Jul 152014
 

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The Sony A7s: A New Camera for Leica M lenses

By Ashwin Rao – HIs flickr is HERE, his Facebook is HERE

Hello, gang. It’s Ashwin, back from a bit of a hiatus to discuss the camera du jour, Sony’s impressive A7s. The A7s has gotten quite a bit of press, in particular for it’s remarkable ISO sensitivity/performance, for it’s 4K video, and for it’s buck-the-convention 12-megapixel sensor. It’s been hotly debate, in light of the already-exceptional performance of its two siblings, the A7 and A7R, which offer different full frame sensors. I have extensively shot both bodies, and while I enjoyed the experience, I was left a bit in the lurch for entirely selfish reasons. Unfortunately, extensive shooting bore out that the A7r is really not a great option for Leica M lenses due to the critical nature of the sensor and how it plays (poorly) with M lenses, causing excessive vignetting, color casts, and detail smearing at the edges. The Sony A7 is better with regards to its capacity with M lenses (most lenses 35 mm and above do “okay” to “great” on the A7), but after shooting these 2 cameras, I came to the conclusion that perhaps Leica M lenses were best suited to be used on Leica M camera bodies, from a purely imaging standpoint. One can argue endlessly about the rangefinder (beyond the frame lines) vs SLR/mirrorless (tunnel vision) way of seeing, and there’s really no right answer there, as it’s more a matter of preference. But until recently, while the A7R and A7 were capable of using M lenses, they didn’t really make M lenses shine. And thus, I moved on, continuing to genuinely enjoy my Leica M bodies for my M lenses.

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A few months ago, whispers of a new camera began, and what resulted was the Sony A7s….a low megapixel (in today’s market), high ISO monster reportedly designed for videographers ready to make use of its full frame sensor and 4K recording potential. What people did not speak so much about was whether it would handle Leica M lenses better than its siblings. Maybe it was a lack of interest, and maybe the conversation moved on, but for me, my curiosity was piqued. I wondered whether the sensor’s lower megapixel (less critical) sensor, coupled with its gapless sensor design, would allow it to handle rangefinder lenses, which notoriously bend light into difficult angles at the periphery of digital sensors. My curiosity was also piqued by the high ISO capabilities of such a camera. If the A7s could handle high ISO’s as well as was being made out, suddenly, one could use compact, relatively “slow” M lenses such as the f/2 Summicrons, f/2.5 Summarits, f/2.8 Elmarits, and f/4 Elmars in low light conditions at high shutter speeds. Further, faster M lenses, such as the f/1.4 Summiluxes and f/0.95-1 Noctilux options might allow the photographer to see into the dim light of night like never before, and the lenses remain relatively compact to top it off. Leica M and other rangefinder lenses are generally much smaller than their mirrorless (at least FF mirrorless) and SLR counterparts, and balance quite well on the A7(s/r) bodies quite well, so one could make incredibly versatile images at very low light, using a very small kit…..in theory.

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To top it off, the Sony A7s was soon announced to have a “silent shutter” option, allowing the photographer to shoot with a full electronic shutter that would not announce itself whenever a photo was being taken. To me, this was one of the huge potential benefits to the Sony…Silence means that a photographer can work discretely, and the A7s, for the first time, offered this option to the photographer choosing a mirrorless body for work…For a Leica photographer-nutball such as myself, the value of discretion is part of the “rangefinder way”, and now, here was a mirrorless body that did it even better than the Leica M3 through M7, with their lovely/subtle shutter sounds….Here was a camera that could offer silence when shooting (albeit with the risk of a rolling shutter effect for fast-moving subjects)….wow, the A7s was now really grabbing my attention.

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But, All of this was fine and dandy, but only, and only if M lenses would play well on the Sony….

So the early reports came in, including Steve’s own detailed, fantastic, glowing review of the camera, using mainly FE lenses…Steve was blown away by the camera’s AF performance, high ISO performance, and it’s overall handling, for a full frame camera. But the images that intrigued me most from his review, as well as those of others, was the performance of the tiny Cosina Voigtlander 15 mm Heliar lens. Many of you know that while this lens one of the widest fields of view for a rangefinder lens, it plays quite poorly with the M9 and M240, and doesn’t do well on cropped sensors in many instances, due to excessive color shifts (magenta) and vignetting, due to the physics of the optics at play and how they project light through the lens and onto most sensors…Yet, the Sony A7s was handling the CV 15 mm lens, no sweat.

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So off I went to my camera store, armed with a host of Leica M lenses, ranging from a 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar through a 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron. After a few preliminary shots, I took note of dramatically less vignetting and what appeared to be more uniform color through the image field (i.e. no color casts). Hmmmm, great start, I thought….

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But what about smearing? One issue with using lenses 35 mm or wider at full aperture, is that many lenses start to smear details at the periphery of the imaging field. It’s a dirty little secret that Leica’s own wide angle lenses tend to do this on digital bodies, and this was one of the reasons that it took so long for Leica to introduce a digital rangefinder (and ultimately, the Leica M8 with it’s 1.3x crop sensor, designed to avoid the physics causing some of the issues mentioned). At one point, Leica’s CEO at the time mentioned that it might never be possible to produce a digital M body, but we know how that prediction turned out….

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Smearing has been a major issue for me with full frame bodies such as the Sony A7r and A7, and when added to intermittent color casts and high levels of vignetting, I had previously found that files just took too much work to get things right, and I gave up. Now, sitting home at my computer with a variety of files from a variety of lenses ranging from wide to telephoto, I was not seeing any objectionable colorcasts and much improved vignetting. How about smearing, then? Well, the jury is still out, but for the most part I have been entirely pleased. Of the wide lenses in my possession, I found that the 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar did exhibit slight detail loss at the far edges of the image, but this was not objectionable, just more than what I had seen on the M9 and M240 bodies. The lens that continues to “misbehave” on the A7s was the Leica 28 mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. This lens gives even Leica M bodies some trouble, and in the case of the Sony A7s, it has continued to produce moderate smearing at the edges. For real world street photography, in which edge sharpness may not be important, the smearing rarely matters, but if one were shooting landscapes, he or she would notice this, so it’s I lens I have considered avoiding for those moments when edge sharpness matters (For most other moments, the 28 ‘cron works great). Beyond that, I have had no issues with edge smearing. Everything works great. My Wide Angle Tri Elmar (WATE) works perfectly at 16 mm on the A7s, though this lens’ design plays reasonably well with even the A7r. My 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE, which didn’t work well on the A7 due to odd vignetting, works perfectly well on the Sony A7s.

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To add to the story, I have found that the Sony A7s does a great job with colors. It presents a palette similar to that of the Sony A7 and A7r, so if you are used to the files that those cameras make, the A7s will be similar. One nice added perk is that at higher ISO, while dynamic range does start to drop off a bit (particularly past ISO 4000, though files are totally useable, in my opinion, through ISO 12,800), the color reproduction at those high ISO’s remains solid. There’s only so much you can push today’s sensor tech, in terms of dynamic range and high ISO noise and color performance, but the Sony A7s is today’s state of the art.

Ultimately, I have been thoroughly pleased with my time using Leica M lenses as my sole lens set up for the Sony A7s. Everything works well. High ISO – check! Silent shutter – check! Minimal muss and fuss with edge image quality – BIG check! Colors and skin tones. Check that as well. Handling of camera with M lenses…big HUGE check! It all seems to work well.

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In summary, I have found the Sony A7s to be a great option on which to use Leica M lenses. If you have an investment in rangefinder lenses, or intend to do so, the Sony A7s is the current camera that you’d want to have on a budget. Sure the Leica M9 is fantastic, but it has high ISO limitations. The Leica M240 is great, but tends to start banding around ISO 3200. Those are fantastic options and allow one to see in the “rangefinder way”. But separating yourself from that, the Sony A7s is an incredible imaging machine. Sure, it has a lower megapixel count, but 12 MP files are plenty for the vast majority of us. The camera’s incredible ISO performance allows for the use of slower lenses, and thus more compact lenses, in low light shooting circumstances. Suddenly, your Elmars and Summicrons become relevant options for night photography, and lenses such as the Noctilux allow you to pear into the night better than your own eyes….it’s rather incredible. Creative possibilities open up, and I see new photographic horizons ahead! The Camera’s EVF is sufficient to reliably focus lenses, particularly if one uses the “Focus Magnify” option to achieve critical focus. The silent shutter allows for very discrete shooting, and for most street photography moments, it’s a perfect option (I have yet to see the Rolling shutter effect for my style of shooting) that’s silent and discrete. And year, silent shutter means no shutter shake to blur your images at that pixel level. Speaking of pixels, the camera’s lower pixel count allows for easier achievement of sharp images at slower shutter speeds, if desired, as 12 MP is much easier to hand hold than 36 megapixels in nearly any circumstance…something to consider if pixel peeping for sharp images is your thing.

The list goes on and on, but you can see that I am quite convinced that the Sony A7s is a viable option for those of you who want to use small, high performance rangefinder lenses on a mirrorless body. It’s the way to go. By the way, every image you see here was shot with the A7s and a M mount Leica lens. Now go out, test one out, and see if it satisfies you. The Sony A7s has certainly satisfied me.

All the best to you, my friends!
Ashwin (July, 2014)

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Feb 182014
 

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A Year in “M” Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

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Hello, my friends, the time has come to reflect upon a year seen primarily in black and white (and many, many shades of gray, which really is life, now, isn’t it ?) through the eye of Leica’s amazing Leica M Monochrom. I have previously written about my experiences with the “MM” after 6 months of use, and following journeys with the camera in Paris, Italy, New York City, and the Palouse. In this world of constant camera turnover, where every M9 is replaced by an M240, with Sony and Olympus seemingly staking their claims to fame in the digital camera world in place of Canon and Nikon, and with Fuji surprising and delighting us with every turn, the MM is now a venerable camera that remains unique as the only current mass-produced camera with a black and white sensor. The camera’s sensor, stripped of any ability to see in color, rid of the capacity to block moire, ends up being a photon eater, proving and incredible tool for capturing light in its many presentations.

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While it has not yet been around long enough to be deemed “legendary”, the MM is already ascending that ladder, and for those whom have had the privilege of using it, you’ll see that glimmer in their eyes of the prize that rests in their hands. So come along with me for my ride, should you choose, in words and images, of this camera that is destined for legend.

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Over the past year plus, I have taken over 15,000 shots with the Leica MM. I can truly and honestly say that the camera has delivered me the most joy of any camera that I have owned. The camera’s incredible CCD sensor that seems capable of coaxing the very best out of nearly any lens that you could put on it. In particular, the sensor seems to play particularly well with older rangefinder lenses, which in some cases were designed and coated for black and white photography. It provides a rich modern look with today’s aspherical glass, almost providing “shockingly real” views of the world, which I have yet to see from any camera. For me, the look of the MM with most modern glass is almost surreal, and I have thus primarily stuck with using older, “cheap” rangefinder lenses with the camera to great satisfaction. What’s interesting to me, and what I have heard increasingly from users of the camera, is that the camera’s sensor itself seems capable of coaxing something special out of these lenses, even when the M9 and M240 may not be able to coax the same look, clarity, or detail.

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Seeing in Monochrome

First and foremost, the Leica MM is a tool for image capture, as is really any other camera that the photographer may use. However, the sensor’s capacities and limitations have forced me to change my creative perspective. As I began my journey with the MM, I had to accept the challenge of only “seeing” the world around me in black and white. Color was no longer an option, and could not be used as a crutch or a tool ton lean upon. Having converted many of my M9 images to black and white, I initially did not see an issue with the process of only seeing in black and white, but after using the M monochrome a few times, I suddenly realized at what I had given up. Shooting in color offers its own creative possibilities and limitations, and when I suddenly forced out of this option, I found myself jarred. I decided to re-calibrate and try my best to see the world around me in black and white, before I even composed or took the shot. In a sense, I began to focus on light and dark, highlight and shadow, essentially in luminosity. I began to “ignore color” to the best of my abilities and focus instead on the remaining elements of any scene that I wished to capture Over a few months, what first was a challenge soon became inspiration and motivation. I was starting to see the world in monochrome. Just as switching from the AF-10FPS SLR’s to rangefinders is freeing to many photographers who are stuck in a rut, shooting with the M Monochrom re-invigorated me to explore the world around me in new ways. I called it “Going back to finishing school.”

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Monochrom magic?

There is just something about the MM’s sensor that seems magical to me. I know that this may come off as overly dramatic, but for me and for others out there with whom I have discussed the camera, it is true. The images that I have been able to capture seem to defy my own meager skills as a photographer. Lenses that were forgotten or passed aside on the M8 and M9 suddenly took center stage in the manner of how they interacted with the MM’s sensor. Let me say a few more words about this (The following is entirely theoretical, so feel free to disregard)

I have said in many instances that the MM seems to play particularly well with older lenses. Many vintage lenses from Leitz, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku were designed and used in an area of black and white photography, where color options were rare, limited, or non-existent. Thus, such lenses utilized coatings and design that was suited to capturing monochrome images, or so I have gathered. Whereas some of these older lenses’ coatings provide poor color reproduction on digital cameras, they seem to offer subtleties in tonal capture that modern lenses of aspherical design, aimed at gathering maximal contrast and detail across the frame, seem to miss. I have noted than many modern aspherical designs seem to limit the M Monochrom’s abilities to capture shadow detail, in particular, while older lenses, which tend to capture much lower macrocontrast, save these shadows, and instances, highlights as well.

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Second, I suspect that some of the MM’s magic in interacting with old lenses actually may have come from within. When I consider photographers that have inspired me, I have tended to prefer the “look” of the works of the early Magnum photographers, Sebastio Salgado, and others who shot in an era where my “vintage” lenses was their modern options. In a sense, I learned to prefer a way of seeing in black and white in the manner that was reflective of their gear…i.e. older lenses.

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Third, the MM’s sensor seems to be unique in being able to hold incredible detail with post-processing. This seems to be due to the dynamic range that MM images seem to possess in the mid tones. The MM has been roundly criticized for its tendency to clip highlights, and this is absolutely a reasonable criticism. What is often not discussed, however, is the incredible detail and flexibility of tone that preserved in the midtones captured by the camera, as well as the shadow detail that the camera preserves. When I first used the MM, I was enamored by the near infinite shades of gray captured within the RAW file, and as a result, my initial images with the camera tended to look generally grey. Over time, I found myself exploring these greys more and more, and using Adobe LR and other post processing tools to extract the contrast and detail that I desired from this more “boring” grey. One can push and pull the images in any number of ways, and MM files will not fall part, especially those captured at ISO 3200 or less. When used in “decent light”, the camera does just fine at ISO’s as high as 5000, capturing fine detail and suppressing noise appropriately (not really like film, though, but still pleasing).

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Finally, there may also be something to the M Monochrom’s naked sensor that coaxes the most out of vintage lenses. Lenses such as the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, which seem soft and washed out on color rangefinders, simply sparkle on the MM, both in detail and tonal rendition. I was surprised in particular, by the amount of detail and resolution that some lenses, over 50 years old, are capable of capturing when paired to the MM. I theorize that the lack of the low pass filter and Bayer array allows for optimal capture of unfiltered detail. No blur or image loss is imparted upon the captured image, as light does not have to pass through any barriers.

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The journey from new to old

So here I am, a year later, a year older and hopefully a year wiser, and my journey with the MM continues. The MM continues to be my favorite camera and my preferred way to see the world around me. My aspherical lenses continue to be relegated to my M9, while the MM continues to be mated to classic rangefinder lenses. I feel that for me, what was a casual experiment with vintage lenses has turned into a serious enterprise in how I prefer to see the world around me. It mates the rangefinder experience with a unique way of seeing the world around me and brings me closer to my own idols in the photographic world.

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Onward and Upward

The journey continues, and I hope to report back to you as I gain even more experience with this wonderful camera. Obviously, I can no longer wow you with reports of impressive specs, more megapixels, and quieter shutters. I hope to bring you more images, as my explorations with the camera, its files, and my use of processing, continues. These are exciting times for many of us, as photographers. Gear these days is so excellent that it’s really up to you to choose what tool suits you best. For some of you, it may be the camera phone that is always on your person. For others, it’s the latest greatest offering, with ever improving dynamic range, color reproduction, detail capture, and camera performance. For some, it’ll be the increasing capacity of cameras to deliver images and an experience that can be instantaneously shared. For me, it’s the simplicity of a camera that’s not capable of any of this, not even capable of seeing in color, that will continue to inspire and challenge me to grow my photography in new directions and to new summits. All the best to you all in your own journeys, and I’ll be sure to check in again soon!

Yours truly,

Ashwin Rao

February, 2014

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Dec 022013
 

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A weekend with the Sony A7R – A companion review

By Ashwin Rao – His Flickr is HERE

Hello, friends! I am back with a user report and second perspective to the review that Steve’s put together for the much-anticipated and ballyhooed Sony A7R, which I had the privilege of shooting over the past week-end, just ahead of its U.S. release. Interestingly, the U.S. appears to be the last major market to receive the A7R, and while many of you around the world have already begun to use the camera, it’s been rarely seen in these parts. All of that said, I was one of the lucky few to get a taste, and here’s my report.

The Sony A7R, as you know, is an incredibly compact mirrorless camera, housing an impressive 36-megapixel sensor, which forgoes an accompanying low-pass (Anti-Aliasing) filter. It’s a not so distant cousin to the 36 megapixel sensor found in the Nikon D800e, which was also produced by Sony for use with Nikon cameras.

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Sony has been very ambitious with this camera from the get go. The A7 and A7R bring a new compactness to a body capable of holding a full frame sensor, something that previously only the Leica M9 and M240 were capable of providing. In fact, the A7R feels even more compact in hands, in heft, and in feel. It’s a robust feeling camera, feeling solid, and Sony credits it with at least partial weather sealing (when using Sony’s own FE lenses).

