User Report – Sony RX1R and Leica S2 in Glacier National Park, Montana
by Eeraj Qaisar
I have been following your web-site for quite some time now and have seen it s tremendous growth over the past several years. Having enjoyed many user contributed stories, with some very impressive photo shoots (Ashwin Rao’s “Chasing Light in the Plaouse” is one such story that comes to mind). Here is my contribution.
About me: I have been interested in photography and outdoors since a long time. My first camera was an Afga Click III. Currently I use various Leica cameras with some of the newer digital compacts like Sony RX1R and Sigma DP3 thrown in the mix. While I am not a pro-photographer, I am dedicated enough to devote substantial time to photography and get out of bed at unearthly hours to catch that elusive pre-dawn or dawn glow and stay up late at night to get that one moon-shot. My photostream on Flickr is here and I also published a book on blurb.com featuring some of my photos from this user report here.
This will be a part user report and part travelogue with some notes about my recent visit to the spectacular Many Glacier National Park in Montana.
As it happened, I ended up with 3 cameras on this trip – Sony RX1R (the new version without the AA filter), Leica S2 and Sigma DP3. I will cover my impressions with the first two in this report. Sigma DP3, a formidable but quirky machine in own right can perhaps be covered in another report. For the Leica S2, I took the 180MM and 35MM lens. I could have perhaps skipped the 35mm, but since I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to haul both these beast sized lenses across the country in my backpack.
So my backpack included: Sony RX1R, Sigma DP3, Leica S2, Leica 180MM Elmar and Leica 35MM Summarit, Really Right Stuff ballhead, memory cards, batteries, rainsuit, a light jacket, and some snack bars. Add a medium-sized carbon fiber tripod in my carry on to the mix and I won’t blame if someone says I need to see a therapist soon.
TIP: In the USA, TSA generally allows tripod in carry-on luggage. Make sure you don’t have spiked feet with it and remove the heavy ballhead and keep it separately. Regulations may vary at other places and even TSA is inconsistent at times. I however carried my tripod in my carry-on.
My thoughts on Sony RX1R
Steve has already reviewed the RX1 in detail earlier and also the RX1R recently. Let me say that it is the best full-frame 35 mm compact cameras in existence today. I say it on the basis of the totality of its package that includes image quality, size, portability, FF sensor, superb Zeiss lens and the controls it offers. There is nothing like it out in the market today. There are some nice APS-C compact cameras that come close, but not equal to it in 35MM format. At the risk of upsetting some Leica diehards, I would say that for 35MM focal length, RX1R will give more consistent results shot to shot, with no loss in image quality compared to either Leica M9 or even the new M (yes, I have access to Leica M9 and Summilux 35 FLE). (I agree – Steve)
Its one Achilles heel is no built-in EVF and that renders it virtually useless in bright sunlight. Non-articulating LCD is another. I was unfortunately not able to get the EVF on time for use with it. The other thing is that the battery life while not bad is not great either. Plan to take 3 batteries if this is going to be your only camera for a full-day’s worth of shooting. Otherwise two will suffice.
On all cameras, I use only singe center point AF, aperture priority and this is how I used the RX1R also.
It feels nice in hand and has a certain heft that without being heavy, manages to convey a feeling of solidity. A very fine balance indeed. In use, I found it fluid and fast. Most controls I needed were a click or two away, including ISO (left click on the wheel), exposure compensation (dedicated wheel on the top – brilliant), real aperture ring on the lens (lovely), drive mode (press the Fn key and select the drive mode).
I am not sure how Sony engineers managed to squeeze in a built-flash too. Perhaps they can make the LCD screen articulating and add an EVF too in a later iteration while keeping size largely same. One other thing Sony can improve upon is to tone the camera down a bit – I mean it looks a bit too flashy with bright white markings and the ring around the lens saying “35MM Full Frame CMOS Sensor” is downright silly. These flashy things reflect Sony’s consumer electronics background, but please can they just tone it down?
I used AF most of the time (and it never missed), with probably only 3 or so shots taken using MF as the targets were a bit tricky (small berries behind some leaves). When shutter speeds got low and tripod was not viable, I raised ISO to 400 without hesitation. In practice it can go much higher on the ISO without practical image degradation, but personally I prefer to then use a tripod and keep the ISO low especially for critical shots in places that I may not visit again that easily. Obviously it depends on the situation too – if it is a shot, that moment that you must capture without wait, then feel free to go up to ISO 3200 or perhaps more. RX1R will deliver. Another thing is that this camera has a much larger headroom than its image previews with blown highlights indicate (these are incorrect in most cameras anyway as they are based on JPG previews, even if you shoot RAW), so feel free to experiment by pushing the EV to +0.3 or +0.7 and then pull back in post for even better noise control. In other words, play with ETTR. You can also look at the histogram in live-view as that is closer to reality.
Tip on batteries: If you are like me, you will be out shooting by 5am and won’t be back by 8pm or even 9pm as the real fun for evening photography happens when it starts to get dark. Add to this the fact that you may have been hiking and will dead tired when you get to your room. You also need to get up early next day – 5am. Given all this you may not have time to wait for one battery to finish charging so you can put in the next one, unless you are awake all night. So think carefully how to manage all this.
Note: Steve reviewed the S2 earlier, be sure to read his review as it covers more ground than my user notes here.
If Sony RX1R is the svelte model, the Leica S2 with its lenses is to put it delicately, Rubensque. Well maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. It is the exact opposite of RX1R, not only in size but also in appearance – devoid of any bright white markings nor any announcement on the outside stating that it has a larger than FF sensor. Though the body alone is no larger than pro FF DSLRs, with the lenses, it is big and heavy. You will get noticed. Its high ISO sucks. Actually, it does not have high ISO by modern FF or APS-C standards. Its LCD screen is barely adequate at 480K. A D800E can not only compete, but exceed it in some cases, especially at high ISOs. So why did I take it? As it happened, I was offered a loaner for a month or so. At first I was hesitant to carry it due to size and weight. But a few hours with it and I made a decision. A big and bright viewfinder, superb ergonomics, lenses with gorgeous manual focus ring and precise autofocus all convinced me to haul it with me. I was not disappointed.
In hand, ergonomics are superb and all buttons are placed so that the thumb and the forefinger rest at the right places. I found the AF very accurate. Having used the D800E before and the need tweak AF to get the right focus, it was a pleasure to not do this hocus-pocus with the S2. Each Leica S2 lens comes with embedded firmware specific to that copy of the lens that ensures accurate AF. Except in very dim light when the AF did not work at all, I tried hard to see if I could do better than the AF with manual focus on my own. Even when using a 2X loupe over the viewfinder, I did not find one instance where manual focus was more precise that the AF.This is simply amazing. In the S2, you can set the camera to manual focus and yet, by pressing the function button at the back can have the lens AF. I found this very useful and used this setting all of the time as it allows you to quickly set the focus via AF and then tweak a bit if needed. The focus ring on the S2 lenses is a joy to use with a large grip and very precise movements. Some may find Leica S2’s single center point AF limiting, but that was more than adequate for my purposes. S2’s AF while accurate is not exactly fast if you compare it to the likes of Nikon D800E or Nikon D3X.
One thing to note is that the 1/F rule for handholding does not really ensure crisp shots with the S2 or any other larger than FF sensors for that matter. 1/2F is a minimum and 1/3F is needed if you want to increase your odds. Given this and the fact that I used the S2 180 mm lens most of the time I used the tripod with it for all of my shots. Yes, a pain. But that pain and ache is gone in a few days and the results will last a long time so it is worth it. Another thing: on the tripod, I either chose drive mode of 2 seconds self-timer that enables mirror-up automatically or 12 second-timer and enabled mirror-up. This is important to ensure that any vibration resulting from shutter press dies down before the shutter is tripped. A better way is to use a remote release which I did not have.
A tripod does limit mobility and at times creativity. At other times, it can slow you down and force you to be in a more methodical shooting mode as opposed to a machinegun shooting style, so that can be good. So plan ahead about your objectives for that day’s photographs and how you will accomplish those.
I ended up using the S2 180mm Elmar lens a lot on this trip. The reason is that vast landscapes like these require long lenses to really focus on the interesting parts. I would say it is much harder to pull off convincing landscapes in places like Grand Canyon or Glacier National Park with wider lenses. If you don’t have a tele-lens with you in such areas then it is simply not possible to get certain shots. You can’t zoom with you feet and walk on water or air to get that shot of the mountain-top with fog on it or pick a certain structure far in the canyon. This is not to say that a wide lens is not needed or cannot be used effectively in these situations – the point is that you need to plan for both situations.
Note that the crop factor on the S2 is 0.8x.
Battery life is superb. After a full day of shooting, the meter had barely budged.
One comment I often hear on cameras like Sony RX1R, Leica S2, Leica M9 “camera xxx is thousands of dollars cheaper than [RX1R/S2/M9] and can produce equally good photos”. The reality is that all modern cameras are good and you have really have to try hard to find a BAD camera today. It boils down to your personal preferences, ergonomics, camera size and your budget. Even the iPhone can take excellent photos. So find a camera that you like and can afford and enjoy.
About Many Glacier National Park, Montana
Stunning. Amazing. Breathtaking. It is a wonderland if you like the outdoors, the mountains, the spectacular scenery, several hiking trails at all levels of difficulty, lakes and much more. From the US East Coast, getting there is a bit of a hassle requiring two flights. But it is worth it. I met many persons not only from the USA but from all over the world there during my trip. I spent 6 days there and probably could have stayed 4 more without running out of things to do. For staying there are several options, both inside and outside the park.
Main Activities & Logistics
The park has two main entrances, West Glacier and East Glacier. I found East Glacier to be more scenic but the West side is no slouch either. I would recommend dividing your time by staying on both sides to be able to enjoy the scenes from both sides. Whether you are a hiker, biker, want to enjoy the scenery just from the car or all of these, there is plenty do here.
One of the main attractions here is the aptly named “Going to the Sun Road” that makes its way through lakes, and then reaches dizzying heights with spectacular views of valley below. It was built in 1932 and is a fine example of civil engineering and sheer willpower even today. It passes though small tunnels, waterfalls right by the road (!) and has several pull-outs along the way to stop and soak in the majestic sights. It runs West To East (or East-West) and if you have time, I highly recommend covering it from both sides, West to East and East to West. Several hiking trails exist to challenge you and range from short easy hikes to strenuous multi-day adventures. Outside the park, there are a few small businesses that offer customized hikes, kayaking and other activities if you wish.
Logan Pass, a point approximately mid-point along the Going To the Sun Road is the start of many popular trails including highline trail (full day hike) and hidden lake trail (4 to six hours hike). Plan to arrive at Logan Pass by 8:30am or so as the parking lot tends to get full. Free shuttles run throughout the park, so that is another option instead of trying to jostle for a parking spot.
Popular hikes on the East side of the glacier include those to Grinnell Lake (easy 2-3 hour hike + boat trip), and hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake(both full-day). In addition there are several others that will take another story to cover. For non-hikers, a car drive along the Going To the Sun Road, scenic drives outside the park, several boat tours and other less demanding physical activities exist.
Early September can be a good time to visit as the crowds will have departed by then and it will be cooler. July and August are peak months. If you want to see the wildflowers in the valleys, then probably mid-July is best. Note that at the highest points on the Going to the Sun Road, snow drifts can occur even in late June or early July.
As for me, I hiked, I walked, I drove on the Going to the Sun Road 4 times, took many scenic byways and marveled at the stunning and at times powerful and poignant scenes I came across. I stayed two days on the West Side, 3 days on the East Side. Apart from enjoying many a misty morning and sunsets along several lakes, I hiked the highline trail which was physically demanding but I was rewarded with scenic eye candy all the way. Yes, I carried the S2 + 35MM + tripod + RX1 + 2 liters of water, bear spray, rain jacket and food on this trail if you are wondering. I took a few other short hikes including the easy hike to Lake Grinnell in East Glacier.
