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Dec 212015
 
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The Leica 50 Summicron f/2 APO Lens Review Part 2 – Leica SL

By Steve Huff

Ever since shooting the $8,000 Leica 50 APO on the Leica M 240 a year and a half ago I have been smitten by this tiny, compact and amazing performing 50mm lens. I have never experienced a 50mm quite like it and it was the ONLY LENS I used on the M 240 (and I used them all) that made the camera perform on another level than it normally does. The color, the contrast, the pop, the details, the smooth bokeh that is reminiscent of classic and modern, the super smooth slide out hood, the complete lack of distortion and CA, the ability to turn 35mm full frame into what starts to look like Medium Format.

I have never used any lens like the 50 APO as it has the ability to bring out the best of your sensor when used on the Leica M 240 or SL. When used on the Sony A7s and A7SII it is equally as amazing but on the A7RII it does suffer from soft edges and a tad bit of softness in general when compared to using it on the A7S or a Leica. I will show you a side by side later on down in this review of just that.

50 APO, f/2, SL. Love the way this lens and camera does B&W. MUST click the image to see it the way it was meant to be seen.

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But let’s be clear, this lens is made for a Leica. Also, it is better than my photo abilities and skills, and would probably remain so for the rest of my life. :) At this price, it SHOULD be reserved for real pros who earn income from their photographs, well, that is how I would expect it to be, but us enthusiasts also love it as many of us dream about this beautiful hand constructed 50mm masterpiece. I think many of us WANT IT simply because of the claim it makes…BEST 50 IN THE WORLD. Some even say BEST production lens in the world, period.

The Color. The Rendering. The Buttery Smooth Bokeh. Leica SL + 50 APO

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If you missed my review of this lens on the Leica M, check HERE. Then click HERE to see some shots on a Sony A7s (gorgeous rendering). Then see more of it on the M when I shot some COMICON photos.

This lens as shot on the M 240.

The 50 APO and the M 240 are a perfect match, without question, best lens I have used on the M 240, ever. More of these are at my Comicon report HERE. Had great lighting that day as well!

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OK, so here we go!

This Part 2 review will mainly go into how it does on the SL, Leica’s new, and IMO, best ever digital camera (and my camera of the year 2015). The SL is a marvel for SO MANY reasons. It is so hard to convey in words and the fact is, no one will really “get it” until they use one for a day or two and use it with M lenses as well as the native 24-90. Then you will say “Holy Shit, this is amazing in all ways”.

As of today, December 21st 2015, the SL is my #1 go to daily camera with a 28 Elmarit M lens and the 50 APO with a 90 APO to be added soon (when I can afford it). No camera, even the M, has given me as much joy of use as this SL. It truly is like shooting a Mini S Typ and the EVF WILL SPOIL YOU, it really will. But hey, we are here to talk about the 50 APO on the SL, so let’s get to some samples!

This shot was taken at night, in my home. The only light source was the one behind Debby and the one above her, in my Kitchen. So indoor Kitchen lights. Shot at f/2, this is pretty damn good for the circumstances. 

YOU MUST CLICK IT to see it correctly! 

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…and a quick and dirty B&W conversion, just by sliding down the saturation, no filters or tricks. 

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If you read the 50 APO review as used on the Leica M, you will see that it gave some of the best color, contrast and pop ever seen from the M sensor. This lens performs mostly the same way on the SL. It has striking contrast, gorgeous color, and sharpness anywhere you need it. Again, click on the image below of this CD cover and marvel at the detail. bokeh, color..and keep in mind, this is out of camera as shot at night in my Kitchen, with my nasty Kitchen lights. The AWB nailed this, and the lens brought out the amazing pop of this lens.

CLICK IT! Shot at f/2 wide open, where this lens LOVES to be shot. In fact, it is optimized for f/2 and I would NEVER shoot this lens at f/8 as that would be a crime. IN fact, once you get to f/8 diffraction will lower your IQ, so stay with f/2-f/4 for the best IQ and character. 

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Using an ICE LIGHT 2 that I am testing, I shot this with the light at its lowest output setting in a totally dark room. ISO 4000, f/2, JPEG

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Details and Bokeh. Look at the detail where I focused (crop can be seen when clicked on) and look at the silky smooth bokeh. No, the 50 Lux can not do this, I tried. 

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It will cost ya!

The Leica 50 APO lens price sounds absurd to 99.9% of those who love photography. Some get mad about this lens as I see some saying “My 50 1.4 Nikon can do this”, or “My 50 Lux beats the APO”…this happens with people due to the cost of the lens. The high price makes some out there get negative and mad without even realizing what it took for Leica to even release this lens. This lens was a nightmare for Leica early on. HUGE amounts of finished lenses would be thrown in the dumpster as they were not perfect.  A much higher number of lenses were thrown out than kept and Leica was probably starting to regret ever having this lens made. The 1st batch sold had flare issues, and had to be corrected yet again by Leica. Today though, all new 50 APO’s sold are perfect, or at least they should be. Leica has the production of this lens down by now, without question. Mine is distortion proof, artifact proof, flare proof and gives me the same bite and color in any light I use it in. It’s a special lens for sure.

