Nov 242014
 

Character Style and Mood in Photography

By Peter Maynard

Adelaide, South Australia

Hello Steve. Allow me to open by saying thank you for running this site. It is one that I visit regularly for inspiration and information. I thought it was time I went about trying to inspire by providing some thoughts on the importance of character, style and mood in photography. It is a wee bit lengthy but I hope it’s worth it, so here goes.

In photography, many of us start our journey by studying and learning from the masters of the art. But my belief is that many of us will eventually develop a desire to create their own personal photographic style, rather than just copying others. This requires experimentation, learning, effort and creativity. In my case, I approach photography as an art form, not just a mechanism for documenting and recording events. This more expressive approach influences my work greatly and my ability to use photography to express myself artistically is the thing that constantly challenges, engages, enthuses and energizes me. Oh, and did I say frustrates?

What really counts for me is the creative process itself and ultimately what is important is whether I like the resulting image. I understand that not everyone approaches photography in this way and that is fine but this is my way so it is all I can tell you about. What this article is about really is the need for photographers to develop character and style in their work and in particular I would like to demonstrate the role that mood can play in image making as a part of this.

Although like many photographers, I started “serious” photography by shooting black and white, my preferred style now most often involves using colour because I find it lends itself better to artistic interpretation for my type of work. This is not invariably the case though – I like to let the image “decide” if it wants to be in colour or in monochrome, if that makes sense. It is a simple fact of life that some images work best in monochrome and some in colour. Part of our job in image making is to work out which is which. So I usually shoot in full colour then convert later if needed. Here is one where monochrome seemed to work better to convey the feeling I thought the image was crying out to convey – solitary, thoughtful, a little gloomy. I can’t say it’s a perfect photo – it has too many blown highlights for that, but it has mood in bucket loads and that is what I wanted.

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I always feel that photographs are at their most interesting when they require some degree of interpretation by the viewer. And as I have already hinted, as much as anything this is about creating mood in images rather than just capturing a scene accurately. It is about what is suggested in the image more than what is recorded. My personal belief is that this kind of photography is at its best, not necessarily when the images are technically perfect, but rather when they either capture or create a mood that “speaks” to the viewer. of course a viewer may interpret my photographs as having a very different mood or message from the one I intended, because of course the viewer will interpret the image through his or her own eyes and own experiences.

Here is a colour example I happen to like very much. Like many images that I like the best, it is not technically perfect. And like many presented here, it was shot through a window and as a result is distorted and softened by flare and reflections. Technically it may be questionable, but artistically I feel it works. This image reminds me very much of early autochrome colour images which have a lovely softness and pastel quality. And it has a lovely intimate mood which sets me thinking: who are they, why are they here, what are they talking about? That is exactly what mood should be able to achieve – set the viewer thinking.

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I am happiest with my own photos when they are somewhat ambiguous (one reason I often make liberal use of reflections when I can – think Saul Leiter who had a similar approach for, I imagine, similar reasons). I think of a good image as being one which allows room for viewer interpretation as I mentioned earlier. Here is another example. Again, it’s an image of a group of people in a warm café; sitting, passing the time, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company. Once more, critics could be forgiven for saying it’s a bad photo – excessively dark, soft, indistinct and vague. But these are exactly the things I love about it. It has an intimate mood that draws me back to this place and time. Hopefully it does something similar for others who may remember times when they have sat amongst just such an intimate group of friends. Once more this photo is all about its mood.

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Why is it that looking in through a window on a scene so often creates that feeling of intimacy and warmth? I find this again and again – it is like looking in on a secret and private world. Here is a further example, an image that speaks to me once more of comfort, intimacy, congeniality and friendship.

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Of course the same technique can be applied in other settings. In the following two images, shot through windows in Kowloon, Hong Kong I captured the staff of two of the many small restaurants that line the streets in this part of town, at work in their kitchens. Shadows and light complemented by the blur of steam on what probably has to be admitted were grimy windows transport me back to my time in that place. To me this type of travel photo is more evocative than any number of wide-angle scenes of iconic buildings and skylines, perhaps because the images’ human scale because they capture the feeling of the places depicted. They are photos which make the most of mood and looking at them transports me back to that place and time. This is what mood can do when it works for the viewer.

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But of course, mood does not always rely upon reflections in a window. In the following shot my aim was for the image to be about the triangle made by this mother’s face, her hands and the face of her child to emphasize the relationship between them. So after making the image I applied a vignette to emphasise those elements and not much else – perhaps just enough to give context. I have often felt that in image making a successful image is as much about what you leave out as what you capture. And that is a key creative choice that photographers should keep in mind.

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The same kind of technique can be successfully applied to other types of photograph to create mood. In this image of a city skyline, the natural shadows have been enhanced to focus the eye where it needs to be – on the juxtaposition between old and new as represented by the buildings in the image.

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In all of the above images there has been some degree of post processing to draw out final image. Perhaps it is surprising for many people to learn that the processing has involved taking detail out – not maximizing it. As I said at the outset, to me a photograph can often work best when it is a little ambiguous and allows room for personal interpretation by the viewer. This can often only be achieved if the image has lost some detail that might otherwise distract the viewer from the main message or make the main point of interest in the image less obvious. But there are times when little effort is needed to achieve this.

Sometimes, as in this photo all you need to do is to rely on natural light to capture the mood that was present when the image was made. And then maybe tweak it a smidge in post.

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But I can never quite let go of the idea of using reflections so here is one final photo to illustrate a variation on this theme. In this example it was as simple as photographing the distorted image of a crane against the sky, with both elements reflected in a grimy upper story window of a warehouse. No tricks, little processing, just an image that is both vague and at the same time, somehow evocative. You may have guessed. I love reflections for their ability to create mood.

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So there you have it, some thoughts on creating mood in photography to illustrate my central message of the importance of photographers creating a personal style for themselves. And of course to illustrate this I have shown you something of my own personal style. Your task is to find a style that works for you – a style which gives you a voice. And what about creating mood? Well, unsurprisingly I find that much of it is about using shadows and light. Speaking personally I just wait till I see an image that looks as if it is interesting then compose and press the shutter. Then when I am processing it and begin to see an image emerging that I like, I may add a bit of shadow here, subtract a bit of light there – or visa versa, till I am happy. No secret, just experience and a certain sensitivity to an image that in some way makes me go “wow, I like that, I think I will stop now!” If there is interest and |Steve agrees I am happy to prepare another article for his site on how to use post processing to enhance mood and style in photographs.
I recently found a photography book containing photos of Australia in the 1950’s and 1960s. A sentence in it caught my attention, part of which referred to “the ability of a lens to give a vision not seen by the eye”. How true that is. If we are doing our job right as photographers we will sometimes manage to capture an image that no eye, including our own has ever seen. We have caught a moment in time and when we first see the photo realise we have really seen it for the first time. I am sure we all have had that experience and am constantly amazed by the ability of photography to do this. But my central idea in this article is that even though a photo can capture something not seen directly by the eye, if done well it can tell an even deeper truth about the image by speaking directly to our emotions. That is the elusive frustrating demon I constantly chase. Maybe we all do.

I hope you have enjoyed this and even more, I hope you have found it useful or at least thought-provoking. More of my photos can be seen on my Flickr page. Nothing fancy, just photos from my everyday life and travels. Some good, perhaps some indifferent, but I hope not many that are bad.

Please visit and if you feel so inclined, leave comments. https://www.flickr.com/photos/life_in_shadows/

Or you can visit some I have placed on Pinterest for a more succinct overview of some of my images. http://www.pinterest.com/peterm1001/

Nov 242014
 

Sony A7 Portrait Images

by Adam Laws

Hello to All!

