Dec 202010
 

From Steve: Yet another cool Guest contribution! I have been down and out the last two days (sick) so these guest articles have been a huge help. By the end of the week I should have my Pentax K5 review up so stay tuned! Enjoy!

Using The Sony NEX-5 with Leica Lenses

By Paul Barclay

I have been following this site daily for the last several months and decided to buy the Sony NEX-5 camera with 16mm kit lens based on Steve’s Arizona State Fair photos and the links to other images made using Leica lenses. Once I received both the camera and lens adapter, and had the battery charged, I set off to a boat dock near where I work to make a few images to see how things work and possibly get an image worthy of a daily inspiration. I knew going in that the Sony lens was not the sharpest, but I was not prepared for the disappointing results I got from my Zeiss and Leica lenses.

IMAGE #1 – Sony NEX-5 and the Zeiss 25 ZM Leica Mount lens

Image #2 – Sony NEX-5 and the Zeiss 25 ZM Leica Mount lens

Image #1 is one of these images and as you can see it is a little soft. I went back the next day because the light was better and I would have more time to put into focusing the camera. Looking at the second set of images, some of them were better but not all. Image #2 was also taken using my Zeiss 25mm f2.8 ZM lens. The first impression of this image is it is better than the images from the previous day, but when enlarged to 100% it is not as good as hoped for from a Zeiss lens. Because of these results I decided it was time to go into the studio (a.k.a. garage) and make the dreaded test target shots to try to find out what is going on. I won’t bore everyone with these images, but I did learn some things that may be helpful to anyone interested in a Sony NEX-5 camera with lenses from other manufacturers.

First, the tables below show that my Rainbow NEX-Leica lens adapter does not position all lenses at the correct position in front of the sensor. In my test shots I set the camera on a tripod at a fixed distance from the test target, measured the distance from the front lens element to the target then focused optically using the focus assist; I focused the Sony lens both using the camera and manually. For lenses with an actual focal length 50mm and wider it is necessary to focus closer than the actual distance to the subject, and this adjustment increases significantly as the lens gets wider. For lenses longer than 50mm the adjustment would be to focus farther than the actual distance, but this adjustment is so small it won’t be worth the effort. Since estimating the distance to a real subject won’t be that precise. It may be that the adaptor manufacturer decided that the ideal lens for most users is a 50mm lens or longer, or there may be some variation in the camera and adapter mounting distances working together. So it will be worthwhile for a wide-angle user to test their lenses on their camera to learn what adjustments are needed for their camera and adapter combination.

Image #3 showing the base of the Sony NEX-5

Image #4 – The Size of the Tripod Mount

Since I generally want to maximize image sharpness and I also use large format equipment, I prefer to use a tripod for most of my photography. Unfortunately, as image #3 shows, the base of the NEX-5 is not flat. It is “V” shaped where the lens mount meets the base with the portion holding the tripod socket extending below the rest of the base by about 1/8 inch. Due to how narrow the base is this gives us a flat surface to rest the camera on a tripod about the size of a dime. (image #4) Which means that if the camera is on a tripod it will be very easy to rotate the camera and change your image composition and not notice it. It also means that the camera can be very prone to vibrations from shutter bounce, which is possible since this camera is very lightweight and does have a noticeable “bump” when the shutter closes, opens, and closes again during an exposure. In this case I think it might be desirable to use the camera hand held unless a dedicated adapter plate is available from one of the specialty manufacturers. Even with a dedicated adapter plate it will probably be desirable to keep both hands on the camera body to dampen the vibrations.

Manual focus is a challenge with 50-year old eyes and wide-angle lenses, even on a tripod. This is caused by the low magnification from the lenses and the small size of the rear LCD screen. Add in bright light and the value of an LCD shade or accessory viewfinder (either an electronic finder or a finder that uses the rear LCD) becomes apparent. As expected, manual focus gets easier with longer lenses since magnification is increased. Now that I have a bit more practice, manual focus is almost easy provided that you can see the screen, your subject has a pattern that is easy to see, and you hold the camera steady enough. I have found it easier to hold the lens with my left hand over the top and my thumb under the lens, on the focus aid if the lens has one. This gets my left arm out of the way of the back of the camera and lets me hold the camera out far enough to see with my glasses. In addition, this lets you use your left hand to support the weight of the camera and focus using the camera’s first manual focus assist feature. When you have achieved focus, pressing the shutter release half way will reset the screen to normal so you can adjust the composition before making your exposure. So far, trying to use the exit button just causes me to move the camera and shift the focus on the lens. So doing anything to reduce your hand motions is a good thing.

