Sep 252014

Three quick test shots from the Petzval Lens on the Sony A7s

Received the gorgeous Petzval lens today and was expecting it to be soft and low contrast. Hmmm. Not on the Sony A7s. This is a crazy lens and reminds me a ton of the Canon Dream Lens I just re-visited. Like, a lot. This is a GOOD thing. Really good. With just four quick test shots I know it will deliver that dreamy artsy look that I love on some occasions, and the best part is that it is so easy to use and focus on the Sony A7s. A breeze to focus. I am using the Nikon mount version with an adapter for use on the Sony and it is a joy to use. I will be doing a full review of this lens in the next two weeks but for now, due to about 10 requests via email, I will post the 4-5 test shots I snapped in my yard today. This will give you an idea of how it renders an image. VERY classic, VERY dreamy, VERY intense. It is an 85mm f/2.2 lens and based/re-created from the 1839 version of the lens. This lens was considered the 1st successful portrait lens back then and now it has been recreated and it offers up the same look and swirly bokeh as the original.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.35.04 PM

FULL review soon. Will be shooting in Vegas with this guy, the Leica X and more next week. I have to say…this A7s from Sony is such an amazing camera capable of using so many lenses and with its low light and full frame abilities, it may just very well be my favorite camera. I am able to shoot the well corrected and modern Sony/Zeiss lenses, manual Leica M mount lenses, old screw mount classics and so many more including this unique Petzval lens. I would NOT want to use this lens on a DSLR, the mounts they made it for..would be too hard to focus. With the A7s’s large EVF it is easy to nail focus using the peaking (which is how these were all shot).

This one came to me from as they are now a Lomo dealer, and they have this lens in stock at $599. From its unique packaging, styling, design, heft, and rendering of course.






Sep 102014


Shooting Ephemerisle 2014 with the Sony A7S and a Voigtlander 35mm f1.2

By Judd Weiss – Visit his site HERE

Most places I go lately, I am the best photographer around. But I come to Steve Huff’s site and community specifically because here I am definitely not the best photographer. I’m learning fast, but I’m relatively new to photography, upgrading from a point and shoot to the original Sony NEX 3 only about 4 years ago. Discovering Steve’s site almost 3 years ago was a major turning point in my photography. I started taking it more seriously when I saw what you guys were up to. I’ve been inspired. The daily inspirations that so many of you have contributed has made me rethink what I’m doing with the camera I’m holding. I’ve never taken any photography classes, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t received an education. This community around Steve Huff’s blog is one of the greatest influences on my development as a photographer. So thank you to all who have contributed their vision and creations here. I am very grateful. (Thank you Judd!! Steve)

I’d like to also make a contribution, from my favorite work yet. I shot this entire set of photos with the new amazing Sony Alpha A7S full frame mirrorless camera, with a manual Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens. That combo allowed me to achieve low light shots never before possible in the history of photography. Ephemerisle was the perfect event to test out what the Sony A7S can handle in extreme low light. And the Sony A7S was the perfect camera to capture the experience of the dark glowy night that made Ephemerisle shine.


These shots are unapologetically processed, and I admit I went a bit intense with the colors, but I wanted to, to accurately reflect the surreal nature of Ephemerisle. Some of these photos are a little abstract, but believe me when I tell you those are very true to the experience. What a visual experience! Ephemerisle was incredible. I did the best I could to run around and convey what it was like to be there, over stimulated by this new beautiful foreign universe everywhere you looked.

It’s fair to think of Ephemerisle like Burning Man on the water. Imagine a bunch of RVs at Burning Man connected together, but floating. With dance stage platforms between them.


I think Ephemerisle was the most exciting and fun time I have had, that didn’t involve a girl, since maybe my college days. I loved running around in that crazy dream world meeting the cast of characters you’ll see in the photos below.

I’m not saying Ephemerisle is better than Burning Man. There’s no way an event of a couple hundred people can in any way rival the scope and all the amazingness of the 50,000+ strong Burning Man festival. But I will say that I enjoyed Ephemerisle more. I loved Burning Man, but the desert is a harsh place. No doubt the sea can be unforgiving as well, but I was very happy to trade an over abundance of dust for an over abundance of water.

No way I would bring my beloved new Sony A7S and Voigtlander lens to get ruined by the intense barrage of fine dust on the Burning Man playa.

 Shot at 12,800 ISO


Burning Man is incredible as it lights up the middle of the desert nowhere into an epic glorious city; being out in the middle of the water nowhere, lit up only by the most amazing glowy party you’ve ever seen, Ephemerisle too is a bright beacon of a testament to our evolutionary progress, while floating over the type of early ocean microbes of life that began it all. How far we’ve come, to create such a stunning atmosphere. A cool blend of excitement and serenity. Like Burning Man, being at Ephemerisle confronts you to face both our fragility and our promise that can only be truly seen in an intentional community that has left many of the comfortable constraints of modern society.

Stylistically people often compare Ephemerisle with Water World, and you can see where that’s coming from, only this wasn’t dystopian. Whatever was rough around the edges wasn’t post-apocalyptic, it was prototype. This is from the future, clearly. These are experiences our grandchildren will inherit when they are our age. But it’s a beautiful future. When the sun goes down, we light up even brighter. Humans evolved from a state of continual starvation in a struggle to survive among brutal nature, and now we master the harshest environments to throw parties of abundance like this for recreation. Humans have no shortage of serious problems, but it’s things like Ephemerisle that compel me to acknowledge our bright future of possibilities ahead.


You might think I’m hyperbolizing a little much. And if I hadn’t been there, that’s totally what I would think while reading this. But there’s a reason for these reflections of anthropological grandeur. Ephemerisle is comprised of exactly the group of intellectuals, business leaders, and artists who are focused daily on the topic of our evolutionary potential as a species. These ARE the people consciously working to design a more beautiful future for all of us. What a treat it is to see one of their early prototypes. And I have to say, I’m in love with this particular prototype they call Ephemerisle.

I’ve got to thank everyone involved for coming together to create Ephemerisle. They made these photos. I just captured what I saw as well as I could. Their vision created this reality. Congratulations to all of their beautiful minds. These photos are my humble tribute.

Ok guys, get ready to watch the colors move…………

The full album and original post can be found on my blog here:

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Note: The widely acclaimed Canon 5D MIII could not have achieved many of these shots. For example: The below shot, while not the cleanest photo in history, was shot at 51,200 ISO (!!) at 1/125 second, handheld from a bobbing moving boat in the dark. It was challenging to stand, and hard to see clearly, let alone to take a clean photo. Try to get anything remotely usable in those conditions with another camera setup.


Again, the below shot is not perfectly clean and crisp, but it was shot at 32,000 ISO from a moving bobbing boat.


I love how the camera rendered the daytime shots as well.






































Jul 272013


Taking the Nikon 1 to Dream Land with a 25 1.4 C-Mount $29 lens!

The Nikon V1 is an interchangeable lens camera. We all know this fact, but what many do not know is that you can use many other lenses, old lenses, 3rd party lenses, and even Leica lenses on the V1 using certain adapters. IMO, it is a waste of money and glass to use expensive Leica lenses on the V1 or 1 system cameras due to the 2.7 crop that robs the beauty from the lens. For example,  a 35mm summicron would turn into a 90 and you would lose the magic of the lens which was designed for full frame. Many complain about the 1 system and the difficulties of achieving “Bokeh” or out of focus backgrounds (shallow depth of field) with the standard Nikon 1 lenses. There are two that will deliver this for you but one is expensive at $900 (the 32 1.2) and one is under $200 but will still lack a little in the Bokeh department unless you are shooting up close. That lens is the fantastic 18.5 1.8.

Still, those lenses may not deliver the blur that many “power bokeh junkies”  want. There is a reason many people pay $11k for a 50mm Noctilux and yes, 99% of all Noctilux users shoot that thing at f/0.95 as it was designed and optimized to do.  Luckily, there is a crazy way to get extreme Bokeh on the 1 system cameras with the use of a $29 lens that is sold on Amazon, by Amazon. It is in NO WAY anything like a Nocti, but hey, for $29 what do you expect?

UPDATE: Yesterday I posted the image below asking ALL of you to guess which camera and lens took the photo.

MANY of you said Leica M 240 and various lenses from vintage glass like the Summarit to the $11,000 Noctilux to the 50 1.5 Nokton. I mean, a ton of you said Leica M, which is a full frame camera! This tells me that many associate crazy massive Bokeh with Leica and/or full frame. Crazy what we will see when we do not know what took the image :)

Others said the Nikon V1 and 32 1.2, but even that lens would not render anywhere close to this way. What you see below if you look closely is crazy melted bokeh and soft corners. The Leica modern lenses would be crisp and sharp in the corners and the Nikon 32 1.2 would be as well. Some vintage glass renders in this way on the Leica M 240 and yes, the colors below do look comparable to the Leica M 240 but this came from the V1 and the $29 25 1.4 C-Mount lens with the $10 adapter :)


Yep, the 25 1.4 C-Mount generic lens from Amazon sold by Rainbow Imaging. It is not a sharp lens, it is not made very well, it is tiny and yes, it is a C-mount lens that costs $29 and is a 25 1.4 lens that delivers softness, dreaminess and crazy Bokeh that some will find interesting and others will find not so interesting. To check out the lens at Amazon, click HERE. It comes with an adapter for Micro 4/3 so you will need the $10 Nikon 1 Adapter. So for $39 total you can add a 25 1.4 lens to your stable, though like I said, it is cheaply made, very soft and on the Nikon 1, can only be  used in full manual mode which means manual focus, manual aperture and manual shutter speed. It’s not a lens for those that want speed and convenience, it is for those who like to take an artsy shot every now and again.



C-Mount lenses are made for TV cameras and are known to be TINY but FAST in aperture. In fact, you can buy new high quality C-Mount lenses at B&H Photo. They even sell a 25 0.95 but it goes for $1500. Using a C-Mount to Nikon 1 adapter that you can BUY HERE at Amazon for $10 you can mount a C-Mount lens to your Nikon 1 camera. Not all C-Mount lenses will work well but when looking you need to find one that is made for 16mm. This will then cover the Nikon 1 imaging sensor. Many Nikon 1 users are expirimenting with such lenses as are Micro 4/3 owners. These lenses work very well on these smaller sensor cameras. When I say “very well” I mean, they work..but the results will be crazy in many situations, and some will be beautiful. All depends on the eye of the beholder.


So for those Nikon 1 shooters who do not want to spend $900 on the 32 1.2, which will give you sharpness, light gathering, 85mm equivalent and a fast aperture with plenty of Bokeh, for $40 you can have a tiny setup that will give you plenty of (crazy) bokeh BUT NOT SO MUCH Sharpness, not so good of build and a lens that will not focus to infinity :)  Still, when I saw this I had to try it so I could pass along the results here. For a $40 investment, the results are not bad at all! In fact, they do indeed look like some of the results I get from the full frame Leica M with really old 50mm glass.



