May 032014
 

By Request: Nikon V3 vs Nikon J1 – OOC JPEG

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I had a few ask of you me to post a couple of quick side by side snaps to compare the brand new Nikon V3 to the old 1st gen Nikon V1. My son has the V1 with him right now so I used the next best thing, the J1. The J1 has the same IQ as the V1, same sensor, and same IQ.

So how did the old J1 fare against the new V3? For starters, keep in mind that I paid $200 for the J1 with 10mm 2.8 lens, new. The V3 sells for $1200 as a kit with the new kit 10-30. For this test I just wanted to show straight out of camera JPEGS here. Both with the same 10mm 2.8 lens (it does better than the zoom) and both cameras set to their base ISO (100 for the J1 and 160 for the V3).

I can say the EVF makes the V3 more of a joy to use over the J1 that does not have an EVF of any kind but in the hand, they both feel good with the V3 coming in at a little bit smaller of a size.The little $200 J1 feels solid though.

Below are direct straight out of camera JPEGS. Both cameras were also set to “Neutral” color in the setup menu and both cameras were set to matrix metering. Both had the Active D Lighting set to off. What you see is what you get. The V3 has more megapixels but is also rendering the images differently Same lens was used, same spot, same moment.

What are your thoughts? Click on each image for full size file. Right click and open in a new window to see full file on your screen correctly. Each image is labeled with what it is.

 

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The V3 seems to be less harsh and less contrasty but also loses some of the bite of the 1 series. How about high ISO? This is where we should see a huge performance increase as we are going from 1st gen to 3rd gen sensor for the 1 series.

v3iso3200

j1iso3200

So it is no question that after shooting both that the V3 offers more megapixels and better low light performance. The question you have to ask yourself if you are a 1 series shooter is “is this worth upgrading my current camera for”? Only you can decide. Me, after shooting a teeny bit with the V3, its response is up there with the fastest I have shot with, even faster feeling than the Olympus E-M1. But, for $1200 I will stick with the V1 and J1 for now (for my 1 series shooting). Like I said here, the V3 could have been so much more and using Micro SD cards really killed it for me up front.

The V3 is available HERE.

 

Dec 162013
 

The A7r VS. the D800

Andrew Paquettehis website is HERE

My Nikon D800 with Nikkor 35mm 1.4G side-by-side with my new A7r mounted with a Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH lens. Quite a size difference for two cameras that are so equal in other ways!

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I have been wanting a Leica M240 or Monochrom ever since I realized that my D800 was a heavy camera, particularly when it had my Zeiss 15mm 2.8 ultra wide-angle lens mounted on it. It hadn’t seemed so bad at first, because it felt great in my hand and was comfortable to shoot, but carrying it in a backpack all day along with a backup lens caused back pain long before I was ready to get on a train and go home. Another thing that made me curious about the Leica was that it looked much less intrusive than the Nikon. When I would pull my Nikon out of my bag, people nearby would often step back and say “whoah!” as if I’d just pulled out a cannon or some other weapon. A camera that would not draw attention to itself sounded pretty good to me, but at €6,299 for the M240 and €6,899 for the Monochrom, any kind of Leica seemed out of reach.

It wasn’t just the tiny form factor that I wanted, because there were those magical Leica lenses. The photos I’d seen taken by these amazing little gems had a quality that no other lens could reproduce. I loved my Zeiss 15mm and my 100mm Makro-planar, but their smooth, creamy rendering style didn’t suit some subjects as well as others. My two 1.4G Nikkor didn’t either. Each of these lenses served a useful purpose and I liked them, but none could provide the kind of gritty high contrast realism the Leicas consistently produce. It didn’t matter though because it would cost about €10,000 to get a minimal Leica system plus lens, and I couldn’t afford to do that. I tried the I-shot-it contest a few times, but didn’t even get close. Unsurprising, considering the numbers of professionals entering for a chance at the Monochrom plus enough money to buy several good lenses. Then, I had a spot of good news: Christmas was coming up and someone felt I should have a Leica. Problem solved!

Now that I was being asked to pick out my own Christmas gift, I realized that I wasn’t so sure that I wanted a Leica camera after all. I had read some things about it on the internet that I didn’t like. One of the reviewers I read said the M240 would lock up frequently right when he needed it, forcing him to pop the battery and reset the camera, but that was complicated by the design, which forced him to remove the tripod mount before he could open the battery compartment door. Who wanted that hassle from a €6,299 camera? Even as a gift I’d feel guilty about spending money on something like that. And then there was the 24MP sensor. I liked the D800’s 36MP sensor and didn’t want to take a step back while spending three times as much money for the privilege. I had all but decided to get a new Zeiss Otus as my Christmas gift when I ran across an article here about the A7r. A camera smaller than the M240, without the lockup problems or stupid battery door design (from Steve: NOT, I never have had any lock up with ANY M 240 I have shot, and i have shot with several), a 36MP sensor, and it could mount Leica lenses. Perfect!

About a week later, I had the A7r in hand, with a Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH lens to see through. Nice! Now all I needed was something to shoot. I was sick for about ten days, preventing me from doing any serious shooting right away, though I did get a few shots, then this weekend I went out with the A7r and my D800 to see what the differences were. Before I get into that, here are a few things you need to know about using Leica glass on the A7r:

The Sony .ARW RAW file format has not been shared with Adobe. They have a new update for Photoshop and Lightroom that can read the files, but because it is reverse-engineered, it does not do as good a job at reading these files as Sony’s free ARW image conversion utility. However, and this is really important, the Sony software stinks big time. All it will do is read the file correctly and spit out a TIFF or JPG image for you. Forget about doing any fancy RAW editing there because the software really stinks. For this reason, I prefer to use the Adobe software even though it immediately reduces the sharpness of the image a little bit. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but this is how I feel about it right now.

I used the Novoflex Leica to Sony adapter ring to mount the Summilux on the A7r. This adapter does not communicate any lens data to the A7r (unlike the Phigment Tech adapter I’ve heard about) so you will not get much in the way of EXIF data shooting this combination. It also means that for this article, I had no idea what f-stop I was using on the A7r. For that reason, I decided to ignore f-stop comparisons and just look at image quality.

Now for the review. To test the cameras, I put a pair of top quality 35mm lenses on each. For the A7r, I had a Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH. The D800 had a Nikkor 35mm 1.4G AP-S. I would have liked to try the D800E with a Zeiss 35mm 1.4, but I didn’t have either, so this is what I used. Besides, I wanted to test the difference between the AF Nikkor and the MF Leica lenses.

Shooting these two cameras is a very different experience. When taking pictures of anything moving, the D800 is able to quickly fire off a half-dozen shots or more while the A7r gets only one image and then the subject is gone. At first this really irritated me, but then I learned to be more careful when I tripped the shutter on the A7r. It meant that I wouldn’t have any backup images if I got the timing wrong, but on the other hand, I found I tended to get the composition I wanted more often than with the D800. I think this was because the rapid burst-firing of the D800 had made me lazy about composition, so I would just shoot a bunch of shots and then sort out the compositions later. With the A7r, I had to see that I had the composition (or was just about to) before pushing the button.

