Feb 182016
Leica 2

The Pursuit of Perfection featuring the Leica M

by Joey Zheng

Leica M_Typ 262_01

Before I start, I wanted to give Steve my deepest thanks for allowing me to write this article for his website and community. I also wanted to let you, the reader, know that this isn’t really too much of a “gear review” as it is a summary of the experiences I had when I first forayed into photography as a child years ago.

It was December 23, otherwise known as Christmas Eve eve. My feet slap against the rain-soaked steps as I slowly follow a throng of people trying to get home after a hard day’s work. A huge raindrop somehow dodges my glasses and hits me square in the eyeball. As I climb out of the packed subway station, the sounds of thousands of tons of echoing, grinding steel gives way to the clamorous battle between the roar of vehicles and the staccato of raindrops hitting the hard, weathered concrete. I pull my hood over my head as I push through on my way home. It’s a miserable day and the fact that water began soaking through my supposedly weather-proof jacket wasn’t helping; yet I couldn’t help but feel happy. And when I finally reached the steps that led to my home, I broke into a massive smile. There, sitting in front of my front door, was a medium-sized brown box (to my slight chagrin, it was slightly wet. Curses, UPS). I took it upstairs, set it on the table, and stared at it for what seemed like an hour before gingerly revealing the contents within.

Okay, that didn’t actually happen. Or rather, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic. I briskly walked home through light drizzle, bolted up the stairs haphazardly after grabbing the box and tore into it with as much energy as someone who’d been on a six-week juice cleanse giving into their desires.

Finally; after almost seven long years of dreaming, I held a pristine Leica M-P typ240 in my hands. Before you could say “Noctilux” I slapped on a lens, threw in the battery, and flicked the switch. The battery had almost no charge and the camera shut itself off to protect it. Rats.

So, after unpacking the rest of the sublime Leica packaging, I began the excruciating wait for the charger to juice up my battery so I can experience my first very own Leica system. While I waited, I spent quite a while thinking about the past seven years and all the experiences and adventures I photographed.

Leica MP typ240, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 FLE

Leica 1

Leica MP typ240, Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 FLE

Leica 2

I can still remember the days in my childhood when I took the family camera (an Olympus C740 Ultra Zoom) out to my backyard and spent hours shooting pictures of flowers in all its 3 megapixel glory (my phone has a higher resolution than that!). Of course, since I was only 10, I didn’t think about resolution, MTF charts, chromatic aberration, or anything like that. All I cared about was if the picture looked cool on that tiny 1.5” screen.

As I grew up and got accepted to take part of my high school’s yearbook team (using that old Olympus, somehow), I decided to graduate to my first dSLR, a Canon Rebel XSi with a kit lens. It was like entering a whole new world of photographic potential; I didn’t have to rely on slow, imprecise, and loud zoom and focus motors, had more resolution (or so I thought at first) to play with, and the lightning-fast operation that dSLRs are known for. I was indeed excited, as my first photo proves:


Ouch. I didn’t know what an AF switch was. I had a long ways to go (still do).

As the honeymoon period started to wane, I began to…ahem…pixel peep. Through yearbook, I was exposed to quite a wide variety of equipment; particularly lenses. There was one lens in particular that I was particularly obsessed about (as well as all the other yearbook photographers on the team), and thus began my gear lust. I started devouring every article across the world wide web about the best lenses, camera bodies, and equipment available. I became inundated with MTF charts, resolution graphs, and all this technical jargon. I couldn’t afford 99% of the gear I saw, but yet I dreamed. Oh yes I dreamed. Don’t even get me started about how shocked I was when I first discovered Leica and the uber-expensive Leica M9 at the time. Oh how naïve I must have been.

Images from Abu Dhabi – Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 1

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 2

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 3

Canon AE-1 Program, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Ilford HP5

Canon AE 4

The next few years I kept trading around my kit, at least when my financial situation allowed me to do so. I always kept searching for the perfect system and became disheartened when my expectations weren’t met when things were blown to 100%. I spent hours watching DigitalRev and their wacky (and sometimes informative) adventures throughout Hong Kong with a variety of gear I dreamed about. But the problem was I was never really satisfied with what I was getting. And the thing is, no matter how I shuffled around my gear, my photography didn’t really improve all that much.

Fashion Week – Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 0

But it wasn’t just self-criticism that I faced during those early stages of my photographic history. Other people weren’t exactly the most supportive either. As I became even more interested in photography, I started taking official classes in school and looked at going to New York to study photography as a major in college. I asked around for advice and comments from my teachers and peers about my work. Let’s just say the two remarks vying for most comment feedback received were “Ew. I look gross. Please delete.” And “Why?”. When I showed my teacher my portfolio for my application to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, the only comment she could muster was “These aren’t strong enough. You have to work harder.” Basically, I was on my own.

Images from China – Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 1

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 2

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 3

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 85mm f/1.4

Canon 5D 4

Fast forward a few years and I find myself living it up in the Big Apple. Yes, despite all the negative feedback about my work, I somehow got accepted in the Photography and Imaging department at Tisch. I still consider it 85% luck that I got in, or because I’m Asian and they wanted diversity, or something. Either way, I found myself with a plethora of interesting subjects to photograph. I was finally out of the sleepy, vanilla suburb I grew up in and thrown headfirst into the chaos that is New York. But I didn’t photograph much. I lost my passion for it, and my camera sat on my shelf, gathering dust.
I glance at the charger. Still halfway to go.

I thought about why I stopped taking photos. Quite simply, I realized that I hated ‘studying’ photography. I wasn’t particularly inspired by my classes, or fit in with my peers too much. I didn’t like being sent on assignments with a particular goal in mind. My classes simply weren’t fulfilling my creative side; in fact, it only served to dull the spark.

I was obviously at a crossroads; my choice of becoming a professional photographer for a ‘career’ became my only hurdle. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life creating images for other people. I wanted to take photographs for myself. I wanted to experience photography. I wanted take photos of whatever I thought was fascinating. And if people liked my work, great. If they didn’t; great. The point is, it didn’t matter to me anymore.