Wrap up: The lens is available at Amazon HERE, and is prime eligible for $29 and it comes with a Micro 4/3 adapter so you can use it on your Micro 4/3 camera. Amazon prime members even get free 2 day ship! The Nikon 1 adapter needed for use on a Nikon 1 camera is also Prime eligible and is HERE. If anyone buys this set for use on the Nikon 1, you must put the camera into manual mode for it to work, otherwise you will get the warning message on the screen that a lens needs to be attached. So manual aperture, shutter speed and focus. Once you have your meter set, it is as easy as pie to use. I’ll add more images to the Nikon 1 gallery as I get them.

Have fun!



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

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :) More info is here on how you can help! If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter, my facebook fan page and now GOOGLE +

Jul 262013

Just for fun! It’s Friday, the weekend is here and I have had some fun today shooting with another new toy :) I posted this to my facebook page earlier and asked readers to “name the camera and the lens”! There have been MANY guesses there ranging from Leica M, to Sony RX1, to the newly announced Lomo Pretzval lens. I figured I would also post it here for fun to see if anyone could guess the camera and the lens used for this. If you have a guess, leave it in the comments. Tomorrow I will post more from this camera/lens combo and spill the beans on what it is.

Have fun!

UPDATE: Answer is posted HERE

Can you guess the camera and the lens used for this image? If so, take your best guess in the comments!



It is NOT the Nikon V1 and 35 1.2 or 18.5

It is NOT the Leica M 240 and Noctilux

It is NOT the Sony RX1

It is NOT the Olympus E-P5 or OM-D with 20 1.7

It is NOT the Samsung NX300 and 30 f/2

It is NOT the Leica X Vario

What is it? Find out tomorrow afternoon! :)

Jun 032013


The Canon 50mm f/0.95 “Dream Lens”  – An amazing dreamy classic 50mm on the M 240

Imagine a 50mm f/0.95 lens for your Leica M that is not as front heavy as the Leica Noctilux f/0.95 nor as expensive but yet is able to put out beautiful and some would say, even more artistic results. Imagine a lens that can give you subtly sharp performance and f/0.95 with a little glow added in for effect , great contrast and nice pastel like color. A lens that does not flare easily and a lens that has almost no purple fringing/CA, even wide open. I have found just a lens, and thanks to a reader of this site I have one in hand for evaluation and possible purchase. (if I want it as he is selling it).

See the video below to see the lens, hear my thoughts and see it next to a 50 Summicron.

The lens I speak of is the Canon 50 f/0.95 “Dream Lens”. I believe it has been dubbed a dream lens by the community of users who own one and while it was never made in Leica mount or Leica screw mount, there are some that have been modified for use on a Leica M, meaning, an M mount with 6 bit coding installed so it can be easily mounted and used on your M with full RF coupling and focusing. This is not a typical Canon lens, as it can not be used on an EOS or Canon DSLR. It was built as a rangefinder lens and will only work on rangefinder cameras.

The version I have here with me is almost flawless…I would say a 8-9 out of 10. It focuses silky smooth and spot on perfect with my M 240’s rangefinder, even wide open. No back focus, no front focus, no focus shift. In fact, its focus is so spot on, it does better (focusing) than the Noctilux I was using with the M 240 a while back. Not sure how that is possible but what I have here is a  gem indeed. I recently tested the Canon 50 1.2 and enjoyed it but this one, to me, is a whole new ball game.

In fact, I have never seen or touched or used a lens like it. For some reason it has a rep for low contrast and softness, and in my copy, this could not be further from the truth. If you get a good clean copy free of haze or fungus, with clean scratch free glass then you have a potential character masterpiece for your Leica M camera that is capable of artsy shallow depth of field images or sharp images when stopped down.

It has shown me that my M can do things I never knew it could and the results truly do fit the nickname given for this lens as for many, it would indeed be a “Dream Lens”. I guess if this one is a dream, the Noctilux would be a “Fantasy Lens” for most. The Canon can be found for $2200 and up these days yet the Leica is $11k new or $7-8k used.

If you can find one in M mount that is clean, free of fungus and haze or scratches, SNAG IT. If you can find one in general that is decently clean, SNAG IT and have it modified by Don Goldberg (DAG). He can clean it up, adjust it and modify it for M mount use. That is, if you like what it does. If you hate the lens signature then it is not even worth $100.


What I am saying to you here is exactly what I feel and I am blown away by this lens but not because it is perfect or beats the Leica 0.95 as it does not technically come close to that lens. But truth be told, even the Noctilux can not give you what this lens does. I speak alot about “Character” with these old lenses but this lens has the most unique Character I have seen from any 50mm, ever. Yes, we all have personal tastes and my taste buds LOVE what this lens puts out at 0.95. Yes, every image below was shot WIDE OPEN at 0.95. The good thing is that by f/1.4 it gets even sharper and by f/2 it is very very sharp, but the edges to remain somewhat soft. It is not a lens for any kind of photography where you need sharp performance across the frame.

But it is indeed a fat HUNK OF GLASS! Fatter than the Nocti but also much shorter than the 0.95 so it does not feel front heavy, not at all. But it is nowhere near as light and nimble as a 50 Cron :) Some 1st test images from the lens below, which is all I really have right now from the lens. When it arrived I took it out to test it with the usual suspects, my Fiancee Debby and our dogs :)

The 1st image has the glow, the contrast and the sharpness all at 0.95. The color is bold here but I like it like that. Click it for larger and better view.



The B&W conversion on the 240 with this lens is very nice. If you click the image you can see the subject is sharp but not clinical. The background just turns to mush.



At 0.95 and this time I used the EVF to capture my little dog scratching her back. If you click the image you will see detail and smoothness as well as great color. 



No DOF here but the image is sharp, nicely rendered and the color is spot on. My older guy doing what he does 23 hours day these days. 



Once again Debby posing for my camera without complaining :) Check out the wicked glow and the way the background is rendered. This is one of the most “Artistic” lenses I have ever shot with. No, it IS the most artistic lens I have ever shot with. Period.



I focused on the rake handle where the text is and again, this is wide open at 0.95. The fence and trees in the back look like a painting. AMAZING. Canon should remake  this lens for M mount (of course it would never happen, so I suggest finding one of these to snag while you can).



Some are going to go bananas over the rendering of this lens and others will say it looks like a pile of dung. It is 100% personal preference. When I look at what this lens together with the M240 can do and then go back and look at what the Noctilux sort of prefer the imperfections and beauty of this lens! Call me insane but I judge lenses by what they can do, not how much they cost.  This lens has it all..Color, Unique Bokeh, A smooth as butter rendering, subtlety, and even the design and feel is quality. At the same time, the Noctilux is perfection, like a 50 Lux ASPH in steroids that will give you sharp performance across the frame if  that is what you want. This lens will NOT do this for you. This lens is really a one trick pony and delivers its signature look at 0.95.


To me, this lens is a rare 50mm masterpiece. If you enjoy shooting at very large apertures, and can not swing the cash for the technically perfect Noctilux this can be an option for f/0.95 at the lowest price yet, BUT…


If you do not, I suggest sending it in to DAG for a clean, lubricate and adjustment as well as a full conversion to M mount. You will then have something that will produce the rendering that you see here. I have seen images from this lens that did not impress me and I now realize it was either due to being a bad lens, out of alignment RF or both.

Testing sharpness with critical EVF focusing. Focus was on my eye at 0.95. Plenty sharp for me.


I also predict that in 3-5 years the value of this guy will shoot up as to my eyes it puts out more such unique images that no other lens can touch. This lens is an artists lens capable of magic as well as a more modern look when you stop it down. But it is a large lens and makes my 50 cron look like a newborn baby 50mm side by side. A  good combo to have would be this lens and a 50 cron. One for the times you want pop and sharpness and one for the times you want melty creamy dreamy.


This lens is well made, focuses smooth as silk and the aperture dial has just the right amount of stiffness. Nothing is to tough to move or too easy. When people see this on my camera they ask me what it is as they are amazed at the huge front element. It looks impressive but is NOT stealthy in any way. But it is built well and my copy, for being so old is still in top notch condition.

This lens has a 72mm filter thread and weighs in at 605g. It is not light but not killer heavy either. It has 7 elements in 5 groups with a 10 blade diaphragm.


How sharp is it at f/0.95?

Take a look at the image above. Click it for a large size with 100% crop. This image was shot wide open at 0.95 and has decent but not clinical sharpness. It has a softer type of detail with a much desired glow which helps to give it that classic charm. Take another closer look at the image below by clicking on it. You will see that I focused on the grass on the dogs chest, which is decently sharp but again, with a soft glow. This is NOT a clinical lens, not at all. It has sharpness wide open but a pleasant sharpness. Also, the depth of field is so shallow at 0.95 you are working with a VERY thin plane of focus. So when you look at an image from this lens your 1st thought may be “that is soft” when in reality, you are looking at all of the out of focus qualities of the lens.


Quick Compare! Leica 50 Summicron f/2 vs Canon 0.95 at f/2

I shot the same scene at f/2 with each lens to see how sharp the Canon can be at f/2. I was not disappointed but did find that at f/2 the camera chose 1/1000s and with the cron attached the camera chose 1/500s. Also, to my eyes, the color of the cron shot has a yellowish cast and the Canon does not. This is direct from camera, RAW files. Click them for the full size files. The DOF of the Canon appears slightly more shallow as well. NOTE: The Canon is coded as a Leica Noctilux ASPH.



What can you expect to pay for a good clean M mount copy?

Anywhere from $2400-$3600 and up. I have seen them go for $2500 and I have seen them go for $4300 all depending on condition, what is included, etc. The copy I have was recently modified and cleaned/adjusted so it is working great. Using the EVF with the M 240 has been a godsend for ever so critical focus as well. If you can find one of these in good shape, and you like the character, as I said earlier, snag it up!

The next few were shot in a grocery store in horrible lighting where it is almost impossible to get good colors






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

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :) More info is here on how you can help even if you are NOT in the USA as I have Amazon links to GermanyUnited Kingdom and Canada as well!

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Jan 072013



The Ultimate Leica M Super Fast 50/60mm standard lens battle

by Kristian Dowling – His website is HERE

While Greek mythology brought us the Titans, it was the Germans who applied the Titan qualities to their cars and cameras. Like any good battle, the Japanese also made their presence known with their own version of Samurai. Fast lenses are like fast cars, and when considering both, they share the same kinds of adjectives like ‘exotic, alluring, superlative, amazing, glamorous, extraordinary, unique and unusual’. Both fast cars and fast lenses have an appeal for their ability to give its operator more speed, control and power. To photographers wanting to express their vision through shallow depth of field, the ultra fast lens is a valuable tool, as it enables you to narrow the vision to the exact precise focus position within a frame. But there is much more than subject isolation to think about when analyzing a fast lens. Different lenses exhibit different and unique characters in the way they draw both the focused and defocused areas, and there is no better way to explore this area than by comparing the world’s top Titans.