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It was also a statement piece from Leica to tell everyone “This is the best lens we can make at this time, period”. Coming from the king of optics, Leica, we knew it had to be special but I am a big fan of the old 50 Summicron, which I still adore.

But when side by side the color difference between the two is MASSIVE. The micro details with the APO are just not there in the standard, the Bokeh of the old version was considered by MANY to be awful. I never had an issue with it but it could get busy in some situations. Not the APO. This lens has the best of everything, and while we do not get the classic slight bokeh swirl of a Summilux at f/1.4 we do get a unique rendering that is very pleasing to the eye.

Many I know who own it call it “BUTTER”.

The rendering is just so nice. I shot these roses at a gravesite and added some Vignetting myself for effect. The 2nd shot, again, in my home at night! The color, bokeh and details are incredible. 

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This lens was designed by Peter Karbe. A genius and IMO, probably the best and coolest lens designer in the world. See the video below where he talks about the 50 APO. Then click here to read an interview with him by Thorsten Overgaard where they discuss the details (and Thorsten’s skepticism) of the 50 APO.


The old 50 Summicron was designed by Mandler and is one of his last designs. It is also a legendary lens that has stood the test of time again and again, always considered at the top of the 50mm heap. It has a way of shooting poeple and portraits that borders on magical at times, if your lighting is just right. With the new 50 APO, it seems any light is OK as this lens takes what you aim it at, and somehow, even in the worst of light makes it look great. It is a huge step up from the old version but even so I still love the old one as it gives a totally different rendering.

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1st image  – in my office, no light on, at night. Only light source is my display. I shot this at ISO 2000 on the SL with the 50 APO at f/2. Click it to see how smooth it is, how fantastic the color rendering is, and how it just looks so good, even at ISO 2000 without any noise reduction. Must click it!

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This is my dog Olive sitting in a light patch that was coming in from my window. For this I converted to B&W and enhanced contrast more to give a striking look. I missed perfect focus on this one as she was moving her head..

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Using the 50 APO on the Leica SL was a treat. No rangefinder to worry about (going out of alignment) so nailing focus was pretty easy (unless you are trying  to focus on something that is moving, then the 24-90 would be perfect) with that massive bright beautiful EVF (which should be on all cameras today) I managed to use no peaking, peaking and magnification and nail photos. The best method though for me, using a manual lens is using the magnification. It will ensure you nail focus every time. I maybe missed focus on 1 out of 10 shots using no peaking, and maybe 1 out of 20 using peaking. By comparison, using it on an M you can get 100% in focus shots if your RF is in alignment. If it is not you have to learn tricks on how to nail focus and it’s a hassle and rarely works, until your M’s RF is fixed. So on the SL this lens is a joy to use. Never frustrating.

More 50 APO..all should be at f/2. Click them for larger versions. 

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But who would pay $8k for this lens when a 50 Lux is less than half price?

That is the question and to be 100% honest, this lens will not make anyone a better photographer. As I said, it goes beyond my skill set but I still love the lens. Do I need it? NO WAY. Would the older 50 cron do me just as good? Sure, as I no longer shoot pro for money. My main shooting these days, personal shooting, consists of family, trips, friends, etc. Something my Sony RX1000 IV is perfect for. So why do I have a 50 APO? Because I love camera gear, lenses, and many of you do as well. We know we do not “need” an item such as this, but we “want” it and wanting something like this is dangerous!

Luckily there have been special prices on this lens recently. Overstock cleared out three of them at $6000 last week (see post here) and you can find special prices every now and then on PopFlash.com or by emailing Ken Hansen. I received mine, new in box, as part of a trade deal I did with Ken Hansen because there is no way I could just part with $7-8K for a lens like this. The mental strain would be awful as I would constantly be saying to myself “Why did you buy this…you do not need an $8000 lens”!!! Lol.

With that said, shooting with and owning  this lens is a special thing. I feel blessed to actually own it, along with my other gear (SL, A7RII, RX100, RX1, etc) and I know that one day wether that is tomorrow or next year, I will get a shot using this lens that I will want to frame, and then it will make it all worth it. Hell, the joy I get from it is massive and I do indeed prefer it to the 50 Summilux ASPH I just traded towards it in all ways, though I still love the 50 Summilux.

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LENSRENTALS.COM TESTED THE TOP 50’s, and here is what they found..more HERE. The 50 APO beats the others..OTUS, SIGMA ART and more..so no, the Sigma or Otus or any other 50 does not technically match the smallest of them all, the 50 APO.

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Leica has a way of making you want ALL of their lenses. If I had 10 million in the bank I’d buy them all, and just put them in a shelf/case to use when I wanted. But as it is, I will be happy with my 28/50 and eventually my 90 cron when I can get it.