Since my last contribution in relation to the Sony A7 I have completed my first year of my photography course (It has been strange going back to school in the evenings after 10 years), and now feel way more competent around photography in general. I don’t generally feel you need to take formal lessons in photography but I have found having set goals each week, and most importantly having constructive feedback from my peers and tutor has been very beneficial and far more useful than facebook likes.

Back to the A7. I have previously posted my views about the A7 here and I still find the camera to be very competent since I’ve owned it in January. Not once have I needed or wanted more though I still wish for some new glass to become available with autofocus capability. The Zeiss 55mm has proven to be a great portrait lens it would still be nice to have a longer prime (When doing art nude shots you really don’t want to be within arm’s reach of the model if you want her to feel comfortable). It has also been interesting to see that originally traditional SLR users sneered at the Sony when I arrive at shoots for what they perceived to be an inferior cropped sensor camera, now the same photographers are all now contemplating moving to Sony, Fuji and Olympus. I do wonder what the next reiteration of the A7 and the rumoured Sony pro full frame cameras would be like but I can’t imagine it would be substantially better for me to upgrade for my purposes.

I have submitted a selection of my portrait work for my college assignments and personal work to hopefully showcase the quality of the equipment. Yes some post production has been done on some of the images, but without a good source file, which is produced by this camera you would find that your flexibility to produce ‘your’ desired image would be reduced.

www.AdamLaws.com

https://www.flickr.com/photos/saynotolettuce/

All the best,

Adam

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Nov 202014
 

A Zeiss Otus studio shoot

By Andrew Paquette – See his website HERE

I had been wondering what it would be like to shoot in a proper studio for some time. After buying the 55mm Otus, I had an excuse to do it. I arranged for a group of models, and then had the good fortune to have a couple of athletes ask if they could come by as well for some portraits. A couple of nights before the shoot I woke up at 4 AM with the realization that I should have a plan in mind before I got to the studio, so I stayed up for a few hours making sketches of things I could try. For the athletes, both of whom were basketball players, I wanted clean shots of some of the basketball juggling tricks they wanted me to shoot, but for the models, I wanted some humorous images that told a story.

For gear, the Otus was going to do most of the work, but I took a few other lenses, just in case. From Zeiss, I brought the 55mm Otus and the 135mm ZA (mounted on an A7R). I also brought the Nikkor 35mm and 85mm 1.4G lenses, to be mounted on a D800. In the end, the Otus did most of the work, the 85mm didn’t get used, the 35mm took one of the better shots, and the 135mm was used for some portraits of the basketball players. For me the big surprise was the 35mm Nikkor. I expected good shots out of the Otus and the other lenses, but worried the 35mm might be a little soft in comparison. It was used because it was the widest angle lens I had with me and the only one that could take the shot I wanted. Otherwise I would have used the Otus.

The first thing I found out is that it takes a long time to set up the lights for a shot. Instead of getting the fourteen setups I had made sketches for, I got three of the models and three of the basketball players. Also, unlike shooting on the street, I kept shooting the same thing over and over again until I thought I had what I wanted. On the street, I’d shoot as much as possible and hope that something decent was captured, but in the studio I could check on the spot and then make whatever modifications were needed to correct any errors. For this I wish I had brought my laptop because I could have shot tethered. That would have made it a lot easier to check the photos than looking at the screen on the back of the D800 or the EVF of the A7R, but I hadn’t known in advance that the studio would have the cables I needed to do tethered shooting (they did).

Working in a studio was a great experience, but it was also very expensive, so it isn’t something I can do every week. That said, now I want to shoot in a studio more often because the control over lighting is a fantastic thing to experience. In comparison to the cost of buying all the lighting gear that came with the studio for a day rental, it was pretty reasonable.
Below are some of the images from the shoot:

Waking up Fabienne, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/8, 1/250 ISO 100

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Gust of wind, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/6.3, 1/100 ISO 100

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Family portrait, shot with a Nikon D800, Nikkor 35mm 1.4G f/7.1, 1/200 ISO 100

Kieboom dressing room 001 (1 of 1)

Michael Evolution juggling, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/7.1, 1/200 ISO 100

Michael overhead juggle (1 of 1)

Michael Evolution juggling, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/7.1, 1/250 ISO 100

Michael side juggle (4 of 1)

Michael Evolution juggling, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/7.1, 1/200 ISO 100

Ball levitate (1 of 1)

Michael and Galdino juggling with motion blur, shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/9, 1/6 ISO 100

Double Dribble (5 of 1)

Michael and Galdino in suits, shot with a Sony A7R, Zeiss 135mm ZA f/97.1, 1/200 ISO 100

Michael and Galdino corp (1 of 1)

http://www.paqart.com

Nov 182014
 

Travelling with the Nikon Df

By D.J. De La Vega

Hi Steve,

It has been nearly two years year since I had the privilege of sharing my photos on your site from my photogenic road trip to Tuscany with my Leica X1. In that time I began to lust after a camera with a better optical viewfinder. The 36mm Brightline viewfinder on the X1 is a lovely piece of glass and a joy to use, but unfortunately as it is completely passive, it is not very practical and requires a lot of patience and compromises (and a lot of missed opportunities). This lead me to have a “Moment Back with my D7000″and since then I have not looked back and upgraded to the Nikon Df and have not regretted the decision for a second.

Meanwhile the time was upon me again for what has become my annual photogenic road trip. This year after many deliberations and alterations it eventually ended up being Tuscany again, only this time with a stop off in Barcelona on the way. No longer would my trusty X1 accompany me on my travels, as the Df is now my go to camera day-to-day. Initially I was concerned the added bulk and weight would impact upon my journey as my camera is strapped around my neck every minute of the waking day. In reality however I found if you are prepared to lug a camera with you all day regardless of the size, it is the practicality of actually carrying it not the physical exertion that is the issue. The Df is actually way better suited to life around my neck (not tucked away in a bag or wrapped in leather armour like my X1) and I can absolutely confirm it is a robust piece of kit for its size and weight. I have banged it around quite a bit and even inadvertently tested the weather sealing by spilling a cup of Coca-Cola all over it!!!

In use, I find the Df to be a magnificent camera. The dials are exactly where I want them to be and like my X1, I can look down at my camera and adjust the settings at a glance without raising it my eye. This comes in really handy when walking the streets in built up areas as the light can change from street to street depending on whether the low winter sun is obstructed or uninhibited. As I turn a corner, I will instinctively change the ISO on the top plate depending on how the street is lit, and found in bright sunlight I often used the L1 ISO to facilitate shallow depths of field in bright sunshine. At all times I am aware and can see what the camera is set to in case an opportunity should present itself.

So that is enough of the technical side of my gear, to my results. As I mentioned, my first stop off was Barcelona. This was serendipity as to get the best deals to flights to Tuscany I got to spend a day and a night in the capital of Catalonia. I admit, this is nowhere near enough time to explore such an expansive City, so I concentrated all of my time around the Gothic Quarter and food markets. These were wonderful locations for taking in the culture and atmosphere of the city and they presented me with countless opportunities for my photography.

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For street photography the Df is as responsive as you would expect any DSLR to be. It is no super fast sports camera, but for spotting an opportunity, lifting the camera to your eye and shooting, it is about as instantaneous as you could possibly hope for. Certainly without hyperbole a hundred million times faster than my X1.

From Barcelona to Pisa and then Siena: This time around I did not want to recapture the same photographs I achieved previously. By focusing on this philosophy I was able to explore a lot deeper than before, ignoring the local landmarks and focusing on the people and the ambiance of these underrated cities.