Crossing the bridge, shot with a Sony A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

Bridge walker sony 001

Crossing the bridge, shot with a Nikon D800 + Nikkor 35mm 1.4G

Bridge walker nikon 002

Another difference between the cameras is the Live View and EVF on the A7r vs. the Live View and OVF on the D800. I didn’t expect this to be a big difference, but it really was. The resolution of the LV and EVF on the A7r is double that of the D800 LV, and the EVF is much easier to use than the D800’s OVF because of focus magnification. This may be because, at 48 years old, I need the extra resolution to see what I’m doing, but I had the distinct impression that my eyesight got worse whenever I switched to the D800, because it could only show so much on the LV due to its low maximum resolution. I had asked Steve about this by email and he suggested that I use the EVF on the A7r without focus magnification because it is much faster than trying to use focus mag. I tried it his way along with focus peaking (another cool feature of the A7r) and my way with focus mag. He was right that focus mag slowed down the process, but sometimes I felt it was necessary, so I used it anyway. Either way, I found that I got the focus more often with the A7r than with the D800. This was not because the Nikkor 35mm 1.4G was incapable of matching the Summilux (I assume) but because I couldn’t see what I was doing as well with the D800 as on the A7r.

Keeping warm by the canal. Shot with a Sony A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

Fire sony 002

I had both cameras in the same big camera backpack, but found that whenever an unexpected opportunity for a shot arose, I grabbed the A7r by reflex. Maybe it was because it was smaller and easier to grab, or because it was less obtrusive. Whatever the reason, it was my instinct. All of my favorite shots were made this way: unexpected, quick, and without a D800 shot to compare with (sorry) because the opportunities came and went too fast to use both cameras. I did, however, get plenty of shots that were good comparatives, so let’s get into those.

Dynamic range test shot, St. Antoniuuskerk Kathedraal. Shot with a Sony A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

ANT sony 001

I took a number of shots inside a couple of cathedrals in an old medieval town in the Netherlands. In St. Antoniuuskerk, I wanted to test the DR capabilities of the two setups. In my opinion, the Sony was much better the Nikon. Of the 30 shots I took, below is a side-by-side comparison of the best from each camera. Keep in mind that I have no idea what the f-stop settings were for the A7r so I didn’t bother comparing that. For all I know, these are totally different f-stops. However, these are the two best shots from either camera for DR, regardless of f-stop, so it shouldn’t matter.

Nikon on left, Sony on right. The Sony clearly has a lot more detail than the Nikon, and this was true of all the A7r shots vs the D800.

Highlight Detail comparison

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Figure 7 Another DR shot, made with the Sony A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

Canal sony 004_1

The shot I took of the canal above was one of those fast shots I hadn’t planned on taking, so I don’t have a D800 shot to compare it with, but this a pretty decent shot for checking out the DR capabilities of the A7r sensor. This is not an HDR image, but a single image with some tweaking in LR to adjust the shadow brightness. Importantly, the shadow, darks, and highlights are not clipped anywhere in the image despite the fact that the sun is (almost) in the image and there are reflections everywhere.

Auto focus comparison. Nikon D800 on left, Sony A7r on right

MF vs AF comparison

This test really surprised me. On my D800’s Live View screen, it looked like the D800 had nailed the focus on the “GIANT” lettering on the down tube of my bike, but it is soft compared to the MF of the A7r + Summilux combination. I used focus mag and the EVF on the A7r for this shot, and it seems to have worked really well. In other shots, moving and static, I consistently got this result. Only rarely were the Nikon shots focused better, regardless whether I used AF or MF (I tried both after I noticed the problem.) Maybe this is because my eyes are 48 years old now, but it is still important to know, because I’m not the only person out there that has to wear reading glasses.

Another focus example, D800 on left, A7r on right

Yellow tree comparison

The aperture on these two shots is clearly different, with the Summilux more wide open than the Nikkor, but the important thing is that it is sharper. I really think this is because the higher resolution EVF allows me to see the details better than the D800’s LV or the OVF.

Colour test, D800 on left, A7r on right

Leaves comparison

I took some deep woods shots because of all the highly saturated colours to be found there after a recent rain storm. The A7r + Summilux always gave a wider colour range, though on a couple of shots I preferred the Nikkor results. In this example, we are looking at a pile of leaves from slightly different angles, but they are the same leaves. The D800 + Nikkor clearly has less colour range than the A7r + Summilux. In addition, despite the things I’d read about a magenta cast on the A7r when using Leica lenses, in this shot the Nikkor looks more magenta than the Leica.

Sharpness comparison, D800 on left, A7r on right

Sharp comparison

This comparison really surprised me. I took about 40 shots each with the D800 and the A7r of people crossing this bridge on foot and bicycles, as well as several of the bridge without any people around, and all of them are like this. The A7r shots are always sharper at the point of focus than the D800 shots. This doesn’t mean I always focused on the right subject with the A7r, I didn’t, but wherever the point of focus was, it was sharper than the D800. Because the people were sometimes moving quite fast, I did a better job of focusing on my subject with the D800 when the person was on a bicycle, but when walking, I had better luck with the A7r.

Shot with Nikon D800 + Nikkor 35mm 1.4G 

Bridge cyclist nikon 003

Shot with D800 + Nikkor 35mm 1.4G

Tree nikon 002

Shot with A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

Tree sony 003

Noise test, D800 on left and A7r on right

GK noise comparison

One of the few tests the D800 consistently won on was noise. It seemed like the A7r always had more noise. Maybe I just am not used to the camera yet, but it seemed like there was always noise in the A7r shots, no matter how low the ISO was.

Close-up sharpness test, D800 on left, A7r on right

Trunk comparison

In this tripod shot I could have sworn the focus on the D800 was perfect. At least, based on what I could see in the viewfinder, that’s what it looked like. And yet, the A7r is sharper. On the D800, I used Live View magnified to the maximum. It looked as sharp as could be detected with its resolution, but there was still some play in the lens where there was no discernable change in focus, meaning I needed more resolution to see what was going on. If my eyes were sharp enough, I might have been able to see the difference with the OVF, but with the EVF of the A7r I could see the difference and that got me better focus.

Another colour comparison, D800 on left, A7r on right

Color comparison

My wife likes the colour of the shot on the left better because of the more saturated blue reflections in the puddle, but I prefer the variety of greens in the A7r shot on the right. At first, I liked the D800 shot better also, but then I adjusted the tones a bit in LR and then I liked the A7r shot better. Perhaps it is just a matter of taste.

Market day, shot with the Sony A7r + Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 ASPH

KerkWalk001 

And that’s it! Now I’m off to a conference in the UK, where I hope to get a few hours to take some more shots with the A7r. I’ll be carrying it on a tiny hip pouch, which is all that is needed for this extraordinary camera.

Andrew Paquette

Sep 202013
 

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Spooky Fun with 50mm. Summilux, Summarit and Nikkor 5cm

I was going through my bag today and wiping down my Leica M 240 as it was getting full of smudges, dust and skin oils. I looked down into my bag and stared at the three 50mm lenses that lay inside on this particular day.

  1. The 50 Summilux ASPH
  2. The 50 Summarit 1.5 (Vintage)
  3. The 5cm Nikkor 1.4 (Vintage 50mm)

The Nikkor 5cm, 50 Summilux ASPH and 50 Summarit

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First of all, there is not much I can say that has not been said of the legendary and amazing 50mm Summilux ASPH. I still say it is the best 50mm in the world for any camera system. While expensive at $3995, many times it is all one needs with a Leica M body. One camera, one lens. If there was ever any one lens to own with a Leica, this is it. I have written so much about this lens over the years and have shot it with an M6, M7, MP, M8, M9, MM and now the M.