I know of over 10 who own this 50 APO and all of them love it and say its a lifetime keeper. Many prefer it to the Noctilux as the Noct look is magical but must be used sparingly otherwise your images start looking the same and you may start relying on the 50 Noct bokeh to make your images stand out (many do this). I feel shooting a lens like a 50 f/2, any version, will make you think about composition more than a Noct as with the Noct your main effect is blowing out anything but your subject. While it is a cool effect, once you shoot it daily for 2 weeks you will tire of that look. With a lens like this, the 50 APO, that will never happen. This is a legend already. A classic even today just a few years after its release. There is today, no 50mm like the 50 APO from Leica. Many may claim there is, or that their 50 can do the same but they really have no clue as you can’t until you use it. Put this lens in the hands of someone who can do magic with it and it will create magic.

if you have the cash and want a special 50mm for your M or SL, I’d go for the 50 APO hands down. If you do not have the cash, the 50 Lux, old 50 Cron or even the Zeiss 50 Planar can do the trick. All three of those have completely different rendering and I know a couple people who own them all and use them all. The 50 APO is about having the best 50 ever made, and I agree that it most certainly is the best 50 ever made so far. Yes, better than the big DSLR Zeiss Otus.

CLICK the images for larger and better!

The 50 APO is like going from full HD 1080 to 4K

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Quick Test By Request: The 50 APO on the SL and A7RII…

Sure, you can use the 50 APO on the Sony A7s and A7SII and get results up there with using it on a Leica. On the A7RII though the edges softness is there when shooting an image that would require sharp corner to corner performance such as a landscape at infinity. On the A7RII I’d take the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 over the 50 APO as you may get better results in most areas. 

Many asked me to do this comparison, so here it is. One landscape, and a couple of more normal shots.

Take a look below at two landscape style shots that I snapped. One with the SL and 50 APO and one with the A7RII and 50 APO. NO, these are not scientific as I do not do that for so many reasons. These are basically shots where I put the APO on one camera, aimed and shot and then did the same with the other. I was only testing here for soft edges, to see if it was an issue on the A7RII with the 50 APO. I’d love to see something from Sony like an A9 PRO that steps up the build, adds weather sealing, provides an EVF like the one in the SL and offers perfect performance for M glass, as the A7 series could be an amazing platform for M glass. They are almost there..and I feel like they will release a PRO body soon that aims at the SL. Just a hunch.

OK, here are the two quick shots. Take it for what it is. A shot with each camera using the same lens, same aperture. 

YOU HAVE TO CLICK THEM to see the crops correctly. 

1st up the Leica SL shot. Click it.

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Then the Sony A7RII shot..click it.

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You can see the soft corners on the Sony shot, and this is not a fault of the Sony, it is because this is an M lens adapted to be used on a camera it was not made for. Each generation of Sony A7 (now on Gen 2) improves on the M lens experience. As for now, the SL wins this one when using the 50 APO on each camera.

How about in normal shots?

Now, this is where it gets interesting. When shooting normal day to day shots of poeple, things, and generally shooting anything close in and wide open, you will not see these issues with the Sony and M lenses. Take a look:

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I STILL prefer the SL colors here but you can see the lens is now usable and workable on the Sony as the issues ONLY come into play when you want sharp edge to edge performance like the shots of the landscape above.

Yea, this lens is awesome..BUT…

This lens is a stunner but it’s not something we need to take great shots. Any lens can do that as the skill lies with YOU, not the lens. The lens becomes your paintbrush and yes, having as good of a lens as you can get will make your photos look better, it is up to you what you like in a lens or camera. Many will prefer cheaper alternatives because all lenses have different characteristics but if you want buttery smooth files, bokeh and micro contrast for days..the 50 APO will get you there.

VS the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2

One of the highest rated RF M lenses by Ziess is the 50 Planar f/2 which is an alternative to the old Leica Summicron, and yes, even the APO. While not as sharp, and with busier bokeh and some barrel distortion, the Planar will never match the APO but it will get you 75% there for under $1000. Here is a comparison.

1st Image up top, the 50 APO and SL – MUST click it to see crop.

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And now the Zeiss 50 Planar at f/2. Not nearly as sharp, has some distortion and the Bokeh is more nervous. But even with that, at under $1000 this is a great lens. 

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I will be shooting the 50 APO lens more and more and will be adding more images to this review over the next 3-4 weeks (Already added many new images since posting this a week ago). You can also check out my Leica SL gallery which will also be added to every week with the SL and all kinds of lenses. You can see that page HERE. 

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You can buy this lens at my preferred Leica dealers if you are interetsed:

Ken Hansen – [email protected]  – just e-mail him with any questions!

PopFlash.com – See their website, they will sometimes have great buys on this lens!

B&H Photo – The #1 photo shop in the world!

Amazon – You can find this lens there, even with Prime shipping often.

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HLPHH

PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

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If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

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Jun 012014
 

Mallorca in January with the Ricoh GR

By Thorsten Richter

Dear Steve,

Mallorca, main island of the Balearic Islands, is a typical and popular dream destination for Europeans searching for relaxation in the Mediterranean. In the summer months this island is bursting with tourists – mainly Germans, British but also Spaniards from the mainland populate beaches, hotels and resorts. In Winter this hot spot becomes a lot calmer, especially in the weeks following Christmas and New Year. The ones crowded beaches are definitely empty, many hotels are closed and the island is mainly back again in the hands of the residents.

As we planned to do a lot of hiking in the mountains I decided to travel really light concerning my camera gear. My normal travel set-up – a Leica M-series with two lenses – is not strictly what should be called hefty but this time the only picture-taking device that I carried around was a compact Ricoh GR.

