Apr 032013
 

 DSC02613

The Leica Monochrom vs the M 240 for B&W Photography, both rock it!

So I  shot all day yesterday in my own backyard trying to figure out how the M 240 stacks up against the Monochrom when it comes to B&W photography.

Before I go on let me state that I adore the Monchrom and I also adore the M240. I feel more than ever that the M240 is the best Leica digital M camera ever made. The files are quite amazing with a rich tonality that the M9 does not match and this is a fact.

What is especially interesting is that the B&W conversions are superb from the 240, even without using software to convert them. I posted  two comparisons yesterday and I have an update for everyone on those right now because many of you voted on which images you thought came from the Monochrom.

Post #1 of the brick wall from yesterday is invalid because I found out last night that the 50 APO Summicron that was lent to me by I-SHOT-IT.COM has become wobbly and a little loose in the focus barrel without any kind of mishandling whatsoever…in fact, I have babied it. This may have caused misfocus or issues in the 1st shot, which was taken with the Monochrom. Yes, the least sharp shot in that test/comparison was taken with the Monochrom! I knew something had to be wrong as I could not believe that the 240 would BEAT the MM in sharpness/detail! No way, no how!

I re-did the shot with a 50 Lux at f/4 and the results are much more even Steven as you can see below in the crops. The MM comes out ahead for super fine detail though as you can see in the crop. The corners were just as sharp on both bodies as well.

newwallimage1s

wallmonocrop

wallm240crop

As for post #2 from yesterday, the 1st portrait with the Noctilux wide open was taken with the M 240. The 2nd one was taken with the Monochrom. The voting ended up at almost 50/50 which says that there really was no clear-cut answer. If those were shot with the MM and M9 there would have been more of a difference. Also, keep in mind that comparison was done with a Noctilux wide open and focus is TOUGH at that aperture up close :) So take it for what it is. Two shots at 0.95 with two different cameras. Again though, they were close.

I also shot more comparisons that show the 240 holds up with the Monochrom in detail, sharpness and tonality. In these next images all I did was turn down saturation during RAW conversion for the M 240 shots. No Alien Skin, no Silver Efex, etc. Trying to keep it as clean as possible.

Click the images below for larger versions with 100% crop embedded. 1st one is the Mono and 2nd is the 240 with Saturation turned down. What do you see in this example?

monoplant-

The M240 shot..more DR it seems. Same settings, same ISO of 320, etc. 

m240plant

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and the M240 in color

colorplant

Let’s try another side by side…

Leica Monochrom – 50 Lux – click for larger and crop

monoground

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Leica M 240 – click for larger. Same lens, same settings – desaturated during RAW conversion

m240ground

I am aware many own the Monochrom and love it to death. I love the camera as well and appreciate it for what it is. A pure, simple, and straightforward camera that has huge capabilities with B&W photography. All of the samples here are untouched and unedited. When you start to edit these files they get even better, with the MM and M240 both. I do see some differences of course but what are these differences exactly? I do not even know sometimes. Both have good DR with the edge going to the 240 IMO. Both can be sharp, but the edge slightly goes to the MM in my experience. Tones are different as you can see in the image below, but slightly.

One more with both straight from camera. The M 240 gives me a slightly different skin shade (brighter/whiter) over the MM but both are superb. Again, I just desaturated during RAW for the M 240 shot. You can click for larger.

mirror

This goes to show just how good the new M 240 is. You get all of the improvements, you get the more stable body (over the M9), you get the live view capability if you want it and the amazing battery life (plus all of the other improvements) over the M9. You also seem to get 90% of  the MM B&W capabilities with a slightly different flavor of B&W. The MM kills the M9 for B&W conversions but not so much the 240. They are very close with the edge going to the MM in the fine details and tonality.

I will say shooting with the MM feels different from any other camera. You go out knowing you only are shooting in B&W and that changes your perspective on the way you see things. The MM is sexier looking, slimmer, and has one job and one job only and it is very good at that one job. The new M is a powerhouse capable of all kinds of treats. I am 100% keeping the M 240 for the long haul just as I did with the M9, that I know. I love BOTH cameras equally though, even though the $1000 less expensive M has more bang for the buck. The MM is special. Those who own one can confirm this.

