Dec 132010
 

Happy Monday to all! Today I decided to post a quick comparison between the much loved Leica X1 and the misunderstood Ricoh GXR (tested here with the 28mm Lens Module). I was curious as to which camera put out a better file, which camera had better high ISO and which camera was faster in operation. Here are my findings and I hope you guys find them useful.

We all know the Leica X1 is a gorgeous compact camera that packs a whallop in the image quality department. The main issue with the X1 is it’s cost ($1995) and its slow AF speed (which will be improved with firmware that is being worked on now). Other than that it has proven to be a remarkable little camera. The GXR has had a tough time in the market due to the fact that it takes “lens modules” that have a sensor built in to the lens. You can see my full GXR review HERE but I myself really enjoy the camera and find its build, feel and operation are really really good. The 28mm lens module is really a great lens but the GXR and X1 do have some differences in the way they render an image.

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BUILD:

The GXR wins in the build quality department. It’s sturdier feeling and just feels solid. The X1 is very very nice here as well but has a sort of lighter more hollow feel to it. Still, both cameras are great in the build department. No complaints. The X1 is a prettier camera no doubt but that is all personal preference. Some will enjoy the industrial looking GXR and many will drool over the sexy looks of the X1. I love the style of the X1 and think it’s a better looking camera than the GXR.

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AF SPEED:

Between the GXR with the 28mm and the Leica X1 the GXR is a bit faster with focusing. When the new firmware comes out for the X1 in the next 2-3 months then they may be equal or the X1 may even be faster because I have been hearing good things about the speed enhancements. As it is now, the Ricoh locks on a bit quicker than the X1 but truth be told, neither are speed demons but both are VERY accurate and rarely miss focus.

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IMAGE QUALITY:

This is the big one. Both cameras use a larger APS-C sensor and they do so while keeping the body sizes small. Both cameras go up to ISO 3200 and the X1 has a 24 Elmarit which ends up being a 36mm equivalent while the 18mm on the GXR happens to be a 28mm equivalent. So the focal lengths are a bit different in these tests but it was as close as I could get with the GXR. All tests were done at the same aperture and a few were with the same exact setting while some I let the cameras choose their own exposure in A mode.

**YOU MUST CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO SEE THE FULL SIZE FILES – THEY ARE STRAIGHT FROM CAMERA (RAW) WITH NO ENHANCEMENTS OR ALTERATIONS**

BELOW – GXR WITH 28MM – F/8 – Base iso of 200

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BELOW – X1 at f/8 – Base ISO of 100

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100% crops – no enhancements – no sharpening – no tweaks – straight from camera (RAW)

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and more…This shot was ay ISO 1600 with each but I let the camera pick the shutter speed to see how each camera would expose the scene.

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and the 100% crops…

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More at ISO 200 – f/2.8 – remember, click on each image for the full size out of camera untouched files!

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and the 100% crops…

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Some high ISO testing – I used a tripod here and set each camera to the same ISO, same aperture and same shutter speed..

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and the 100% crops…

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one more – testing ISO 1600 and Auto White Balance in semi low light (indoor daytime) – The GXR does have better AWB IMO over the X1 and its shows here. The X1 has the yellow cast that shows up in lower light.

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and the 100% crops…

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So there you go. Comparisons at low ISO, the highest ISO and a AWB test. Both cameras seem pretty similar with the X1 seeming brighter (and maybe more livelier) in most situations. In some of the shots it appears the GXR is a little sharper than the X1 but it also has a bit of a different signature. The GXR has better AWB in low light IMO. The X1 is $1995 and the GXR with 28mm lens is about $1050, almost half the cost. The GXR has the capabilities to change lenses/sensors and the X1 does not.

The X1 is a Leica and has the red dot and is a gorgeous looking camera. It’s simple, has easy controls and is highly a highly capable camera with a fixed focal length of 36mm. The GXR is more industrial looking and sturdier. While the controls are not as elegant as the X1, they are there.

I’ve had people ask me which camera I would buy if I was starting from scratch and wanted a compact big sensor camera – The X1 or the GXR system. That would be tough because I would have to see what the new firmware does for the X1 but with that being said, I think my heart would want the X1 but my brain would tell me to go with the GXR. Then again, the Fuji X100 which should be available within 3 months will throw a wrench into this whole thing. If the Fuji is as good as it appears to be (and it may not be) then it will be the one to beat. BUT the Fuji is much bigger than the X1 or the GXR so it is not really a compact.

For a compact big sensor you have three choices that are good – The Leica X1 at $2k, the GXR and Module at about $1k and the Sony NEX-5 with kit lens at $700. Those are my three favorite in the small size/big sensor market.

Thanks for reading this and I hope it was useful to some of you! The X1 is currently out of stock almost everywhere but it seems that Dale Photo has at least one in stock here and they are a site sponsor that is 100% trustworthy. The GXR is available through Amazon for $349 for the body only, and they have a few in stock HERE. The 28mm module is available to order at Amazon as well. Enjoy!

Steve

PLEASE HELP TO SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING! I CAN’T DO IT ALONE!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Dec 122010
 

Hi Steve,

I’m sure you are quite busy with the holidays as well as keeping up with the website. However, I figured I would share some more photos with you, and your readers as well.

So, I was shooting around in the alleys of Denver today, and was approached by a woman named Sherri, who was obviously looking for some money and food. I had only a few dollars in my pocket, and although I was taken aback by her persistence and intensity, I decided to offer her a deal, and exchange a few dollars for the opportunity to shoot a few photographs of her. She agreed, and I took some photos. I try not to shoot the homeless, as I feel exploitative for some reason, but I went ahead with my photography and composed, metered, and shot with my M9 and 50mm Summilux pre-asph (E43 version).

After photographing her, and being quite pleased with the results, I started to feel an even greater feeling of exploitation. I did give this woman some money, in hopes that she would get something to eat, but the photograph is a strange thing. It seems to take a lot more than it provides in this situation. If I could give her a print, would that help? If I portray her as she is, is she helped or hurt? Then I started to think of where my photographs would end up. I post my photos mostly on Flickr, Rangefinderforum, and a few Leica sites. But it makes me wonder a bit as I’m photographing someone who no doubt has little or no access to the internet. She will never know where her images are floating around, and will never know the impact they have on someone. Perhaps these are the ethics and morality of photography in general, but I can imagine that I’m not alone in this.

I’d be very interested in hearing your own responses, as I know you spent some time shooting the homeless years back (gallery here). Readers of your site have no doubt run into similar dilemmas, and I figured I would put my thoughts out there, with a few images of my experience with Sherri.

Thanks very much Steve and best wishes in the New Year…

Jordan Dickinson

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From Steve: Thanks for the submission Jordan. To many this is a touchy subject matter. I myself photographed the homeless a few years back and it turned into a rewarding project for me. I met many great men and women who lived on the street and I learned their stories. I helped them with food, money and blankets and they were all so grateful. I visited with many on multiple occasions and since then a few of them have passed away. I looked at what I was doing as more about “awareness” than exploitation. As long as you are not out there “sniping” them with a 200mm lens and you talk with them and ask them permission then I feel it is perfectly fine. My gallery has been posted in newspapers, magazines and linked to at many online sites. I did not gain anything from what I did but I was able to help many men and women and bring some awareness to the issues. Again, thanks for the photos and  the story.

Dec 102010
 

Ramblings

WOW~! The Holidays are upon us already. It’s been just over a year since I launched this version of the web site and in February will be two years total since my 1st review went live (The Leica M8). In many ways, 2010 was a GREAT year for me (going to Europe with Seal, THIS website growing bigger, and all of the great people (21 of you) I met in NYC at my 1st Meet up). In others it was a HORRIBLE year for me (divorce after 15 years of marriage, struggling with finances after a divorce, and loads of stress). I always take the bad with the good and I still feel blessed to be able to do something I am so passionate about.

Someone asked me recently how to make money with a website. I said “Is that your goal, to make money and get rich” – He said “Hell Yea!” – I then said “forget it! If you want to make a website just for the purpose of making money then it will fail. I guarantee it.” He was puzzled and I explained that what I do here comes from a true passion for photography and when I started it it was only due to me wanting people to know more about the Leica M8. I never dreamed of this becoming a true full time thing, but it has. I do not get rich from this, not even close, but I love it and am happy to be able to continue on with it as it’s not about money but building a site where others like me can hang out, converse with each other and also teach and learn. It’s a wonderful feeling and sometimes I get crap for being so personal here but that’s just me :)

So let me thank ALL of you again who come here every day to check out the site, and especially those who have used my links for your purchases. It’s incredible to me to think there are so many dedicated readers here, so I THANK ALL OF YOU, even the few of you who I argued with this past year :)

I hope to make 2011 the best year of my life and the best year for this site. More reviews on the way in 2011 of some cool cameras… The Fuji X100, The Panasonic GH2, the Pentax K5 and many more. There will be more contests, more guest articles, more processing tips and more meet ups and workshops. I will be hitting the road much more this year for my reviews to get some new scenery and photos. I can not wait I also hope  to do more shooting this year professionally because I have been missing it.