I never regretted this decision: The GR is a camera capable of taking pictures with astonishing quality. The files this little gem pumps out are of pristine sharpness and give you much leeway for recovering blocked shadows or bringing back some information to washed out highlights – the latter one as a matter of course in much smaller amount as the first. The options offered by the menus are overwhelming and in the first weeks of using this camera I saw me reprogramming and adjusting the three custom user slots that are offered nearly daily. The lack of an optical viewfinder only bothered me for a short time – after exclusively using it for a few days it felt quite natural. In particular the included level gauge is very comfortable and something I definitely miss today as feature in some of my other cameras.

Using just a small camera with wide-angle lens for one week was a refreshing experience. As a photographer normally using only 35mm or 50mm lenses the new view angle required some mental adjustments; however, if used for enough time I think 28mm has the potential to be as universal as focal length as the classical pair mentioned before.

Below you find six shots taken during travelling through the island by car and walking through olive groves and fruit plantains. The last foto shows the Cathedral in the island’s capital Palma de Mallorca.

As the sun in January strikes in a quite flat angle, playing around with *contre jour* situations was possible nearly the whole day. These situations were handled very well by the small lens and I really liked the results you can e.g. see in shot #5. The flare is nicely washing out some areas of the picture but in no way obtrusive or biting.

You can also find some of my work on the website below:
http://www.chromelightphoto.com

Best regards from Cologne in Germany,

Thorsten

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Feb 032014
 

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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.

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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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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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Apr 042013
 

Two new videos…Leica M 50’s and an M 240 Video with the Noctilux

Just realized I have not posted these here though they have been on my youtube channel for a week or two. The 1st one is an overview of three mega Leica lenses. The 50 cron APO, the 50 Lux ASPH and the 50 Noctilux ASPH. The 2nd video is a short little video I shot with the 50 Noctilux ASPH to show the rolling shutter effect that is very noticeable when shooting 50mm. It was taken with the Noctilux wide open and with the M 240 in B&W mode.

Enjoy!

Nov 022012
 

Leica Noctilux f/0.95 in stock! 50 Lux ASPH in stock! 

Just an announcement for those of you looking for these lenses! The 50 Noctilux is now in stock at B&H Photo HERE. They go quickly so if you have been waiting, it is there right now!

Also, The Pro Shop for Photographers has the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH in stock in BLACK or SILVER! Best to call them at  561.253.2606 if you want one. 

 

PSAs I have done for 3+ years I post when hot lenses and cameras are in stock, with links..as a service to you. Sometimes I will get a small credit for this which is what keeps this site alive as I cant run it and pay for it on my charm alone :) Both B&H and Pro Shop are sponsors of this site and I recommend them highly along with Ken Hansen ([email protected]), Dale Photo and PopFlash.  

Feb 282012
 

Quick Comparison: SLR Magic 50 T0.95 vs Voigtlander 50 f/1.1 on the Leica M9

So today I received in the mail, courtesy of LensRentals.com (they rent almost ALL Leica glass and cameras), a Voigtlander 50 f/1.1 Nokton. My main goal was to test it out and compare it to the premo offering from SLR Magic, their king of the hill 50 LM T0.95 Lens. Many of you have e-mailed me asking me why this new SLR Magic lens is so expensive and “why wouldn’t someone just buy the Voigtlander 1.1 which comes in at $1100”? So I was curious to see myself how the lenses would stack up. In the coming weeks I will be doing a side by side comparison with the Leica Noctilux ASPH as well. Should be fun :)

I knew even before I received the Voigtlander that the build quality would easily go to the SLR MAGIC because I reviewed the Voigtlander a while ago HERE and it was a very lightweight somewhat hollow feeling lens compared to the Leica Noctilux F/1 I compared it against at the time.

The SLR Magic 50 T0.95 LM Hyperprime

Voigtlander 50 f/1.1 Nokton on M9

 

IN THE HAND

The SLR Magic…

In the hand the SLR Magic feels every bit as solid as the Leica $11,000 50 Noctilux ASPH. Period. I’ve been using this lens for weeks now and have not had one issue. The build is solid, the slide out hood is nice and overall the lens has a feeling of quality. BUT this is a $4300 lens and the Voigtlander is $1100. BIG difference so I would expect the build quality to be superior, and it certainly is. It is also now the fastest 35mm lens made today, taking that title from Leica (SLR Magic is an f/0.92) so with its Leica like build AND performance AND three-year warranty, the cost seems to be about right if not a tad high (though I wish it could have been $3500). BTW, this has a click less aperture ring which I did not care for at 1st but have since found it to be pretty nice. It’s smooth and solid at the same time and have had no issues with it going out of the desired spot. For video, this is a blessing as you can change aperture without clicks. Focusing is super smooth on my copy of the lens.

The Voigtlander Nokton

The Nokton is also nice, and you have to remember that the price is a tad over $3000 LESS than the SLR Magic lens so the build seems cheaper as the lens is much lighter. I also think the SLR Magic uses higher quality glass. When shooting with the Nokton though, it is easier to focus due to the knurled focusing ring though the feeling of the focus is rougher than the SLR Magic. I mentioned to SLR Magic I would have preferred a knurled ring but maybe they wanted their lens to look more like the Leica. Who knows. The Nokton is lighter so is easier to carry on the camera and the lens also has a more vintage look/design. So which you prefer is up to you.