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For me, the pièce de résistance of Tuscany is the incredible city of Florence. This time around I made sure I had ample time to really soak it all up and immersed myself over three days and nights aimlessly wandering the charismatic streets. I do not posses an adequate number of superlatives to begin to describe the culture, art, architecture and culinary delights of this amazing place.

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(I genuinely only took this shot of the chap shooting the street with the M9 for this site to see if he was a reader or to see if any readers knew him?)

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I hope you have enjoyed my results even half as much I had making them!
DJ De La Vega https://www.flickr.com/photos/djdelavega/

@dj_delavega

http://instagram.com/dj_delavega/#
P.S These are the links to the relevant articles mentioned at the start of the post.

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/12/24/photographic-road-trip-ii-tuscany-by-d-j-de-la-vega/ 

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/02/26/a-moment-back-with-my-nikon-d7000-by-d-j-de-la-vega/ 

BUY…

You can Buy a Nikon DF at Amazon or B&H Photo

See Steve’s Review of the Df HERE.

Nov 172014
 

retina

The New 27” Apple iMac 5k, Trick or Treat?

by Charlie Webster – See his Flickr HERE

For high-performance digital photography you need a great body. And, you’d like a great lens. Finally, you’d like a great way to view your results. A fundamental Troika. In analog, this could be a M6, 28 Cron and a really fine print. You get the picture.

I’m a photographer and ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’ve lived since 1978, but my main business is computer consulting. For years I had almost all my clients on Windows machines, and I built many of them myself. Since the introduction of Windows 8, I’ve been switching them all to Apple. After years with fast Windows machines, my main rig has been a Mac for two years now.

For me, it pays to keep up, so on October 16th I caught the live feed for the “Apple Event”. I’m cleaning the house while silly skits play to raucous fanboy cheers, etc, when suddenly the subject is a new “5K iMac retina”. My ears prick up like a labrador who hears a hand in the milkbone box. Rut-ro, 14 million pixels? Woof! 70% more than 4K display, which I’ve been drooling over! By the end of the presentation I know one thing: the earth has moved and I must have one of these. I smell the third leg in a digital troika: M9, M Lens, and now……. 5K 27” Retina display.

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To this point I’ve always built my own desktop machines. Never dreamed I’d buy an iMac. Build a hackintosh? Sure. Spend thousands on a big all-in-one? Not this chump! But the luscious Scoobie-snack prospect of seeing M9 files at near full resolution on a 27 inch monitor brushes my DIY ethos aside in an instant, and I dig out “the card”. Fundamentally cheap at heart, I pull the trigger on a basic model with one upgrade: a 3 TB fusion drive. I order an extra 16 gigs of RAM from a third-party vendor to save some money. I’m spending the value of a 50 Lux on the used market today for my brand new Apple 5K. Will it be worth it?

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

I track the iMac from the factory in China, to Japan, to Memphis, to Salt Lake, and finally to Hailey, a few miles away. It arrives, I fire it up, transfer my stuff from Time Machine, set desktops/spaces to cycle my better shots, open several tabs in Safari to follow some discussions, then get into some of my huge libraries of Sony and Leica Raws in Lightroom, resizing some favorites to 16×9 to use every pixel. All the time I’m checking my desktops for the full size images they show.

How do the files look?

Remember when you opened your own full frame digital files for the first time? Maybe it felt like you’d left the earth and taken flight once you saw the rich depth in those images. The 5K gives that sort of rush; and then some. This is the M9 of displays, even calibrated with the same feel and rich contrast of color slide film. Words cannot describe a mountain landscape with the 21SEM pushed to your eyeballs by 14,700,000 pixels on the 27” Retina display. You feel at once astounded, and instantly entitled: of course my shots should look like this! I knew I was a genius!

My first days with the rig were spent figuring out the best ways to view and edit Sony A7 and Leica M9 images, while carrying on with day-to-day computing. On background, I learned there are some great 27ish 4K screens under $2000 which may have a wider color gamut and superior calibration potential for printing than the Apple 5K. Users report that Windows operating systems scaling to 4K, let alone 5K, renders icons, menus and even web pages in curious, not optimal ways. Ideally you would want a 2560x1440ish display for surfing and GUI interaction, and 4k to look at fine stuff.

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With the 5K iMac, Apple has tackled the scaling issue head-on. When “Best for Retina” is selected in display options, this beast runs 2 resolutions simultaneously! One mode is 2560×1440, like a standard thunderbolt display. So your dock icons look normal and webpages are normal size, but Velvia clear, with 4 pixels making one, or something like that. We don’t realize the pixel noise in a native 2560×1440.

Imagine Safari taking up a box about 40% of the total screen space with an interior resolution of 2560×1440, with Steve’s site looking creamy smooth, surrounded by a desktop background—glittering as if from another world. Maybe some sweet shot with a CV 35/1.2 and lots of character, or a sharp UWA landscape with lots of tiny details. What rez will that be? 5120×2880, AKA 5K. Right behind your Safari window! I’ve been using cmd + h to hide Safari and check out my backgrounds as they rotate every minute, then cmd + tab brings back your work window. When you see a favorite shot on the 5k for the first time…

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Some programs, or sites appear to do exactly the same thing. Flickr, for example, seems to really “rez up” images for the 5k. In Lightroom you pull up that sweet etching of light from a wide open 28 cron, and how do you see it? 5120×2880, while sliders and controls are normal size. That sight will drop your jaw and change your workflow. Here is the crux of this quantum leap: with an M9 RAW up on the 5K we interact with the whole image, like a great print. When we study a smaller part of the image, the rest is still attached. You want to know if your ZM18 managed to resolve tiny details deep in the corners? Just look. Don’t zoom, just look. It’s obvious. You want to really check it out? Move your head closer. You don’t see pixels till your nose is getting close. Both lens and image character are revealed in breaking clarity. You find yourself exploring parts of shots you made which you’d never really appreciated.

Only a high quality print could compare and I doubt many are sharper than this. If the color gamut is richer in print, colors still look great on the 27 Retina. As I read in board discussions, the Eizos and NEC monitors may have a wider gamut and can be better calibrated for printing accurately. Yet, in person the 5k Imac is routinely described as “the best display I’ve ever seen” by geeks who’ve seen all the wide gamut 4k stuff. Which is not to say it’s the best predictor of print colors.

The 5K 27” display has an aspect ration of 16×9. Of course, it should have been 5212×3468, like the M9, but oh well. Many of my shots go from pleasing to not so pleasing in composition when cropped 16×9. A few look better. You put the right shot in there and it looks awesome. In future, I make some images especially for this aspect ration with the M9. Meanwhile, pristine un-cropped images glisten with two thin border edges. They look fantastic on the thing. And you can put some icons on the sides, too.

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How does it perform? Well 14.7 million pixels require considerable attention, so this generally snappy rig does gasp here and there in the heavy lifting, like some tasks in full screen photo editing. It doesn’t freeze, but it will drop frames or hesitate at certain times. We are at the frontier of what’s possible, after all.

After playing around quite a bit in LR, my conclusion is: once again library size may matter. In my large catalog, I was surprised to see the machine hesitate to apply a 16×9 crop and stagger to adjust the orientation of a graduated filter, while in other aspects and other spaces the machine was running fine. Finally, getting this report ready, I made a fresh library to edit shots for this piece, and the machine really ripped, very smooth with all the features at full screen. Going back to the big library it seems better, perhaps there is some resizing of thumbnails going on etc, which will make a big library run fast in the future. But short-term, you may want to use smaller libraries if performance becomes an issue. There is also the option, with a few quick clicks, to reduce the overall resolution for heavy editing, which does increase performance, then return to “Best for Retina” for viewing pleasure. 5K quirky? A tad, but like with the M9, the pudding just tastes too good to really care.