Nagasaki, Japan – Fuji X100T

Fuji 1

Two kids playing just meters from the nuclear bomb epicenter, Nagasaki, Japan – Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 2

Osaka, japan – Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 3

On the train in NYC — Fuji X-E2, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R

Fuji 4

Long story short (even though I’m probably already boring you with my blathering; kudos and cookies for those who have made it this far), I dropped out of school, found film, and I’ve somehow been sustaining myself for the past few years. And the best part is, I’ve rediscovered my passion for photography; except this time, I feel it’s purer. I’m no longer plagued by thoughts of “Oh, this isn’t sharp enough. Trash bin.” Or “If I had this lens, my photographs would be so much better.”
Though the gear lust is still kicking around my noggin somewhere (Noctilux or APO Summicron anyone?), I barely think about it. You can say that yes; I have a Leica…I spent mucho dinero for quality. And in a sense, you are right. But the Leica didn’t become the object of my desires because of its prestige or technical quality. After all, there are cameras out there that have even sharper sensors and a bevy of incredible technologies. I chose Leica because of its simplicity. It’s the most ideal camera for me. I don’t seek to capture the moment perfectly; I simply seek to capture the perfect moment. Like many others have said, the Leica experience is just…so pure. Nothing gets between me and my subject, save for my own skills.

Leica MP typ-240, Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Leica 3

Leica MP typ-240, Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Express permission from Joey Wang required to use.

But that could be said about any camera, really. The old adage of “it’s not the camera but the person behind it” stands true. Before the Leica, I’ve shot with a variety of digital and film cameras, and some of my favorite images come from cameras that can be purchased from eBay for less than a few hundred dollars. All that matters is the image; just like the time I spent in my backyard fiddling around with the flowers.


Although it has been less than a couple of weeks with my Leica, I am no less impressed with this machine. Shooting is an absolute joy, although I don’t have the chance to really put the camera through its paces, at least just yet. Almost all the photos from the Leica you see in this post are pictures that I took to and from work that have been zone focused with manual everything. In the future, who knows. All I know right now is that I want to continue to learn and grow as an (amateur) photographer. It’s an endless pursuit, but I plan to enjoy every moment of it, and I hope that everyone reading this does as well; no matter what camera you have, just go out and shoot. Photography is a beautiful thing.

The rest of the images.. all shot with Leica and Voigtlander 50mm




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Once again, I thank you so much for this opportunity.


Dec 032015

Why do I still shoot digital?

By Aivaras Sidla

Despite fact that film photography is slowly killing digital imaging, despite fact, that digital cameras produce poor results in good and moderate light, there is still fair amount of people shooting digital.

I was always intrigued about this issue and found out there is belief that digital could still produce better results in poor light and darkness. At least some people say so. I suppose this is temporary, until fast evolving film technology will close this gap. Or, on the other hand this could be only illusion, a want-believe of folk, who want to be different from the crowd. Those damn techno hipsters… Btw. I have a beard, but I shoot film, so I’m not one of them.

Being curious person, I found one of those dwindling and dusty new digital camera shops and bought camera. I tried it, I hocked. You know, maybe folks are right; maybe digital still has a slight edge in low light… For now at least.

See it for your self.















All shots (not to much? J) are made with Fuji-X cameras (X100, X-E1, X-T1). Some with native XF35 F1.4 lens, some with Mitakon lens turbo adapter and Pentax lenses.

Readers, hope you have a sense of humor. J


More here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aiwalit/

Oct 222014

Why do we take pictures?

By Arend-Jan Westerhuis – See the website HERE

It’s a vexed question for sure, especially in the psychological sense. But I’m not going to do the full research here.

In the article, which my brother wrote a while back, he introduced us as wedding photographers. And in that proession we have seen a lot of other people take pictures. Some of them really go out on a limb to get their content and by doing so they are sometimes interfering with us or the proceedings of the day. My brothers and I tend not to mind these other photographers as much as some of our colleagues do. Sometimes we call their bluff by jumping in front of them, after they did it to us. Which on occasion is the start of a cold war of ‘who gets the closest.’

So why do they do it? Taking that pictures I mean. For instance; what is driving that uncle to bring his fancy DSLR and that monstrosity of a flashgun to the wedding? Whatever it is he may be doing, he isn’t going to create something beautiful, or document any precious moment in a subtle manner. He is at most having the idea of adding value to the day whilst maybe entertaining the concept of honing a skill. Another archetype we seem to encounter is the girlfriend-of-the-bride unholstering her iphone during her jump in front of us forcing me to recompose the shot . I like to think it is part of their coping process; to stretch out the emotions of the moment by being able to summon them again at will until they are without substance. Possibly hoping to care more on a later moment.

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I did not intend for this article to be a vent, although it certainly seems to start off that way. On the one hand I can congratulate them with their enthusiasm for photography. But on the other I just keep wondering; Why do they even invest the effort? Why don’t they just enjoy that moment where your friends are in the spotlight. I am there as a photographer which is a role I hope to fullfill to their satisfaction. So what is the urge to take pictures without being asked to? Who are they taking those pictures for? And in realising that question I ask myself: Why does anyone take pictures without being paid to do so? I hope that by reflecting on ourselves and others everyone reading this article may find out for themselves what their drive to take pictures is.

Since the dawn of the digital camera it seems everybody deems themselves an artist. Or at least the access to means to be taking pictures has skyrocketed. I see a lot of people with entry-level DSLR’s paired with power zooms who are trying to be creative. On a wedding day they might be thinking they see some things which I might not. Which will probably turn out to be true. The urge to be creative is good in and of itself! I’d say that it is import to try to develop some new skills every once in a while. Possibly a sport or dancing or whatever. But in this case I’d say you pay to high a price. You miss more than you gain. As it seems that at all important life events are witnessed through the lens of a camera. Maybe it would be better to practise on something else?