Finally, there is good news to share from these experiences. First the Sony 16mm lens is better than it is given credit for. Its optical focus limit is probably close to 10-12 Ft, and the test images looked pretty good up to 50% enlargement; at 100% the lens is still a little soft. Though I do get better results viewing J-Peg images on a PC using the Windows viewer or using iPhoto09 on a Mac, rather than using the Sony software on a Mac; Capture One does not convert the NEX raw files yet. Second, as the remaining images show, using Leica, Zeiss, and Voightlander lenses will provide very good results once you have a chance to practice your focus and distance estimating techniques. Even when used handheld at ISO 800, which includes many of the images shown here.

Leica 35 Summicron and the NEX-5

Leica 35 Summicron and the NEX-5

Leica 50 Summilux Pre-ASPH and the NEX-5

Leica 135 f/3.4 and the Sony NEX-5

So, in conclusion, the NEX-5 is a worthy experiment at this time. But it will need some aftermarket accessories to be a worthy user with non-Sony lenses. Also, while I did try using this camera with my 90mm and 135 mm lenses on a tripod, their size and weight suggests that the camera mount may not hold up to much use with these lenses. So, using long lenses with an integral tripod collar, or making sure the lens adapter is supported by the tripod quick release plate is a good idea. If using these lenses handheld, using the lens to support the camera body will be necessary.

Paul Barclay

From Steve – Thanks Paul! For those that are interested there is a 3rd party tripod mount for the NEX-5 sold by one of our sponsors over at J-TEC online! Be sure to check it out.

Dec 192010
 

Hey guys! This Daily Inspiration was sent to me almost a YEAR ago on December 30th 2009. Yes, I have HUNDREDS of submissions that go back to a year ago and I was browsing some of the images and there are so many great shots that have been sent in to me over the past year! I thank all of you for the submissions and hope to see more in 2011. Anyway, enjoy this new-old set of images from Issa Ng! – Steve

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Dear Steve,

I am submiting 3 of my recent photo collections. My name is Issa Ng from Hong Kong.

Details of photos:

1st: Leica MP Hammertone with Noctilux E58 and Fujifilm Velvia 100 pushed to 200

2nd: Leica M3 with Noctilux E58 and Tmax P3200 pulled to 800

3rd: Leica MP hammertone with Summilux-M 35 ASPH and Rollei Retro100S

My flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/issa918/

Wish any of these photos will be qualified to your standard. :) BTW, love your site so much and check it out everyday!

Happy new year!

cheers,

issa

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Dec 172010
 

From Steve: I’ve been busy all week testing out the Pentax K5 with the 40mm 1.9 Limited lens but this week has been all about Guest Articles! So let’s keep it moving along with another from David Babsky, who if you remember wrote THIS controversial article a while back. What do you think of his new article? Feel free to comment and enjoy! You can also comment in the forums HERE.

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“Leica M9.5″ – The Small But Excellent Panasonic GF1 by David Babsky

Invited to the UK launch of the Panasonic AG-AF101 micro-four-thirds video camcorder (also known as the AG-AF100 in the USA) I thought I’d take a Four-Thirds-to-Micro-Four-Thirds lens adapter with me. This was so that I could use the Leica Digilux-3 lenses I had in my cupboard on this new camcorder. For good measure, I thought I’d take a Canon-to-micro-4/3 and a Leica-to-m4/3 adaptor, too, so that I could try Canon and Leica lenses on this new video camera.

To check out the Leica Digilux-3 lenses on a micro-4/3 stills camera before trying them on the camcorder, I hunted for a suitable camera: Olympus Pen? No; weird shape and slow autofocus. Panasonic micro-4/3 single-lens-reflex? No; too bulky. Panasonic GF1? ..Looks good, and with a reputation for very fast focus and excellent image quality ..and I’ve been using Pannys for a while, so I know where the buttons are and what they do.