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I became interested in the Sony A7R when I began hearing whispers of this camera online. Having been a devotee on the Sony RX1 and RX1R, I have had the joy of working with incredible images produced by these cameras, which produce results that are hard to ignore. As is well known now, Sony’s full frame sensors tend to produce the highest DXO Mark ratings, and while many (myself included) are not fans of such schemes to rate sensors, there is no denying that Sony has been making incredible sensors. When paired with the incredible Zeiss 35 mm f/2 Sonnar lens of the RX1, what is produced can be pure magic. Additionally, I am one of those individuals who decided against upgrading my primary rangefinder system, and I have kept both the Leica M9 and M Monochrom as my primary system. As I scoured the internet trying to find reasons to be convinced to buy the Leica M240, I ultimately felt that I would be best served staying put with my M9, due to availability, cost of upgrade, and the sensor’s interplay and color reproduction with M lenses, some which have reported to be “less sharp” on the new CMOSIS sensor housed by Leica’s latest offering. I know that my opinion is controversial, but many Leica devotees out there share it. Whatever you may call it (CCD look, etc…), the M9 brings something unique to the table with its rendition at base ISO, but it is a crippled camera beyond ISO 800, as its low light capabilities lag far beyond modern cameras, including the M240 and RX1R.

With all of this in mind, I have long had my antenna up looking for signs of another camera that might be adaptable to M lenses and produce solid results. I spent over a year with Fuji’s APS-C offerings, but ultimately the X-trans RAW conversion issues, and APS-C crop pushed me away. While I enjoyed by time with Sony’s NEX-7, the same APS-C crop factor and the sensor’s limitations in bringing the full charm of M lenses to the table pushed me away. I even considered picking up the lovely Olympus EM1, but the m4/3 crop has never been for me, despite all of the camera’s other advantages, which I hope trickle down to Sony someday, now that Olympus and Sony are partners in the camera making business.

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Into the fray arrives the Sony A7R, a sensor delivering a whopping 36 megapixels of AA-less goodness, a true test for M lenses. My curiosity was so piqued that I ordered one from my local dealer a week BEFORE the camera was even announced. Having been thrilled with the output of the Sony RX1R, I vividly imagined the possibilities of an AA-less Sony sensor paired with my stable of M lenses. Would this be a modern sensor by which to play with my M lenses, a camera that I could take out into the night to make color pictures without worry of ISO limitations? Would it be worthy second camera to my now principal camera, the Leica M Monochrom?

Thankfully, one of my great friends Chris Y, a Leica friend of the highest regard, emailed me last week. He had received an A7R from an overseas distributor, and he wanted me to give the camera run with my stable of M lenses. I jumped at the chance, and was able to use the camera extensively, exclusively with M lenses using my Novoflex M-to-E mount adapter, for a 3 day period. Let me just say that the experience was both exhilarating and educational. Did I find the A7R to be the long lost solution for which I had been waiting? Was it a cheaper full frame camera capable of using M lenses of all sorts and producing high quality results? Was it a camera that I would enjoy, having to rely on an EVF with focus peaking and magnification to make images? I would soon find out.

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For many folks who are planning an upgrade from an APS-C sensor camera to the A7R (i.e. you NEX users and Fuji folks), the upgrade is certainly worthwhile on several levels and difficult on a few other levels. APS-C sensors, with their cropped imaging plane, can hide many faults that would otherwise be an issue outside of the cropped field of few. Rangefinder lenses tend to have small exit pupils and provide short incident paths of light between the closest posterior lens element and senor. This and other factors, such as the chief ray angle of light bent by the lens, require a sensor, which is able to see light that’s been bent at a steep angle. If a sensor does not accommodate these matters with “offset microlenses” (i.e. hot topic word of the month), then one might expect to see quite a bit of light fall off at the periphery of the images.  Further, these steep angles can also produce shifts in color reproduction at the edges of the full frame field of view, and one can see magenta casts and other color shifts that can pollute image quality.  The Sony marketing team claims that the A7R includes offset microlenses to help address the issues described above, and the A7R was originally trumpeted as the camera to get for those of us interested in adapting our RF lenses to a full frame mirrorless solution. Did Sony work it’s magic again? Well…sort of….

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First off, I will tell you that the shooting experience of the A7R with M lenses can certainly be pleasurable. If you are a SLR shooter, you will have to adjust to using lenses with manual focus, focus peaking, and magnified views to achieve critical focus. If you are a RF shooter, you’ll have to adjust from shooting manually using the RF parallax solution to focus peaking/magnification. I have used Sony NEX cameras, and so the experience was not unfamiliar to me. It took me about a day of heavy shooting to become accustomed to the A7R’s “way of seeing the scene”. Unlike the Rangefinder, with its fixed viewfinder and frame lines, in which one can see around the field of view and predict what may be entering or exiting the scene, the A7R offers a tunnel view that’s become common and comfortable for SLR devotees. Shifting from one version of shooting to the other can be disconcerting, even more so when using RF lenses, but after about a day, I was off to the races and enjoying the experiences.

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As Steve has mentioned, focus peaking must be seen only as an aid to shooting. Unless you are shooting wide lenses or are shooting stopped down past f/4, you will likely need to use the camera’s magnified view to achieve critical focus. This can be disconcerting, as by “zooming in” while trying to grab focus, the photographer loses the framing and composition for a moment, before being able to zoom out and recompose as necessary. After a day of shooting, I felt more comfortable “zone focusing” using focus peaking, then rapidly magnifying to get critical focus before zooming back out to make the image. This method is not nearly as spontaneous as focusing using AF or rangefinder focusing, but it works and suffices to capture images that are less mobile. Shooting kids, pets, or birds, using this method is challenging, but less mobile scenes, including street scenes, are easily captured once you get used to the method of focusing. Keep this in mind when shooting the A7R.

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As I continued to shoot with the camera, one concern began to dawn on me. The shutter of this camera is loud, and it’s not very well dampened.  This is not necessarily a camera by which to shoot events that require quiet. For example, the shutter could be distracting at a wedding or quieter music venue. On the street, it’s not an issue, in terms of noise.  The vibration generated by the shutter was of concern to me while I shot. While I have no scientific way of proving it, I was worried that the vibration generated by the shutter and translated to such a compact body could make for un-sharp images, particularly when coupled with a 36- megapixel camera. To compensate, I tended to shoot at the fastest possible shutter speeds, limiting myself to shutter speeds no slower than 1/200th of a second. This is actually not a major issue, as the Sony A7R’s ISO capacity is really solid. Despite it’s high pixel count, it’s an entirely adequate and solid low light performer, doing just fine through ISO3200, and sufficient through ISO 6400. Relying on higher shutter speeds in dim settings forces one to choose high ISO’s, and this isn’t as big an issue as I worried about.

Having moved past the focusing method and shutter sound/dampening matter, I really began to enjoy the camera on the streets and at parties in all different lighting settings. I found the EVF and tiltable LCD’s to both be fantastic. I really enjoy articulated LCD’s as they offer the photographer the ability to shoot at difficult angles without guessing. That being said, whenever possible I relied on the camera’s fantastic 2.3 mp EVF, which is awesome. While it’s not quite an optical viewfinder in terms of image clarity, it has very little shutter lag and allows the photographer to see a wealth of information (shutter, aperture, histogram) at his or her discretion. It’s really a lovely tool that Sony seems to be mastering. I found the EVF and LCD to be entirely adequate for focusing and composing.

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On returning home, I downloaded Adobe Lightroom 5.3 (release candidate), which is capable of reading Sony A7R raw files, and I was greeted by a host of images of incredible detail many of which you see here. The first thing I noticed were the colors. Sony has done an incredible job to bring, vibrant, yet not over the top, life like colors to the fray. They seem to be true to the scene, and I was rapidly able to process them in a manner to look like files from my beloved CCD camera, the Leica M9 (with the added benefit of superior ISO performance, of course).  To me, this was HUGE. Having a camera with a modern sensor, putting out files comparable to my M9, was what I have been looking for and craving for years now…..and here it was.

To boot, one of the less discussed “features” of the A7R is it’s top shutter speed of 1/8000 of a setting. For fast-lens geeks like me, having this feature is amazing, as it allows us to shoot wide open in daylight, while foregoing the use of an ND filter. Lenses like th Noctilux f/0.95 can suddenly be used in daylight circumstance…a world of creative possibilities thus opens up with ultrafast lenses on the A7R!

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So was all well in the world?!? Well, in a word, NO! As I started to look around at images, I began to see a few issues with colorcast. Given the way the rangefinder lenses manipulate and bend light, I could easily see colorcasts and detail smearing at the edges of the images made with lenses wider than 28 mm. Once I pulled out my 28 mm Summicron, I was slightly more satisfied, as there was no substantial detail smearing, but the color casts, while less objectionable, remained. At times, the edges would take on a magenta hue. In other circumstances, a slightly bluish hue.  The effect seemed to be far less noticeable for 35 mm lenses such as the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph Pre-FLE and FLE, but it is still there and noticeable if shooting shots of the sky or uniformly bright, backlit scenes, such as the “foggy morning” captures presented here. What surprised me is that I found this color shifting and vignetting to be present at times even with my 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux aspherical. It turns out that M lenses are really demanding on these full frame sensors, demanding enough that Leica once claimed it to be impossible to design a full frame digital rangefinder. Well, they eventually did find away, but it took a lot of cunning, know how, and a bunch of in-camera color cast correction applied to RAW files before they ever got onto Lightroom. Unfortunately, the Sony A7R does not have such software corrections. It’s offset microlenses do not suffice to correct these color casts, so if you decide to buy this camera and shoot your RF lenses, be prepared for some frustration and to adjust your post-processing techniques to accommodate for these matters. There are programs, such as SilkyPix, a RAW converter that allow one to create lens profiles and correct such color casts. There are workarounds in Lightroom 5.3, such as using the digital graduated ND filter creatively, that help reduce the effect of these color shifts. One other issues is chromatic aberration, which tends to show itself when lenses are pitted against demanding sensors. In fact, lense such as the Noctilux f/0.95, which have known CA issues, seem to even more prone to showing CA on the A7R.  In summary if you are looking to seamlessly shoot your M lenses on the A7R, be prepared to pause.

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If you are a black and white shooter, color casts and CA won’t matter, and then it gets down to correcting for some vignetting, which is more easily accomplished within a LR workflow. IF you only shoot telephoto lenses, then you are safe with the A7R, and I would argue that you will find yourself getting far more consistent results with lenses such as the 75 mm Summilux, as the focus peaking/zoomed focus method works really well to achieve critical results here. However, if you plan to use lenses wider than 35 mm, the results can occasionally be objectionable. For photographers like me, who prefer to work between 35 mm and 90 mm focal lengths, you’ll be plenty satisfied most of the time with files coming from the A7R. It’s not a panacea for the photographically inclined, but it’s worth the effort. That being said, Sony will hopefully partner successfully with Zeiss to offer a range of high quality AF lenses in its FE lineup. At this time, there are reports that they will release as many as 15 AF FE lenses in the 2 years following the A7R’s release, and we’ll see if this holds true. For many of us, simply having a 35 mm, 55 mm, and an 85 mm lens will suffice.

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As I didn’t have these lenses on hand, I cannot comment on the A7R’s autofocus capabilities, but it seems that they will suffice for most types of shooting, save sporting events.

All in all, I found my time with the Sony A7R to be pleasurable. Was I won over? In the end, I’d answer a cautious “yes.” It produces wonderful files that are full of detail when properly exposed and captured, and in most circumstances, will give you results with which you can be proud. Just be prepared to adjust a bit in your workflow.

Thanks for taking the time to read. As you might imagine, all images presented here were taken with the A7R and a host of M and LTM lenses including the:

Leica 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit

Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph and FLE

Leica 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux

Leica 90 mm f/2 APO Summicron Asph

Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM

Canon 100 mm f/2 LTN

W-Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8 LTM

Nikkor S.C. 50 mm f/1.4 LTM

Nikkor H.C. 85 mm f/2 LTM

Canon 50 mm f/1.5 LTM 

Zeiss ZM 50 mm f/1.5 C-Sonnar

All the best, and enjoy life behind the shutter.

Ashwin

 

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Nov 292013
 

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The Sony A7 and A7r Camera Review by Steve Huff 

Yes, Sony did it! 

Well here we are near the end of 2013 and finally…in my hand is the Sony A7 and A7r cameras (and they have been for a few weeks), the two little powerhouses that are poised and planned to take over the mirrorless camera world with their small tough design and their full frame class leading sensors. No one else had the balls to make such a camera yet Sony plowed right in, listened to the enthusiasts and DID IT. NOPE! Not Nikon, Not Leica, Not Olympus, Not Samsung, Not Pentax and certainly NOT Canon who have been doing nothing exciting or innovated at all lately in my opinion (I am speaking about Canon in that last statement).

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BUT after extensive real world use with these cameras I am left scratching my bald head…”WHY did Sony make two cameras”? I think they would have been better off with ONE A7 model which IMO would have been the A7 minus the AA filter. Done deal. By releasing TWO it has made everyone confused. I have now spoken to several who have canceled their pre orders only to order the other version and then cancel again because of the conflicting reports online of each model. Poeple are flooding me with questions on a daily basis “which one should I buy”???

Well, to all of you who are confused, let me ease your mind…the A7 is just as good of a camera for 99.2% of users as the A7R is. You will lose nothing and may even gain some by shooting with the A7 over the A7r. But I will get more into  this later on..for now, let me get back to my talk about Sony being revolutionary in the camera world..because they are really the only ones who are at the moment with Olympus right behind them.

The A7r with the Leica 75 Summilux Lens – Stunning Combo. Used the Simple Studio 1344 LED Light kit here. A light kit that is easy to use and packs a HUGE punch. Superbly made as well. 

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Nope, no one else has managed to come in and create something like the A7 series of camera. No one has attempted to put a full frame sensor into a small mirrorless body besides Leica, and they have been doing it since the M9 days (but expect to pay dearly for those red dots). There is a huge enthusiast, amateur and even pro audience for a camera like the A7 and A7r because the price point of the Leica M 240 is out of reach of so many photographers. Many of us wanted a small full frame solution that would not bankrupt us and now it is here in both the A7 and A7r.

After shooting with these new Sony cameras for a while I can safely say that my favorite is…BOTH! I just wanted to let that out up front. I feel the sensor is a little better in the A7r, the detail is better and the camera overall “seems” better when I am out shooting but of course much of that is mental due to the powerhouse sensor. But at the end of the day, more keepers came from the A7 for me, and it has a quieter shutter. So to me, that sums it up in my mind. Both are fantastic, both can do amazing things and both have the same flaws. Either can take a great image.

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The A7 is fantastic but if you want that extra ounce (and I do mean OUNCE) of performance, the A7r is the bell of the ball though for anything besides uber large printing no one will see a difference. Now if you are the type of shooter who sets up his sturdy tripod and does landscape, then the A7r will do the trick for you but shooting handheld in all kinds of light, the A7 gets the nod for me.

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Why these cameras are game changers

The new A7 and A7r have created a whole new genre. Now we have the best full frame sensors available in a smaller package and to be honest quite affordable for what they bring to the table. No, $1700 and  $2300 is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but it is for what you are getting here. So first of all, the price is right. Many of us thought this camera was going to come in at $4500 and no one knew there would actually be TWO of them with one UNDER $1700 and one just under $2300. So in that respect they are game changers already.

I think the costs are lower due to the fact that these cameras are made in Thailand instead of Japan. But no biggie as the cameras seem very solid in the build and reliability department. If Sony made these in Japan I bet the cost for the A7r would have been over $3k, so I welcome the lower price as long as the long term reliability holds up.

Another way that the Sony will separate itself from the competition is by being able to mount and shoot SOME/MOST Leica M mount lenses with fantastic results and in the full frame native format. No other full frame camera can do this (besides the Leica M itself). We have been able to use these lenses on APS-C sensor cameras but that was not the best way as we were really not using these lenses to their full capacity when using them with a cropped sensor.

Most Leica M mount lenses are full frame lenses and they are gorgeous in size, build and feel. The good news is that 85-90% of them work amazingly well on the A7 and A7r. I found some of the best performing lenses on the A7 and A7r came from Zeiss with the Zeiss ZM line. Lenses like the 50 Zm f/2 Planar and the 50 Sonnar 1.5 are wonderful. They also come in at a much lower cost than the Leica counterparts. Also, one of the most magical lenses I have tried on these cameras has been the 75 Summilux. Gorgeous.

So we now have something that is important and very welcome..a choice!

GRRRRRR – A7r – ISO 800 35 2.8

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So those with Leica M lenses, you now have a full frame alternative to the Leica M.

The Leica M is of course the preffered camera to shoot these lenses with but as I said, not all of us have $7000 to spend on a camera body. Some of us have Leica M’s but want a backup and do not want to spend $7k TWICE :) The Sony A7 and A7r, IMO, are perfect for shooting Leica M mount glass from 28mm and up. I have tested and shot with the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 Biogon and 50 Planar ZM and they were amazing on the A7 and A7r. Especially the A7r. The color, the pop, the depth and the detail was all there and dare I say, even more so than with the Leica M in many cases.

In case you missed my earlier reports from a few weeks ago, below are links to each and every one and they have TONS of samples with M glass..

Day 1 – Nashville with the new Sony Cameras - Honky Tonks!

Day 2 – Nashville with the A7!  - Zeiss OTUS!

Day 3 – IN the studio!

Day 4 - Wrap up!

With those reports plus this longer term use review most of you should get an idea as to how the Sony A7 and A7r perform. So yes, these new Sony cameras have paved the way and are leading the mirrorless pack just for these reasons alone. But NO, they are NOT perfect and I do have some negatives I can speak about later. It is just that the IQ will NOT be one of them!

The Zeiss Otus is AMAZING in it’s IQ with the Sony A7 series..these three will show you that :) You can buy this lens HERE. I USED THE Canon Mount with an Adapter.

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The Specs

Full Frame Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha a7 incorporates a full frame 35.8 x 23.9 sensor into the compact, lightweight form of an E-mount mirrorless camera providing the imaging prowess of full frame and the convenience and versatility of mirrorless.

A7: 24.3MP Exmor CMOS Sensor

With 24.3 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7 is 100-25600.

A7R: 36.4MP Exmor CMOS Sensor with No Optical Low Pass Filter

The 36.4MP resolution and outstanding performance of the Alpha a7R are optimized by removing the optical low-pass filter. In combination with the new BIONZ X image processing engine this design increases resolution and enhances the reproduction of the finest details. In addition, the sensor includes a new gapless lens design that fills the space between neighboring pixels to significantly increase light collecting efficiency and realize high corner-to-corner image quality. Differing from the Sony Alpha a7, the Alpha a7R with its omitted low-pass filter, gapless lens design sensor and contrast-detection AF provides the utmost in high-resolution, finely detailed capture. With 36.4 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7R is 100-25600.