Overall, I found the combination of Sony RX1R and Leica S2 with 180mm APO Elmar-S complementing each other very well. I used the RX1R a lot while hiking and for quick shots while driving or when there was simply not much time to set up the Leica S2. S2 was brought into the mix during early morning and late night shots of distant horizons as well as during the day when I wanted to focus more on some of the more interesting parts of the landscape.
Wildlife encounters are not uncommon, but the time I went was unseasonably hot, so most were probably hiding from the sun. I did however, came across a bear swimming in Swiftcurrent lake that is right behind the Many Glacier hotel and what an impressive beast it was – silent, strong swimmer, came from one end to another in a short time and then scampered via the parking lot to the forest. I managed a bit blurry grab shot of it swimming. In addition, I was greeted by a small mountain goat at Logan Pass. Generally there are quite a few of them in the open, but again, they were taking shelter in trees due to the sun.
You cannot carry bear spray [a form very powerful pepper spray) on airplanes. So donate yours (hopefully unused!) to the park ranger office when you leave. These park rangers are awesome and will not hesitate to risk their lives to rescue you.
This is backcountry and even though the trails are well maintained for the most part, be very careful while hiking or navigating the rugged terrain. Do not hike alone. This is bear country and that is not the only danger. People have fallen to death and drowned here. Cell phones do not work in most of the area and certainly do not work on most trails. To put it bluntly, you can get killed or vanish and never be found if you are not careful. You may be working out in the gym every day, but that does not come close to the effort needed for some of the longer hikes. I saw a woman being carried by two park rangers on a narrow trail. She was hiking alone and slipped, fell and hurt her leg badly. She was lucky that another hiker was in the area and he went down to get help for her. I recommend the excellent and free ranger led hikes for those not experienced with backcountry hiking. Check the NPS web site for activities. You can enjoy the place without hiking too if you wish.
At places like these and especially if you are coming from afar, I always recommend staying as close to the scene of action as possible even if it means paying more. See the few images I took at dawn. These were right outside the lodges I stayed in. It would have been very hard to reach most of these locations on time to catch the light if I stayed outside. Having said that, the lodges inside the park are very old and Spartan and not exactly cheap. Some of them like the Many Glacier Hotel are about 100 years old. So you are paying for location and not creature comfort. I would however, say that irrespective of where you are staying in this area, do visit Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier hotel and see the lobby inside. It will be hard not be impressed by the magnificent wooden pillars and interior made of wood.
Lodging in the park can be hard to get, so plan well ahead you intended dates of visit. Campgrounds also tend to get filled, so if you plan on camping do not expect to drop in and find spot.
Note that a lot of shots were taken is hazy conditions due to grass fires in Idaho and the greater than average temperatures that resulted in a persistent haze for most of the period. Enjoy and I will be happy to questions in the comments area.
170 Megapixels with a Sony NEX camera and Vizalex RhinoCam
by Dierk Topp – His flickr is HERE
today I have a very special topic again, the “Vizelex RhinoCam for Sony NEX E-Mount Cameras“.
The Rhinocam is more or less an adapter for medium format lenses on NEX cameras – but much more than just an adapter! When I read about it, I ordered the next day and got it about 4 weeks ago – and I am very exited.
But let my start from my beginning more or less.
My very beginning was in 1956, when I did my first photographs with the Agfa Box of my mother and I got exited the first time. To make this long story short, my analog time ended with 6×6, 4×5 and the panorama cameras Horizon 202 and the last one was the ultimate Seitz Roundshot, shooting up to 360° (and even more).
Then I switched to digital. After some Nikon Coolpix I got the Nikon D70 with 6 Mpix. I love big prints but the resolution was very low for big prints. So I got a Panosaurus panorama head, adjusted it for the nodal points of my lenses and started shooting and stitching panoramas (with PTGui and TPAssembler) and printed and sold 150x50cm panorama prints. That was great!
When Gigapan offered a beta program for their Epic pano head, I participated and used the tiny Leica D-Lux3 with 10 Mpix. and stitched up to 200 images giving up to 800 Mpix images:) You may see them at gigapan.com (search for -dierk-)
During the last years I was shooting many stitched landscapes with Leica M9 and M Monochrom and the NEX7 and now the NEX6. Prints are now up to 1x2m on my wall:) Allmost my landscape and nature images are stitched images. Going out with the Leica and one or two lenses (most of the time 21mm and 35mm) I can get any angle of view by just shooting one or even two rows hand-held.
As sad, I love big prints. I stitched also from shifted images of the Nikkor 24mm PC-E and lately with the Canon 17mm TS-E for higher resolution and wider angle of view, especially with the 17mm TS-E. But that is a new story.
When I saw the Rinocam, I ordered it the next day and bought two Hasselblad lenses, the Zeiss Distagon 40mm and the Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm. I want to do landscapes and architecture and stills with the macro lens. For the resolution of up to 140 Mpix the best lenses are just good enough and these Hasselblad Zeiss lenses are very big glass value for the money! For the price of the Sony Zeiss 24/1.8 you get the excellent 40mm Distagon, like about 21mm on 24×36 FF. Finally I bought the superb Zeiss Sonnar 150mm/4 for less than 400€, a collector’s item like new!
How does the Rhinocam principle work?
On the front part you find the exchangeable adapter for the lens with the tripod foot, I have the Hasselblad V adapter. Adapters for Mamya 645 and Pentax 645 are also available.
On the back of the Rhinocam is the mount for the NEX E mount cameras. This part can be rotated by 90°. For “Panorama” taking 2 rows of 3 images with the NEX in landscape orientation, and for so called 645, taking 2 rows of 4 images with NEX in portrait orientation.
The camera is now positioned within the images circle of the lens and where the film plane used to be in 6×6 or 645 cameras. For the pictures you move the back with the camera to any position. For guidance there are marks for the horizontal and vertical movements. But as said any position is possible. Sometimes I use additional positions, when for example the unstructured background of stills or the sky will make problems for the stitching. Additional pictures can connect those areas for the stitcher.
You will find more explanations an a movie on the page of Fotodiox Inc. or you can see it below:
Some thoughts and comparison of the Rhinocam/NEX versus digital medium format DMF.
Besides the price the obvious difference is, with stitching several images together, you can only shoot more or less static objects. Witch is obvious and normal for anybody, who used stitching before.
I would like to look at the resolution (there are many more aspects – besides the price :) ). The Rhinocam technique uses 6 to 8 (or more with more overlap) stitched images of 24 MPix/image of the NEX7 or 16 MPix/image of some other NEX models.
- The effective sensor size results in 4.5×6 mode of the Rhinocam is about 58×48 mm compared with 48×36 mm of the Leaf Aptus 75S for example (there are bigger and much more expensive ones)
- the resulting resolution is about 11700 x 9300 = 108 MPixel with the Rhinocam and the NEX6 versus 6726 x 5040 = 34 MPixel of the Leaf 75S – the NEX7 even higher (140+).
- ich made a test with NEX7 and shooting 10 instead 8 images (in 4.5×6 mode) and got 17.000×11.300 pixel = 192 MPixel.
- If you downsample the NEX6/7 files to the resolution of the 75S, you must get some very good IQ (if you start with a good lens like Zeiss glass of course)
- another aspect is high ISO: the high ISO of the NEX cameras is good and getting better. What I read and see, the high ISO on DMF seems to be very limited
- and one more: my NEX7 is converted to infrared and I can use it on the Rhincam as well. That gives me IR images with this impressive resolution of 140+ MPixel
- by using the big image circle of the 6×6 lenses you don’t get any problems with parallax and foreground, as you may know from stitching images by moving the camera. You move within the same image and “simulate” a much bigger sensor
- shooting the Rinocam is fast! Setting up the picture is the same as with any other tripod shooting, and the shooting of the 8 images does not take more than about 15 seconds (or even less). Moving clouds and changing light is not a big problem. Shooting large format takes far more time and preparation
- stitching is like any other stitching. On my 3 years old AMD quad core WIN7 with 16 GB using the free MS ICE takes about 20 seconds.
There are really strange arguments in some post and “reports”:
- you need a good tripod – wrong! no problem, for stitching images you even can shoot hand-held. The stitcher takes care
- even Fotodiox says: shoot auto WB and auto exposure: shooting RAW auto WB is unimportant, auto exposure give you big problem with light and shadows. Experienced pano shooters use manual exposure (or even bracketing)
- focusing on the ground glass is a problem: wrong! The ground glass is just for first framing. I control the exact framing of the final image and the focusing with the perfect liveview of the NEX.
Last, but not least: who needs this high resolution?
- not for the Web, life could be easier!
- but for real big prints, where you can walk around with your eyes on the picture and enjoy the details
- you don’t have to be Andres Gurski! My prints are up to 1x2m and I love them :)
- with all these pixels you can use parts of the image like a shift lens
Please, all the PROs making money with DMF cameras out there, don’t kill me, I make fun – not money with my gear :))) I bought the Rinocam like anybody else and don’t get payed for my typing.
You find more information and a movie about the Rhinocam on the site of Fotodiox Inc.
You may find my images with the Rhonocam here or on my flickr album: www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157634801332367/
Too many words, here are some examples:
First, here is the “monster” on location
With my special NEX7-IR (converted to infrared) and the Zeiss Distagon 40mm/4. You see the ground glass for the first rough framing and the old-fashioned focusing aid in the center. It works for the first focus but for exact focus you use the NEX with the magnification. For the exact control of what you will get on the image you also use the liveview of the NEX and slide the camera to the outer positions.
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Distagon 40mm/4
stitch of 10 images (2×5) from Rhinocam = 14.000×9.300 pixel. A higher resolution of about 6000×4000 pixel is here
a crop (the real 1:1 is here)
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Distagon 40mm/4
stitch of 8 images from Rhinocam about 110 MPixel. A higher resolution of about 6000×4000 pixel is here
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Sonnar 150mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 110 MPixel. A higher resolution of about 6000×4000 pixel is here. If you look at the upper right part, you will find, that this part is blurred, as the image for this part was blurred. But I had only this shot.
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Sonnar 150mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 80MPixel. A higher resolution of about 6000×2700 pixel is here. The distance to the houses is about 200m
NEX7-IR infrared with Hasselblad Zeiss Sonnar 150mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 123 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 6000×2700 pixel is here
170 MPix -
NEX7-IR infrared with Hasselblad Zeiss Distagon 40mm/4
stitch of 10 images from Rhinocam about 170 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 5700×4000 pixel is here
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Makro-Planar120mm/4
stitch of 2×3 images from Rhinocam about 80 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 6000×2700 pixel is here (here on the big image on flickr you see, what is on the picture with your mouse over for “who is who”)
yes, I know, but I was too lazy to clean up the dust :)
a real picture of a 1:1 crop is here
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Makro-Planar120mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 100 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 5000×4000 pixel is here
on this one I “invented” another trick: focus stacking :)
the camera and Rhinocam was on a macro rail. After shooting the two vertical shots I moved the rail by three cm to the back
this makes the whole picture like focus stacking and sharp from front to back.
Normally you do focus stacking with the whole picture and let the software find the sharp ares for stacking. Her I just took only the sharp areas and let the stitcher put it all together.
Uff, hard to explain, I hope, somebody will understand, what I mean :)
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Makro-Planar120mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 95 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 4000×4000 pixel is here
a real picture of a 1:1 crop is here
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Makro-Planar120mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 95 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 4000×4000 pixel is here
NEX6 with Hasselblad Zeiss Makro-Planar120mm/4
stitch of 2×4 images from Rhinocam about 95 MPixel
a higher resolution of about 4000×4000 pixel is here
a real picture of a 1:1 crop is here (it is still 2600×2200 pixel)
I hope, you enjoyed it and have some neu ideas for your/our passion photography :)
USER REPORT: The Noctilux of Hasselblad, the Zeiss 110 f/2 Planar by Jerry Bei
While I am waiting for the arrival of my Leica M typ 240 that I would like to share my recent experiences with a legendary Hasselblad lens, the Carl Zeiss 110mm F2.0 Planar lens. I am a big fan of super shallow Depth-of-field and bokehlicious images, I believe with the correct use of aperture that one can enhance the subject of the photo. The Hasselblad medium format film camera has been my companion for quite some time now, it is the “perfect” MF camera for me and part of this is due to the superb qualities of those Carl Zeiss lenses. After owning and shooting with a variety of these lenses, there is always a lens in back of my mind.