Bottom Line on the M vs the MM for B&W

Here are two more files..one from the M and the other from the MM. Which is which? Can you tell? Both with the same lens, same aperture and both have extremely amazing detail at 100%. Neither has more than the other. Both are unedited, just resized. You can click for larger. I can now see the differences because I have been working with the files of each camera. How about you?

debbybwconv1

debbyb7wcon2

The 2nd shot is from the M240, converted just by sliding down the Desaturation slider during the RAW conversion :) Want the color version? It is also here:

debbycolor1

It is time for me to tell you a story…

I had one of the first Monochrom cameras on the market. I was 1st on Ken Hansens list and I loved the camera when I had it. I shot it, tested it, and finally started to get to enjoy it after all of the testing was done. But the new M was coming and I did not have the money to buy one (I am far from rich) so I clenched my teeth, shed a tear, and sold my Monochrom because running this site, I HAVE to buy new cameras so I can review them, it is what I do. In order to get a solid long term review of the new M, I had to buy one. The only way to do that for me was to sell the MM. Boo hoo.

So I put the funds aside until the M shipped, which was a couple of months later. When the M came it grew on me more and more each day. But even so, guys like Ashwin Rao were making me miss my Monochrom. Even though I knew the results were close, I wanted that MM back!

Then one day I came into a few extra bucks and splurged instead of doing what I normally do (put it into Savings). I contacted Ken, told him I wanted a MM again and he said “It’s on the way” and the next day..it was in my hands.

So now I have the MM once again and since I was able to do this true side by side I am thrilled as well as confused. Did I just spend all of that cash for just slight differences? Just the pleasure of shooting with a B&W only camera? Not really…

As I sit and think more..some of my fave shots of the past year have been with the Monochrom. There is indeed something there in the final product after editing and processing those files, even if I cant put my finger on it.

The Monochrom is already a classic. It is timeless. The new M 240 is a beast of a rangefinder and I adore it.

I have said before that owning both would be a dream. Here I am..living the dream. :) Now time to go put them to use.

Steve

The Monochrom image sample gallery is HERE

The M 240 image sample gallery is HERE

Apr 022013
 

Just for fun Part 2: Spot the Monochrom!

If you missed part 1, it is happening HERE. That post featured a shot of a wall in daylight using the same lens, same aperture and same tripod position. One with a Leica M and one with a Leica Monochrom. Both were converted from RAW without any PP at all. You can vote on which one you think belongs to the Mono and which one the M and I will reveal the correct answers tomorrow morning.

I had a few e-mails asking me for a portrait test using both cameras, so here you go. Part 2!

The two images below were shot with a Leica M and Monochrom. Both used the Noctilux wide open and both were set to ISO 320 and the same shutter speed. The M image was converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure 4. Can you spot which one is from the Monochrom in this sample? Again, NO processing at all here (besides the conversion of the M file). EXIF has been stripped as well and I will give the answer in a new post tomorrow morning. Should be fun.

Click on the images to see larger with 100% crops embedded. Focus was on the center of the glasses rim on both. Vote in the poll below the images! Answers to BOTH polls/comparisons will be up tomorrow morning in an all new post.

Steve

UPDATE: Answers and more comparisons HERE

image1noctwide

image2noctwide

Final poll numbers 52% to 48% with most votes going to image 1 being from the Monochrom

ANSWER: Image 2 is from the Monochrom

See updates and more comparisons HERE

Feb 282012
 

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

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

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

The SLR Magic 50 T0.95 LM Hyperprime

Voigtlander 50 f/1.1 Nokton on M9

 

IN THE HAND

The SLR Magic…

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

The Voigtlander Nokton

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

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

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BOKEH

The SLR Magic…

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

The Voigtlander Nokton…

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

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

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SHARPNESS WIDE OPEN or CLOSE TO IT

