Feb 032014
 

title

A poor man’s road to Leica

By Westerhuis & Westerhuis

As our name ‘Westerhuis&Westerhuis’ already suggests: we are brothers. Willem Hendrik and Arend-Jan. It would be safe to say that we grew up with photography. Our father had a Leicaflex SL with a range of lenses. Back when we were kids, going out with the family meant that we would both get ‘one frame’ to shoot with the camera. That is how we learned to see the world through a frame: looking for the scene we wanted to capture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In May 2005 digital photography found it is way into our family. It was an Olympus E-300, which compared to the Leicaflex, was equipped with highly technical features such as automatic exposure and focus. Suddenly we were able to shoot more than six images a year, and dad did not have to share his Leica anymore. (Something that took a while for us to understand.) The learning curve suddenly became steep!

When we grew older and went to University, the camera spent more time in the closet than in our hands. Occasionally we used it for holidays, fraternity activities etc. Never too serious and certainly without ambitions..

Then something happened we had not foreseen: some friends were getting married and since they were on a low-budget, they asked me (Willem Hendrik) to shoot their wedding. Apparently they had seen me holding a camera the right way up and were somehow assuming I knew where to find the shutter button. I did not dare to bare the burden of a screw-up with only myself to blame, and so I asked my brother to come with me.

The results however surprised a lot of people, not only the bride and groom, but more important: other couples. Several weddings came along; we bought new bodies (Olympus E-600) and lenses (the legendary 50mm f/2 and 25mm f/1.4) and began enjoying photography again. We moved from weddings only to portraits, graduation ceremonies and group shoots. But most importantly it was street photography that got our attention.

We found that street photography was a powerful way of improving our photography skills. When shooting on the streets it rapidly became apparent that a great photo is not about sharpness, subject isolation or ISO performance, but about the narrative. A sharp, clear and in every term a high fidelity portrait of a cat is in the end just a photo of a cat. The technical perfection does not make up for the lack of talent. We found out it is more important to train yourself to ‘see’ notable things happening than to rely on your gear to create something out of nothing. Minor events can be captured and still tell a complete story on their own.

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Story telling in wedding photography

Naturally we began incorporating this storytelling style in all our assignments. This meant a observative way of working without interfering and only with the use of available light. We have shot in very different and difficult environments where we had to adapt to the conditions. The good thing about shooting a wedding is that you need to deliver; you have to know what you are doing to be able to get the best out of a situation

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Being with two photographers

Although we both did some weddings without the other, we stuck together for the most part. Shooting a wedding together has some major advantages: we always use a basic lens set-up such that one knows, based on lens and location, the type of photo the other is taking. Therefor one is able to take the corresponding shot from the opposite direction without being in each other’s frame. Because we both shoot with different prime lenses, a nice reproduction of the day from multiple perspectives can be delivered. Secondly, we are both very technical; if variables get tough, we communicate our strategy in ISO, aperture and exposure, we developed our own sign language for this to be able to come up with similar results.

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Buying a Leica

After launching our own website, the amount of inquiries was vastly increasing. This made us able to invest in our company, and so we decided to go back to our roots. And so two second-hand Leica M9’s were bought, despite our philosophy about gear being second to content (After all we are both engineering students and firmly believe in the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ paradigm. As for the lenses concerned: we bought a Summicron 35 and 50 from their first owner. Both versions IV, which are almost 35 years old. Not only did they feel very familiar, even the smell brought back memories. By using Leica we could also continue our philosophy of carrying the least amount of gear with us. Although the Olympus E-600 was one of the smallest DSLR’s around, we would rather carry M9’s for a day.

Of course we are, as much as any photographer in constant battle with the GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).The M240, 50mm Summilux, and 35mm Nokton are all nymphs singing their songs. For the moment we choose to sit tight with the old Summicrons we have. Our M9’s do not limit creativity in any technical way which is proven by legends from the past, as these lenses were the tools of many great photographers. If we cannot make this work then no mountain of gear can fix that deficit in our talent. At the moment we feel it is more important to master this simple camera than to acquire next gen lenses with their fancy appeals and new possibilities.