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In the past there has been a discussion about whether photography could even be art. Some said that is because in essence the camera copies. It doesn’t create because it transcribes. And its product is a resemblance of something that was. Some people reading will probably feel the strong urge to oppose these statements and while I do not wish to deny photography its artistic possibilities I do think a good study of what these people are stating actually helps to think about what makes photography unique to other media. For instance I think that in this copying power lies the true greatness of photography. It enables the photographer to point out something small or big that really happened. Which makes it different from for instance painting where everything is an interpretation. The camera is a witness to things; the things we point it at. Which may be a tear, an emotion, a murder or a kiss. It can be a play of lines, repetition. A photo can be suggestive or revealing. It is the skill of a photographer to see, expect, put together by framing and capture those things. And everyone notices different things!

But is that power of photography still a cherished quality today? Everyone has a camera, so when every picture you see is of something extraordinary, no picture is anymore. Sure, if images of special moments become common it create the urge for something extra. It seems people turn away from wanting to capture extraordinary and move towards the forcing emotions in viewing and the estrangement of the visible world. Some would call it art or a move towards art, but I’m worried photography is blurring with painting, where the first emotion of a photo is no longer: ‘wow, that really happened!’

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Not all is lost yet though. But where we now stand and depending on what group of photographers you are tuned into it seems everything is about filters, lenses and photoshop. VSCO and instagram are solutions available for the amateurs and upwards. The ability to create atmosphere where there was none. Nostalgia has been turned into a forced emotion which can applied to pictures taken just minutes ago. Even Lightroom in the right(wrong) hands can turn a rainy day into a Spanish sunset. On the other end is the use of ultra-high speed lenses which are the solution for the connoisseur. Isolation power seems to be the new standard for those with exquisite taste in glass. The recipe only involves the following ingredients: a subject, a background and high-speed glass. The first step is to place your object anywhere but in the middle, leaving the rest of your frame to be turned into sweet swirly bokeh! Even some good photographers resort to this type of image making once they acquire those expensive high speed lenses. But consider this: if a pictures wouldn’t be a good one at F5.6, it’s also crap at F0.95. Most of us (me too, I admit) drool over the bokeh because everything hard to obtain is something to lust after. It does not, or in any case I think it should not, make the picture substantially better.

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One famous photographer at old age was pointed to the fact that his hands were not as steady anymore. He replied that “sharpness is a bourgeois concept”. I’d say that depth of field has joined sharpness as something to brag with. Sometimes F0.95 might be needed to create sufficient isolation to force attention towards a subject, but most of the time there are other option available as well. In these pictures the isolation is abundant and therefore redundant. This still entails however that I have a timeline on Flickr and Facebook full of pictures which seems to be stuff found on casual Sunday strolls like leaves, flowers and other nonsense. In these types of pictures it’s clearly used to show off lenses, bokeh, filters and such. More important than the actual flower is the size of the bokehballs behind. If you cannot invest the time to find some interesting subjects, maybe you couldn’t afford the gear after all?

One of the better reasons for taking pictures which I frequently hear is that photographs serve well as memories. It is the department me and my brothers are in. ‘The business of memory making’ or maybe just giving people the means that help savour their special moments. And yes, if my house was burning down I too would try to save my hard-drive for the pictures. Pictures as documents of history can be very valuable. But if you yourself and the family are the targeted audience, isn’t it better to make memories before trying to savour them? And by only recognising social highlights as picture worthy, aren’t we cutting short on life itself? The mundane and the average? If the ‘extraordinary’ of what you are taking pictures of is usually a social highlight within your group of friends you might want to consider leaving your camera home more often.

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But what is picture worthy then? Is it up to you? Or maybe up to the viewer? Some people have good eyes for landscapes or architecture and others more for people. Some recognise moments that should be shared, which is the journalistic approach and sometimes, it is the beauty of something or someone. For me personally a good photo is a well-timed and well executed picture of something that occurred. The type of occurrence that make that you cannot go back and redo the image, because whatever it was is gone by then. As long as I have that moment, a lack of sharpness or bokeh is not necessarily problematic, because the moment and what is happening is the central piece. In photography, I would argue, you should put your own needs aside. A photographer should not be bragging through his pictures with his gear, his friends, money or anything else. In editing it should not be about forcing an atmosphere where there was none, let alone faking or manipulating authenticity. I like to think that photography is about letting others see whatever it is you have seen and want them to see. Something real and something that you think might be of value to them. This forces you to become an entertainer and therefore the other has become the audience. Everybody sees a lot of stuff every day and chooses to ignore most of it. So seeing a picture is the author telling you it shows something worth watching. There is a great vulnerability in showing the things you think are special. And in that sense photography is a very serving and humble profession.

So maybe think about it; why are you taking pictures? What message are you conveying through your images?

Kind regards,

Arend-Jan Westerhuis

Links: http://www.westerhuisenwesterhuis.nl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WesterhuisWesterhuis

Oct 022013

“Down The Drain” 

Down the drain

The Future Is In The Past – The Leica Monochrom and Photogravure

Max Marinucci Photography

Fine Art Photography

Silver Gelatin and Photogravure

South Salem, NY


As a photographer and printer, I’ve always seen the advent of digital photography as a mixed blessing. The gain in speed, convenience, immediacy, offered by digital photography, also meant the gradual loss of film and everything related to it (photographic paper, chemicals) and, more importantly, the loss of learned skills and knowledge that are needed to produce truly hand-made prints. I have, of course, continued to use film for most of my work and honed my skills producing quality silver gelatin prints, in a world when a photographer feels like he is constantly swimming against the digital current. Kodak is no longer a driving force and so many manufacturers have disappeared or stopped making photographic product, with Ilford being the only reliable and consistent source as of today. Over the past year, while still dedicated to film photography and silver gelatin, I’ve rediscovered what is the most venerable, and in my opinion most beautiful of photographic processes: photogravure. A venerable process, and a 19th century invention, it was indeed how photography came to life, on paper, at the dawn of it all. On the camera front, as a devoted Leica user, I’ve continued with my trusty M3 and later film incarnations as the M4, M6, M7 and MP, until finally breaking down and acquiring a Monochrom upon release. There was no denying that the allure of a no fuss, great Leica camera that captures images in black and white only was too much to bear but, as my personality dictates, everything has to have a clear purpose. I am not an inkjet printer and I see no purpose in spending a good chunk of hard-earned cash on a camera to simply post digital snapshots on social networks or photography related websites, in a vacuum, with a purely digital workflow. As a photographer, artist and a printer, how do I justify the investment and, better yet, how do I bring the amazingly detailed images that the Monochrom is able to record, to life, on paper? Marrying our historic photographic past to the latest in technology, in a seamless way, and one that offers the viewer, collector, buyer, a tangible product that is not mass-produced but it is a handmade work of art, seemed the one and only way for me.