Micro-four-thirds, of course, uses the same size sensor as the original ‘Four Thirds’ (Olympus, Panasonic and Leica) standard used in, for example, the ‘Leica’ Digilux-3 (which was really a Panasonic L1 by another name). It’s a sensor about a *quarter* the size of the Leica M9’s full-35mm-frame sensor, so it sees the view through only the central region of any full-frame lens. A normal 50mm lens becomes, effectively, a 100mm lens when used on a 4/3 – or micro-4/3 – sensor, but it keeps the same aperture settings. Although the Four Thirds (and micro-4/3) sensor is roughly a quarter the physical size of the Leica M9’s full-frame sensor, they currently have *two-thirds* the resolution of the M9, with – presently – 12 megapixels, compared with the M9’s 18 megapixels. So using just the central highest-resolution region of high resolution Leica prime (non-zoom) lenses, the 12 megapixel micro-4/3 GF1 may be able to out-resolve, or give ‘better’ results than, the 10 megapixel Leica M8 and M8.2 sensors, at least at low ISO settings – although any flaws in the central region of any lens will also be magnified by two. The m-4/3 sensor may give more digital “noise” at higher ISO settings than the Leicas, because each actual pixel ‘photo-site’ is smaller, and so captures less light at a given moment than the bigger sensors in the Leicas. So the ‘signal-to-noise’ ratio of the Leicas’ larger Kodak sensors may be more impressive than results with the smaller sensors in m-4/3 cameras. Panny 12 megapixel pictures can’t, for example, deliver as much enlargement as the 18 megapixel pics of the M9 before fuzzy or unsightly ‘pixellation’ sets in.

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The little micro-4/3 camera in the middle (the GF1, or ‘Leica M9.5′) and its one lens replaces the big 4/3 Leica Digilux-3 on on the left, and *almost* replaces the big Leica M9 on the right – and all those other lenses!

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The various m-4/3 lens adaptors have no glass inside: they’re just “extension tubes” to hold non-micro-4/3 lenses further from the sensor than the proper ‘designed-for-m-4/3′ lenses, so that lenses built for larger cameras with a greater lens-to-sensor ‘flange-back’ distance will focus correctly onto the m-4/3 chip. Panasonic’s own adaptor includes nine contacts to transmit power and info between Four-Thirds lenses and m-4/3 camera bodies so that the lenses’ electrical circuits (should) work properly. But as there’s no stabilisation, auto-focus or auto-aperture in Leica-M lenses, the Leica-M-to-m4/3 adaptor is just a metal tube with a precision mount on each end.

What a revelation! I’d bought a small second-hand Minolta CLE film camera to mount my Leica lenses on, as the M9 is just too heavy and too bulky to be a proper pocket camera ..for me, anyway. (Why is it BIGGER than the original Leica M3 of 1954?) ..But the Panny GF1 Leica-lens-plus-teeny-body combination is *exactly* what I’d been looking for! Leica has a partnership with Panasonic going back many years (the Leica Digilux cameras were Pannys in different livery, and the Leica V-Lux 20 is just the Panny TZ10 (its UK name) with a red dot on it). Leica should now grab the Panny GF1 – on its way to being phased out as the new GF2 is on its way – and should re-brand it as the Leica ‘M9.5′ (with a black dot on it, just like the M8.2) ..and that, I think, would be the perfect pocket camera, just as Oskar Barnack intended!

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Delicious patterns, textures and colours of Christmas fare: straight-out-of-camera jpegs from the GF1 (click for larger). Why no similar comparison shots taken with the M9..? Because the 56-year-old rangefinder mechanism of the current M9 can’t focus close enough to take these shots. The GF1, er ‘M9.5′, offers manual and auto focus – with anti-shake image stabilisation – for close-ups and small apertures at high or low ISO. The first image was shot at ISO 3200 ..not bad for a small sensor, eh? (The M9 won’t go above ISO 2500, without dialing-in some under-exposure.) (F) was shot at ISO 1600. All these were taken with the default Panasonic 14-45mm ‘kit’ lens.

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All the Leica lenses I’ve tried fit the GF1 – especially the wonderful Dual Range f/2 50mm which is unusable beyond 4 metres on the M9 (..or 2 metres on the M8 and M8.2..) because its focusing cam bangs against the digital M cameras’ metering cell! Doh! The exotic long-rear-end Russar 20mm doesn’t fit on the GF1, because its back end protrudes too far, but the less protrusive Voigtländer 21mm (and the Voigtländer 15mm and 12mm) will fit perfectly, and give brilliantly sharp shots!