The SLR Magic…

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

The Voigtlander Nokton…

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

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

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SHARPNESS STOPPED DOWN

The SLR Magic…

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

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

The Voigtlander Nokton…

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

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BARREL DISTORTION

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

The SLR Magic…

The Voigtlander Nokton…

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

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COST

SLR Magic…$4388

Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 – $1049

Winner – Voigtlander Nokton 50 1.1

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CLOSE FOCUS 

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

SLR Magic…

Voigtlander Nokton…

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

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

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

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

The Voigtlander lens is available now from B&H Photo

The SLR Magic lens will be available September 2012

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

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

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Oct 262011
 

Ok here you go! I have had a ton of requests for this test and I will be adding it into my official NEX-7 review as well. Many wanted to know how the newly released NEX-5n stacked up against the high megapixel but same size sensor NEX-7 in the high ISO department. So I set up my gorilla pod and did some testing.

DETAILS:

I shot the scene with both cameras using the Zeiss 24 at f/5.6. I shot one at ISO 100, then followed  that with 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, and 12,800. I processed each file from RAW using Capture One which is supporting BOTH cameras. I left everything at default but turned off Noise Reduction so this was at 0 for each file. I wanted to show the RAW performance of each sensor not the JPEG Noise Reduction performance.

ALSO, I did NOT match shutter speeds. I shot these at f/5.6. Same lens as stated above. I did NOT match shutter speeds as I prefer to test a camera for real world use. In other words, if camera “A” chooses one exposure and camera “B” chooses a slightly different exposure then that is what you can expect from each camera. Matching shutter speeds when and if a camera chooses one slightly different is not showing what you will get from the camera when out shooting with it, and to me, this is the ONLY way one should test a camera. REAL WORLD as I have said from day one. Not “Scientific” as “Scientific” is not how we shoot.

I made 100% crops of each at full resolution. 24 megapixels of the 7 and the 16 of the 5n. I then resized  the NEX-7 files to the same size of the 5n files to see how they stacked up in this way. Below are the results, let me know what you think!

First a web resize to 1800 pixels wide (click for that size). The NEX-7 at ISO 3200

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and the same image with the 5n, resized to 1800 pixels wide – ISO 3200

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and now the 100% crops from the NEX-7 and 5n at all ISO’s tested and at the native resolution of each camera

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and finally, the 100% crops with the NEX-7 files resized to the same size as  the 5n. 

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It is no question that the 5n does a bit better at high ISO. The NEX-7 is using the same size sensor but crammed way more pixels on to it. This will cause more noise which is why I am a big believer in large sensors and less pixels :) But overall, they are not really THAT far off. Up to you to decide how important higher ISO shooting is. The files above were all straight RAW conversions and again, with ZERO noise reduction. Hope this helped some of you who were looking for this test!

Dec 132010
 

Happy Monday to all! Today I decided to post a quick comparison between the much loved Leica X1 and the misunderstood Ricoh GXR (tested here with the 28mm Lens Module). I was curious as to which camera put out a better file, which camera had better high ISO and which camera was faster in operation. Here are my findings and I hope you guys find them useful.

We all know the Leica X1 is a gorgeous compact camera that packs a whallop in the image quality department. The main issue with the X1 is it’s cost ($1995) and its slow AF speed (which will be improved with firmware that is being worked on now). Other than that it has proven to be a remarkable little camera. The GXR has had a tough time in the market due to the fact that it takes “lens modules” that have a sensor built in to the lens. You can see my full GXR review HERE but I myself really enjoy the camera and find its build, feel and operation are really really good. The 28mm lens module is really a great lens but the GXR and X1 do have some differences in the way they render an image.

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BUILD:

The GXR wins in the build quality department. It’s sturdier feeling and just feels solid. The X1 is very very nice here as well but has a sort of lighter more hollow feel to it. Still, both cameras are great in the build department. No complaints. The X1 is a prettier camera no doubt but that is all personal preference. Some will enjoy the industrial looking GXR and many will drool over the sexy looks of the X1. I love the style of the X1 and think it’s a better looking camera than the GXR.

