.

For additional information, please visit www.leica-store-dc.com.

Mar 282012
 

The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout! UPDATED!

by Brad Husick March 27, 2012

Many of us have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and have amassed a generous collection of lenses for our rangefinder cameras. The problem with having a wide selection of lenses to choose from is that when we reach up to grab a lens for our next shoot it’s sometimes hard to decide what to take. At one point my collection was up to 22 lenses and at that point I had become a collector as much as a photographer. Well, over the past few years I have whittled that collection down to the lenses I like most just for their optical qualities. My collecting interest has been refocused on photographs – the ones I take.

Fortunately for this test I still own too many lenses and I have a close friend who owns many more, so I thought I’d begin a series of tests with 35mm rangefinder lenses. These are not laboratory controlled tests of carefully arranged objects but a typical outdoor scene from a local spot here on Lake Washington near Seattle – a subject more people are likely to shoot from day-to-day. The results are my subjective opinion of the optical quality of the photos, and I am including 100% crops for you to make your own conclusions. Here’s the full frame 35mm shot:

Test Setup:

The test was set up to control and keep constant as many of the variables as possible. Photos were taken on a Leica M9-P mounted on a tripod, set at ISO 160, shutter speed 1/750 sec., aperture f/4, lenses set to their infinity focus point. Not all the lenses had the same maximum aperture and the day was bright enough that trying to shoot wide-open would have required the use of ND filters. I did not want to introduce any glass in front of the lenses for this test. The shutter was tripped using the 2-second self timer to minimize any hand vibrations. RAW files were brought into Adobe Lightroom 4 and exported as JPEG files with no adjustments from default settings.

The weather here in Seattle was in the 50’s with complete overcast and light winds. We get this ideal overcast many days a year – great for photographs, not too great for sun tanning.

The Eight Contestants in the Shootout:

MS Super Triplet Perar f3.5 Mark II (Perar)

Leica Summarit-M f3.5, current version (Summarit)

Zeiss Biogon f2.0 T* ZM Silver (Zeiss)

Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Chrome (Chrome ASPH)

Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Black (Black ASPH)

Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

Leitz Summaron f2.8 LTM/M circa 1959 (Summaron)

Lens Results:

I examined 100% crops near the center of the frame and at the top left corner. I studied the files looking for overall sharpness and ability to resolve detail, micro-contrast, lack of chromatic aberration (fringing) and distortion.

Not surprisingly, the Leica Summilux ASPH FLE was the top performer at both the center and corner of the frame. Leica took an already excellent lens, the Summilux ASPH, and corrected the focus shift issue by incorporating a new floating element in the FLE. The price of the new lens climbed substantially, with some selling for nearly $8000 a few months after introduction when the initial supply ran dry. Prices have since settled around $6500.

Somewhat surprising is how well the Zeiss Biogon performed, especially at the center, scoring a second place for center performance. Sharpness and detail were excellent. Overall contrast was higher than the FLE perhaps due to different lens coatings. Ergonomics are superb with buttery smooth focus and f-stop. Some may not like the chrome ring around the front of the lens that functions as a bayonet for the optional hood, but I don’t think it detracts from the lens. The Zeiss is the performance-value winner here with new lenses available for around $1000.

I compared two seemingly identical Leica Summicron-ASPH lenses, one black and the other chrome. They were not optically identical. The chrome lens was marginally superior at both the center and corner. This could be due to some slight variation in infinity focus between the two lenses. The pair of Summicron-ASPH lenses scored well, coming in second and third at the corner and third and forth at the center. The Summicron has always been a staple of the Leica shooter and will probably remain there. Used prices range from $2500-$3000.

Leica’s modern Summarit-M is positioned as an entry level lens for the Leica shooter, and is a small and affordable package. Optically however, the Summarit came in fifth in the ranking for overall softness and a lack of micro contrast; a somewhat disappointing result for a modern lens design. The Summarit is list priced at $1895 with clean used lenses selling for $1400.

The Leitz Summaron from 1959 is a beautiful lens with sculpted sloping edges and an unusual focus tab that incorporates an infinity lock. Sharpness of the Summaron was soft, but lacked any chromatic aberration – a surprising result for such an old design and the state of lens coatings from that time period. The softness of the lens was pleasing, giving a somewhat nostalgic look to the photograph. Shooters looking for some of that classic old Leica glow won’t be disappointed with the Summaron. However, compared with modern optics the Summaron just can’t resolve the way the newer glass can perform. Clean used Summarons can be found for around $1000.