It is a fantastic lens that everyone should at least try once in their life if they shoot with a Leica M or Zeiss Ikon or Epson RD-1 (when I 1st used the lens it was with an RD-1 years ago). Also, if those Sony rumors are true, and a high-end FF mirrorrless is on the way then a lens like the 50 Lux will be a hot commodity once again. I imagine it would do amazingly well on something such as a Sony FF, if indeed  that really happens.

If so, Leica Dealers Ken Hansen and the Pro Shop have plenty in stock right now. :)

So after looking at these lenses in my bag today and cleaning them up a bit I asked Debby to throw on a Halloween mask I picked up a few days ago for $10. It’s creepy as well as spooky and with Halloween coming up soon, I figured it could come in handy for a creepy lens test :)

So what I will show you first is a series of three images. One taken with the 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4, one with the classic Leica Summarit 1.5 at 1.5 and one with the 50mm Nikkor 1.4 Vintage RF Lens. Then I will talk a little more about the Nikkor and Summarit and why at least one of these lenses is good to have in ones stable of lenses, even if you have a Summilux already.

The 1st image: Taken with the 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4, wide open. Click it to see the detail. It’s clean, and it has the micro contrast the older lenses lack.

summliuxcolor1

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The classic 50 Summitar at 1.5. This lens is a fave of mine though I only use it sparingly due to the special effect Bokeh. 

summaritcolor1

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The 5cm Nikkor 1.4 – A classic and sometimes hard to find lens in the rangefinder world. This one is LTM mount and needs an adapter that costs $10 to fit an M. It can focus to .4 meters but you must use live view to do so.

nikkorcolor1

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Three images of the same subject with each lens wide open. Each lens renders in a totally different way when shot at the maximum aperture. The Summilux is contrasty, crisp and has a smoother Bokeh effect with higher micro contrast. The Summitar is wild, with a melting blob of blur behind the subject (which is actually pretty sharp considering the age of the lens) and finally, the Nikkor. The Nikkor is a Sonnar design so gives an even different rendering with that classic glow we expect from older vintage glass. Which one do you prefer? Do you have a vintage heart? Hmmmmmm.

Two more:

Converted to B&W with the DXO film pack, this one was with the Summarit. Many HATE the look of this lens, I LOVE it but only on certain occasions will I use it. These lenses can be had for as little at $350 and as high as $800 depending on condition. I have had 4 of them looking for the best one and all were fantastic and in fact, the one that was the most beat was the best performer.  The subject pops out of a blob of blur! Click it for a much better view!

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again with the Summilux ASPH, but this one at f/2. 

summiluxf2

Summarit 1.5

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So why would I own all of these 50mm lenses? To be honest I own two other 50′s because I am a 50mm junkie! But remember, these classic lenses are cheap when you think of “Leica” pricing so it is easy to own multiples when talking about classic vintage glass. For example, the 50 Summarit I settled with cost me $399. It has some slight cleaning marks, a couple of visible marks on the front element and the barrel looks old and worn. But, the focus is spot on and it was the sharpest of the ones I have owned and tried by a slight margin. So $399 vs $3995, big difference. But the Summarit is nothing like a Summilux ASPH. They are totally different beasts and are tricky to master :)

Two more from the 50 Summarit 1.5 wide open. They have a unique character that only this lens will give.

gumwallkid

summ

toddman

The Nikkor 5cm 1.4 LTM

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As for the Nikkor, I have been curious about this lens for a long while now after testing Ashwin Rao’s copy of it at his home in Seattle. I liked the fact that it was a Sonnar design AND had close focus ability, much closer than the usual .7 meters of the modern Leica glass. I believe the Nikkor focuses as close as 1.4 feet compared to 2.3 feet of the Lux ASPH. But to use this feature you need Live View because once you pass .7 meters it loses rangefinder coupling and can not be focused with the RF.

Still, it offers a Sonnar quality and close focusing in a small and tiny solid all metal package. I found an EX condition copy that is MINT+ with perfect focus, no damage and in chrome for $599. Not exactly cheap, but again, much less than buying new Leica glass that will run you anywhere from $2000-$11000. Plus, experimenting with classic lenses is fun and they are easily resold if you decide the lens is not for you.

After all of this time and finding the Nikkor 5cm 1.4 close focus lens I am not 100% I will keep it. It is gorgeous, it is haze free, fungus free and scratch free but at the same time, I am not sure I will ever use it when I have a Lux, Summarit and even a Nokton and Cron lying around! I am a 50mm madman!

The Nikkor 5cm 1.4 LTM on the M 240

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L1002204

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The M240 is a pretty amazing camera, and fun as well. With so many adapters available today you can mount SO many lenses on to the camera and use them due to the M now having Live View. Want to mount a Canon lens, Nikon Lens or even a Soviet Helios 40-2? Go for it. Using the Live View and EVF you can focus these lenses even though they are not RF coupled. Sure MANY mirrorless cameras can do this, but the Leica M 240 is the only one that is full frame, at least for now.

I expect that over the next couple of years I will try a slew of lenses out just for fun because some lenses render in such a unique way that they are worth owning just for those occasions when you want that look.

Old vintage rangefinder lenses can be found easily, some are very rare and some are readily available. Some are insanely cheap starting at $90 and some are pricey in the $1500+ range. I like having a modern 50 and a vintage 50. Which one I grab depends on my mood really :) My fave vintage 50mm lens is the Leica Summarit 1.5 in LTM mount. I also loved the Canon Dream Lens but at $3k, could not justify it as  keeper as it is a special effect lens. The Nikkor 5cm is also very nice and the close focus sets it apart along with the classic and vintage glow. There are so many 50′s out there but I warn you…if you start trying them out it can get addicting! SO be warned :)

To those reading who own or have shot with vintage 50mm lenses, which is YOUR favorite and why?

Sep 012013
 

David and Goliath – The Nikon V1 vs. the Nikon D600 – Wide Angle

by Steven Norquist

Hello Steve,

You always have such interesting comparisons of lenses on your forum that I thought I would do a little test for your readers. I have really enjoyed using my V1 with the 6.7-13mm lens. The pictures the V1 produces with this lens have perfect sharpness edge to edge and corner to corner, seemingly an infinite depth of field which is perfect for my style of photography which is architecture and landscape.

Also this lens/camera combo has excellent contrast balanced with nice dynamic range so highlights don’t blow out and shadows don’t lose detail.

But how good is this combo really?

I decided to find out.

I borrowed my friend’s Nikon D600 and rented the Nikon 16-35mm wide-angle lens. This lens is Nikon’s newest and best full frame wide-angle.

I decided to compare it directly to the V1 with 6.7-13mm lens.

The V1 with 6.7-13mm is a $800 setup.

The D600 with 16-35mm is a $3300 setup.

UPDATE: In every test, the top image is from the Nikon V1 and the bottom image is from the D600!

As you can see below the D600 is a beast with this lens on it.
The V1 looks like a little toy by comparison.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The D600 with this lens is very, very heavy and I cannot even consider roving the country or the city with this thing for hours and doing the kinda of photography I do.