My winner for build and feel – SLR Magic Hyperprime LM T0.95 (but Voigtlander is lighter)

BOKEH

The SLR Magic…

The SLR Magic 50 T0.95 LM lens has BEAUTIFUL bokeh. I mean, it meets or exceeds the Leica 50 Noctilux ASPH in this department, at least that is my opinion after extensively shooting both. The out of focus renderings are buttery smooth with no business or headache inducing harshness. You can see many examples of this in my rolling review but below is a sample shot today in my yard to test this and below that will be a sample from the Voigtlander. The sample below was shot at t/1.1-ish – click it to make it bigger.

The Voigtlander Nokton…

The Nokton 1.1 is a fast and much less expensive alternative to Leica lenses but it’s string point is NOT the bokeh quality. The Bokeh from this lens is a bit harsh when compared to premium Leica lenses and to many, this is a reason to NOT go for this lens. Then again, others are perfectly happy with it. As mentioned, it is much less expensive than a Leica counterpart. :)

My winner in the bokeh dept – SLR Magic Hyperprime 50 LM T0.95

SHARPNESS WIDE OPEN or CLOSE TO IT

The SLR Magic…

The SLR Magic lens is SHARP, even wide open at T0.95 it is as sharp if not sharper than the Leica $11k beast. Due to the sharpness, super micro contrast and smooth Bokeh, this lens has the capability to pump out a nice 3D effect as well. Below is a shot at T0.95, wide open for this lens.

The Voigtlander Nokton…

The Nokton is a bit softer wide open at its widest aperture of f/1.1 but the rendering is also a bit flatter than the SLR Magic lens and with its busier bokeh it doesn’t have that same “wow” effect that the SLR Magic lens has. Still, it seems to perform great for the price of the lens. These days $1100 is cheap for a Leica mount lens :)

My winner for sharpness wide open – SLR Magic Hyperprime 50 LM T0.95

SHARPNESS STOPPED DOWN

The SLR Magic…

I will let the pictures do the talking but it is obvious who is sharper. Not sure if the Voigtlander was suffering from focus shift or if it is just not pin sharp. All shots were tripod mounted.

You must click each image to see a larger version and true 100% crop!

The Voigtlander Nokton…

My winner for sharpness stopped down – SLR Magic Hyperprime 50 LM T0.95

BARREL DISTORTION

I know from using it that the SLR Magic has some barrel distortion so I was curious to see how the Voigtlander stacked up here. It appears the Voigtlander has less from this sample. You can see this distortion when you shoot straight lines. This was shot on a tripod with both lenses and both lenses were set to 1.1. Distance was about 1m. Click images for larger views and true 100% crops.

The SLR Magic…

The Voigtlander Nokton…

My winner for distortion – Voigtlander Nokton 50 f/1.1 – It has less than the SLR Magic.

COST

SLR Magic…$4388

Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 – $1049

Winner – Voigtlander Nokton 50 1.1

CLOSE FOCUS 

The SLR Magic focuses down to .7 meters, the same as a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH. The Voigtlander only focuses to 1m, like the Leica Noctilux so the advantage is clearly with the SLR Magic. Below is an example image shot at the closest focus distance of each lens.

SLR Magic…

Voigtlander Nokton…

My winner for close focus – SLR Magic because it focuses closer.

Botton Line Conclusion and the winner – The SLR Magic 50 LM T0.95

Well I have no doubts, the SLR Magic lens is indeed the better lens here, and I prefer it by quite a bit. From it’s 3D rendering, buttery smooth bokeh, tank like build, .7 meter close focus, and smooth easy to focus operation it is easily the better lens when compared to the Voigtalnder Nokton. It is also sharper than the Voigtlander Nokton wide open AND stopped down and distortion wise, the Nokton edges out the pricier Hyperprime but even so,  SLR Magic does a bit better in the corners when it comes to sharpness. So the big question comes down to money. Do you want to spend $3000 more for the SLR Magic? That is in no way cheap but the lens is one that should last a lifetime and it is in fact comparable to the Leica Noctilux ASPH in its rendering, detail and even color. It is now the world’s fastest lens for 35mm in production and speed always costs big bucks, especially when it is associated with quality.

The Voigtlander Nokton is a good lens if you don’t mind somewhat busy bokeh at times, less sharpness wide open (which hinders the 3D effect a bit), lighter construction (which can be a blessing) and farther minimum focus distance. After using both it would be hard for me to go back to the Nokton after using the SLR magic simply due to it just doesn’t have that same MOJO, and I am a fan of super MOJO :)

The Voigtlander lens is available now from B&H Photo

The SLR Magic lens will be available September 2012

When I do the Leica Noctilux ASPH head to head it will have many more samples and tests including tests for CA, a portrait test, and more extensive sharpness and distortion tests. Cant wait!