A New Site Sponsor

I also want to welcome a new sponsor to the site. I have been talking with them for a couple of months and they make some really cool products for the Sony NEX-5 camera. You can see their ad to the right and you can visit their site HERE. Great guys with some great products and hey, they are helping to keep this site going with their support so make sure to check them out. I will be writing about their products soon.

Fun Friday Links

Not a whole lot today but some cool ones….

A GREAT article….

A Leica M9 Titanium Test? Sort of…

Awesome interview – amazing photos (Did I link to this one already? Don’t remember but I love the photos here)

Street Photos

Re-Ignite Your Passion For Street Photography

The Leica M9 goes against Medium Format Digital at LL

How about a review of the Voigtlander 75 1.8 from my friend Tony Ventouris

Read out dated photo book for free using Google

A review of the Leica 90 Summicron Pre-Asph from Adam Marelli

Talk about protecting your lens? OVERKILL! Is this real?

Happy Holidays! One for the guys…

How about using a chicken as a steadicam?

Dec 092010
 

The Leicva M8 and Zeiss Biogon 2/35 does Tyrolia

By Felix Esser

Today, I would like to tell you about my experience with the Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM on the Leica M8. As you may (or may not) already know, the 2/35 Biogon ZM is a very high-esteemed lens in the rangefinder world. If you didn’t already, I suggest you read Steve’s review of the lens (you can see this review here) on the Leica M9, in which he praises it quite a lot. I’ve been using this lens for a couple of months earlier this year, and even though I had to sell it eventually to fund some other lenses, it has won a place in my heart. This article is about my experience with this lens during our traditional summer holidays in Tyrolia, Austria this year.

For the last thirty-something years, my wife’s family would traditionally spend their summer holidays in a small village called Nassereith, situated in the north-west of Tyrolia, close to the German border. Her grandparents were the first to visit, rather by chance actually, and liked it so much that they would come back each year, accompanied first by their children and later also by their grandchildren. Today, our son Emil is the fourth generation of her family to visit the place.

Nassereith is a small village at about 2500 feet altitude in the western Tyrolian alps, surrounded by mountains in every direction. It is located between the Mieminger Plateau, the city of Imst and the Tyrolian capital Innsbruck, and anywhere between Nassereith and any of these three places, possibilities for hiking, trekking, climbing, skiing, rafting and other outdoor activities abound. Even so, the climax of Nassereith’s tourist attraction has long passed, as becomes obvious by the many decaying buildings all around the place. Those who come, however, often come again.

On our many hiking trips, the Biogon has proven to be an excellent companion. Wandering the gorgeous landscapes, it helped me effectively capture the many wonderful scenes I passed by. With its effective field-of-view of 47mm on the Leica M8, the lens was well-suited to capture not only entire landscapes (if they stretched far enough), but also landscape details, environmental portraits, close-up portraits and even close-ups of nature details.

The Biogon is excellently sharp already wide open at f/2, and becomes bitingly sharp when stopped down. It has rich, warm colours and strong contrast, which is good for nature shots. Stopped down to f/8, I could capture entire landscapes sharply across the whole frame, and at f/2, it delivered superb subject separation for close-up shots. There isn’t really much that this lens isn’t suited for.

What I especially loved about this lens was how it makes subjects stand out from the background when shooting at larger apertures. (This is what is called the ‘Zeiss 3D pop’.) This made it especially satisfying to take close-up pictures of details such as small flowers or animals, and even at medium distances, there is enough background defocusing to create interesting effects. But the lens also shines when used stopped down, when everything is in focus, sharp, with great macro and micro contrast, superb colours and a very even rendering across the whole frame.

The Biogon 2/35 ZM really is an outstanding lens, as I am sure many of you already know from first-hand experience. It’s also a bang-for-the-buck lens, being optically excellent and still affordable for many of us. According to Steve, it shines on the M9. It shines on film from what I can gather, and it also shined on my M8. So there really isn’t any reason not to own one. Still, I sold my copy. Why? Well, my budget was tight, and even though it was a great performer overall, it was quite restricting for me as my only lens. I wanted something faster and something wider, so I sold it and got a fast 28 and 50 instead – a combination which suits my needs much better. Going through the pictures I took with it, however, I always remember how much I liked it. So, if I should have the opportunity one day, I might get another one, just because it’s such a great little lens.

One last word: if you like hiking, climbing, rafting and/or other activities in the mountains, or if you just plain like the mountains themselves, and if you’re uncertain where to spend your next holidays – go to Nassereith. People are lovely there, the landscapes are gorgeous, the air is pure, the water is fresh, the food is great …. you’ll like it. But be careful – you might end up wanting to come back …

You can see more from Felix at his website HERE and you can order the Zeiss lens HERE

Dec 092010
 

Steve

One of the great pleasures I get from reading your blog are the tales of inspiration by ordinary photographers. Because of this I wanted to share with you and your readers the following story in the hopes it will prove helpful.

“Just One”

Many photographers I know, including myself, get frustrated after they spend a whole day shooting and end up with only one or two really good photographs.  Their mood as they look at the 25, 50, 100 or more other pictures they shot usually runs the gamut from general satisfaction to disappointment to a sense of missed opportunity.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit the Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  This fantastic exhibit showcased some 300 photographs spanning the legendary photographer’s life.  Each photograph was more inspiring than the next and it made me want to go right out in the street and start shooting.  My exhilaration was, however, tempered by the sobering knowledge that I was going to shoot and shoot and end up with, at best, only a handful of really good pictures.

Then, as I left, a thought began to formulate that changed my photographic life.   Cartier-Bresson spent his entire life traveling the globe as a photographer and was 95 when he died.  Yet, the 300 images on exhibit averaged out to a mere 3 awe-inspiring photographs per year he lived.  And this was for a man whose life’s work, day in and day out, was photography.  Reflecting on this caused a wave of calm and satisfaction to pervade my body.

Now when I shoot I am looking for JUST ONE fantastic photograph.  I don’t get depressed if 99% of my pictures are just “pretty good” because I have come to the realization that if I achieve one “decisive moment” each time I shoot, I will end up with a collection of photographs I will be truly proud of.

Now this doesn’t mean that one day, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, I will have my own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art – but it never hurts to dream!

AG

galleryag.blogspot.com

Dec 082010
 

Leica Love

ByRoger Paperno

I’ve had a love / hate relationship with the Leica rangefinders for years now. I had one of the first M8′s when they were released eons ago. I had all the problems that you read about; blooming, noise and the dreaded magenta cast. For all it’s problems though, it was able to take beautiful photos. I used it for a book project in Italy right after I got it and was amazed by how it seemed to just put a frame around whatever I was looking at.

As much as I loved it though, I found it spending much of its life in a bag and not being used that much. My commercial assignments required an SLR, big buffers, quick writing speeds and the ability to shoot tethered to a computer, so I sold the whole M system to fund the purchase of a Phase One digital back.

Fast forward a few years and with a big trip to Russia looming, I felt myself yearning to have the M8 back, some of my favorite shots were made in Paris with an old M6 and a 50mm lens. I purchased my second M8, knowing about the problems and limitations. Of course the M8.2 was introduced 3 months after I bought my stock one. Great camera, wonderful images, but again I wasn’t sure if it was a keeper.

Enter the M9. Wow, this surely must be the Holy Grail of Leicas. I had to had one, I traded in the M8 and put my name on the list and waited, and waited. I was lucky, I got mine last Nov, so I must have been one of the first people to get it. I loved the accuracy and the full frame sensor and finally I could get rid of those silly IR filters.

But, as the economy slowed down, I wondered if the idea of having all that cash tied up in a camera was a good idea. I love rangefinders and street photography, but that’s not how I earn my living as a photographer. I use lights and assistants and stylists and computers, all things where this little camera is not at it’s best.

I actually considered selling the M9 and getting a used MP and going back to shooting and scanning film. Nothing is sexier than an MP, and the idea of walking around with nothing more than a pocketful of Tri-X certainly is appealing. I actually bought a used M6, intending on taking it to Europe with me. The reality though is it’s tough to travel with film these days, (thanks TSA) and the M9 sensor can out resolve any film out there. While there is a certain romance to film, it is very limiting.