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AF SPEED:

Between the GXR with the 28mm and the Leica X1 the GXR is a bit faster with focusing. When the new firmware comes out for the X1 in the next 2-3 months then they may be equal or the X1 may even be faster because I have been hearing good things about the speed enhancements. As it is now, the Ricoh locks on a bit quicker than the X1 but truth be told, neither are speed demons but both are VERY accurate and rarely miss focus.

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IMAGE QUALITY:

This is the big one. Both cameras use a larger APS-C sensor and they do so while keeping the body sizes small. Both cameras go up to ISO 3200 and the X1 has a 24 Elmarit which ends up being a 36mm equivalent while the 18mm on the GXR happens to be a 28mm equivalent. So the focal lengths are a bit different in these tests but it was as close as I could get with the GXR. All tests were done at the same aperture and a few were with the same exact setting while some I let the cameras choose their own exposure in A mode.

**YOU MUST CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO SEE THE FULL SIZE FILES – THEY ARE STRAIGHT FROM CAMERA (RAW) WITH NO ENHANCEMENTS OR ALTERATIONS**

BELOW – GXR WITH 28MM – F/8 – Base iso of 200

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BELOW – X1 at f/8 – Base ISO of 100

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100% crops – no enhancements – no sharpening – no tweaks – straight from camera (RAW)

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and more…This shot was ay ISO 1600 with each but I let the camera pick the shutter speed to see how each camera would expose the scene.

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and the 100% crops…

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More at ISO 200 – f/2.8 – remember, click on each image for the full size out of camera untouched files!

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and the 100% crops…

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Some high ISO testing – I used a tripod here and set each camera to the same ISO, same aperture and same shutter speed..

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and the 100% crops…

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one more – testing ISO 1600 and Auto White Balance in semi low light (indoor daytime) – The GXR does have better AWB IMO over the X1 and its shows here. The X1 has the yellow cast that shows up in lower light.

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and the 100% crops…

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So there you go. Comparisons at low ISO, the highest ISO and a AWB test. Both cameras seem pretty similar with the X1 seeming brighter (and maybe more livelier) in most situations. In some of the shots it appears the GXR is a little sharper than the X1 but it also has a bit of a different signature. The GXR has better AWB in low light IMO. The X1 is $1995 and the GXR with 28mm lens is about $1050, almost half the cost. The GXR has the capabilities to change lenses/sensors and the X1 does not.

The X1 is a Leica and has the red dot and is a gorgeous looking camera. It’s simple, has easy controls and is highly a highly capable camera with a fixed focal length of 36mm. The GXR is more industrial looking and sturdier. While the controls are not as elegant as the X1, they are there.

I’ve had people ask me which camera I would buy if I was starting from scratch and wanted a compact big sensor camera – The X1 or the GXR system. That would be tough because I would have to see what the new firmware does for the X1 but with that being said, I think my heart would want the X1 but my brain would tell me to go with the GXR. Then again, the Fuji X100 which should be available within 3 months will throw a wrench into this whole thing. If the Fuji is as good as it appears to be (and it may not be) then it will be the one to beat. BUT the Fuji is much bigger than the X1 or the GXR so it is not really a compact.

For a compact big sensor you have three choices that are good – The Leica X1 at $2k, the GXR and Module at about $1k and the Sony NEX-5 with kit lens at $700. Those are my three favorite in the small size/big sensor market.

Thanks for reading this and I hope it was useful to some of you! The X1 is currently out of stock almost everywhere but it seems that Dale Photo has at least one in stock here and they are a site sponsor that is 100% trustworthy. The GXR is available through Amazon for $349 for the body only, and they have a few in stock HERE. The 28mm module is available to order at Amazon as well. Enjoy!

Steve

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

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Nov 082010
 

Above: Leica M6TTL with 28 Elmarit 2.8

 

Above: Leica M9 with 50 Summicron f/2

Leica M6 to a Leica M9 by Adam Marelli

Setting Our Differences Aside

Change can be challenging, especially with tradition at its back. The newest interpretation of the M line shares the same genes of its ancestors, but has a different way of expressing itself.