My advice is to get as many extras as you can afford in configuring a 5K Retina. It’s Apple so there aren’t many. A faster Card, a faster processor and some drive and ram options, that’s it. Get everything you can afford, but if you can’t afford anything more than the base price of $2499, my advice is: order tomorrow. A few staggers with tough tasks is small ransom to release your images from the smeared filter of coarse sub-4k pixels. Let your images blaze on one of these things and they will inspire you all over again. Here is a new and fundamental piece of digital kit, like the camera body and lens. Finally…..we have a display at the level of an M9 and 50 Lux, which can show you those results with a click and little compromise.

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Bottomline: 5K iMac Retina is a game changer for digital photography and desktop computing. Nothing like this has ever been built before. Like a digital Leica, it’s a wonderful step into the future and an incredible tool to use. Not without quirks of course. Thumbs up, Cupertino!

Thanks to Steve for his wonderful site and I hope everyone enjoys my take on the new 5K. “K” is for “Keeper”!

Charlie Webster
My Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/55299472@N07/

I shot the images in this report with A7 + Bokina 90/2.5 and M9 + CV 35/1.2

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

Nov 142014
 

loxia

The Sony A7 and Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Lens Review

by Tomer Vaknin

Dear Steve,

First let me say how much respect I have for you and the other members of your website, I have learned a lot by exploring the wonderful photos you all shared, equipment reviews and inputs. I would like to share my own personal experience with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* lens.

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As a proud and very happy owner of the Sony Zeiss 55mm, I was hesitant to purchase the Loxia. However, after reading the positive impression of the lens in Photonika 2014 and as a huge fan of M mount lenses that I am, I simply had to try the Loxia. Here are some photos I took with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* in Amsterdam streets, Marken village and Rennstrecke Zandvoort, during a holiday I took with my wife in the Netherlands.

I hope these photos, along with my personal impression of the lens, will help some of undecided readers in making the right decision for themselves.

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My personal take on the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*:

- Great 3D feel (Check the box shot that was -take on a bed)

- Wonderful Bokeh

- Lovely Creamy look

- Great character

- Great colors and contrast

- Very sharp!

Overall, The 3D look, the creamy bokeh and feel + the very nice tone and color makes it a winner. The shots taken with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* looks like they were taken with the Leica lens.

Although the Sony Zeiss 55mm is an amazing lens and you can’t go wrong with it, I personally prefer the Loxia.

www.facebook.com/tomer.vaknin.5

You can order the Zeiss Loxia lenses at B&H Photo HERE

Nov 132014
 

Gigs with the GX7

By Keiron

I decided at the beginning of this year to take the big step from a cellphone camera to a camera that couldn’t make calls and check Facebook (although the Samsung cameras are blurring those lines). After a lot of research (mostly on your site) I settled on the micro four thirds system based on the size of the hardware and the quality of the images and when I saw the Panasonic GX7 I knew it was the camera for me. Size was really important as I do a lot of backpacking and there was no way I could carry a DSLR system with me on my travels.

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Here is my Ninja GX7 next to the classic Olympus Trip 35 and it is crazy to think that both cameras have pretty much the same equivalent focal length. I purposely make my GX7 look this way to make people less aware of me taking pictures and also to reduce the chance of thieves taking a liking to my gear.

I thought I would be a travel/street shooter as that was generally what I used my phone for but as I am a massive music fan I soon realised that I could take some fairly decent pictures of gigs. Due to the fantastic size I started to sneak my GX7 into gigs and take flash free pictures of the smaller concerts that I attended and I must admit I was amazed at the quality. My set up for the GX7 was the Panny 20mm 1.7 on the body and in my coat pocket and this would be great for close to the stage shots, and then I would have the Oly 45mm f1.8 in my pocket for further away scenes.

I found that both lenses compliment each other as the 20mm gives you the “I am in the action” type shots and with the focus assist lamp off the band, and fellow fans, hardly notice you taking pictures.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.2, 1/60 sec at ISO 2500

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The 45mm on the other hand allows you to be a bit further back gives you quite flattering band moments which I really enjoy. The swivel touch screen on the GX7 really allows you to shoot way above your eye line and still focus and compose the shot properly, it really is such a great camera.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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I do not think many photographers would ever recommend Micro Four Thirds as a concert set up and to be honest if I went into photography for concerts I would have aimed for the Sony A7 line or the overly discounted Nikon D600. I find that on the GX7 ISO1600 is very usable and up until ISO3200 you start getting grain and detail loss but with some editing afterwards you can rescue the pictures quite well.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. This picture was massively over exposed but with some lightroom magic it came out ok. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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Lighting at concerts will always prove quite a challenge and I find that it forces you to shoot in full manual and using manual focus (magnification and peaking on the GX7 is big help here). The photos are not perfect and the grain can be annoying if you are used to well-lit street shots but at the end of the day live music should be dirty, raw and in the moment so there is no reason why the photos can’t be as well.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.5, 1/50 sec at ISO 3200.

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Even though I would not recommend the system for this kind of shooting I have been very impressed with the results and the versatility of the camera has really shone through.

Both bands are great and you should check their music out:

The Wild Feathers

Ricky Young, Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly, grew up steeped in music; playing solo gigs, touring with local bands and working at venues. The four guys came together in Austin in 2010 through coincidence, mutual friends, and a shared love of the classics: Petty, Dylan, Cash, The Band, Allman Bros, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. They immediately began playing together and became The Wild Feathers. The young band spent the next year writing and defining their sound and touring around the country, sharing the stage with Delta Spirit, Surfer Blood and The Heavy, even landing an opening spot on Paul Simon’s 2011 fall tour.

http://www.thewildfeathers.com/

TenTemPies

TenTemPiés is an international collective of musicians based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Their music is a powerful and innovative blend of flavours, mixing Latin Rock with Reggae and Ska with an Amsterdam twist: Damsko Mestizo!

http://www.tentempies.com/

Have a great day,

Keiron

Nov 132014
 

Photographing the bride on my own wedding

by Milan Swolfs

On the 27th September this year my wife and I got married in Belgium. We both like vintage clothing and love all things from the 20s, 30s, 40s till 50s. My wife www.macheried.com is my muse and we often do (commercial) shoots together.

I couldn’t resist taking some pics of my wife during our wedding with my Leica M9P and Noctilux f0.95 ASPH.

Thanks to your excellent reviews Steve I bought now the Sony A7S together with the Voigtlander Close Up adapter and use it with my Noctilux too. It’s much easier to focus and I can use it at night.

More of our work you can see on my website www.milanswolfs.com

Keep up the good work.

Kind regards

Milan

Milan Swolfs

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Nov 122014
 

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The Ricoh GR in Havana Cuba

by Lorenzo Moscia – See his website HERE with some beautiful photos

This trip to Cuba was for family reasons. My wife has not see her father since 2008, so it was basically a pretty intense trip. I decided to go very light with photographic equipment because for the first time in the past 8/9 years I was travelling abroad with no photo assignment on my shoulders or any particularly freelance plan on my mind.

But Cuba and la Habana are always a very good place to be with a camera.

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I bought a Canon 6D with a 50 1.2, and a Ricoh Gr V 28mm fix lens.

Each time I was walking down the street and take out the Canon all sort of people would approach me because I would represent the typical “yankee” with dollars. I would start to talk to them in a sort of cuban slang (I have been married to my cuban wife for the pst 14 years) so they would let me alone. But going around with the Ricoh was a totally new experience for me. I rediscovered the pure pleasure of the “street photo”, just going around with no particularly subject in mind with a little camera in one hand, and none would be pay attention to me.