I took the M9 with me, and ended up falling in love. I learned that I needed to use it like a film body, I didn’t peek at the review once, and I did everything I could to make the images look film-like. I am really happy with the images and the look and feel to them. I was concentrating on making the photos look like how I envisioned them, rather than a super sharp testimony to the superiority of the sensor. I shot 90% of the images with the 35 or 50mm lenses.

I still have my big cameras, but I am taking the M9 with me a lot of the time now.

You can see more of Roger’s work HERE. Thanks Roger!

Steve

Dec 072010
 

35 mm Summilux ASPH: Which one should you have in your kit, version I OR version II?

By Ashwin Rao

(DISCLAIMER: Images taken with the version 1 35 mm Summilux ASPH were taken in a far more diverse set of circumstances over a 2 year period. Images taken with the Version 2 lens were taken over the past 2 weeks and are thus more limited in scope and subject matter.)

Hi, everyone. It’s Ashwin here again with a few comments on the new Leica Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH (version II), which I was recently able to purchase for use on the Leica M9. For those of you who don’t know, this is actually the THIRD aspherical design of this classic lens that Leica has produced, and it arrived here back in the summer of 2010 to much pomp and circumstances. The first version, popularly called the “35 mm Summilux Aspherical” (as “Aspherical” was written in full on the lens barrel), was produced in very limited numbers, and will not be discussed further here, as I have no experience with it; it’s really a collector’s item. The second version, the “Summilux 35 ASPH” was mass produced from the early 1990’s through 2009, and was a stellar performer. Steve reviewed the lens here. I will be calling this the “version 1 35 mm Summilux ASPH”, or “version 1” for short, as this is the first mass produced 35 mm Summilux lens with aspherical elements. It’s also the first that had “ASPH” scripted on the lens barrel. Finally, in 2010, after rumors had circulated for many months to years, Leica released the “version 2 35 mm Summilux ASPH”, and most reviews of this lens have been quite favorable. While the lens has been slow to arrive at least here in the U.S., increasing numbers of the lens have begun to arrive at reputable Leica dealers, and I was able to get mine just 2 weeks back. In order to purchase this lens, I had to sell my beloved version I, but in order to get something, you have to give something up.

Some of you might have read that the version 1 35 mm Summilux ASPH was my favorite lens for the M8 AND M9. That lens has a very unique rendering, both soft in its transitions in and out of blur, with a lively, yet controlled out of focus rendering, and is quite sharp. To me, this lens “speaks Leica” in its look, and blends the benefits of an aspherical design with the charm of more classic looks. When you nail focus with this, images can quite special, both wide open and stopped down.

One of the design limitations of the version 1 Summilux ASPH was the lack of a floating element, which is present in some newer designs such as the Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH. Floating elements are a mechanical design that theoretically reduces the risk of focus shift when an lens’ aperture is stopped down. “What the heck is focus shift?”, you might ask? Well, to be brief, it’s a phenomenon that occurs when a lens shifts its focus plane when its aperture is stopped down. For example, if a camera is mounted on a tripod and a focus point is chosen when the lens is shot wide open, stopping it down in aperture to f/2.8 through f/5.6 may result in a shift in the focus plane, and thus, you might end up with out-of-focus pictures. Focus shift DOES NOT account for the occasional situation when the photographer shoots the lens wide open (in this case, f/1.4) and gets an out of focus image despite lining things up correctly in the rangefinder viewfinder. That latter issue is more likely related to rangefinder misalignment or a lens that needs calibration (or both).

The Version I 35 mm Summilux ASPH was notorious for its focus shift, particularly between f/2.8 and f/5.6, and Steve himself was frustrated enough to sell off this lens due to this issue. My own copy of the version I lens never really seemed to demonstrate this issue, but maybe it is more related to the way I shoot and the inherent errors and compensations that I make when composing and capturing a photograph.

Leica ultimately acknowledged the focus shift issue present in the 35 Summilux ASPH Version I, and redesigned it by including a floating element in the version 2’s design. They have not to date made many (?any) claims, to my knowledge, that the optical elements are otherwise altered, but I could be wrong. Experts like Erwin Puts have in fact remarked that the 2 lenses have near identical MTF charts, suggesting that they are optically very similar. Other experts have note that the new version II design dramatically improves on the focus shift problem seen in the version I lens, though both lenses do in fact continue to show the focus shift effect.

I will let the experts be experts, but I wish to report my experience and observations between the 2 versions of the lens. In my eyes, the 2 lenses render images differently. Unfortunately, I do not have a head-to-head, image-to-image example to share with you, as I sold my version 1 to help pay for my version 2 lens.

So let me boil it down for you here…..

Version 1 35 mm Summilux Asph

The version 1 is a well-built lens, semi-compact, in size with a smooth focus throw and firm, yet silky aperture stops. In terms of build, its weakness, in my opinion, is its cumbersome hood and its reported focus shift. When attached, the hood does intrude into the viewfinder’s 35 mm frame lines. It takes a bit of adjusting to, but unlike the 35 mm Summicron f/2 ASPH, there is some viewfinder obstruction with this lens. Then, there’s the topic of focus shift. I never experienced dramatic focus shift with my copy of the version I lens, but plenty of others have, and the Leica forums are replete with discussions of this issue. My recommendation to you, in shopping for the version I lens, is to “try before you buy” with your own camera. An easy test is to achieve focus with the lens set wide open (f/1.4), and insure that the camera set in fixed position (i.e. tripod). Begin to stop down to f/2.8, f/4, and f/5.6 and take shots at each aperture. Download the images into whatever file management software (i.e. Lightroom or Aperture) you use. On the computer, you can easily soom in to see if the images are reliably over that focal length range. If this holds true, you have yourself a winner, and buy that with confidence.

In terms of rendering, the version I exhibits exemplary characteristics. While some have commented that it can be a high contrast lens, I find that its contrast is acceptable, and contrast can only get a bit high in very brightly lit, contrasty settting (midday sunlight in a forest, for example). Otherwise, it renders quite nicely, with a unique, dare I say creamy, bokeh, lovely focus to out-of-focus transitions, and a nice crispness, even when shot wide open. Bokeh is usually not “busy” or “nervous”, if such words can be used to describe it (obviously, bokeh is very dependent on the subject matter, lighting, etc). Can you tell that I like this lens? In my eyes, it was born to be a classic, and if it weren’t for the focus shift issue, Leica would probably never have needed to redesign it…

Until the introduction of the version II Summilux ASPH, most people looking for a 35 mm Leica lens would debate between the Version 1 Summilux ASPH lens and the Summicron 35 ASPH, which has a more clinical look that the Summilux. I feel that the Version I Summilux ASPH is a character lens (i.e. it gives your images a certain “look”, that may not strive for optical perfect but gives images a “personality”…I know this is all very subjective)….others may debate me on that, but this is my feeling.

Version 2 35 mm Summilux ASPH

Okay, all I can say is “Wow”. What a lens! Perfect, though? Uh…NOPE….Great? Uh, YUP! Okay, let me explain…

I have now had 2 solid weeks to shoot the beautiful new version 2 Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. And I must say, it’s a outstanding performer. In terms of focus shift, this lens does not demonstrate this problem at all in the real world. Images focus spot on, every time, and images are rendered cleanly, sharply, and with higher contrast than the version 1 lens. In fact, I have felt that many Leica lenses exhibit some degree of focus shift, and this version 2 Summilux appears to demonstrate the lowest degree of focus of any lens I have used, save maybe the 50 mm Summilux ASPH, which matches it in terms of precision and performance. In some ways, the version 2 lens is a partner for the Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 asph, as their renderings are bit more consistent, in terms of micro-contrast, clarity, and macro-contrast. However, whereas the 50 mm Summilux ASPH renders a near perfect, clinical look with creamy bokeh, the 35 Summilux ASPH version 2 lens renders bokeh a bit more “wildly” and OOF is a bit more unpredictable. At times, especially, when there’s a lot of detail in areas where background is blurred, bokeh can be a bit busy, a bit “nervous” and a bit “energetic”…once again, all of this is subjective, but take it for what its worth. If you are looking for a lens that’s clinically perfect, I’d dare to say that the 35 mm f/2 Summicron will give you a cleaner, more clinical, “perfect” look, but here again, the 35 Summilux ASPH version II gives you more character, a certain je ne sais quoi…it puts its stamp on the image, and if you like that “stamp”, you’ll love this lens.