When things are going well, why make a change? In Leica’s case, things were not actually going that well. Kodak discontinued its epic Kodachrome film, some camera shops canceled orders for new film, and an era of film photography appeared to be drawing to a close. The fate of Leica film cameras was predicted by many people to be sealed. In an ironic twist of fate, Leica’s full frame digital M9 created a resurgence in film, film cameras, and film sales. This massive contribution is the accidental by product of creating a digital camera that feels like its film predecessors.

When the M8 was announced, I was not amazed. It was an over priced imitation of an M camera with a reduced sensor. People I met, who knew still shot film, could not help but asking, “So what do you think?! M8?” Leica was taking a step in the right direction, but they still needed some time to grow. Fast forward to the release of the M9 and a sigh breathed across the rangefinder community that at last a comparable alternative to our film cameras has arrived.

Many of the M9’s features, are like an inside joke, only making sense in context. The detachable base plate, soft release, and manual dials originated over 50 years ago. The roots of Leica’s film cameras are deep, very deep. So when I got the call my M9 was in stock, I could not wait to see how much re-learning needed to be done.

Above: M6 0.58 finder

 

Above – M9 0.68 finder

x 0.58 finder

In hand the M9 feels like a film camera. The body is slightly thicker than the M6 I use and there was no film advance lever to rest my thumb on. Since there is no film, the film rewind button was also missing, giving the M9 a minimal feeling. Holding the camera up to my eye, the viewfinder has a tighter magnification than I was used to. x0.58 is the viewfinder I prefer, mostly because I shoot a 28mm lens. With the lesser magnification, the 28mm is much easier to compose because the frame lines are visible without having to look around the edge of the viewfinder. The M9’s x 0.68 finder pushed the 28mm lines back to the edge of the scene. This was going to make for a little learning curve when using the 28mm.

Meanwhile the 50mm was perfectly suited for the new viewfinder. As a personal trait, I will admit to resisting convention. Leica has paired their 50mm Summicron with their cameras for years in the “Starter Set”. This lead me to try the 21mm and 28mm as my everyday lens. Over time the 50mm Summicron kept sneaking its was back on to the camera, until I conceded. It is a brilliant lens and a focal length that any camera sommelier would select for a successful pairing. It spends most of its time on the M9.

Above: M6 Shutter Dial

 

Above: M9 Shutter Dial

Shutter Dial

– The “A”

I found a large A on the shutter dial of the M9, which promised to give automatic shutter speeds. Having only used an M6 the A feature, which is available on the M7 seemed interesting. I was super excited to try out this new option, which allows you to meter a scene, press slightly harder to lock the reading and then recompose the shot if necessary. It was the closest Leica has ever come to automatic features typically found in DSLRs.

When is it useful…

Walking around cities, waiting to catch some instant moment, I leave the camera on A, set my aperture to 4.0 or 5.6 and feel ready to fire. If something comes up quickly a picture can be taken without thinking, just focus (or pre-focus) point and shoot. It is wonderful.

- 8s, 4s, 2s

Like a godsend, the M9 comes equipped with a self timer (2 or 10 seconds) and exposures on the dial all the way to 8 second. In “A” the shutter will stay open for up to 4 minutes but I prefer to use “B” and a cable release for these situations. The dial settings, of multiple seconds, adds a level of precision to what used to be a tricky task of counting in my head.

- When is it useful…

The difficulty of long exposures is not moving the camera while pressing or releasing the shutter. A cable release allows for a movement free release, but what if you left it at home? By using the self timer and the multiple second presets, low light pictures are infinitely easier with the M9.

Select self timer.

Set the length of the exposure.

Press the release.

Brace the camera for the exposure.

Hold tight until the picture is complete.

Around the World

The added features of “A”, 8s, and faster speeds like 1/4000 make for a very full dial. Leica managed to squeeze all these settings on a dial the same size as an M6 dial. The trouble is, how do you tell what the setting is when you are not looking?