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I usually use it with A, and find very easy to play with the apertures. But I love as well the TAV function, where I set the aperture (lets say 5.6 or 8) and the speed ( something above 125) and the camera just find the ISO to match the timing. That is very useful when you walk around and you just shoot on the move and you don’t want panning pics.

No one gave me any attention with that camera even in some more extreme “barrio” neighborhoods where the average tourist does not normally go. I really felt like I was invisible.

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The bad part about Ricoh is battery life very poor even if I had the “blind screen” option. I will have to buy an extra battery. The problem is here in Rome is very difficult to find.

Second issue is the auto focus in low light condition which is a bit slow,  even if there is a manual and snap options wich are very good by the way. The files look amazing with very balanced color and a very good dynamic range.

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The Canon stayed in the bag most of the time and I used it basically for the portrait series (See Below). Some days I went around with just the Ricoh inside the pocket of my shorts and I would take it outside holding in one hand like a pocket of cigarettes, spot a scene from a distance get closer and take pictures without looking at the screen. If I would go buying “fuel” at the local market down the road, for the family, the Ricoh would be always in one hand allowed me to take pictures even if I was carrying market bags on bought hands.

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I m sort of happy because I can see that in the market there are more and more new options each day of small compact cameras with even better sensors, quicker focus and more general functions. Using this camera in the streets of Havana It was not exactly like my first love, the one and only Contax G2 black with the 28mm, but, I must admit that the feeling it come pretty closer.

Lorenzo Moscia

http://www.lorenzomoscia.com

You can buy the Ricoh GR these days for under $700 at Amazon – HERE.

Nov 072014
 

Halloween at the Hellfire Club

by Ibraar Hussain

Dear Steve, Brandon and all www.stevehuffphoto.com lovers!

A quick one, seeing as Halloween just passed, I thought it would be apt for me to submit some photos for the time of year.

I went to The Hellfire Caves at West Wycombe at this time of year, on a dreary dark Halloween, followed by a trip to West kennet Long Barrow and Avebury in Wiltshire, an area with a long tradition of things Pagan and ancient.

West Wycombe is worth visiting, and the area around the Dashwood Mausoleum can be very creepy at night, even during the day there is something other worldly and eerie about the place. The Hellfire Caves were a meeting place for the Hellfire Club since the 18th century, and one Benjamin Franklin was also a member!

All worth visiting, and enjoying and great places for photography!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellfire_Club

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Wycombe

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Kennet_Long_Barrow

I was armed that wet day with a Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 5 35mm SLR with a slow kit lens and used the flash inside the caves. It is small and light with a very fast AF – and takes all Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha lenses. It was loaded with a roll of Ilford HP5 and I had it developed at a Lab so all basic and low-fi.

Sunlight at West Wycombe Hill, Buckinghamshire

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Wiltshire from West Kennet.

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Girl at The Hellfire Club, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

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Wiltshire from West Kennet.

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The Dashwood Mausoleum, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

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In The Hellfire Caves, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

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West Wycombe Park and House, from West Wycombe Hill, Buckinghamshire

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At The Hellfire Club, West Wycombe Hill, Buckinghamshire

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Nov 052014
 

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My RX1r Experience

by R.A. Krajnyak

Hi Steve and Brandon.

First, let me start off with thanks to you both for the great site and the work you put into it. Your site is an integral part of my daily web surfing routine and your insight, Steve, has been influential in my development as a photographer.

Secondly, let me thank you for turning me on to the I Shot It website. I was honored to be among the first nine runner-ups who receive their $20 entry fee back in the most recent B&W contest and was awarded a Mark of Excellence for the following photograph taken with my Sony RX1r:

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Lastly, I wanted to share my RX1r experience with you and your readers along with some images taken with this incredible camera. Anyone who is interested in viewing the images in this post at greater resolution can view them on my website in a gallery specifically set up with just these images. The smaller resolution here just doesn’t do this camera justice. The gallery is located here: http://www.quintaquad.com/Steve-Huff-Blog/n-dwFzN/

A bit of background on me. I’m 60 years old and have been involved with photography off and on for 40 years. My first good cameras were Nikon film SLR’s (Fm & Fe2). However my interest waned and they soon saw little use.

When digital came along I got the D40 and then the D5100. Like many enthusiasts, I ended up rarely taking my camera out due to the size and weight. About 1 1/2 years ago a friend of mine turned me on to the Sony RX100. I was blown away by the size and IQ along with the ability to shoot RAW. I began taking my camera everywhere and photographing everything. This piqued my interest in upgrading to a small interchangeable lens system.

I started researching on-line and discovered the M4/3 cameras as well as your site. I loved the size and IQ of the system and ended up with a Panny GX7. In addition, I have since added an Oly E-M10 which I love. I also discovered the Sony RX1 and was intrigued by it. However the price was out of my range.

Last October I received an unexpected small inheritance and decided to splurge on an RX1 or RX1r. I wasn’t sure which one but after researching further I decided on the RX1r. Your reviews were very influential in my decision. A year later I can truly say that I’m thrilled with my choice.

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The RX1r is in my mind a true classic…a small powerhouse FF camera with a fast, high quality 35mm Zeiss lens that is designed specifically for the sensor. The rendering of the Zeiss lens is gorgeous. You have aptly described it as “creamy” and I heartily agree. I’m not a pixel-peeping tech kind of guy nor am I into debating the quality of bokeh…I just know what I like and the RX1r definitely floats my boat when it comes to size, weight and IQ.

I added a few accessories that for me are essential…optional Sony EVF, Gordy leather wrist strap, Fotodiox grip and Fotodiox lens hood.

I shoot in manual mode but primarily use auto focus. Control layout is minimal and fairly well laid out. That being said I do have a few small niggles with the camera. AF could be better, I would prefer an EVF built into the body like the A7 series and I would like an articulated LCD. There is also a bit of a CA issue in high contrast situations such as foliage against a bright sky.

DR and low light high ISO is excellent (the David Grissom band image and my self-portrait were both shot hand-held at 3200).The quality of the noise is very pleasing and grain-like IMHO. I shoot strictly RAW so I can’t comment on JPEGs. The image detail is outstanding as is the RAW conversion out of camera color and contrast, although the last two things aren’t as important to me as I do extensive post work on the RAWs.

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The RAW files are extremely malleable which is important to me since post work is a major part of the overall photography experience for me personally and this is where the magic happens with this camera. I’ve been working with Photoshop since 1996 and have incorporated Lightroom along with Topaz, Nik and On One plug-ins as well. The RX1r files stand up beautifully under heavy processing. I love both B&W and color as you can tell from my photos. I’m not above doing extensive processing but I love a simple B&W image too. I just love all the different aspects and styles of photography in general. Due to my eclectic tastes I don’t focus on one specific genre…possibly to the detriment of developing my own signature style.

Many people think of the RX1/r as limiting because of the fixed 35mm lens. Not so in my experience. I find the RX1r to be fantastic for all kinds of photography in general from landscapes to macro. Granted it’s not useful for sports or birding but those are genres of photography that require fairly specific equipment in the form of long lenses. In addition to its versatility the RX1r is inconspicuous and quiet. I tried to select a wide range of photos to showcase what I think is the RX1r’s versatility.

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My favorite subject is my 90 year old mother who suffers from dementia in the form of severe short term memory loss and lives with me. We go walking every afternoon on the local nature trails and afterwards stop at the local coffee shop for hot chocolate or coffee. I always take my camera with me and document our walks. Although I only included three images with her as the subject (the portrait of her, the image of her in the straw hat from behind and the image of her hand on the gear cog) you can find many photos of her at my website, particularly in the two galleries, The Memories Of Margaret V. and A Walk Through The Seasons: Portraits In Dementia.