In my experience, the character of the version II Summilux ASPH is noticeably different than it’s version I counterpart, both optically and mechanically. The lens exhibits more contrast, and it renders images in focus with more clarity. As a result of this clarity and contrast, transitions in bokeh and from focused regions to OOF regions seem a bit more dramatic, and this can take some getting used to, when one is used to the version I’s look. I consider the look to be a mix of modern, with a touch of the classic creaminess, though the balance is shifted towards sharpness and clarity, and even further away from the “glow” of Leica lenses of old. Mechanically, the Version 2 lrnd has a smooth, non-stiff focus throw, and aperture stops are solid, yet not stiff (very similar to the Summilux 50 asph). The lens hood is a HUGE improvement over the prior version’s hood. Viewfinder obstruction is far less than in the version I, though I’d still say that about 1/5 (20%) of the viewfinder is obstructed by the hood. With the hood removed, viewfinder obstruction drops to less than 10 %. The only issue that I see with using the new hood is trying to cram in a UV filter to protect your lens’ front element. I use a Heliopan thin-cut UV MRC filter, and it has to literally jammed into the hood with force to get it in the right position so that the hood can still screw in appropriately into its thread lower along the lens barrel. However, once you have fit a UV filter in place (I’d strongly recommend a thin cut filter with a shallower metal ring, to allow proper fit), everything works well. Mechanically, the lens is a true pleasure to use. In terms of feel, the lens, with hood attached, feels substantially smaller than the version I lens, and in practical use, this size difference matters. Build quality is otherwise top notch, and there’s no element wobble or other sign of mechanical imperfection.

I suspect that as more people get their hands on this lens, it will become a lens with its fans and detractors. Leica is striving for a more modern look (i.e. suited for “digital”) in their lenses, and based on my experience with their modern lenses, these lenses exhibit more contrast and color saturation than their older counter parts….the Summilux Version 2 lens definitely belongs with its modern counter parts in this respect.

So let’s summarize, in terms of both pros and cons

Version 1 35 mm Summilux ASPH

Mechanically sound

Delicious, creamy bokeh

A character lens, equal parts classic and modern, with more gentle out-of-focus rendering and increased contrast in harshly-lit circumstances

The hood is imperfect, at best, and causes a fair amout of viewfinder obstruction

Some copies (if not all) exhibit focus shift, and this is substantially worse than the version II lens

Version 2 35 mm Summilux ASPH

No detectable focus shift (maybe the best lens for this that I own…)

Somewhat more contrasty than the prior lens, observable in more circumstances

A character lens. Bokeh can be beautifully creamy at times and “nervous” to “active’ at other times, with less predictability than the prior version

Mechanically outstanding, nearly perfect

The lens hood is a real winner, though it takes a bit of force to get a filter to fit right

It seems smaller than the prior asph version, mainly due to hood design

So which lens is the right one for you? Well, that’s a purely subjective decision. I am simply laying out my take, which is slightly different than Steve’s take. Will I be keeping this lens? HECK YEAH. If I had the choice to sell the version 1 lens again to get the version 2, would I do it again? Tough question, but the answer for now is “YES”. It’s my choice for a 35 mm lens on the Leica M9, because it blends sharpness, speed (wide aperture), build quality (perfection), and size (small enough for regular use. I am a fan of character lenses, and this one has definitely got it. The question remains whether you and your photography can accommodate it’s character and build into your own comfort zone. Once again, that’s your decision. I know I’ve made mine. The version 2 lens stays in my bag!

Thanks again for reading!

VERSION 1 Images

Version 2 Images


From Steve: Thanks Ashwin for your thoughts on both of these lenses. To see more from Ashwin be sure and visit his blog HERE. To see all of his other articles on this site, just search for his name in the search box at the top of the page! There are some great articles there!

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Dec 062010
 

Hi, Steve,

I attach you two of my favourites pictures. The first one was was taken with a Leica M3 with a “rigid” 50mm f2 summicron lens in Fp4 film. The second one was taken with a 5D MkII and a rokkor f.1.2 58mm lens.

I hope you like them.

my site is www.framed.es

and Flickr HERE.

Best regards.

Miguel Angel Prieto

This third one was taken with a Canon 5D MKii and a 50mm 1.8

Dec 022010
 

The Ricoh GXR Digital Camera Review with the 28mm and 50mm Camera/Lens Modules

By Steve Huff

Many months ago, Ricoh, a company loved by many photographers for designing and releasing cameras that are actually made for Photographers released something new and unique in the camera world. The GXR is a camera, that for the first time in the world of digital cameras (besides medium format) allows us to not only change lenses, but also change the sensor of the camera. Unfortunately, you can not change them separately and individually, but the magic of this system seems to be that the sensor and lens module are perfectly paired together for optimum results. No dust, no muss, no fuss. No funky light rays, no odd distortions…just a great sensor and great lens paired together as one. Pretty cool.

 

ABOVE: Ricoh GXR with the 28mm at 2.5 – ISO 3200 – Click for larger and better version

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I have been hearing about this camera for many months and a friend of mine would always send me over images of his from the GRX, and yea they looked very good but I thought “why do I need another camera that takes good quality images”? I already have a couple cameras here that do pretty damn well so what is the draw to a camera that costs $369 for the body and $700 for each *good* lens and sensor module? For a few months I saw how great the images looked but with my limited funds I could not buy one just to try it out, especially considering the only lens module out for it that was really fantastic was a 50mm macro that focused dog slow. So I waited..I was patient. I wanted to see if there would be anything good coming out in the way of lenses/modules and to see if this system would be dead in the water or if it would pick up some steam…

So here we are near the end of 2010 and Ricoh has released a new module that tipped me over the edge to finally try out this camera system! The Ricoh A12 28mm f/2.5 GR Lens contains a nice sized APS-C sensor with 12.3 Megapixels and Ricohs GR ENGINE III. Hmmm. This is where it gets interesting. See, Ricoh did not release a typical camera body and lens set. We now have a body that is *almost* future proof. What I mean by that is the body, as long as it continues to work, will always be current due to the sensor being in with the lens itself. I say ALMOST because who knows if Ricoh will release a new body down the road with a swivel lcd or built in EVF, etc.

New lens and sensors may come and go but seriously, we are at a point now where what I am getting out of these two modules is as good as I could ever want from a digital camera of this size and cost. The 28 and 50mm modules have the capability of jaw dropping quality (I’ve seen it from others) so yea, in 5 years it will also provide this same quality.

The big question is….with this hobby of ours, we all have upgrade-itis and even if the sensor and lens combo takes great images in 5 years time, will those of us that are gear heads and camera junkies be satisfied with it when there will be new fancy ISO 200,000 sensors available by then?

If this body and two lens/module set was still working for me in 10 years, and I still owned it (unlikely for me) it would still be taking fantastic images, no question. So to those who want a system to keep for the long haul, and a system to master,  the GXR may be what you are looking for. Using this camera has made me a fan of Ricoh and makes me want to try out their smaller and more compact GRDIII.

BTW, the GXR does have an external EVF available but I did not have one on hand when trying out the camera.

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GXR – 50 at 2.5 0 ISO 766 (Set on Auto ISO)

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ABOVE: Brandon shot with the GRX and 50mm Module at 2.5 – From RAW, converted to B&W in Alien Skin 3

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In this REAL WORLD review…yes, I said REAL WORLD because that is how I used this camera, meaning I did not do a bunch of lab testing with it. Just real photos like many of you would take on a daily basis. After all, most of my readers photograph their families, friends, and every day life. So this review will tell you what you can expect from this camera in these situations. It is small enough to take anywhere, so I have been taking it with me EVERYWHERE! I also have been writing this review for the past week, a little at a time so it is thorough, has plenty of samples and also has all of my thoughts on this system.

In this review I am going to tell you why I think Ricoh is really on to something here. I know that this system has not taken off incredibly well sales wise, but also know it has been picking up steam lately, and I am happy for that. When shooting with the GXR it feels like a “REAL” camera. It does not feel like an electronic gadget or gizmo. It feels very well built, and is. It feels solid and comfortable in my hands. It gives me confidence that when I fire the shutter I will get a nice looking file that is contrasty, colorful, sharp and also smooth.

There are one or two things I wish they did incorporate in to the body. A swivel LCD ala the Sony NEX-5 or even a built in EVF would have been just about perfect. While I wish the body had these two things, not having them is by no means a deal breaker because let me tell you…this camera is really the first semi-compact camera that I have seen that is capable of Leica like quality (besides the X1 of course) in regards to crisp but smooth and sharp results. The color is also very good (if not a little on the bold side)  and the files are highly tweak-able, even giving more dynamic range than a Canon 5DMKII file.

The Auto White balance of the GXR may be the best I have ever seen on a digital camera, or at least one of the best. The GXR is really good in mixed lighting. I have yet to find a situation where it has failed me or given me yellowish funky colors. It’s amazing, and I am now wondering why the big expensive $3-7000 cameras do not have this kind of AWB technology. I will get into all of that and much more as this review goes on. I am also including a TON of images because I found that almost every image I took with the GXR looked pretty good and that is due to the superb quality of the files. The only other time that has happened was with the Leica M8,  M9 and the little powerhouse X1 :)

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ABOVE – The GXR and 28mm Module at 2.5 – 1/30s

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First Up…my Video intro…

Just a quick look at the GXR body and 28mm lens module and a brief rundown on the camera..