Last but not least in the shootout was a personal favorite – the unique MS Super Triplet Perar, often called simply the “Perar”. It’s been a favorite of mine because it is simply tiny. It’s smaller than any Leica collapsible lens in the collapsed state! The aperture is step-free and the focus is smooth with a focus “pin” to assist. Traveling with this lens is a joy since it barely sticks out from the front of the camera and it’s always in a ready-to- shoot position, unlike collapsible lenses. As good as the physical design and ergonomics are, the optical performance of the lens is not up to the standards set by the more complicated and expensive lenses in this test. Perar images are good at center but sharpness falls off at the edges. Perar lenses can be found on ebay and at the maker’s website www.japanexposures.com.

Vignetting is not a problem for any of these lenses and chromatic aberration is well handled by the entire group.

Here are my subjective rankings of the lenses:

Note: I’d like to thank my dear friend Ed (goes by the handle “fishandfowl” on many boards) for making available five of the lenses in this test. Ed introduced me to rangefinder photography and thus improved my life greatly.

Brad

UPDATE!!

ARTICLE UPDATE (3-29-12):
In my initial test the Skopar performed quite poorly when set to the infinity focus setting on the lens. I re-ran the test, this time backing the focus off from infinity by the smallest amount I could turn the ring in the case where the infinity stop was overshooting slightly. Center sharpness improved substantially while edge distortion remained problematic. This is probably due in part to the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) – to – Leica M bayonet adapter being used.

Here are the new Skopar crops:

Based on these new results I have revised my rankings:

Some visitors posted comments about the overall quality of the images in comparison to other camera systems. To assist in evaluating these images, I have included two more cameras – the Leica D-Lux 5, a highly respected small-imager camera set to 35mm zoom, f/4 and base ISO, and the Apple iPhone 4S, an 8 megapixel imager with an approximate angle of view of 30mm. I think most readers will agree that neither measures up to the images produced with the Leica M9-P. The iPhone was surprisingly good for a phone and has the unique quality of always being at hand when a photo is required.

iPhone 4s

D-Lux 5

Mar 262012
 
Taking the Leica M9 Off the Streets and into the Wild by Louis Stevenson
Since sharing my experience with the M9 on the Overland Track in Tasmania, I was eager to take it out once again on an expedition, not only to gain confidence using a crazy expensive camera outdoors, but also to feed my soul with what I call “phototherapy”. You know what I mean, just holding your fave cam to your eye, composing, focusing and… Release! The world is beautiful again.
Destination:  Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, Malaysia. This time I was pushing it. A friend called me insane. Another said, that was the last of it. Because I was trekking upriver where 70% of the track was wet and one slip would cause a heart attack not even a heart surgeon could survive.
Weapon of Choice: Leica M9 + 35mm Summicron Asph. Wait the Cron?? Could have just brought the CV 35mm 1.4 or even the 28mm Ultrons since it proved mighty well in Tasmania. And its 5 times less expensive. Screw it, might as well go all the way! And as usual, the Panasonic FT3 waterproof cam for all-purpose shots. Read on to find out if the M9 made it out…
The terrain is uneven and slippery, with loose rocks covered with algae strewn all over the stream. They are not dangerous, but considering that I was carrying precious cargo, I was pretty nervous. 
Some areas, the water level could reach up to waist level with slippery loose rocks underneath. The slightest dip would be devastating! 
Sometimes a picture may seem mundane at first. But before you move on to the next one, try converting it to B+W, instant revival! This turned out to be my fave. 
I opted for the 35mm over the wider 28mm because the sceneries were mostly flanked by forests. Not so much vast landscape to capture. 
 –
There’s some pretty cool climbing involved. Not difficult but can be dangerous due to slippery rocks. Always had a firm footing before whipping out the M9!
As for the Cron, I love the crisp and bright images that came out. I’m glad I made the choice to go ahead with the Cron. 
So did the M9 made it out unscathed? Or fell victim to every non-weather sealed camera’s worst arch nemesis: water. Safe to say that there were no fatalities, In fact, not a single scratch! Here are some precautions I took to ensure a dry and happy M9. Its all common sense really.
Wrist Strap. This turned out to be safer option than a neck strap since the M9 was kept in the cam bag when not in use. Carrying the M9 on your neck exposes it to water spray, bumps and tangles.
Cam Bag. Leave your Billinghams at home! I used the Lowe Pro Apex 120 Aw sling bag which was actually more than enough to fit both the M9 and FT3. I would recommend something smaller, but it did work well for me. Slung it high and close to my body for passing through waist level water.
Leather Case. The Ciesta case which comes with grip was essential. Without it, the M9 could easily slip off my hands.
Usage. 3 Golden Rules:
1. Keep it! I kept it even if it means taking 3 steps to another shooting position across water.
2. Strap on! Secured it to my wrist before lifting it out of the cam bag!
3. Stop and shoot!
So here it is, my experience of taking the M9 off the streets and into the wild. The only gripe I had was that it did not have a flash for taking shots at night when we camped over. Yes, sometimes I secretly wish there was an in-built flash on the M9 which most purists might deem an unholy thought. Nonetheless, the M9 is a good digital full frame option for such treks, and I dream that Leica would introduce weather sealing into the M10, better ISO, and in-built flash. =)
And as always, thanks to Steve, for this great site!
More pictures available:
My other Outdoor experience with the M9:
Mar 232012
 