The M6 dial has a few indicators that allows you to know where the setting is without looking. The “Off and B” and “1/30, 1/50, and 1/60” are spaced closer together than the other settings. For example, if the dial is set to 1/125th and the scene you are looking at is dark, as the dial is rotated to longer exposures you can feel a double click as the dial passes over 1/50. Its a great way to know that holding steady is very important. Since the M6 dial stops at the “Off” and the 1/1000, its easy to tell what shutter speed you are on without looking.

The M9, on the other hand, spins 360 degrees with half steps between each shutter speed. In the M6 days, half steps were only possible in the aperture settings, not in the shutter speeds. So if a scene was half a step off, you had to change the aperture to get the right setting. The added feature is welcomed, but now its impossible to tell the shutter speed without periodically at the camera. Its not a big deal, but it takes some getting used to. When I go back to the M6 its nice to know where I am without looking, but I miss the additional settings. (Moral of the story: Owning more than one Leica is fun. They all have their strengths and weaknesses).

Above: Leica M6 Base Plate

 

ABove: Leica M9 Base

Base Plate

The day I picked up the M9, my immediate thoughts were to open everything up and see how it compared to the M6. When I tried to remove the base plate, there was no catch. Leica put the opening mechanism on the other side of the camera. The new battery position of the M9 is where the old catch used to be on the Leica’s earlier M cameras. Fortunately the M9 base plate does not need to be removed as frequently as a film camera. Instead of 38 images, an 8 GB card usually allows for 422 shots.

The other adjustment Leica made was putting the tripod thread in the center of the base plate. Traditionally the tripod threads were on the right had side of the camera. When I transitioned from a Hasselblad to a Leica, I thought this was a strange place to put a threaded attachment. It meant that the camera was asymmetrically balanced on a tripod. With a full size tripod this makes almost no difference, but when using a table top tripod you must be careful otherwise the solid M body will tip over a light weight tripod. Over the years, the right handed threads proved to be useful. Whenever I would use the tripod against a wall, instead of on a horizontal surface, the M6 would be cantilevered away from the tripod, giving my face plenty of clearance to compose and image.

The M9, has centered itself, both literally and figuratively to some of the trends of modern DSLRs, namely a centrally located tripod thread. This allows the camera to balance on a tripod. With this small change, Leica has eliminated two problems. Number one, the camera does not pull the tripod off balance by being cantilevered out in space. Number two, when the ball head is released the lopsided camera does not drop out of position. Obviously if the ball head is completely loosened the camera will drop all the way to once side, but with the threads in the center of the camera, smaller adjustments are easier.

Above: M6 Leatherette

Above: M9 Vulcanite

Exotic coverings for cameras never attracted my attention. The idea of having some nearly extinct animal wrapped around my shoes or camera does not appeal to me. This is not my rant on animal rights, but I figure, I eat beef. There is no sense throwing the skin away, better to use it. Recently I noticed that Leica said their ostrich covering was not actual ostrich. Good news I believe.

The M6 comes with a standard black leatherette wrap, identical to that found on the M7. It is smooth to the touch and very durable. My camera was built in the 1993, was bought used, and still looks new. On the M9, Leica decided to offer the black camera with the traditional vulcanite wrap used on M3’s. It gives the newest addition to the M line a retro look. For those who do not like the textured feel of the vulcanite, the grey M9 has the smooth leatherette cladding that you will recognize from the MP’s. Vulcanite is a heavily textured mixture of silicone mixed with latex. There was some criticism on the internet that vulcanite was inherently unstable. UV rays supposedly cause it to break down and turn to dust. I trust Leica has solved this issue before wrapping a few thousand M9s in vulcanite.

Beyond the chemical properties of the wraps, I am not partial to one over the other. It is helpful having the M6 and M9 with different finishes. This way their “feel” of the camera is obvious from the first second I pick them up. If I could ask Leica for my ideal camera covering it would be the suede side of way ward calves leather. Andy Warhol once had the Parisian shoe designer, Olga Berlutti, make him a pair of shoes. When she asked him what type of leather to use, he wanted the skins from cows that were rejected from production for inconsistencies. As a result, his shoes were imperfect from the beginning. This is consistent commentary made by the man obsessed with repeating the same picture, slightly different every time, imperfections and all.