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The GXR  Body and System  - The Lens Module Explained


The Ricoh GXR is a camera SYSTEM. Many people seem to be either confused or turned off by the fact that the lenses are actually MODULES that have a perfectly matched sensor behind it. The 28 and 50 prime lenses are FANTASTIC in their own right but what makes this unique and somewhat special is that each lens has a sensor that has been mated to it for optimum results in image quality, color and ISO noise.

The other cool thing is that there is NO CHANCE for dust to ever get on your sensor because it is never exposed. Also, I have found that the lens modules are VERY tough. No need to baby them. They are well built, solid, and very easy to slide on and off (as you can see in the video above).

To those who are in the camp that HATE the idea of a lens “module” ask yourself why. Here is the reason usually given: “I just do not like the idea of having to replace the lens when a better sensor is out. I don’t like modules”.

My take: You wouldn’t have to replace anything! The sensors in the 28 and 50mm module are FANTASTIC APS-C sensors. They provide wonderful IQ and their own unique look with their color signature, sharpness, and file quality. They can provide a super file that is capable of large prints if desired. There would be no need to upgrade the lens or sensor as  they are already doing what they do best. Today or in 5 years. The body will always stay (though they should have put in a swivel LCD!) and there would never be a need to re-learn a new body or have costly repairs if you scratch your sensor during cleaning. Todays sensors are very good and personally, I like the “look” the GXR produces.Deep, rich, and sharp but smooth.

It’s kind of like film stock…some will like the look of a Sony NEX, some a Leica X1 and some from a Ricoh GXR. They are all unique in their signature and it’s all personal preference. But to those worried about having a sensor mated with the lens, I understand because there are also cons to this…

For example. Maybe the GXR will not sell well and Ricoh will stop production. Then what? Worst case is you have a GXR and a couple of modules that take fantastic images. Best case, Ricoh releases more modules like an HD cinema module, the rumored Leica M-mount module, and the rumored fast 85 portrait lens module. Buying a module is not much different than buying a lens. It is meant to be used with the Ricoh GXR System and they work well with this system. It is a LENS, but with a sensor that has been perfectly mated with said lens!

With all of that said…the Ricoh GXR is not a perfect “system”  (does that even exist?) but I do applaud Ricoh for doing something different. I like it, and can’t argue with the results. If you are not into buying a “system” camera then the GXR may not be for you but then again, buying a Nikon D7000 is also buying into a System as is buying a Canon 5D MKII.

ABOVE: The GXR with 50 2.5 at 2.5 in Macro mode.

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The 50 f/2.5 Lens Module/Camera Unit


The 50 f/2.5 Macro lens, as many of you already know from the reviews elsewhere is astounding. It is a semi fast 50 with a matching 12 megapixel sensor that can be used as a portrait lens or a macro lens. I also enjoy the B&W from this camera and lens combo quite a bit. It’s true what I have heard. Ricoh cameras seem to give you a rich, film like B&W experience. I have always admired street images I have seen that were taken with a small Ricoh compact. They always looked gritty, true to life, and dramatic. When I would see Ricoh images I would ask the photographer who shot the images what he did to the them during processing. He would say “Nothing, these are straight from the camera”. That always intrigued me about Ricoh. If they were so good and made for the mind of a photographer, why were they not more popular? Maybe it’s due to the fact that not many dealers sell Ricoh and therefore they are not really well known. The GRX may be the one camera for them that can change that because the GXR camera with this 50mm lens module is amazingly good.

When the GXR was announced, this was THE lens to get with the camera. I mean, forget about the crappidy crap zoom lenses with the GRX. Yea, I said it. CRAP. The Zoom lenses like the P10 module have small sensors so you get more noise, the color suffers, and the overall images just lack any kind of magic. The 50 Macro was the hot lens at release so I think that everyone who bought the GXR, bought this lens.

The main problem with the 50 though was that it was DOG SLOW to auto focus! Aim, compose, half press of the shutter – err, err, acck, err, acck…it seemed like the camera was having some kind of digestive problems. Thank the heavens that Ricoh released a firmware update and I am happy to say the AF speed is now MUCH better (though still slow in Macro mode).

I won’t lie. I love the 50mm focal length. I love fast lenses. While this lens is no Leica 50 Summilux ASPH 1.4, it is semi fast at 2.5 and can be used as a portrait lens or macro lens. When not in macro mode (you engage it by pressing the macro button on the back) the lens focuses quite fast. It also gives us some nice background blur (shallow depth of field) and the bokeh quality is quite nice (quality of background blur) :)

Below are a few of the very 1st images I snapped with the 50 sitting in front of my Imac at night, and in my bathroom. Nothing fancy but may give an idea of the qualities of the lens. To see better quality, click on the images for a larger view otherwise you are not seeing the better quality file.

As always, you can click on any image in this review to see a larger and better version :) The next set of images were all shot in macro mode with the 50, wide open. Many at ISO 1600.

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As I already mentioned, the 50mm f/2.5 Lens/Sensor module was the first REAL module that was released with the GXR and it’s also the most well reviewed. When my camera arrived (and I bought mine from Amazon HERE and and HERE with amazing one day service) I slid the 50 module on to the body and I was so upset! The AF was so slow (slower than the Leica X1) it was borderline unusable. I kept in mind that A: This was a MACRO lens, and MACRO lenses are notorious for slow AF, and B: Oh yea! There is a new firmware for this lens module!! I already mentioned above how this vastly improved the AF speed. Yea, it is now much faster, but in low light it does hunt a bit. But again, it is a macro lens. When out of macro mode (just a quick button press) it is pretty fast.

Size?

The camera is not pocketable with this lens unless you have very large coat pockets. I started to wonder why I would use this over a Sony NEX-5, a Leica X1 or even a Leica M9…what void would this fill for me? That..I still had to find out, but I did know I was enjoying it and when I was messing around with it just snapping silly test shots, I realized how QUIET this camera is. The reason for that is the lens modules all have leaf shutters (read about leaf shutters here) and it is just as quiet as the Leica X1 when snapping a frame.

Having leaf shutters in the lenses is good in many ways but also limits this camera a little bit. When I took the GRX outside in the AZ sun I had the ISO set to its base of 200. I had the aperture at 2.5 and wanted to get some cool shallow depth of field images :) When I went to shoot I noticed the camera would not set a shutter speed faster than 1/1000s. SO I went online and read that when shooting wide open you can not go faster than 1/1000s. This is due to the leaf shutter.

The 50 at 2.5, ISO 308, 1/45s – straight from camera

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Leaf shutters are not designed  to have fast shutter speeds. But the benefits are there..

It is SILENT. If this camera had a loud and clunky shutter it would have been a drawback to many. The NEX-5 has a pretty loud shutter, the GRX is silent. Just a faint click. Because there is no big shutter clank, you can also handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds in low light. This is a plus. Finally, using a leaf shutter, you do not have any flash synchro limitations though I wouldn’t use a flash with this camera anyway. I would suggest to Ricoh to give owners another firmware update that will add ISO 50 or 100 to the options, therefore allowing a wider aperture before we hit that 1/1000s limitation.

ILL ASK THEM HERE: Ricoh…give us a firmware update that adds ISO 50 or at least ISO 100 to the ISO menu!

The color is BOLD but NICE. Very RICH IMO.