So yes, this is where we now stand. Both of us have a single lens setup. Which, as it turns out, is more than adequate for wedding photography. As always: it is not the camera that shoot people, we do.

Willem Hendrik Westerhuis

https://www.facebook.com/WesterhuisWesterhuis

http://www.westerhuisenwesterhuis.nl

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Mar 212013
 

Crazy Comparison – Leica M, Sony RX1 and Fuji X100s

You all asked for this so here you go. I have three sets of images here, all full size direct from RAW from each camera without any PP, just right from camera results. You can click any image for the full size file.

Here is how these were done. Same aperture on each camera, same focal length or equivalent in the case of the X100s. Processed from raw using Lightroom 4.4 and exported as a JPEG without any PP.

The Leica M was shot with the Leica 35 Summicron ASPH, a $10,000 combo.

The Sony RX1 was tested as it comes out of the box at $2799

The Fuji X100s is a $1299 camera.

Let us take a look a couple of files..

The Leica M – 35 Cron at f/4 – No PP at all – flat light mid day image – click for full size. I tried to match WB as close as I could.

m240house3 (1 of 1)

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The Sony RX1 at f/4 – No PP at all – take seconds after the M image above – click for full size

rx1f4house (1 of 1)

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The Fuji X100s – f/4 – no PP – taken right after the RX1 image above – For $1299  this is the bang for the buck champion without question!

x100shouse (1 of 1)

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Let’s take a look at one more but this time with each lens at f/2, wide open.. I let the cameras color character come through here. Base ISO on each camera, no PP

The Leica M with the 35 cron at f/2 – click it for full size – base ISO of 200, f/2, AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

L1001419

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Sony RX1 at f/2 – click it for full size – Base ISO of 100,  f/2,  AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

DSC02471

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Fuji X100s  at f/2 – click it for full size – Base ISO – f/2, AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

DSCF2438

 

crops…

Leica M

shoe

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Sony RX1

shoe3

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X100s

shoe2

and three more:

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Leica M

outer1

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RX1

outer2

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X100s

outer3

When wide open you can see the softness of the X100s lens and when viewing on a decent moniter you can see it is a bit more “flat” than the other two (this is what I am talking about when I say the X-Pro/X-E can look flat at times even though this was taken in flat lighting, it is flatter than the other two). When you take into consideration of the costs of these cameras the X100s is a winner but in the house shot above the X100s does have some funkiness going on in the details when viewed at 100% (leaves) but this is due  to LR 4.4 not fully supporting the X100s yet. But remember the costs! $10,000 vs $2799 vs $1299! ALL cameras these days are highly capable.

But for the shoe shot, for me, the Leica wins easily as that 35 cron character shines through with some nice Bokeh and depth. The Leica look is real :) You who have been reading my site for a while know that I much prefer “character” to “perfection” which can be sterile at times. Looking a these shots side by side the warmth, 3 dimensional feel and smoothness comes through in the Leica shot.  I showed these three to my son side by side without telling him what was what. His fave was from the M by a mile. My mom picked the Leica M as well and my niece picked the Sony. All thought the Fuji was dull compared to the other two.

The RX1 is a resolution monster as well and seems to beat the Leica M here for sharpness/detail but again, on a nice display it appears flatter than the Leica and lacking in any kind of character. It is colder and more sterile. Still, it appears the Zeiss lens beats the cron for sharpness, which may come as a surprise to some.

In the house shot I see the RX1 is the sharpest across the frame  to the corners.

These have had no PP at all and appear a little dull out of the camera but that is how the files come out without any adjustments. When it comes to PP, the M and RX1 files hold up extremely well, better than the X100s files.