For the Leica M Rangefinder, the top competitors include lenses from Leica, Konica, Canon, Nikon, Zunow, Fuji, Voigtlander and many more. These fast lenses are large and heavy compared to their slower f/1.4-f/2.8 counterparts, so not exactly great all round lenses, as their qualities are focused around shooting at maximum aperture. They are also very expensive and often the buyer/user may have misconceptions about their perceived performance. Manufacturing a lens that performs consistently throughout all its apertures is the general goal of lens designers, and the faster the lens, the more challenges there are. Therefore there are a few compromises that need to be made. Fast lenses are often not so well corrected for field curvature and/or distortion. Field curvature in this case is an attribute often enjoyed by fast lens users as it can accentuate the effect of the out of focus areas (bokeh), as most notable in the Noctilux 50/1, which is often referred to as the ‘dream lens’, for it’s dream-like, swirly bokeh signature. Often, one caveat of this is that shooting off-center subjects can lead to focus difficulty, especially with a rangefinder where you need to focus in the center, then recompose. I am sure many photographers who have used these kinds of lenses on a rangefinder will tend to agree with such experiences, often resulting in miss-focused and spoiled shots.


I was fortunate enough to have access to the top players in this field in Chiang Mai, Thailand, so decided to put them to the test.


Therefore in this article I will focus my attention to three main factors:

• Bokeh – the way the out of focus areas look and feel.

• Sharpness and contrast around the focus point.

• Signature/Character – the way the lens renders/draws.

• Color – shifting from warm to cold depending on the lens design, coatings used and age of lens.


Here are the top 5 most sought after lenses for the M System being tested.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 (Hermes edition used for test)


• Released in 2008 for regular production

• Current street price US$10,450 (regular black version)

• This is the largest lens in the group with excellent handling and the best build quality. Has a built in hood and is quite easy to focus.

• This lens was manufactured with modern lens design so I expect the sharpness and contrast to be excellent wide open with neutral bokeh. From my own experience owning this lens, it is extremely well corrected for such a fast lens and doesn’t exhibit many flaws except for purple fringing wide open against bright light sources.


Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2


• Released in 1976 with production limited to only 1700 units

• Current street price US$20,000+

• Leica’s first Noctilux is quite small in size, closer to the Summilux than the Noctilux f/1.

• I have yet to use this lens and as Leica’s first Noctilux, I expect contrast to be low and sharpness average, but possibly better than the f/1 Noct as f/1.2 lenses are easier to produce. I’m really not sure what to expect from the bokeh – possibly a little messy.


Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1


• Released 1976-2008 for regular production with several cosmetic changes during this time

• Current street price US$5,000+

• Quiet a large lens, slightly smaller than the Noct 0.95 but bigger than it’s older 1.2 brother, with average handling and slightly difficult focus.

• Known for it’s dreamy bokeh and slightly soft rendering I’ve always felt this lens is a one trick pony and best used with subjects centered due to the large amount of field curvature.


Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Original DesignDSC_1653

• Released 1956 for limited production with numbers unknown, but very rare

• Current street price US$13,000+

• A small lens for it’s design with nice handling and very smooth aperture transition. It’s a screw mount lens so requires a screw to M mount adapter, preferably with 50mm lens frame selection.

• I have never used this lens before but due to it’s age I expect very low contrast wide open. I have no idea about it’s potential for sharpness.


Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design


• Released 1998 with production limited to only 800 units

• Current street price US$12,000+

• Small in size, similar to the Noctilux 50/1.2, the Hexanon

• Like it’s older brother, it’s a screw mount lens so requires a screw to M mount adapter, preferably with 50mm lens frame selection.

• Unlike it’s older brother it was designed with modern lens design, optimized for excellent sharpness and contrast at wide apertures. This lens was made famous by street photographer Yanick Delafoge I always say “pictures sell lenses” and Yanick’s amazing street pictures from his travels around the world have single handedly raised the value of this lens from $3k to $7k+ in a matter of a few years. According to Yanick, this lens is the sharpest standard lens at f/1.4, and from my own experience owning this lens, I would be confident agreeing with him.


Testing parameters:

• Camera used in test is the Leica M9 and (some) M Monochrom, all shot in manual exposure for consistency. Exposure will be adjusted to lighting changes.

• No tripod used as this is a field test, not an MTF or resolution test

• 3 hour time frame with model and lenses available for testing

• All exposures were recorded on paper with filename/lens used

• All images were shot wide open at maximum aperture of each lens, ranging from f/0.95 to f/1.2.


Testing restrictions:

• Testing was done outside in the field so lighting changes in strength and color temperature will occur.

• No testing for CA/purple fringing on color digital sensors.

• No comparison of the lenses at the same apertures, which all would share at f/1.2 and up. Comparisons are for wide open to establish their ‘individual’ maximum abilities and characteristics.

• Such lenses are favoured for their abilities in low light as they allow both a lower ISO and/or higher shutter speeds, but I will not be testing for this.

• No testing these lenses for flare/internal reflections against strong light sources such as the sun. It is fair to assume that the newer the lens, the better the coatings and thus, better performance in such situations.

• No testing for distortion. I expect all lenses to exhibit average to poor distortion control and high field curvature as most fast lenses are designed this way due to the compromises needed in fast lens design.

• Lenses may suffer from slight sample variation, and therefore may not be 100% representative of the lens in general.


Individual Results – click images for full size files

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95


I really like this lens. Its size is large but handles very well and focus is super smooth. It has a sliding built in hood that rotates and locks in, just like it’s smaller brother, the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH.

I used it on production sets in Hollywood, and enjoyed this lens for it’s ability to represent a scene faithfully, meaning that it has minimal aberrations and field curvature, especially for having such a large f/0.95 maximum aperture. Out of focus elements are represented clearly and without much distortion. This is a very well corrected lens and is my recommendation for those needing a super fast lens for professional client work. Those looking to use this lens for ‘bokeh effect’ should look at other lenses that produce results with less perfection, such as the painterly Hexanon 60/1.2 V2.

Colors were noticeably warmer from this lens and sharpness wide open was exemplary. Contrast was also very high for the 0.95 aperture, matching its sharpness nicely. I would say that at f/0.95, it almost matches the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH at f/1.4.


Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2


I really like this lens’s size to performance ratio. It’s the smallest lens in the group and renders in a neutral way, leaning slightly towards the newer f/1 version with a hint of ‘dream-like’ rendering.

Being the most expensive lens in this group, I had quite high expectations and hope for sharpness, so I was a little disappointed when I saw softness wide open, and felt the rendering to be a slightly softer character than both the Noct f/1 and the slower Summilux f/1.4. To best describe it’s drawing, I would say it’s a cross between the Noct f/1 and the f/0.95 with a soft rendering. For the money, I would have liked to see a little more character from this lens.

Colors were a little on the warm side which is not a bad thing. Contrast was quite high for such an old lens, which does help raise the perception of sharpness, when the reality is that it’s a little soft wide open at f/1.2.


Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1


I’ve had a lot of experience with this lens before and have bought and sold it a few times due to it being more of a ‘one-trick-pony’. By that I mean it isn’t so great when stopped down so it’s only really good for shooting wide open to create that ‘dream-like’ effect that has made this lens so famous. I am referring more to the way its bokeh is rendered than actual ‘glow’ as seen from older vintage lenses like the Hexanon 60/1.2 V1.

Due to it’s high field curvature and lack of correction for aberrations, the out of focus areas are very smooth, giving a rounded circular effect, especially noticeable when framing subjects in the center of the frame with a symmetrical background. The focus point isn’t what I’d call sharp, but more so ‘sharp-enough’, and a good step forward from the older and softer Noctilux f/1.2 version.

Focus isn’t as smooth as the Noctilux f/0.95 and the focus throw feels longer in use so I found handling to be a little slow. It’s also quite large and heavy but is also quite modern in the way it draws. It has neutral color balance and has medium contrast wide open, which works well for the way it renders bokeh. Overall, it was a nice improvement from the f/1.2 model it replaced.


Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Original Design


I was super excited to try this lens. I’ve only ever seen two for sale and this is one of them, acquired by Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this lens except for low contrast because I’ve never seen samples from it before, even on film. What surprised me most was the size of this lens. It’s very small and built very well, as you’d expect from Konica.

Out of all the lenses, this is my favorite, due to it’s unique glow qualities, but with excellent sharpness underneath the glow. Contrast is very low, which makes it fantastic on a camera like the M Monochrom, but not as great on the M9. It takes a bit of adjusting to processing these pictures to a modern state of contrast, especially in color. With the lower contrast comes more shadow detail, which was very welcomed when using this on the M Monochrom.


Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design


Out of all these lenses, I would have to rate this lens as the most sought after lens in the M line for users wanting a unique lens that delivers outstanding performance. I have also owned this lens before and it has been the best overall standard lens I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning and using. It’s handling is fantastic. While not being a small lens, it fits well in the hand and focuses very smoothly. It’s also noticeably lighter than the Noct f/1 and f/0.95 lenses.

Sharpness and contrast is medium to high and works beautifully with the way it renders out of focus areas. Just for reference, this lens sharpens up considerably at f/1.4. What I like most about this lens is the way it renders the bokeh. It’s smooth, but with a painterly quality of smaller circles that have more edge definition than those of the Noct variety. Compared to the V1, the V2 is a very different lens. It’s more modern design makes it a great all round lens in any situation. I love the way it draws using natural colors, compared to the extra warm Noct 0.95. They just seem to look more natural to my eyes.



Hexanon 60/1.2 V1 vs V2







ALL compared

60 V1



60 V2



Leica 50 f/0.95



50 f/1



50 f/1.2



100% Crop Comparison



Leica Monochrome Comparison of ALL

I was fortunate to be able to shoot some of the Padaung Long Long Neck Karen people as they were visiting the Manadarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi hotel for the New Years celebrations. They have never left their village before and it was such a privilege to meet and photography them.


Noctilux 50 0.95



Noctilux 50 f/1



Noctilux 50 f/1.2



Hexanon 60 1.2 V1



Hexanon 60 1.2 V2



Conclusion and thoughts about the lenses and applications

Let me be blunt. It is impossible to pic a winner in this clash of the titans. While there is no doubt that the Noctilux 0.95 is the Zeus of this bunch, there is so much more to a lens than just technical perfection. The Hexanon lenses pack a punch that’s well above their weight grade, albeit in different ways, and the Noct f/1 and f/1.2 are truly unique lenses that have their own strengths and abilities that will be very compelling to photographers.

The best way to summarize the their rankings is with the table below.


In application, these lenses are very difficult to focus, especially for newcomers to rangefinders. With such shallow depth of field, the plane of focus is so narrow that recomposing can cause major issues for maintaining focus until the point of exposure. I would advise that photographers use the focus bracketing technique where you take 3-5 exposures, each at a slightly different focus distance. This can be achieved by either shifting focus ever so slightly in front and behind the focus point, or shifting the camera forwards and backwards, again, every so slightly.