Down Mexico way with a M9, 50 and 28 by Christian Herzog

A few days ago, prompted by all the talk about the Mayan calendar ending (and a sweet, good-looking woman ;) ) I filled my bag with a M9, Summilux 50 ASPH and the tiny Elmarit 28 ASPH and left my small and snowy Austrian hometown for a trip across the pond to warm and sunny Mexico. With me came only the Leica, the lenses, a few memory cards, 2 batteries and a Voigtländer 28mm viewfinder to help composing when wearing glasses.

I expected the brass and metal construction of the Leica to turn some heads at the air ports security checks and I was not let down. During my travel I was at a checkpoint 6 times, every time I saw the scanner operator making a face and talking to the other security people whizzing around. Three times I was asked for a little show and tell and once (ironically in Frankfurt – close to Solms where my M9 was assembled) they took the camera for a drugs and explosives test.

 

After arriving in Mexico and settling in, the trip led us to Guadalajara to see some Mariachi. I chose the 50mm and we went to explore the city centre and after walking around for a couple of minutes I was pleased. No. I was delighted! The low weight of the camera compared to my previous DSLR was such a relief to me. It was almost like the camera wasn’t there even though objectively, at over one kilogram, it’s pretty heavy! When you sling it across your chest though, it doesn’t really feel that way. The weight distribution due to the slim form factor sees to that. I think no words have to be lost on the 50mm Summilux. It’s nearly perfect in every way. The only critique I can think of is the weight (especially the “chrome” version) and the stiff focusing, a concession to the amount of glass that needs to be moved.

 

Soon night started to fall and the Summilux which shone during the day with its crisp, contrasty images and its smooth bokeh, was being pointed at the dimly lit food stands that framed the path to the famous musicians.

 

The M9 is often faulted with its not-so-great low light performance and from a technical standpoint that certainly is true. However, I feel that nowadays many pictures taken in the evening or at night often tend to lack something: darkness. The current low light specialists can turn night into day! You can’t help but marvel at the ability to shoot in what is basically pitch black! But… do I really want that? When it’s too dark to see, what do I want to photograph? Doesn’t the eerie, spooky feeling of darkness and night vanish when you suddenly have detail in every shadow? Would the shot above benefit from more details in the shadows? I don’t think it would – a better composition, yes, more light not so much… To me the high ISO performance of the M9 isn’t all that bad as it’s made out to be. The limitations are definitely there, yet when coupled with a fast lens and the excellent noise reduction in Lightroom I have only really run into serious problems in fringe cases (see further down).

But the Leica doesn’t suffer from ISO woes alone! At a place with several Mariachi bands my luck struck out. It was then and there that the focusing system of the M that was so precise and reliable only minutes ago failed me catastrophically…

 

 

After having had 2 Tequilas I was faced with a mysteriously progressive misalignment of the range finder! The images went from sharp to soft and from soft to studies of the lens’ bokeh… So unfortunately I have no pictures to show of the musicians… Ay caramba!! By the next day though my focusing problems were resolved, very strange… Probably the weather?