The Leica Monochrom and Photogravure: the future is in the past.

“The Old Man By The Window”

Old Man By The Window

Because of technological advances within the printing industry, and pioneers such as Jon Cone of Piezography, Roy Harrington of QTR, and Mark Nelson of Precision Digital Negatives (and few others) today it is possible to print absolutely flawless digital positives to use for the photogravure process. Of course, that doesn’t make this amazing process any easier, as it still involves the same numerous (and full of pitfalls) steps as it did one hundred years ago, but one only needs to admire in person the incredible prints born from Leica Monochrom images and onto fine art papers, hand-made with beautiful inks, to realize how special this is. I firmly believe that for a fine art photographer and printer, who is willing to let go of the constant film versus digital battles and discussions, these can be exciting times, if only one is willing to learn and push the boundaries a bit. For my own work it has now come to a point when shooting film with the ultimate goal of making photogravure plates and prints is almost not worth it. Of course, medium and large format film still offer many possibilities but, at the end of the day, film still has to be scanned and that will always be the weakest link (and probably weaker as we go on, as film scanners are barely in production). While results can be more than acceptable with 35mm, and I will still continue on this path on occasion, the amount of detail and the possibilities available with the Leica Monochrom and photogravure are truly exciting and special.

“Porte, Cassis” 

Porte, Cassis 1

For the novice who may be wondering why go through the trouble of using such a cumbersome and antiquated process to produce a print, I’d like to again outline a few important points: obviously, for as beautiful as the best inkjet prints may be, there are no particular skills required and no “hands on” aspect. If one enjoys actually “making” something, an inkjet print gives no satisfaction. Then there is the aspect of the print itself. With inkjet, we have ink (and a crappy one in most cases), sitting on top of the paper. With photogravure etchings, the image is IN the paper. What does that mean? Well, an etching on copper is basically peaks and valleys. The valleys are the deep crevices, which hold more ink and create the deep shadows and blacks, and the peaks will hold much less and create the highlights in print. Of course, we have everything in between, for a true full range of tones. What this does is actually creating a relief on paper. The images have a structure and depth that one cannot replicate with an inkjet printer, or with any other process.

“Strength and Grace”

Strength and Grace

The Prints:

All prints are in editions of 20, with image size 12×8 for standard 35mm format and 8×8 for square crops. Printed on Magnani Revere or Somerset papers, using Graphic Chemicals, Charbonnelle, and Izote etching inks. Of course archival qualities far exceed those of inkjet prints and even silver gelatin. Every print is hand made by me, and hand pulled using a manual etching press. Aside from the original digital file and the production of a “positive” on clear film, the process is fully analog.

A word about the Photogravure process:

Please do note that when I say photogravure, I mean, “copper-plate photogravure”. There is another printing process that uses pre-sensitized “polymer” plates and a few “artists” have gotten into the habit of calling it simply “photogravure”. It is NOT the same thing! Copper plate photogravure, is an etching process. A gelatin resist that is first sensitized in potassium dichromate is exposed (using first an aquatint screen or rosin dust), then applied to a sheet of mirror finish copper, developed and finally “etched” in a series of ferric chloride acid baths. The Photo-Polymer process is NOT an etching process and it does not require chemicals in any of its steps. It is much easier to master and prints can be absolutely beautiful but…IT IS NOT “PHOTOGRAVURE”.

Mar 162013

Using the classic Epson RD-1 by Gus Adi Gunawan Go

Hi Steve! Greetings from Brisbane, Australia! First of all, awesome addictive website! I visit it everyday to see what updates you have for us all to read. What I love the most about your website is your generosity in hosting your reader experiences and post them as daily inspirations. It definitely makes your website unique and highly enjoyable to read.

I have been using many different digital cameras starting from a simple Sony point and shoot in 2005, then moving on to a canon S90, then to a dslr, and then to a mirrorless . I have always been curious about range finders ever since I stumbled upon your website a couple of years ago. You have made me (and million other readers) a huge fan of Leica M9, a camera that I can never afford/justify to get one (at least for now). But the pictures you took with your Leica gear are insanely surreal and your description of how enjoyable using a range finder camera always makes me want to buy one myself. I decided to hunt down an affordable digital range finder and I found your Epson R-D1 camera article that you wrote some time ago. After a bit more research I was convinced and I managed to buy a second-hand R-D1s sold together with a Voigtlander 35mm 2.5 color skopar on eBay. It was a last-minute buy that I initially regretted but after holding the camera in my hand feeling how solid and retro it feels I immediately fell in love with it. I didn’t actually use the camera all that much initially and it just sat idle in my dry box for a couple of months and I occasionally took it out to take pictures of stuff in my house.

Since I rarely use the camera my confidence in bringing the camera as the only camera for a holiday was a bit low. But I decided I have to try my best to learn as I use it and hopefully it will become a second nature for me. Luckily, I get used to it after a couple of days and managed to take pretty decent pictures with it. I love how you can access all the camera basic functions from the top plate buttons. I learned to use the exposure compensation dial/ISO dial quite effectively and I find manual focusing enjoyable.

The camera ISO performance was really decent and I am happy with ISO 800; at ISO 1600 it still produces usable images. The Voigtlander 35mm 2.5 CS was able to produce really nice, sharp, contrasty images and I am very happy to have it as my first M mount lens. Here are some pictures I took during my holiday trip to Melbourne and Sydney. It was a holiday camera so a lot of pictures of my family and friends but I also snap anything interesting along the way. I can’t really decide which 3 pictures to submit so I am sending all the pictures that I like and you can decide the 3 you want to use :) Enjoy!