The more important the shot, the more exposures you should take. In general, you should aim to keep your focus point more front-focused than back-focused. Most recomposed shots by Leica photographers suffer from back-focus, so try to move slightly backwards after recomposing and your hit rate will increase. Also, front-focused images tend to look better than back-focused ones, in my opinion.

As a photography coach I always stress one important factor to my students – The photographer should be very mindful of one important factor when using these ultra fast lenses…..a blurred background does not necessarily make the photo a better picture! It’s very easy to get carried away, focusing on the bokeh attributes of a picture, when in fact, the background may be of high importance to the subject and may require some depth of field to establish the relationship between subject/background. Take history’s best pictures for example. I can’t think of many that were shot with such shallow depth of field. The background is a very important element to a photographer and should be taken seriously when creating pictures.

I see the use of fast aperture lenses in a similar way that I view using fisheye lenses. Shooting fast lenses at their maximum aperture is a novelty technique that should be used carefully, and not too often, unless for portraiture use where the background is not so relevant to the subject. I’d rather increase my hit rate of focus by stopping down a little to counter any potential focus issues, than missing focus all together and ruining the shot. Fast lenses also have apertures that extend to around f/16 for a reason (wink). So I recommend shooting wide open all you like, but for important pictures, also take a frame or two stopped down 1-2 stops.

Lastly lets not forget that when a photographer has the opportunity and privilege to herald one of these incredible lenses, it is still his responsibility to make the picture great, using all the usual photographic techniques to create the best picture possible. No lens in the world, no matter how sharp, how amazing the bokeh, will not make a great photo – that my friends if the responsibility of the photographer!

Testing equipment provided by Khun Suchet

Models: Tukta from Chiang Mai, and a member of the Karen people, Padaung tribe, Burma.

Location: courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Dec 022011

Voigtlander Nokton 35 1.2 Aspherical II Lens review on the Leica M9

By Steve Huff

With the rising costs and seemingly impossible chance of seeing the “IN STOCK” notice on current Leica lenses, those of us who shoot with a Leica M camera are constantly on the lookout for used deals, bargains, and some of us with fatter wallets are even finding  “UN-Bargains” with jacked up pricing on hard to find lenses. Many of us who are forever attached to our Leicas sometimes forget that we have options in the world of lenses that will mount onto our cameras. While Leica glass IS the best glass to shoot on your Leica M, there are lenses from Zeiss and Voigtlander (see all of my Leica reviews here) that cost much less than their Leica counterpart and can give really great results with our beloved M’s. For most of us mere mortals it can be hard to buy a $7-$8000 camera body followed by a $5000 lens.

Let me get this clear up front: I LOVE LEICA GLASS. Period. They set the standard for quality and that is indeed a fact. If you deny this fact you are simply in denial or obviously never used lenses like the 28 Summicron, 35 Summicron, 50 Summilux ASPH or even the 50 Noctilux ASPH. Leica M glass is expensive but it is the best in the world of 35mm photography and the size is just right as well. Small and solid. The best thing about Leica is their glass as that has always stood the test of time. The big problem these days is the lack of available lenses as well as the cost. That leaves many of us M shooters without lenses but as I already stated, we have options!

While I have not been a huge fan of some of the Voigtlander lenses I do applaud them for releasing some of their superb lenses like the 50 Nokton f 1.1, the classical rendering 35 1.4, and even the 15mm wide angle. Voigtlander has been releasing some very fine lenses lately and today I am going to write about and share my experience with one of the best lenses, if not THE best “M” mount lens that they make, the new 35mm Nokton f/1.2 ASPH Version II. Yes, 1.2!

The 1st version of this lens was loved and adored by many who owned it for it’s unique qualites and low light abilities. Images from the Nokton always had a sort of interesting creamy artistic feel and I shot with one for 2 weeks over two years ago with the intent on reviewing it. At the time I had only a Leica M8 and the copy of the Nokton I had was not focusing right so I never did review it. It was also very large and fat and seeing that I already had a Leica 35 Lux that I was in love with I was not really into the Nokton so much. The super fast 1.2 aperture did intrigue me, and I was seeing some great results form others who was using the lens but like I said, it was not focusing correctly so I never could get into it.

When I did get an in focus shot the rendering I saw was almost like a 50 Noctilux f/1 because of the crop factor of the M8, (but not quite) and at under $1000 it was a nice lens if you could not afford the Leica Summilux, and you got one that focused correctly.

So here we are in 2011, almost 2012, and Voigtlander reworked this lens as a version II because they said the old version was too hard to make. Hmmm. Does this mean version I is the more desirable lens? I was not so sure but I was attracted to Version II because it is a little smaller and thinner (though not by much really) and from what I have heard even sharper when shot wide open, which to me is important.

One of the key reasons Leica glass seems so magical is because it is so damn sharp at its maximum widest aperture. When you have your subject in such sharp focus with the background blurred out so smoothly it translates into a somewhat unique and, as some say, “magical” image.

With the previous Version I of this lens I could never get that look because it just did not have the ultimate sharpness wide open like a Leica 35 Summilux did at 1.4. So how is version II? Read on and I will share my real world experience with this lens from Voigtlander in words and photos, but this one will be kept short as there is only so much I can say in a real world lens review.

The Nokton wide open at f/1.2 – click image for larger. Focus was on his eye.


The 35mm Focal Length – A Classic

A Leica M9 kit does not seem complete without a 35mm lens. There are so many great choices available in the 35mm world and my personal favorite has always been the Leica 35 Summilux. The newest FLE version of the lens is spectacular with a modern draw and amazing 3D separation and depth. It’s just about as perfect of a 35mm lens as you can get in my opinion and when I say “perfect”, I mean the qualities of the images from the lens are just about perfect. Sharp, great micro contrast, fantastic color, etc.  The only problem with that lens is that it will cost you $5000 and it is almost impossible to find. You may have a 6-12 months wait on the dealers waiting list to be able to have the privilege of laying down your $5000 for the Leica. Kind of insane really when you think about it. But it is not necessary to spend $5,000 on a Leica 35mm as there are a couple of other choices being made today new from Leica.

My other faces in the lineup are the Leica 35 Summicron and the Leica 35 Summarit lenses. All are GREAT choices really and the little Summarit has an amazing mix of modern and classic looks all at the same time but it is a slower lens with a f/2.5 aperture. It is nice and small though and this makes it a great travel lens for the M9.

I keep going back and forth as to what is my favorite focal length for shooting on the M9 and it alternates between 35 and 50. Sometimes I go for months shooting only a 35, then again a few months with a 50. Right now I am in a 35mm sort of mood. This focal length seems just about perfect to capture life. To add just that little bit more in the frame that would be left out with a 50mm. The 35mm focal length is a classic Leica M choice. Simple and effective. Pure and sometimes just what you need.

The Nokton at 1.2 or 1.4 


The Version II Nokton 35 1.2

When Version II of this lens was announced and I heard it was smaller and slimmer than the previous version while being sharper I knew I had to try it. As time went on I kind of forgot about it because I was not reading  too much about it and I was so busy testing other cameras and lenses. Then one day while browsing B&H Photo for in stock M mount lenses I saw the Nokton listed as IN STOCK at $1399, about 1/3 the cost of the Leica 35 Summilux ASPH.  I added the lens to my cart and hit the purchase button. A few days later the lens arrived and just as I had imagined it was still pretty large. Heavy and large but built VERY well and the focus ring was extremely silky smooth. The aperture ring was nice and smooth with solid clicks, but never rough feeling like some cheaper lenses sometimes can be. In the build area, this lens scored an A from me.

When the lens arrived I mounted it to the M9-P and took it out with my son and best friend and then headed for the park. It was 4:30PM and a beautiful sunny day. I knew the sun would be going down soon so I set the aperture to 1.2 and shot with it wide open for many shots, and then stopped it down to f/1.4 and f/2 for a few others. I had no idea if the shots were sharp or not due to the lackluster M9 LCD but what I was seeing in the previews looked promising. The depth of field is very shallow at 1.2 on the M9 but of course I LIKED IT :)




I found the lens to be a little weighty but not offensive. I had no issue carrying it around though I must admit, any of the Leicas would be smaller and lighter. Then again, they do not open up to f/1.2. The difference between 1.2 and 1.4 is so tiny though that I am not sure there is even a real noticeable difference. Still, it is nice to know it is there for when the light gets low or for shooting indoors, which was something I wanted to test out. It kind of gives you confidence in low light…”Hey, I can open up to f/1.2″!

From what I saw at the park, the lens performed really good. The bokeh is not bad at all in my opinion and actually I find it quite pleasing. When shooting this lens at wide apertures it gives a unique rendering with sharpness just about on par with the Leica 35 Lux ASPH (version I) along with the classic look of some of the older Leica 35’s.

At f/1.2 the lens is pretty sharp (for being f/1.2). This is a straight out of camera file from RAW. Click it for larger.


Speaking of Sharpness

So how share is this lens? Can it come close to the performance of the Leica 35 Summilux ASPH? I have shot the Leica ASPH Version I extensively and can say that at f/1.4 and f/2 this lens is pretty damn close to the Summilux, possibly even a little sharper! The rendering is not quite the same though with the Nokton seemingly giving even shallower depth of field effects for some reason. The Nokton almost reminds me of the 1st Leica Noctilux f/1 in the way it renders the image when shot at wide apertures. It has an artistic way of drawing that makes people say “WOW, how did you do that”? In fact, I have gotten that many times from every day people who know nothing about photography. When I show them an image shot with a Noctilux or a fast lens they are amazed at the look of the photograph because they are so used to seeing flat and dull point and shoot images.

So this lens is very “Artistic” in the way it renders but at the same time sharpness seems to have improved from the older version. See the shots below to see the 100% crops and see for yourself.

You must click on the images to see the larger versions and true 100% crops

This 1st shot is from inside a mall at 1.2 The 100% crop shows that even at f/1.2 this lens can be sharp. F/1.2!!


Again, I snapped this one in the mall but this time stopped the lens down to f/2. Just by looking at this I can tell that this lens has a really nice smooth rendering. I like it.


Even at 1.4 it is plenty sharp. No complaints.


I happened to focus on a fly at 1.4 and the focus was so dead on it captured the fly in motion. No focus issues with this lens that I found. Wide open or Stopped down.


How Does the Nokton do in Low Light? It’s BOKEHLICIOUS!

This lens has the Nokton name for a reason. Much like the other Nocts in the lens world, this lens just seems to BEG to be shot in lower light. I still find the Leica M9 to be a superb low light camera when you have a good fast lens attached. Seeing that we all can’t afford a $10,500 Noctilux ASPH and seeing that this 35mm 1.2 reminds me in many ways of the original Leica Noctilux, I assumed this lens would do great when the lights got lower. It did not disappoint, and after seeing shots I snapped in this Christmas themed bar (The Coach House in Scottsdale, AZ) I knew right then and there that I wanted to keep this lens. I LOVE the way this lens renders out of focus areas and it reminds me even more of the f/1 Nocti after seeing these on my iMac 27″ screen. It’s a bit dreamy and surreal at times.