The Hasselblad 110mm F2.0 Planar lens is indeed a “dream” lens, just like the noctilux of Leica which outputs incredible bokeh and unique characteristics. I have been searching lens on the internet for quite a while since there are not too many of them available at once. There are basically two versions of the lens: the F and FE models of the lens. The F lens can only be used on focal plane Hasselblad bodies with built-in camera shutter and the FE version has some electronic parts specially designed for FE series Hasselblad bodies such as the 203FE, which demands a higher price tag for its more modern electronics. My lovely 2000 FC/M camera that I did my street photography work with has broken down due to focal plane failure so I upgraded to a more recent model, the 201F with a cloth focal plane shutter rather than fragile titanium ones in the 2000FC/M. It is the perfect match with the Hasselblad 110mm F2 lens and this combination works like a charm.
The first thing you notice when you are holding the lens is quite heavy, coming at 750 grams, which is significantly heavier than my Hasselblad 100mm F3.5 C lens. The F version of this lens were produced between 1991-1998 and the construction consists of 7 elements/5 groups with the aperture ranges from an insane F2 to F16 in 1/2 stop increments. Keep in mind that F2 in the Medium Format world is approximately similar to F1 in the 35mm format, which produces incredibly shallow paper-thin DOF. In practical use, the lens at the start was very challenging to use, especially for living subjects on the streets that I like to photograph but once you get used to it then everything becomes easier. Just as a side note, I would recommend for Hasselblad users to change their focusing screen to either Matte or Matte D with increased brightness/clarity when working with this lens, which helps significantly in practical use. The filter size for this particular lens is in bayonet mount (Bay 70) and I would recommend the 77mm UV size adapter since this is a much affordable option.
The performance of the Hasselblad 110mm F2.0 Planar lens is truly remarkable, it deserves to wear the crown of super-fast lenses in the Medium Format world. The rendering is typical Zeiss with tendency to the warm side with vivid colours and the out-of-focus areas are pleasing to the eye with smooth bokeh. The images coming out of this lens are very sharp, probably not as sharp as the Hasselblad 100mm F3.5 lens since that one is the sharpest but the 110mm lens possesses very unique and special characteristics. If you like super-fast lenses and looking for a unique lens in the medium format world then the Hasselblad 110mm lens cannot be missed.
Shooting Medium Format alongside Leica M for Travel and Documentary Photography
by Pascal Vossen
Hi Steve, thank you for your contribution to the photographic community and giving me the chance to ventilate my thoughts to other photographers!
Shooting medium format alongside 35mm format is what I did during my latest trip to Sri Lanka and it turned out really well for me. I enjoyed it a lot and it made sense to me before I left, during shooting and afterwards when I looked at the results. The only ‘regret’ I got is that I didn’t go bigger in film size. Still though, the Leica M was and will remain to be my main travel and documentary camera. Let me first tell you why, before I move on to the medium format part;
Photographing with a Leica M is special. I don’t have to explain that to someone who handled a Leica M before, but to the photographer who didn’t. It’s a camera with a magic feel, handling and character to it. It gives you the best of 35mm in a small and intuitive package. You don’t feel like you are getting blocked off to what is happening around you as soon as you bring the camera to your eye. The design of the Leica M, being a rangefinder camera (i.e. with a separate optical viewfinder), will allow you to stay in contact with what is happening around you. You never loose focus on your subject. You see everything. Notice the light, meter, frame, focus, reframe, anticipate and shoot your image. Its a fast process that always allows you to stay in control. Rangefinder focusing is imo also the most accurate way of focusing, since you don’t have to rely on an auto focus system that might fail. You are in control, you decide where you put the focus. This means that you know exactly where your focus point is. Is this off, then you failed and not the camera.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Polonaruwa.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Red Mosque, Colombo.
Because of its construction, the fact that it is a rangefinder and thus not has a mirror like a DSLR, the Leica M is compact and elegant. It is without a doubt the most beautiful camera I will ever own. The first time I tried one myself I noticed by its reassuring weight that this thing is build to last. Furthermore, it does not scream for attention and gives most people the impression that you are carrying an ‘old-timer’ around. Yes, sometimes that’s true, but its a very competent ‘old-timer’. But then again even the 2013 Leica M (type 240) still looks like the camera Leica build 30,40 years ago. That is partly the beauty of it and gives its user the freedom to walk around without drawing too much attention to themselves. Even the small time street criminal would more often go for a larger looking plastic DSLR from e.g. one of the Japanese brands, because they think you are holding a worthless old camera that is not worth stealing. If I however go on a trip where I suspect to end up in more dodgy areas I would maybe tape off the ‘Leica’ sign and put some more tape on it to make it look broken, just to make sure. I don’t care what it looks like when I am photographing (I do when its on the shelf ;)). The purpose of having this camera is to be able to get the shots I wouldn’t get with another camera. It is inconspicuous and enables the photographer to get really close without getting noticed. Even the shutter won’t give away your presence when you are photographing with an analog M, since it a cloth shutter and therefore near silent. I have found the digital Leica M (e.g. M8.2 that I also shoot with) in ‘discreet’ mode also very silent until you take your finger of the shutter button and the shutter re-cocks. Prepare yourself to be notices or walk away first.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Temple of the Holy Tooth, Kandy.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Temple of the Holy Tooth, Kandy.
It is my opinion that photographing with a Leica M stimulates you as a photographer to take pictures in a more intelligent way. This has partly to do with the way you frame your images through the viewfinder. The frame lines give you the possibility to anticipate and be in control of the moment. Furthermore, the typical rangefinder character and lenses (prime lenses, mostly ‘wide angle’ to ‘normal’ focal length) force you to come close or be more creative. These are all reasons why the leica M is my main choice for shooting travel and documentary photography.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400 | Kandy.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Colombo.
So what made me bring along a medium format camera and why did I think it was a great combination? Let me say this first; Before I left for Sri Lanka I figured out that too many options is no good! I planned on limiting myself to two lenses for the Leica M, the Summicron 28mm F2 for wide angle landscape and environmental portraits and the Summilux 50mm F1.4 ASPH for shots/subjects that are better suited with a normal focal length or less depth of field. But then I threw in a Voigtländer 15mm heliar! I forgive myself since I got some good shots with it.
Then I had the choice of leaving it the way it was, which is a really light travel setup, or fill the bag (i.e. a Billingham Hadley Pro) up with a medium format camera + one standard lens for portrait and landscape. Reasoning behind this was my intention to take close-up portraits and high resolution landscapes. A larger negative means you can capture more information, details and you gain quite a bit of dynamic range (that’s even more true when its digital imo). This and the larger control in depth of field all add to the look of medium format. Nevertheless, the obvious image quality gain was not the surprising part. It was mostly the ease and the way of handling both cameras alongside which I found to be great.
A standard part of my day would be that I would ask my driver to drop me at the beginning of a town/village/city on the way and pick me up a few hours later on the other side. I walked, explored, observed and talked a lot to people. When I saw something interesting I would normally have my Leica M7 in my hand, approach my subject and photograph my subject from the intended angle in the most natural way. This often required me to get pretty close without disturbing them with what they were doing at that particular moment. Would they have noticed me and stopped what they were doing then the image would have been lost. This is definitely important in countries like Sri Lanka where people don’t mind to be photographed and gladly pose with a smile when they notice you. I don’t want that. At least not when its not intended as a portrait. You could consider this ‘phase one’ in the approach to my subject.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Dambulla.
‘Phase two’ would be approaching my subject for a short chat, making him or her feel comfortable and then ask them if I can take their portrait. If you photograph people in this way you set yourself apart from the average tourist that just snaps away at them and then walks away without saying anything. It really is more or a social and respectable thing to do and you will notice that you will gain a bit of their trust. Just enough to get close enough for an intimate and well-composed portrait.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Dambulla.
If you use digital you show the image to them, which could lead to fun reactions and even more photos, or you give them a chance to hand over an email address (if they have that) so you can send them the picture you took of them upon arrival at home. For exactly these kinds of shots I would grab for the medium format camera. I have introduced myself and my intentions to them and I can now take the tool that gives me the largest IQ. Handling the cameras together was great since I could easily tuck away my Leica M and take out the medium format SLR (I used a Contax 645 + 80mm F2). They fitted comfortably in my Billingham Hadley Pro bag, which is not a gigantic bag. It has great padding and with its flat shape it fits perfectly to your body. Another great advantage was that I didn’t have to fumble around and switch lenses on my Leica M the whole time. Switching lenses is a process I find annoying and a little tricky when traveling to dusty and humid places.
So, to sum up what I found great about this setup is;
-Inconspicuousness and intuitive handling with the Leica M
-Advantage of higher IQ from a larger negative (6×4,5> or sensor a-like) when needed.
-It is still a fairly compact setup (Leica M, two lenses and a MF camera) and packs well in a medium sized camera bag (most Medium Format cameras are actually not that big if you think about it).
-It avoids that you have to change lenses when you want to take a portrait or landscape (if you are comfortable using one lens on the medium format camera)
Some more medium format examples:
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | View from Lipton Seat, Haputale.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Kandy Bride, Kandy.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Provia 400X | Near Adams Peak.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Mihintale.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Acros 100 | Galle.
I have found there to only be one possible downside and one ‘regret’ to this all. Downside was that you would have to bring two different formats of film and load two different cameras (if not one or both are digital). The regret was in a way that I didn’t bring a MF camera with a larger negative. That would have been even better. Thus, in the future the MF camera alongside my Leica M will be either a Mamiya 7 or a MF DSLR (Phase One or Hasselblad) depending on the destination, subject/project or way of shooting.
All images are taken in Sri Lanka and the whole series can be viewed on my portfolio (www.pascalvossen.com):
Thank you for reading!
Using the Hasselblad 200 FC/M for Street Photography by Jerry Bei
“UFO” Kodak Ektar 100
I am a street photographer based in Sydney and I have a strong passion for photography in general. I used the Leica M9 and MP as my main tools for street photography in the past couple of years but recently decided to acquire something different. The temptation of medium format have always been there but I could not justify the cost of digital medium format cameras, at least for now.
Hasselblad has always been my dream medium format camera and luckily I got the chance to buy a Hasselblad 2000FC/M camera body with a A12 magazine at a very reasonable price that got me started into medium format. The world of medium format film photography was new to me so I had to learn everything from the start. I got a grasp of how the Hasselblad V system works very quickly since I had quite a bit of experience shooting film before.
“J&M” Fuji Pro400H
First thing I noticed when holding the camera is its superb build quality, I have held many Leica cameras before but this thing is different, it is built like a tank; heavy and solid. The Hasselblad 2000FC/M with a lens attached is significantly heavier than my Leica M9 with a 50 Summilux ASPH combo but still lighter than a full-frame DSLR setup.
“Black Riders” Ilford HP5+
The viewfinder on the Hasselblad V system is like nothing else I have experienced, big and beautiful. It is almost like a live-view 3 inch LCD screen in the modern days but even better since it is all optical rather than electronic. Viewing through the viewfinder is a pleasure and truly a treat to eyes. I have upgraded the original stock viewscreen to a even brighter Accute Matte D screen that helps to achieve faster and more accurate focusing for street photography.
The Hasselblad V system is equipped with a waist-level viewfinder and it is perfect for street photography. You can simply hold the camera at your waist aimed at your subject and most people don’t even know that you are taking a picture. It’s discreteness is perfect for the streets. The shutter click sound is no where as quite as a leaf shutter or Leica quietness but it is still a pleasure to hear the mirror flipping when the shutter fires.