These wide lenses don’t need extra external viewfinders on the GF1 – unlike using them on a Leica M – because What You See Is What You Get; the ‘live view’ screen on the back of the GF1 (..let’s call it the ‘Leica 9.5′ from now on..) shows exactly what each lens sees ..and a small clip-on electronic viewfinder is available if you can’t – or don’t want to – focus at arm’s length.

Focusing with older Lumix/Leica 4/3 lenses, which don’t auto-focus on the GF1 – or with any Lumix lens set to Manual Focus – will automatically give a magnified view on the camera’s focusing screen to help get the focus spot-on: connection pins in the 4/3-to-m4/3 adaptor tell the camera that focus is being manually adjusted. This doesn’t happen automatically with other lenses on a ‘dumb’ adaptor, like Leica, Canon or 35mm-film Olympus, as there are no connector pins on these adaptors to tell the camera what’s happening inside the lens. But by pushing IN on the over/under-exposure adjustment wheel on the back of the camera, focus-magnification’s turned on with ALL ‘dumb’ lenses!

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The M9’s redeeming feature is that it beats the GF1 in richness and depth of colour, in both day and at dusk, which the GF1 just can’t match – yet! Last one at ISO 2000.

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As focal lengths effectively double when used with 4/3 sensors – compared with full-35mm-frame sensors – the Leica f/2.8 14-50mm wide-aperture zoom from the old Digilux-3 becomes an f/2.8 28-90mm zoom on the GF1 (as it did on the old Digilux itself), and Panasonic’s Leica-branded f/3.5 14-150mm Digilux-3 lens behaves as a 28-300mm super-zoom. But those older 4/3 Digilux lenses are big and bulky compared with the newer miniature f/3.5 14-45mm and f/4 14-140mm lenses designed especially for the GF1 ..er, ‘Leica M9.5′ *micro*-four-thirds system. The Digilux-3 wide-aperture f/2.8 14-50mm would seem to have the edge over the new smaller-aperture f/4 14-45mm, but not so, because in-built stabilisation in the old lens doesn’t work when used on the ‘9.5’, but stabilisation in the new miniature lenses *does*, giving an extra two stops’ worth of non-shake shooting!

Fitting Leica’s f/2.5 75mm Summarit-M on the ‘9.5’ camera gives a small and pocketable f/2.5 140mm that’s a fraction of the size of the M9-plus-Leica’s-own f/2.8 135mm ..which needs a crane to hoist and hold it!

A Leica 24mm lens behaves like a 48mm, of course ..but using the Cosina-made Voigtländer *12mm* on the ‘9.5’ gives pretty much the same view as a 24mm on an M9. (The Panasonic 8mm – and 7-14mm zoom – will approximate to a similar view as Leica’s super-wide-angle ‘Tri-Elmar’ 16-21mm zoom at its widest setting, so all wide-angle boxes are ticked if you splash out on an 8mm.)

The Voigtländer 21mm gives – oddly – a far wider view than Panasonic’s own 20mm f/1.7 autofocus m-4/3 ‘pancake’ lens when used on the GF1; they should both be a 40mm equivalent, but I prefer the Cosina-Voigtländer for its wider angle of view and incredible sharpness – when correctly focused! (The small Panasonic lenses auto-focus of course, but Leica-M-fit lenses – obviously – can’t. You can manually focus with the Panny m4/3 lenses; but you can choose an aperture (in ‘A’ or ‘Manual’ mode) by turning a dial on the camera.)

Black-&-white results at 1600 ISO on the ‘9.5’ are nicely ‘grainy’ like venerable ISO 400 Tri-X film ..but needing only a quarter of the light which Tri-X needs! This GF1 is just *great* for hi-ISO black-&-white. Low-light colour shots, though, aren’t anywhere near as vibrant (..even though ‘Vibrant’ is selectable in its menus..) compared with pictures the M9 delivers at night (or the little Panasonic LX2 used to give).

I’d previously thought “why put a Leica full-frame lens on a tiny Four Thirds sensor? ..there’s less resolution, and you lose the wide-angle facility”.

But having tried it, I see advantages:

[a] the body – and body-&-lens combination – is FAR smaller and lighter than using a Leica M.

[b] the body-&-lens combination may, in some circumstances, out-perform the Leica M8.

[c] although you can’t use a Digilux zoom on a Leica M, you can use it on the ‘M9.5′. Same goes for defunct Leica R lenses.