The first is highly processed, conceptual composite images while the latter is simple B&W photos. Both are photo essays meant to be viewed as an whole rather than as individual images. Note that not all the images from those were taken with the RX1r. The Memories gallery also contains a video of the images with an accompanying music track which was written, played and recorded by me as well. Unfortunately the image quality isn’t that great due to SmugMug’s video size restrictions.

I’ll end by saying I enjoyed your recent article about what you’ve learned from street photography. I had to laugh when I read the line about photographing what you love even if it’s flowers, trees and leaves. Those are three of my favorite subjects, in particular leaves. But the advice rings true…photograph what you love and forget about what others think. That’s not to say you should ignore criticism. On the contrary, constructive criticism is how we learn and improve at our craft. But take criticism with a grain of salt and stay true to yourself, not worrying about what others think. Never hesitate to take chances and stretch yourself in order to grow.

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Thanks again for all you do for photography and for the opportunity to share about the hobby and camera I love.

R.A. Krajnyak AKA QuintaQuad

quintaquad.com

Nov 052014
 

Getting back into Underwater Photography with an E-M1

By Thomas Streng

Hi there,

In spring 2014 I decided to go for a dive-vacation, after 10 years not diving at all and I wanted to bring a camera underwater.

In earlier times I had used a Nikonos V camera setup with film. But this time I decided to want the advantages of digital for underwater photography. I own several camera-systems for “land” photography already, including FF-DSLR, rangefinder and micro4/3 as well as a compact RX100. But which was the best system for my underwater needs?

My criteria were:

  • A fast AF-system – fishes can be fast
  • A fast flash synch – under water you often have a mix of natural light and flash (to get the colors). So if you want to shoot moving subjects with flash you want a fast synch speed
  • Good wide-angle lenses – because that’s what you want underwater to keep the distance short between you and the subject
  • It should be easy to control underwater – especially fast access to ISO, F-stop, Exp-comp and WB

In the end I decided to use my Olympus EM1 since it seemed like the best compromise for me, offering more speed and options than a compact, but being less bulky and expensive than FF-DSLR and their underwater housings. Also M43 offers nice lenses for underwater use (I have used the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye, the Oly 9-18mm and the Oly 12-40mm). Other great lenses for underwater should be the 7-14mm and the 60mm Macro. 

There are a couple of options for EM1-underwater housings. I decided for a Nauticam-Housing: It is solid, has handles included where you mount the flashes, and for my hand size it allows really good access to all important functions. Aquatica, Subal, Olympus and others also offer very nice housings. I included a vacuum valve system. You suck a low pressure in the housing before you go underwater and a green light indicates that the housing doesn’t leak. This gave me some mental “freedom” underwater.I combined the housing with a 100mm glass Dome for the 8mm FE and a 170mm glass dome (ZEN) for using the 9-18mm and 12-40mm lenses.

The 12-40mm is not a typical underwater lens, because most people use either ultra-wideangle, Fisheye or Macro lenses. But for me the 12-40mm in combination with a Dome offers great flexibility. You get 12mm wide-angle which is fine for many things, and you can get pretty close at the 40mm end, close enough for Fish-portraits and other smaller creatures. That’s why the 12-40mm became the lens I have used most often. As flash I used 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1.

Finally we went for our dive trip to Zakynthos, a wonderful Greek Island. You don’t have as many and big fishes as in the Red Sea or on the Maledives, but it’s a beautiful underwater landscapes, many caves and interesting creatures. I did 15 dives during that trip and really enjoyed the time under water. My #1 goal was to enjoy the dives – so getting good images was “just” #2. I mention this because I have met people who told me they were so busy with their camera that they could not really enjoy the dive and underwater environment.

The EM1 in the Nauticam housing has worked very well. I believe m43 is great for underwater photography. It handles quite easy and allows good image quality.

Here are some of the results, I hope you like them. You can find more images here https://www.flickr.com/photos/111665084@N07/sets/72157646745077278/

I encourage every diver who hasn’t been underwater for a longer time: Go out and dive, it´s fun.

Kind Regards, Tom

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Nov 042014
 

A year with the Panasonic GH2

By Aaron Hayman

First of all, I’d like to thank Steve for hosting such a great site. I spend a lot of time looking at and learning about photography on the web and this site is definitely on a very short list of favorites. The quality of the work tends to be on a level well beyond what I see in other places. I draw a lot of inspiration for my own work from the diversity and imagination of the work shown on these pages. There’s also the fact that the gear is very much biased towards mirrorless, compact cameras. I thought a bit about getting a DSLR, but since I saw so many really great images taken with mirrorless and since I’m a great believer in having something compact and therefore being more likely to have it with you, the mirrorless tech was what I gravitated towards. There are of course other advantages as well in going mirrorless…

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About a year ago, I bought a Panasonic GH2. I’ve been interested in photography for quite a while; I studied in college where I learned all kinds of darkroom processes as well as lots about the history and theory of the art form. I switched to digital some years ago when I picked up a Canon A630 point and shoot and though I did some work with that camera that I was quite happy with (I posted some photos I took with it before on this site), I eventually got tired of “working within limitations” and yearned for a more versatile tool. I did a fair bit of research and came to the conclusion that a used GH2 represented the features that I was looking for at a cost that I could afford. I have to say that despite the fact that there are a few more recent offerings with a little bit better IQ and more contemporary features that are certainly able to stir the gear lust within me, I’ve been quite happy with the GH2. Of course with only the very old and very simple A630 to compare it to, the GH2 obviously wins in every category. Still, I think that it’s much better than that. I’m consistently impressed with the IQ, I love that I can use old legacy lenses with it (and the macro focusing definitely helps), it seems very fast to focus with low shutter lag (unlike the A630, which seemed to be expressly designed to miss the moment!), all of the controls seem to be very logically laid out, the EVF shows me just what I need to see and when I’m shooting at some odd angle, the tiltable LCD really comes in handy.

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In the year that I’ve owned the camera, I’ve used it more than I have any other camera that I’ve had in any given year; I’ve owned a few and done a lot of photography over the years. Part of it has to do with the simple fact that with digital “the film is free,” but also because the GH2 is beautifully handling camera. I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s the brain behind the lens that’s the most important factor in making an image. Nonetheless, a well designed, high performing camera can make the act of photography much more of a joy and to that effect, the GH2 has really helped to inspire me to get out and take photos. As for the photos, I’ve shot them in several different locales and experimented with a number of different subjects and approaches… I’m always experimenting and working under the influence of different ideas. My work though really isn’t so all-over-the-map as this collection of images might suggest; most of these photos are part of a larger series, each with a consistent theme. The most recent series that I’ve been working on involves shooting little details in my neighborhood. I don’t feel like I live in the most glamorous, scenic place and my surroundings seem rather ordinary… and yet I feel that there are compelling images to be made of my less-than-spectaular surroundings. It’s more difficult to feel like I’ve gotten a really good photo in this type of situation but also a greater challenge and I like that. I’m often thinking of what one of my favorite photographers, Garry Winogrand said, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” When I think more of how the subject “looks photographed” then I’m able to worry less about what the subject is and I feel like I can produce more surprise in my photography by creating something out of materials that don’t usually get a second look.