“Circus Lady” Kodak Portra 400
“Gossip Girls” Kodak Portra 400
One of the big advantage of the Hasselblad system over other medium format film systems is its inter-changeable backs, which allows swap between different films on the go. There are several different types of film magazines available that can shoot different number of exposures. The most common is the A12 magazine, which allows photographers to shoot 12 frames of 6×6 exposures of 120mm film. You simply insert the dark slide to remove the film back and apply another back loaded with the film you desire. Therefore, you don’t have to wait until all exposures to be finished and able to shoot B&W or Colour during the same photo-shoot.
The lenses are made by Carl Zeiss thus equates to superior image quality. There are several different types of lenses for the V system, some with lens built-in Synchro Compur shutter like in C and CF lenses and some without that uses the in-camera shutter like the F lenses. My Hasselblad 2000FC/M can uses all three types of lenses since it has a built-in shutter and a top shutter speed of 1/2000 second. The optics are all made by Carl Zeiss and has the typical Zeiss quality with its renowned 3D rendition. Some people buy the system because of their famous lenses. There are also difference in lens coating and are noted by the T* sign. The lenses I used are the Carl Zeiss 150mm F4.0 CF T* lens which is equivalent to 94mm in 35mm format, which is the perfect lens for head and shoulder portraits. I am also using the “magical” lens in the Hasselblad world , the Carl Zeiss 100mm F3.5 C T* lens that is equivalent to 63mm and it is a mysterious lens that is rarely used but contains some magical qualities. One day I hope to get the “Noctilux” of Hasselblad, which is the Carl Zeiss 110mm F2 lens that will produce stunning bokeh!
I loved shooting with 35mm film on my MP, although the film qualities are presented i.e. the great exposure latitude, dynamic range and tonality but the sharpness is not up to the standard that I desired. Medium format film seems to be the “Perfect” solution for this, it has incredible sharpness, even at 100% crop looks tack-sharp amazing to me. Although with the significant gain of resolution over 35mm film but it still retains all the film qualities that makes it so attractive. There is also a great gain in shallower Depth-of-Field and the bokeh from the lenses are incredible. The frame is 6×6 which makes it a unique square shape that stands out from all other images. I have yet to print those images in large sizes but have heard that you can even blown them up to 2 by 2 meters prints, which is perfect for commercial usage.
It has been a real joy to use the hasselblad and I am still amazed at its quality. While my journey in the medium format world continues that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting try out medium format film photography : do not hesitate!
Please feel free to visit my Flickr or 500px to see more of my work:
500px: HYPERLINK “http://500px.com/jerrybay” http://500px.com/jerrybay
“Father & Son” Ilford Delta 400
“Hairy Chest” Ilford HP5+
“1958 Chevrolet Corvette” Ilford HP5+
“French Nun” Fuji Reala 100
“In the Wind” Fuji 400H
Quick Comparison - Leica Monochrom, Sigma DP2 Merrill and Hasselblad 39CF
by Michael Ma
Huge fan of your site. I am lucky to own two pieces of equipment that you have reviewed, so I thought I’d contribute. My Leica Monochrome just arrive today and I decided to give it a spin in terms of image quality. Both the Leica and the Merrill DP2 are reviewed in detailed on your website and they are renowned for their image quality. Since I’m lucky enough to have a loaner Hasselblad with the CF39 digital back on hand, I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty IQ comparison using the Hassey as bench mark.
Dim room light
1.7 meters to subject
All images had gone through only contrast adjustment, no sharpening
Hasselblad 39CF with 80mm CFE lens F2.8, F5.6 1/2, 1/4S
The Hasselblad yielded a pleasing overall image in terms of tone and rendering. With 39 mega pixels 49x36mm sensor, we don’t expect anything less. The 100% crop shows that even when wide open, the CFE lens is sharp and shows nice contrast. Note that the physical size of the Hasselblad image is almost twice as large than the Leica and Sigma.
Hassey crop (click image for full size cdrop)
Next up is the Leica Monochrome with Summilux 1.4 ASPH latest version F2.8, F5.6
WOW, the Leica is sharp! I don’t have a M9 to test the comparison between the mono sensor and the regular CCD sensor, but the 100% crop looks sharper than the Hasselblad shot and you can see the details in the canvas texture. The image was over blown in exposure but the details are still nicely preserved. Very impressive!
Leica Crop – (Click image for full size crop)
Finally comes the Sigma DP2 Merrill.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the pictures. It is clearly the most rich and detailed of all three. The photo was shot with the lens wide open at F2.8. Astounding details and color. Now look at that 100% crop. The texture of each brush stroke is so vivid. Beats the Hasselblad hands down.
Conclusion? Well this is a very clumsy test. But besides the poor testing conditions I think there’s a story to be told here. All three are great camera systems. The Hasselblad is older and the lens probably could have used with more stopping down. But this is also a 9000 dollar set up (used price). The Monochrome setup is 12K all in (when bought new). The Leica lens is incredibly sharp and the Monochrome retains so much details in the shadows. But the ultimate winner here is the Sigma DP2. At a tiny fraction of the price of either the Hassey or the Leica, it delivers the best results in color, details, and contrast.
12 Months, 12 Lenses and Cameras
by Bjarke Ahlstrand – His website is HERE
Hail and happy new year!
2012 was a very exciting (camera) year for me — I often considered the many new promising cameras, especially when browsing through Steve’s blog, but eventually found out that the smaller sensors and formats are not my thing, even though OM-D, Fuji X-pro etc. look amazing, especially ISO wise. Heck, even the new 5D Mark III which I purchased for “professional” purposes bored me… So in stead my focus, desire for — and collection of old “exotic” glass just grew and grew as did my fascination with the medium format, and lately large format (4×5″) film. I’ve always shot digital, so building my own darkroom and starting to develop my own film was quite a challenge, but fortunately I have quite a few skilled old school friends who helped me along the way.
And now, as 2013 is upon us, I’m trying to “scale down” my 2012 collection of images, which also happens to be quite a challenge, considering the many good times spend with a variety of excellent cameras (some bought, most borrowed from my best friend who works at a camera store). But even though I loved fooling around with the technical Linhofs and Sinar Norma 4×5″, The Zeiss Ikons, Voigtländer Bessa, The Rolleiflex and Yashica TLRs, it always seems like my (camera) heart belongs to my Leicas (M6 + M9-P) and Hasselblads (digital H3D-39 and analogue 500C, SWC and Xpan). And the lenses, those wonderful lenses…
Anyways, here are 12 of my 2012 shots. The first 6 months are in black and white and the last 6 are in color; some shot with wonderful analogue oldies and some with digital razor-sharp aspherical ones, dating from 1939 till today…
JANUARY 2012 · LEICA M9-P & 35 MM SUMMILUX F/1.4 (PRE-ASPH)
My colleague, Claus, from whose father I purchased an excellent 1960′s 50 mm Summicron.
FEBRUARY 2012 · HASSELBLAD SWC & ZEISS BIOGON 38 MM F/4.5 · P45+ DIGITAL BACK
- My youngest clone, Viggo, running uphill while I press the shutter on the wonderful SWC from 1974. The 38 mm Zeiss Biogon (=24 mm in full frame terms) is the sharpest, non-distorting and most excellent wide-angle lens I’ve ever owned and shot. There’s no framing or focus assist when I shoot with the SWC, but I now it so well, so I just point and shoot (and prey :-).
MARCH 2012 · LEICA M9-P & 50 MM JUPITER-3 F/1.5
- My lens soulmate, Klehmann, knowing my craving for fast lenses, strongly suggested that I tried one of the old russian Jupiters, so I purchased this one eBay. It’s broken, so it only works on 1 meters distance and then it’s 4 cm off, so it took some time to adjust to. But it’s wonderful with its drop-like bokeh, even when something wicked is climbing the trees in Copenhagen (=my oldest clone, Hjalte).
APRIL 2012 · LEICA M9-P & 90 MM ELMAR F/4
- I often wonder which images old lenses have captured through out their life time. This 1939 portrait lens is no exception. It survived the second World War, the following cold war and eventually ended up in my hands for a mere 100$. It’s rather battered and its resolution is not the highest of my Leica glass, but it does well when it sees a burlesque Australian freak performer. I wonder how many of those it has seen the last the last 73 years…
MAY 2012 · LEICA M9–P & 50 MM SUMMILUX ASPH F/1.4
- This lens never fails me. Since I departed with my 75 Summicron (I traded it for the 75 Summilux which I like better), it’s definitely the sharpest in my Leica arsenal, even wide open. I really like the 35 mm on the Leicas, but I often find myself automatically bringing this one and my 21 mm Summilux as both are excellent performers and a nice compact travelling kit. The guy on the image recently had a pacemaker inserted which I was quite fascinated with.
JUNE 2012 · LEICA M9–P & 100 MM CANON SCREW MOUNT F/2
- My favourite music festival is the annual Copenhell (Copenhagen Hell) as it’s crammed with hard-hitting metal and a cool audience. This year I spotted a Crow-like character and this was actually the first shot I took with my newly purchased 1960′s Canon screw mount lens. 100 mm is an odd size on the Leica, frame wise, but the old Canon lens actually handles very well and I love its f/2 abilities and only shoot it wide open.
JULY 2012 · HASSELBLAD H3D-39 & 100 MM HC F/2.2 · Pro-Foto Flash
- My wonderful offspring just before harvest, captured two minutes before the sky cracked, through 39 megapixels of digital Hasselblad magic and the Fuji built HC 35 mm f/3.5 which translates roughly to a 22 mm lens in full frame terms.
AUGUST 2012 · HASSELBLAD 500C & 60 MM ZEISS DISTAGON F/3.5 · KODAK EKTACHROME E200
- Astronaut Neil Armstrong died late August, and the boys and I decided to suit up and pay homage to the space traveling Hasselblad shooter. I found an old, long expired dias film, which I inherited from a retired pro, and we sailed to the Trekroner Island just outside of Copenhagen. Apparantly the 50+ year old film magazine has a marvelous light leak which I absolutely love it. And the colors… those expired dias film produce something truly unique. And with my Imacon Flextight scanner I end up with 50 megapixels resolution, which is not bad at all for a very old camera.
SEPTEMBER 2012 · LEICA M9-P & 50 MM NOCTILUX ASPH F/0.95
- A self-portrait of myself and my new better half, shot on my roof top during stormy rainbow filled September weather (just before our very first kiss as a matter of fact). That Noctilux is unbeatable, although mine is 2 cm off focus wide. The girl is pretty nice too, I think :-)
OCTOBER 2012 · HASSELBLAD XPAN & 45 MM FUJI F/4 · KODAK EKTACHROME E100
- Ever tried a double full frame rangefinder? Enter the XPan, an interchangeable lens 35mm rangefinder camera system with true panoramic capability. Made by Fuji in Japan, its like a Japanese Leica in Hasselblad styling — only its true panoramic double-width full frame (24 x 65 mm). Despite its small size, the 45 mm is actually a medium format lens, making it a 24 mm in 35 mm terms. And again — those old expired dias film — if you have some in the freezer, please send them to me in Copenhagen!!
NOVEMBER 2012 · HASSELBLAD H3D-39 & HC 100 MM F/2.2
- A razor-sharp Yoda-like-orc shot at f/2.2 medium format which equals something like f/1 in 35 terms (check the sharpness in his eyes, it’s unbelievable). The HC 100 mm is my favorite medium format portrait lens. It renders out of focus smoothly and is one of the sharpest lenses, even wide open, I’ve ever tried.
DECEMBER 2012 · LEICA M9-P & 21 MM SUMMILUX ASPH F/1.4
- I shoot a lot of concerts. So do a lot of other photographers, but the Canon & Nikon shooters always stare, when I pick up my manual focus only camera and try to nail the performing artist at f/1.4, hehe. This was also the case when Rob Zombie recently played in Denmark together with Marilyn Manson. I recently brought along the 5D Mark II and the new 24-70 zoom, but it just wasn’t me anymore, I guess I love the manual framing and focus hassles too much :-)
A Film Legacy by Jason Howe
I’d really like to share a recent discovery with you, I am posting the full version on my blog HERE but I know this will reach far more people if you show it so thanks so much for helping me achieve this.