[d] focal length doubles, so a Leica f/2.8 90mm becomes a very compact f/2.8 180mm, giving longer “reach” – and plenty of aperture – with a small lens.

[e] no ‘cyan corners’ using a Voigtländer 12mm on the ‘M9.5′: it’s a usable 24mm instead.

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Which is which? iPhone 4, 5 megapixels, 2.3MB, ISO 125, 3.9mm, f/2.8, 1/15th.

GF1, 12 megapixels, 12.9MB RAW, 5.6MB jpeg, ISO 200, 24mm, +1 stop exposure, f/1.4, 1/80th

M9, 18 megapixels, 36.4MB RAW, ISO 200, 50mm, +1 stop exposure, f/1.4, 1/60th

The short focal length of the iPhone, and its f/2.8 aperture, means that the whole picture’s sharp. The GF1, with a Leica f/1.4 24mm, gives less depth-of-field; the M9 and f/1.4 50mm gives even less d-o-f to isolate Steve the painter from the background. (There’s a 15x difference in price – and in file size! – between the iPhone and the M9 pics ..is there a 15x difference, though, in *visible* “image quality”?)

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I’ve, at last, found a generally ‘easy-to-use’ small, compact “all-rounder” to almost match the big, heavy Leica M9. Leica’s chairman Alfred Schopf should encourage a deal with Panasonic *right now!* to offer the GF1 as a mini ‘Leica M9.5′ because it takes Leica lenses – think how much more glass they’d sell! – it gives great results, they already rebrand Pannys as Leicas, and (some of) the world wants a pocketable Leica which takes interchangeable lenses – unlike the silly fixed-lens X1. (Or else put a Leica-M bayonet on the X1 ..though that leads us into the land of “one-and-a-half-times” focal lengths, with a 50mm becoming a 75mm instead of 100mm, and the X1’s focusing just isn’t as fast as the ‘M9.5′.) The Leica ‘M9.5′ would be a compact Leica “for the rest of us”.

The GF1, er ‘Leica M9.5′, is – obviously – the digital version of the Leica CL (the “Compact Leica”): it takes M lenses, gives great quality (RAW and jpeg), doubles the range of existing M lenses – so a 135mm becomes a 270mm ..a focal length unheard of on a Leica *rangefinder* camera – and it’s just the smallest, sweetest Leica ever made. Call it the “mini-M” if you like. And make an 8mm M lens to go with it. Make the call, Herr Schopf!

David Babsky was, many years ago, Technical Editor of the UK’s best-selling ‘Practical Photography’ magazine. Years later he bought, and ran, his own 3-screen cinema. Now he teaches photography, mainly in Greece and Thailand.

Dec 172010
 

Hi Steve,

I recently had a great time taking my M9 around China and Tibet. Here are three pics, each taken with a different lens. Hope they make the cut!

Keep up the great work. The full set of pictures is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/willstorr/sets/72157625419628937/

Many thanks,

Wil

Lens: Voigtlander f1.2 35mm Ap: f1.4 Shutter: 1/30 ISO: 160

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Lens: Summicron f2 35mm Ap: f2 Shutter: 1/80 ISO: 160
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Lens: Voigtlander f1.8 75mm Aperture: f1.8 Shutter: 1/2000 ISO: 160
Dec 162010
 

The guest articles keep on coming and this is AWESOME! I love seeing all of you guys contribute so we can ALL learn and grow from each others experiences. Those looking to send in articles, contact me using the contact button at the top of any page. Today, more wedding work with my favorite camera, the Leica M9 – by Tapas Maiti

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Shooting an Entire Wedding Season with a Leica M

By Tapas Maiti

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about my decision to transition to an exclusive use of Leica Rangefinders for wedding photography. I bravely ditched my DSLRs leaving me with my M8/M9s and my Hasselblad outfit.

I thought I ought to follow up with my experiences now that I have worked through a whole season. My problem is that I am a devoted Leica enthusiast but I’ve decided to write both from the perspective of a photographer and enthusiast but also from the colder viewpoint of running a business and delivering the goods on paid wedding shoots.

For those of you that want a quick summary here goes:

Yes I can shoot all parts of a wedding with a Leica M9, including dancing , speeches and so on but you do need to build a workflow around using it

The M9 delivers amazing quality and does really reduce the wear and tear on my back and create a client impact

The M9 is not operationally as good as an M7 or MP (more on that later)

The biggest problem of using M9’s isn’t the camera but it is the availability of products, building redundancy capability (which is why I now have a DSLR as an emergency back up)

Shooting weddings and my workflow

Firstly for me, shooting Rangefinders is an approach and a state of mind, you have to commit to it and for me at least, I find it very difficult to mix shooting Leica’s and DSLRs.