Just having the D600 and the V1 around my neck for the length of time it took to do these samples made my neck really hurt!

Here are the test parameters I used for this comparison:

  • Each photo was taken at the same time, hand held one right after the other.
  • Focus was automatic spot focus on the same exact target for each camera.
  • ISO used was the base of 100 for both cameras.
  • Exposure was Automatic Matrix metering.
  • No exposure compensation was used.
  • Focal length was 18mm and 35mm for the D600, and 6.7mm and 13mm for the V1.
  • This assured that the equivelnt focal lengths as far as composition area would be the same.
  • The D600 was shot at F11 and the V1 at F4. I tried to make the depth of field of both cameras as close as possible.
  • Everything was shot in raw and digital development and post processing (Adobe Raw and then Photoshop CS5) was the same process for both camera’s raw files.
  • Each image was then re-sized to 1200 pixels on the long side and layered into a single image for direct comparison on the web.

Here is the challenge for your readers: In each of the four tests, which camera is which???

Good luck!

For those readers that are interested, you can view my other V1 pics with the 6.7-13mm at this link.

TEST 1

Test 1

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TEST 2

Test 2

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TEST 3

Test 3

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TEST 4

Test 4

 

Jul 182013
 

Just for fun! Which one is which? POLL!

ANSWER: After waiting ALL day to let you guys mull it over, the answer is… The TOP image was taken with the Leica 50 Summilux. The Bottom with the Nokton. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the slightly rougher Bokeh of the Nokton. The Summilux is smoother in the out of focus areas but the Nokton is $3100 cheaper. So all depends on if you want the absolute best or the next best thing :) 

So which one is which? Decided to have some fun today before posting anything super serious :) We all know how wonderful Leica glass is, but it is so damn expensive and hard to justify for many of us. I always get asked “what lens is comparable to the 50 Summiux ASPH, but for less money”?

Well, these days I say without hesitation, the Voigtlander 50 Nokton 1.5 VM. Yep, the new Leica M mount 50 Nokton is GORGEOUS and is 85-90% of the Leica. Where it falls short is with some slight distortion when shooting straight lines up close. Other than that it is sharp, has pleasant Bokeh, great color and at a casual glance, very hard to spot the difference between it and the $4000 Leica. The Nokton can be had for $899 in black and $1099 in chrome. The Leica is $3995. 

So, which is which? Both were shot wide open at 1.4 and 1.5 on the Leica M 240 casually during one of the Palouse workshop lunches.

You can see my Nokton review HERE.

BOTH are direct from camera, shot RAW, no modifications whatsoever.

After you look, and click to see them larger vote in the poll below!

50comp

ANSWER: After waiting ALL day to let you guys mull it over, the answer is… The TOP image was taken with the Leica 50 Summilux. The Bottom with the Nokton. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the slightly rougher Bokeh of the Nokton. The Summilux is smoother in the out of focus areas but the Nokton is $3100 cheaper. So all depends on if you want the absolute best or the next best thing :) 

Jul 022013
 

Quick Compare: Leica M9 & 50 Sonnar vs Leica M7 and 50 Lux by John Tuckey

Hi Steve, given the recent interest in the Sonnar after your new review, I thought folks might be interested in a comparison I have from a recent shoot.

The shoot was simply to get some nice vintage styled images with a bit of 50′s glamour to use in my portfolio on 500px (where I still have illusions about selling enough downloads to buy a nocti, hey we can all dream!) and in a book I’m putting together. As usual I used the M9 as my main camera, but as we had some time I decided to rattle off a few with my M7 as well. So here you get an interesting comparison between the M9 + Sonnar 50, and the M7 + Lux 50. Lens vs Lens, and Film vs Digital. Not a scientific comparison obviously, but an interesting one being as its rare to get the same subject with both cameras at the ready.

The vast majority of the time I shoot an M9 – It used to be practically welded to the Lux 50 ASPH, but find myself using the Sonnar more and more. Yes, the focus shift can be an issue if you’re not chimping, but its a lens to love for its imperfections I think. These first two images are the M9, Sonnar at 1.5. The focus shift got me a little, but the end result was still compelling.

JRT-huff-M9-1 JRT-huff-M9-2

Now here’s two with the M7 and the Lux 50, I was using Ilford Delta 100, and scanned the negs in on a friends Epson Perfection 750.
JRT-huff-M7-7028 JRT-huff-M7-7029
Which do you prefer? I have to admit I much prefer the M7 shots. I can see me pushing a few more rolls through it on my next shoots :)
All the best

http://www.facebook.com/jrtvintage

May 082013
 

DSC02959

Old vs New – Wide open: Nikkor 35 1.8 LTM vs Voigtlander Nokton 35 1.2 II

Many of you have seen my post on the classic Nikkor 35 1.8 LTM rangefinder lens as used on the Leica Monochrom but what about in color? I was able to get a hold of a Leica M-E for a few days and decided to give the old Nikkor a spin with a color camera. WOW. What a surprise. Even without any coding it is doing very well on the M-E. This old 1950′s lens can really deliver in B&W and in Color and the best part is that it is TINY. Wide open, when focused correctly, it is sharp as can be but the out of focus rendering is very unique. Some will say it is busy, some will say it is odd but some will also say it is quite beautiful. I really enjoy the way this classic lens renders but when you can find one, it is not cheap. They usually sell for anywhere between $1500-$2000 depending on condition and if it comes with caps or a hood. My copy was $1600 without any caps or hood but was in EX condition. Overall the glass and lens looks new though the focus is a bit stiff with mine. Either way, this lens has achieved “legendary” status as a B&W lens.

BUT! I also feel it is worthy of its praise when shooting color. For some reason not many people have shot this lens on color film or on digital and I am not sure why because it is beautiful.

DSC02953

This lens is indeed small but is not perfect. It has a long 1m minimum focus distance which is a limitation when shooting 35mm. So I was still not sure that this lens was a keeper for me as of this morning. Expensive, old, 1m min focus, busy bokeh..not so sure. Mainly due to the cost.

With those thoughts in my head rolling around it just so happened that today in the mail I received a Nokton 35 1.2 II from Stephen Gandy at Cameraquest. This lens is also considered a quite special lens in the rangefinder world. Fast, sharp, well made, and smooth creamy bokeh, It really can not be faulted. It has a super close 0.5 meter minimum focus distance and is sharp even wide open at f/1.2. The DOF is very thin and in many ways is like having a 35mm Noctilux. At $1399 it is quite the deal on the RF world for a new lens. I believe cameraquest has them in stock with free USPS Express next day shipping. I reviewed the Nokton well over a year ago on the M9 and loved it but always wanted to give it a spin on the Monochrom.

Seeing that I had the Nikkor 35 and the Nokton 35 I figured..“why not give them a quick wide open character shoot out”. I wanted to keep it simple and keep them both wide open to see the different looks each lens is capable of. Both of these lenses have a signature look, but this look is only achieved wide open. I asked my lovely girlfriend to take a walk to the park with me for a quick test.

See the results below and let me know which one YOU like. The old 1950′s classic or the new modern Nokton? The Nokton is cheaper by about $400-500, has a faster aperture at 1.2 and focuses quite a bit closer. It is also much larger. The Nikkor is tiny, is very rare and hard to find in LTM mount and has a look that is different from the Nokton. Which is better? I love both.