One thing that is not shown in these images is the fact that the M can take other lenses. A 24, 28, 50, 75, 90, etc. The other two are fixed 35mm cameras so they are less versatile than the M. If you are mainly a 35mm shooter, you have choices :)

To see shots with some adjustments and a few with PP, you an see my ever growing Leica M gallery here, my RX1 gallery here and I will have an X100s gallery soon.

As for the X100s it seems the wait lists are growing every day. You can pre-order the X100s at B&H Photo or Amazon. My review will be up within a few days. Probably Monday morning :)

What are your thoughts?

Just for fun, the shoe shots converted to B&W in Lightroom using LR B&W Look #4 preset – Leica M, RX1 and X100s in that order. You can click for larger 1800 pixel wide resized versions.

L1001419

DSC02471

DSCF2438

Apr 092012
 

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

By Brad Husick

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

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

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

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

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

In this test we included six lenses from part one:

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

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

Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

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

Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

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

 

Part A: The Closer Subject

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

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

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

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

Leica 35 Summilux FLE corner crop

and after the Lightroom 4 “Defringe – All edges”

 

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

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Perar Center 

and corner

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Zeiss Center

and corner

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FLE Center

and corner

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Summicron Center

and corner

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Skopar Center

and corner

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Summaron Center

and corner

 

Part B: Bokeh

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

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

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

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

Perar

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Zeiss

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Leica Lux FLE

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Summicron

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Skopar

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Summaron

 

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

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

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

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

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

Brad Husick

Jun 092011
 

Why shooting with just a 35mm lens WILL improve your photography.

By Steve Huff

I originally wrote this article to end my Fuji X100 camera review but decided to expand on it and publish it on its own. When the X100 and even the Leica X1 were announced and released, many people were complaining that it did not have a Zoom lens, or have the capability of adding another lens. I heard things like “Who wants a fixed 35mm lens” and “These cameras are useless with just a 35″.

To me, this kind of thinking is borderline nonsense as the 35mm focal length is one of the most useful, if not THE most useful focal lengths you can use! I truly believe that if you shoot with just a 35mm focal length for at least 6 months your photography will improve and so will your knowledge of composition, reading light, and even your “vision” will improve. By that I mean, the way you see things in relation to photography.

Yes, It’s true. You can not add a zoom lens to cameras like the X100 or Leica X1 nor do they have a built in zoom lens. When you invest in these types of cameras, you are investing in a 35mm camera. Just like the old days with the classic fixed lens film cameras. But I see this as a good thing and is why I also adore the Leica X1 and X100 and even a Leica M9 with a simple 35mm lens attached.

For me, it’s all about simplicity and knowing what to expect from the camera. After a couple of weeks shooting with just your camera and one 35mm lens you will start to be able to visualize in your head what your image will look like, way before you even shoot it. When I go out and spot a scene I want to photograph, I instantly envision in my head what the image will look like. I can visualize what it would look like at f/2 or f/8, I  can see how I want it framed and what my final image will look like, even with processing! I see all of this before I take the shot. I can do this because I have been shooting with prime lenses only for so many years, and the 35 has been one of the main focal lengths I use along with my 50mm.

Some Images using only the 35mm focal length.

The house below was shot with a Leica M9 and 35 Summarit, which is a GREAT lens for this type of photo. It’s funny because the Summarit has better Bokeh than the 35 Summicron ASPH, and is about half the price and a smaller lens! True!

If you click on the house image below, you can see the quality of the lens better as the detail is also there.

The image below of the old (and what I thought was an abandoned) motorhome is one of my favorites of recent times. I remember driving down a rural road and I spotted this “scene” from the corner of my eye. I immediately turned around and pulled up to this dirty, worn down, flat tired motor home. Right when I stepped out of my car I knew exactly what angle I wanted because of the tarp that was flowing towards my lens. I knew this would look amazing in black and white and when I processed the image, it was exactly what I had hoped for.

It was shot with the Leica M9 and 35 Summicron ASPH lens.