I’ve featured my own work on your site several times before but on this occasion I’d like to present the work of a deceased doctor and amateur photographer from New Zealand called Roland G Phillips-Turner who in the 1950′s and 60′s travelled around remote regions of New Zealand’s North Island doing medical research and documenting his travels with his Leica M5 and Hasselblad 500c.
A Film Legacy
I clicked on the email attachment, whilst the image of assorted camera equipment wasn’t the best the list was clear enough….. Leica M5, 35mm Summicron f/2, 90mm Elmarit f/2.8 all caught my eye, words that meant nothing to me only a couple of years ago were now very much etched in to my photographic brain. Other lenses in both M & R mount were listed amongst a myriad of Leica equipment. The email arrived via the father of a friend, word of mouth regarding my fondness for all things Leica had ensured it found its way to me, good fortune indeed. I phoned the contact number and made arrangements to view the items at the earliest opportunity and in doing so acquired not only a wonderful collection of vintage Leica equipment but also the opportunity to show the world the photography of Roland G Phillips-Turner, his film legacy so to speak.
As I carefully packed away the equipment, the daughter and I began to chat about her late father and his photographic exploits, as I listened intently my connection to this newly inherited equipment grew stronger with each spoken word. All vintage equipment comes to you with a history, more often than not it’s imagined on the part of the new owner, to actually know the story behind it makes it very special indeed. With this history comes what I would almost describe as a sense of duty, one I would come take very seriously, lenses have since been serviced and as I write this the M5 is at DAG in the US receiving the attention it deserves. Indeed, upon its return from CLA the 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1 made its debut for me HERE.
I’d describe myself as a rational person, I don’t believe in such things as fate and destiny, but I have to admit it has crossed my mind when it comes to this equipment. From opposite sides of the world, separated by two generations and via a huge slice of good fortune this equipment has landed in my possession, the survival and continued use of this Leica equipment is now ensured.
In addition to the equipment I was also entrusted with his slides, these have only been seen by the family prior to this post.
Image 1 – Hasselblad 500c – KODAK EKTACHROME
I was so pleased to find this amongst the negatives, after some research I’ve been able to establish that it was taken at Marokopa Falls in the Waikato, New Zealand. It was also fascinating to discover that the photographer used the Hasselblad 500c for the medium format work. I had also purchased a 500c from the USA a month or so before coming across the slides, just another wonderful coincidence.
Image 2 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
Kuia with a moko – “Kuia” being an elderly woman, grandmother or female elder and the “Moko” is the Maori facial tattoo.
Image 3 – Leica M5 – KODAK KODACHROME
Image taken with the Leica M5 and most likely with the VISOFLEX that was also included within the set of equipment.
Image 4 – Hasselblad 500c – KODAK EKTACHROME
Deer Hunters in the Urawera’s, a rural scene that is no doubt still repeated in the present day.
Image 5 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
In this image Mount Ngauruhoe appears to be active. You may recognise this volcano as Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Image 6 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
Traveling amongst the indigenous people in these rural areas whilst doing his research must have been the most incredibly rewarding experience. Add to that the opportunity and ability to photograph them and it really must have been a joy on many levels.
In years to come will people have similar experiences to the one I have just shared with you? What is the likelihood of my photographs being rediscovered 40 or 50 years from now? You would have to say, highly unlikely! Film has made this discovery possible, it has preserved these images beautifully and ensured their survival to date.
Boxes of slides, stored in an attic, a garage, who knows where, you open it, hold it to the light and instantly you can see the magic, will people recover digital images from old hard drives in this way? I can’t see it myself……..only film can make this possible. I already had an affinity with film, this experience has strengthened that bond still further, I never say shoot film over digital, I always say shoot both. There is true value in both media.
The images posted here are indicative of the collection I have been entrusted with and I will continue to share them over the coming weeks and months, I hope you’ll join me and follow these posts with interest.
Chasing Light in The Palouse with the Pentax 645D
(& A Brief Review of the Pentax 645D system)
By Ashwin Rao – Visit his blog HERE
The Palouse… Eastern Washington’s pastoral land of rolling hills, has long been a source of photographic inspiration and pilgrimage. It’s a land replete with broad swaths of color, vistas with horizons that stretch into an endless distance, gently undulating fields of grain, crumbling barns, and giant machines processing the land’s primary industry of grain harvest. Type the word “Palouse” into your browser, and you yourself may be inspired to travel to this beautiful land, situated along the far sound and east of Washington’s boundaries, crossing into Idaho and Oregon. It’s but a five-hour car ride from Seattle, and yet, in a decade spent living in the Emerald City, I had never made the trip to the Palouse until recently. And now, the call of the glorious land reaches back to me.
The inspiration for my trip, of all things, was a change in gear. For many years, I have been a rangefinder shooter, but prior to this time, the DSLR and landscape photography had been my principal passions. As the rangefinder ethos grabbed a firm hold of my soul, my photography drifted towards a more photojournalistic approach, with attempts to capture tiny slices of life in meaningful ways. I had kept a Pentax K5 in my kit for over a year for the rare times where an SLR would see more practical use for a particular assignment of photographic task. And one day, while at my local camera store, Glazer’s Camera in Seattle, WA, I stumbled upon a “find” that jogged my sensibilities…a lightly used, nearly pristine Pentax 645D, priced to sell….and suddenly the gearhead’s dilemma and GAS confronted me. Until this time, I had considered medium format digital photography to be out of my reach financially, lest I up and sell my M9 kit, something I’d not be willing to do. So I was content to view others’ fabulous medium format images and hope that one day, such a camera would fall to my price point. Turns out that this was my lucky day. I quickly travelled home, gathered my K5 kit, and promptly traded it towards the 645D, Pentax’s clever entry into medium format.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the Pentax 645D, here’s a quick overview. It costs $10,000 new as of this writing, and can be had on the used market for around $7,000-$8000, possibly less. The sensor is a lovely 40 megapixel 44 x 33 mm CCD sensor produced by Kodak, which thankfully lacks any anti-aliasing filter., thus preserving the native detail of this conventional Bayer-arrayed sensor. Thus, the images that the camera is capable of producing can rival that of the Leica S2, which has a similar sensor (quality of lens notwithstanding). In fact, there are reports out there that the Leica S2 and Pentax 645D share a nearly identical sensor. Added charms of the 645D include weather sealing (with the appropriate lens) and compatibility with the full lineup of prior Pentax 645 lenses. When compared to the film Pentax 645, one must account for a 1.3x crop factor when using the same lenses, as the sensor in the 645D is 1.3x smaller in surface area than its film counterpart. In contrast, the sensor is 1.25x larger than a full frame 35 mm sensor, providing that much more real estate over which to spread its 40 megapixels. The 645D is capable of ISO’s ranging from 200 to 1600, and it does remarkably well in suppressing noise over this entire range of ISO, without introducing processing/smearing artifacts. The Pentax 645D was initially made available only to the Japanese market for nearly a year after its initial introduction, but it has been available in the U.S. since the early spring of 2011. Other features include a high-resolution 921K dot, 3 inch LCD and a menu layout that is the same as found in the Pentax K5. To boot, it takes the same batteries as the K5 and uses dual SD cards, accepting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards without issue. It’s not the fastest camera in the world, with regards to buffer or shot to shot performance, churning out 1.1 Frames per second. However, given its intuitive, SLR-like layout, ergonomic design, weather sealing, and “fast” (for medium format) performance, it’s gained a bit of a cult following in the medium format world for being a workhorse camera capable of excellent results. Additionally, Pentax 645 lenses have long been regarded as price-performance champs in the medium format world, coming in at prices far lower than comparable lenses in the Hasselblad, Leica and Mamiya lineups.
Some of you who inhabit popular gear forums have no doubt heard of the stir that the Nikon D800 and D800E have provided to landscape and commercial photographers, many whom use medium format for their work. For pro work, commercial fashion, print, and landscape work has long necessitated the use of medium format (and large format) sensors to optimize capture of detail, tonal rendition, dynamic range, and image size necessary for commercial and print work. With the Nikon D800 and its “sans AA filter” version, the D800E, the commercial and landscape world has been suddenly challenged by a new option, far cheaper (in terms of body cost), with a wider array of lenses capable of producing remarkable pixel-level detail required for this type of work, and some say, rivaling medium format. In fact, many individuals are jumping ship from medium format to join the Nikon fray, to provide them with the flexibility of that system, along with better high ISO capacity. Why then, did I disregard this exodus and jump onto a purportedly sinking medium format ship?
Well, actually, the answer boiled down to price and a desire to try something new. SLR’s have been a “been there-done that” thing for me for some time now, and while the D800E would offer the benefit of superior image quality and clarity coupled with 36 plus megapixels of imaging goodness, it still possesses a sensor with far less real estate (by a factor of 1.5) than the sensor provided in the Pentax 645D. Second: Lens prices. After contemplating the price of the 645D, I naturally began an assessment as to how much it would cost to assemble a kit worthy of this sensor. Would lenses be pricey and add dramatically to the cost of my kit? In fact, many excellent Pentax lenses can be found used for between $150 and $650 dollars. I was able to gather a lens kit that included a 35 mm f/3.5 (28 mm 35 mm equivocal focal length), 75 mm f/2.8, 45 mm -85 mm f/4.5 zoon, 120 mm f/4 Macro (one of the best lenses ever made for medium format by many accounts), 150 mm f/2.8, and 400 mm f/5.6 lenses, for less that $3,000 USD. If I had elected to purchase only manual focus glass, I could have saved at least half of that price and spent $1,500 to assemble a high quality kit for my camera. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually, how well priced heritage Pentax 645 glass is.
In order to purchase a Nikon D800E along with lenses of comparable focal length capable of resolving on its sensor (i.e. high end Nikon glass with nano crystal coatings, or Zeiss ZF glass), I would have had to spend more on lenses..well, truth be told far more…here’s a run down, just for fun (keeping in mind that medium format lenses are not nearly as fast/wide aperture as 35 mm equiv lenses, yet allow shallower DOF for any given focal length. Thus the comparison below is admittedly artificial, but would likely give you perspective on price differential for the “best” option for each system at each 35 mm focal length equivalent. This was the process that I went through, essentially trying to compare the best lens option at each focal length for each system, looking at typical lens prices on the open market
|35 mm equiv focal length||Pentax A or FA lens (MF/AF)||Pentax price||Nikon/Zeiss high end lens||Nikon price|
|28 mm||35 mm f/3.5 A||$ 600-$ 800||24 mm or 28 mm f/1.4||$2000-2500|
|35 mm||45-85 mm f/4.5 FA (considered the best option at this focal length, better than the 45 mm f/2.8 FA prime||$ 600||35 mm f/1.5||$1,650|
|50 mm||75 mm f/2.8 FA||$ 400||Nikon 50 mm f/1.4||$400-500|
|90 mm/macro||120 mm f/4 macro A||$ 300-400||Zeiss 100 mm f/2 Makro Planar||$1800|
|135 mm||150 mm f/2.8 FA||$ 500||Nikon 135 mm f/2 DC||$1,300|
|300 mm||400 mm f/5.6 FA||$1200||Nikon 300 mm f/4||$1200|
If you do the math, you can imagine that for an equivalent kit, the price of the Nikon body ($3,300 as of this writing) plus lenses is at least comparable to the price of a used 645D with the lenses assembled above. The issue for gearheads like me would be that the Nikon system offers many other tantalizing options, including lovely zooms, tilt-shift lenses, and other options, for which the cost would continue to mount. The Pentax 645D is a far more limited system, in terms of lens diversity, and most lenses are cheaper or of equivalent price to their FX Nikon lens counterparts…what is lost is Nikon’s high ISO capabilities, size benefit, and lens flexibility. What is gained is a larger sensor and the medium format look….I decided to jump onto the Pentax 645D kit, for better or for worse.