ISO

Most photographers who shoot film stick to a handful of film speeds, manufacturers, and film types. My M6 is usually loaded with Fuji Provia 100 slide film. Its a great all around travel film. The color saturation is strong, but not outrageous. Its grain is small due to the relative slow speed of 100 ISO. And per roll Provia 100 ($6.99 per roll) is more cost effective than Provia 400x ($10-$14 per roll). There are occasions where I would prefer to shoot higher speed films, but the draw back with any film camera is, once the film is loaded there is not much wiggle room to change film speed.

Enter the M9. The setting with the highest dynamic range and color saturation is 160 ISO. This is familiar to my brain and helps me estimate exposure when I need to set up for a shot without using the cameras meter. I tried using the “A” setting for a while on the M9, but I just don’t like the metering lock enough to use the feature. Using the shutter manually is just my preference. It does not mean you should do it too. Use whatever system works best for you.

The flexibility of adjusting the ISO is a relief. It has allowed me to to take sharp pictures in darker situations with a greater depth of field. Unlike the popular trend of shooting everything wide open, I enjoy the challenge of creating a picture that utilizes more of the scene. Being able to bump up from ISO 160 to 640 with a quick flick of the adjustment wheel is a welcomed feature. Even at 1250 the images are surprisingly good. Initially I was skeptical and thought, I will shoot the M9 just like the M6. But by trying to aspire to the greatest saturation, I realized that I was missing pictures. Now its more fun to run wild with the ISO.

Notice the magenta around the edge of the image. In Black and White, the cast is less of an issue, but in color it requires some serious correction to eliminate the cast.

Ultra Wides

Some people have asked me, has the M9 rendered the M6 obsolete? By solving the full frame rangefinder dilemma while maintaining Leica’s tradition, why didn’t I sell the M6? Now this can be a difficult conversation to have with someone who has never shot film. Without explaining that film images look different than digital and that the experience of shooting a film camera does not compare to shooting in digital, there is still one area where the M9 cannot compete with the M6, Ultra Wides. The Voigtlander 15mm is not my everyday lens, but when I need it, nothing else does the job.

Because of the close distance between the back of the 15mm lens and the M9 sensor, the peripheral light rays to not make proper contact with the sensor. To explain why that would occur, I will let Erwin Puts explain it. He is much more qualified than me. But, the results of a rear element being too close to the sensor means that the corners of the image go magenta, REALLY magenta. It can be corrected in post production, but it is strong enough to keep me from using the 15mm on the M9 with any frequency. Ultra Wide lenses like the Voigtlander 12mm and 15mm Heliars perform much better on film cameras. Since the 15mm requires and external finder, I leave the M6 set up for wide angle, while I rotate my 28mm and 50mm lenses on the M9.

Conclusion

For those of us who are used to shooting film, the transition to an M9 is easy. It looks and behaves like a film camera with a few bonus buttons. Picking up an M6 after weeks of shooting the M9, is not too shocking. Leica pulled off a remarkable feat, by making a new digital camera that retained almost everything their photographers have enjoyed since the 1920’s. That doesn’t mean its a flawless camera and there are not improvements that could be made.

Like most Leica cameras, it comes with its eccentricities. It will not convert millions of Canon and Nikon users and is by no means the “Best Camera Ever.” That, aside from being a profoundly inaccurate statement, implies a hierarchy that does not actually exist in photography. All cameras, in every format and at every price point, come with their pluses and minuses. For me, Adam Marelli, at this moment in time, it IS the best camera ever. Will this change? Sure, but in the mean time, it is doing its job supremely well. Thank you Leica.

BTW, the M9 is currently available from DALE PHOTO, Ken Hansen and B&H Photo! My most trusted sources for Leica gear!

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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.

LEICA M9 – 35 SUMMARIT – F2.5

OLYMPUS E-P2 – 35 SUMMARIT – F2.5

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.

LEICA M9 – 50 SUMMICRON – F2

OLYMPUS E-P2 – 50 SUMMICRON – F2

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.