The old classic Nikkor Rangefinder Lens, the 35 1.8 (3.5cm 1.8) LTM mount with adapter. Click it for larger. Leica M-E. f/1.8

colordebbynikkor

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The Voigtlander Nokton 35 1.2 II cream machine – smooth bokeh at 1.2. Click it for larger

debbycolorvoigt

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On the Leica Monochrom – The Nikkor 36 1.8 wide open to see its unique character

L1003858

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and the Nokton

L1003855

So which lens character do you prefer? I am in love with both and the Nokton would rule the night with its 1.2 aperture and unique look while the Nikkor would rule when size and that classic feel would fit in. The Nikkor also has less contrast while the Nokton is more contrasty for sure. Either way, there is no shortage of amazing lenses out there to choose from. A few more below (a mix of both lenses)…

L9853845

L1003838

debbycolorvoigt2

L1003837

Mar 192013
 

The M9 Sensor is more than adequate by George Sutton

This post is a response to the recent DxO report on the Leica M9 sensor. I chose to respond this way because I can include photos. Photos are, after all, the final word in this whole discussion.

The overpriced and under featured M9 body only exists because it has a full frame sensor and mounts Leica M lenses, but that is enough to be one of the best cameras made. The M9′s biggest drawback is a lack of versatility but in circumstances where it performs well it produces some very good images. I am not disputing the DxO results but to me the take away is that there is not a great deal of difference between high end sensors in actual use. I say that after owning and using a M9, Canon 1Ds, 1Ds III and now a 5DIII, and an Olympus OM-D. To me, the telling thing is the big diss DxO gives the 1Ds. When it was first released the 1Ds was probably the best camera made. It was way ahead of anything Nikon offered (they have played leapfrog since) and it even surpassed medium format cameras for detailed image quality (there were no medium format digital cameras at that time). Yes, that was then and now there are better cameras but the 1Ds still produced great photos. What I have learned in the meantime is that the single most important factor in a camera’s quality is the lenses. The biggest drawback to the 1Ds was the soft to unusable corners in many Canon lenses back then. Nothing, in my experience at least, equals the quality of a Leica M lens. The following illustrate this point.

One of the toughest camera tests for me is shooting a city at night.

The shots below are all taken at f8 and the camera’s lowest ISO on a tripod with cable release and are close to 100% enlargements for the Leica and Canon and about a 125% enlargement of the OM-D. I selected f8 because it produces star like effects around lights and is typically the sharpest aperture for any lens. The images are somewhat flat because it was hazy and I was shooting from a few miles away. The shot with the Leica was taken with a Leica 90mm f2.8 that I bought used. My guess is that the lens is 10 to 20 years old. The shot with the Canon 5DIII was taken with a new 24-70mm f2.8 II zoom at 70mm. That lens is generally regarded as the best medium range professional zoom currently made and it is very sharp corner to corner. On the OM-D I used a Lumix 12-35 f2.8 zoom at 35mm (equivalent to 70mm on a full frame camera), which is generally regarded as the best medium range zoom for a 4/3 camera. Detail in the buildings is close for the Leica and Canon. The OM-D is worse but that is mostly due to the smaller sensor. Printed 8×10 these differences would be barely visible. The biggest difference is the lights. Note the clear multi point stars produced by the Leica. The Canon is close but the rays emanating from the lights are slightly less distinct. The OM-D is the worst. The star effect is there but the lines are distorted and broken with what appear to be concentric circles radiating out from the light. The star effect can be eliminated by shooting the lens wide open. Wide open the Leica and Canon both did a great job of capturing the light as it was. The OM-D did not do as well. I tried different lenses on the OM-D including a prime and got a similar effect each time. If I were shooting this for sale, I would shoot it with both the Leica and Canon and pick the best. If I could only shoot one it would be the Leica.

I offer these only to illustrate the point that in use the M9 sensor is quite adequate to get a great shot. I am including one more shot to make this point (the last landscape image). The landscape is cropped from the original by about 30%. It was taken with the M9 on a tripod with a Leica 35mm f2 lens at f11. I don’t know if this can be seen in the image here but I have printed the cropped image at the largest size my printer will do, 17×22, and individual bushes about a foot wide can be clearly seen on the desert floor more than a mile below. I haven’t used every camera and lens made but of those I have used I have never seen this level detail from any other camera. That is mostly due to the lenses but the sensor has to be up to the task as well and in my experience the M9 sensor is more than adequate for the job.

Leica

L1004003

Canon

N43A2110

OM-D

P3020406

L1003655n

Jan 232013
 

UPDATED Comparison: Hasselblad 39C vs Sigma DP2M reloaded by Michael Ma

Hi Steve:

Thanks for publishing the quick Hasselblad/Mono/Sigma DP2 Merrill comparison (see that one HERE). I don’t know if you post follow ups but the post generated a lot of heated comments and one key issue people pointed out (rightfully) is that the Hasselblad was not designed to be shot wide open under limited light. I think everyone agreed that the Monochrom is incredibly sharp so I’m leaving it out of the comparison.

I took the Hasselblad and the Sigma out to the roof and shot a few pictures. And here are the results. This time, the Hasselblad is noticeably sharper and the image rendition is more accurate. However the Sigma followed closely and it is very impressive.

 

· Hasselblad 503 with winder CW, 80mm CEF Zeiss Lens, 39megapixel CF39 back vs Sigma DP2 Merrill

· Overcast but bright day, around noon time. Both cameras were shot at F11 and 125s, focused to infinity.

· Both pictures are right out of the cameras. No exposure/contrast adjustment or sharpening.

 

Hasselblad Shot. Notice the overall tone of the image. Smooth and warm. This is a little warmer in color than the actual day condition but came out very nice. The texture is almost creamy

Hasselblad

Hasselblad 100% crop. Very sharp and detailed. Some noise in the shadows even at ISO100.

Hasselblad crop

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Sigma shot. It is incredibly sharp but has that clinical look. Not as pleasing as the Hassey in the rendering. The sigma has a bigger DOF (the flower pots in the front are perfectly in focus while they are a bit soft in the hassey).

Sigma

Sigma normal size 100% crop. Again, very sharp here although not as sharp as the Hasselblad. The normal size conversion converts the X3F file into 4704×3136 file. The details are there and the colors are vivid.

Sigma Normal size crop

 

Sigma double size: Sigma also has an option to export its files into “double size” TIFFs for bigger prints. This turns the file into a huge 9408×6272 file (over 100mb). This is considerably larger than the Hasselblad file. You could see the loss of details here but it probably won’t show up in prints under 40cmx40cm. (click it for full size 100% crop)

Sigma Double Size crop

What does all these pixel peeing prove? Hasselblad owners can be rest assured that the performance of their systems cannot be matched by the Sigma Merrills, while Merrill owners can rejoice for owning such an incredible machine. It is unquestionably the sharpest tool in the ASPC sensor class. Although the system has its quirks and trade offs, when it comes to image quality (which is ultimately what we need), it can play with the medium format big boys. So, why not have both? A Medium format or a Leica Mono plus a Sigma DP2 would formidably setup for any demanding photographer.