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Initially, I used just the kit zoom on my GH2, a 14-42mm thing. As a kit lens that comes with the camera, I didn’t expect to like it that much, but it seems capable of some really sharp images… I’ve been quite happy with it. Later I got around to buying adaptors for some old 35mm film lenses I had, a Canon 28mm f2.8 and a Nikon 50mm f1.8. I’m really happy with the Nikon in particular in that it’s fast and just the right length for some musical events that I’ve gotten into photographing. The fact that as with any old lens like that, it isn’t capable of auto focus isn’t a problem at all as in the low-light situations where I’m using it, the autofocus in the camera doesn’t work very reliably anyway. The Canon, though it seems to be sharp enough has gotten less use as the focal length and max aperture aren’t ideal for me. I’ve messed around with a Nikon E series 70-150mm zoom as well and gotten better results than I thought that I might with a lens like this. Folks generally don’t seem to be so hot on adapting those old manual focus zooms. The lens I’ve really come to love to use with this camera the most is the only other one that I’ve got that’s designed for it (as opposed to adapted) and that’s the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4. Perhaps I’m projecting something special onto it because I spent nearly the cost of the camera with the kit lens on it, but it certainly does seem like there is something very, very nice about the quality that I’m getting with this lens. It’s very fast, which has been proven to be useful in shooting indoor musical events, which are typically not so well lit. I bought it for these low light situations, but I’ve come to love the look that it’s capable of even more than the speed that I get with that low F-stop. I’m not so great at describing this sort of thing (Steve is really brilliant at it!) but suffice to say, it gives me a look that I haven’t gotten with other lenses. I’ve been using it a lot more than I thought that I would because I usually favor a wider field of view and have felt kind of addicted to the convenience of a zoom. I think that I’m starting to lose a bit of my bias toward the wide-angle lately though and when I go out shooting I’m thinking more in terms of what works with the 25mm.

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As for processing (very important to me!), I’ve been using a free program for RAW conversion called LightZone that I’ve been really happy with. I use Photoshop as well from time to time for certain kinds of effects, but I always start with LightZone. I always shoot in the RAW format and really like to spend time adjusting the images with software. I believe that the creative choices I make with the software are nearly as important to creating the images as the parts of the process that I do in the camera…

Thanks for looking and I hope that you enjoy the images. For more of my work, please see: www.flickr.com/photos/128435329@N08/sets

 

Oct 312014
 

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From the Leica M9 to the Leica M240…and Back to the M9

By Ashwin Rao – Follow him on Facebook HERE

Hello my friends. It’s Ashwin, back to talk about my recent GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) journey with Leica. I have been a huge fan of both the Leica M9 and Leica M Monochrom over the course of the life cycles of these cameras. I have always enjoyed the rangefinder way of seeing, from the time I first came upon my very first rangefinder, an M6 TTL. I joined the digital rangefinder transition, as did many others, with the Leica M8, and while that camera had many benefits (incredibly clear and crisp sensor), it was not quite ready for prime time due to its IR sensitivity issues and operational foibles, all of which have been well documented. That being said, many Leica M8’s remain in service today, over 8 years after it first came into production in September of 2006. The Leica M9 was released to much fanfare on September 9th 2009, heralded as the first full frame digital rangefinder, featuring a high quality CCD sensor with the same pixel pitch as the M8, and some cosmetic and operational refinements. The infrared sensitivity issue ,which plagued the M8, was mitigated for the M9, and for many, it is considered a modern legend of digital photography. I received my first Leica M9 in December of 2009, and soon thereafter wrote my first article for Steve, reviewing the M9 and a “travel camera extraordinaire.” 5 years later, I believe those same words hold true. The Leica M9 remains a remarkable camera, capable of capturing the decisive moment and motivating the eager photographer.

Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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M240 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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With time comes progress (right?) and in September of 2012, Leica announced the Leica M240, or in short, the Leica “M”, the first full frame sensor to feature a new CMOS sensor, which would permit higher ISO shooting, and importantly, live view. In theory, the Leica M240 boasted many performance and design refinements learned from the limitations of the M9. It also allowed rangefinders to compete with other modern cameras in providing an option to focus lenses with live view and it can shoot video. For many rangefinder enthusiasts, particularly those with aging eyes and a large collection of R lenses, the M240 represented an option by which to focus more accurately and use their R lenses, which have not been supported by a modern digital Leica R.

Like many, I was very curious when the M240 was launched. I kept a close eye on those who were able to use the camera early in its production cycle, such as Steve, Jono Slack, Gary Tyson, and others. As the camera became more widely available, I regularly browsed online photo forums and facebook enthusiast pages to find compelling images and reasons to justify upgrade….this process was a year long journey, and one accompanied by great struggle. I truly loved my M9, the “CCD look” that I perceived to be true, and had truly bonded with the camera over years of use, but new cameras are always compelling and entice the prospective buyer with the promise of new features and improved image quality. I also struggled with the concept of investing another $7000 in a camera, when I had just done this a few years back.

Leica M9 and 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH pre-FLE

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Finally, in the spring of this year (2014), I purchased the M240. It was a harrowing, yet exciting moment. In the year that I had debated whether or not to purchase the M240, I remarked that the color palette, dynamic range and look of files from the M240 was vastly different M9 files. Initially, the M240 seemed to be plagued by inconsistent white balance, but over the year, through firmware upgrades, Leica seemed to improve upon this. Yet, the colors coming from the camera, and skin tones in particular, seemed so different, warmer and more red/orange (a common problem with CMOS digital sensors, by the way), than what I had accommodated to with my M9, which provided a seemingly cooler skin tone profile. As I reviewed images, I came to compare the M9 and M240 images to different image stock. Ultimately, I was compelled to try the M240 to see if I could adjust to this different way of seeing.

M9 and 50 mm Noctilux f/0.95

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M240 and 50 mm APO Summicron-ASPH

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In the process of buying my M240, I quickly sold my M9 to be able to focus on one color rangefinder option. I set into getting to learn my camera, and was able to have the M240 around for a very important part of my life, that is, my wedding and the months around this event. I managed to shoot the camera regularly.

What were my conclusions, you might ask? What was my conclusion from this costly experiment? Well, the title of the article summarizes the basic experience, but let me elaborate. I simply couldn’t get used to the M240 and I could not find a bond with the camera. First, and most challenging for me, was the color reproduction of the camera and its inconsistent white balance reproductions under artificial light, particularly in rendering skin complexion. I often found skin tones to render excessively yellow or orange, and I simply could not find ways in Adobe Lightroom, to get skin tones to look as I enjoyed. I could get close, but adjusting skin tones would often affect the color reproduction of the rest of the image. Apparently, I had accommodated to the look of the M9, and I could not get close enough with the M240. Second, and disappointing to me, was an issue with banding at higher ISO’s. Whenever I took a shot that was underexposed, lifting the shadows resulted in noticeable banding at ISO’s of 3200 and higher (and occasionally at ISO 1600). I was able to remedy the banding issue using software fixes (Nik software’s has a de-banding tool that’s very useful). In practice, shooting in low light was nearly as limited for the M240 as it was for the M9, which has a practical ISO limit of around 640, after which banding behaviors are the norm with image adjustment.

M240 and Summicron 28 ASPH

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Leica M9 and Noctilux 50 mm f/0.95

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For the M240, I also struggled mightily with the “start up time” of the camera. When powering the camera on, it takes about 2-3 seconds before the photographer can actually take a shot. Initially, I thought this was a camera defect, but trying a few friends’ M240’s, I found the behavior to be universal. I tried to remedy this by leaving the camera on all of the time, given that the M240 sports a much-improved battery than the M9. However, after prolonged periods when the camera went back to sleep, I noticed the same lag. There were several instances where I missed an important shot , and this became an increasing turn off as I used the camera more.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Lauren

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As I used the M240 more, I became increasingly aware of the weight of the camera. At first, I felt that the camera felt more confident, more solid, less “airy” in hand, but after some time, I found the added bulk to be unwanted. My shooting arm would get sore. Not a huge deal, but enough of a difference to be annoying. After all, there was an outcry when the M8 and M9 were built with much thicker bodies than previous film M bodies, and here was a camera that provided even more bulk and heft to a shooter (myself) who valued size and discretion in his camera.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Andi

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M9 and Noctilux f/0.95

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Finally, I became increasingly annoyed over time with the menu layout. I wasn’t entirely sure when to press the “Menu”, “set”, and Info buttons. It was not nearly as intuitive an experience as to how best to adjust settings on the fly as it was with the M9. Even the ISO adjustment methodology seemed more cumbersome to me, who had gotten used to the simplicity of the M9’s menu and button implementation. The M240 had new buttons in unexpected places, and on occasion, which thought I was capturing images, I had accidentally triggered video shooting.