LEICA M9 – 75 SUMMICRON – F2

OLYMPUS E-P2 – 75 SUMMICRON – F2

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!

Steve

UPDATE -

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.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL SIZE OOC IMAGE

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.

CLICK HERE FOR OOC ORIGINAL

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.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL SIZE OOC ORIGINAL

Enjoy!


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Jan 212010
 

Yes I know these crazy comparisons are kind of silly but they are a way to pass the time on nasty wet winter days and besides, my M9 was MIA last time :) This time I have four cameras, two of which are midline DSLR’s. I then have a $7000 camera with a $2000 lens and a m4/3 $1100 camera/lens combo. The DSLR’s, the M4/3 and Leica M are all different types of cameras right? But which one will give you the best picture quality with each lens set to F5.6? I did this quick test in my living room using a tripod to avoid any hand shake.

The Canon 7D used the kit 28-135 zoom, the Nikon D300s used the 18-200 kit zoom , the E-P2 used its 14-42 kit zoom and the Leica used a 50 Summicron which used to be the kit lens with the M7.

So lets see how it went shall we? Again, let me stress! I do these things for fun. I had some positive e-mails about these comparisons so I decided to keep doing them even though they can be off the wall. I was surprised to see that the worst of the bunch here was the Canon 7D and its kit zoom. The best was the Leica M9, followed by the little E-P2. Here is the image and then crops with links to download the full size files. These were all shot RAW and converted in ACR 5.6 using defaults.

Here is the scene. My dusty fireplace mantle.

download the full size imagesM97DD300sE-P2

and now the crops:

That 7D kit lens is a dog, I am sorry but its true. Let me add that I took each shot three times and all ended up with the same result. If you download the full size originals you will see the Leica M9 is WAY ahead (as it should be for the $$) and what was surprising was the little E-P2 with its cheap-o kit zoom! In my opinion, it beat out those big DSLR’s in this one. You really can’t blame the lenses as the Oly Kit Zoom is a $200 lens and the Nikon 18-200 is about $800 with Canons 28-135 Zoom coming in at under $500. I have to wonder why Canon would release such a sweet DSLR and pack it with such a mediocre zoom? Why even offer a kit if the kit lens is going t o make the camera look bad?

I have shot with the Canon 7D for a while now and find the kit zoom lackluster in so many ways. The cheap $99 50 1.8 gave me much better results with this camera. I suggest if you buy a 7D, skip the one with the kit zoom and go for a body only with a better lens. The Nikon 18-200 Zoom is pretty good except at 18mm where it has some barrel distortion and vignetting. Other  than that I like the 18-200 and find its a great lens to put in to a kit with the D300s. The little Olympus continues to surprise me. Even with its kit zoom that many moan and groan about, it performed well here. The Leica 50 Cron is a Mandler designed legend and I have fallen for this lens in a big big way. I love it and I have shot with EVERY Leica 50mm currently available. I will have a review of the 50 Summicron soon!


Jan 172010
 

What do the Canon 7D, Nikon D300s and Olympus E-P2 have in common? They are all sitting in front of me begging for a crazy comparison! I was bored last night and stuck in the house. Pretty sad for a Saturday night huh? While everyone else in the world was out having a great time I was sitting in my bedroom taking pictures of a lamp and humidifier. Ha ha.

In any case, I am working on a few reviews right now and decided I would throw this up in the meantime. I would have thrown my M9 in to the mix but I will not have it back until Monday. Anyway, here are three shots, three crops, and three links to full size images. Each camera was on a tripod and set to the same exposure, same ISO and AWB. These were processed from RAW with ACR 5.6 using default settings. In other words, pretty much straight from camera. Here we go…

First up the feature packed Canon 7D. This camera feels so much better in my hand than previous Canon DSLR’s. It feels nice, solid and NOT cheap like the 5D kind of does. The camera had the Canon 50 1.8 attached set to F5.6, ISO 200, 2 seconds.

You can click the image for a 1400 pixel wide version OR click HERE for the full size 14MB  file – I believe the lens back focused here (took the shot 3X, same result. Focus was on the “Air-O-Swiss” text)

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