 

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After more and more shooting and even a quick comparison with the Sony NEX-5 I came to realize that the GXR was capable of some very high quality imagery, especially with the 50 Macro. With this lens you can get some shallow depth of field going on as well as use it for portraits, or of course, macro. The 50 can be slow to focus still, even after the update, but if you are not in macro mode it is much quicker. Still, I wouldn’t want to use it for any kind of action. But if you look at the images above you can see a certain quality that is very pleasant with the GRX and the 50 2.5 Macro. Can’t get this look with the NEX-5 unless you slap a fast 35mm on it, and still, it won’t be macro. This 50 is what was making me fall in love with this system…but there was still the 28 f/2.5 that I had to check out as well :)

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HOW SHARP IS THE 50mm MACRO LENS?  100% CROPS

The results I was seeing from the 50 were spectacular..especially considering that this camera system is MUCH MUCH smaller than any bulky fat DSLR. It has the same size sensor as those bulky DSLR’s as well as the Leica X1, which you all know I adore for its size, style and quality but the GXR is also very small compared to the big DSLRs. The GXR is not as sleek or stylish as the X1 nor as small but it is more versatile because you can use different sensors and lenses and one of those is this macro lens that is sooooo good! How good is it? Here are some images with full 100% crops..CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SEE  THE LARGE SIZE WITH 100% CROPS

BELOW: SHOT WITH THE 50mm at f/5.6 – CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGE VIEW TO SEE THE TRUE 100% crop…

BELOW: HOw about wide open at 2.5? Click image below for a large view with true 100% crop…

You can see…the 50mm module is pretty damn good! It’s sharp, it gives superb color and detail, and at the same time it gives you that smooth look that I see quite a bit in Leica files. This lens is a great portrait lens as well as a great macro lens. Plus, you are getting a real 50mm equivalent because the lens is actually a 33mm so with the crop you get a 50mm. So how does it compare to a Leica M9 with 50 Summicron…I do not have a 50 Cron on hand but if I had to guess it would be close in many ways. The whole shooting experience is wayyyy different because the Ricoh is not a rangefinder camera but as far as image quality goes, its not really too far behind. Imagine if Ricoh does release the rumored Leica M module with a sensor matched to shooting M lenses? Hmmmmmm. Now we can start to see the benefit of the module system…

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FULL SIZE FILE FROM THE 50 – CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO DOWNLOAD

Below is a full size out of camera file from the GRX and 50 Macro. The shot was taken at f/2.5 and ISO 200, handheld…

HIGH ISO WITH THE 50 f/2.5

High ISO on the GRX with the 50 is good, actually very good. While it only goes up to ISO 3200, it is usable at 3200, especially in black & white where your images will take on an almost filmic look. I like the in camera black & white setting with the contrast boosted up a few notches. The result is very nice quality out of camera B&W images. Color is also usable. Below are a couple of silly straight from camera JPEG images shot at high ISO (1600 & 3200). When shooting between 200-800 noise is a non issue in my opinion.

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This Is Not A Fast Action Lens Module!

The Ricoh GXR with the 50 attached is not a camera for recording fast action or sporting events. The lens even after the firmware update will not give you BLAZING AF speed though it is much speedier. This is a lens built for people and macro. Even some street work could be done with this lens module. This is a stellar lens but it’s not built for speed.

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The 28mm f/2.5 Lens Module/Camera Unit

The 28mm f/2.5 Lens Module/Camera Unit is highly sought after right now for those that own the GRX system. This is a 18.3mm lens with a 12MP APS-C sensor inside that delivers VERY good performance for a wide angle lens. The images from the 28 seem to have the same color signature as the 50 module and having a semi-fast 28 is a godsend. Once I attached this to the GXR body I knew I was going to like it. The image below is a straight from camera B&W, taken at night in my kitchen. My son was wearing an old gas mask he bought so I had to grab a shot :)

The images from the 28 are smooth but detailed at the same time. Very smooth tones and the color is also nice. The image above was an out of camera JPEG and the one below has had some tweaks via Photoshop.

The 28mm is actually an 18.3 mm lens but with the APS-C sensor the lens behaves like a 28mm. For $699, the price is actually very good for a 28mm 2.5 with this kind of quality. Is the lens perfect? No…it does have some slight distortion and the corners are not bitingly sharp when wide open like a Leica 28mm but for $699 you get the lens and matching sensor. I can’t complain about the price for what it is, plus, the quality is fantastic. A 28mm, f2.5 with matching sensor – $699. Not bad at all. All of the images below were shot with the 28 wide open…

 

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AF SPEED of the 28mm Module

WHen on the GXR, this lens module/camera unit can be compared to other cameras like the Leica X1, the Sony NEX-5, the Olympus E-P2, The Panasonic G2, etc. All somewhat small cameras that pack in really good IQ. As far as image quality goes, the GXR is up at the top of the heap with maybe the X1 beating it slightly, but the X1 is also a “system” cameras as you only have ONE lens, the 24 Elmarit (35mm equivalent) and it is the slowest of the bunch (though I still love the X1 for its strengths) in regards to AF.

The AF of the 28mm module is much faster than the 50mm and is equivalent to the micro 4/3 cameras and almost to the Sony NEX. One thing I have noticed though is that when this camera says something is in focus, it IS IN FOCUS. I have had quite a few misses with the NEX-5, none with the Ricoh. So this tells me Sony may be pulling some trickery to boost their AF speed. Maybe not, but maybe so.

It is what it is though and the main strength of this GXR system is it’s image quality, build quality, versatility and future possibilities. For example…maybe there will be a future lens module with lightning fast cintinuous AF for action..maybe there will be a dedicated HD Cinema module with a perfect lens and sensor combo and built in IS. The possibilities are endless.

The image of the dog below was shot at ISO 1600, f/2.5 and 1/13s. It was DARK but the lens made it look brighter than it was. Still, I could have used ISO 3200 like I did with the image of the dog at the  top of this review. Shooting this lens module at 3200 is not a problem and it retains its sharpness, color and detail. One plus for mating a sensor to a lens. :)

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As soon as I walked up he wanted to shake my hand. GXR, 28mm at 2.5, 1/13s, ISO 1600

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HIGH ISO WITH THE 28 2.5

I went out for a late drive one night with the GXR and 28. I set the camera to ISO 3200 and wanted to see how it did IN LOW LIGHT. Any camera can do well at high ISO if there is light present but not many can hold up when the lights go down. Here is how it went…

ABOVE: Click the image so you can see the 100% crop inside the photo. At 3200, at night. Not bad and the detail is VERY good for 3200. This is a GREAT lens.

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ABOVE: Before I left Brandon was laying on the couch watching TV. ISO 3200, and the only light was coming from the TV. Click image for larger..

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ABOVE: As I was driving I saw this guy pushing a pickup truck through the light. I lifted the camera and snapped. ISO 3200, B&W.

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ABOVE: CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OOC FILE. ISO 3200 – UNTOUCHED. NR TURNED OFF.

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ABOVE: ISO 3200 – 28mm at 2.5

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ABOVE: ISO 3200 – f/2.5

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X-Mas Explosion – ISO 1131 (was in Auto Mode) – f2.5 – 28mm

HD Video Capabilities of the GXR

BIG FAIL! Sadly, there is one area where the GXR falls short. VIDEO recording. Actually, I am going to say its pretty pathetic and useless. You cant auto focus, you cant manual focus and you can not change or set the aperture. There is no IS so video is out of focus, jerky and doesn’t look all too good with either lens module though the 28 seems better than the 50. It can be done, but it is not even close to being ideal or user friendly. If you want a high quality vidoe capable camera then check out the Panasonic GH2 which would kill the GXR for HD Video.

One thing to think about though…it is possible that Ricoh may come out with some sort of “Cinema Module” for the GXR. Possibly a nice lens mated with an optimum sensor created just for HD video. I am not saying they are doing this, just saying it is possible because with the module system, ANYTHING is possible because they are not tied down to the specs of the body.

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Battery Life

Battery LIfe with the GXR is decent. I think I was able to get about 300 images before the battery died. About average for a camera of this type.

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Manual Focus

You can also manually focus the lens you have on the GXR. The lens focus mechanism is smooth but nothing like focusing a Leica M lens. When in Manual mode you get a distance scale that pops up on the screen. Easy but with this camera I prefer the Auto Focus.

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Built In Flash

The body has a built in flash but I admit I never use flash so I the only shot I took was the silly test shot below. Looks even and well exposed…cant complain!

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PROS AND CONS OF THE RICOH GXR

PROS

  • Great build and feel. Solid but not too heavy.
  • The lens modules are perfectly mated to the included sensor, so makes for great quality every time.
  • No chance of dust on the sensor.
  • Beautiful file quality with the 28mm and 50mm lenses.
  • Faster AF after the latest firmware update, no on par with other smaller cameras.
  • The 50 Macro is FABULOUS as a double duty lens..macro or portrait and the bokeh quality is very nice.
  • The future may bring some very cool modules like video modules, Leica M modules, etc. Anything is possible.
  • High ISO quality up to 3200 is very good and usable. Especially with black and white.
  • Very robust RAW files.
  • Great Dynamic Range with the 28mm and 50mm modules.
  • User interface is quick and easy to navigate.
  • Highly customizable to your liking.
  • Shutter is SILENT.

CONS

  • Modules…some just don’t like them or fully understand the benefits and this is what is hurting sales of this otherwise great photographic tool.
  • Expensive. The body is cheap at $350 but the modules are $700 each, but the lenses in the modules seem worth it. For two modules and the body you are looking at $1800.
  • The zoom modules use small sensors and basically have crap image quality. Avoid them.
  • The HD video sucks. Don’t use this camera for video unless you HAVE TO.
  • The future of the system? If this doesn’t sell then will Ricoh stop making Lens modules? Something to think about.