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Jun 232010
 

Some Leica 50 Summilux ASPH Love…

It’s hump day so I figured I would take us up and over the hump with some shots from the Leica M9 and 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4. I received  this lens a few days ago, and have been having some fun with it around the house testing it out. My son, who has been my #1 model lately for camera and lens tests agreed to spray his hair up just to be goofy and to let me take some shots. I wanted to make sure the M9 and 50 were focusing properly as I have had my share of focus issues with this lens in the past. The good news is that it focused just about perfectly. The depth of field at 1.4 with a 50 and at the minimum focus distance is razor thin, so I was very happy with these results, even if they were just for fun shots :)

This is the first time shooting this lens on the M9 and wow, what can I say. For those who are not aware, many consider this the best 50mm lens made today. Sure we have the 50 Noctilux at $15,500 but for all out versatility, the 50 Summilux ASPH wins. It has a mix of size, amazing 1.4 performance and a character to die for. If you want that creamy, dreamy look there is no substitute!

I will eventually re-review this lens with images from the M9, M8 and MP but I am waiting for a few weeks do I can take it out and get some worthwhile images. I know there are still a ton of you waiting for this lens but I hear that supply may be getting better at the end of this month so let’s hope so!

I plan on a few trips in the next two weeks where I will be taking this lens along as well as a couple of other cameras and I can’t wait!

Steve

ALL THREE –  M9/50 Lux ASPH at 1.4 – Converted to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro

HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING!

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

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks it helps this site. You pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

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

Feb 012010
 

Leica 50 Summicron Lens Review

2010-02-01 – The 50mm focal length comes in many flavors in the world of Leica. The 50 Summicron, Summilux, Summarit…ugg. So many 50’s but luckily I have had a lot of time :) It has been a long journey fore me trying to find a set of lenses that I could be happy with on my Leica M9 that fit within my budget. I just do not have the funds to buy a full set of Summilux glass, and even if I did I would probably feel bad about spending all of that money on lenses! It’s a slippery slope really. On on hand Leica M owners can go out and buy something like a Voigtlander 50 Nokton 1.5 and get amazing results. This lens is inexpensive and seems to deliver superb image quality from what I have seen (there will be a guest article/review of that lens coming this week) but for those of us who really want a “Leica” lens on their Leica camera, a Voigtlander, no matter how capable, is not going to cut it so we look for a Leica to attach to our beloved camera.

I have shot with Voigtlander, Zeiss and Leica on  my M cameras and something about the Leica lenses keep me coming back to them. Wether it is their build, their style or their unique color signature I am pretty much hooked on Leica. But do not take that as a negative or a “stab” at Voigtlander and Zeiss. Both companies make some great little lenses for the Leica M mount and the Zeiss ZM range is considered by many as a true alternative to Leica. Today I am here to talk about Leica and one of the classical focal lengths for 35mm photography. The ever so popular 50mm.  I feel that one could do 95% of their photography with just a 35 and 50mm lens which is why I enjoy having both, but the 50 has been the focal length I have really enjoyed shooting for the past couple of months. So if you shoot an M mount camera and are looking for a nice Leica 50, what are your choices for a new current production lens?

Your Leica 50mm Options

For those who want to stick with Leica for their 50mm you a few options when buying a new current production 50. The least expensive is the 50 Summarit. At $1395 it is certainly not “cheap’ but hey, it’s about as low as it goes for a Leica lens. At the time of this writing I have not shot with the 50 summarit so I can not comment on the quality of the lens but if it is anything like the rest in the summarit line, I am guessing it is really really good. The summarit is small and has an F2.5 aperture, so it’s not the best for low light work AND IT DOES NOT come with a hood. That is an extra.

Next in line is the subject of this review, the Leica 50 Summicron. It is not an Aspherical lens and it is a classic design dating back to 1953. Over the years it has morphed into what it is today, a simple, small, well built heck of a 50! I love the design of this lens with it’s pull out hood and small size. This lens ups the ante a bit with a buy in price of $1995 new, but it even comes with a Leica leather pouch and as mentioned, the built in hood :)

The third 50 in the Leica line up is the 50 Summilux ASPH and this is the mother of all 50mm lenses. Its fast 1.4 aperture is it’s main draw and its price is nearing the “I must be insane to but this thing” territory. At $3795 (Feb 2010 pricing) this is a lens you buy when you want the best and most versatile 50mm created.

Finally, you have the worlds fastest most exotic and fastest lens for 35mm photography with the Leica Noctilux F0.95 lens. At $10,495 it is just way out there as far as pricing goes but man oh man is it beautiful. If I had the means to do so I would own one. The drawbacks with this lens is its size and weight. But that $10k buys you a world class “stupid fast” lens as well as a lethal weapon in case anyone ever tries to rob you. He he…

Not all of us have a spare $3800 laying around, let alone $10,495 so where does that leave us? I used to own the 50 Summilux ASPH and I remember buying one NEW at B&H Photo for around $2000. Prices have since gone up (about 4 times) and these days it is getting harder and harder for me to justify Leica purchases. This is why I decided I had to finally settle on a three lens kit for my M9 and STICK TO THEM! Buying another 50 Lux was out for me because if I did that, well,  I would not be able to buy a 35 to go with it. My lens budget consisted of about $4800 and my goal was to get three really great lenses for that money. My search for a 50 led me to try out the 50 Summicron.