I took a test snap in my living room at f/1.4 and  then f/4 to see if there was any noticeable vignetting in real world images. Instead of shooting a white wall to see it, I just took a snapshot of my room and you can see some slight vignetting at 1.2 but none at f/4. The lens also sharpens up considerably at f/4 as you can see in the crops.

Click images for larger versions – the 1st one was taken at f/1.2, straight from camera (RAW) – Notice the CA on the light but even the $10,500 Noctilux does this. 


Now at f/4


and the crops to see the sharpness – camera was tripod mounted


The Bottom Line Conclusion

This review is shorter than usual but I have no need to rant on and on about it because it is what it is. A super fast 35mm f/1.2 lens with an almost Leica like build, a Leica feel, and super results even at f/1.2 that only get better by f/2. The contrast is good at f1.2 and superb once you hit f/2, the color rendering is nice and the focusing is spot on at all apertures. This lens is really a creature of the night but also works well for everyday shooting and I would not hesitate to use it for just about anything my M9 can handle. I bet this would take amazing shots at a live concert :) I really like the way this lens renders light and color.


Ok, here it goes...The Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 is the bargain of the century in the world of super fast 35mm lenses for Leica. At $1399 it is thousands less than Leicas own 35 Summilux ASPH FLE and while it may not have the crispness and overall perfection of that lens it does bring something unique to the table and that is its unique rendering and the 1.2 slightly larger aperture. The lens is indeed large and slightly heavy but nothing in comparison to a Leica 50 Noctilux ASPH. I do wish it came with a hood but Voigtlander is now charging an extra $109 for it. Boo. That is really my only negative on this otherwise outstanding lens. It’s a mix of modern and classic and would be wonderful for environmental portraits, kids, low light, or just about anything. The lens has a look of its own and I really really am enjoying the hell out of it and can’t wait to take it with me on my next  trip. This is an easy recommend for any Leica M9 shooter. I do not own an M8 anymore so I could not try it out on that camera but I am sure it would perform equally as well but be aware of the 1.33 crop which would make this somewhat close to a 50mm equivilant.

Compared to the prevoious older version Leica 35 Summilux ASPH, this lens is right up there with it in my opinion. Compared to the new FLE 35 Summilux, it is not as crisp, nor modern looking…it is not as “perfect”. The 35 Summilux ASPH FLE is the king of 35’s and it has insane micro contrast that just makes your subjects pop. My review for that lens is HERE. Still, that lens is $5000 and VERY hard to get and some may prefer a more modern/classic mix anyway, which is where this Voigtlander excels. Is the Leica worth $3700 more? No, not really but that depends on your tastes and your wallet, not mine.

Me, I have grown less picky as I get older so I am actually pretty thrilled with this 35 Nokton. It really does have it’s own brand of “mojo” that can create some very cool photos when in the right hands. HIGHLY recommended.

B&H Photo is where I bought mine and you can go get it HERE.

This lens is gorgeous on the Monochrom as well.



PROS: Great build and feel, focus ring is smooth as silk, aperture ring is silky smooth with solid clicks, no focus shift, sharp even wide open, medium contrast, great color rendering and out of focus areas render very nicely with no real headache inducing swirl or nastiness and by f/2 it is just about as good as any Leica 35, a bold statement I know. No noticeable distortion in real world images that I noticed.

CONS: Slightly heavy, no hood included, no case included.

I will leave you with a few more images from this lens on the Leica M9. Click on them to see the larger versions. Enjoy and feel free to discuss this lens below in the comments. What do you think? Would you buy it or would you stick with Leica?








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Dec 012011

 Just for fun: Sensor sizes compared for Bokeh – Small, Medium and Large

This is a “just for fun” post. I used to do these kind of things all the time not because they are really extremely useful, but because there are some readers out there who are absolute newbies (been getting lots of e-mail on this lately) and they do not even understand that there are different sensor sizes in digital cameras, and the effects the sensor size has on the final image, so this post is for you guys! I decided to post about this after shooting yesterday with three very different cameras. The Leica M9, Nikon V1, and the Sony NEX-7.

Some quick info for the newbies on depth of field and full frame sensors…

The Leica M9 as most of you know is a full frame digital camera. This means that the sensor size is the same size as a full frame of 35mm film, I will call it LARGE size. When shooting with your 35mm lens it is indeed  a 35mm lens with a 35mm field of view. You use the entire lens with a full frame sensor camera and this is how the 35mm format has always been. Even today full frame cameras are still few and far between when compared to the smaller sensor cameras. They are also the most expensive cameras on the market…well, before heading up to medium format, which is an even larger sensor size. The full frame cameras usually offer the richest and nicest image quality if you know what you are doing.

Other cameras with full frame sensors are the wonderful Canon 5DII, Nikon D700 and the pro body Canon 1ds and Nikon D3 series. Full frame cameras often excel in lower light, dynamic range AND allow you to create images with more shallow depth of field. If you do not know what depth of field is you can read up on it HERE.

In some cases you may want a large depth of field in which everything in your image is in sharp focus. A landscape for example always requires a pretty large depth of field so most of us tend to shoot them at f/8-f/11 (at least I do). Others CRAVE shallow depth of field. This is when you have your subject in sharp focus and the background is out of focus, usually melting away into a creamy beautiful artsy blur. The best fast prime lenses give you the best quality blur, otherwise known as “Bokeh”. If you want this blurred out effect you would want to use a “fast” lens. A “fast” lens is not a lens that focuses fast, it is a lens that can open up to a large aperture letting in the most light and at the same  time, giving you the shallow depth of field effect.

A fast lens and a large sensor can create very shallow depth of field – Leica M9 and Voigtlander 35 1.2 II

For example, I have a Leica M9 which as I mentioned above is a full frame camera. I have a 35mm f/1.2 lens, which is a VERY larger aperture lens. The lower the number of the aperture, the faster the lens. BTW, the “fastest” lens in production today for the 35mm full frame format is the $10,500 50mm Leica Noctilux ASPH which has a crazy f/0.95 aperture. It is the low light bokeh king of lenses. Gorgeous but insanely expensive. The 35mm f/1.2 Voigtlander lens I am speaking of is $1399. Still expensive but about 1/4 the price of a Leica 35mm Summilux.

With this 35mm lens I can do some creative things. If I open up the lens to f 1.2 on the aperture ring I can shoot in very low light as the lens is now “wide open”. If I focus on something semi close I can isolate the subject which will be sharp while the background would then melt away into a blur.

On the other end of the spectrum, If your lens is “slower”, say an f/2.8=f/3.5 lens, then it is not really “fast” and it will be harder to get shallow depth of field. If you lens is a wide angle, even harder. Mix a wide angle with a smaller sensor and forget about it! (Nikon V1). But shallow death of field is not something you want in every photo anyway so each type of sensor and lens has its place.

So, to summarize…The best shallow depth of field effects come from “fast” prime lenses of 35mm, 50mm and up.  To get the most depth of field you have to “stop down” your lens (f/8-f/16).

The sensor sizes in the following examples…

As stated, the Leica M9 is full frame and I already spoke about the benefits of a full frame sensor. The other cameras I used for this example are NOT full frame. The Sony NEX-7 still has a nice large sensor but it is the same size that is in most DSLR’s these days, and that would be what I call the MEDIUM size, or APS-C with a crop factor of 1.5 (your 24mm lens behaves like a 35mm  lens in the field of view). The Nikon V1 is even smaller, with Nikon calling it “CX”. I call it “small”.  It has a 2.7 crop factor so a 14mm lens would become a 35mm equivalent. Even HARDER to get shallow depth of field.

When I shot the examples below I wanted them all to be in the 35mm focal length, so with the Leica I used the Voigtlander 35 1.2 ASPH II. With the Sony NEX-7 I used the Zeiss 24mm, which due to the smaller sensor ends up becoming the equivalent of a 35mm field of view. Since the lens is wider, we get less shallow depth of field. With the Nikon V1 I shot the 10-30 zoom set at 14mm which was close to 35mm. You can see the examples below and click on them to see the larger versions.

What these simple samples will show you is the differences in the depth of field you will get with the different sensors sizes. So if your thing is a shallow blur then you may want to find a full frame camera. If you don’t care about blur of bokeh then a smaller sensor camera will do the trick! Enjoy!

The M9 and Nokton 35 1.2 – Full Frame “LARGE” 35mm Format Sensor – Most shallow DOF


The Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 1.8 (35mm equivalent) – “MEDIUM” APS-C Sized Sensor – Less shallow DOF as the lens is wider and sensor smaller


The Nikon V1 and the 10-30 at 14mm (35mm equivalent) “SMALL” CX sensor – Largest DOF yet due to super wide lens and much smaller sensor

May 132011

Re-Visiting the Leica 50 Summitar lens on the M9

By Steve Huff

With all of the Fuji X100 craziness lately I decided to switch it up and dust off the old Leica M9 :) Ahhh, feels good!

Are you one of those Leica shooters that CRAVE that creamy classic Leica look but there is no way in hell you can or even want to shell out crazy dollars for a classic 50 Noctilux F1 or even a 50 Summilux PRE-ASPH lens?

What if I told you that you can get that crazy, classic, swirly look for anywhere between $200-$300 with a classic lens that not too many Leica shooters know about or would even think about buying? A true classic in every sense of the word, the Leica 50 Summitar is a 1940’s lens that can be found for $300 or so in pretty decent shape.

I reviewed this lens a while ago but there are still many of you who missed that review or have no idea what a 50 Summitar is! Basically it is an f2 lens that was made before the Summicron and it has a cray classic signature that will add some uniqueness to your photos. Be sure and check out the review to see what I had to say about this lens when I first received it. I even shot it on the Sony NEX-5 with good results.

Lately I have been shooting my M9 here and there around the house, or when out and about and I have been bringing along this little Summitar. It’s looking pretty good, even on the all black M9 (IMO).

If you ever see this lens available, and in good condition, snag it up! You will need an Leica screw mount to M adapter and after that you will be all set. BUT BE PREPARED! The crazy Bokeh of this lens will not be for everyone as it is sometimes pretty swirly, sometimes busy and always unique. Here are some recent shots with this lens on the M9…

My 14 year old dog Scrubby. He has seen better days but is always willing to pose for a photo, haha


Testing color and bokeh. This is a pretty smooth file and has great color and that classic feel. Even makes the ridiculously boring subject matter somewhat interesting for a minute or two :)


My copy of the lens is pretty sharp when shot in close to medium range. After that it back focuses a bit, but this lens is OLD so I can’t complain. Maybe I will send it in for a cleaning and adjustment soon.