Gus Adi Gunawan Go








Nov 272012


I Shoot Digital Film by Ofri Wolfus

Hi Steve, how’s everything doing? The other day, while scanning some negatives, it suddenly hit me. I was shooting Digital Film. I immediately thought this might be of interest to your readers, and so decided to write this article. It’s a bit technical but I think understanding these things can really improve one’s work.

In the rest of this article I’d like to discuss what Digital Film is (other than a term I made up :) ), and how anyone can take advantage of it. However, in order to truly understand the idea let’s first understand how digital photography works.

From the moment we press the shutter button of our digital camera, to the point we have a finished photograph, the following three steps usually take place:

1. The sensor inside the camera captures the light hitting it, producing a bunch of digital data.

2. The camera’s firmware then creates a JPEG and/or RAW files. It usually does some processing on the data generated in the first step along the way.

3. We take the image files our camera produced to our computer, and then we apply further modifications to the image until we have a finished file.

Now lets zoom in a bit, and understand what happens in each of the above steps. Firstly, I bet a lot of people are unaware of it but our fancy digital sensors are actually *analog*. Yes, you’re reading this right. The part which converts light to electricity, the thing of which actual pixels are made of and where the magic really happens, is actually an analog device ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge-coupled_device ). Once light hits this analog device it generates electric voltage, which is an analog signal. This analog signal is then passed through an analog amplifier which then effectively boosts the ISO and adds noise. Finally, the signal is fed to a digitizer and then, and only then, our photo becomes digital. Another little known fact is that a digital sensor has a single sensitivity to light. Increasing the ISO in the camera simply increases the amount of analog signal amplification, but the sensor’s sensitivity to light remains unchanged.

At this point lets stop for a second and look back at what we have. Surprisingly, this mechanism is extremely similar to how we work with film. First, we expose the film to light. Then we develop the film, at which point we can push process it, effectively increasing its ISO and adding “noise”. Finally we pick our scanner and digitize the analog data captured on the film. Have you ever noticed this similarity before? :)

Anyhow, lets continue with our process. Once we got the digitized data from our sensor, our camera starts to process this data. First, it applies some noise reduction in order to compensate for the noise generated by the analog amplifier (higher ISO). Then two things can happen – either the camera applies further processing and creates a JPEG, or it leaves the data as is and saves a RAW file. Conceptually however, creating a JPEG is just letting the camera automatically perform the tasks we’d be manually performing on the RAW file, so let’s assume our camera is set to produce RAWs. Again, this resembles the scanning process very much. We can set our scanner to produce RAW files or JPEGs.

Finally, we have our RAW files in our computer. Usually, we’ll apply the following processing in any particular order: color balancing, sharpening, further noise reduction, any kind of color manipulation (saturation, contrast, etc) and so on. Obviously, we’ll do this kind of processing to any type of RAW file, regardless of its origin – be it a digital camera or film.

Now ladies and gentlemen, you know what Digital Film is. It’s both a workflow and a state of mind. You’ve probably been doing it yourself already but perhaps didn’t fully realize the potential, so lets explore it a bit further. When working with digital cameras there are certain techniques that are common. We may also apply them to Digital Film in order to produce really interesting results. Before that however, I’d like to point out two key differences between the “pure” digital workflow and the digital film workflow.

First of all, when film is your origin you actually have the analog data at hand. The equivalent in a digital camera would be to record the electric voltage generated by the sensor to some intermediate media, and postpone its digitization to a later point. Obviously, separating the digitization stage leaves the maximum theoretical resolution fixed, but the actual sampled resolution highly depends on your digitizer (scanner). Conceptually, imagine you had a digital camera that produced huge RAW files. They were so huge that your computer was unable to open them as is. Instead, in order to be able work with them, it automatically scaled them down. If you had a better computer it could scale them down less, and let you work with a file that’s closer to the original. At the time of this writing, this is the state of film scanners (digitizers). They’re not advanced enough to fully extract the details in all film formats.

The second key difference is color. Every digital sensor has its own unique color signature. It’s the way the sensor converts light to a color image. Film however, has a much stronger signature, and each film type has a different one. Conceptually, it’s as if the digital sensor could apply saturation, contrast, color balance, etc before the analog amplifier that increases the ISO. If we had that, each digital camera would produce a very different look, much like different film stocks have completely different looks.

Finally, let’s see how we can exploit this difference in color rendition for our use. For many digital shooters, myself included, pressing the shutter is when we set the framing, composition and exposure. We then have a rough idea of what the final image should look like but we postpone all color modification to RAW processing. Taking this state of mind and applying it to film is simply fascinating. First of all, in my experience, RAW files from scanned film have much more latitude to work with. Second, we get to work with very interesting base colors. When opening RAW files from a digital camera one usually gets dull and flat colors. With film RAWs however, the film’s unique look is already baked in. Saturation, contrast and color balance are already “in the pixels”.

Another neat idea is to think of film RAWs as digital without NR and sharpening applied. Some tools have magical noise reduction abilities and are able to almost completely remove the grain of low ISO films. This then produces files that look digital in their cleanness, but retain the unique film look. Neat Image is one such tool. With low ISO films that have very fine grain, and high enough resolution scans it’s able to completely remove the grain without affecting the sharpness. That said, since grain size is fixed but scan resolution is not, different scan resolutions require different noise reduction techniques.

The last technique I found about lately, and became hooked, is to add film filters such as Alien Skin Exposure and Nik Color/Silver Efex to the scanned film. These can combine with the unique rendering of the emulsion and turn out spectacular colors that I’m unable to get in any other way. Converting color scans to B/W using some B/W “film” filter also produces a very unique look.