A Bit About the Palouse
So, with that quick review of my decision to invest in this system aside, it was off to the Palouse to see if the Pentax 645D was capable of delivering excellent results with the lenses that I had purchased for the system. For those of you who have never been or heard of this region, the Palouse encompasses parts of Souteastern Washington, northwestern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon. It is a major agricultural region producing wheat and various other crops. The region is also crossed by the Snake River and crosses over with Walla Walla, a region known for it’s lovely wines. It’s through that the regions dune-like geographic formations were formed during the ice ages, cast from the glacial outwash plains. For years, the Palouse has served as a scenic pilgrimage for landscape photographers for its dramatic and unique geography, and it has long been a beck and call for me, as I mentioned above. Thus, I assembled a crew of like-minded photographers, all whom had previously attended one of Steve’s workshops here in Seattle,.All are now friends within Seattle’s Leica users community. From Seattle, it is a 4.5 journey by car to the western edge of the region. Once there, we were met by a talented local photographer, Ryan McGinty, a friend of mine from Flickr (who also came to know of me through Steve’s site), who has lived in the region for many years and magnificently photographs this region through a well-trained and creative set of eyes. For any of you who haven’t had a chance, please check out Ryan’s images on flickr. You are in for a treat, and you will see the possibilities that this wonderful land has to offer through his images:
Our journey to the Palouse began along Washington State Route 26, which is the primary byway that brings people into the heart of the Palouse region from the West. From there, we stopped for breakfast in Colfax, and began a lovely loupe through the scenic byways of the Palouse. During our brief, 24 hour stay in the region, we visited many sites along state routes 27,272, 95, and 195. We passed through the towns of Palouse, Garfield, Colfax, Farmington, Pullman, La Cross, and others. We climbed Steptoe Butte to gather in views of the entire region. Along the way, there were old, abandoned barns, farmhouses left behind, windmills, grain silos, winding roads and paths, statuesque trees, horses and lifestock, and endless fields of grain. At the time of year (June), the color palette was principally made up fo blue, green, gold, with hints of brown, and occasional reds. The chance of the occasional thunder/lightning storm will bring darker swaths of blue, maroon, and magenta into the color mix of the Palouse palette, and evening light can add warm yellows, pinks, and pastels. Wildflowers would sprinkle in occasional batches of vivid color now and again, but by and large, this is a land to be taken in macroscopically at first glance (microscopic will come later)….
The wonderful thing about the region that we saw is that there is usually a remarkable vista over every hill, expanding out towards most horizons. In front of us were endless rolling hills, sunbreaks and cloud shadows spotting and colorizing the views in front of us to add drama. Further, unlike many regions here, the cloud patterns are truly dramatic, with cloud formations ranging from statuesque cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds to wispy cirrus & stratus clouds, providing ever-shifting perspectives of the scenes in front of us. In a very tangible way. We were busy chasing the right types of light as the day passed, sometimes as the contrast, clarity, color, and luminance changed from moment to moment. It was an exhilarating experience for me, a suddenly eager landscape photographer.
The 645D in the Palouse- A New User Experience
I was very excited to use the Pentax 645D in ths majestic landscape. Along with me came a range of lenses from a 35 mm f/3.5 A (28 mm equivalent in full frame) to a 400 mm f/5.6 (320 mm equiv in full frame). I was excited to use the wider lenses to get close and capture scope, while using my telephoto lenses to compress landscapes, while reaching out to grab far away details. Along the way, I did a bit of chimping on the 645D’s wonderful LCD screen, but my and large, I let fate do the talking hoping that the images that I acquired would be in focus, thus allowing all 40 million pixels to shine. Would these older, heritage lenses hold up? After all, Pentax has only unleashed 2 new lenses, a 55 mm FA and 25 mm FA lens, since the Pentax 645D was released. All other glass available to the camera has been present long since the advent of digital photography. IF there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that digital photography can bring out all of the flaws and softness inherent to imprecise or imperfect lens design or compatibility with the digital sensor. Did my kit of assembled heritage glass work out okay? The answer is…..
A RESOUNDING YES!
I’m psyched. I came home and began to edit my photos on my NEC 27 inch high gamut dual displays, and wham, there it was…detail….lots and lots of detail. The heritage glass did marvelously on the digital sensor, and I must say that I have been more than satisfied the Pentax 645D’s output.
Most images were shot at lower ISO’s, from 200-400, as I had the benefit of a nice tripod (Gitzo 3541L) and ballhead (Arcatech) to stabilize my kit. It should be noted that the 645D incorporates 2 tripod mounts, so that if you add 2 really right stuff brackets to the body, you can rapidly change the camera from portrait to landscape orientation.
The 645D is capable of resolving tiny details at near and far distances. Tiny blades of grass come to life just as much as enormous silos. The Kodak CCD’s sensor (No AA filter) produces remarkable detail, and to my eyes, there’s adequate dynamic range to rescue highlights and shadows in post-processing. White balance is a bit challenged on this camera, however, and thus it would make the most sense to shoot in RAW and post process afterwards.
Speaking of RAW files, they are huge, providing 7264 x 5540 pixels of real estate and file sizes of 80 mb or more. Thus, if you are shooting RAW, make sure to bring adequate memory. I used 16 GB SDHC cards for this trip, but on returning home, I promptly purchased two 32 GB SDHC cards (SanDisk Extreme 45 mb/s) to use and not worry about space.
For the most part, I tried to operate in the wheelhouse apertures of these lenses, stopped down to between f/5.6 and f/11, though I found that Pentax 645 lenses perform admirably even wide open.
Many of you may ask if I am happy with my decision to purchase into this system. Does the medium format experience bond well with a Leica M street photographer? Are the file qualities up to snuff, once one has tasted the M9’s sans-AA filter experience? All that I can say is that I am profoundly satisfied, enough to disregard the Nikon D800, as I am unsure what more image quality that camera can offer, especially given that my trip to the Palouse proved to me that 645 lenses are up to the task of critical digital workflow. Further, I hope that the images provided in this user-experience review communicate how I feel about the camera, and to some degree, what type of image quality the camera is capable of.
Concluding thoughts and comments
The Palouse is a beautiful region to visit. It should be on your bucket list, if you are a serious landscape photographer or lover of pastoral scenery. Shooting the region with a Pentax 645D in hand (and on tripod) was a pleasure, and I look forward to returning during another season, when the colors offer a different palate and perspective.Along the way, I found that I was very much impressed by the output of the 645D and its heritage lenses, and I look forward to planning future trips for which the 645D will be taken. I found that the medium format experience is one that can be embraced by someone used to hand holding a discrete kit, when the right opportunity presents itself.
Is the Pentax 645D right for you? Only you can make that decision. For those of you considering a Nikon D800/E for landscape or portrait needs, you may want to consider buying into the Pentax 645D system for a similar cost (depending on your lens selections), as you will be duly rewarded by outstanding image quality, pixel clarity and sharpness, and enormous sensor real-estate.
(From Steve: Anyone interested in a Palouse workshop? A couple of days shooting, learning and getting some amazing images in this beautiful and breathtaking location? If yes, let me know in the comments! If there is enough interest we can set something up!)
- Medium format – lots of sensor real estate for BIG prints and BIG crops
- 40 MP sensor without an anti-aliasing (blur) filter
- Useable ISO’s ranging from 200-1600
- Dual tripod mounts
- Excellent user interface & menu layout (best in class for medium format), making it an easy transition to those familiar with SLR’s and looking to make the jump
- Dual SD card slots
- Weather sealing (with an appropriate lens)
- Outstanding ergonomics (for a medium format camera), including a deeply recessed hand grip
- Cheap (relatively speaking) selection of Manual and Autofocus lenses, which perform admirably.
- Limited ISO range compared to 35 mm
- Bulky (for a M9 user)
- Slow image preview times and buffer
- Slow FPS (1.1 frames/se) make sports or rapid street work difficult
- Care required to optimize sharpness (every tremble and shake can be easily seen at the pixel level). A stable is a must for critical work
- Limited number of vendors for Pentax, compared to Canon, Nikon, NEX, or m4/3
- No AA filter can mean “moire” artifacts are possible (less likely in landscape photography)
Istanbul is an amazing city – and for street photography it ranks right up there if not slightly higher than my up-until-now favourites like Mumbai, Cochin, Jodhpur and of course NYC. Istanbul offers a fabulous mix of culture, amazing people and super food.
Bustling modern thoroughfares and timeless cobbled street neighborhoods are within a twenty-minute tram ride of each other – truly a photographer’s paradise.
I decided to shoot predominantly medium format b&w film on the streets during our 4 day visit. I have grown to love this format that forces me to slow down and think before shooting each frame. There are only 12 frames per roll and I try to make each one count.
And as it turns out, contrary to what you would expect of large equipment, I was somehow viewed with less suspicion. And ironically, with a waist level finder on my camera, I found it easier to become invisible when shooting in the streets. No one would notice when I looked down into my camera finder to frame my shot. I think most people thought I was just fiddling with this ancient looking contraption.
User Report: Concert Photography & Portraits with a vintage Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid Back by Chad Wadsworth
Hello Steve Huff Photo readers! Steve was kind enough to let me share with you some concert photography and artist portraits that I’ve taken over the last few years with Polaroid land cameras and an old Mamiya Universal Press with a Polaroid back. It seems like we are all constantly searching for the next new piece of digital gear, whether it be the M10, X-Pro 1, OMD or NEX-7. I’m guilty of buying a ticket to this carousel and have been through my share of m4/3 and APS-C compacts as they certainly do have their important place in our daily photography. That said, in retrospect, the work that is often most satisfying to me personally has been the “lo-fi” analog photos captured with vintage gear.
As a concert and editorial photographer, my weapon of choice is a DSLR. It offers the perfect combination of rugged build (I recently had to use the body of my 5D to brace myself against the stage as the crowd surged forward), speed of focus, access to excellent optics and a comfortable user interface. But as most my contemporaries use the same equipment, it can be challenging to craft a signature to your work outside of composition and post processing. Vintage gear or larger format cameras can bring new looks to your work and are a ton of fun to use.
I won’t take up much more of your reading time other than to tell you a little more about the gear and techniques used.
In this group of shots I am using my trusty Mamiya Universal Press (a medium format rangefinder) with a broken shutter trigger so I have to manually hit the shutter lever on the lens. This particular concert was well-lit but the film was slow – Fuji FP-100 and my shutter speed was around 1/30 at f/2.8 with a Sekor 100mm lens. I basically zone focused and tried to stay steady during an exciting set by one of my favorite bands – Spoon. I also had some fun with a double exposure shot from the stage – not sure if it works completely but I like it fine.
The same camera and Polaroid back combination was used here for an album artwork shoot. This one was shot at sunset on a farm in the Texas Hill Country.
The Mamiya / Sekor 100mm also makes for a great lo-fi portrait lens with nice swirly bokeh and strong vignetting. Here are some artist snapshots taken at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX. The artists are: Bounce/Hip-Hop musician Big Freedia, John Dwyer from the San Francisco band, Thee Oh Sees and the truly remarkable Merrill Garbus of the music project tUnE-yArDs
And finally, here are some photos from an ongoing portrait series using an old Polaroid 450 land camera with portrait lens attachment. Some of these were shot on the real deal – Polaroid 669, others with Fuji FP-100. The camera is positioned about 10 inches from the subject’s nose which can result in an intense emotive quality as they stare into the camera at close range. Artists are: the lovely Annie Clark, also known as St. Vincent, Matt Berninger of The National, Matt Shaw of the now defunct band, Hymns and the beautiful and talented Shara Worden, also known as My Brightest Diamond. Thanks for looking and thanks again to Steve!
A Short Walk in The Hindu Kush by Ibraar Hussain
(With a Fuji GA645)
Sacred Cedar and Sacred Mountain Chitral Gol National Park. With Snow covered Tirich Mir in the background. Fuji Velvia 50 @ f11.