I also need to shoot rangefinders all the time to keep myself sharp and in the groove. I don’t see this as a criticism and I don’t really have time for people who claim to be professional but won’t put the time , effort and due diligence into their basis skills.

Conceptually, I do understand how the automation of DSLRs can be enticing BUT they can lock up, fail quite often as well we just tend to be more scared of relying on ourselves. I find that DSLRS can fail to focus or lock up with close moving dance scenes and during processions, that is reasonable and fair so not getting a perfect hit rate with a Leica is fair as well.

My workflow and approach has had to change though to adapt to three main factors:

You can’t change lenses that fast so I prefer to use two M9s

On camera flash is just unwieldy on the M9 so I tend to use available light or off camera flash with wireless triggers

The meter sucks, so I tend to use a hand held light meter (works better anyway)

Two cameras with a 35mm and 50/75mm work really well for me, I also have a 21mm Biogon in the bag. I sold my M8s and so that I could have two M9s and this works well. I can be mixing formats, filters etc in the middle of a wedding. I have also made sure that my key lenses are Leica lenses, again the whole manual lens selection is fine for stable environments or amateur use but not in a wedding and the M9 is more sensitive to getting things right.

If I lived in a place with nice weather , I would now be sorted and the whole Rangefinder simplicity thing would work really well but I don’t I live in the UK , suffer from low light levels and the peculiar desire of wedding venues to induce “mood lighting” otherwise known as “dark”

I am actually convinced that some venues own Nikon D3s just to test their light levels are low enough!

My first approach is fast lenses, I made sure I got one of the first 35 1.4 Asph II to come out but the second has been to work out flash techniques.

Now I will admit to having a Nikon D700 (more on that later) but the low light advantage is not as it seems, yes the Nikon does have amazing quality at 6400 BUT you need much higher shutter speeds to get sharp images whilst I can happily shoot the M9 at 1/15 or 1/30 second. I have also shot at a UK venue where 6,400 and 1.8 wasn’t enough so you do eventually run out of light !

It has taken me a while (and some money) to get to a situation I’m happy with and I still think there is some changes to make. On camera flash didn’t work , the SF24D is pointless, Vivitar 285 too big. I don’t want to try the SF58 – far too expensive and too big. I have however turned this to my advantage, I now use wireless flash.

– a trigger on each camera and one or two vivitar 285 on manual or

– profoto lights with profoto air triggers (more rarely)

This has been a blessing – manual flash is far more reliable than TTL and when shot off camera is just much nicer looking, the remotes are light and suit the M9.

The conflict is that we want to shoot Leica’s simply but I can’t not get good images because I won’t carry lights if needed. Again going back to my D700 example, I don’t see this as a weakness of the M9 because you are always going to run out of light at some point, the M9 (unlike the M8) has got a reasonable ceiling.

The key to making the above work is to spend enough money to get a reliable set up but have one set up, I tried e-bay triggers but they are not good enough, I may focus on using my profoto or get a Quadra so that I have a single reliable set up that I can use in every situation.

The M9 is not as good as the M7 / MP (operationally)

When considering the handling performance of the M9 it is just not fair to compare it to a D3 / 1D because it is conceptually different. It is fair to compare it to an analogue M though and I think it does come short:

You can manually crank and M7 at 2/3 frames a second for 36 frames

The M7/MP are quieter and feel more rugged

The M9 isn’t bad but it has a number of shortcomings that should be easily resolvable:

More processing power, the M9 doesn’t have the juice to properly power the camera

Better LCD, it has taken me a while to trust the higher iso because the screen is just bad, having said that I would prefer the images to be better than the screen rather than worse

Better battery performance or perhaps an add on small battery pack / grip

The feeling I get is that the M9 is just slightly under specified in terms of battery power and computer processing, not enough to want me to give it up but enough to sometimes frustrate.

The key to Rangefinders is directness and immediacy not frames per second or automation and we aren’t far off.

The final thing is “ruggedness” I think a future M10 should have environmental seals, the lenses won’t allow waterproofing but it would be nice if it were better than it is.