Now you can really tell that Scrubby has seen better days! Shot at f/2


Saw these horses and grabbed a couple of shots with the Summitar. Once again, at f2, which is the only aperture I shoot this lens at, for its signature.



For portraits the 50 Summitar is pretty nice. It will give a totally unique and different look that something like a 50 Summilux, or 50 Summicron. It’s closer to the original Noctilux, though not as fast. This one was shot today at lunch…

and one I shot about 6 months ago…


Looking for the swirl! Can you see it?


Just testing the focus from about 10-12 feet away…I personally really enjoy the rendering of this lens on the M9.


The Leica 50 Summitar lens may be tough to find today, but a year ago I saw at least 6-7 available on e-bay and some online shops, no one wanted them. The secret must have gotten out :)

Bottom line is that it’s a great lens to shoot with on the M9 though it doesn’t focus close (1m) and it can be soft and hazy, especially if you get a not so clean copy. But price wise, it’s almost a no-brainer. At $250-$350 for a true German made Leica 50 f/2 lens I would say GO FOR IT.

Here are a few more images that I posted some time ago that some of you may have missed. One thing I notice is that the color is AMAZING with this lens. Sure I enhanced these a bit during the raw conversion, but the lens was able to produce nice colors and contrast, even wide open. This may be one of the best deals going in used Leica lenses! If you want to look for one, e-bay may be best. Even Ken Hansen may have one or two of these laying around as he seems to have loads of used gear sometimes. If you look for one, good luck! If you shoot with one, leave a comment and let me know how you like it!

As always, click images for larger versions!





Mar 052010

The Leica 50 Summitar Classic Lens Review on the Leica M9 – It’s time for a classic review! Today I am writing about and showing samples from the 1942 Leica 50 Summitar lens. This is a classic! An oldie but a goodie and it was made before the 50 summicron for the old Leica screw mount cameras. This is an F2 lens and its performance is quite unique and beautiful at the same time. This is what is so cool about Leica M bodies. You have such a vast selection of glass to try out or buy. For example, this lens sells for about $300 on e-bay. To use it on your M camera (MP, M6, M7, M8, M9) you will need an adapter like this one.

I want to first thank a Mr. Max Marinucci! He was kind enough to send me this lens to try out and I loved it so much, well, I now own it :) THANK YOU TO MAX! Btw, Max is the guy who wrote the great article about film (read it here). I think we will have a new article by him soon, and it should be pretty interesting!

Let me start by saying that after owning my Leica M9 since October 9th, 2009 I love it more every day. I have not had the itch to sell it, I have not had the itch to move to a DSLR and my only “itch” has been wanting to buy a 2nd body in Grey. That is actually a goal of buy a grey one within the next year. TO ME, the Leica M9 is the best digital camera available right now, again, for my needs. Yes it is manual focus, yes it is limited with no macro and no telephoto zooms. Sure it is a little slow with certain things but man, there is really nothing like shooting with an M wether you have a film M or a digital M.

You guys already are well aware of my love for this camera so let me get to this gorgeous classic lens. I want to make a prediction…the price of this lens is going to go up and e-bay will soon be filled with Summitars going for $500, $600 and who knows, maybe more. As soon as M9 owners see what kind of classical sweetness they can get from this lens they will want one. That means YOU if  you shoot with an M9 :)


This lens is a collapsible lens. This means that you can twist the lens and push it in to your camera for the ultimate compact setup. When you want to use it, just pull it up and out. BUT BEWARE!! Many say you can damage your M8 or M9 by pushing the lens in while others say it is OK. I can say that I did in fact try it on my M9 going VERY Slowly (Yes, I am crazy). It did collapse and did not touch anything inside my M9, but it had to be VERY close. As a rule, I keep it extended as I would not want to damage my camera. When you extend the lens you can twist it to sort of lock it in place so it will not collapse on its own. But as you can see in the pics below, it is collapsable on the M9.

Here is a shot of the lens collapsed and extended ON THE CAMERA!

CLASSIC = Beautiful Portraits…

When Max sent me this lens he told me how nice it was but I assumed it was going to be soft, flat and dull (kind of like the Noktor I am reviewing for m4/3). When I attached it to my M9 and fired off a few shots I immediately knew that I needed one of these in my arsenal. I found it simply incredible for portraits due to its ability to smooth the skin and draw your subject in a way that no modern lens can do.

Here are a couple of samples, taken at F2 on the Leica M9. One in color (tweaked color a bit in CS4 to make it more classic looking) and one in Black and White (converted in Silver Efex Pro):

Wow…a lens from 1942. I always thought these old lenses were foggy, had low contrast and could not compare to any lenses made  today. It just goes to show you that sometimes these old lenses can be better for certain things than the new lenses! For those times when I want a soft portrait look I will reach for the summitar. One thing to keep in mind though is the minimum focus distance is 1m, not 0.7m. So you really can not get close to your subject. The Black & White image above was at the minimum focus distance.

CLASSIC = Swirly Bokeh

Bokeh. It seems that  today we are all obsessed with this word and effect. When buying a fast or semi fast lens we want to see pleasant out of focus backgrounds and the way a lens renders these backgrounds can sometimes be ugly and headache inducing and can sometimes be beautiful. For example, I think the Leica Noctilux has beautiful Bokeh. I feel the legendary Leica 50 Summilux ASPH has incredibly SMOOTH bokeh. The 50 Summicron can be a bit odd at times but it falls in the BUSY bokeh category. So what about this summitar? Well, I would call it CLASSIC. It has that unique swirly type of bokeh that is loved by some and hated by others but I think its amazingly cool and I was surprised to see this from an F2 lens. In some shots it reminded me of the Noctilux Bokeh and to me, that is a good thing. One thing is for sure…you will not get this look from ANY modern Leica lens!

Here are some photos I snapped with the summitar a week or two ago. Not only will this show you some samples of Bokeh, but also color and contrast. These are straight from camera, just resized.

You can see the “swirl” in #4 and #6. I personally thing this lens produces beautiful out of focus backgrounds. Here are more samples showing the 50 Summitars MOJO. All at F2 :) You can click the images for a larger view :)

If you are a fan of this look like I am then you may want to start searching for one of these lenses :) Not only do I find the Bokeh very interesting and unique but look at the color and contrast! Gorgeous! The samples above are all direct from camera with no processing! The 50 Summitar is a gem indeed. There is not really much more I can say about this lens except that it is a classic, it is built extremely well, can only be found in chrome, and works superbly on the Leica M9!

YES, It is also sharp!

“No way ” I said when I started looking at my images at 100% on my Imac 27. The sharpness of this lens is SUPERB! It’s sort of a smooth but sharp look instead of a clinical sharp look. Here are a couple of FULL SIZE out of camera examples.

This was shot just to test sharpness! Leica M9, 50 Summitar, F4 – Click HERE for full size JPEG

(you may want to right click and save it, or open in a new window to avoid the light box opening the full size file)

Here is a 100% crop if you do not want to download the full file:

And at F2…



  • It’s tiny!
  • Can be found cheap on e-bay (at the time of this writing)
  • The build is 100% Leica!
  • It’s extremely cool to have a lens from the 40’s on your M9. It’s even better when you see the quality it pumps out.
  • Unique and sometimes gorgeous bokeh.
  • It’s actually sharp, even wide open. Not pin sharp like the modern lenses but sharp enough.
  • A great portrait lens when you want a smooth look.
  • Color is sublime.
  • Contrast is good.


  • Closest focus distance is 1m, so not very close.
  • Collapsing the lens into your M could possibly damage it, so beware!
  • May be hard to find a clean copy free of haze, fungus and dust.
  • Needs an adapter to mount to an M camera.


If you own an M9 go search for one of these now!!! It’s a great little 50 to add to your collection and while it will not replace your 50 lux or 50 cron, or whatever your main 50 may be, it is nice to have one of these in your kit for times when you want the cool look this lens can give you. I LOVE It and am so happy to now own this one. Again, THANKS MAX! Oh, and if you do not own an M9 it will still work on your M8 or film M.

Here are a few more shots with the lens on the M9. Enjoy!

Shot at F2 (I can’t seem to shoot it at any other aperture because it is so beautiful at F2!)

again, at F2 in direct sunlight. Notice how this lens also appears to keep highlights from blowing. I took this shot with the E-P2 and Noktor and it was not usable. Blown highlights, dull color and mushy results. This summitar handled the light with ease.

This one was also at F2 but I added the “Vintage” filter in Aperture 3 just for fun and to try it out :)

I love the way the Summitar and M9 handled the light here. It almost appears that the leaves have been “sculpted”. Very 3D and superb color/contrast.

F2 – click image for large 1800 pixel wide version

F2…love it!


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Feb 112010

Hi everyone, it’s good to be back with all of you! In browsing here daily, I see that many of you are new to photography or the rangefinder experience. I love how Steve’s reviews and articles have attracted many new photographers and old photographers alike into a lively discussion where everything is fresh and valid. Steve has a real talent for this type of discourse, and his excitement and enthusiasm are infectious.

Given that some of you are relatively new to photography, there are many topics that are novel, and some concepts may be misunderstood. We all want to learn as much as possible, as fast as possible, to become the best possible photographers, right?!? Yeah! But there is so much to learn, so why not start here. Today, I will delve a discussion of bokeh, the often discussed and often misunderstood topic of photography that generates so much heated debate and so much buzz. What is it? Where did the term come from? How should I evaluate bokeh? Does it matter? Are Leica lenses any good in the bokeh department? Rest assured, all questions will be answered.

The Leica 75 Summilux 1.4

Simply stated, bokeh is defined as the quality of the out-of-focus parts of a photograph. In fact, Wikipedia, the internet’s answer to The Encyclopedia Brittanica, defines Bokeh as follows:

“In photographic terms, bokeh is the blur, or aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or he way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”

But there is so much more to it, and this is why I want to speak about it a bit more.

Different lenses render bokeh in different ways, and there are many ongoing debates about which lenses produce the best bokeh. Much of how a lens renders its out-of-focus elements has to do with its inherent aberrations. Some of these aberrations may allow a lens to produce aesthetically pleasing bokeh, while others may cause a lens to render harshly. Furthermore, some individuals may consider a particular lens’ bokeh to be desirable, while others may consider the same lens’ bokeh to be harsh. Beauty, in fact, may be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to interpreting bokeh. We’ll get into some of that controversy soon, and I’ll even provide a list of some lenses that are considered to have the best bokeh across camera systems.

I suspect that this article may generate a bit of discussion, and that’s what I want, because there are so many misrepresentations and misunderstandings of this topic. Hopefully, we can all find some clarity within the discussion and further our understanding of this topic.