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My Bottom Line Conclusion on the Ricoh GXR

The GXR is a different kind of camera and there are so many unique  things about it that I have not even touched on yet in this now 5000 word review. There is Snap AF where you set a distance in the menu and anytime you go to fire the shot it is preset at that focus distance. You can also set it to infinity if you don’t want to mess with focusing. For example, you can set a distance for street shooting and not have to worry about AF or MF. It would be pre-set. Then there are other things like the detailed customization you can do with the color settings like change the hue of each color as well as the vibrancy.

There are so many things you can customize with the camera and  the menu interface is quick and easy  to understand. You can customize the buttons on the back and make the body your own. The one thing that makes this camera system stand apart from others though is the fact that it uses lenses already mated with a sensor. These are called “camera units” or as some call them “Lens Modules”.

With this comes the ability to mate a specific sensor to the Lens for perfect results. The lens module is almost like a camera system in itself. Each lens has a sensor perfectly matched for optimum results and each module will have different traits like ISO performance, color performance, etc. You also never have to worry about cleaning or damaging the sensor. It’s all enclosed safely in the metal housing. Just snap on the body and snap off when you want something different. It’s as easy as changing a lens and basically this is what you are doing. With the 28 and 50 Lens Modules you are basically paying $699 each for not only a kick ass semi fast lens, but also the sensor that will bring out the best of each lens.

Many say this camera is a gimmick or that they do not like the module idea. Personally, I think it is a great idea and see no downsides because with the GXR and the two good lens modules, the 28 and 50, you are buying into a “system” that will deliver beautiful and consistent results every time. The camera is small, built very well, feels good in the hand and has plenty of manual control. It may not be the sexiest looking camera out there and as a matter of fact, it is probably one of the LEAST Sexiest looking but the style is all Ricoh. It’s a photographers camera, not for  those looking for flash or trickery.

The downsides of this camera is that it does not have a swivel LCD (which I have grown to love with the NEX-5) and the lenses use leaf shutters so we are limited to shooting outdoors in sunlight with smaller apertures. No shooting at f/2.5 in full sun because the max shutter speed is 1/1000s when set at f/2.5. So those two things I do not like so much about the GXR but those are the only things that bothered me a bit.

So…the big question…is it worth a buy?

Only if you are wanting a camera that delivers fantastic results as a “system”. If you want a 28mm lens that can shoot in low light at 2.5 and give super color, detail, tonality and high ISO performance and also happens to have fast AF and pleasant Bokeh with a sensor perfectly mated to it for optimum results then yea, this is a killer setup. I was thinking and the GXR with the 28 module is not only faster than a Leica X1 in the AF department but it also has a little bit of a faster lens, focuses closer, and has equal or better high ISO performance. It is also more customizable and comes in at half the price of an X1. How about the Sony NEX-5? There currently is no AF lens for the NEX that is a 28mm equivilant. How about the Micro 4/3s cameras? Panasonic has the 14 2.5 Lens coming out that will deliver a 28 2.5 on Micro 4/3 but I have not had the chance to try yet. I can say that the sensors are smaller with M4/3 so the GXR should have better IQ and Dynamic Range regardless. The Panasonic lens is $400 but you are stuck with the M4/3 sensor. Again, the “modules” are starting  to make more sense the more and more that I think about it.

So all in all, the Ricoh seems like a misunderstood camera. Those who own one LOVE it. Those who don’t dismiss it because it is different. Me, I like it and I am having a blast shooting with it. The camera really is for  those who put quality photos first. For $1000 or so the body and 28mm would make a great starter set. Adding the 50 makes it much more versatile.

You can buy the GXR at AMAZON and using that link will help support this site, so if you do buy one and use my link, I THANK YOU!

When it is all said and done the choice is yours, all I can tell you is the camera delivers the goods even though it does it with less flash and pizazz than its competitors. The GXR is a solid system. I hope to see it grow in the future and get into the hands of some great photographers.

 

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PLEASE HELP TO SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING! I CAN’T DO IT ALONE!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!

Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Dec 012010
 

LEICA PRICE HIKES ON THE MP AND M7??

Well it appears Leica has raised the prices on their film cameras..at least B&H Photo and even a couple of other shops have already made the price increase. Looks like the new price is up about $400. If you want a new Leica MP or a new Leica M7, be prepared to pay $4995. OUCH!!! I just hope Leica isn’t planning another increase with their lenses or their digital line.

Dec 012010
 

Q&A Wednesday is back, but first some updates…

Looking for unique, fun, helpful and inspiring guest posts!

Hey guys! It’s Wednesday and I am happy to say I am returning the Q&A Wednesday posts/column/article. Not sure what it is but I have been revived lately. I have a new energy and a new drive and I have decided to put even MORE time in to  this site (I already sit half the day working on it and the other half out shooting!) to pump it up to the next level. Right now I am writing a few new articles and am also looking for more guest articles from all of you! This site has always been about the community and those with a true passion for photography. Doesnt matter if you shoot for a living or just shoot flowers in your yard, what matters most is that you are having FUN doing it!

So I am putting out a calling for those with passion. If you have anything you would like to share with this community of passionate photographers who are just like  you send me an e-mail and let me know. I always love to see cool articles that inspire and help others and I can’t do it all! With that said, I am happy that all of you come here on a daily basis. Traffic is UP again and November was my biggest month yet with over 680,000 visits! It’s awesome to share thoughts, opinions and info with like minded people and the past guest articles have been all of that and more! Let’s keep it up!

UPDATE – The Forums

The forums have now been up for one month and i managed to get 1000 registrations in November! Not bad at all and so far the conversations have remained 100% civil. I have not had to moderate ONE post so that is awesome :) Goes to show the quality and class of the readers here, and that is what I hoped for when I launched them.

Feel free to register for the site (it’s free and I would NEVER use your email or info..as a matter of fact, I do not even see it) so you can participate in the forums. I am also taking suggestions for forum topics because it has been 30 days and I want to remove the ones that are not getting traffic and maybe add one or two that you would like to see. Let me know! You can check them out HERE..feel free to participate!

Q&A Wednesday!

The following questions are all REAL questions that have been e-mailed to me in recent weeks or months. Instead of answering every single e-mail I receive (sometimes 200+ a day) this weekly post will showcase many of the questions along with my full answers. Enjoy!

I’ll start off with a long one…

Question: Hey Steve, I’m a fan of your site, love your write-ups and reviews. I need your opinions on rangefinders based on your experience, expertise. Basically, I started photography with a DSLR only to take photographs of my family and document the arrival and growth of my baby. I have very little experience with film compacts and SLRs. I love take pictures that captures moments, expressions, emotions and I would say Street Photography is the genre I am very attracted to. I want to get a rangefinder to do all those and rangefinder is my choice for its inconspicuousness and weight. I like to keep a somewhat close distance to my subject to have at least some kind of interaction but not disrupting whatever they are doing. So, I’m torn between going film or digital. I love how I can take pictures with digital and view it instantly. I am also very receptive to learn how to right from basics and understanding light and how film photography can be different from digital. I also love how film render the images I’ve taken with the details, contrasts and such. My question here is, would you advise a newbie like me to go digital or film? With my financial capabilities, I am only allowed to get either a M6 TTL or M8/8.2. Please shed some light. Appreciate your comments and help. Hope to hear from you really soon. Regards, Jimmy

ANSWER: Hey Jimmy! Thanks for the question and the details. This is a tough one because the whole film/digital debate continues to go on and on. One one side you have your pro film guys who love film to death and shoot their film 98% of the time. They swear by film and say its the best. No contest. On the other side you have your digital guys who say film is drying up, its dying and way to expensive and time consuming. They say digital is the way to go and much cheaper.

I have a little bit of both of those sides in me…

I LOVE film. I LOVE the Leica M film cameras. I also LOVE digital and the M9 is the ultimate digital RF in my opinion. What you need to do is lay out the pros and cons of each system before you decide. When you DO decide, you need to make that choice for yourself based on your needs and wants.

FILM: PROS

An M6 TTL is a beautiful camera. It feels better than an M8 and is thinner. Shooting film can yield wonderful results and choosing your own look is just a matter of choosing a certain film stock and lab. FIlm has latitude (print film and B&W) and is pretty forgiving. Shoot some Tri-X on the street with a Leica 50mm and you are guaranteed to get that classic look to your photos.

FILM: CONS

Film is expensive these days. Buy a roll of film for $5-$10 and then it has to be processed. You get 36 exposures and one ISO/ASA. When I was shooting loads of film the cost was killing me. I was spending $up to $30 a roll between the film and the processing and scanning. If you scan yourself be prepared for several hours behind your computer. Sure, film is nostalgic and fun but can be costly and  time consuming. You have to ask yourself if the beautiful and timeless looks are worth it to you.