A7R: Gapless, On-chip Sensor Lenses

Sony optimized the design and positioning of the sensor’s on-chip lens (OCL) covering every pixel to significantly enhance light-gathering efficiency. A gapless on-chip lens design eliminates the gaps between the micro-lenses to collect more light. Moreover, each on-chip lens is optimally positioned depending on its location to accommodate the sharper angle of light entering the periphery, which is caused by larger sensor dimensions being teamed with the E-mount’s short flange-back distance.

BIONZ X Image Processor

The new BIONZ X image processing engine reproduces textures and details in real time via extra high-speed processing capabilities. Together with front-end LSI (large scale integration) that accelerates the earliest processing stages, it enables more natural details, more realistic images, richer tonal gradations, and lower noise whether you shoot still images or movies.

A7: Fast Hybrid Autofocus

Enhanced Fast Hybrid auto focus combines speedy phase-detection AF with accurate contrast-detection AF, which has been accelerated through a new Spatial Object Detection algorithm. Phase-detection AF with 117 densely placed phase-detection AF points swiftly moves the lens to bring the subject nearly into focus, then contrast-detection AF with wide AF coverage fine-tunes precise focusing. A7r does not have the hybrid AF.

A7: Up to 5 fps Continuous Shooting

New faster, more accurate AF tracking, made possible by Fast Hybrid AF allows you to capture action shots and that ‘perfect’ moment with 5 fps continuous shooting in Speed Priority Continuous Shooting Mode. Differing from the Alpha a7R, the Alpha a7 provides a Hybrid Focus system that enables faster focusing and frame rates for photographers who favor performance speed.

Compatibility with Sony’s E-mount Lenses and New Full-Frame Lenses

Maintaining its lightweight form, the Alpha a7 is fully compatible with Sony’s present APS-C E-mount lens system and the new line of E-mount compact full-frame lenses from Carl Zeiss and Sony’s premier G-series.

3.0″ Tilt LCD Monitor

The tiltable 3.0″ Xtra Fine LCD Display offers a 1,229K-dot resolution and makes it easy to photograph from low or high angles, swinging up 84° and down 45°. WhiteMagic technology dramatically increases visibility in bright daylight. The large display delivers brilliant-quality still images and movies while enabling easy focusing operation.

2.4M-dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

With its 3-lens optical system the viewfinder faithfully displays what will appear in your recording, including the effects of your camera settings. You’ll enjoy rich tonal gradations and improved contrast. High-end features like 100% frame coverage and a wide viewing angle enable comfortable and stable eye-level composition.

Full HD Movie at 24p/60i/60p with Uncompressed HDMI Output

The Alpha a7 supports in-camera AVCHD codec frames rates in super-smooth 60p, standard 60i or cinematic 24p. MP4 codec is also available for smaller files for easier upload to the web. Also, it is possible to capture Full 1080 HD uncompressed clean-screen video files to external recording devices via an HDMI connection in 60p and 60i frame-rates.

Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

Connectivity with smartphones for One-touch sharing/One-touch remote has been simplified with Wi-Fi/NFC control. In addition to Wi-Fi support for connecting to smartphones, the Alpha a7 also supports NFC (Near Field Communication) providing convenient transfer of images to Android smartphones and tablets. Users need only touch devices to connect; no complex set-up is required. Moreover, when using Smart Remote Control – a feature that allows shutter release to be controlled by a smartphone – connection to the smartphone can be established by simply touching compatible devices.

Direct Access Interface

Quick Navi Pro displays all major shooting options on the LCD screen so you can rapidly confirm settings and make adjustments without searching through dedicated menus. When shooting opportunities arise, you’ll be able to respond swiftly with just the right settings.

New Eye AF control

Even when capturing a subject partially turned away from the camera with a shallow depth of field, the face will be sharply focused thanks to extremely accurate eye detection that can prioritize a single pupil. A green frame appears over the prioritized eye when focus has been achieved for easy confirmation. Eye AF can be used when the function is assigned to a customizable button, allowing users to instantly activate it depending on the scene.

14-bit RAW Output

14-bit RAW image data of extremely high quality is outputted by the Alpha a7. This data preserves the rich detail generated by the image sensor during the 14-bit A/D conversion process. When developed with Sony’s Image Data Converter RAW development software, these images deliver particularly high quality photographic expression and rich gradation.

Wired Remote Control with Video Capture Control

Remote Camera Control allows you to control your Alpha a7 from your computer using a USB cable. It has been updated to include video capture control.

Multi-Interface Shoe

The Alpha a7 features the advanced Multi-Interface Shoe that dramatically expands compatibility with Sony digital imaging accessories such as flash units, microphones, lights, and monitors thus increasing the potential of your photo and movie shooting.

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The Body

OK, so what about this funky looking body that some are calling ugly and some are calling beautiful?

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I feel that the Sony A7 and A7r bodies have a 70′s retro vintage vibe mixed with a bit of modern style. In one way, the square body and EVF hump remind me of the old film bodies yet the glossy black and SONY logo do not. For me, I liked it from about 36 seconds after I saw it, especially with the funky thin grip attached. It made me feel like I was holding an old school yet modern camera and when holding it, it gives you that feeling of confidence.

The build is solid on the A7 and A7r. Both have magnesium alloy build with the A7r having a little more metal in the front and within the top dials. Speaking of dials, Sony did it right with these cameras. There are manual dials for anything you need to control and once set up to your liking you will never need to delve into the menu system. Need to change aperture? No problem, turn the thumb dial. Need to change ISO? No problem. Shutter speed? No problem. EV comp? No problem, use the dedicated dial.

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After using these for a few weeks it is obvious that Sony did their homework. To some, it may seem like there are too many dials but there is not. To those who appreciate manual control and being able to instinctivly change a setting, the Sony’s are a treat. Makes me wish my Leica M had an Exposure Compensation dial as I use it often and on the Leica M it is a pain to change. So as you can see, the top of the A7 and A7r have two dials, one for shutter speed, one for aperture. They also have a mode dial and an EV dial. On the back there is a dial that can be programmed to control whatever you want and the C1 button up top can also be set up to do whatever you command it to do (ISO, focus mag, etc)

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So with some long term use I grew to really enjoy the feel, design and control scheme of the A7 and A7r. The build of the cameras is solid and feels good in my had. They do not feel as solid nor as good in my hand as my Leica but remember, these bodies are thousands less than the Leica yet offer the same or better IQ.

Sony A7 and 50 Noctilux F/1

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That LOUD Shutter!

The #1 thing that made waves throughout the online photo community about these new A7′s is the LOUD shutter. Yes, it is louder than about any other digital camera I have used. Is it a big deal? No, not really. I can see where it may be a big deal to those who need to shoot in quite locations but if that is the case, only digital cameras with silent leaf shutters would work anyway. No big DSLR has a quiet shutter so the A7 is about the same as all other major cameras. It has a real shutter.

The A7 is not as loud as the A7r because when you shoot it you will hear ONE shutter click. The A7r has TWO shutter clicks. This is just how it is and I was told it is all due to sensor design and the sensor in the A7r needs that 2nd click. With the A7 you can set the shutter to either way by choosing “first curtain” in the menu to on or off. The A7r does not have this menu item.

Below is a video I did showing the shutter sounds of the Sony and the Leica M side by side:

So if you need to know ANYTHING at all about these two models it is that the shutter is on the loud side so do NOT expect silence when shooting :)

The Native Sony and Zeiss Lenses and my thoughts

The Sony A7 cameras have a total of THREE Native lenses at or near launch. The Zeiss 35 2.8, the Zeiss 55 1.8 (coming a few weeks after launch), and the 28-70 Kit Zoom. The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are SUPERB lenses and for me the 35 takes the cake for the best launch lens. It is small, fast to AF and has a gorgeous Leica like quality about it. Even being an f/2.8 lens it is fantastic and gives off a shallow DOF that I would not expect from an f/2.8 lens.

The kit zoom is average. It is somewhat larger than the other two, and a slow aperture zoom that I just could not get into..at all. I am expecting the upcoming Zeiss 24-70 to rock it out of the park but this kit version is just average when it comes to kit zooms. Still one thing I will never understand. Why does a company release an amazing camera with a sensor that can resolve the most detail EVER in 35mm but they release it with a slow below average kit zoom lens? Makes no sense other than it makes the kit cheap and more affordable which is good for sales but bad for image when people are like “Hey, my images do not look like those I saw on the internet”..

The Zeiss 35 2.8 is a GREAT lens for the system. 

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The 35 at 2.8 and ISO 500

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The 35 2.8 at 2.8

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IMO, the 35 2.8 is a must buy lens for anyone with an A7 or A7r. It seems like it was made for the camera and was my fave during the review period.

The Zeiss 55 1.8 is also fantastic and not as large as many have made it out to be. Sure it is larger than a Leica 50 Summicron, and much lighter, but it is still fantastic. The AF speed is good but not amazingly good. I have had this lens miss the AF point when shooting in low light as well as up close. Still, it is amazingly brutally sharp even wide open.

I still find the AF of the A7 and A7r to be quicker and more accurate than the last Fuji bodies I have tried.

The A7 and 55 1.8

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DETAIL EXTREME: In the Studio with Nikki Leigh and the Zeiss 55 1.8

So how much detail can we expect from the A7 or A7r? My quick answer? Either one will offer PLENTY of detail and resolution.  Here is proof.

I shot model Nikki Leigh using the A7 and A7r using some FANTASTIC new LED lights..in fact, they are the best and coolest LED lights I have ever seen or touched. You can check them out here but they are small, compact, built like a tank and pack 1344 LED’s into each unit. They are dimmable and VERY easy to set up.

The results were great and the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 showed its stuff, even wide open and close to it.  The two photos below were converted from RAW with some sharpening applied but these are the full size files. Click on them for the full size.

Note both are from the A7 as the same shots I did with the A7r were actually softer for some reason. So to those who were afraid of lack of detail in the A7, no worries :)

The A7 and 55

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The A7 and 55 

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and here is a video of me using these lights

I am not usually a light guy but these little powerhouses come packed in their own pelican style case and are ultra portable. I have never seen this kind of power from an LED. If you are into lighting and do not want to mess with strobes, these can be a great alternative. Very very cool and super high quality. The Simple Studio 1344′s are very simple but very serious lights. Again, they can be seen HERE or HERE.

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DETAIL EXTREME: Sony A7R and Zeiss OTUS 55 1.4

The most mystical, magical and sharpest lens I have used on these cameras (as well as having the best color) is the Zeiss Otus lens in Canon EF mount. An adapter is required but MAN this lens is AMAZING. Probably the best lens I have used in the 50mm range, ever. BUT the main drawback is that it is HUGE and pricey at $4000. Click the image below and you will see the full size from RAW file. Focus was on the eyelashes.

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The EVF and Manual Focus of the A7 and A7r

The EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) in the Sony A7 and A7r is the same EVF that Sony sells for $450 (for the RX1, RX100II, etc) so yea, it is good, and BUILT IN. While not as large or clear as the Olympus EVF-4 that resides in their flagship E-M1, the Sony has the 2nd best EVF I have ever used. These days I much prefer a good EVF over an optical VF (though I love the rangefinder and VF in the Leica M equally).

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So for those afraid of jumping to an EVF..don’t be. This is 2013, almost 2014 and EVF quality has come a long long way in the past 10 years. It can be a beautiful thing when looking through the EVF as what you see is what you get. No need to worry about VF coverage or any of that. It is easy to frame and you know what you are getting when you press that shutter button.

I have no complaints on the EVF in the Sony A7 and A7r. BOTH have the same EVF.

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The Speed and overall usability of the cameras

The A7 and A7r both feel good in the hand but both have loud shutters. Some love the sound as it takes us back to the old mechanical days of a real shutter firing. Some shutters are quieter than others and the Sony A7 and A7r are on the louder end of the spectrum and I think that due to this it gives us the impression that the camera is slower or clunky. These cameras do indeed feel slower than an Olympus E-M1 or RX1 in use and I kind of compare them to shooting medium format. Slow paced and steady. Aim, compose, fire. These are not the cameras for sports shooters or machine gun blazing shutter crazies as they are not. Still, I managed to catch this little horse pulling this guy in a buggy and they were CRUISING! But oh..I shot it with a manual focus Zeiss Otus :)

Still, the A7 and A7r are faster to AF than the NEX-7 and most Fuji X bodies. So it is not slow, it is just not blazing fast. Also, do not expect too many frames per second with that A7r (up to 4).

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The Menus & WiFi

The Sony A7 and A7r menus are a BIG step up from those found on the NEX series. In fact, the A7 series now has the Alpha menu so those who are familiar with the RX1, A99 or any A camera of recent times will be right at home with the menu on the A7 series of cameras. I find the menu clean and quick and easy to navigate. You can see more in the video below:

Below is my video I shot when I was able to use these cameras at a Sony Media Event in Nashville, TN – I go over the cameras and give my early thoughts on them. 

WiFi is also included and it works like a charm. It is super easy to set up and start sending images to your tablet, phone or device. I was taking shots out on the road, instantly sending them to my iPhone and then instantly posting to Facebook. Amazing how far technology has come in the past few years. Amazing.

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The battery life

The Battery life of the Sony cameras is not the best. I do NOT shoot at a high frame rate and I calculate my shooting. If I see a shot, I frame it and take it. I am not into chomping too much either. Usually with the A7 and A7r I found myself at 40% left at the end of a day with 150-200 shots taken. Others who shoot with the A7 find themselves running out of battery mid day so I would suggest buying 1-2 extra batteries with this camera. The good news is that it uses the same battery as the NEX series so if you are upgrading from a NEX system camera you already have a spare or two. They will deplete faster than a NEX-6 or 7 will.

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The High ISO Performance of the A7 and A7r

High ISO performance is as good as can be expected. I ALWAYS test these without ANY noise reduction, so NR is OFF 100%. I also test indoor under low light, not with studio light as that makes zero sense..at all. No one shoots high ISO in the studio or in good light so the best way to test the ISO performance is under low light, indoor, when most of us will want to use it. It boggles my mind that so many sites still test high ISO with studio lighting. Below is a test scene in my office with 100% crops of each ISO from 640-25,600. The A7 and A7r are so close in high ISO it really is a draw when it comes down to looking at the images, weather resized or prints.

Take a look below but you MUST click on the crops to see them as 100% crops. 

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TWO SHOTS at ISO 6400 with the A7r  - 1st one with the Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 and the 2nd with the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M mount lens.

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You can see an ISO comparison that I did HERE between the A7, A7r and Leica M.  I am hoping to also ass some side by side M comparisons to this review in the next week or two but for now, here is one that I did last week. 

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Using Leica M Mount Lenses

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Shooting with Leica lenses is a treat for me because this is one part of the camera I was really excited about. When you shoot Leica lenses for many years it is tough to go back to cheap plastic primes and zooms and when I realized that these two cameras were coming I knew it would be huge for those who shoot Leica M glass.

I tested this camera with loads of M mount lenses including those from Leica, Zeiss, and Voigtlander. All worked great besides the ultra wide M mount glass (Though the Leica W.A.T.E. 16-18-21 works very well without any real issues). The Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 performed wonderfully for me as did the 50 f.2 Planar. The Voigtlander 35 1.2 Ii was amazing (the image above was taken with this lens) and the Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and 75 Summilux also knocked it out of the park with results bettering what came out of the Leica M for me. Crisper, more detail from the A7 and A7r.

So for me, the A7 and A7r represent a tremendous value because I can take it out and shoot with the fabulous auto focus 35 2.8 Zeiss or use a Leica M mount lens and fire away.

Shot with the A7 and Zeiss 35 Biogon at f/2 inside a music studio

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Below – the A7R and Leica 50 Noctilux F/1 – Amazing combo. One can find a used Leica Noctilux F1 for around $5k these days..add that to the $1700 A7 and you have a drop dead gorgeous combo for less than the cost of a Leica M alone. This lens works just as magical as it does on any Leica M camera. I manually focused this shot at f/1 and did not use peaking or magnification. Focused on my eye and due to the large EVF, it was easy to do. 

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The Zeiss 50 ZM PLanar f/2 is a tremendous bargain in the M mount world. Competes with the $2200 Summicron at less than half the cost but provides the same sharpness but with punchier color and more 3D pop.

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For mounting the M lenses I mainly used the best in th ebusiness M mount to Sony E mount adapter, the Novoflex. It is expensive for an adapter but when you are using lenses that are worth multiple thousands of dollars, spending $250 on the best adapter should not be an issue. But if you do not want to spend $250 on an adapter or are all tapped out from the camera and a lens, then you can also buy a $15 adapter from Amazon, as they work also. They are not made as well, have looser tolerances and can come loose after a few weeks but $15 vs $250..you cold buy 10 of them and still save $100.

Below is a link to the adapters:

The Novoflex M mount to E mount top use Leica M mount lenses on the A7 or A7r – B&H Photo

The generic adapter for $15 – Buy at Amazon

I bought my adapters before the big A7 and A7r storm and as of this writing they seem to be out of stock everywhere but should be back in stock soon.

So the bottom line is that the Sony A7 and A7r will both work with most Leica M mount glass but some wide angles or ultra wide angles will give you bad color shifts on BOTH cameras so just beware of some lenses 28mm and under as some will work, some will not. I have no way to test them all so search around the internet for more info on this subject.

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Manually Focusing with the A7 or A7r

As for manually focusing these lenses, I had NO PROBLEM. I did NOT use focus peaking as I found that when shooting super fast aperture lenses at f/1 or f/1.2 it hampered the focusing. I also really did not use the focus magnification as it took too long to activate with two button presses. When I looked through that big fat EVF and just used my eyes to see when the image was in focus, it just worked. So concentrate and use your eyes. Your mileage may vary depending on your eyesight and comfort level. If it is tough for you to manually focus just by using the EVF, feel free to use the peaking feature or the magnification. Both tools are there for this purpose.

An OOC JPEG from the A7r and Voigtlander 21 1.8

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Video Performance

The Sony A7 and A7r both offer full HD video and Sony usually does video very well. I have not yet had the time to test video but will be doing so soon and then will add my thoughts and video sample HERE. So check back soon!