Traipsing up the slopes is heavy work, the altitude means metabolism speeds up considerably and the weight just falls off, Traipsing up the slopes with a bag full of Camera gear is a wee bit harder and a royal pain the the backside too! The pounds were being shed so quick the difference was noticeable in the mirror on a daily basis. We managed to scramble up the final few dozen feet and turned back to look upon the view – and a photograph cannot do it a justice.
The Rumbour Valley was spread out below us, in front of us was Grom Village with Balanguru on the other side of the river, the river having been almost ruined by last years damaging and tragic floods which had brought down millions of tonnes of rubble, boulders and rock to clog up the once beautiful turquoise flow. The wood and stone dwellings terraced up the slops like brickwork. Looking beyond them we could see the peaks of a lofty white mountain, covered in snow. The whole place was like a scene out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I could imagine the Misty Mountains looking like this!
“That white mountain is in Afghanistan”, said Imran, my Guide, Friend and fellow photographer. Imran enjoys snapping away, lifting his Canon DSLR focusing and firing away as if he were sniping the valley with a rifle of sorts. As for myself, I came equipped with not one, not two but THREE Cameras!
I bore the burden up the slopes though, and was paying the price by being completely knackered, breathing heavily, and sweating like a convict on a Rape charge. “Oh, I thought you were going to say something like “That lies Weathertop! Or Mount Doom!”
“Eh? What do you mean?” says he, He obviously didn’t get it, swoosh straight over his head! We had been climbing for a couple of hours, taking it fairly easy, and I was able to stop whenever I liked to rest and to photograph, but I think THREE cameras was a mistake. As when faced with a scene, or an attractive subject, whatever it may be, I was constantly badgering around in my Bag, first trying one Camera then another, and finally deciding to shoot with all three. At times like this it’s better to travel light, with ONE camera – but oh heck, I’m glad I took three, I managed to shoot with all of them!
I pulled out the GA645 and took a few exposures, the beep and whirr of the drive breaking the silence. I held it lovingly in my hands and placed it against my eye as I surveyed the scene through the glorious Viewfinder.
T’was a good day excursion.
The Fujifilm professional GA645
I used the GA645′s fixed Fujinon 60mm Super EBC f4 lens (equiv to 35mm in 35mm Format). It is a lovely camera, lightweight, compact, easy to use – like a big cute and cuddly point-n-shoot! It’s rectangular, narrow pug faced, not particularly bulky, it’s extremely comfortable to hold, and with the attached grip is brilliant to shoot horizontal or vertical. The VF by default is in portrait format as the camera shoots 120 Film in 645 format. It’s a 4:3 ratio so is very very good, and to be honest a portrait format seems so much more comfortable and normal once you get used to it.
The Hindu Raj. Viewed from The Chitral Gol. Velvia 50.
The camera itself is made of quality plastic, it has a nice feel to it and it’s not as dense as it looks, so is a comfortable lightweight very high quality Travel Camera. 645 format is quite a bit bigger than 35mm, so if you’ve never tried it, I suggest you do, you’ll be extremely pleased with the results if tonality and resolution is what you’re after. Roll film is very easy to load, almost as easy as loading a 35mm Automatic camera!! Seriously!
The Viewfinder is simply The Best VF I have ever had the pleasure of looking through – BIG bright, wonderful, and it’s Polarized! Just looking through it is an experience and I would urge my DSLR brothers and sisters to try one out if they haven’t – it makes the VF of a Nikon D3 look tunnel like in comparison! I sh*t you not! I leave it on A, flick the toggle to change Aperture, which shows up in the VF, half press for Auto Focus, lock focus and shoot!
Locking Focus also locks exposure, as Alas, there’s no exposure lock switch, so one’d have to shoot in Manual to get an AEL lock feature independent of focus lock. But I, being pretty lazy, never bother! :)
It really is simple to use, and gives excellent results. The lens isn’t the fastest, so with slow film and lower light you’re asking for trouble, but in decent light it really shines! f4 will give you as much shallow depth as around f2.8 on a 35mm format type camera!! I just wish the camera were able to focus closer – it’d be even better if it were able to! But minimum focus distance is about 2.3 ft or 70 cm away in theory, but in practise it’s a fair bit farther – so not very helpful!
The Hindu Raj at Sunset. Viewed from The Chitral Gol. Velvia 50.
AF is relatively quick and accurate – most of my shots have been nailed, I ruined a few because of camera shake in lower light but never any focus problems. The only downside is the buzzing sound the lens makes as it focuses, and the motor wind noise. Let’s just say it’s not quite Stealthy!! Bottom line is, it’s like a large Konica Hexar in use, as it’s very similar – an Automatic, electronic AF fixed lens RF.
Anyway, I should’ve taken more photographs during my trip in the Hindu Kush, I had the time and opportunity, but spent the lions share of that time soaking things in with my eyes and ears and senses, chatting to people and experiencing stuff rather than having a camera glued to my face. However, I did manage some shots of people, scenic shots, and the like with all three cameras; The Contax G2 (which you’ve met before) The Olympus XZ-1 and The Fuji GA645.
In hindsight, I should’ve had a tripod, some graduated filters, a multi stop ND filter, and actually used the Polarizer I had with me (as you can see I was really prepared!) I could’ve woken up at the crack of dawn and trekked or driven to wherever I wanted, to set up and photograph the dawn light on the mountains, rivers and lakes, BUT there’s always next time, all the more reason to return – and any budding adventurous photographers are advised to bring a lightweight Tripod/Monopod plus as many Filters as they can afford to carry!
And in retrospect, I should’ve used the GA645 a bit more creatively, and used it more in the Bazaar, and to photograph people – plus what I mentioned above about waking up at the crack of dawn etc, but I only shot 3 rolls of film with it, there’s only about 14 shots on a roll, so altogether about 40 odd exposures in 2 weeks, which is NOTHING compared to what people shoot nowadays.
Grom Village, Rumbour Valley. The white mountain is in Afghanistan. Velvia 50.
The Hindu Kush is at the western most part of the Himalayan and Karakoram chain of Mountains, a chain that divides South Asia from Central Asia and The Near/Middle East. The many passes have been routes into India for Millennia, and the Mountains have an aura of antiquity and mysticism about them. For example, the Kalash and Kati people are the descendants of the first ever Aryan tribes who migrated here Millennia ago, The Kati were converted to Islam en masse (by force) back in 1896, but the Durand Line which divides Pakistan (formerly North West Frontier of India) from Afghanistan ensured the Kalash retained their indigenous and ancient belief and customs.
The Kati and Kalash people both (along with the Kho) retain their superstitious custom and belief. They believe in Fairies, spirits which inhabit trees, and nature, and which are to be found on the high pastures, in groves in the forests, on Mountaintops and peaks. Certain Mountains are sacred, and locals fear to go beyond the foothills and lower slopes – Tirich Mir for example is referred to as the Castle of Fairies, and Lord of Darkness (of which Tirich Mir is a literal translation)
My friend, Imran, who is a local Mountain Guide has had many experiences along the high passes and trekking routes, and I must say I had a few too, one being quite, well, how can I put it? Has made me more open-minded, so to speak, but I wont scare you with any stories! Haha!
It’s all fascinating, and believable, as staying up there, in the loneliness and wilderness, it all seems to make sense somehow. And seems a part of ‘nature’. People are extremely respectful of their environment; trees and forests are respected, and certain groves and trees are sacred or used in ritual – both Kalash AND Islamic!
New Baby. My Guide Imran and Kalash neighbours admiring the newest member of the family
You can find the Kalash Sanctuaries above certain villages in the three Valleys, and their most sacred shrine ‘Sajigor’ is to be found in a Cedar and Juniper Grove in a forest close by.
The Hindu Kush has many regions to it, you have the Afghan side which is lower, and the High Hindu Kush in Upper Chitral – where the highest mightiest peaks are – such as Tirich Mir and Bani Zom are to be found, plus The Hindu Raj range, where many of the best long trekking routes are to be found, and which is very secluded and full of absolutely beautiful magical places.
We spent a few days camping above Chitral Town, in the Chitral Gol National Park; the motto of the park is “Shoot only photo’s and Leave only footprints”. The Award Winning “Planet Earth” with David Attenborough in the episode ‘Mountains’ was filmed here – as here are to be found Markhor and Snow Leopard, Golden Eagles and other rare wildlife.
We spent a day trekking up and up towards Birmorgh Lasht – which is the old summer Palace of the Prince of Chitral, it’s mostly in ruins now. Farther up we have Chaghbini; here is to be found a Mountain Rangers rest house, plus viewing platforms where you can observe Markhor and other animals. A Long telephoto lens is a huge bonus here as you’ll be able to capture so much, all you DSLR users with HUGE sports lenses – this is for you! I took a few snaps here, of the views from Birmorgh Lasht and Chaghbini. The Hindu Raj range graces the eye with so much beauty, and as the sun sets, the mountains come alight!
Farther we have Kasavir – An ancient Kalash sanctuary to The God of Hunts. Many trekking routes are to be found in these mountains, and all offer everything for the adventurer and photographer.
About an hours drive from Chitral we have Ayun Village, offering majestic views of Tirich Mir (which looks down upon you wherever you are in Chitral region of these mountains), and Ayun is the gateway to the three secluded “Kalash Valleys’ of Birir, Rumbour and Bumboret. And of course we have Upper Chitral, Tirich Mir base camp, Owir valley and Mastuj which leads towards the Shandur pass (where annual Polo festivals are held) and then onto Gilgit, but that’s for another time and another trip!
This photo isn’t great, light was low and I shot wide open f4 and focused…guess where? :)
Chitral town itself is small, and has some sites for the visitor, people are also very welcoming and friendly with Westerners. And in Chitral Town, Tirich Mir gazes down, like a God….
My GA645, I was very happy using it, I shot Fuji Velvia 50 and no filters, though a UV Filter or polarizer would’ve been welcome additions. The battery just lasts and keeps on going, I’ve had the same battery in there for two years! And again, with the GA645 around your neck, or grasped in your hands – you’ll get looks, but people wont think “Photographer” or anything, so no need to worried. Locals were more curious to know exactly what this contraption in my hands was! What, no LCD screen? Cannot possibly be a camera!! Haha!
The GA645 is a pleasure to use, some may find it noisy, others the not so close focus a problem, others may find the AF too slow, and as for myself I didn’t use it as much as the other cameras as I find the focal length too wide for portraits but too long for scenic’s – though I’m being a bit pedantic. It is a fantastic camera, one which has the quality to match a Mamiya 6, (see Dante Stella’s review) and it has the same focal length as a Fuji X100 with far more quality!
The best thing about it, I bought mine in Mint condition with bracket/grip and flash and bracket for £345 ($540) two years back, and you can get these for even less!! I’ve seen them go for around £245 ($388) BARGAIN camera!
Two Girls two frames demonstrating the shallow depth.
Getting there and away;
Getting to the Hindu Kush is a doodle. From the UK it’s easy enough; £500 to £700 will get you a Direct Return flight from Heathrow Airport. (approx £1 = $1.6) And for around £110 will enable you to fly the 45-minute journey through the mountains from Islamabad/Rawalpindi Airport to the tiny Chitral Airport. Flights are weather dependent so if there is a lot of cloud cover at the Lowari pass, the flight could be cancelled. Flights leave daily from Islamabad and Peshawar to Chitral.
The only other route is over land and takes about 12 Hours from Islamabad – but I’d avoid this as apart from the time, you’ll also be obliged to travel through Swat and Dir – beautiful countryside, but scenes of recent fighting and tension and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office advises travelers to AVOID this area – for this reason Travel insurance will not cover you.