For at least a year I traveled around with my M9 and 35mm taking photos of old buildings and abandoned places. It was almost an obsession of mine, finding these long forgotten houses, shops, cars..and even gas stations. For this project, the 35mm focal length was my most valued and used lens. A 28 was always a bit too wide, and the 50 was a bit too long.

This old service station was captured deep in the mountains of Kentucky, once again with the Leica 35 Summarit. For full detail and color, click on the image.

So OK, so far all I have shown you is old buildings and a motorhome, which are all perfect subjects for a 35. What about people? Sometimes with a 35mm, if you get too close to someone they can appear distorted, but not always. I find the 35mm focal length great for portraits IF you want to include the surroundings as well, and IMO, this makes for a much nicer “portrait”. A few years ago I started finding the typical 85mm portrait “heads” somewhat boring. I like to see more of what is going on in the surroundings…the persons “environment”, which is why you have probably heard the term “Environmental Portrait” before.

In my opinion, the 35mm focal length can produce more interesting portraits than a 50, 75 or 90 IMO. Why? Because you see the environment along with the person. You see what is going on in the scene which I find much more interesting than just a plain head shot most of the time.

Below is a fire breather who was walking the streets of Vegas and anytime someone gave him a dollar or two he would breath fire on the street, stopping traffic an all. With the M9 and 35 Summilux ASPH II, this shot was easy, and i love it!

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The next shot of my son Brandon was taken over a year ago with the M9 and 35 Summarit. We were sitting down to eat and I wanted to get a picture of him browsing the menu but instead he looked up at me with the “are you taking a picture AGAIN!” look. Added a Sepia tone in Color Efex which looks better when you click on the image. This shot, when viewed at the larger size, reminds me of how great this little Summarit is. A little bit classic, a little bit modern, and the lowest price Leica 35.

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Even the little Olympus E-PL1 with the 17mm pancake attached is just about equal to a 35mm foal length (34) and here is another portrait I shot with that exact combo! I really like this one as you see the environment in which the Auctioneer works. This was at an auction on a hot sweaty summer day and he was standing in the back of his truck from where he auctioned off a house and belongings. It was in Illinois and probably close to 100 degrees on that day. IT WAS HOT and HUMID.

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When I shot the last Seal tour I also experimented with the 35 and really loved what I managed to capture with it. Shooting concerts with a 35mm lens sounds odd doesn’t it? Seems like it would be much too short, but with a performer such as Seal, using a 35mm is ESSENTIAL as there is so much audience participation going on. Once again, getting the subject and his surroundings is key to a really great photo. This one is with the M9 and 35 Summicron ASPH.

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Using the Leica X1 which has just about a 35mm equivalent lens…

Here is one more “Environmental Portrait” I shot a year ago with the M9 and 35 Summilux ASPH II. You can see that this guy is a street performer. It tells more of a story than just a headshot would.

So as you can see, the 35mm focal length is very useful and versatile. In fact, after always going back and forth over which focal length I prefer between a 35 and 50, I always go back to the 35. It just seems natural.

After shooting a camera and one lens like a 35mm for at least 6 months you will know what angle to get, where to stand and you will get out of the “Zoom Lens” mindset, which IMO, makes you lazy. There, I said it and I mean it! Zoom lenses make you lazy. Sure it is nice to have that huge and pricey 70-200 because when you are roaming around the Zoo that is what everyone else has with them, and I used to be guilty of the same thing many years ago. Once I started shooting with a 35 and 50 my whole outlook changed and I realized that 95% of my shots taken with a zoom lens…sucked!

These days when I look back at my “zoom” shots they look flat and lifeless and it LOOKS like I zoomed in on my subject. But sometimes there will be a subject that is farther away and without a Zoom you can’t get close. Maybe you can not walk up to your subject to get closer. When this happens, I change my whole approach to the shot. Instead of worrying about the subject I look around and see what I can capture within the shot WITH the subject, and this usually makes it much more interesting.