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The Pros and Cons of the A7 cameras

Pros

  • Full frame in a smaller sized and well made body
  • Monster resolution for both cameras!
  • Super rich files!
  • No AA filter in the A7r should give you a little more detail to work with.
  • Solid buid, small body – yum.
  • Built in EVF is fantastic..big, clear and easy to frame
  • Easy to navigate menu system
  • Dials, dials and more dials. Easy to manually control!
  • Focus Peaking is helpful but not necessary.
  • Works great with classic manual focus lenses, a joy to use.
  • Easy to adapt many lens mounts! Canon, Nikon, Leica..
  • Price Point is perfect!
  • Nothing else like it anywhere near this price – PERIOD

Cons

  • Cameras feel slow/clunky in use.
  • Shutter sound is loud, especially with A7r
  • Kit Zoom is lacking in quality.
  • Some wide angle Leica M mount lenses have issues when adapted (but this should not be a con)
  • Lack of lenses at launch (only the 35 and kit zoom on launch day)
  • Very High ISO is a little better on last years RX1 and RX1r it seems.
  • May cause you to spend more money on M mount lenses :)
  • The A7r can indeed be a little challenging to handhold in lower light without blur.

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My Final word on the Sony A7 and A7r

I really enjoyed the A7 and A7r cameras. At launch I was insanely excited about them because there is simply nothing else like them at this price point, and even my beloved Leica M..well, the A7 and A7r surpass it in overall IQ. While they do not offer the same build, feel or joy of use as my Leica M, they can compete and surpass in overall IQ, and do. At a fraction of the cost as well.

Still, I love and adore my Leica for many reasons, not just the great IQ. To those who own one and shoot with one you will know exactly what I mean. It is the quintessential photographers camera.

As for the Sony, you will get a ton for your money with these guys but not everyone will fall in love with them. While there is nothing to complain about in the image quality department, the camera does have some quirks. It has a loud shutter sound, so forget about being sneaky..at all. They feel a little but slow and clunky in use and it may just seem that way due to that noisy shutter – a mental thing. Which one to choose? I feel that Sony should have released ONE camera as even for me reviewing them and trying to connect with one of them..it was tough. BOTH are fantastic and there really is not enough separating the two to warrant two separate models. That is just my opinion but a super A7 with a mix of both cameras would have been great at $1995.

The build is good but not Leica M or Nikon D800 or Olympus E-M1 good. They are sort of an in-between. They feel more hefty than the NEX-6 and NEX-7 but not up there with the top of the heap. Some things could have been made to be more sturdy..the battery door for one. With a premium camera and one that is making a statement I feel Sony should have REALLY made a statement like they used to do back in the day with certain products outside of the camera line (anyone know of the SCD-1)?. But it is what it is and the cameras are excellent but not perfect (No camera is though). Note that I am NOT saying the build is cheap or low quality as it is NOT, it just could be a little better.

One thing is for certain…the A7 and A7r do fantastic with old school manual focusing lenses. I had no issues focusing, even when testing out a Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and I do not even use magnification or peaking..just the big EVF and my eyeballs. There is no question that these offer huge bang for the buck and some of the best IQ you can get in 35mm but is that enough to overlook the fact that there is really only 2 quality lenses available at or near launch? (the 35 and 55).

The EVF is fantastic, 2nd only to the one in the Olympus E-M1. The files are rich, detailed and full of information. Creamy, dreamy and shallow if you so desire. The lenses have great quality and bokeh and would really be all I needed with the camera.

Like I said, I really enjoyed these cameras and I took many fantastic images without any issues or problems but for the 1st 2 weeks I was not bonding with them, and I could not put my finger on it as to why that is. Then it hit me.

I like the build, the feel, the design and the features but I think the response is just not there when compared to my Olympus E-M1, which is lightning fast in response. I have been shooting that E-M1 like mad and when I switched it up to the A7 and A7r it seemed like I was working in slow motion..and I am not talking about AF, just overall response time of the camera.

So after I realized this I started to take out the A7 and I thought  of it as a medium format rig. It is right at home when shooting it slow and steady and by doing so it can reward  you with some astonishing files and images. In fact, I started to like it more and more and more because in this regard, it started to remind me of my Leica. Slow..steady..and take that one shot you know will be a keeper. Now it is faster than a medium format camera but when you go out with that mindset you can bring home some amazing imagery.

That is when it started to attach itself to me and I really saw the beauty and the value in the A7 cameras.

At the end of the day, if you want a fantastic full frame camera that is at the top of the heap in the IQ department, one that is smaller than all of the bulky SLRs and one that is much less expensive than the Leica M, take a long hard look at the Sony A7 or A7r. If you want to shoot Leica M glass or even Nikon or Canon glass..you can. If you have a stash of Sony Alpha DSLR glass, you can also shoot with that (with adapters of course). So the name of the game with the Sony’s are VALUE. You get a lot of BANG for your BUCK, especially with the A7.

These are an EASY recommendation and if you are out there trying to decide which model to go for, I can not see anyone being unhappy with the A7 over the A7r. At under $1700 for the A7, it is a steal for what you are getting. The 1st lens I would get is the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. It has a gorgeous rendering that reminds me of the highest quality Zeiss lenses of the past.

I love what Sony is doing and I can only imagine that in a year or two these cameras will get even better, faster and slicker. I am happy to support a company that just “gets it” when it comes to what we want in a camera. Go Sony GO!

**Later tonight or tomorrow I will post a first look review from Ashwin Rao who shot the A7r with a slew of Leica M mount lenses. So if you want tons of results and thoughts on that subject, be sure to come back here later or tomorrow for more! Thanks for reading!

Steve

The 7R at ISO 1250 with the 35 2.8

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WHERE TO BUY THE A7, A7R and Accessories such as Lens Adapters, Lenses, etc. 

The A7 and A7r where to buy page is HERE but you can also use the links below:

Buy the Sony A7 Body – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7r body B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7 Kit Zoom Bundle - B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 Zoom – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy Leica M mount lenses from Ken Hansen (E-Mail him at [email protected]), PopFlash or The Pro Shop

Buy Voigtlander M Mount Lenses from CameraQuest.com

Buy Zeiss ZM Lenses HERE

Buy The Novoflex Leica M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the Generic M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the two LED light set I used HERE

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS EASY!

Hello to all! For the past 5 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 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. Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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.

So all I ask is that if you found the info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or YouTube. ;)

I thank you ALL!

Sep 022013
 

The Palouse in Monochrome

A journey into luminance and splendor….

By Ashwin Rao – See his Flickr HERE

Hi my fellow friends, I’m back with an article based on a series of pictures taken during Steve’s most recent workshop in the Palouse, which I assisted in coordinating. (Ashwin did more than assisting and it could not have been done without him! – Steve)

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As you all are discovering from personal experience or from browsing through images of this beautiful place, the Palouse is truly a land of incredible and austere beauty. Filled are vistas of visions of a place lost to time. The Palouse is also known as a land known for its beautiful swaths of color. In the spring, landscapes are painted in blue, gold, and green, while in the fall harvest, it’s amber waves of grain through and through, and gold and blue dominate. In the winter, vast swaths of land gently blanked in snow. Needless to stay, it’s poetic stuff to even the visitor wielding the humblest point and shoot. It’s hard to take a bad picture in the Palouse.

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As I embarked on my second trip to this wonderful place, I began to consider my recent foray into black and white photography and decided to challenge myself by taking in the scenery of the Palouse in black and white. Instead of being able to see in color, I decide to challenge myself to see in light and shadow, white and black….to take the journey in Monochrom…pardon….monochrome.

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Along with me on the trip came 2 very capable cameras: The Leica M Monochrom and Pentax 645D. It was my goal to use the M Monochrom to frame my perspective. This being a camera that literally can only see in black and white, I was immediately forced to see in this manner. The other camera, one that I have written about before on this site, is the marvelous Pentax 645D, the bargain in medium format imaging and a camera that is destined to live on as a cult classic. While the Leica M Monochrom would allow me to shoot in my comfort zone, the Pentax 645D requires a more measured way of shooting, forces one to slow down, and allows one to reach far into the scenery to capture photographic vignettes via the wonderful tool of compressed landscape imagery.

As hsas been my way, I brought along with me several vintage lenses to use with the M Monochrom: The Leitz Super Angulon 21 mm f/3.4, The Leitz 8-element 35 mm f/2, The Leitz 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron, the Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM m, and the diminutive yet powerful Canon 135 mm f/3.5 LTM. I will write an article soon on the magical Canon LTM lenses at another time, but needless to say, I was well covered to capture images with the MM. With the Pentax came lenses including the 35 mm A, 75 mm FA, 120 mm FA, 150 mm FA, 200 mm FA, and 400 mm FA lenses…

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I found the challenge of shooting this wonderful land in black and white to be an invigorating one. In general, focusing on black and white photography can recalibrate the photographer, and I really do feel that it has re-calibrated by way of seeing. While in the Palouse, I found that “seeing in black and white” really channeled a sense of nostalgia into my eyes that then seemed to invade my photography. In some ways, I found that the MM and 645D suddenly became a time machine, transporting my must into the 1930’s, allowing me to take in the vistas with a time worn eye…or so I felt as I photographed the region.

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As I have mentioned many times before, using older lenses on the M Monochrom can be a true pleasure. Not only are most of these lenses far more affordable than their modern counterparts, but they often imbue a sense of charm in the way that they “paint” the scene.

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In most instances, I shot the Palouse stopped down to f/5.6 to f/8 on the M Monochrom and even more so using the 645D, which was nearly always mounted to my tripod.

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While the M Monochrom and 645D are incredible tools for black and white imaging, one can really use the approach to seeing in monochrome with any camera. All it takes is a frame of mind, shooting the camera in BW-JPEG (I don’t recommend this, but it is an easy way to go about it), or coming home and immediately converting your files to BW. That being said, I found that having the Leica M Monochrom gave me no other choice than to see the area in black and white.

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I hope that you all enjoy the images. Steve and I plan to organize future trips to the Palouse, so if you find these images inspiring, please take a moment to consider visiting the Palouse in the future. It has a way of inspiring you, and I hope that these images bring you a piece of my own inspiration and spark that same inspiration in you.

All the best, and until next time….

Ashwin

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Jul 242013
 

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Monochrom Italian Adventure

By Ashwin Rao – His Facebook page is HERE, his blog is HERE

“Italy in Monochrome.” A dream, a question, a challenge, and now a reality. Hello, my fellow Huffites, it’s Ashwin, back from a bit of a hiatus. I have been busy with many happy life events, which have kept me away from you. Have I been away from my camera? Not at all! In my efforts to document my ongoing experience with my favorite Leica M camera to date, the Leica M Monochrom, I recently ventured to the Tuscan region of Italy for the very first time. The trip represented a very exciting and personal journey for me, as I got engaged to my fiancée Jennifer on this trip (that part happened before Italy). But that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have my Leica M Monochrom available for the trip. Yet, for such a journey, there was some trepidation. The Tuscan hill towns and the glorious city of Florence are known for their beauty, and color is such a huge part of the Tuscan palette. How would shooting the region be, using only black and white to see the world around me? Well, that is what this story is about….

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As many of you know, and as has been well documented here in my prior writings, I have made a wonderful journey of discovery through the legendary past of rangefinder lore. Along the way, I have discovered the beauty and unique properties of many classic lenses designed by Nippon Kogaku, Canon, and of course, Leitz (classic Leica). This journey has allowed me to discover how remarkable these lenses are in capturing black and white imagery with panache, detail, and clarity. One of the hugely pleasant surprises, to me, in using these older lenses, is how well they do on the modern sensor of the M Monochrom.


I continue to be amazed at the designs of years long gone past of the lens masters such as Max Berek (the original Leitz Maestro), Walter Mandler (i.e. the unsurpassed master of Double Gaussian design), Hiroshi Ito and Jiro Mukai (Mandler’s Japanese Counterpart in Double Gaussian/planar lens design mastery), and so many other legends (Barnack, Bertelle, Gauss to name but a few). Okay, I am misting up in my own history lesson .

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The bottom line is that many of these classic lenses, in some cases developed without the aid of computer design, resolve at the level of modern glass (on center at least), and possess character in gobs. Maybe it’s the glass that was used, or the coatings that were optimized for black and white film. Maybe it was the rare earth elements that were sometimes employed to achieve unique looks and resolution. Whateve the case may be, you owe it to yourself to try older lenses on your new Leica and other ILC bodies. For my own journey to Italy, I could not imagine better way to see a land of romance, rich in the traditions of the past, then through the lens of the past, reborn to the present and borne upon the Leica M Monochrom, which I consider a modern classic and possibly the most unique imaging tool in 35 mm photography today. So the modern aspherical lenses remained at home for this trip, and 60-year-old gear came along for the ride.

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Over the past months, I have collected many vintage lenses to test on the M Monochrom. Some lenses, I have loved. Others, I have hated. All of these tests and trials have been wonderful and informative courtships, and in the future, I will tell you stories of some of my favorite journeys in getting to know these lenses. I have found along the way that classic Leitz lenses, those produced before the “Leica” name was applied to the camera’s photographic section, produce remarkable and consistent results on the M Monochrom. Thus, early in the planning process, I made the decision to use my Leitz classic lens kit, comprising the Leitz Summicron 35 mm f/2 (the original 8-element design) , my beloved Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (2nd version, and the first of Leitz’ rigid Summicron designs), and a Leitz 90 mm f/2.8 Elmarit. These lenses possess, near perfect build, are incredibly compact and lightweight, and have produced images and clarity that have left me baffled and bewildered (in a good way)… Furthermore, the 35/50/90 mm lens kit is one of my favorites for travel, in that it provides a great versatility for rangefinder work. The 35/50/90 frame lines were first introduced in the Leica M2, and represent a classic way of seeing with rangefinders. Why not use this classic approach and channel it through the Leica M Monochrom.

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The images that I have provided represent journeys through the alleyways and artisan shops of Firenze (Florence for us Westerners), the gentle stone footpaths of Volterra and the stately tower lined streets of San Gimignano. They showcase the bustling chaos of Siena, and the rolling wineries of Pancole and the majestic endless arched alleyways of Bologna, with it’s own leaning tower. You may ask, how was it to shoot such a colorful country in monochrome? For me, the experience is liberating, and I now have monochrome memories of this cherished journey with Jennifer, in our first steps toward the path to marriage. To see her ring glint in the Tuscan light, in glorious black and white, makes me smile right at this very moment. Sure, there were moments where I yearned for color, but truth be told, these moments were few and far between. Focusing on shadow and light, on luminance and contrast, are challenges that I welcomed and embraced. I equate, at times, the challenge of shooting black and white to the challenge of stopping down to f/8 to shoot street scenes. Initially, for many of us who enjoy shooting wide open, stopping down can be disconcerting. How does one isolate the subject from chaotic surroundings but by opening up the aperture and blurring away distractions? Well, with creativity and an eye for surrounding detail, one can often paint even more interesting images, integrating subject and surrounds, by stopping down. So it goes with shooting in black and white. Color is often a welcome distraction, but limiting yourself to black, white and the in between shades of grey can recalibrate your own conceptions of what it is to make a meaningful image. I will continue to love color, but I now warmly embrace this challenge of shooting in black and white for the majority of my photos

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Truth be told, much of the Tuscan country site is browns, greens, yellows, and greys. Neutral colors that adjust well to the black and white palettes. Travelling in this way with the Leica M Monochrom in hand doesn’t lose much, and if you are up for the challenge, take out your own camera someday soon, set it to BW, and shoot only in this manner. Initially the experience will be difficult, but soon, you too may come to embrace this “limitation.”

I hope you have enjoyed this little journey, through my own experience, of a special time, with memories of vintage lenses and canvas landscapes. I hope that the images do justice to the moments that I saw. I am happy, but now it is time for you to be the judge.

All the best to you, my friends, and see you again soon!

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Follow Ashwin!  His Facebook page is HERE, his blog is HERE

May 092013
 

The FoP does Emerald City Comicon

By Bob Towery, Ashwin Rao and Tori Buckman

Bob Towery.

I first got serious about photography back in 2001. After mastering some of the technical and aesthetic skills, it was something of a surprise to find that what I like most about the hobby is being around other photographers. Joining various groups, attending workshops, I found that both my enjoyment and my own results improved a great deal. Through these friends I have been fortunate to shoot in many foreign countries not to mention great locations here in the USA.

I knew about Ashwin Rao from this website, and hoped that when I moved to Seattle we would become friends. I joined SLUG (Seattle Leica User Group) and I found him to be a great guy as well as a creative and active photographer.

Tori Buckman attended a recent Lightroom workshop I taught. We exchanged emails, and after I reviewed her Facebook and blog posts, I loved her style and felt like we could have some fun shooting together.

When I heard about a Comicon event happening in Seattle, I thought it might be the perfect event for our first outing together. Sure enough, both were interested. The Fellowship of Photographers (FoP) was born! On a Spring day we converged on the Seattle Conference Center and the hundreds of young people dressed up as their favorite comic book characters!

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Ashwin Rao.

Hi friends, it’s Ashwin. One of the great things that I love about the community of photographers that I have met through Steve’s site and the forums is the commitment to forging real world relationships from prior virtual/online relationships. Being a Leica and smaller camera shooter, I feel a real kinship with others who shoot and value similar gear. Most of us enjoy shooting “street”. I met Bob Towery a couple of years back. Bob had become aware of me through Steve’s sites and my writings here, and I knew Bob through the wonderful work that he’s shared on forums and his blog. Bob contacted me when he was moving to Seattle, curious about the Leica community out here, and I was thrilled to introduce him to like-minded Leica shooters such as Ed Tan, Al Tanabe, Roger Paperno, Matt Driscoll, Dan Harrington and other Seattle-based amateur photogs. Many of us had met at Steve Huff’s Seattle workshop a couple of years back and forged a strong bond, which included monthly meetings of the Seattle Leica Users Group, aptly named the “SLUG”s…. Together, we would critique and share in each other’s work, while discussing the latest gear, travel, and photo ventures. Bob started coming to these meetings regularly, and we forged a strong bond. I was particularly privileged to receive a print of one of Bob’s photos from the Day of the Dead, which I have up hanging in my home. Despite our burgeoning friendship, I had never photographed with Bob, and so when the opportunity arose, I jumped to accept.

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Tori Buckman.

If you are reading this story, then you too must be enamored by the power of photography. I find it hard to look at scenes, events or gatherings and not wonder how many different ways I could capture it with my camera. In a constant venture to expand my horizons and hone my skills, I am always looking for a chance to get out and shoot. Even more rewarding is when I am able to mingle with photographers of higher skill levels and learn from their varied experiences. It’s in those moments when I can quench my thirst in an ever-growing fervor of photography.