To get to Pakistan, you need to have an invitation letter from the Tour Guide, Hotel or whichever organization you’re going or wishing to stay with. Basically, if you arrange a trip and itinerary with a Guide or Tour Company, they’ll send the invitation. You’ll need a Visa, this is quite costly, and is about £130 in the UK for a British Citizen. Reading List and Sites and more info;
I recommend reading The Lonely Planet Trekking in the Karakoram & Hindukush (Lonely Planet walking guide, 2nd edition). A great book, essential, though beginning to date.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree offers fantastic advice;
I recommend looking at Wild Frontiers website; they’re a UK based Tour Operator. http://www.wildfrontiers.co.uk/
If you’re on a budget, you’re best bet is to get in touch with a local Guide or Trekking outfit. If you’re planning to go to the Karakoram or Baltoro sides, your best bet is to check out; http://kkhtravels.com.pk/ they’re really good, and based in Gilgit. Gilgit, Nanga Parbat, Hunza and Nagar are very tourist friendly, and you’ll meet many westerners there. The Chitral side is pretty quiet, tourism is at an all time low, and you’ll have most of the place to yourself!!
I also recommend getting in touch with my friend Imran Schah, a gentleman and scholar, I met him through Flickr and Thorntree and he has so far arranged two trips for me and countless others for many other westerners;
Don’t forget Steve’s review of the newer Fuji GF670!
From Steve: On Saturday I posted part one of a guest report featuring many images with the Leica M9 and various lenses (see that HERE). Bjarke sent in this article and I splitted it in to two parts. Part one featured all Leica M9 shots, and part two, shown here, features shots with his medium format gear as well as a from a Canon 7D. It is interesting to compare the shots here. I find the ones with the most “feeling” happened with the M9 but but the images with the Hasselblad are amazing in texture, quality, richness and also feeling. The Canon shots are great as well but get even better when he mounted Zeiss glass. Either way, there are some great personal shots here so thank you Bjarke for sharing! Enjoy!
Weekend Inspiration Part 2 – “The Children and Medium Format”
by Bjarke Ahlstrand
My Leica M9-P is my favourite camera of all time — but the Hasselblad H3D follows right after. The images it produces in full resolution are breathtaking when it comes to details, rendering, colors etc. and even though many consider this to be a studio camera only, I often bring it along in my bag, both for professional assignments as well as private excursions.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 35 MM F/3.5
Elizabeth and her rabbit captured on my favourite medium format lens–it’s equals a 23 mm on a 35 full frame format–but it has not distortion, it’s tack sharp all over and I often use it as a portrait lens. With 39 megapixels at hand, cropping is no problem :-)
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 50 MM F/4
Magnus being portrayed for his mother’s 40th birthday
HASSELBLAD H3D-31 + HC 55-110 MM F/3.5 – 5.6 ZOOM LENS
A Hasselblad zoom lens that continues to amaze me, it’s so deadly sharp
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 80 MM F/2.8
The kit-lens, I rarely end up using it, as I usually go for the 100 mm instead, but it is, as all of the Fujinon built HC lenses, a great performer. And no, it’s not real poison, it’s just water.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 100 MM F/2.2
My favourite portrait lens EVER. Wide open it produces amazing results unbeatble by ANY lens I’ve ever tried.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 150 MM F/3.2
The Hasselblad lenses are BIG, especially compared to the little Leicas, but since I only shoot handheld, I often bring this 150 mm along, since it’s relatively “light”
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 210 MM F/4
The more tele these medium format lenses get, the more the background dissapears :-)
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 300 MM F/4
My heaviest and most difficult to shoot (handheld, hehe) lens, and the one I miss most shots on, but once they’re there, I’ve got nothing to complain about!
ROCK ‘N ROLL SHOOTING WITH 80 MEGAPIXELS
by Bjarke Ahlstrand, Copenhagen, Denmark
I’m a television producer, doing documentaries, reportage and fiction during working hours, and in my spare time, I’m a happy Leica M9/Hasselblad H3D-39/CANON 5D MARK II shooter. I was quite fond of Canon’s 5D Mark II, especially since I also use it for “professional” purposes, video-wise, and some of the Zeiss glass is really nice. But all that changed with the introduction of a digital Hasselblad in my life last year. Suddenly colours; skin tones and grass looked “right”. And the sharpness and amount of detail of a medium format camera and 39 mega pixels is of course impressive. I find some of the same nuances with my Leica M9, which I totally love (except for the dust spots on the sensor and the utterly lousy service from Leica!) and I now consider it my main camera, also due to the portability and low light abilities.
Recently I met a really nice guy, Jacob, from PhaseOne, which is actually Danish based alongside Hasselblad. (Being a Dane it’s quite weird that the biggest still cameras in the world are manufactured here, but that’s another story…). Having just released the world’s BIGGEST resolution digital back with the new PhaseOne IQ180, 80 stunning megapixels with an amazingly-price-tag. I had seen the usual press/example photos, documenting the abilities of the camera (in sterile studio enviroments), I asked why they didn’t let me borrow the camera for a couple of days to see how it would perform. Since my M9 is currently at Solms for dust spot removal (second time in a row since they didn’t clean it at all the first time), the upcoming Roskilde Festival seemed like a good (dust) spot (haha) — and to my lucky surprise, they agreed. To let me take the most expensive camera in the world (the back alone is US 44.000$!) into a realm filled with drunken people,
dirt and rock ‘n roll. Brave them.
So armed with the IQ180 digital back, a PhaseOne 645DF camera and two stunningly sharp Schneider lenses, a 55 mm f/2.8 and 110 mm f/2.8 respectively, I entered the festival, I was armed and ready to shoot.
On my way to the car, I convinced my colleague, Ruth, to participate in a test-shoot.
Whauh. Nice first shot. And the details in those 80 mpix are amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it. And this is “raw” from the camera–I didn’t (re)touch it all.
The Roskilde Festival is the biggest musical festival in Northern Europe, and attracts some 100.000+ people, most from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. And Zombie- land it seems.
ISO 200 · 55 MM · F/3.5 · 1/10 SEC
A zombie handheld at 1/10 sec with a heavy medium format camera, will never be sharp. And the thing about cameras–the most expensive they become, the worse they handle ISO, so shooting more than ISO200 on the most expensive digital camera in the world simply isn’t an option, even though, it technically can go up to ISO3200. But then the images “downscale” to “just” 20 mpix resolution (like a full frame 5D Mark II or Leica), but it looks very bad. So the zombie had to be a little blurry, but I’m sure he can live with that :-)
ISO 200 · 55 MM · F/3.5 · 0.7 SEC
Ooops, another unsharp image–but at least it tells a story. It’s something about a fire breathing musician warming up backstage before entering the stage, and a sign saying something a true photographer will never ever read. Shot from the hip, nobody noticed anything.
ISO100 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/100 SEC
At concerts you won’t see many Steve Huff’s running around in the press pit with little Leicas. Nope, most likely you’ll see a bunch of Nikon and Canon carrying men with their 24-70 and 70 – 200 mm lenses shooting constantly at everything that moves. I’ve been there, but I wouldn’t go back. A prime lens forces you to think about what you shoot and how to frame it, and I personally find zoom lenses to be boring, even though they have a flexibility that primes don’t.
The band playing here is Norwegian black metallers 1349, and the monk-looking bass player took it all the way to the underworld of … bass lines.
ISO 100 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/125
I converted this one to black and white in Nik Silver Efex, other than that it’s totally raw, and it looks amazing on print in high resolution.
ISO 100 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/160
In the media section of the back stage the Canon and Nikon Professional Services teams were heavily represented and all the pro’s had the opportunity to borrow lenses etc. for free. But I was more interested in the guy from HP and his huge, I mean GIGANTIC printer. I didn’t get its model number (hey, it’s a printer, not a camera or a lens :-) but he made prints of the best of the Nikon concert shots. I convinced him, for testing purposes, to print one of my images so we could check out the details and sharpness. I chose the last image I took of 1349, backstage, after the concert.
I used a single Canon Speedlite and took only two shots before the band was off. Bang, there it is. That sharpness. Check out the drummer’s eye, the guy farthest to the right. The printer guy printed a huge print and was very impressed and claimed that we could have made wallpapers out of this easily. All the Nikon shooters and representatives didn’t understand what camera took that shot, haha. Oh, the little things in life…-
ISO 100 · 55 MM · F/5.6 · 1/100 SEC + SPEEDLITE FLASH
Here’s a crop of that same image.
Roskilde Festival is four days of music and people in an intense but friendly melting pot. So for the next couple of days, I just wandered around, drank some beers, shot some people, drank some more beers, shot some music, and … you get it.
ISO50 · 55 MM · F/4.5 · 1/60 SEC
Guy with glasses next to graffitti with … glasses
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/7.1 · 1/60 SEC
She just blends in, that orange girl, with the emo-rocking-gothy looking people
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/5.6 · 1/80 SEC
Nice bokeh in front of the mohawk.
ISO100 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/80 SEC
They’re not faking it.
ISO35 · 110 MM · F/4 · 1/60 SEC
Perhaps this Indian Indian is faking it a little bit
ISO100 · 110 MM · F/3.5 · 1/200 SEC
12 year old finding it hard to believe that he should clean his room, when grown ups don’t.
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/5.6 · 1/125
There was sun, there was dirt, there was rain — and when you mix it, you get something else…
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/5.6 · 1/10 SEC
Here’s one of yours truely, the one on the left. It’s not everyday that I meet someone who has
my tattoo on a t-shirt, so I had to get my Nikon-shooting friend, Daniel, to immortalize this moment.
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/4 · 1/400 SEC
These are only very low resolution copies of the actual images, which are full size 10328 px x 7760 px = 80.1 megapixels. I promise you, if you look at this image in full resolution, you can see every detail, every tiny ink stroke on his tattoos, every hair, all the … Well, I’m glad I’m not shooting fashion or doing retouching, because the files coming out of the IQ180 are huge. Around 90 mb as raw files, and if you save them as 16 bit tiffs (you have to import them via the CaptureOne raw converter software for the best results), they turn out as 480 megabyte files… Heavy cameras demand heavy computers, and my iMac I5 with 8 gb ram came to its knees a few times.
Fortunately you shoot a lot less images with a “big” camera. Through out the 4 days and nights at Roskilde, I shot 610 images. That’s not much–since I was all over the place, eager to test the camera–and I know for a fact, that some of the professional concerts shooters easily end up with 700-1000 images … per concert!
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/4 · 1/125 SEC
My son, Hjalte, was with me one of the days, and he has an age (12), where he thinks it’s quite embarrassing when his old (young!) man stops strangers and ask to take their photo. But when we met my best friend, Michael, and his wife Klara, even he couldn’t refuse…
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/4 · 1/160 SEC
…and when he met his biggest idols, Danish supergroup “De Eneste To” backstage before their concert, he actually asked me to take a photo with them.
ISO35 · 55 MM · F/5 · 1/250 SEC
But then he got so exited that he dropped his iPhone and and smashed the glass/screen.Instead of being a good parent and helping him pick up the pieces, I shot this one, a split second before he burst into tears.
ISO35 · 110 MM · F/6.3 + SPEEDLITE
Oh my god, the sharpness in those little eyes, it’s simply amazing. Not that I enjoy seing my son unhappy, but testing a camera on something you know, really works for me. I don’t fancy shots of jewellery or fancy shining cars–give me a person and I’ll see if it handles skintones etc. the way I like it.
And even though I actually think that my 39 megapixels Hasselblad H3D does a better job with colors (those fantastic Fuji ones :-), the IQ180 beats everyone and everything when it comes to sharpness and the amount of details.
ISO35 · 110 MM · F/6.3 + SPEEDLITE
And the last concert shots of “De Eneste To”, here’s Peter Sommer
ISO100 · 1100 MM · F/2.8 · 1/125
And here’s Simon Kvamm
ISO100 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/125 sec
And the two of them after I added grain and converted to black and white with Nik Silver Efex.
ISO200 · 110 MM · F/2.8 · 1/125 sec
Well, that concludes it on my behalf. Even though I’ll never be able to afford the PhaseOne kit (approx 76.000 US $ incl the two lenses !!! ) I took rock ‘n roll shooting with me to Roskilde Festival, it was a nice experience. It was quite easy to use and produced excellent images (as long as you don’t exceed ISO400 :-). The post was very heavy, but zooming 100% in on a nice shot, makes it worthwile.
Now I miss my little Leica. So you there in Solms: will you please get your fingers out of your … and clean (the sensor)!