Now of course, sports shooters and wildlife guys need powerful zooms (or primes) but for most of us, including the hobbyists, it could be a great experience to just shoot with one lens and one lens only for a while, and believe me, it will improve your photography.

I could get by day to day with either a 35 or a 50. My favorite lens in the world is actually a 50, but not for its focal length. The Leica Noctilux for its gorgeous rendering. Right behind that the new 35 Summilux ASPH. I have shot with a 35 for months on end, and did the same with a 50. Did my photography suffer because of it? NO, in fact, it had the opposite effect. It IMPROVED it.

My wrap up…

Shooting ONLY a 35mm lens for say, 3-6 months, will open up your mind to other possibilities. You will not just aim, zoom and shoot but you will look around, think and ask yourself how you can get the best shot with what you have. Shooting at 35mm seems natural. You can get great environmental portraits and even normal portraits if you step back a bit. 35mm is great for landscape and urban shots. It kind of sucks you in to the image at times and is not too wide like a 24 or 28 might be, nor is it too constricted like a 50 can be in some situations.

In many ways, in my opinion, the 35mm focal length is the perfect focal length for shooting life as it happens. The things around you, the people around you, and the daily grind in general. If you have the chance, put a 35mm (equivalent) on whatever camera you own and shoot it for a few weeks. ONLY using that lens. My guess is that by the end of the few weeks you will have some amazing keepers, and you will also have learned a bit more about composition. You will also have a liberated feeling as the stress of “what lens should I use” will be gone. Just you and your 35…pretty cool.

 

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Jun 142010
 

Hey guys! I was out all weekend in Las Vegas shooting the brand new 35 Summilux ASPH in addition to the Leica V-Lux 20 and Fuji GF670. Lot’s of photos to go through and I have been up all night writing my review of the new 35. It’s 2AM and I am heading to bed now, but will finish it in the morning and it should go live sometime in the afternoon. So check back later today for the full review with loads of samples from this lens, which is an update on a legendary classic. For now, here is one shot of many from Vegas…

Leica M9 with the new 35 Summilux ASPH shot at 1.4. This man was on a walkway/bridge playing his accordion for tips. Vegas now has quite a few street performers, many more than I remember from years past. I listened to him play for a little while and asked him if I could snap his pic. He nodded yes while continuing to play. I snapped this quick shot and then gave him a couple dollars in his tip jar. The sky was overcast for this one, which was much better than having the full mid-day Nevada sun beating down. Many more images as well as all of my thoughts on this lens will be up later today in my full “real world” review.

CLICK IMAGE FOR MUCH BETTER LARGER VERSION

May 032010
 

One question that I get asked quite often (about 8-12 times per day on some days) is “If you could buy only one lens for the M9, what would it be?” Well, I wanted to write a post about this so I can just send the link to all of those who ask because the answer is not as easy as saying “Oh, the 50 Summilux”. Nope, the single best lens depends on YOU and what you want to shoot! I do have a few “favorite” lenses in the focal length that I think is the best to start with. So let me discuss them here and share some photos with them as well.

First, if you are shelling out the $7,000 and buying an M9 then congratulations! It’s a camera that will serve you well and while it is a VERY expensive camera it is also a special one in many ways. Sure, its just a sensor inside of an M body loaded with electronics but when you add a Leica lens to the camera it makes for one of the best digital tools I have ever used.

So let’s say that you have committed on shelling out $7k for the camera. Now you have to choose a lens. After months of using various lenses on the M9 and film M cameras I have concluded that if you can only get ONE lens and one lens only, my opinion is that it should be a 35mm. That would be MY choice. Sure, the M9 and a 50 would also make for  a great one lens kit but a 35mm lets  you get more in the frame. You can capture more of the story. A 50 will get you closer and make for a good short portrait lens but the 35 on an M just has something classical about it, and it seems  to work well in 90% of all situations.