Me, I am Victoria, but my friends call me Tori. I’ve been living in the Pacific Northwest for almost four years. With so much to behold, it’s been a wonderful existence so far. I have joined some local photography groups in hopes to be introduced to opportunities where I could see even more of this lush and diverse land. In conjunction, I also follow the blogs of local masters hoping to glean bits of technique and data that I can apply to my own style. Through one of these groups, I met Bob Towery and was instantly impressed at his level of knowledge and drawn to his street photography pieces. It almost seemed too coincidental when he mentioned how he wanted to go to the Emerald City Comicon for an afternoon of shooting; as I too was looking into doing the very same thing!

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Bob.

I really enjoy young people doing something with enthusiasm. These kids are passionate (in some cases a bit too serious?) about their characters. And they are there to be seen and photographed, perfect for us photographers. Every person I stopped for a photo was happy to do it. Because I have some experience shooting models, with some of them I’d take more time and work on poses.

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The three of us repeatedly drifted apart, and drifted back together. Lots of smiles and chimping I particularly enjoyed watching both Ashwin and Tori work with their subjects. Tori likes to work interesting angles, and I thought “hmm, I can really learn something from this girl.” Of course Ashwin is very creative in his own style, and I saw how he really enjoyed showing each attendee a couple of his shots of them. Although I did not have this blog post in mind at the time, I wanted to make sure we got some shots of each other.

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Ashwin.

As many of you know, I have adored my journey with the MM, as I affectionately call the camera. It’s an incredible tool for street photography and is capable of producing stunning files that are fantastic to work in post-processing. My concern in shooting the Comicon had to do with an inability to see color. Oftentimes, the convention’s attendees are colorfully adorned, and I felt, to some degree, that I might miss out by shooting in black and white. However, I also looked forward to the challenge, and so off I went. I shot the entire series with 2 Nikkor LTM lenses, the incredible Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 LTM , one of Nippon Kogaku (i.e. Nikon)’s normal legendary lenses, and the equally highly regarded Nikkor 10.5 cm f/2.5 LTM. Classic lenses work so well with the MM, and I share the images to demonstrate my efforts.

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Bob.

After shooting someone, I would look them in the eyes and say “thank you for letting me photograph you, I hope you have a wonderful time here today.” This always got a smile and a “you too!” type of comment. A couple of them gave me their emails and asked that I send them some images. One of my favorite moments was when two girls that didn’t know each other realized they were dressed as characters from the same comic book. They hugged and giggled like first graders.

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Tori.

One of the attractions for me was the sheer volume of sundry characters we would be able to see. I knew for certain we could come back with some pretty stellar images. Upon our arrival that morning, I felt a little like a child waiting to be let loose at the carnival. There was so much to behold, it was almost sensory overload for me (yes, my first time attending such a spectacle). We were waiting to meet up with Bob’s friend from Seattle, Ashwin Rao (I would later learn how talented this fella also was. Both he and Bob seemed to be oozing with technical information I could draw from). I couldn’t keep still and began darting about trying to catch the characters as they streamed by. When Ashwin hooked up with us, my pace slowed for a bit because he had gifted me the use of his new Sony RX1 full frame mirrorless and I was elated to be able to try it out at such a lively venue.

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This was a blessing for me. Earlier, I felt hurried to try and shoot as many cosplay characters as I could which surely would have rendered merely average photos. In using a piece of equipment I was unfamiliar with and careful not to harm, I had to slow my pace and really concentrate on what I was doing. This is admittedly one area where I need a bit more practice. We dispersed a little once we got into the heart of the character parade. The characters were fully engrossed in their own world, presenting their costumes and accoutrements with such pride and validity that we were drawn right in. In some moments, we had to just stop and share with each other our images and laugh at some of our encounters throughout the morning. Alas, the morning melted into afternoon and we had to leave.

Bob.

Tori is newer to photography than Ashwin and me. So part of the fun was to lend her some of our more exotic gear. A few weeks before she didn’t even know us, and now she’s rocking Ashwin’s RX-1 and my M9!

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When it seemed like we had shot enough, and our stomachs were growling, we headed to one of Seattle’s best Mexican restaurant for food, drink, and more getting to know each other. Spending time with other passionate photographers – you can’t beat it.

Ashwin.

All in all, I had a great time with Bob and Tori. We gathered together, but never crowded each other out. We shared jokes and pointed out photo opportunities to each other. We all came home with different, yet equally compelling photos. To boot, I formed a fantastic and amiable bond with two like-minded photographers. Tori seemed to adore her time with the fantastic RX1, while Bob used his M9 to capture the show in his own creative way.

Me, I found the Monochrome to be liberating. Coming home and editing files from the camera is so rewarding. The files are incredible. But you know what, the friendships formed from this photo excursion have been even more remarkable.

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Tori.

By this time, I was ready to fuel my body with some much-needed grub. In sharing lunch with Bob and Ashwin, I was able to sit back and take in a little more than sustenance for my body, but for my mind as well for these two had quite a lot of photo-chat for me to soak up. I remember thinking; how lucky am I to have formed new friendships with such talented and exuberant individuals?

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Ashwin parted ways with us after lunch, but Bob and I finished out the afternoon in Seattle with a photo walk around the streets and a visit to the Vivian Meyer show at a local gallery. The thrill of the afternoon was being bestowed with Bob’s Leica M9. Quite literally, I felt as if I were being crowned as he placed the camera strap around my neck. Here begins my experience with rangefinder cameras. While the focusing system continued to train me in slowing down, even more valuable was the mentoring Bob was able to give me in the genre of street photography.

Bob.

Ashwin had to dash after lunch, but Tori and I continued walking, talking and shooting in one of Seattle’s great urban neighborhoods.

Ashwin.

In fact, just this weekend, my partner, her daughter, and myself will be heading to Bob’s for a weekend of fun at his home. Cameras will surely come out, but the camaraderie is what counts. It’s what photography can be all about. I encourage you all to find like-minded photographers in your community. Strike out and shoot. You may not always find that bond, but when you do, the rewards are high, and meaningful friendships are forms. Thanks to Bob and Tori for a wonderful photo stroll, and here’s to looking forward to many more.

Tori.

In a whirlwind, the adventure had passed and as I was boarding the ferry to leave Seattle, I couldn’t have been more satisfied (or excited to get home and start processing!). Not only did I gather some magnificent quality images from the two new systems I was able to try out, but I acquired some new friendships that I will value to no end. We indeed are the lucky ones; photographers that can have such fun in what we do while continuing to learn fresh techniques and branch out into new aspects.

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Bob.

I knew the FoP must ride again. And in fact we did, about a month later there was a similar event, Sakuracon, and we shot it as well. Now we need a new adventure. What’s next Ashwin and Tori?

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And who else wants to join the FoP? We just might take you along on our next trip to Comicon, where yes, the Jokers are wild! Bring your favorite camera and your sense of humor, you will be welcomed. (Hey guys, I am in next year – Steve)

Ashwin

Ashwin Rao is a Seattle-based photographer.
 See his images on flickr 
and facebook.

BobAndTori

Bob Towery lives on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle. 
See his daily photoblog, www.dreamtomorrowblog.com, 
and facebook photos.

Tori Buckman also lives in the Seattle area. 
See her website and blog here http://www.victoriajeanphotoart.com.

TheEnd

The End.

 

Apr 032013
 

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SOLD OUT!

The Ultimate Seattle-to-Palouse 4 day Road Trip Experience with Steve Huff and Ashwin Rao!

4 days from Saturday June 22nd to Tuesday June 25th, 2013. MARK YOUR CALENDAR! 

 

SOLD OUT! NO MORE SEATS!

Ok..This is going to be wayyyyy cool.

Anyone out there just buy a Leica M or Leica MM and want to get out and make use of them with some amazing shooting experiences? Have ANY other camera you want to make use of with some of the most amazing scenery you may ever see? Want to hang out with a select few like-minded individuals as we take a road trip from Seattle to Palouse, WA (a 5 hour trip one way) and really USE our cameras for what they were meant to be used for? Want to do some street shooting in Seattle and partake in some great food, fun and even some editing and critique?

If so, then you will not want to miss my only meet up/workshop of 2013 and I am holding this one with Ashwin Rao, much like we did in Seattle in 2011 and we are calling it “The Ultimate Seattle-to-Palouse 4 Day Road Trip Experience”! 

Yep, I am cutting my workshops down to 1-2 a year and this may be it for 2013. We are limiting attendees to 10!

This 4 day workshop is going to be jammed with fun and if you want to shoot some gorgeous scenery, believe me, you do not want to mis this! To read about past workshops I put on, click here.

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Here is the itinerary:

Steve Huff’s Ultimate Seattle-to-Palouse Road Trip

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 through Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Four full days of Shooting in the beautiful Pacific Northwest

Co-Host: Ashwin Rao – Guide: Ryan McGinty

 

1. Meet for informal drinks and snacks on the night of Friday, 6/21 (around 8 pm) for attendees who have arrived in town. Location to be determined. Accommodations will not be included for that night. This is so we can get to know each other and just relax and have a good time.

2. Meet at 6 am at Ashwin’s place on Sat, 6/22. Light breakfast will be available before departing.

3. Time for the road trip! Leave Seattle at 6:30 AM on Saturday AM, and arrive in the Palouse for lunch (included)

4. Shoot the Palouse with our local guide, Ryan McGinty, through the afternoon, evening, sunset, and dusk. He knows his stuff and the best locations for shooting. Magical shots will happen :)

5. Dinner (not included in price)

6. Return to hotel for photo editing and critique. Likely to stay in either Pullman, WA or Moscow, ID. Lodging is included in price with two to a room while here. 

7. Shoot all day on Sunday 6/23 throughout the Palouse, including Steptoe Butte, and various sites in the area. Ryan McGinty will join us for the afternoon and evening. Time for relaxing, photo editing, will be factored in. Breakfast and lunch will be included.

8. Dinner after a full day of shooting (not included)

9. Monday, 6/24: The leisurely road trip back to Seattle, visiting Palouse Falls, dusty cities, and a detour through Walla Walla Wine Country if timing and weather cooperate for more shooting and fun. Breakfast and lunch included.

10. Return to Seattle on the evening/night of 6/24. Dinner together (not included)

11. Tues, 6/25: Shoot Seattle (street and city life shoot, with detours through the library, Discovery Park, waterfront vistas, and other fun settings around town. Return to Ashwin’s place in the late afternoon for photo editing and sharing. Breakfast and lunch included.

12. Departure dinner (not included).

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Keep in mind that lodging while in Seattle is not included. Lodging is included while in Palouse with two to a room. Breakfast and lunches are included. Dinner’s are not. Transportation is included as we will have a THREE SUV’s to hold us and drive us all.

This is limited to TEN attendees plus myself and Ashwin. Price is $1500 for the entire 4 day experience. This will be a blast and I am very excited for this one. If you are not familiar with the Palouse, check out Ashwin’s article HERE and HERE where he shares his experience from the last time he was there.

If there are any new M or MM owners attending and you have any questions myself or Ashwin will be happy to share tips on how to get the most from these cameras. But we welcome ANYONE. No need to shoot Leica. You can shoot with whatever camera you love to shoot with! We may also throw in some fun surprises as well along the way. I will be shooting with the new M and Monochrom and Sony RX1. Ashwin may be shooting with the same.

You will need to bring a laptop as we will have editing time as well where we can share tips and tricks as well.

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This will be an intimate close-knit group and will be a memorable experience for all. I will be recording video of the event to edit into a small 15-20 minute documentary type film to show on this site after we return. I will also post our favorite shots from the event on this site in a dedicated post about the trip.

SOLD OUT!

All photos in this post were shot by Ashwin. Hope to see some of you in June!

Mar 152013
 

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Onward and Upward

Six Months with the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

Hi, my friends! It’s been quite a while since my last post here. I have actually been quite busy photographing the world around me. Much of the buzz over this time has centered about the Leica M, but I wanted to take a break from all of that to share some further images and brief thoughts on the Leica M Monochrom, which has been a near constant companion for this past 6 months in my photographic journey of discovery. As a disclaimer, the report that follows is entirely subjective and “real world”, as Steve would describe it. For more technical reviews, many others do a far better job, and I prefer not to re-tread their efforts).

Leica MM and Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/1.4 LTM

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Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2

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So what have I found? Well, for one, I really enjoy seeing the world in monochrome, and this camera has served as moth my muse and the tool by which to find new ways to engage that muse. This camera has prompted me to refocus my vision away from color and towards capturing light and dark, brightness and shadow, and finding hidden details in this simplified, yet complex view of the world in front of me. For this purpose, the Leica M Monochrom is unparalleled, in my opinion. Much Internet debate and discussion has centered about this camera’s strengths and limitations (BW only, blows out highlights, carries on the M9’s twitchy behaviors in practice). I can only provide my own take on the camera, born out of extensive personal experience. I can tell you, firmly, that the Monochrom is my favorite M to date, and should you consider Black and White imagery to be a focus for your efforts, and you have the funds available to pay for this expensive beast, it’s truly worth owning. It’s inspired me over and over again, day in and day out, While I loved my Leica M3 for its incredible build quality and amazing viewfinder, it cannot compare. While I loved my Leica M2 for its clean lines and mechanistic and operational simplicity, it doesn’t compare. The MP, for its sheer beauty, build quality, and classic and elemental utilization, it cannot compare. The, M8, for its clarity of vision (and its many faults), cannot compare. And the M9, for its brilliant CCD sensor and lovely color rendition, cannot compare…Leica M, well, I haven’t had the privilege, but I doubt that it will compare for my type of imagery? Why, you may ask, do none of these cameras, hold a dime to the M Monochrom, for me? Read on…

 

Leica MM and Nikkor 10.5 cm f/2.5 LTM

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Versatility in files:

Well, the M Monochrom provides incredible versatility and file malleability within the spectrum of black and white photography. When working within the mid-tones, in capturing scenes on the street, where such dynamic range come into play, the camera performs admirably. Through ISO 5000, with reasonable light, it’s fantastic, and noise/”grain” is not objectionable. When the light is poorer, noise does become more objectionable, and files do start to suffer. Occasional banding creeps in with poorly exposed scenes at ISO 6400 and beyond. Yet, for some many moments when asking to see in the dark, the MM has come through for me in spades. I am honestly shocked that simply removing the Bayer Color array from the M9’s sensor has resulted in a camera that is much more sensitivity and responsive to light, but it is truly the case that the MM represents one’s best choice for black and white imagery in the 35 mm RF world.

 

Leica MM and Leitz Elmar-C 90 mm f/4

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Leica MM and Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM

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It’s not film.

What this camera IS Not, is a replacement for film shooters. It has its own look. Grain detail is fine and pleasing through much of its ISO range, but the structure and pattern to that grain remains digital, when I pixel peep. While there appears to be more depth and tonality to the grain that I see from my MM files, the depth of film emulsions and grain isn’t the same or even comparable.

While the camera cannot quite reproduce the film look (yes, all of you film photographers out there are safe, but you knew that already, right?), it provides a level of flexibility that has allowed my creative vision to flourish. While pixel peeping leads to the conclusion above, I am easily able to reproduce various film looks for standard prints up to 17-22 inches, thanks to the camera’s incredible resolution and tonal depth, coupled with careful post-processing though LR4 and Silver Efex. In fact, I have been able to fool some experienced friends in the photo world with prints that looked “like film”…the files are good enough….

 

Leica MM and Canon 35 mm f/2.8 LTM

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Oh, those lovely older lenses…

One unexpected turn for me has been a return to using classic M mount and LTM lenses on the M monochrome. I have found that modern aspherical glass, while rendering incredible detail, poses challenges for me. I find the look of lenses such as the Leica 35 mm f/1.4 FLE to be nearly too sharp and “modern/clinical” for the MM’s sensor. I found this difficult to believe at first, since some of these lenses are my favorites to use on the M9. On the MM, however, I find images to be “perfect to a fault”, causing images to lose character. I was very surprised by this experience, and have found that returning to a set of older lenses has tamed the camera and its sensor, providing with more creative flexibility than I would have otherwise imagined.

What is it about older glass and the MM, you may ask? Well, I have my theories? For one, it may simply be personal preference. I am used to seeing a certain aesthetic in black and white images, which comes from years of experience in viewing monographs of famous photos, Life Magazine exposes, and classic prints, and I was not seeing that same aesthetic in using aspherical lenses on the MM. By using older glasses, with lower macro-contrast, I have been able to achieve that look, be it vintage or classic, that I felt that I needed to fulfill my vision for this camera.

Classic lenses tend to exhibit both lower macro- and microcontrast, for a variety of reasons. Partly, older glass doesn’t resolve detail quite like modern glass, but the truth of the matter, is that for the most part, many of these older lenses render detail just fine. Further, the coatings employed in years gone by, may well be more suited to black and white imagery that the coatings present on modern lenses, which are geared more towards optimal color correction (i.e. APO-chromatic lenses)…and such color correct isn’t important in BW. Those same older coating seem to provide more range within the mid-tones, that provides even more flexibility when pushing, pulling, dodging, and burning MM files.

Leica MM and Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM

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Leica MM and Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM

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For me, using old glass is the way to go, but for others, they will find that modern glass is appealing for their own work. It’s a personal preference, but one towards which I have seen many monochrome shooters gravitate.

You may ask : what older lenses do you favor on the M Monochrom? I have enjoyed Sonnar, Planar, and Double Gaussian lenses on the MM, and all have their looks, plus sides, and down sides. Well, for me, here’s a preferred list of lenses to consider for your M Monochrom:

 

28 mm

1. Avenon/Kobalux 28 mm f/3.5 LTM

2. Leica 28 mm f/2.0 Summicron Asph (renders very well on the MM, with a rich files that’s not overly contrasty)

 

35 mm

1. Leitz Summicron 35 mm f/2 8-element (1st version summicron)

2. Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/2.8 lens

3. Canon 35 mm f/2.0 LTM

4. Canon 35 mm f/2.8 LTM

5. Leica 35 mm f/1.4 asph pre-FLE (one lens that I find works very well despite its more modern heritage)

 

50 mm

1. Jupiter 3/Zeiss 5 cm f/1.5 LTM

2. Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 LTM

3. Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/2 LTM

4. Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM or 50 mm f/1.4 LTM

5. Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (M Mount, version 2 Summicron)- MY Favorite lens on the M Monochrom

 

90 mm and beyond

1. Leitz Summicron 90 mm f/2 (2nd version) Rich and robust files

2. Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM and/or Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM (amazing on the MM, rendering of greyscales has blown my mind).