Pretty much any digital workflow can be adapted to film this way if you take a moment to understand where it fits in the different processing stages. However, there’s one thing you need to be aware of. Excessively modifying film RAWs will kill the unique film look. You’ll easily end up with a file that looks like it’s “completely digital”. Obviously this isn’t a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. Basically, like with any other effect, don’t overdo it :)

In conclusion, my personal belief is that neither film nor digital is better. To my eyes they are quite similar in the technical concept, but greatly vary in execution. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. They are, in fact, completing each other if you get your workflow right and are not afraid of exploring new things.

Some Examples

So far I processed less than 10 rolls using the ideas described above, but here’s my flickr set with the shots I like so far http://www.flickr.com/photos/ofriwolfus/sets/72157632100772083 On each shot I tried to explain the methods I used for processing, though I’m quite new to film and its processing in general. This is turning into a really fun way of shooting for me, and I hope for others too.

Kodak Ektar 100 scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i. Simply reduced any noise/grain with Neat Image, balanced color in Photoshop and applied unsharp mask. I tried to make it as clean as digital but retain the Ektar look.

Me and my GF, shot on Kodak T-Max 3200 and scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i. Tint added with Alien Skin Exposure, contrast was adjusted a bit in Photoshop from the RAW scan.

Shot on Fuji Provia 400x pushed to 1600. Scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i, but this time I used the proper color space for the file. It was then passed through Neat Image to clean up the grain, then further processed in Photoshop for color balance, sharpening and some curves.



May 312010

My two favorite Digital Cameras ever!

By Steve Huff

A question: Isn’t photography meant to be enjoyable and fun? These days I see so many frustrated photographers shooting, chimping, (previewing their images immediately after taking them) and then they grumble and complain because the image is out of focus, or their exposure was off, or there was motion blur caused by them using a 300mm lens at F8 and 1/60th of a second. They complain and stress about their lens not being good enough or their camera not meeting their needs.

In these “days of digital” things change so fast that if you blink an eye you may miss a new camera introduction. I used to be one of those guys who would stress and buy a new camera every month or two, selling and losing money on every one of them. I was always out looking for the next best thing. The latest and greatest. I would buy big Pro DSLR’s when I would rarely shoot as a pro. I would spend huge amounts of money on a camera with a few lenses only to realize later on that this whole DSLR thing was not “my thing”. Thousands of dollars later I was ready to give up as I was just never really happy when I was out shooting for one reason or another. These days I am pretty content with the cameras I own. My Leica M cameras and my Olympus E-PL1 have given me more enjoyment than any other cameras I have shot with. EVER.

With that said, there are so many great cameras out there these days that it is hard to find a stinker camera when you are shopping in the over $400 price bracket. Getting back to the “having fun” aspect of photography, I believe that in order to truly enjoy this hobby that one must shoot with a camera they REALLY enjoy using. I have shot with so many cameras over the years but the ones that have stuck with me the longest have been my Leica M’s and the Olympus E-PL1 and E-P2 , which I am finding to be the best bang for the buck cameras I have used.

Olympus E-Pl1 in Grainy B&W Mode

My First Leica M, the beginning of the end.

One day during a model shoot I had, I ran into a guy who brought along a teeny hip bag. I asked where his camera was and he said “It’s right here”. He pulled out a beautiful Leica M7 in chrome. Wow. “Can I hold it” instantly blurted out of my dropped jaw, and let me tell you, when I grabbed a hold of this solid hunk of camera I was amazed. The feel, well, it was like a holding a master crafted piece of heaven. I always heard of Leica and never even thought of owning one due to the prices of their cameras. But when I looked through the viewfinder and manually focused using the Leica 50 Summicron lens I was hooked. That was it. Game over.

I went home and decided to sell whatever huge DSLR I had at the time and job #1was to talk with my beautiful wife about it, and convince her that this Leica was for me. That talk with the wife may have went something like this:

Me: “Wow, I shot with the most AMAZING camera today”
My Wife: “Don’t even think about it, you just bought THAT ONE”
Me: “I never said I wanted to buy a new camera, I am just telling you about it”
Wife: What about it?”
Me: “If I owned that camera I would never need anything else.”
Wife: “I KNEW IT!!!……”

To make a long story short, I convinced her that I needed that M7 and before long I had my DSLR sold and I bought a kit from B&H which included the M7 and 50 Summicron lens. At the time it was $4500 for the set and that hurt. I asked myself on many occasions if I was nuts for spending so much on a film camera and one prime lens. After I confirmed with friends and family that I was indeed crazy, I waited for the package with excitement and when it arrived it felt like I was 6 years old all over again and it was Christmas morning.

When I started shooting film after years with digital I said to myself “Uh Oh! I hope I made the right choice! FILM?” but after shooting my first few rolls of Tri-X I was hooked. Also, the rangefinder experience changed my whole outlook on photography. Gone were the worries of which zoom to buy, gone were the impersonal telephoto portraits and gone was the bulk and weight.

Shooting with a rangefinder camera is a unique experience though some may not like it at first. I think it took me a good month before I was fully convinced on it and today there is NO going back to a DSLR for my main camera. Sure, DSLR’s are great but I see them more as a tool for sports, wildlife, macro or action. My son loves his DSLR but he likes to go to airports and shoot planes so he uses a telephoto zoom. A rangefinder would not work for him. Me, I just shoot life…whatever is in front of me, and for that, a rangefinder is PERFECT!

I will shoot a rangefinder until my vision goes and I can not manually focus my lenses. I am 41 so I should have a few years left in me :) Today I shoot a Leica MP, a Leica M9 and and Olympus M4/3 camera I have never been more thrilled or happy while shooting.

Anyway, this article is not to teach you about rangefinders but it is to share my passion with you about why the Leica M9 and Olympus E-PL1 are my favorite digital cameras EVER. Let me start with the Leica M9.

Rangefinders. They are small. Sort of.