 

Jan 182013
 

rx1vsxe1

Quick Comparison: Sony RX1 vs Fuji X-E1

I have had numerous requests for this one but 1st off let me say HAPPY FRIDAY to all! Another week has flown by and as I sit here at my desk I am in a happy mood. Why? Well, the weather here in Phoenix is warming up and getting into the 70′s and the weekend is here! Time to relax, maybe go see a movie, and spend some quality time with loved ones.

But back to the cameras…

I have had a Fuji X-E1 on hand for a few weeks and have been shooting it with the SLR Magic 35 T 1.4 lens (which I like more than the Fuji 35)  as well as the Fuji 35 1.4 lens. Of course, my own camera, the Sony RX1 has been with me as well for most of this time and over the past few days I decided to take a few shots side by side. Nothing super scientific. Just snaps like most of us use these cameras for. If I shot the X-E1 at f/2, ISO 200 then the RX1 would be set the same way.

1st Observations:

rx1ex1s

I did notice that the X-E1 I have here tends to overexpose quite often. It exposes a scene much different from the Sony does and of course the color is different as well. There were times when I would shoot a scene with the Fuji only to look and see that it totally overexposed the scene so I would have to go in and manually take over to avoid that. Not sure if it was just this copy (which was a brand new in the box untouched loaner) or if they all tend to do that. The Sony on the other hand seemed to be either spot on or a teeny but under at times, but I would say the Sony RX1 metering is one of the best I have shot with. Seems to nail it every time.

Build wise, that goes to the Sony. It is a solid little brick of a camera as I have stated. It is small but solid. It feels very well made. The Fuji can feel a little hollow though it is also built  just fine. The Sony almost feels like a mini Leica in build and quality of construction. The Fuji X-E1 feels much like the X-Pro 1 and X100.

Speed. This is the one most are curious about. The Fuji line has had a rep for slow focusing and operation. Just yesterday I downloaded the latest firmware for the 35 1.4 lens and the X-E1 I have already has the latest FW loaded. After downloading the fastest FW for the lens it did in fact seem faster. The fastest I have seen this lens shoot on an X body. So THAT is good. If you have the 35 1.4 lens make sure you download the latest firmware for it here as for me, it does seem snappier. (but my E-X1 combo here is having trouble with ACCURATE AF it seems)

The RX1 vs Fuji X-E1 in AF? Well, I have no issues with the RX1 AF at all. It just does not mis focus (for me) but I also do not use spot AF (which can lead to mis focus). I use center point AF and it always locks on and is correct. During my time with the RX1 to date I have had 1-2 mis focused shots out of a few thousand. THAT is impressive for a mirrorless camera. It is not as fast to AF as the Olympus OM-D but it is also not slow. It slows down in low light but I always still get a lock. Unfortunately I can not say the same for the X-E1. Just in the past two days it has mis-focused on me several times with a back focus on many occasions. But this has not happened since the firmware update on the lens though I admit I maybe shot 20 frames since the FW update.

All in all, the RX1 and X-E1 are neck and neck in AF speed in good light. In low light, and I just tested them side by side in my office with no lights on, they are actually just about the same with the edge going to the Sony. The Fuji has improved greatly from the early days of its super slowness and as of today, January 18th 2013 it is much speedier and snappier in low light. Even so, testing them side by side they are equal in AF speed in low light. Both locked in and locked on with the about same speed.

See the video below of these two cameras side by side as well as a low light AF speed test. 

So if you watched the video above you would have seen that in dim lighting  these are about neck and neck with AF speed now that the Fuji has upgraded the 35 1.4 lens firmware. Both locked on and were accurate.

So build goes to Sony, AF is a draw and, cost goes to Fuji and what about the IQ? Take a look at some comparison snapshots below:

You MUST click on the images to see them larger with the true 100% crop. 

Image #1

The 1st shot was in low light in my house. ISO 2500 on both cameras with each lens set to f/2. The Sony uses the built-in Zeiss 35 f/2 and the Fuji had the 35 1.4 Fuji lens attached. 

1st up, the Sony RX1 shot

RX1dog2500-

and now the Fuji X-E1 shot.

The 35 1.4 gives a 50mm equivalent so framing will not be exact. The Sony is giving a true 35mm FOV

XE1dog2500

For me, this one was no contest. The Sony file is richer and sharper. NR was turned off on both of these and both are converted from RAW using Lightroom. The Fuji softens up the files at higher ISO and the Sony keeps them detailed.

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Image #2

I shot this one 4 times and each time was the same result. The RX1 was sharper. This was at f/2 and ISO 500. The cameras were set on a table so there was no chance of motion blur. 

1st the RX1

RX1flashlight-

and now the Fuji X-E1 and 35 1.4 combo

XE1flashlight

Again, the RX1 is sharper and gives an overall “smoother” presentation.

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Image #4 – FULL SIZE FILE

These are from RAW and full size so you must click them to see the full size files. The Fuji X-E1 back focused every time for me on this one (before new FW) so I presented it just as the camera gave it to me. Make sure you update the FW on that 35 1.4 as it did make a difference in AF! 

Both are at f/2 and you can see the Sony is giving a more shallow DOF here with massive background blur

RX1fullsizetube-

The Fuji at f/2

X-E1fullsizetube

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Image #5 – BOKEH

Both look good here. The sharpness looks great on both cameras in this one – Fuji focused correctly here :)

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Xe1wallbokeh

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High ISO – 6400 

Both of these were shot at ISO 6400 with both cameras – processed from RAW with no NR or editing. Click images for larger. I also placed the full size crops below each image so you can see them 100% without clicking.

1st the RX1 at 6400

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rx1crop6400

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and now the X-E1 at 6400

XE16400

EX1crop6400

So while the RX1 is giving more noise it appears the X-E1 is smoothing the image somehow, even with NR turned off. The RX1 holds it detail which reminds me oh so much of the Leica M9 except the M9 can not do ISO 6400. Overall, with the RX1 you will get better build, astonishing built-in Zeiss lens, full frame sensor and DOF, better in camera metering and no muss no fuss operation. The RX1 leads in build, holding detail at high ISO, having a richer look and very deep files while editing. The Fuji gives us a lower cost for the body, a built-in EVF (which is good) and the camera and 35 1.4 set comes in at $1599 which is $1200 less than the Sony. If you count the Sony EVF the Fuji is just over $1600 less. I can say the EVF for the RX1 is also much nicer than the one in the X-E1 (which is the old NEX-7 EVF). The new Sony EVF is the best EVF on the market, hands down.

This comparison the Fuji did focus correctly, on the lens barrel of the Sony.

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OOC JPEGS – Standard Color mode on both

Snapped a quick JPEG by request  - both lenses f/2, both cameras at base ISO, both OOC JPEG without editing. Full image below is from the X-E1

DSCF8217

crops

The RX1 JPEGS are much sharper than the Fuji’s and have that more “robust” look to them as well. The Fuji focused correctly here.

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AND ONE MORE JPEG – OOC FULL SIZE AT F/8

Click for full size OOC JPEG at 6000X4000 from the Sony RX1 – THIS again, is a JPEG. Very sharp. 

sonyf8

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Now the Fuji at F8 – click for full size OOC JPEG – Again, VERY sharp!

fujif8

So at F/8, each camera can produce a sharp JPEG. That is a given, especially when lighting is used. In fact, if I were shooting in a studio, the X-E1 would be my pick over the RX1 due to the different lenses available. That is not even a question. If I were wanting ONE for street, it would be RX1 hands down. To me I get better IQ in low light, better color, more depth and a sharpness the Fuji lacks at high ISO. The Sony has that Zeiss pop in certain situations but at f/8, both cameras are plenty sharp.