3. Nikkor 10.5 cm f/2.5 LTM

4. Leitz 90 mm f/4 Elmar-C or original Elmar. The Elmar-C has really surprised me as a tiny and terrific performer capable of matching the MM’s resolution.

 

The nice thing is that many of these lenses are reasonably affordable, so if you’ve just blown your savings on the camera body, lenses should not hurt you too much in your wallet, purse, or the like ;)

 

Leica MM and Leica 28 mm f/2 Asph

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Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2

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Practice makes “perfect”

The M monochrome has taught me much about how to see in new ways, and much of this process has come through trial and error. When I first posted my images from the camera, many complained that the files were muddy and grey. Others loved the files. For me, I have learned to stretch my processing to get a look that’s more familiar for me and comfortable, that involves more contrast and less grey. I have had to practice, learn to use filters (at times, but not all of the time), and find comfortable lenses (see above) to create my vision. I have had to throw out assumptions about black and white films born out of BW conversions made from M8 and M9 files.

Ultimately, I now find that M9 files are hard to go back to for B&W conversions. They just don’t have the flexibility and range of Monochrom files, and seem to break apart more readily. It’s funny, that at this time, I find B&W conversions harder to perform on M9 and M8 files…go figure…

Leica MM and Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/1.4 LTM

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Conclusions

I feel that for me, there are no limits when it comes to BW imagery when using the Leica M Monochrom. It produces beautiful and useable files through most of its ISO range (I avoid pushing beyond ISO 6400 personally). It works great with classic rangefinder lenses to produce a rich look. It plays differently with modern glass, in ways that I don’t always enjoy, but that I am sure others may well love. For the black and white shooter looking to expand his or her range, this is a great option, albeit at a steep financial cost. Yet for me, it’s been worth it.

My journey continues….

 

Leica MM and Jupiter-3 50 mm f/1.5 LTM lens

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Leica MM and Leitz Summicron 90 mm f/2 (version 2)

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Leica MM and Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM

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Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2

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Leica MM and Avenon 28 mm f/3.5 LTM

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Dec 102012
 

Getting More POP out of your Leica M Monochrom Images – A Tutorial

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE

Hi everyone,

Some of you have contacted me to ask how I have edited Leica M Monochrom photo files. For MM files, I generally have an “all Adobe Lightroom 4” workflow. I wanted to provide a rough sketch, using one image as an example, of how I go about making adjustments to provide more pop to the image. This image, which you may have already seen, was taken in New York, during my very first session with the MM, using a modern lens, the 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph, a lens which many of you love and own. Let me take you through how I shot and edited this image, with step-by step images to demonstrate adjustments.

First off, here’s the base file to work with:

 

And here’s the final image:

 

Let’s start with basic EXIF info/shooting parameters

Lens: Leica 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph lens

Aperture: f/2 - ISO: 320 - Shutter speed: 1/1500 sec - Exp comp: -1/3

Now, here’s a step by step series of adjustments made to achieve the end result, with images

Image 1: Base image 

 

Image 2: To achieve this, I made a “exposure” adjustment, using curves, to bring the histogram to a more standard distribution. This was done, as I typically shoot images at a a -1/3 to -2/3 exposure compensation to save highlights

 

Image 3: The image still seems a bit flat, so I boost contrast. Increase contrast to +50

 

What I notice in doing this is that the image remains darker in the the shadows and still grey in the areas which I’d prefer to see whiter whites. This, my next move involves using the “highlight” slider to bring out whiltes

 

Image 4: increase highlight slider to +40

 

The shadow/darker areas of the image (jeans on the central figure, for example) still look dark, so I now move in to boost some shadow detail.

 

Image 5: Increase shadow slider to +40

 

Okay, that’s starting to look a bit better, but I sense that the image lacks a bit of pop. This is where the clarity slider comes in. One must be careful using the clarity slider in LR4. It can add much needed pop, but at the same time, it can make bokeh look harsh and jagged. In some cases, when I want to make certain areas pop more, I’ll use use the clarity brush to selectively “paint” areas with more clarity. For this image, bokeh isn’t so important, so I simply use the clarity slider

 

Image 6: Increase clarity slider to +0.5, followed by some adjustments using the brush tool to burn figures a bit more: Exp 0.4, contrast 0.25, highlights 0.6, shadows 0.4, clarity, 0.5, sharpness 0.1

 

Yup, that really helps the image. I could well stop here,

I am a fan of adding a touch of vignetting to draw the viewer into the important parts of the image. Not everyone agrees with this practice, but I enjoy adjusting vignetting to pull the viewer into the image:

 

Image 7: Add post crop vignette, set to highlight priority, – 15 amount

 

Okay, now to make things a bit more film-like. That means grain. I have found that the following settings give me a “Tri-X” grain in LR. One can easily use Nik Silver Efex here and may do better, but I find LR4’s grain tool to be satisfiying

 

Image 8: Add grain, amount 40, size 20, roughness 60

 

As a final tough, I adjust the white slider a bit to bring the highlights out ever so much, withouth blowing things out of propoertion

 

Image 9: White slider to + 10

 

I make sure to check curves to make sure not too much clipping, check file to see if it looks natural. And there you have it. Presto..final image.

 

Hope you find this “tutorial” insightful.

All the best to those of you who take on the M Monochrom challenge. It’s a blast to use this camera….

All the best,

Ashwin

Be sure to visit the site sponsor’s on the right if looking for new or used Leica: Ken Hansen, PopFlash and the Pro Shop. They are the ones helping to keep this site alive :)

Nov 192012
 

Lessons Learned – Using Classic Lenses on the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE or his Facebook Page HERE

As a caveat, the article that I am presenting below is entirely subjective, and my opinions are subject to change. My thoughts represent my current state of thinking. I have found that the Leica M Monochrom is a flexible tool capable of pushing the photographer in new and different ways. It happens to be that the MM has pushed me in the direction discussed below, as of 11/2012, and we’ll see where the journey takes me in the months and years to come….

Hi fellow photographers, gearheads, and friends, today I am writing the first of my “lessons learned” articles regarding the use and function of the Leica M Monochrom (MM). The MM is unlike any camera that I have used in my time behind the viewfinder. Sure, one can approach its use similarly to how he or she would use a M9. In practical use, it’s a rangefinder and nothing more. However, shooting in black and white may necessitate a change in approaching the subject of the photo. For me, this has meant focusing on light and dark, highlight and contrast, and composition over color.

Of equal importance is the difference in the files produced by the camera, when compared to the M9 or any other camera currently in production. As I processed my first set of images, shot entirely with modern aspherical lenses on the MM, I started to notice a few “issues” with my files As many have discussed, images looked flat and grey, yet with occasionally overexposed highlights. To compensate for loss of highlight detail, I decided to under-expose by 1/3 to 2/3 stops. In some instances, using this method with modern glass, shadows were so deep that it became more difficult to recover details in the underexposed portions of the frame.

One other issue some images had a decidedly “digital” look to them. A fair number of commenters made mention that the files had a look that didn’t appear film-like. This is no fault of the MM, which after all is a digital camera, but rather with our expectation that files coming directly from the camera should look entirely “film-like” (whatever that means….there are many types of film)…What could be behind this? After all, the Leica M system is replete with some of the best glass ever made, capable of fantastic clarity and tonal rendition. The MM’s sensor is capable of resolving incredible detail, in some cases more than presently capable of the lenses in Leica’s collection. Shouldn’t fantastic glass coupled with a fantastic sensor produce…well…fantastic results? I haven’t always found this to be the case, within the confines of my own limitations as a photographer….let me explain why I think this (IMHO, as always).

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

QUANDRY # 1- Lens choice: Modern vs Classic.

When shooting with modern lenses, as I did in the MM-NYC article that Steve posted a few months back, I only used aspheric lenses, specifically the 35 mm Summilux FLE and 50 mm Summilux Asph lenses. On looking at these files again today, I find that the coupling of modern lenses with the MM creates files that are bursting with clarity and contrast. To me, it may be that the files offer too much clarity and contrast for my brand of black and white photography. For those willing to experiment with modern glass on the MM’s sensor, they may well be allowed to explore territory that has yet to be explored in BW photography. So when some offer criticism that MM files have an overly digital look, I’d respond that MM files have a unique look as offered by the combination of sensor and lens. The creative possibilities of exploring these combinations is both exciting and daunting, but offers up a type of black and white imagery that we may not be used to. Just as HDR images became popular and controversial several years back, the MM files offer something different from bread-and-butter CMOS and CCD sensor rendering. Images shot via the MM when using modern glass seem to have a “hyper-real”, almost surreal look to them. This is not a familiar look to many of us, and thus invites criticism or concern in some instances. Some of us, such as Kristian Dowling, have assumed this challenge, and are making the MM sing with modern glass. I went in a different direction….

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

I debated whether or not to stick with the “MM-Modern look”, as I have taken to calling it, and decided to put it on hold. I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to delve into that look without being met with significant challenge and criticism. Rather, I purchased the MM to progress as a black and white photographer, along the lines of the images that I have explored from the film era. With this in mind, I began to explore the possibility of how the MM behaves with vintage lenses from prior eras.

Over the past few months, I dusted the cobwebs off some of my classic lenses,that haven’t gotten much use in recent times. In particular, I have extensively used the Leica 50 mm f/2 version II Summicron, also dubbed the “Rigid Summicron”, as it was the first Summicron lens to have no collapsible elements. This lens was very popular in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s, and it was highly regarded for its clarity (for the era), tonal rendition, and smooth out-of-focus rendition (i.e. bokeh). To this, I added a 90 mm f/2 Summicron II (E 49 filter thread, collapsible hood) which was manufactured in 1970. I also pulled out my old Leica Tele-Elmar 135 mm f/4, which I reviewed here several years back, and picked up a 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit, which to my eyes has a smoother tonal rendition than its aspherical cousins (35 FLE and 35 cron asph) and stands nicely side-by-side with older glass. Needless to say, I have been very pleased and excited with the results of these lenses on the MM.

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

While modern glass can be nearly jarring on the MM, due to lens sharpness and abrupt focus-fall off coupled with the MM’s resolving capabilities, these vintage lenses provide a different, less-clinical signature, which to my eyes, provides a dare-I-say “more pleasant” look…Here again, is where I feel that I am being entirely subjective. To my eyes, at the very least, vintage Leica lenses do very well with the MM. While they resolve slightly less detail than their modern counterparts, their lower contrast and more gentle focus fall off seems to allow and gentler tonal rendition and better preservation of shadow and highlight details. Further, color is taken out of the equation, and while many old lenses don’t always render color accurately, they tend to offer a very appealing greyscale rendition. I feel that the MM’s greyscale capacities take great advantage of lenses with lower macrocontrast. In general, I find that I am able to achieve a more “film-like” black and white look, at least one that more closely represents what’s developed in my thoughts as to how a BW image should look.

In particular, I was stunned by the performance of 2 lenses on the Leica MM: the Rigid 50 mm Summicron and the 90 mm Summicron II. Let me talk a bit more about these lenses

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 At this time, the 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron wins my award for “Best overall lens for the Leica M Monochrom”. I know that this is a very bold (and entirely subjective) statement to make, but I have my reasons. The Rigid ‘Cron was one of the best lenses, if not the best lens, in its era, combining high resolution with fantastic performance from wide open through f/11. It’s bitingly sharp if stopped down to f/4 and fully acceptable when shot wide open. Out-of-focus rendition is beautifully classic, and it has a tad of that “Leica glow” thanks to some of its aberrations, none of which goes overboard. If you are willing to live with a minimal focus distance of 1 meter, and if you can find one in good to excellent optical condition, you should buy one in a heartbeat. It’s simply a no-brainer, given that this lens is one of the most affordable 50 mm Summicron lenses on today’s market can be had for 1/10 of the price of the current 50 mm f/2 APO-Summicron.

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

The 90 mm f/2 Summicron II has long been regarded as a fantastic performer for portraiture and people photography. It was first released in the 1960’s, and it is one of the only Leica M lenses with a built in tripod mount. It’s a big beast of a lens, though it’s not terribly heavy. It has a telescoping hood, which is a nice feature. But it’s nicest feature is its AMAZING rendering. This lens has become my “go to” portrait lens on the Leica MM, supplanting the 75 mm an 90 mm APO-Summicron lenses. I find the focus fall off of the version II 90 ‘Cron to be beautiful and the lens does an amazing job with OOF rendition and preservation of highlights. It’s one of Walter Mandler’s designs, and it shoes. In many ways, I am reminded of the Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux when viewing images taken with this lens. However, it’s a much more economic offering than the 75 ‘lux, whose prices have entered the stratosphere in recent years. The 90 Summicron II wins 2 awards for me:

1. Best portrait lens on the Leica M Monochrom

2. Most underappreciated lens for Leica M (previous award had gone to the 135 Tele-Elmar)

If you are willing to put up with the 90 Summicron II’s size, which is its only drawback, you’ll be greatly rewarded, particularly if you use a Leica M Monochrom. It has that Leica Magic!!!

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

Finally, I wanted to put in a brief word on the Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5 lens on the MM. As you know, I think very highly of the diminutive Summarit, finding it to have the most pleasant bokeh of any of Leica’s lenses. In some ways, I’d call the 35 mm Summarit to be the “King of Smooth”…it’s very well controlled, renders sharply, and provides and image with moderate contrast and smooth tonal transitions.

 

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

In summary, at this time, I find that vintage lenses have a very appealing look on the MM’ sensor, and one can re-discover many old lenses using this camera. This does not, in any way, invalidate the use of modern glass on the MM. I simply feel that these lenses offer 2 different sets of solutions for the black and white shooter. The choice ultimately is upon the photographer to determine what better suits him or her.

 

QUANDRY # 2 – Greyscale

When first acquiring the Monochrom, I became enamored with the details and tonal magnitude of MM files. There is a wealth of detail in those greys, and I first attempted to capture and present those greys in a meaningful way. What resulted were files that had a lot of “grey”, which, on some monitors, projects out as flat or washed out. On my NEC High Gamut 27 inch display and on high quality archival prints, the images do have quite a bit of depth in those greys. Yet, there was a certain “pop” that may be missing in having images rendered with whiter whites and darker darks, so to speak, or at least a sharper fall off between darks and whites. In some cases, it actually is much easier to take an M9, convert the file to BW, and obtain a fantastic, more readily approachable image. Why then even bother with the MM?

Well, there are a few reasons, actually, for those who are willing to be patient and make adjustments in post processing. Buried in all of those greys is a wealth of information that allows MM files to be pushed and pulled in many different directions, without a dramatic loss in image fidelity. In other words, by processing carefully, one can adjust the look of their MM images so that they don’t look so…grey.

Leica MM with Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM (“Japanese Summilux”)

 

Leica MM with Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2 LTM

Once again, you may ask, “Why bother? My M9 does it well and does it easier…” I would suggest that for the dedicated BW shooter or the photographer interested in getting different looks for their BW imagery, the Leica MM is unparalleled in its ability to produce files capable of being manipulated to achieve many looks in BW without loss of image fidelity. I am a Lightroom user, and I find that using the “Black” and “White” sliders, coupled with the “Shadow” and “Highlight” sliders (available in LR4 and beyond), followed by a dose of contrast/clarity tweaks, allows me to achieve any number of looks. Add to that a bit of dodging and burning, and suddenly one begins to appreciate that files from the MM are very flexible, and the greyscale depth, if I may call it that, is profound. Thus, if you like the Tri-X look, it can be achieved. HP-5, Neopan 1600, TMax 3200? No problem…. How about slow film, like PanX or Agfa 25 film? Yes, the MM can do those “looks” well too ….The one limitation that I see to the MM is that it’s native ISO is 320, which is relatively fast compared to slow film stock. In order to use fast glass at base ISO on the MM, one must either stop down or buy an image degrading ND filter to do so.

I enjoy being permitted many options on how to make my BW files look. The MM allows this in plentitude. MM files are incredibly flexible, and I have found the challenge of processing MM files to be ongoing. I suspect that in the years to come, I’ll come back to my old files, with new eyes and new processing techniques, and see them again for the first time. Here’s an example 2 files taken from the same photo session, where in-camera settings were the same but processing was a bit different:

Early processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

More recent processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

Looking at both files, I wouldn’t necessarily say that either version is “correct” per say, or represents the events as I “saw” them. They are both different truths to the same story, and this, to me, is where the MM excels. It allows one to tell many different stories, and provides files that are more flexibile than the M9 to do this, in some regards, despite losing out on R/G/B channels and selective channel tweaking…

 

QUANDRY #3 – USING FILTERS

The use of filters on the Leica MM has been well documented and discussed. In summary, it appears that the MM’s sensor takes well to the use of color filters, and one familiar with the use of such filters on their film bodies will feel at home using these same filters on the Monochrom. I have found that for ease of look, it’s best to use a yellow or medium orange filter to increase contrast straight out of camera. This can save time in processing, particularly for those of you whom are not enamored by overly grey images. Additionally, for shooting people, green, yellow, and in some cases organe filters brighten up complexion enough to provide a more “natural look”.

For many of us, using filters can be cumbersome. One has to take heed when using them, making sure to match the filter to the intended look or shooting circumstance. At times, I bring my filters, and at times, I leave them home. In either case, I find that the MM provides acceptable results. As I have lenses of many differing filter threads, I decided that I can’t own R/G/Y/O filters in every thread, so I elected to snag filters for 39 mm and 46 mm thread size. One could alternatively get several step up rings and purchase 60-72 mm filter size, and use the same filters on a variety of glass. The problem with the latter option is that it’s a bit clunky to use a 60 mm filter on a e39 lens. Filters still cost a fair chunk of cash, but keeping your filter collection reasonable is probably the way to go. If I had to choose 1-2 filters, I’d probably chose a yellow and orange filter, since the other filters tend to be a bit more specialized to more extreme looks.

 

Leica MM and 50 mm Summilux II (pre-asph) E43 lens

 

QUANDRY # 4- Too much resolution!

With the MM’s files, I marveled at the resolution capable of being displayed by the MM’s sensor, partricularly when paired with modern glass. It was definitely new territory, in terms of the camera’s capacity to resolve small details extraordinarily well, and in some cases too well. This is commonly a criticism of Leica’s current aspherical lens lineup (if there could be such a thing as that), who some state may be too “clinical” or can render details with the harsh clarity of reality, making the system’s new lens a bit controversial for portraits (see all of the internet fodder regarding the 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, a brilliant lens for which the devil may be in the “details” (that it renders), so to speak.