One reason why I enjoy shooting so much these days is due  to shooting with a rangefinder camera. Hold a Leica M, A Zeiss Ikon or a Voigtlander Bessa and you will probably say “I want one”. Especially a Leica. They are just the perfect feeling camera with a blend of old school design, bulletproof construction, and a beauty that is more than skin deep. Much smaller than a prosumer or pro DSLR but built even better. Also, due to the amazing glass they have the ability to really capture the emotion and feeling in the moment. Holding a nice rangefinder 35mm camera is a feeling you will really get a thrill from. Using the camera will probably push you over the edge and will make you REALLY lust for one.

Leica M9 and 50 Noctilux 0.95

Those M Lenses…

On a rangefinder you can shoot a 50 1.4 lens at 1/15s (or slower) and get a clear shot due to ZERO vibration inside the body. Also, most rangefinders are all manual and that is a GOOD thing. In the long run shooting manual will make you a better photographer! This is 100% true. Shoot a Leica M camera and one lens for 6 months and when you are done you will have mastered the camera, the focus and be pretty speedy in using it.

When I shoot a Leica M I am happy and content. I no longer want to sell my camera to buy another, and one of the many reasons is the legendary lenses that are available to you when you shoot with a Leica M mount camera. An M9 with a 50 Summilux ASPH has some serious MOJO happening. Hell, an M9 with almost ANY Leica lens has some serious MOJO! Here is a shot with an M9 and 35.

The lenses are incredible but if you find yourself buying an M9 let me just state this: To get the most amount of MOJO out of your new M9, buy a FAST lens! Wether it is a Leica 24, 35 or 50 lux or even a Voigtlander or Zeiss (Zeiss 50 Sonnar is super) you will really see the special qualities while shooting these lenses. IMO the two best lenses for the M9 are the new 35 Summilux ASPH and the 50 Summilux ASPH. Both are loaded with MAGIC.

I enjoy the RF Viewfinder

I happen to be one of those that LOVE using the rangefinder viewfinder. With the frame lines you can easily frame your subject and see what is just outside of your frames. This is something that you CAN NOT do with a DSLR. Sure, with a DSLR it is a what you see is what you get scenario but with a rangefinder you get to see outside the frame. This can be a huge plus for some shots where you wait for the perfect moment before pushing down that shutter button. This is what I did for the photo below. I waited until the man just entered the frame, and I was able to see him walking right into it by using the M9 with a 50mm lens.

The M9 is my favorite digital camera EVER. Not everyone will enjoy it or understand its charms, but for me it has brought me more enjoyment and yes, I have gotten my moneys worth out of it :) I find it the best digital camera for day OR night and with a fast lens it’s tough to beat the look and quality it can give you.

Another camera I have been having tons-O-fun with is the Olympus E-PL1. I was not so sure at first when this little guy was announced but I have to say that it has NEVER disappointed me. For the money, this guy is hard to beat. Buy the camera with the Oly 17 or Panasonic 201.7 and you will have  a small and light combo capable of some “larger than life” results.

The E-PL1 is the bang for the buck champion as of this writing. It has the size, the feel, the quality, and the HD 720P video that puts some HD camcorders to shame. The E-PL1 exposure has always been spot on, the images are sharp right out of the camera, the colors are astounding and the JPEGS rock. When I am not shooting an M, this is the camera I shoot and I am always happy with the results.

So I am happy to say that I love my digital combo of a Leica M9 and the Oly E-PL1. Could I get the same results with a DSLR? Well, for the most part YES but for me, I want a camera that is smaller and more compact and these two fit the bill without any sacrifice in the quality dept. The M8 and M8.2 are also faves of mine, even today.

The bottom line is that if photography is a hobby for you then owning a camera system that you thoroughly enjoy using will make it much more enjoyable. Wether that camera is a big pro DSLR like a Nikon D3s or a small compact like a Canon S90, if you enjoy the experience then you will be much happier and your photos will also show it :)

Have fun and get out there and shoot!


May 132010

Someone e-mailed this to me today. It appears NCPS, one of the largest and most popular labs to send your film to for processing and scanning is in need of help! Check out their HELP WANTED ad on San Diego Craigslist.

I wonder if sites like this one who are re-descovering film and talking about it are helping this little “resurgence”. B&H Photo tells me film sales are way up, NCPS needs people to scan images for them, and Leica tells me the MP is a hot seller right now and they are backordered (but then again, what ARENT they backordered on?). It appears that more and more people are shooting film which is SUPER COOL. I have spoken with teenagers who are wanting film cameras and even my son, who loves his Nikon D3000 dearly wants a Leica M3 for Christmas this year.

IMO, a 35mm film camera with Leica glass and good metering can easily surpass even a Leica M9 for richness, color, and feeling. If you would have asked me this a few months ago I would have said NO WAY IN HELL that a frame of 35mm film could pump out a nicer image than the M9, but it can if it is done correctly. I have seen some pro high res scans from friends and my jaw dropped. Not just with the color but all of the tonal gradations of that color that come through with film. Amazing. I have yet to see any digital file beat some of the scans I have seen.

Also, I have yet to get my own “pro” scans done so I am not talking about the silly snapshots of mine that have been posted so far, but soon I will have some real scans and I will share my results. I also plan on doing a comparison in the next few weeks by taking the same exact images with the same exact lenses with the Leica MP and the Leica M9. I will have the film, which will be print and slide film, pro scanned at high res for the test. Tripods will be used and I will shoot the M9 in RAW and process for best results possible. I will also have the best comparisons PRINTED at 20X30 and share the results.

I am curious to see the results myself. Sure, the M9 wins every time on instant gratification, instant feedback, and convenience but this will be a test to judge the “ultimate image quality” by two of the best 35mm format cameras in existence (IMO). The M9 may win with the print as its 18MP are incredible for large printing.

For my uses, my thoughts are to shoot the M9 and MP and to choose the one I want depending on the situation. The MP for the more “special” moments and the M9 for those times where I want the convenience of digital. Street shooting in NYC? I would shoot both but would expect the MP to give me the more pleasing results with some B&W loaded. A paid job? I would shoot BOTH.

I think there are a bunch of people saying “HEY! You mean I can buy a film camera for $100 and get nicer quality than my $1000 digital?”  Even my local Wal Mart is sold out of film today. The drug store that scans my film says they have been getting quite a bit of film in recently. It goes on and on.