M240 and 90 mm f/4 Macro Elmar

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M9 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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As you read this, you may feel that I am unfairly bashing the M240, and that with more time, I would have adjusted to the cameras many quirks. While this may be true, I kept coming back to my struggles with the M240’s image rendering. As I looked on my screen at old M9 shots, and compared them to the M240 images that I had captured, I took note of several things. I find the M9 to have rendered a more “crisp” pixel, while the M240 renders a slightly softer pixel. Further, the M240 renders with much more dynamic range, but for some reason, images taken with this camera seemed to exhibit less 3D pop that I saw with my M9.

In summary, I began to find reasons to return to my Leica M9, and in August, after 4 months, I sold my Leica M240 and returned to the M9. I can say that I am happy with this choice and much more settled with keeping the M9 and its awesome CCD sensor and way of rendering.

Well, I spent a lot of time bashing the M240, no? Let me bash the M9 for some balance. The M9 is a camera full of quirks and deficiencies. First off, it has a completely inadequate and dated 200,000+ pixel LCD. It was an out of date LCD the moment it was released, and 8 years later, it’s ridiculously poor…One cannot count on confirming clear focus with the M9’s LCD. Further, there’s a slight delay between when the image snaps into focus on the LCD, making images seem blurry for a moment.

There are times when the M9 freezes operationally and won’t take a shot. And I don’t just mean when the buffer is full. At times, I have missed important shots because the M9 simply refused to take the shot. Further, battery life is quite poor (300-400 shots), compared to the far improved M240 sensor. The M9 has an ISO limitation that stems from its CCD sensor. It’s only capable of being shot reliably through ISO 640 (or 800 if you are willing to live with lost dynamic range, muddier images). Compared to today’s sensors (think Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic), this ISO limitation seems arcane. Compared to the M240, which offers clean ISO’s through 1600 and inconsistent but occasionally decent performance at ISO 3200, it seems old as well. Yet, at base ISO through ISO 400, the M9 offers something unique. It offers a lovely color palette. Images, particularly of people jump off the screen. Skin tones and rendering can take on a lifelike look, while the M240 occasionally presents skin tones in a waxy (CMOS) manner. You’d never see this on your cell phone or laptop monitor, but on a calibrated larger home monitor or large print, there’s a difference there that’s continued to be noticeable to me.

Ultimately, I came to accept the limitations of the Leica M9 to gain its benefits. The M9 turns on and is ready to shoot instantaneously. It’s silent shooting mode is cleverly implemented and useful when employed. It’s a lighter and airier camera and is less fatiguing to hold in the hand for prolonged shoots. It’s menus offer operational simplicity, which seems to echo the rangefinder way of seeing. It’s CCD rendering (yes, I believe that the CCD “look” is real…sorry to all of the naysayers) is awesome and increasingly unique in a world where CMOS sensors have taken over.

I believe that the Leica M9 continues to represent the pinnacle of Leica’s imaging achievement. Like many countless others who’d hope for a camera that offers the best of all worlds, I strongly suspect that such a camera will never materialize. I doubt that there will ever be another CCD-sensor Leica. And thus, I am “stuck” with the M9, and of course, my beloved Leica M Monchrom. For those times when I desire revelatory ISO performance, I have moved to the Sony A7s, which I have used extensively (nearly exclusively) with Leica M lenses, and I find that its limitations (primarily the 12 megapixel sensor and tunnel view SLR way of seeing) don’t bother me all that much. The Sony is not built anywhere as confidently as the Leica (in terms of feel), but it’s a great camera worth checking out for a modern CMOS option. IT’s colors are not Leica colors, but I have found that I can get skin tones that I like with this camera.

Leica M9 and 35 Summuilux FLE

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

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Thus, for me, the Leica M240 is now part of my photographic past. The Leica M9 has returned to my kit. It represents my photographic present. I certainly hope and expect that Leica will continue to re-invent itself with new innovative products and improved rangefinders. The Leica M240 was not the right camera for me, but I hope that the next iteration will be a better fit. At that time, the M9 will remain with me. It’s a lifetime camera, unless Leica finds the guts to go back to CCD or a sensor the renders similarly. It offers a unique rendering that blends so well with M lenses. It’s a great option for photography, even today.

M240 and 50 mm APO-Summicron ASPH

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I imagine that many of you will take exception to my thoughts and comments. I welcome your thoughts, your debate, and your criticisms to this argument. It simply represents my opinion and current thinking on the matter.

Here’s a summary of what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the 2 cameras discussed:

Pros of the Leica M9
• CCD sensor – per pixel microontrast and dynamic range at low ISO
• Menu and operational simplicigty
• Weight
• Heft
• Instant On
• Silent shooting mode

Cons of the Leica M9
• ISO limitation
• Rear LCD is terrible
• Poor battery life
• Indoor and outdoor white balance inconsistency
• Reduced dynamic range compared to modern sensors
• Occasionally the shutter doesn’t fire
• IR sensitivity is still there, though less so?

Pros of the M240
• ISO improvements (though banding limits realistic ISO to < 3200, and in some cases, 1600
• Moderate Dynamic range improvement
• Solid battery life
• Build Quality
• EVF capacity, for those who want it
• Much improved shutter sound and less shutter shake
• Fantastic Black and White Conversions

Cons of the M240
• Heavier
• Meno complexity and dials
• Adds complication to a simple RF concept (i.e. video, EVF, etc)
• Unnatural Color reproduction of skin tones
• Indoor white balance inconsistency
• Shooting lag, when camera is first activated
• More IR sensitivity?

Feasible areas of improvement for the next Leica M:
• Improved color stability for white balance
• Improved color rendering of skin tones
• Reduced banding artifacts for high ISO, particularly when adjusting images
• Baseplate access to the battery and SD card
• Make the camera thinner, rather than thicker
In fairness to bias, my time with the M240 was self-limited to 4 months. My time with the M9 has extended to nearly 5 years. There may be much in that difference in experience that may explain some of my experiences with these cameras. All the best to you, and most importantly, keep your hand on the shutter and keep making images, regardless of camera.

M240 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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M240 and 35 mm Summilux ASPH FLE

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Oct 302014
 

Some Leica M 240 love..

by Per Bendiksen

I’ve been an on and off hobby photographer for some years now. Born and raised in Viking land, Norway. We have the nicest fjords and the most beautiful blondes in the world!

I’ve started analog, went digital, back to analog and now digital again. I’ve had many different system and brands, mostly Nikons – but where I am now feels like home.

Leica M typ240! Shooting rangefinder is somehow religious. Being able to shoot with a Leica is even better. OK, I sound crazy – but the last years of photography nothing has given me a better feeling similar to that first time framing, focusing and BAM the shutter speed. Love it!

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Mostly I like to put a person in my pictures, when no one around – landscape, street, buildings etc.

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Thanks for hosting this inspiring site!

Happy shooting folks!

more pictures @ perbendiksen.wordpress.com

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