Leica 50 Summilux 1.4 Pre-Asph

History of the Term “Bokeh”

So you may ask:  How did such an unusual word, “Bokeh” come to describe the quality of an image’s out of focus area. Well, good question! It turns out that bokeh is coined from the Japanese word “boke” and “boke-aji”, which roughly translate to “fuzzy”  and “flavor of blur”, respectively.  The term was adopted into the English photographic lexicon by Mike Johnston, who currently runs the Online Photographer blog and was previously editor-in-chief for “Photo Techniques” Magazine in the late 1990’s. To give credit where credit is due, Johnston first learned of the term “bo-ke” from Oren Grad, a guy who has multiple graduate degrees (MD’s, PhD’s, and several masters degrees…a genius of sorts) and purportedly learned Japanese just to be able to read Japanese photo magazines! Awesome! The term boke-aji had already been used for some time in Japanese magazines in describing an image’s out-of-focus qualities. In reality, the term bokeh does not translate literally into one meaning in English. In the Japanese literature, there are many shades of the meaning of bokeh, but all boil down to some version of “blur quality.” Johnston was ultimately responsible changing the spelling from “boke” to bokeh to address proper pronunciation, and he popularized the term through a series of 3 commissioned articles on the topic, which were published in March and April 1997 issues of “Photo Techniques”. It was stressed that pronunciation was “bo” as in bone and “ke” as in Kenneth. So that’s how you say it.

I recently had the privilege of communicating with Mike Johnston in preparing to write this article. For those of you haven’t checked out his blog, it’s a great way to orient yourself on current topics and movements in photography. Mike’s blog includes wide ranging topics spanning product reviews to photographic philosophy to photography features…kind of like Steve’s site, but with a different flavor. Interestingly, Johnston has been keeping track of the popularity of the word through Google lexicon searches. The number of hits that come up on a web search has increased from 15 in 1997 to now more than 3.4 MILLION in 2010! Whoah! How’s that for popularizing a term! Kudos to Mike!

Johnston was also responsible for popularizing the term  “Bokeh King” to describe the Leica 35 mm f/2 Summicron Pre-Asph v.4 (version 4 of this lens), which was produced by Leica until the late 1990’s. This lens has since been replaced in the Leica lens lineup by the current Leica Summicron 35 mm f/2.0 Aspherical, which by all reports has slightly less desireable bokeh but is notably sharper and better-corrected for aberrations. The version 4 “Bokeh King” Summicron is widely considered the lens that creates the best bokeh of them all! In homage to Lord of the Rings, it’s the “one lens to rule them all”….More on this later, since the title of king of bokeh is up for grabs, and for many, the 35 mm Summicron bokeh king is no longer king.

Leica 50 Noctilux F1

Just to add controversy and stir the pot, Johnston mentioned to me that in general, the Leica lens line-up is not particularly good for bokeh! Quoting from his email, Leica lenses “clearly aren’t designed with out-of-focus characteristics taken into account and there is no consistency to their look. Zeiss lenses are typically even worse. There are always exceptions, however, as it’s always a case-by-case (and picture-by-picture) thing”.

However, Johnston stressed to me, and I agree based on personal experience, that it’s best not to dwell too much on this. Depending on the proper circumstances of light and background busy-ness, it’s possible to generate pleasing bokeh out of most any lens….but still, Leica and Zeiss lenses are bad for bokeh? Ouch! I think my wallet and ego just tool a substantial bruising! Per Johnston, the discontinued line of Minolta lenses and Bronica medium format lenses produce the best bokeh. Problem is, neither of these lines of lenses are even produced any more!

For those of your micro 4/3 freaks, Johnston does agree with me on one point: The bokeh of the Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 lens is pleasing! Kudos for Panasonic getting it right for the m4/3 contingent! (From Steve: I agree!)

Leica 35 Summaron F2.8

The nitty gritty of bokeh (i.e. TECHNOBABBLE)

H how is bokeh rendered? Why does one lens have a different look than another lens? Basically, bokeh is the byproduct of a lens’ various properties, including aperture, focal length, near focus/macro qualifications, and its aberrations.

Good bokeh is particularly important for larger aperture lenses, macro lenses, and long telephoto lenses, all of which seek to obtain shallow depth of field to achieve out-of-focus backgrounds to make a subject pop and stand out.

Getting beyond the above parameters, which primarily define a lenses ability to generate narrow depth of field, there are several other factors that affect the quality of bokeh. One must examine the image’s circle of confusion, in which a sourced point of light becomes an image of the aperture, which is generally rendered as a round disc. Depending on how well a lens is corrected for spherical aberration, these discs of light may be uniformly bright (idea) or bright either at the center or edge. Lenses that are poorly corrected will additionally show different kinds of out-of-focus highlights depending on the plane of focus. What’s interesting is that lenses made by Canon, Nikon, and Sony have adjustments to deal for this type of aberration, while Leica lenses, particularly older lenses, often do not. The irony is that these aberrations may be desirable for image quality, given particular light fall off properties of these aberrant out-of-focus lights towards the edges of the image, which produce less defined shapes that blur better into the background.

The Canon 135L F2

Bokeh may be also affected by the shape of the aperture opening, which is in turn a property of the number of aperture blades as well as the shape of the aperture blades themselves. Thus, at wide open aperture, you may notice that out-of focus highlights can appear polygonal. Thus a lens with a 6 blade aperture will demonstrate hexagonal highlights in its bokeh. In the old days, lenses avoided these geometic out-of-focus highlights by increasing the number of aperture blades. In fact, many old Leica lenses have more than 10 aperture blades, and it is though that that this number of blades results in many positive qualities for the bokeh of these older Leica heritage lenses. Modern lenses often compensate for lower aperture blade counts by changing the shape of each blade to render more circular out-of-focus highlights.

Testing bokeh…Controversy, Controversy, Controversy

Some vocal photographers would have you believe that the best way to evaluate bokeh is shooting a lens wide open, that is, at its widest aperture. It turns out that this is DEAD WRONG. While wide aperture lenses throw the background out of focus, it is also the widest of apertures that reveal most of a lens’ problematic aberrations, making bokeh hard to evaluate in this circumstance. In my correspondence with Mike Johnston, he mentioned that the “bokeh king” Summicron actually has rather bad bokeh when shot wide open at f/2.0. Per Johnston, it takes stopping down the lens a bit to reveal the lens’ inherently beautiful bokeh and gentle transitions in out-of-focus rendering. Thus, it may be best to shoot the bokeh king at f/4 to f/5.6 to reveal its charms, NOT f/2!

Canon EF 50 1.4

Bokeh quality tends to break down in several circumstances. Not only is wider aperture a problem, but so are harshly lit, contrasty backgrounds (for example, light shining through the leaves of a tree as background to a portrait). Bokeh also seems to break down at close focus distances and when there’s a large foreground-background separation. What these rules essentially dictate is that if you wish to avoid distracting or unsightly bokeh, you should shoot with your lens slightly stopped down, while keeping focus at moderate distances, and while avoiding high contrast backgrounds. This advice is clearly delineated in Mike Johnston’s bokeh ratings pdf document, which is available freely online.

A word on the bokeh of Leica lenses

So what’s the deal with Leica lenses? They cost a king’s ransom. Shouldn’t they exhibit the best out-of-focus qualities? To my eyes, they do a good job, though others may feel differently. Modern Leica lenses incorporate one or more aspherical elements. These elements optimize these lenses’ sharpness and microcontrast, and as you all know, Leica lenses are renowned for their sharpness. Even wide open, lenses from the Canon L series and Nikon FX lenses break down in terms of sharpness, but nearly all modern Leica lenses remain tack-sharp. The issue with aspherical elements is that they render more abrupt transitions from focused areas to out-of focus areas. These abrupt transitions in focused AND out-of-focus photographic zones can also make background blur seem harsher and a bit more geometric.

So how does one get around this issue? Well, one way is to invest in older Leica lenses. Many older lenses, such as the 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux, the 50 mm Noctilux f/1.0, and the 35 mm Summilux Pre-Asph, are renowned for their bokeh and their “Leica Look”. Many photographers describe the “Leica Glow” of these older lenses, and some lament that modern Leica aspherical designs seem to lack this characteristic.  Remember that these older Leica lenses do not contain aspherical elements, and hence, transitions from focus to out-of-focus regions of the images captured by these lenses are more gentle. The bokeh transitions are also gentler, and it is some the other spherical aberrations the lend themselves to the glow-like casts that these lenses generate. In these cases, all of theses’ lenses have aberrations that may in fact be desirable. When shot wide open, legendary lenses like the Noctilux and 75 Summilux can have harsh appearing, distracting bokeh. But they also have other aberrations that many photographers value. The bottom line is that it probably doesn’t matter that much to real world photography.

The Leica 50 Summilux 1.4 ASPH

What I find valuable about Leica lenses is their character. For me, bokeh is only one part of the picture. Equally important are microcontrast, flare control, edge-to-edge sharpness, and yes, that hard-to-define Leica glow. Maybe I am deluded, but I see it in modern Leica glass as well. To me, I look at images that come from my M lenses, and they just jump off the page far more than images shot with my other cameras. It’s the sum of all of the elements that makes Leica lenses great, not just their bokeh!

It’s all in the eye of the beholder

So you may ask the question, “Which lens should I buy if I want the absolute best bokeh?” Well, that’s a very difficult question to answer. Remember that in Japanese, the term “bo-ke” encompasses a wide variety of subtle variations of the blur concept. There’s no direct literal translation from Japanese to English that clearly encompasses all of “bo-ke”s Japanese derivations. Mike Johnston would argue, and I would concur, that it’s in the eye of the beholder. Ultimately, what’s pleasing to you, as a photographer and artist, is what is most important.  While Mike may argue that the Voigtlander 40 mm f/1.4 Nokton has rather ugly blur, I know some very talented photographers for who describe this very lens as their favorite…go figure!

For all intents and purposes, there is really no such thing as “good” or “bad” bokeh.

And, now, to completely contradict myself….BOKEH RATINGS

Rememeber, I just told you that there’s no such things as good or bad bokeh. BUT, as we live in a world where everything is rated on a scale of 1 to 10, I will present you with a list of lenses which I think have great bokeh, based on my personal experience and from that collated from my years of my own endless quest for “good bokeh” lenses. Keep in mind that most lenses are capable of achieving excellent results in the bokeh department, but seem to achieve it more readily than others.

DISCLOSURE: By no means am I a lens tester. For a more detailed and scientifically rigorous approach to lens ratings, I would refer you to Mike Johnston’s PDF on Lens Ratings.