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More JPEG tests with Lighting

Zombie Part 2

My 1st test using the Zombie was invalid as the Fuji mis focused, so as promised I redid this test with the Fuji in Manual Focus mode. I still used AF on the Sony. Here are the results which show the Fuji doing much better than last time though the Sony still eeks ahead for detail. Again, these are JPEGS. Why? Because that is what you guys wanted due to issues with Fuji files and Adobe.

DSC017512

DSCF82542

DSC01751

 

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Tonality/Metering

The RX1 seems to like to keep exposure on the UNDER side of the equation and the Fuji goes for OVER. I suggest when shooting the Fuji you dial in -1 on the compensation dial. Here is what to expect exposure wise from each camera. Both at F/2, ISO 6400, low light and OOC JPEG.

The RX1, ISO 6400, f/2 – Aperture Priority mode – This is how the RX1 exposed the scene. OOC JPEG.

rx1-

The E-X1 – same settings on the camera – Aperture Priority mode f/2, ISO 6400 – This is how the camera exposed the scene

ex11

After shooting them both and handling them both and processing files from both, for me the winner is the Sony. I much prefer the feel, build and lens on the Sony RX1. I also enjoy almost limitless DR and amazing sharpness in my files. I love the shallow DOF and the “Zeiss Pop” from the RX1 and with the Gariz case on my personal camera it feels like a work of art. I also enjoy the EVF that swivels and the controls on both cameras are good, no complaints. Both feel like real cameras and both deliver results like real cameras. Both operate like real cameras and both have all the dials needed to enjoy the experience. Aperture dials on the lens, shutter speed dials, Exposure comp dials, etc.

The Fuji is also excellent. IMO, the best of the X bodies but still will occasionally miss with AF. If I were buying an X body it would be an X-E1 over the Pro 1 for sure but I will not buy one due to the sloppy AF performance (accuracy) with the 35 1.4 lens. The new X100s will have even more improvements so looking forward to testing that one as well. But with the X-E1 you have more options due to the available lenses such as the 14, 18, 35 and 60 as well as the new 18-55 Zoom. Either will get you where you want to go. The Sony for the extra $1100 will do it in a more slick and polished way with improvements to what you get with the Fuji in almost every area. Full frame is full frame and the Sony matches output from cameras like the D800, A99, etc. The Fuji is at the top of the APS-C heap. Take your pick.

As always thanks for reading and looking. In today’s world, it is tough to buy a digital camera that will not give you great results. The thing is to GET OUT THERE AND SHOOT and enjoy what you have. Learn with what you have. Bond with what you have and then results will come.

With that said, my Fuji X-E1 and SLR Magic 35 T1.4 Review will be up next week, and the SLR Magic lens rocked it.

Where to Buy?

The Sony RX1 can be bought at Amazon or B&H Photo. The X-E1 can also be bought at Amazon or B&H Photo

Jan 142013
 

Quick Comparison  - Leica Monochrom, Sigma DP2 Merrill and Hasselblad 39CF

by Michael Ma

Hi Steve:

Huge fan of your site. I am lucky to own two pieces of equipment that you have reviewed, so I thought I’d contribute. My Leica Monochrome just arrive today and I decided to give it a spin in terms of image quality. Both the Leica and the Merrill DP2 are reviewed in detailed on your website and they are renowned for their image quality. Since I’m lucky enough to have a loaner Hasselblad with the CF39 digital back on hand, I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty IQ comparison using the Hassey as bench mark.

Conditions:

Dim room light

1.7 meters to subject

All images had gone through only contrast adjustment, no sharpening

On tripod

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Hasselblad 39CF with 80mm CFE lens F2.8, F5.6 1/2, 1/4S

The Hasselblad yielded a pleasing overall image in terms of tone and rendering. With 39 mega pixels 49x36mm sensor, we don’t expect anything less. The 100% crop shows that even when wide open, the CFE lens is sharp and shows nice contrast. Note that the physical size of the Hasselblad image is almost twice as large than the Leica and Sigma.

Hassey picture: 

8371384287_c7dc8e528f_k-2

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Hassey crop (click image for full size cdrop)

8371384899_6f605218b1_b

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Next up is the Leica Monochrome with Summilux 1.4 ASPH latest version F2.8, F5.6

WOW, the Leica is sharp! I don’t have a M9 to test the comparison between the mono sensor and the regular CCD sensor, but the 100% crop looks sharper than the Hasselblad shot and you can see the details in the canvas texture. The image was over blown in exposure but the details are still nicely preserved. Very impressive!

Leica picture

8371415925_e1964062a8_k-2

Leica Crop – (Click image for full size crop)

8372487976_7dac4ef45d_b

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Finally comes the Sigma DP2 Merrill.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the pictures. It is clearly the most rich and detailed of all three. The photo was shot with the lens wide open at F2.8. Astounding details and color. Now look at that 100% crop. The texture of each brush stroke is so vivid. Beats the Hasselblad hands down.

DP2 Merrill

8372492528_a65fb872a7_k-1

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DP2 Crop

8371420289_59f795c865_b

Conclusion? Well this is a very clumsy test. But besides the poor testing conditions I think there’s a story to be told here. All three are great camera systems. The Hasselblad is older and the lens probably could have used with more stopping down. But this is also a 9000 dollar set up (used price). The Monochrome setup is 12K all in (when bought new). The Leica lens is incredibly sharp and the Monochrome retains so much details in the shadows. But the ultimate winner here is the Sigma DP2. At a tiny fraction of the price of either the Hassey or the Leica, it delivers the best results in color, details, and contrast.

Michael Ma

Jan 072013
 

titlekristian

CLASH OF THE TITANS

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.

titans0

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.

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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)

 DSC_1652

• 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.

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Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2

DSC_1650

• 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.

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Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1

DSC_1649

• 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.

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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.

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Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design

DSC_1651

• 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 http://www.yanidel.net. 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.

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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.

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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.

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Individual Results – click images for full size files

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95

50_0.95-9071288

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.

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Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2

50_1.2-9071287

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.

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Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1

50_1-9071290

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.

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Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Original Design

60_1.2_V1-9071284

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 http://japancamerahunter.com. 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.

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Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design

60_1.2_V2-9071283

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.

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Comparisons

Hexanon 60/1.2 V1 vs V2

V1

60_1.2_v1-9071163

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V2

60_1.2_v2-9071166

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ALL compared

60 V1

60_1.2_V1-9071330

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60 V2

60_1.2_V2-9071327

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Leica 50 f/0.95

50_0.95-9071331

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50 f/1

50_1-9071325

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50 f/1.2

50_1.2-9071328

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100% Crop Comparison

60_1.2_V1-9071297

cropsharpcompare-

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

50_0.95-1002400

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Noctilux 50 f/1

50_1-1002392

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Noctilux 50 f/1.2

50_1.2-1002396

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Hexanon 60 1.2 V1

60_1.2_V1-1002386

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Hexanon 60 1.2 V2

60_1.2_V2-1002389

 

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.

 tabletitan

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 www.suwanmonkol.com

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. www.mandarinoriental.com/chiangmai

Jun 082012
 

Leica X2 and Fuji X100 side by side one more time…

Since I have done a few comparisons lately with the X100 and X2 I still have gotten several emails asking for more. Again, what you will see in the images below is NOT scientific but I had both cameras slung around me and shot the same image with each camera keeping the same ISO and aperture, letting the CAMERA choose exposure. As always it seems the Fuji can tend to overexpose at times. It seems the big question in my mailbox this week is “Which should I buy”…

Well, I can not answer that question for you but I can tell you a few facts about each camera that may help you decide.