Redundancy and Availability

The absolute biggest problem for me this year is not the camera itself but availability of products to a professional’s timeline.

As an example, I have found that I need 4 batteries per camera to get through an Asian wedding with safety. I had to travel to Rotterdam to shoot a long wedding and knew I didn’t have enough batteries – but I couldn’t buy any, there was a backorder for thousands of batteries. I walked into my camera dealer and bough a second hand Nikon D700 and a couple of lenses and batteries (the only suitable camera available at the time). Bizarrely I now own a DSLR as cover for battery power ! Having the Nikon in the car as an emergency back up is no bad thing.

I put in an order for a chrome 50 1.4 Asph at the beginning of the year, it still hasn’t arrived and I have the Zeiss Sonnar and 75 F2 summicron instead.

Fortunately the M9 has now become a stock and demo item in the UK, I have the lenses I need and I have Zeiss back ups so I am all set now to cope.

As a business decision

The M9 is expensive and the lenses are expensive but this needs to be set in context. The M9 is no more expensive than a D3X, its high iso capabilities are about the same so it is in the same league as other top end cameras. The lenses are superb and made to last, once you have the kit you can use it for a very long time.

I can write the costs of the equipment off against tax and I have lenses such as the 35 1.4 and 75 F2 that cannot be improved upon. If I am still successfully making money from these lenses in 10 years then the costs will be justified.

I have spent a fortune on the continual upgrade cycle of DSLRs whilst my Hasselblad 501CM has given faithful service for 15 years with the small uplift of a digital back. My Blad and back are actually more cost effective than the DSLRs (over time) and hopefully the M9  will be as well, I certainly have no need of greater image quality.

The Leica’s also differentiate me, I have undertaken high end weddings with guests bring D3X, 5DII. I sit outside this , both in terms of the cameras I use and the approach they impose upon me.

My conclusion the Leica M9 still rocks

I have used a Leica virtually everyday for the last two years and it is slowly becoming instinctive and an extension of me., it allows me to be light, flexible and discrete. The Leica M demands this diligence and it changes the way you shoot and see, it gives me a look and a presence at weddings that sets me apart (in my niche world anyway).

And finally the Leica M9 produces amazing images , limited only by my skills but gives me huge pleasure in my work. More of my work can be seen at my website HERE.

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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 152010
 

Check out these amazing IR photos taken with an M8..WOW..Inspiring!

Inspired by a “Faulty” Sensor

By Konstantinos Besios – (See his Blog)

The Leica M8 was “in trouble” when its high sensitivity to infrared light was discovered, M8 owners had to live with a UV/IR filter on their lenses, but when this cursed filter is replaced with either a Hoya R72 or a B+W 092 IR filter, then a door to a new world opens ….

A great tool for infrared photography and the best thing is that you can even shoot infrared without a tripod and get away with it ….

Below are some images I’ve taken with the Leica M8 and B+W 092 infrared filter.

(Note: the b&w image with the lady on the bridge is shot with a Leica M7 and Ilford SFX 200 film, the close up tree b&w photo against the sun is taken with a Leica M1 and Efke IR820 film.The rest of the images are from the M8)

Dec 142010
 

Hi Steve,

I hope you are doing good. My name is Franz Bohr and I am fan of classic cameras that´s why I have been following your blog (thanks to google reader) for more then a year. I like beautifully designed gear like old rangefinder cameras or the newer retro-styled cams from Oly. There is nothing more motivating and inviting then a great piece of industrial design, isn´t it ? One thing the classic rangefinder M-Leicas unfortunately dont feature is an auto focus. I say unfortunately because for my work i consider auto focus a must.

So what i use for most of my shots is the rather small but great Olympus Pen EP-1. As most of your readers know this camera got much love here on Stevehuffphoto.com and i think it is one of the best deals out there in camera land. You get a very classic looking and rigid body which is very leightweight and pocketable at the same time. In pair with the incredible Panasonic Lumix Pancake 20mm f/1.7 this makes it a dynamic and unbeatable duo for me (especially considering the fact that you get both for altogether 600 Euros).

That´s the reason why this PEN-Pancake combo has become my daily companion. Actually most of my best shots i took when going to work / to the studio (i am an electronic music producer). My current photography related project covers my obsession for people photography. It is called “Faces” and i would like to invite you to have at look it.

here is my set:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/autist/sets/72157624628409020/

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.

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.

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.

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!

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 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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