Without further adieu, here are my lens bokeh ratings, based on my own experience and biases (Sorry to you Nikonians, as I have never owned a Nikon and haven’t tried out any lenses):

Bokeh Rating scale: 1-5

1: Horrible, harsh ugly, gross,vomit-inducing yick…. Stay away bokeh

2. Mediocre at best, typically harsh and undesireable bokeh

3. Average performer, entirely useable in most cirmustances.

4. Top-notch performer, capable of occasional magical bokeh

5. Consistently splendid performer, capable of typically awesome results

Wide angle (note that bokeh is hard to achieve for 24 mm and wider lenses)

Canon EF 15 mm f/2.8 Fisheye  -

Leica 16-18-21 f/4.0 Tri-Elmar (WATE) 3

Leica 21 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph 3

Leica 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit pre-asph 3.5

Leica 21 mm f/2.8 Elmarit asph 3

Voigtlander 21 mm f/4 Color-Skopar 3

Canon EF 24 mm f/1.4 L 3.5

Leica 24 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph 5

Leica 24 mm f/2.8 Elmarit Asph 4

Zeiss 25 mm f/2.8 Biogon 3.5

Leica 28 mm f/2.8 Elmarit Pre-Asph v.4 4

Leica 28 mm f/2.8 Elmarit Asph 3

Leica 28 mm f/2.0 Summicron Asph 4

Voigtlander 28 mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar 4


Canon EF 35 mm f/1.4 L 4.5

Leica 35 Summicron f/2.0 Pre-Asph v.4 bokeh king 4.5

Leica 35 mm f/2.8 Summaron 3

Leica 35 mm f/2.0 Summicron Asph 3.5

Leica 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit 5

Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph 5

Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Pre-Asph 3.5

Voigtlander 35 mm f/1.2 Nokton 2.5

Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 lens (micro 4/3) 4


Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 2.5

Canon EF 50 mm f/1.4 EOS 5

Canon EF 50 mm f/1.2 L 4.5

Leitz Summar 50 mm f/2.0 screw mount 2

Leica Collapsible Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 (last version) 3

Leica Collapsible Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 (early version) 3.5

Leica Summicron 50 mm f/2.0 3

Leica Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 Asph 4

Leica Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 Pre-Asph 4.5

Leica Noctilux 50 mm f/1.0 Pre-Asph 5

Canon 50 mm f/0.95 (for Canon 7 RF) Modified for M mount 4


Leica 75 mm f/2.0 Summarit 4

Leica 75 mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron 4.5

Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux 5

Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L Mark II 5

Leica 90 mm f/2.8 Elmarit (last version) 3.5
Leica 90 mm f/2.8 Thin Tele-Elmarit 2.5

Leica 90 mm f/2.0 Summicron pre-Asph 4

Leica 90 mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron Asph 3.5

Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 macro 4.5

Canon EF 135 mm f/2 L 5

Leica 135 mm f/4 Tele-elmar 4.5

Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 L Mk I 4

Canon EF 300 mm f/2.8 L 5

Canon EF 300 mm f/4.0 L 3

Canon EF 400 mm f/5.6 L 3.5

Note that this is in no ways a comprehensive list of lenses, but simply a sampling of lenses that I have either tried, owned, or evaluated. Furthermore, this is not a rating of how I feel about the lens overall, but rather, how I feel about it’s out-of-focus rendering.

Canon 85L


From my experience and what I have seen, the Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5 takes the cake. This lens is desireable on many accounts. It passes the ugly test of shooting a subject with harsh background very well, especially for a wider lens. It is an imminently useable and compact lens for the M rangefinder system, with a wide-enough aperture, very compact dimensions, and unsurpassed IQ. It does not have aspherical elements, so it renders more naturally and softly than its 35 mm Summicron Asph cousin. Of added benefit, this is one of Leica’s most affordable lenses! A top performer, at a reasonable price, in compact dimensions, with great bokeh! Hard to beat…I only wish that I had one.

Contenders for the award, despite their flaws, are the Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 asph, Noctilux f/1, and Summilux 75 mm f/1.4. They all have their issues, but to be honest, they win the artistic award for most unique bokeh!

And if you are wondering, after all of this, what is Ashwin’s favorite lens, that award goes to the Leica Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. To me, it’s the best combination of many factors, including sharpness, bokeh, usefulness, and that Leica look.


Leica M system: Leica Summarit 35 mm f2.5, Leica Tele-Elmar 135 f/4

Canon EOS system: Canon EF 50 mm f/1.4

Micro 4/3: Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7

You can see more of Ashwins work at his cool blog HERE or his Flickr page HERE!

From Steve: Thanks Ashwin for this very cool article. I found it very informative and agree with *most* of your ratings. I am sure others will have a few things to say about your new “King Of Bokeh” but I wanted to add that I own this lens and while I have mainly been shooting with a 50, the Bokeh of the 35 Summarit is very nice. Every time I shoot it I am always smiling when I sit down to look over the images captured with it. I  I love mine to death. Truth be told, it seems to have a little bit more “character” than the cron. I have no complaints and could recommend this lens to any Leica M shooter! BTW, this lens is available at this sites main sponsor B&H Photo at their 35 Summarit page. You can also read my 35 Summarit review HERE.


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

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

Feb 072010

“BOKEH – subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of an image projected by a camera lens”

Ok guys! I had a few e-mail requests to whip up  a test showing the bokeh from a lens on the Leica M9 and then the same lens on the Olympus E-P2 with adapter. This will not only show you how the E-P2 crop factor effects the lens but also will show you the bokeh (out of focus qualities) with each lens on each camera.

Bokeh and Depth of Field on m4/3

There is a bunch of info on the net about the m4/3 format and how it is tough to get shallow depth of field due to the small sensor. Well, this is somewhat true. For example, if you mount a 50mm F2 lens on a Leica M9, you are effectively shooting with a 50mm F2 so you will get the shallow depth of field associated with a 50mm f2. If you slap a 25mm F2 lens on a m4/3 camera it will be like shooting with a 50mm in regards to focal length, but your depth of field will be that of a 25mm lens at F2, not a 50mm lens at F2. This means that your out of focus backgrounds when shooting with a wide aperture, say F2, will be much less shallow (on the m4/3) due to the lens you are shooting with still being a 25mm lens. The wider the lens, the more depth of field you will have. Therefore, you will have the depth of field of a 25mm, not a 50mm. The sensor size turns the lens into a 50mm focal length but you are still shooting with a 25mm lens and therefore will have 25mm f2 depth of field, not 40 f2 depth of field. The other way some look at it, which is exactly the same, is that 25 F2 on an E-P2 would be acting more like that 50 on the M9 but at F4. Either way you look at it is fine.

To get the bokeh qualities (not depth of field) of a 50mm f2 lens on a m4/3 camera you need to use an actual 50mm lens on said camera. Only problem there is it will no longer behave like a 50mm because it becomes a 100mm focal length with 50mm quality bokeh. Confused yet? The bottom line is that it is not possible to get the bokeh qualities  of a 50 or 75mm lens on a m4/3 camera unless you shoot with a 50 or 75mm lens. A 25 or 35mm lens is not going to do it.

Bokeh on full frame

On a full frame camera the entire lens surface is being used so you will see more of the image. A 50mm image will utilize the full lens surface so you basically do not get a different quality of bokeh, just more of it because the edges your image are not cropped out. Below is an example on what you would see with a 35mm lens on a full frame camera vs that same 35mm lens on a m4/3 camera (approx). On both the “bokeh” will be the same as will the depth of field. The difference will be that the m4/3 version will basically be a cropped version of the full frame image.

The tests…

I set up my tripod and locked it down. I shot each of the following lenses on the M9: The Leica 35 Summarit, 50 summicron, 75 summicron, 90 elmarit, Zeiss 35 Biogon, and 85 Sonnar F2. I then shot the same lenses on the E-P2 from the same tripod position. This way you can see how each lens reacts on each camera.

I also made all of these 1500 px wide images available in a zip file that you can download HERE. It’s about 8MB and includes all of the images below.

You can click on any image below to open them up in a larger 1500 pixel wide window. I hope some of you find this useful!

The images…

First up, the Leica 35 Summarit F2.5 lens on each camera. As you can see, the 35 becomes a 70mm on the E-P2 but the Bokeh and Depth of Field remains the same. You just have a cropped version with the E-P2.



The Leica 50 summicron which will become a 100mm summicron on the E-P2 or any m4/3 camera and will give you the qualities of a 50 F2 in regards to bokeh and depth of field, not a 100. You still have a 100 F2 lens in regards to light gathering ability but you will be getting the depth of field of a 50.



Let’s jump to a 75mm lens. On full frame this 75 Summicron is absolutely gorgeous with silky bokeh and super color. On the m4/3 it is now the equivalent of a  150mm focal length at F2. A great low light portrait lens. Again though, you will not have the depth of field and bokeh qualities of a 150 F2 but rather of a 75 F2, or as some would say a 150 F4.



I hope this explained a few thing to those who were a little confused about the 2X crop of the m4/3 cameras and the effect it has on your images, the bokeh, and focal length equivalents! As stated earlier, I have a zip file here with these images and many more including the same test shots with a Zeiss 35 biogon and some M9 with the Zeiss 85 and Leica 90 Elmarit. I also have a couple of 100% crops in there so if you want to see them you can download the ZIP HERE! I will only leave this up for a few days due to bandwidth so if you want it, grab it now. Also, for the images in this comparison I used the Novoflex M to m4/3 adapter which can be found at B&H Photo HERE.

Thanks for looking!



One final comparison to show the bokeh of a 75MM lens on a full frame M9 against a 35mm lens on the E-P2, using the above images. The E-P2 with a 35 will be a 70mm equivilant:

M9 with a 75mm at F2

E-P2 with a 35 (70 Equiv) at F2.5 (yes, its 2.5 but close enough to get the idea)

You can see the much more shallow depth of field with the 75 on the full frame M9 and shows what people mean when they complain about not getting enough shallow depth of field on a m4/3 camera.

UPDATE Feb 8th 2010 - Some of you wanted a comparison with something like a 35 F2 on the E-P2 and a 75 F4 on the M9. This is a quick shot I grabbed outside just now but  this kind of testing brings in all kinds of new problems. For example, the m4/3 lens is shot at F2 so its likely it will be softer than the M9 at F4 right? The 4/3 crowd says to “fairly” test these things I needed to do this to make everything even steven, so here you go. I also shot the M9 at F2 to keep it even as far as lens aperture.

These are straight out of camera untouched files. Converted from RAW with ACR and yes, the color sucks because the light today sucks. Its winter and the light is grey. Also, this post was originally to show the DOF and “Bokeh” from a ff camera compared to a m4/3 camera. These examples will show you that the 35 at F2 does pretty much equal the 75 at F4 as far as DOF is concerned. It will also show you the sensor of the M9 is a little better :) Here you go…

First, the E-P2 with Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 which everyone says will give you a 70mm with F4 DOF (not light gathering or lens sharpness which is still F2, but this post is about DOF, not detail) in 4/3 land. This was precisely manually focused with the E-P2…but looks soft to me. I do not see 75 F4 DOF, I see 35 F2 DOF as the lens is technically still a 35. :)

The focus was on the van door handles, not the house. I did this for DOF reasons.


Now, the M9 with the 75 Summicron at F4 which is a “real” 75 F4, so pretty close to the above combo right? I admit the 75 cron is a much better lens than the 35 Biogon but you cannot dismiss the results. Again, focus was on van door handle.


Here is the 75 cron/M9 shot but this time at F2 to see how the lens does wide open compared to the 35 at F2 for sharpness.




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

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

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