 

Several days later on a guided day trip to Chichén Itzá I relied exclusively on the Elmarit hoping that the wide-angle would make the ruins look even more imposing. What I didn’t know of was a surprise visit to a limestone cavern which was used by the Mayans as a sacrificial site. An interesting location in many ways, however it quickly highlighted the limits of my chosen equipment combination for the day. Since the cavern was only dimly lit by a hole in the roof and some rather small spotlights, I had to shoot fully open (a mere f2.8) and up the ISO to 2000 to reach a meagre shutter speed of 1/30. The images therefore are not really useable for bigger prints and due to the high ISO show quite a bit of noise (which responds well to Lightrooms noise removal though).

Above ground however the Elmarit and M9 redeemed themselves again. I even went to take a picture of some wildlife. Yes! Wildlife! With a wideangle… and a rangefinder! ;)

 

I’m very fond of the Elmarit, the size and feel of it wins me over every time (and say what you want: rectangular hoods are really cool). It’s absolutely tiny. Take off the hood and you could be forgiven when thinking it’s a toy. Its performance however – even fully open – is bereft of any toy like qualities! Beautifully sharp and wonderful contrast. Keep in mind though that when shooting at f2.8 even with lens detection on it tends to vignette quite a bit. Personally I like it but others might disagree.

Another – system inherent – issue are the 28mm frame lines in the M9. I rely on an external viewfinder for framing with the 28. As I said: I wear glasses but even with contacts I still don’t like the eyeball acrobatics required to compose the frame.

This solution works very well most of the time but it can be hard to get a really exact alignment of your subject like you can see quite clearly in this shot:

 

I was standing ever so slightly off the proper axis to get that shot. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that until I was back at the hotel.

 

All in all I massively enjoyed the shooting experience with the Leica, it works wonderfully well as a travel camera, just like you would expect. Would I have been able to get the same images with a different camera? Yes, that’s an undisputable fact. My friend used an E-PL1 with the 20mm Panasonic and she produced some equally great shots (Her shots from Chichén Itzá are better than mine I think).

 

However: would I have had the same fun with it? No way. It’s a completely different shooting experience and I much prefer the slower, more deliberate way of shooting that the Leica forces onto you. The M9 goes out of your way when taking pictures, it won’t interfere, but equally won’t help you much. It forces you to think about the image, the focus, the exposure, depth of field, the composition… If the image doesn’t turn out, I always feel like I messed up, not the camera. I didn’t focus right, I chose the wrong aperture, I misinterpreted the metering. No excuses. If it does turn out though, it’ll give you a strange sense of accomplishment. You really did make that image, the camera didn’t, you did. The Leica is a harsh mistress that will frustrate you, but when you put the effort in, it will reward you with a wonderful experience and delightful images.

 

So finally, what wisdom did I acquire that I can pass on to you? I lost 2 pictures (no problem, they were rubbish) due to the SD Card. The batteries held up quite nicely but you really should have a backup one ready. The world will not end on December the 21st so keep your jobs and…. oh, yes! Don’t try to focus drunk!

 

Christian Herzog

 

Contact:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/noeffred/

see the whole set on Flickr (including a Panorama 17700px wide Pano of Guadalajara):

All images were shot RAW and later processed in Lightroom 3

 

Mar 222012
 

What is to come on May 10th from Leica? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you…

So speculation is running wild about the May 10th announcement coming from Leica. I was invited to the event in Berlin and really hope I can make it (depends on flight and travel costs) and plan on going but so far if you search the internet you will see many rumors of what is to come. I have been keeping quiet because, well, I already have all of the new Leica products and am under a strict order NOT to talk about them.

Yep, I already have in my possession the new and much talked about M Monochrome, the new X2, the new S3 and an unfinished M10 and I am like a kid at christmas!

Well….no, that’s not true. I just told a big fat lie. :) I figured that by naming this post the way I did would bring in hits from the search engines :)

In reality I have nothing and really can’t say what is to come. Who knows? Instead I will talk about what the internet rumors are saying and then give my thoughts and guesses. But damn, I couldn’t find my crystal ball so this is all blind…

Rumor #1 – A Black and White Monochrome M is the big announcement. Hmmm.