I myself have never found modern Leica glass to be too clinical when using my M8 and M9. I have seen brilliant work from many MM shooters using modern glass, by my own journey, has lead me to use older glass with slightly lower resolving capacity. Using these older lenses seems to “tame” the MM’s sensor a bit, but the results remain fantastic, and the images taken with older glass maintains adequate to superior resolution, albeit with less bite than modern glass…which I think is a good thing.

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

 

QUANDRY #5- ISO capability compared to film stock

I am thoroughly impressed by the MM’s high ISO capacities. Unlike the Leica M9, which I found to be limited in its ISO capacity, there appears to be no such limitation with the MM. When shooting a properly exposed scene, the photographer can easily capture files that look remarkably clean and details at ISO’s upto 5000. To me, this has opened up opportunities to shoot the MM in many new settings, including darkened street scenes. The MM’s high ISO capabilities allow the facile use of slower (smaller) lenses on the MM in more settings, opening up even more creative possibilities. . While much talk has been given to how the MM’s high ISO (3200 and beyond) looks film-like, I tend to disagree. While the camera’s high ISO grain seems fine and tasteful and allows for preservation of details of the image (without any introduction of mushiness into the pixel-peeping equation), it does not take on the look of film grain, to my eyes. The grain, particularly at ISO’s of 3200 and beyond, is decidedly digital, but not objectionable. Occasionally, when adjusting contrast or exposure when shooting at high ISO, banding may be seen. All in all, I am far more comfortable shooting the MM at high ISO’s than I ever was with the Leica M9. I try to keep my ISO cut off at 3200 for this camera, though on occasion, ISO’s beyond this are called for. Further. I find that MM’s capacity to render clean files through ISO 1600 makes it amenable to “adding” film like grain in post processing.

 Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

Alright, I have rambled on enough. I am sure that you all have had your fill of Leica M Monochrom reportage. Suffice it to say that it’s a fascinating camera capable of outstanding results for those interested in using it. It’s definitely not a camera for everyone. It is a fantastic option for those who desire superior ISO performance and broad dynamic range within the greyscale realm.

All the best,

Ashwin

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

 

Sep 242012
 

New York City seen through the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE

Hello, all of my photo friends. Photokina 2012 has come and gone, and it’s been a whirlwind of news from a gear front. Huge announcements have come from Sony (RX-1, A99), Canon and Nikon (with full frame entry level cameras), Fuji (XE-1), and of course Leica (with the M and M-E). In this day and age, gear gets discussed as much as the photos that it takes, and today’s glorious gear rapidly becomes yesterday’s news. So here I am, hoping that you’ll pay attention to an article about a piece of gear AND the photos that it took in my hands.

It’s easy to forget that just a short few months ago, Leica announced the much ballyhooed M Monochrom to the public, a camera of many firsts for Leica: It was the first digital black and white-only rangefinder camera. It was the first Leica digital RF camera with impressive ISO capacity expending well beyond previous ISO tolerances of digital M bodies. And with the release of this camera, public debate opened up and opinions were volleyed back and forth regarding the merits and necessities of such a device…a black and white only digital monstrosity…Why create such a camera when the Leica M9 and M8 before it are capable of wonderful B&W, further augmented by the fact that one can selectively adjust color channels to get a plentitude of B&W looks. Why lock oneself into one way of seeing? I too had many such questions as I hesitantly put in a pre-order of my MM.

Sadly, Leica has been slow to release the camera to the public. I have yet to get my own MM, due to shortages of supply here in the U.S. Thankfully, a very good friend here in Seattle was one of the first to receive a copy of this camera, and he was generous enough to lend it to me for a trip to NYC. Wow, what a friend, huh?

As a quick aside, I wanted to thank the community here of enthusiasts for truly brightening my world with their knowledge, expertise, skills as photographers, and generosities. As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of the enthusiast community is meeting so many wonderful people in the real world, and making virtual relationships on Facebook and various forums into lasting friendships in the real world. I can count so many good people as just such friends, including Steve Huff himself and so many others. It was just such a friend, whom I once knew only virtually on the forums, who has become a great friend and photo buddy in the real world, who was gracious enough to insist on lending me his $8K MM to take and shoot. So thank you, Matt D, for your generosity. You rock, my friend!

 

Okay, back to the essay at hand…that is, how did I find the MM in practice? In a word, “fascinating”. Exhilarating may be another word. “Challenging” may be a third…ultimately, I would suggested that the camera was thoroughly satisfying.

The MM, for those of you who don’t know, possesses a black-and-white only sensor with substantial dynamic range, particularly in the mid-tones….It forgoes the Bayer color filter array and receives its inputs directly onto it’s sensor without ever “seeing color”. In doing so, the sensor becomes more sensitive to light, and the MM has a minimum native ISO of 320 and a maximum ISO of 10,000 (higher than even the maximum ISO of 6400 with the coming Leica M)…One issue that was reported widely is that it’s quite easy for the MM to blow out highlights, which then cannot be rescued, due to lack of color channels to do so. Areas of pure highlight that show up as clipped on the MM’s histogram are truly lost, so one must care to exposure (or should I say, underexpose) to save those highlights. Beyond these subtleties, the MM’s imaging sensor is essentially the same 18 MP CCD sensor that can be found in the M9, without an AA filter. Body, build, and finish echo the M9-P, though the matte black paint job and blackened lettering lend an aura of stealth to the camera. The MM is a niche camera within a niche rangefinder market, but this niche is capable of amazing results…but if you guys are reading this, you know all of that. So how did I find the MM in practice? Much like the M9, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable camera to use in the real world.

First up, the challenges? Given that the MM produces a B&W representation of the captured image, it can be said to be comparable to film in the way one may consider conceiving the image or subject matter prior to even taking the image. In a sense, with the MM, color filters, famous and long used in B&W photography for the looks that they generate by selectively filtering out certain parts of the visible spectrum, become instantly relevant on the MM. This was a challenge to me, as someone who’s done most of my photography in the digital age. With the MM, I had to familiarize myself with filter choice and appropriateness. For example, Red filters often add drama to an image by darkening a blue sky and enhancing contrast, but don’t necessarily make for the best people photography. On the other hand, green and yellow filters are very nice for capturing people, but their effects on the MM’s image is much more subtle.

The second challenge to the MM comes in its sensitivity to light. The MM’s base ISO is 320, though images can be pulled digitally to ISO 160 in camera (this is a software fix, from what I have heard, similar to the ISO 80 on the M9). In broad daylight, shooting lenses such as the 35 mm or 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph becomes challenging, and one must stop down. Thankfully, using color filters lessens the transmission of light through the lens, and shooting wide open may be enabled in some circumstances. Ultimately, if one chooses to work wide open with their lenses in broad daylight with the MM, a neutral density (ND) filter would be a reasonable investment. I didn’t have a ND filter for my trip, so I simply stopped down a bit when shooting…in a sense, yet another challenge, in seeing the world a different way and focusing and learning about the elements of each composition rather than simply blurring them away by shooting wide open.

The third challenge with MM comes in achieving appropriate exposure. The MM’s image carries a dramatic amount of information in the mid tones and shadows, seemingly at the sacrifice of details in the highlights. Thus, in using the camera, I tended to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop to attempt to save highlights. Thankfully, given the detail present in mid-tones and shadows, such adjustments come fairly easy to the MM’s files, and I was satisfied to adjust myself in this manner.

The final substantial challenge to using the M, in my eyes, was the post processing workflow. I had a preview of this challenge by editing the photos made available a few months ago by Jono Slack (for those of you who don’t know Jono or his work, you owe yourself a favor to go to his site, http://www.slack.co.uk/ , or strike up a conversation with him …he is a true gentleman-scholar in the Rangefinder community). Jono’s files showed me the tremendous detail capable of being captured by the MM. His images showed the depth of dynamic range present in the mid-tones, which provide a unique challenge on deciding how to use this information in the post processing workflow to achieve the image that you want. In a sense, the detail and dynamic range in the mid tones made available by the MM’s sensor provides the photographer with far more choice and flexibility on how to render skin tones and mid tone detail in the post-processing process. While this grayscale information yields a base MM file that can be described as flat, I found that the files are quite flexible and don’t break apart (i.e. banding, radically increased noise) that I have seen with color files from various cameras, including the M9. This process of playing with, and push/pulling mid tone details is in reality quite fun, and allows the MM shooter to envision his or her images in novel ways….

So off I was, to the streets of Manhattan, equipped with my friend’s MM. What could I achieve, using my own style of shooting and my own processing? I found, in practice, that the MM was quite fun to use. I’d typically use a yellow or green filter (green seemed to transmit less light and was preferred for broad daylight) to render people, and I’d occasionally grab a red filter to add drama to a scene. To me, it was the use of these color filters that made the biggest difference to using the MM on the streets. I could presumably use the MM without color filters, but part of the fun, for me, was to see the effects of such filters on the rendered image. Otherwise, shooting the MM encouraged me to see the street in new and exciting ways. Instead of trying to see and highlight color, I focused more on light and shadow play as well as composition. I thought more about scenes and depth of field, since the MM’s light sensitivity often necessitated stopping down (and as you all know, I enjoy shooting wide open). I thought quite a bit about preserving highlights and how to properly expose a scene in a meaningful way, so as to focus and preserve details in the areas of my particular interest. All in all, I feel that the MM provided a new challenge, one that I hadn’t experienced in many years, really since the purchase of my first rangefinder, the Leica M8.

To me, the challenges of the Leica M Monochrom represent its strengths. It forced me, in my brief 5 days with it, to see in new and creative ways. It forced more attention to detail in how I chose to compose or perceive a particular shot. In post processing, I learned much about the camera, its flexibilities, and its eccentricities, and I have found the images produced by the camera to be full of hidden treasures.

To boot, the Leica MM is a remarkable image-making machine. It captures detail in a way that I could only have dreamed previously. The detail is preserved through much of its ISO range, though personally, I’d avoid ISO’s about 6400 unless you wish a very grainy look. At base ISO through ISO 1600, the images render very cleanly and are quite flexible to post-processing and extensive pushing and pulling. At ISO 3200, the details of the images remain preserved, though noise becomes a factor, particularly if the image isn’t perfectly exposed and requires a bit of processing. At IS0 6400, the images remain useable, but noise starts to overwhelm detail. Beyond ISO 6400, I generally found the camera’s results to be unacceptable…. still, to have a camera capable of producing sharp, detailed images at up to ISO 6400, has to this point, been a dream for Leica shooters…. Kudos to Leica for making this dream a reality.

So if you wish to check out the entire set of images, including those shown here, just link over to my  flickr site.

All in all, I found the Leica M Monochrom to be a fascinating experience. Will I still be getting one? You bet. I found that the camera has much to teach me yet, about how to visualize an image and focus on the core elements of the image without necessarily getting “distracted” by color. I once thought that converting a file to Black and White was an easy cheat to making an unremarkable image suddenly pleasing. This is no longer the case, as the MM is a far more challenging camera to use for the average RF shooter compared to the M9. I accept that challenge and hope to learn more….Now, if Leica could just deliver one to my dealer soon ;)….

Aug 242012
 

Taking Photos in “The City of Light” – The Leica M9 and Fuji XPro-1 in Paris

By Ashwin Rao

Hello, everyone. It’s been a few months since my last post, though I have been quite busy, photographically speaking, trying to travel as my job and personal life allow and take photographs along the way. One observation that I have made, and this may be purely my perspective, is that people tend to take more photos with their newly purchased gear, and recently, the release of new gear has slowed down, as companies ready for big camera announcements at Photokina. The past year has seen the release many wonderful cameras have been introduced this year, many of which Steve has covered, including the fantastic Olympus OM-D, Fuji XPro-1, Sony RX100, Panasonic GX-1, Nikon D800, and Canon 5D Mark III. With Leica, there was this May’s announcement of the Leica M Monochrom, which has yet to see the hands of paying customers but a represents a camera full of promise. While new gear is always fun to try out and test, we shouldn’t discount tried and true gear as tools to channel our collective photographic muses. The release of newer products does in no way invalidate yesterday’s cameras of choice. Thus, while Photokina may see the release of a Fuji X200, Olympus EP-4, Leica M10, a professional Olympus OM-D, and many other tasty tidbits, the Fuji X100, Olympus EP-3, Leica M8 and M9, and OM-D will remain as amazing tools for capturing photos.

M9

XP-1

M9

I wanted to take the time to celebrate my longstanding favorite camera, the Leica M9, and one of my new favorites, the Fuji XPro-1, as amazing photographic tools by which to grow my photographic skills. I used both cameras extensively during my recent visit to Paris this past July, and the exercise of photographing this city for a week validated my vision for the city by capturing it in the way that I saw it. We currently live in a golden age of photography, where cameras are truly fantastic tools for creative expressionism. Every camera will have strengths and weaknesses, and one should choose a camera that suits their needs and style, and go out and make images. For some, it’s the iPhone that suits their needs the best. For others, tech cameras with medium format backs are necessary to capture the required image. For me, over the past 6 years, the digital rangefinder has been the camera that suited my needs, and in particular, the Leica M9 was an digital realization of the ideal rangefinder camera. Remember that while the M10 may soon replace the M9 at the top of Leica’s supply and production food chain, the Leica M9 remains and will continue to be a fantastic tool for those who love rangefinder photography. Similarly, the Fuji XPro-1 is a fantastic option for people liking cameras in a smaller form factor, with rangefinder styling. It is far from perfect, with quirky autofocus being its primary issue, but the images acquired from its innovative sensor have the potential to wow both the photographer and his or her audience. Let me talk about my experience using these cameras, while walking the streets of Paris….

 

M9

 M9

M9

During my visit, I used the M9 about 75% of the time, preferring its responsiveness and build, and I used the Fuji XPro-1 about 25% of the time, particularly when the lights dimmed in the city. I found the XPro-1 to be wonderful for the street, but a bit challenging with faster moving subjects (even in street life with the motion of peole). The M9 in contrast, rarely, in the way… I have become so accustomed to the rangefinder way, that this, in large part, was why I used the M9 more. It’s a camera that I have grown intimately comfortable with, through travels in Egypt, Venice, India, and other far away places. It’s through the M9 that I have grown to be comfortable with the 35/50/90 mm way of seeing the world. That being said, once one learns its quirky and at times exasperating focus system, the Fuji XPro-1 will reward you duly with wonderful images. I have provided you with my perspective of this camera as well, in a separate article. In practice, the XPro-1 takes a bit more planning to use as a street camera. With both the M9 and the XPro-1, one must practice seeing the image before it actually happens. That being said, the autofocus of the XPro-1 can hold one back when capturing the decisive moment, in certain times when acquiring quick focus is necessary, but if you get the hang of pre-focusing with the camera, that is locking in on a field of focus by holding half way on the shutter release to capture the point of intended focus, you can then find your moment and capture it. Just pointing and shooting with the XPro-1 can be dicey as a way of shooting, so it forces a new way of setting up and capturing your shot. The M9, for me, was an easier tool to use, partly due to my familiarity, probably because I didn’t have to rely on autofocus to nail my intended plane of focus and quickly snap my image. I found that using both cameras at the same time was disconcerting, and I decided that a better way to use these cameras was to choose one to take out and use it for both its strengths and its limitations. Thus, on my trip, the M9 became my daytime camera, while the XPro-1 was often used later in the evening and night or when AF would be helpful. Ultimately, I feel that one should travel using a camera that they are comfortable with. In this way, the camera will not get in the way. For me, the M9 never got in the way, and when grabbing the camera out of the bag, the M9 came out ¾ of the time, compared to the XPro-1, which I had slightly less comfort with.

M9

 M9

And yes, Paris, J’taime (I love you!)….what a great city it is….For any of you whom haven’t had the privilege of visiting Paris, please do. Paris is a city of great history, cultural diversity, and a vibrancy in its people and visitors that breaths a literal life into the paved and picturesque cobblestone streets . Many writers, photographers, philosophers and poets and travelers have romanced about the city for years. I myself visited the city as a youth, now nearly 2 decades ago, and have carried with me many fond memories that have added to my own romance with the city. It’s a city of its people, its coffee shops, its wonderful croissants and wines, its young couples in love, its museums and art, its glorious architecture, and endless activity. It’s a city of quiet alleyways, ageless cemeteries tucked in the midst of a bustling modern city, and grand churches full of gothic splendor. It’s the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, and Sacre Coeur. And through the sum of its parts, it is much more. Go yourself, and you enjoy discovering this for yourself. To describe Paris doesn’t do it justice.

M9

M9

M9

I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Paris this past July, as I have family members who live and work in the heart of the city. What an opportunity to travel and have a local guide (family, again) to show me the inner workings of the city. I’d almost always recommend this. If you know someone locally, see if they’d be willing to show you around. You’ll see so much more and get a feel for much more than if you stick to tourist routes. It’s been a longstanding desire to shoot the city using a rangefinder, which for me is a perfect “street” camera. I mean, if Henri CB earned his chops here, what better photographic playground could there be for a rangefinder nut like me. So off I set to “the City of Light”, M9 in hand. Along with the M9, I decided to pack my Fuji XPro-1, a relatively new addition, in order to test it out as a “street” camera. The XP-1 also offers the photographer amazing low light capacities, far superior to the M9 sensor’s ability in this venue, so I thought that the XPro-1 would be a nice tool for lower light work.

M9

XP-1

Lenses, you may ask? What did I bring? Well, along came a 21 mm Super-Elmar, 35 mm Summilux FLE, 50 mm Summilux asph, and 90 mm APO-Summicron. All of this fit comfortably in my Fogg-B-Laika bag, which is an AMAZING bag for all you small camera nuts. It is discrete and has the capacity to carry a lot of gear. This was the bag that ended my “bag acquisition syndrome” a couple of years back…I wish it cured my “gear acquisition syndrome (GAS)”, but I haven’t been quite so lucky on that front.

Once I arrived, it was immediately off to walk the streets. I had the great privilege of having family members, including my brother Pree and his fiancé Hadley (who writes a fantastic blog regarding life in Paris, http://laviemaraisienne.com; go check it out!), escort me around town so that I could gather the lay of the land.

M9

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Our journey began in the Marais district, where family lives. Le Marais has historically been a center for Jewish culture in the city, and has gone through many phases of evolution. In its present incarnation, it is a beautiful district of fantastic squares (le Place de Vosges), streets bustling with commerce and cuisine, and sleepy nooks where Parisian life really takes place. Le Marais was my home during this drip, and it served as an incredibly convenient starting place from which to see many of Paris’ sites. While thoroughly travelling through this district, I was able to visit many more places, primarily by foot. Paris is well known for its metro and bus routes, but it is a city best experienced by foot. For those who enjoy cycling, Paris has one of the most unique and well developed public cycling commuter establishments, with citywide access to drop off and pick up points for these bikes. One can easily rent these bikes by hour and experience the city by wheel (much less frustrating than Paris’ infamous traffic).