It’s happening but let’s see how far it goes. Even looking at buy/sell forums I am seeing WANTED ads for MP’s, M6’s and film scanners. Pretty crazy! Maybe it’s just a phase, but maybe it will grow bigger.

Yes, film is making a little bit of a comeback at this very moment. In reality a good film camera with a good lens can indeed beat a top end digital file for presence, feeling, soul and capturing a moment. For things like portraits, street shooting, and even landscapes I think film still rules. With crappy drug store processing and scans digital has the edge but if you use a good lab or take the time to do your own (B&W) it’s pretty incredible.

So, now that I made another pro film rant let me write about a few things I dislike about my Leica film experiences…

When shooting film only I miss being able to switch my ISO on the fly. I was shooting at a table at dinner the other night and I had ISO 400 film loaded. Wasn’t fast enough and if I did have 800 speed the grain would have been pretty excessive. A friend shot his M9 at ISO 1000-2000 and his files look smooth and noise free. Mine were not usable due to a red cast and motion blur. Which leads me to the next…

White Balance. On a digital you can change the white balance to adjust to the lighting. With film you will most likely be using a “daylight” film which means that if you shoot in anything other than daylight your images will have a cast to them. Mine were a strong red.

On my MP the max shutter speed is 1000. In sunlight that means no F2 or even F2.8. Most shots are at F8-F11 and then the magic of the lens is gone. It is my opinion that Leica lenses give their special look and “glow” when wide open, so unless you have an ND filter for your lenses you miss out on shooting at F1.4 or F2. Due to the cloth shutter the film M’s top out at 1/1000, but then again my wife’s Contax T2 has a max of 1/500. I guess it all depends on what kind of look you want, but if its shallow DOF then you need ND filters. Not a problem, just more of an inconvenience  to attach and remove them if you are not carrying a bag.

I also hate when labs scratch your negs. Negatives are pretty fragile so with important shots I never have my negs cut. I have the lab put them back in the film canister in a roll. When I scan I cut them myself, using gloves. For silly snapshots I usually do not take as much care because once they are scanned by the lab chances are I won’t mess with those negs again. So yea, negatives need to be stored but I guess its better than having to keep 4-5 hard drives running with multiple backups of your digital files. I had a HD crash once and I lost 3000 images. I did NOT have a backup.

Even with this list of things I dislike about film I think “film is forever”. I have said it before but it is TANGIBLE. It’s REAL. It’s a part of our HISTORY. I have seen so many amazing film images recently that it has made a huge believer out of me. My camera kit will now consist of an MP and M9 as well as the Contax T2 for my wife. It’s all I need. Now, if I can just stop buying and selling lenses I would be set :) But even with my love for film, I still adore the M9 and feel it is a “must” for my kit.

Now, how about some more film images? Again, just el-cheapo, el-crap-o drug store scans here of family snapshots so nothing fantastic. I felt like this article had too many words and no images so I have to post something! Isn’t that what photography is all about? Going out and making memories AND having fun in the process. You gotta love it!

PS – Check back later today for something about the Apple Ipad!

Apr 012010

Why not? This site is all about passion, fun and THE PHOTOS! How about some Leica M9 and M6 comparisons? In other words, film and digital side by side. I am not out to test resolution but it is more about the “look” of film when compared to digital. We always hear how film has a special look, and I agree that is does but I never did a side by side comparison. Now that we have the full frame M9 I thought it would be fun to do!

So lets get started. Today I had my 1st roll of film from the M6 processed and scanned, a roll of Kodak Portra 160 NC. I did a few side by side comparisons between the LeicaM9 and M6, nothing super scientific but I did shoot the same scene with the same lens at the same aperture and ISO. I have another roll with more comparisons that I am hoping to have scanned at high res by a lab tomorrow.

The following M6 shots were scanned by a local drug store at low res so remember that while comparing them. Drug store scans are usually pretty bad so I imagine these would have been even better if scanned by a lab.

These are straight scans, no PP. The M9 images are the OOC JPEGS, just to make it fair. For those intersted, the film cost me $4, the scans/negatives cost me $6, so film is not cheap! Even if you scan your own film look to spend about $6-$7 per roll just for buying the film and then the processing and that is for a C-41 film.

Here are the comparisons. Which do you prefer? I am not comparing sharpness here but instead the “look” of the film vs digital. To my eyes the color of both the M9 and the film is off (again, no PP to any of these) a little bit but the film shots seem to have more “glow” where the M9 shots seem a little more “flat”.

As I noted the color is off on both of these. I blame the M9 AWB and the cheap drug store scans for this. I am hoping to have comparison #2 up tomorrow but it will be with M9 images processed from RAW and hopefully M6 scans from a pro lab in higher resolution (and better color).

Here are few more M6 shots from my first roll with some slight PP for color…all Portra 160 NC.

We were eating at a Cajun restaurant when I saw this blues man playing his heart out. I shot this at F2 and 1/8th second with the M6 and 50 cron.

My M6 has been untouched since it was made in 1994 but the RF is SPOT ON with focus. I grabbed this shot of my son and his step brother with the 50.

Another quick grab. He looked, then smiled and I snapped.

My wife Mina and her Dad Bob.

I wanted to see how low I could go. Even with Portra 160 I was able to get this at 1/8s with the M6. It was night and my wife was standing near a fire pit. The Leica is a great low light tool, even with low speed film.

Something as simple as work boots can make for an interesting photo when shot at F2 :)

I converted this one to B&W using Silver Efex Pro

With some PP these scans look pretty good and IMO, the film shots seem to have a bit more “soul” and “feeling”. I can not wait to shoot more and also start scanning my own. Fun, fun, fun! Yes, I LOVE the M6!

BTW, some have asked me where I found the M6. It was in Phoenix at Collectible Cameras and you can check their used Leica stock or any of their stock at their website HERE. You can call them at 602-944-2112 and if you do, ask for Bill! Be sure to tell them I SENT YOU!

Check back tomorrow for more!


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