DIGITAL M8.2: PROS

An M8.2 is a very nice camera. Build is nice, and in black paint it is the sexiest digital ever made IMO. The shutter is quiet, and you get instant feedback. Shoot 10 images or 1000 and you have them all right there and ready to unload to your computer. I have taken some of my best images with an M8/M8.2 and it is a camera that is near and dear to my heart. Plop on a 35 Lux 1.4 and be wowed.

DIGITAL M8.2: CONS

Expensive even used and you can only buy these used these days. Expect to pay anywhere from $2800-$3700 for one depending on condition. The M8.2 sensor is a little dodgy after ISO 640 and after that it is all about exposure. Get that right and you can shoot at 1250. The M8.2 absolutely needs IR/UV filters or else you will get some nasty magenta and purple colors to things you could have sworn were black :). Some M8.2′s may have tens of thousands of shutter fires on them so you have to be careful when buying used. Other than that, the M*.2 is a nice and solid camera.

Good luck Jimmy and thanks for the question!

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Question: Hey Steve! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! You are getting me all gear-lusting again. Thinking about getting the NEX to replace my EP2. The high ISO and faster AF is the selling point for me. A few questions though.

1 – Does using Leica lens significantly improve the sharpness of the images? If yes, can you please post a few photos in your website or email them to me?

Answer: Yes, Leica lenses will be sharper on the NEX due to the softness and distortion of  the kit lenses. Actually, the kit lenses are great for what they are but they can be a but soft in the corners and the thing that bugged me most about them was the distortion. Leica lenses do not distort so yea, they will be cleaner, sharper and have no real distortion on the NEX. BUT…shooting Leica lenses on the NEX can be slow as you will be all manual focus. Keep that in mind. I posted a few samples HERE.

2 – When using MF lenses, does the NEX automatically magnify the image in the LCD screen upon the turn of the focus tab, or is the user required to press a button (or two)?

Answer: You have to press the button but it’s quick and easy. No complaints.

3 – Do you believe it’s worthwhile spending $100 – 200 extra dollars (depending on the kit I get) to get the NEX5 instead of NEX3?

Answer: The extra $100 is well worth it IMO. Better body, better grip, better HD video, and smaller. I tried both and much prefer the NEX-5. Worth the $100, YES.

4 – Which would produce better image at ISO400? NEX + 28 Elmarit or Leica X1 or M8.2 + 28 Elmarit?

Answer: I get this ALL the time and honestly I am not qualified to answer as I have not done this test side by side. From memory, I would venture to guess an M8.2 and 28 Elmarit would give you the best file, followed by the X1 and then the NEX. All would be good, but the M8.2 sensor is highly capable though it doesn’t have an ISO 400 setting. :) There is no AA filter on the M8.2 so you will get a fantastic file. Then again, the NEX is damn good as well but the whole thing…IQ, and usability goes to the M8.2 IMO.

Thanks again for a great website. I’m also VERY happy to see that you sound much happier than a few months ago. Best regards, Armando

Thanks Armando!

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Question: Hey Steve, I´m lookin´ for a new camera, it must be small & light weight, a “all in one” model, and I think it must be a LEICA. My approach is of an ambitioned amateur. I found your site and like it very much, cause it seems to be on daily reality and not even on artificial labority data sampling if you know what I mean (I hope my English is not that bad and you understand what I´m trying to say !!). I read your reviews about the X1 and the D-Lux 4, they seemed to be very helpful to me, but there are some few questions I´d like to ask to you.

* Is the quality of the X1 really worth twice the price of the D-Lux 4 ? The pictures will be shown on a 24″ Mac screen or printed in DIN-A 4

Answer: Yes, the X1 quality is MUCH nicer and costs MORE than twice as much as a D-Lux 4. The X1 has an APS-C sized sensor which is much larger than the small sensor in the D-Lux 4. Therefore, with the D-Lux you will get more grain and noise, especially at ISO’s above 400. The D-Lux 4 was best in class for a compact but the X1 came along and overtook it. The X1 is great but comes at a high price, and it’s slow AF is a bit frustrating at times (though there is a firmware update coming that will fix this).

* Has the new D – Lux 5 the same quality as the D – Lux 4 ?

Answer: Pretty much, yes. I found the D-Lux 5 to be slightly better than the 4 in the IQ dept but also likes its new 1:1 feature on the lens barrel as well as the much improved HD Video capabilities. The D-Lux 5 is my favorite *compact* camera under the X1. Great photos can be had and it’s AF is super fast, much faster than the $2000 X1 but again, the smaller sensor kind of kills its performance at high ISO’s when compared to the X1.

I would be happy if you could send me a short note about that. Thanx for the time that it may take, best wishes and greetings from Klaus (Hamburg / Germany)

Thank YOU and Happy to help!

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Dec 012010
 

Hi Steve,

I have been following your blog for a year now. Back then I have been googeling for some information on the Leica M9 when I found your site. Then I spent some months on a waiting list (I live only 70 Kilometers from Solms, but that doesn’t help a bit), working hard as a freelance journalist and saving up money. You know how it is when you want something badly but unfortunately you are not rich. During that time your blog was really helpful in regards of lens choice and general reassurance that ruining myself financially is the right thing to do :)

In February I got my M9 and now I take it everywhere: To work, to parties, shopping, on vacations. (I convince myself the more photos I take, the cheaper each photo becomes. This thing has to pay itself off.) And bad weather is no excuse for leaving the camera at home. In fact, wet cobblestones and colourful umbrellas often make nice photo opportunities.

So I send you three examples of bad weather in Europe, taken with cold wet hands and a camera that has so far survived everything from summer heat to hard rain. (Snow has yet to be tested this winter.) I hope you like them. No.1 was taken in Frankfurt, my hometown, with a Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.2. No. 2 in Brescia, Italy, with my old Summilux 50 pre-asph. and No. 3 in Mantua, Italy, with the Voigtländer Nokton again. (Yes, I love Italy.)

You find my flickr here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreaffm/

and my photoblog here:

http://color.antville.org/

Keep on blogging and shooting! Thank you for what you do!

Andrea

Nov 302010
 

COULD THERE BE AN EPSON R-D2 IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

Lots of buzz going around some of the photo websites today that Epson may be working on a successor to the beloved R-D1, which was the first digital rangefinder camera ever! Released in 2004, and available in 2005, I was one of the first to own one of these cameras and I LOVED IT. To this day I still have a soft spot for the R-D1 and even at the NYC street meetup last month one of the attendees brought along his Epson to shoot with. When I held it I remembered why I loved it so much. It is solid. It feels AMAZING in my hand. It has a swivel LCD. The analogue dials up top are beautiful. It has a film advance lever that you must cock when you shoot a photo. A 100% Viewfinder. It’s like shooting a film RF but digital. Oh, and the files and colors were ahead of its time and for those who do not know, yea,  it has a Leica M mount.

So…will Epson bring out a successor to the legendary R-D1?

Here is the qoute from someone at Epson which caused the stir:

“Whether we come out with another version of the R-D1 is a possibility,’ said Rob Clark, executive director of Epson’s European Marketing Division. He also said the firm would re-enter the digital camera arena if it felt such a product was ‘commercially viable’.

Well, to me that doesnt really sound like they are working on an R-D2 but if you look at what he said it is possible. I think we all know that a product like an R-D2 is “commercially viable”. Look at the huge success of the Leica M9! Leicas profits are up 40% and they are doing amazingly well. From near bankruptcy to huge profits. All due to the M9 and the lenses.

So I would say to Epson – BRING IT ON! Leica needs the competition as it will ensure they really work hard at the next digital M and the Epson would most certainly be more affordable, which would allow many more of us to get into a digital Rangefinder camera. I know I would buy one in a heartbeat.

So this post is not just another fluff post to say “HEY, Epson may be working on an R-D2″ – No, this is a post to celebrate the R-D1 (which was and still is a kick ass camera) AND to tell Epson to BRING OUT AN RD-2! I think today more than ever more and more shooters are getting interested in RF photography and with the interest that the Leica M9 has created, I think an R-D2 would be a home run hit. It’s funny but back in 2004 when the R-D1 came out it had pretty nice ISO 1600 performance, especially in black and white. The out of camera B&W files were VERY nice and the color was also superb. Id love to see what Epson could do with todays technology and sensors. Could be exciting…

So with all of this R-D1 talk, I dug up a couple of shots that I took with my old R-D1 from back in 2005. All hail the R-D1! If any of you ever see a nice clean used on for sale at a good price SNAG IT! You wont regret it.

All images from the Epson RD-1 and Leica 50 Summilux ASPH circa 2005 – Goes to show…there are scenic areas in Arizona…just have to get out of Phoenix!

PLEASE HELP TO SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING! I CAN’T DO IT ALONE!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!

Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

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