 

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My journeys by foot, bus, and metro landed me all over the city. I visited all of the typical sites (Eiffel Tour, Monmartre, Notre Dame, les Invalides, the Latin Quarter, le boulevard Saint Germain. Along the way, I frequented many patisseries and boulangeries, visited expansive cemetaries, and saw the city from its alleys and from great heights and elevation. I sampled many baguettes and croissants, a crepe here or there, wonderful local and ethnic cuisine, and even 2 orders of escargot! So tasty! All of this, I saw in many instances, through the viewfinder of the M9 and XPro-1.

Here, I have posted a summary of my pictures taken and edited for you all, from the trip. I hope that you enjoy them:

SET: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/sets/72157630481465554/with/7558740324/

SLIDESHOW: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/sets/72157630481465554/show/

What I present to you beyond my words are my images. I hope that they motivate you to take your own photos, visit places both near and far, and enjoy the process of making your own images. Sith whatever gear you own and use. New cameras will come and go, but what remains are memories and the images by which you captured them. For me, the visit was a reminder of what wonderful cameras we already have, and what great tools they are to use to capture and preserve these memories right here, and right now!

Until next time, my fellow Huffites, farewell, and I hope that this post sees you well!

All the best,

Ashwin

P.S. A few more pics for your viewing….

 


Jul 022012
 

Leica M9 in The Palouse

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE

Hi, friends. My last article featured the Pentax 645D in the Palouse. As much as I was excited to try out a new friend, the 645D, on this trip, I brought along my long-term photographic muse, the Leica M9, for the ride. I continue to find the M9 to be the best camera for a wide variety of work. It is not often talked about  as a landscape camera, but the M9 (and all M’s before it) can do a great job capturing nature and landscapes in a variety of lighting situations. Along with with the M9, I used the 21 mm f/3.5 Super Elmar, the 50 mm Summilux Asph, and the 135 mm f/3.5 APO-Telyt to the beautiful Palouse.

Here are some of the images produced using the lovely Leica M9 and these lenses. I hope that you enjoy them as a set to accompany my Palouse 645D article.

Best,

Ashwin

Jul 022012
 


Chasing Light in The Palouse with the Pentax 645D

(& A Brief Review of the Pentax 645D system)

By Ashwin Rao – Visit his blog HERE

The Palouse… Eastern Washington’s pastoral land of rolling hills, has long been a source of photographic inspiration and pilgrimage.  It’s a land replete with broad swaths of color, vistas with horizons that stretch into an endless distance, gently undulating fields of grain, crumbling barns, and giant machines processing the land’s primary industry of grain harvest. Type the word “Palouse” into your browser, and you yourself may be inspired to travel to this beautiful land, situated along the far sound and east of Washington’s boundaries, crossing into Idaho and Oregon. It’s but a five-hour car ride from Seattle, and yet, in a decade spent living in the Emerald City, I had never made the trip to the Palouse until recently. And now, the call of the glorious land reaches back to me.

The inspiration for my trip, of all things, was a change in gear. For many years, I have been a rangefinder shooter, but prior to this time, the DSLR and landscape photography had been my principal passions. As the rangefinder ethos grabbed a firm hold of my soul, my photography drifted towards a more photojournalistic approach, with attempts to capture tiny slices of life in meaningful ways. I had kept a Pentax K5 in my kit for over a year for the rare times where an SLR would see more practical use for a particular assignment of photographic task. And one day, while at my local camera store, Glazer’s Camera in Seattle, WA, I stumbled upon a “find” that jogged my sensibilities…a lightly used, nearly pristine Pentax 645D, priced to sell….and suddenly the gearhead’s dilemma and GAS confronted me. Until this time, I had considered medium format digital photography to be out of my reach financially, lest I up and sell my M9 kit, something I’d not be willing to do. So I was content to view others’ fabulous medium format images and hope that one day, such a camera would fall to my price point. Turns out that this was my lucky day. I quickly travelled home, gathered my K5 kit, and promptly traded it towards the 645D, Pentax’s clever entry into medium format.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the Pentax 645D, here’s a quick overview. It costs $10,000 new as of this writing, and can be had on the used market for around $7,000-$8000, possibly less. The sensor is a lovely 40 megapixel 44 x 33 mm CCD sensor produced by Kodak, which thankfully lacks any anti-aliasing filter., thus preserving the native detail of this conventional Bayer-arrayed sensor. Thus, the images that the camera is capable of producing can rival that of the Leica S2, which has a similar sensor (quality of lens notwithstanding). In fact, there are reports out there that the Leica S2 and Pentax 645D share a nearly identical sensor. Added charms of the 645D include weather sealing (with the appropriate lens) and compatibility with the full lineup of prior Pentax 645 lenses. When compared to the film Pentax 645, one must account for a 1.3x crop factor when using the same lenses, as the sensor in the 645D is 1.3x smaller in surface area than its film counterpart. In contrast, the sensor is 1.25x larger than a full frame 35 mm sensor, providing that much more real estate over which to spread its 40 megapixels. The 645D is capable of ISO’s ranging from 200 to 1600, and it does remarkably well in suppressing noise over this entire range of ISO, without introducing processing/smearing artifacts. The Pentax 645D was initially made available only to the Japanese market for nearly a year after its initial introduction, but it has been available in the U.S. since the early spring of 2011. Other features include a high-resolution 921K dot, 3 inch LCD and a menu layout that is the same as found in the Pentax K5. To boot, it takes the same batteries as the K5 and uses dual SD cards, accepting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards without issue. It’s not the fastest camera in the world, with regards to buffer or shot to shot performance, churning out 1.1 Frames per second. However, given its intuitive, SLR-like layout, ergonomic design, weather sealing, and “fast” (for medium format) performance, it’s gained a bit of a cult following in the medium format world for being a workhorse camera capable of excellent results. Additionally, Pentax 645 lenses have long been regarded as price-performance champs in the medium format world, coming in at prices far lower than comparable lenses in the Hasselblad, Leica and Mamiya lineups.

Some of you who inhabit popular gear forums have no doubt heard of the stir that the Nikon D800 and D800E have provided to landscape and commercial photographers, many whom use medium format for their work. For pro work, commercial fashion, print, and landscape work has long necessitated the use of medium format (and large format) sensors to optimize capture of detail, tonal rendition, dynamic range, and image size necessary for commercial and print work.  With the Nikon D800 and its “sans AA filter” version, the D800E, the commercial and landscape world has been suddenly challenged by a new option, far cheaper  (in terms of body cost), with a wider array of lenses capable of producing remarkable pixel-level detail required for this type of work, and some say, rivaling medium format.  In fact, many individuals are jumping ship from medium format to join the Nikon fray, to provide them with the flexibility of that system, along with better high ISO capacity. Why then, did I disregard this exodus and jump onto a purportedly sinking medium format ship?

Well, actually, the answer boiled down to price and a desire to try something new. SLR’s have been a “been there-done that” thing for me for some time now, and while the D800E would offer the benefit of superior image quality and clarity coupled with 36 plus megapixels of imaging goodness, it still possesses a sensor with far less real estate (by a factor of 1.5) than the sensor provided in the Pentax 645D. Second: Lens prices. After contemplating the price of the 645D, I naturally began an assessment as to how much it would cost to assemble a kit worthy of this sensor. Would lenses be pricey and add dramatically to the cost of my kit? In fact, many excellent Pentax lenses can be found used for between $150 and $650 dollars. I was able to gather a lens kit that included a 35 mm f/3.5 (28 mm 35 mm equivocal focal length), 75 mm f/2.8, 45 mm -85 mm f/4.5 zoon, 120 mm f/4 Macro (one of the best lenses ever made for medium format by many accounts), 150 mm f/2.8, and 400 mm f/5.6 lenses, for less that $3,000 USD.  If I had elected to purchase only manual focus glass, I could have saved at least half of that price and spent $1,500 to assemble a high quality kit for my camera. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually, how well priced heritage Pentax 645 glass is.

In order to purchase a Nikon D800E along with lenses of comparable focal length capable of resolving on its sensor (i.e. high end Nikon glass with nano crystal coatings, or Zeiss ZF glass), I would have had to spend more on lenses..well, truth be told far more…here’s a run down, just for fun (keeping in mind that medium format lenses are not nearly as fast/wide aperture as 35 mm equiv lenses, yet allow shallower DOF for any given focal length. Thus the comparison below is admittedly artificial, but would likely give you perspective on price differential for the “best” option for each system at each 35 mm focal length equivalent. This was the process that I went through, essentially trying to compare the best lens option at each focal length for each system, looking at typical lens prices on the open market

 

35 mm equiv focal length Pentax A or FA lens (MF/AF) Pentax price Nikon/Zeiss  high end lens Nikon price
28 mm 35 mm f/3.5 A $ 600-$ 800 24 mm or 28 mm f/1.4 $2000-2500
35 mm 45-85 mm f/4.5 FA (considered the best option at this focal length, better than the 45 mm f/2.8 FA prime $ 600 35 mm f/1.5 $1,650
50 mm 75 mm f/2.8 FA $ 400 Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 $400-500
90 mm/macro 120 mm f/4 macro A $ 300-400 Zeiss 100 mm f/2 Makro Planar $1800
135 mm 150 mm f/2.8 FA $ 500 Nikon 135 mm f/2 DC $1,300
300 mm 400 mm f/5.6 FA $1200 Nikon 300 mm f/4 $1200

If you do the math, you can imagine that for an equivalent kit, the price of the Nikon body ($3,300 as of this writing) plus lenses is at least comparable to the price of a used 645D with the lenses assembled above. The issue for gearheads like me would be that the Nikon system offers many other tantalizing options, including lovely zooms, tilt-shift lenses, and other options, for which the cost would continue to mount. The Pentax 645D is a far more limited system, in terms of lens diversity, and most lenses are cheaper or of equivalent price to their FX Nikon lens counterparts…what is lost is Nikon’s high ISO capabilities, size benefit, and lens flexibility. What is gained is a larger sensor and the medium format look….I decided to jump onto the Pentax 645D kit, for better or for worse.

A Bit About the Palouse

So, with that quick review of my decision to invest in this system aside, it was off to the Palouse to see if the Pentax 645D was capable of delivering excellent results with the lenses that I had purchased for the system. For those of you who have never been or heard of this region, the Palouse encompasses parts of Souteastern Washington, northwestern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon. It is a major agricultural region producing wheat and various other crops.  The region is also crossed by the Snake River and crosses over with Walla Walla, a region known for it’s lovely wines.  It’s through that the regions dune-like geographic formations were formed during the ice ages, cast from the glacial outwash plains. For years, the Palouse has served as a scenic pilgrimage for landscape photographers for its dramatic and unique geography, and it has long been a beck and call for me, as I mentioned above. Thus, I assembled a crew of like-minded photographers, all whom had previously attended one of Steve’s workshops here in Seattle,.All are now friends within Seattle’s Leica users community. From Seattle, it is a 4.5 journey by car to the western edge of the region. Once there, we were met by a talented local photographer, Ryan McGinty, a friend of mine from Flickr (who also came to know of me through Steve’s site), who has lived in the region for many years and magnificently photographs this region through a well-trained and creative set of eyes. For any of you who haven’t had a chance, please check out Ryan’s images on flickr. You are in for a treat, and you will see the possibilities that this wonderful land has to offer through his images:

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

Our journey to the Palouse began along Washington State Route 26, which is the primary byway that brings people into the heart of the Palouse region from the West. From there, we stopped for breakfast in Colfax, and began a lovely loupe through the scenic byways of the Palouse. During our brief, 24 hour stay in the region, we visited many sites along state routes 27,272, 95, and 195. We passed through the towns of Palouse, Garfield, Colfax, Farmington, Pullman, La Cross, and others. We climbed Steptoe Butte to gather in views of the entire region. Along the way, there were old, abandoned barns, farmhouses left behind, windmills, grain silos, winding roads and paths, statuesque trees, horses and lifestock, and endless fields of grain. At the time of year (June), the color palette was principally made up fo blue, green, gold, with hints of brown, and occasional reds. The chance of the occasional thunder/lightning storm will bring darker swaths of blue, maroon, and magenta into the color mix of the Palouse palette, and evening light can add warm yellows, pinks, and pastels. Wildflowers would sprinkle in occasional batches of vivid color now and again, but by and large, this is a land to be taken in macroscopically at first glance (microscopic will come later)….

The wonderful thing about the region that we saw is that there is usually a remarkable vista over every hill, expanding out towards most horizons. In front of us were endless rolling hills, sunbreaks and cloud shadows spotting and colorizing the views in front of us to add drama.  Further, unlike many regions here, the cloud patterns are truly dramatic, with cloud formations ranging from statuesque cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds to wispy cirrus & stratus clouds, providing ever-shifting perspectives of the scenes in front of us. In a very tangible way. We were busy chasing the right types of light as the day passed, sometimes as the contrast, clarity, color, and luminance changed from moment to moment. It was an exhilarating experience for me, a suddenly eager landscape photographer.

The 645D in the Palouse- A New User Experience

I was very excited to use the Pentax 645D in ths majestic landscape. Along with me came a range of lenses from a 35 mm f/3.5 A (28 mm equivalent in full frame) to a 400 mm f/5.6 (320 mm equiv in full frame). I was excited to use the wider lenses to get close and capture scope, while using my telephoto lenses to compress landscapes, while reaching out to grab far away details. Along the way, I did a bit of chimping on the 645D’s wonderful LCD screen, but my and large, I let fate do the talking hoping that the images that I acquired would be in focus, thus allowing all 40 million pixels to shine. Would these older, heritage lenses hold up? After all, Pentax has only unleashed 2 new lenses, a 55 mm FA and 25 mm FA lens, since the Pentax 645D was released. All other glass available to the camera has been present long since the advent of digital photography. IF there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that digital photography can bring out all of the flaws and softness inherent to imprecise or imperfect lens design or compatibility with the digital sensor. Did my kit of assembled heritage glass work out okay? The answer is…..

A RESOUNDING YES!

I’m psyched. I came home and began to edit my photos on my NEC 27 inch high gamut dual displays, and wham, there it was…detail….lots and lots of detail. The heritage glass did marvelously on the digital sensor, and I must say that I have been more than satisfied the Pentax 645D’s output.

Most images were shot at lower ISO’s, from 200-400, as I had the benefit of a nice tripod (Gitzo 3541L) and ballhead (Arcatech) to stabilize my kit. It should be noted that the 645D incorporates 2 tripod mounts, so that if you add 2 really right stuff brackets to the body, you can rapidly change the camera from portrait to landscape orientation.

The 645D is capable of resolving tiny details at near and far distances. Tiny blades of grass come to life just as much as enormous silos. The Kodak CCD’s sensor (No AA filter) produces remarkable detail, and to my eyes, there’s adequate dynamic range to rescue highlights and shadows in post-processing. White balance is a bit challenged on this camera, however, and thus it would make the most sense to shoot in RAW and post process afterwards.

Speaking of RAW files, they are huge, providing 7264 x 5540 pixels of real estate and file sizes of 80 mb or more. Thus, if you are shooting RAW, make sure to bring adequate memory. I used 16 GB SDHC cards for this trip, but on returning home, I promptly purchased two 32 GB SDHC cards (SanDisk Extreme 45 mb/s) to use and not worry about space.

For the most part, I tried to operate in the wheelhouse apertures of these lenses, stopped down to between f/5.6 and f/11, though I found that Pentax 645 lenses perform admirably even wide open.

Many of you may ask if I am happy with my decision to purchase into this system. Does the medium format experience bond well with a Leica M street photographer? Are the file qualities up to snuff, once one has tasted the M9’s sans-AA filter experience? All that I can say is that I am profoundly satisfied, enough to disregard the Nikon D800, as I am unsure what more image quality that camera can offer, especially given that my trip to the Palouse proved to me that 645 lenses are up to the task of critical digital workflow. Further, I hope that the images provided in this user-experience review communicate how I feel about the camera, and to some degree, what type of image quality the camera is capable of.

 

Concluding thoughts and comments

The Palouse is a beautiful region to visit. It should be on your bucket list, if you are a serious landscape photographer or lover of pastoral scenery. Shooting the region with a Pentax 645D in hand (and on tripod) was a pleasure, and I look forward to returning during another season, when the colors offer a different palate and perspective.Along the way, I found that I was very much impressed by the output of the 645D and its heritage lenses, and I look forward to planning future trips for which the 645D will be taken. I found that the medium format experience is one that can be embraced by someone used to hand holding a discrete kit, when the right opportunity presents itself.

Is the Pentax 645D right for you? Only you can make that decision. For those of you considering a Nikon D800/E for landscape or portrait needs, you may want to consider buying into the Pentax 645D system for a similar cost (depending on your lens selections), as you will be duly rewarded by outstanding image quality, pixel clarity and sharpness, and enormous sensor real-estate.

(From Steve: Anyone interested in a Palouse workshop? A couple of days shooting, learning and getting some amazing images in this beautiful and breathtaking location? If yes, let me know in the comments! If there is enough interest we can set something up!)

645D pro’s

  • Medium format – lots of sensor real estate for BIG prints and BIG crops
  • 40 MP sensor without an anti-aliasing (blur) filter
  • Useable ISO’s ranging from 200-1600
  • Dual tripod mounts
  • Excellent user interface & menu layout (best in class for medium format), making it an easy transition to those familiar with SLR’s and looking to make the jump
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Weather sealing (with an appropriate lens)
  • Outstanding ergonomics (for a medium format camera), including a deeply recessed hand grip
  • Cheap (relatively speaking) selection of Manual and Autofocus lenses, which perform admirably.

 

645D cons

  • Limited ISO range compared to 35 mm
  • Bulky (for a M9 user)
  • Slow image preview times and buffer
  • Slow FPS (1.1 frames/se) make sports or rapid street work difficult
  • Care required to optimize sharpness (every tremble and shake can be easily seen at the pixel level). A stable is a must for critical work
  • Limited number of vendors for Pentax, compared to Canon, Nikon, NEX, or m4/3
  • No AA filter can mean “moire” artifacts are possible (less likely in landscape photography)

 

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