Enter the 50 Summicron

My first experience with the 50 summicron was on film. When I bought a Leica M7 years ago it came with a 50 cron and I shot that combo every day. Man, that was a beautiful combo. Talk about classic. I was soon tempted by the beautiful all black Leica MP and sold my M7 but I kept the 50 summicron and used that lens to shoot 90% of my homeless project. It never failed me, never let me down, and never ruined an image due to flare (many say this lens flares bad, but I have yet to see it in ANY of my shots..use your hoods, I do!). I must have taken 2-3,000 images with this lens on my MP. Never an issue with anything! Here is an image I shot years ago with the M7 and 50 Summicron.

Leica M7 with 50 Summicron at F2 and Fuji Reala film scanned on a Nikon Coolscan V

That’s The Look I’m After!

When Leica released the M8 I sold the MP to fund one. I mean, finally there was a digital M and of course I succumbed to my desires. Yep, I had to have one. I also sold the 50 Summicron because I decided I was going to go for a 50 Summilux for the M8 and I was silly like that. I wanted the best and that is what I bought. I remember people saying how much better the lux was over the cron so I never even thought to try it on the M8 (which was probably a mistake). Anyway, to make a long story short once I bought the M9 I tried a bevy of 50’s including the 50 Summilux, 50 Noctilux F1, 50 Noctilux 0.95 and even the Zeiss 50 Planar (ALL reviewed on this website BTW in the Leica section). When I say I “tried” them what I mean is they were sent to me for review. I did not buy them all! After loving and shooting with a 50 Noctilux F1 for a while I decided I really needed a 35 so this is when my search began. I had Leica dealer Ken Hansen send me a 35 Summarit, 50 Summicron and 90 Elmarit, all three new in box. The first lens I tried out of the three was the 50 cron and my first reaction was “Ahhhhhh….thats the look I am after”.

Leica M9 and 50 Summicron at F2 – ISO 1250

The image above was a quick snap at ISO 1250 in lower light at F2 and I was very happy with the “look” here. The lens seemed to have it all. It was small, well built, coded, not insanely priced and with its slide out hood made for a perfect 50mm solution on the full frame M9. Here is a youtube video I made to show you how big the lens is as well as how nice it looks in real-life-video. BTW, the video was shot with the Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic 20 1.7 lens, a great combo for video!

The 50 Summicron Bokeh

Cool video eh? I really fell in love with the lens and also the 35 and 90. YES! I finally found my three lens kit but the 50 is my favorite of the lot. I started shooting with it and really liked the results. Not only is it bitingly sharp at F2, it has a really great signature as well as nice bokeh. Some say the bokeh of the 50 is “busy” or not so nice, but I disagree somewhat. To me, it has that Leica look and feel. This lens also happens to be a Mandler design so enough said :) It may not have that perfect smooth modern bokeh of the 50 Lux ASPH but really, the bokeh of the summicron is just fine and will not make someone look at your image and say “Ewwww, look at that bokeh!”. The truth is, only us photo geeks stress over such things. :)

Leica M9 and 50 Summicron at F2

M9 and 50 Summicron at F2

The Leica M7 with the 50 Summicron at F2 – Tri-X film

The Summicron or the Summilux?

Really, the only drawback of this lens when compared to the 50 Summilux ASPH is that it is F2 instead of F1.4 and it may not be as “perfect” as the Summilux. But perfection is overrated these days and I started to realize this fact when I hit 40. Seeing all of my own imperfections made me ask myself why I used to be so obsessed with finding “perfect” lenses. A lens will not make or break a photo unless it is pure crap, and there really are no “crap” Leica lenses! Basically, it’s all about speed and speed is expensive in Leica world. At about $1800 cheaper than the Summilux, the 50 cron is a no brainer for those who want a fantastic lens at a better price. As I have said, the Summilux is probably the ultimate all around 50mm lens for ANY 35mm system. It beats the pants off of any Nikon or Canon 50, and yes, even the beautiful Canon 50L which I owned for a while. If you have the funds, a summilux would be well, perfect! But if you want a tad but more of a classic rendering and do not mind a “slower” F2 design, the Summicron has its own kind of magic. Basically with Leica lenses you just pick your “flavor” and price range. :)

When you buy this lens it comes with the usual Leica leather pouch seen here:

“The Old 76” – Leica M9 and 50 Summicron at F4

Since it has been in my possession I have shot with the Summicron in a variety of situations. I shot one paid job as well as my usual family and dumb animal photos. I even took it to St. Louis, MO and shot some old abandoned factories in mid day sun, again with no flare issues at all. The lens performed amazingly well for me. Never once did I say “Damn, I wish I had this lens or that lens”. I was amazingly 100% happy with this 50 on my M9! Here are a few shots from my visit to St. Louis and the old factories, all of them with the 50 Summicron. Keep in mind these have been “processed” and are my final images. I did post an out of camera image in the “sharpness” section below with a 100% crop so you can see the amazing detail of this lens and camera combo. BTW, my “processing” of these files only consisted of using the “Ink” filter in Nik’s excellent Color Efex Pro filters.