The Fuji X100

Nice size. Not too small, not too big. Nice feel in the hand.

Faster lens at f/2 but wide open it is somewhat soft and lower contrast – pin sharp by f/4

EVF/OVF is fantastic, but I mainly use the EVF as it is accurate – WYSIWYG

AF is faster  than it used to be but still can be a little sluggish compared to newer cameras. Still not an action shooting camera and have had some misses with AF.

Low light and high ISO is about on par with the X2

Colors out of camera can be on the cooler side of neutral at times

Camera is silent in operation if you turn off all sounds

There is some lens barrel distortion

Camera tends to overexpose, so dial back on the Exposure Compensation

Battery life is average

Lens is prone to flare (which can yield creative results if shot into the sun)

Not really a pocketable camera

Macro capability

$1199 Silver – $1699 for the Black kit with accessories

The Leica X2

Nice construction, quality feel

Improved dials are now stiffer

No real distortion from the lens

Warm colors, higher contrast

Sharp at 2.8 but sharper as you stop down

More prone to hand shake than the X100 at same shutter speed

High ISO is great, same as X100

Has the Leica IQ and feel

EVF is extra but swivels so more versatile than a standard EVF

LCD is low res

Simple and Basic. Just about photography.

Made in Germany Leica by Leica

AF is as fast as X100 is now but spot on accurate every time

Can fit in a jacket pocket easily, more compact than an X100

No real flare from the lens

No close focusing capabilities

$1995 for Black or Silver

Basically both are great and can give you great results if you know what you are doing with them. The Leica will have a more pleasing color and higher contrast where the Fuji can have somewhat flat files right out of camera. Both of these cameras will give you a different vibe and feel from most other mirror less cameras. Truth be told, I really like both of these. Problem is, both are 35mm equivalent. The Fuji has the VF and classic RF styling and the Leica has the more modern-day Leica style and more pleasing color and contrast. Both have the same high ISO capabilities and AF speed (just about) and both are capable of superb results. What it comes down to is do you want to pay extra for the Leica or do you prefer the Fuji? Only you can decide :) Below are some more side by sides though, and most are full size so you must click them to see them.

Enjoy!

 

I prefer the Leica rendering of the colors and light in the 1st example. The X100 here looks a little more flat and has a color cast. Both from RAW with zero mods – no sharpening, etc.

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This next set you can see the Fuji did overexpose. This is important to know because when you go out with the Fuji you will at times need to take back the EV dial. If you do not you will get an overexposure in certain situations. Both of these are RAW conversions without any modification or sharpening added. I prefer the X2 rendering here again, but they are so close.

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Notice the lights on the 1st X2 shot…or UNDER the lights – I prefer the X100 here due to the way the X2 is drawing the light..

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Not there on the X100 shot

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and a straight from camera ISO 3200 shot from each – both in camera B&W – BOTH JPEG and both set to a HIVGH CONTRAST B&W mode. Seems like the Leica puts out a higher contrast which is why the truck is darker. It is not due to less DR. With that said, I prefer the look of the X2 here again – Look at the back wall and ground. I see more detail in the X2. 

So there you go. Identical snap shots taken with each camera in the same lighting and moment using the same ISO and aperture. The experience shooting both was good and each camera focused just as quickly as the other. The X2 really is accurate with focusing. Since some have questioned my statement of the X2 seemingly (in my experience, with this body) needing faster shutter speeds to get steady shots I have went ahead and ordered a black X2 setup for my personal extended testing and use. The new one coming has the latest firmware and the one I tested here does not. So to be 100% fair and for you, the readers (well, and me of course) I will not be shooting the X2 and X100 as well as my OM-D and M over the next few months so I can get an extended use feel for each of them. At this point I can not say which I prefer as both do a great job. Sometimes I prefer a shot from the X2 and others the X100.

So always check back to the site for more and again, thanks for reading.

Jun 062012
 

Fun Comparison: Olympus OM-D with Leica Noctilux and Nikon 50/1.2 AIS

by Brad Husick

Now that I am learning to use my new OM-D and enjoying the process, I thought it would be fun to mount some super-fast 50mm lenses and see the results. The two lenses I own in this category are the legendary Leica 50mm f/0.95 ASPH Noctilux ($12,500) and the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS ($695). Both are manual focus lenses. The Nikon has been produced for decades and uses no aspheric glass elements so Nikon has been able to keep the price low for this amazing lens. The Leica 0.95 may represent the state of the art in fast lens design and costs more than most used cars, and about the same number of (nominal) dollars that my parents’ first home cost in the 1950′s.

I think both lenses are capable of some amazing photos. The Noctilux is magical at the widest aperture and quickly sharpens as you stop down. I think its performance is equal to the Leica 50mm f/1.4 ASPH Summilux from f/1.4 to f/16. The Noctilux weighs in at 28 ounces while the Nikon weighs half that amount.

Both lenses were shot at their widest aperture, so this is intended to show what each is capable of producing, rather than a direct comparison of their performance at a given f-stop. I like to shoot these lenses wide open, so that’s the test I performed. I have no doubt that the Noctilux will outperform the Nikon at any given aperture, but you don’t need an advanced degree to guess that. You can buy the Nikon and give one to each of your seventeen best friends for the cost of the Leica.

All the photos were shot in RAW then opened and saved in Lightroom. No adjustments were made except for resizing.

Enjoy the images, and thank you to Starbucks for allowing me to shoot when Seattle is giving us typical June weather (rain!)

click these for the full size crops at 800 pixels wide (shown here at 680)

Jun 022012
 

Comparison Re-Do – Leica X2, Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-7

Ok guys here you go. A bandwidth busting set of full size images from four different hot mirrorless cameras. This time the cameras were all set on a solid surface before shooting so there is zero chance of hand shake or motion blur. You can click on any image for a full size file converted from RAW. Things to note. All cameras were set at f/4. All cameras used their own metering to expose and meter the scene. I converted from RAW and applied ZERO sharpening and changed nothing, so what you see if what came from each camera as covered by Adobe Camera Raw. Also, this was in full, harsh, mid day AZ sun. The light did not change during this 5-10 minute test.

To be honest, the fastest focusing camera here is the E-M5. This is followed by the X100 and X2 which are tied for AF speed and the NEX-7 is the slowest of the bunch for AF (with the Zeiss 24) though it is still very good. All cameras have fast and acceptable AF. Take a look at the files below and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Enjoy!

OK, 1st the Leica X2 – base ISO –  No possibility of camera shake – f/4. Price as tested – $1995

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Now the Fuji X100 at f/4 – base ISO – Price $1199 for silver$1699 for black set

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Olympus 17 2.8 – Base ISO – F/4 – Price as tested $1299

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Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 – Base ISO – f/4 – Price as tested – $2300

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