On any M the 35mm frame lines seem like the most natural to compose with. While going over all of my shots in the last 8 months my overall faves have been with a 35mm. Summarit, Summicron, Summilux, or even a Voigtlander or Zeiss, the 35mm focal length always seems to bring me the best results. Maybe that is how I view the world? Ha ha.

So which 35 to choose?

This is the question so many of you ask me. WHAT LENS TO BUY? This is a question that I can not answer for you as it depends on your budget, your needs, and your desires! Do you want a low cost lens? Do you want the best of the best? Do you want ONLY Leica?

The one thing I would recommend for any and all M9 shooters is that your 35mm be coded. Either a coded lens or a self coded lens. On the M9, 35mm and wider lenses need to be coded or else you can get all kinds of issues like red edges and vignetting. But it’s not really that bad with a 35, not like it is with a 21 or 24. So if you do find a cheap 35 that is not coded it may be worth buying it and self coding it with one of those self coding kits like this one.

So below I will list my recommended 35mm lenses for your Leica M9 or Leica M film camera and I will break them down by speed, price and character! Hope you find it useful and an enjoyable read.

The Lenses

My #1 choice when money is no object – No compromises

The Leica 35 Summicron F2 – ASPH or Pre-ASPH – (My review here)

The Leica Summicron is a legend in the world of 35mm photography. It has gone through many versions and I know of people who own ALL of them. It seems one of the classical favorites is the 35 Summicron Pre-ASPH version 4, or more commonly known as “The Bokeh King”. This is the version just before the latest and greatest ASPH version and can be found used for about $1100-$1200. If  you are patient you can find them from time  to time.

The Summicrons all have a semi fast F2 maximum aperture. What does this mean? It means that you can open up the lens to F2 to get more light and to get more shallow depth of field, meaning a blurred background while your subject is in focus. At F2 this lens is VERY sharp and with excellent color and contrast. The lens is made VERY well and if bought new they come with a detachable hood and lens cap.

The new ASPH version is basically perfection in a 35mm. No real distortion, bitingly sharp but smooth at the same time, neutral color signature so it does not exaggerate any colors, nor is it warm or cool. It’s just right. For B&W it is a hell of a lens. This is one of my favorite Leica lenses of all time, but I also love the Summilux and Summarit so it’s been tough to settle on one final M lens in this focal length.

I now own a very special black paint version (not the one in the above image) which I found pretty much as new old stock. I bought it as used but it looked brand new and untouched in the box. Beautiful. The black paint lenses are made from brass much like the Leica MP so when it wears down you start to see the brass glowing underneath the paint. These are harder to find as they only made 2000 of these back in 2000.

But today the cost of a new 35 Summicron ASPH in black or silver is $2995. Pricey for such a small lens but if you want to have a lifetime lens this is a great choice. With a 35 summicron ASPH you need not worry about performance but you just have to make sure that F2 is fast enough for your tastes. I find the Summicron gives you the best balance between size and performance.

35 Summicron ASPH – $2995


On a budget but still want a Leica?

The Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 – (My review here)


The Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 is even smaller and more compact than the Summicron but it is also a little bit slower with F2.5 being the maximum aperture. I had this lens here for a few months and fell in love with its combination of size, rendering and price. It’s still not a cheap lens at $1600 but for Leica, this is a great starter lens that does not give you “starter” results.

The 35 Summarit is a hell of a lens and gives you the feeling that you are using a quality lens. At F2.5 it is sharp and gives you a little bit of a classic look when wide open. This is not an Aspherical lens so it’s not as perfect as the Summicron ASPH but it is a lens that will give you great sharpness and detail. The only downsides to this lens is the slight barrel distortion which is only visible when shooting straight lines. Never bothered me though as I never saw it in any of my real world shots.

I created a few shots with this lens that generated a coupe of thousand dollars in print sales and even when printed at 20X30 with my M9 files, this lens delivered the goods.

Leica 35 Summarit – $1695


Have a need for speed and deep pockets?

The Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 ASPH – (My review here)


If you desire speed, creamy out of focus backgrounds and a somewhat magical classical rendering then look no further than the 35 Summilux ASPH. Yes, there is a new version on the way and I expect it will be released very soon but today you can still buy the current model. The only issues with this version is the slight focus shift that is inherent EVERY 35 Lux ASPH. This is also why Leica redesigned this lens with a floating element in the yet to be released version.

The current ASPH, even with its slight focus shift is magic. It has a way of rendering images at 1.4 in a way that is sharp but dreamy at the same time. This is a great lens for low light due to its fast aperture. When I owned the M8 this was my favorite lens and stayed on my camera 90% of the time. On the m9 I switched to the Summicron as I decided I wanted something more compact and also something that would give me better results with a wide range of subjects.

To me, the Summilux borders on a specialty lens. If you love shooting wide open at 1.4 then buy this lens. It’s magic at that aperture. I found from F2 on that the Summicron is a better performer. This is a speed freaks lens. A night shooters lens and for those who want that “Leica look”.

Keep in mind the new version IS on the way. How do I know? I’ve seen the lens and I have seen images from it. No, I do not have one as Leica doesn’t include me in their top secret tests but I do have contacts and I do know that this lens is in fact real and it has been for MONTHS. From what I have seen, the new yet to be released version is BEAUTIFUL. No focus shift, and it renders much like the 50 Summilux ASPH, which happens to be considered by most Leica shooters as the worlds best 50mm lens.

So if you want a 35 Lux and want a more classical rendering and want to spend as little as possible, you can try to find a used current model. They usually go for $3000-$3400, depending on condition. The new version will most likely come in at $5,000. Too rich for my blood but for those that can afford it and have to have a Lux I doubt anyone would be unhappy with it. Now, when will Leica release the lens? We shall wait and see!

Leica 35 Summilux ASPH – $4,995.00


Non Leica 35′s – “Best Bang For The Buck”

We all can’t afford Leica lenses and many of us, after spending $7000 on an M9 do not have a few grand left to buy a Leica lens. Still, when you own a Leica camera I know the desire to own at least ONE Leica lens. But if you need to save for a Leica you could buy one of these to use while you save. Hell, even if you do not want to shell out the thousands required for Leica glass you can still get fabulous results while saving some money. Here are my favorite NON LEICA 35mm lenses for an M camera.

ZEISS 35 Biogon C 2.8 – (My review here)

This lens is fabulous on the M9. I like it better than the F2 Biogon due to its size, and even better performance. It’s slower at F2.8 so you lose that stop over the F2 Biogon but this is one sweet lens that will give you warm Zeiss color as well as the Zeiss 35 Pop. It’s small and compact and if you do not need a faster lens I can easily recommend this. It’s not built to the standards of Leica but the Zeiss ZM line is still better built than most SLR lenses. They feel nice in the hand, have aperture rings that click solidly into place and they are awesome performers.

Zeiss 3 Biogon C 2.8 – $817.00


Voigtlander 35 1.4 Nokton Classic MC – (my review here)

This lens is for those who want speed but are on a budget. You will not get Summilux performance here but you will get a VERY classic rendering with soft corners, shallow depth of field and even some barrel distortion thrown in. What I liked about this lens was its imperfections. It’s character. Many will say this is a crap lens but for me, I feel the qualities it portrays are nice at times. Just do not expect super sharp and perfect here. It reminds me of some of the 1940′s lenses and sometimes, this is a good thing.

For $559 you can get a fast 35mm for your Leica, if you can find them in stock. There are two versions the MC (milt coated) or SC (single coated). The SC will give you even MORE of an old school look with lower contrast and muted color.

Voigtlander 35 1.4 Nokton Classic MC – $559.00

The above lenses are my favorite 35′s for Leica M mount. There are others by Zeiss, Voigtlander and even more to choose from by Leica with classic lenses on the used market. BUT, the lenses above are the ones I really enjoyed and found to perform wonderfully on the Leica M9. Thanks for reading!

Steve

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