Sharpness & Detail

As I have stated, this lens is SHARP! Even at F2 you will not be able to complain about the sharpness of this lens, unless you have a bad copy or an out of alignment rangefinder in your camera. My M9 was recently calibrated to perfection and I can safely say that the combo of the 50 Cron and M9 ROCKS. It rocks HARD. Here are a couple of samples with 100% crops embedded. Be sure and click on the image to get the larger version and to see the 100% crop at a true 100%. I think these tell you all you need to know about sharpness so newspaper text or wall clocks should not be necessary :)

So not only do you get amazingly sharp detail even wide open at F2, you get the Leica buttery smooth Bokeh and color. I converted all of the images from DNG/RAW using ACR 5.6. The 2nd shot of the old Brick Warehouse is pretty impressive when viewing the full size file. You can click HERE to download it if you wish :)

CA/SENSOR BLOOM/PURPLE CRUD

In some of my shots with the 50 cron I did see some CA/SENSOR BLOOM/PURPLE CRUD. I list all three because back a few years ago it was always refereed to as CA (chromatic aberrations) and generally popped up during high contrast situations. People always blamed the lens even though it never showed up on film images. Then, more recently the “sensor bloom” term came into play. Now we blame the digital sensors. The fact is that almost ANY lens will exhibit this “purple crud” (my name for it) on any digital camera but many digital cameras today fix this issue with in-camera software and processing so you never even see it. The M9 does NOT correct for this so if you shoot in a situation with high contrast like tree branches against a bright white sky and the exposure if not quite right, then you may see some of this “purple crud”. I have seen it the M9, D700, Canon 7D, 5D, etc. I have also seen it with just about every Leica lens, Zeiss lens, and Voigtlander lens (except the Noctilux F1..hmmm). Here is a sample with some CA/SB/PC:

This can be corrected in Photoshop or your image editor of choice so to me it is not a big deal and is something that comes along with digital.

FLARE

I love running this website and one reason it is so enjoyable is that I get e-mails from all of you guys with cool info, samples and submissions for articles or pics. I am having a blast on a daily basis. Andrew Logan, one of the readers of this site also shoots with the 50 Summicron and sent me an e-mail with images he has taken with it that show lens flare. This happens with some lenses more than others when shooting in direct sunlight. Personally I have not had one issue with flare when shooting the 50 summicron but I always had the built in hood extended when shooting in sunlight. Anyway, Andrew said I could use his examples so I will post what he says is the “best example of how badly the lens can flare” – Please note that I asked him if the hood was extended and he did not remember so it is possible this was without the hood extended. Thank you Andrew for this example :)

Again, in my thousands of shots with this lens on the M7 and the hundreds of shots on the M9 I have not seen ANY flare but thought I would post this so you know that it is possible.

Low Light with the 50 Summicron

I did not get much of a chance to shoot REALLY low light with the lens yet, but when I do I will add to this review. I see no problem shooting in low light with this lens. For now, here is one at F2, ISO 2500 with the M9.

PROS & CONS

PROS:

  • For a Leica lens, its price is not to astronomical…yet.
  • The size and build is just about perfect for a 50mm lens.
  • At F2 it is plenty fast for 98% of situations. The other 2% will cost you $1800 more for the lux :)
  • It’s bitingly sharp, even wide open at F2.
  • Has a little bit of that classic look without the softness and distortion.
  • The color is nice and I like the Bokeh.
  • Comes with the Leica leather lens case.
  • Great warranty.
  • Widely available, always in stock and if bought new it is 6-bit coded for the M8 and M9.
  • Slide out hood/shade is great!

CONS:

  • It’s still almost $2000!
  • Can give you CA in some situations.
  • Some users say it can flare easily though my experience differs.

Leica M7 and 50 Summicron at F2 – Tri-X Film

My Bottom Line Conclusion

It took me a while but now that I own and use this lens on an almost daily basis I have to say it may be my favorite all around lens for the M9 replacing the 35 Summicron but I also adore the 35. As I shoot the M9 more and more I am beginning to realize that I am a 50mm kind of guy and for an all around 50, the Summicron is fantastic. It may not be a 1.4 lens, and it may not be as perfect and “smooth” as a summilux ASPH but this lens was designed by one of the greats and there is a reason it has been in production for well over 50 years. The current version of this lens is made in Germany, has 6-bit coding, a slide out built in hood and comes in a silver box with leather lens pouch/case. This is my 50mm of choice not because it is the “best” but because it has so much going for it with it’s cost, size, build, rendering and speed. I love this lens and it may just be the one that sticks with me for a long long time.

I bought mine from Leica dealer Ken Hansen. He always has Leica glass in stock and is a legend in the Leica community for service and being an all around great guy. If you e-mail him be sure to tell him I sent you! I so not make any money from mentioning him but he does let me use lenses from time to time to try out and review. Great guy, and great Leica dealer.

B&H also sells this lens HERE, and you can also find it at Amazon. With that, here are a few more images from the M9 and 50 Summicron. Thanks for reading the review, I hope you enjoyed it!

The last image was shot on Tri-X film on a Leica M7

HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING!

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

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


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