Well someone obviously leaked this out and now it has taken over like wildfire on the internet, unless it was a big made up rumor but I doubt it. The invite Leica sent out sort of had B&W hints all over it. Some are saying THIS is the big announcement. If so, then I think it is pretty damn cool because if Leica went with a B&W sensor then they could also have it perform amazingly well at high ISO. It would be like a classic M loaded with ALL kinds of B&W film. The DR would be better, noise would be better, high ISO could go higher and damn, I am sure it would look sexy as sexy can look. I can just imagine those crazy good B&W RAW files. My concern that is if this is what is coming…how much will Leica charge? It seems like it would cost less for them to produce but at the same tie they could charge MORE due to them being Leica and the fact that there is NOTHING like this out there, at all. I would love to have an M body dedicated to amazing quality B&W with rich output and without having to worry about noise or dynamic range. Want grain? Dial it in with ISO. Rumors are saying it will not have a back LCD but I feel that it would because you would still need to set up the camera as it is indeed digital. Guess we will see if this is even a reality on May 10th. My guess? $7500. Hope it is less though so us mere mortals can afford one. If indeed this is real.

 

Rumor #2 – The M10 will be announced

I originally thought that May 10th meant M10. :) But now I am not so sure. I think Leica is still working on the “10” and will announce this one at Photokina later on. They still have some special edition M9P’s to sell. I do feel that when the M10 is announced that it will have many changes from the M9. But I really do not know, these are just my opinions. May 10th though WOULD be a perfect day to announce an M10. Maybe they will mention it, maybe they will show one. I really do not know. My guess though is that the M10 will be later.

 

Rumor #3 – The X2/Mirrorless IC camera

This is a big one. Some are saying the X2 will have interchangeable  lenses. Some are even saying it will be full frame! Me? I don’t think it will have either but then again, MAYBE Leica is feeling the heat from Sony, Olympus, Fuji…wait..NO, they can’t be..they are Leica! So with that said, I think the X2 will be announced but not sure I expect an IC camera out of it though that would have been a killer move. That would have meant a new line of lenses though and with Leica having such a hard time as it is with delivering their glass, not sos use they would take on an all new mount.

The X1 has supposedly been discontinued so the facts are there… it simply is time for an X2 because like I said, Fuji, Sony, Olympus…they have all made sales of the X1 slow down to a halt. Leica needs an X2 update, just hope it is a good one!

 

Rumor #4 – Again, a mirrorless solution and R solution

Many seem to think that Leica will be releasing some sort of mirrorless camera. I have no clue if this is the case but if they do, will it be a German-made masterpiece with all new lenses or will it be a Olympus OM-D in disguise that takes Micro 4/3 lenses? Knowing Leica…they wouldn’t want to make a 3rd premium German built camera system with all new lenses, as this would hurt it’s M sales and if the X2 is NOT an IC camera, then it would hurt its X2 sales. So where does that leave a mirrorless solution? I wouldn’t put it past them to redesign a Olympus or Panasonic body and go Micro 4/3. But maybe I am just crazy. This is why May 10th will be so exciting, because I love surprises!

But me? I feel that there is something to the B&W rumors, don’t feel an M10 is coming on May 10th and I also feel they NEED an X1 update, in an X2. Just my guesses! We shall see in May! BTW, if Leica is reading this then SEND ME whatever is new and I will review it THOROUGHLY and have it posted AFTER the announcement! Good plan huh? :)

Using the comments below, tell me what YOU hope to see on May 10th from Leica!

Mar 222012
 

Have $30k to spend? Then snag up this White Limited Edition M9-P and Silver 50 Noctilux ASPH!

Looks like Leica is up to their old tricks, this time with special edition M9-P’s. They usually do this near the end of a product run it seems (the white M8, safari M8.2 just before the M9) but this one is not for the weak wallets. For your $30,000 US dollars you get a WHITE M9-P with chrome top and a matching chrome Leica Noctilux ASPH (which I have seen and held in person and MAN OH MAN is this lens a beauty). The kit is finished off with special packaging and a white leather strap. This is only being made in a limited run of 50 for  the Japanese market but I am sure if someone had the desire for one, along with the cash you could snag one up.

Me? I’ll stick with my standard setup :)

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