Jan 162014

A few thoughts on the Leica M 240. Softer than the M9?

By George Sutton

I thought I would add my comments on the Leica M240. By way of background, I owned a M9 previously and now shoot a M240. It has taken some time to get used to the M240 but the more I use it the more I like it and now rank its image quality among the best available. At first the images seemed less crisp than the M9 but when enlarged the detail is there and the images have a kind of 3D character. The softness many people see with a M240 is actually a smoother rendering that really shines when the image is enlarged, especially compared to the grittier character of the M9. Another thing I notice is that details just flow out of an image when it is enlarged. The M240 has a lot more range than the M9. Shadows are noiseless. I have increased the exposure by 3 stops on underexposed shots with no noise or loss of color or contrast. In terms of ISO, the M240 is as good as any camera I have used. The live view is helpful much of the time especially for framing the shot. I can shoot an 18mm lens easily without having to mount the extra viewfinder. The only thing I don’t like about the new camera is having to go into the menu to adjust exposure.

When I travel I want a simple and compact camera but also the ability to get the best IQ when a I encounter something special. I now carry a Sony RX100 in my pocket and a small backpack with the M240 and a couple of lenses and small tripod. The only photo I can’t get with that kit is a fisheye or very long telephoto. I also have a top of the line Canon DSLR and lenses and I know I could not get a better image if I hauled it along instead of the Leica.

I have not shot a MM and would not buy one because I don’t want to be limited to B&W and I am very satisfied with the B&W conversions I get with the M240. Would I get an even better B&W image with a MM? I don’t know. I do know that the images I get from the M240 are really good and meet my needs for both color and B&W in one camera.

The following are three shots I took on a recent trip to visit Christmas markets in northern Europe. The first is a color shot of a restaurant on the main square in Brugge, Belgium taken with a 35mm Summilux. The color is a big part of the character of this place and the shot would not work as well in B&W.

I recommend right clicking these and opening in a new window as they are full size files..


The second is a night shot of part of the front of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany taken with an 18mm Elmar. it is cropped about 50%. Although there is not much color it still works better in color than it would in B&W. It shows how well the image holds up enlarged.


The last shot is a B&W conversion showing sculptures on the face or our hotel in Colmar, France taken with a 90mm Elmar. It works much better as a B&W and retains the detail and 3D character of the original color photo.`


Apr 022013

More Leica in Asia photos by George Sutton

I recently had an opportunity to travel to Myanmar. It is just opening to tourists after being essentially closed since WWII. The military has governed (using that term charitably) most of that time repressing all opposition and otherwise living apart from the general population and controlling all the wealth. The rest of the nation mostly lives as it always has. Today it is one of the most impoverished nations in Asia but that only means a lack of material wealth, not the kind of desperate living on the street and scavenging in garbage dumps for things to eat and wear found in other places. We didn’t see beggars or people crushed by poverty. It is a fully intact society frozen in time in one of the richest Buddhist cultures anywhere (rich in a spiritual, not material sense). For now, taking a tour is unavoidable. The food is excellent but you have to know which restaurants to pick. Paying for anything is very difficult because credit cards are not accepted and US currency can only be exchanged for the local money at some places and they only take crisp new unwrinkled dollars. There are excellent hotels but getting a room can be difficult.

This was a photo tour led by a guy (Karl Grobl) who specializes in photographing Asian people particularly in remote areas or places affected by a disaster. He mostly works for humanitarian organizations but leads a few photo tours to fill his schedule. His style of shooting is interesting. He shoots hundreds of photos then sends them via the internet to clients who select shots to use and do all the post processing. It works best to shoot jpegs. Limited internet access and bandwidth makes it impractical to send raw files. He carries two DSLRs, one with a zoom telephoto and the other with a wide-angle zoom. He clips these cameras on each side of a belt designed to carry cameras. That enables him to quickly grab either camera and get a shot of any scene he may encounter. He currently shoots Nikon D3s because of its high ISO quality and ability to get a rapid sequence of shots. He has adjusted the camera to get the saturation, contrast and sharpening he wants in the jpeg then sends the batch as it comes out of the camera at the end of each day or as soon as he reaches a place with internet access.

I took a DSLR but shot raw. I also took a Leica M9 mostly to try it out and to see if it would work better in some places like walking around a city or village. It worked great in those situations. The DSLR was indispensable in many other places like inside dark temples, when a very wide or long lens was needed, or in rainy weather. I first tried the Leica in a market where I figured it would not be a big loss if the shots were not as good as the DSLR and ended up with some of my favorite shots of the trip. Some of those shots follow.

The first is of a lady who spends hours every day sitting before a statue of Buddha in a monastery. Buddhists don’t worship Buddha. They practice good karma because that is what enables them to live a better life in the next reincarnation and with enough good karma one can escape the cycle of birth and rebirth. They revere Buddha for teaching that and revering him is itself good karma.


The next shot is of men making the alms bowls that monks carry to collect food. Lacking automation, these guys take lids cut from the top of used oil drums and beat them in the bowl shape with hammers. This is literally the main shop of the biggest bowl maker in Myanmar. Once the bowl is pounded out it is painted with a thick lacquer and fitted with a lid and handle made from bamboo.


The next shots are scenes from a typical city marketplace. The old guy has just finished his morning soup and is enjoying a cigar watching a soap opera.


The guy on the large tricycle is a typical delivery man. These are the equivalent of a delivery van in a modern city.


The girl was probably on her way to school. The decoration on her face is a kind of wood dust made into a paste. For her it is makeup but for most people it is a kind of sunburn protection.


The last shot shows a kind of truck used for just about everything outside the cities. I was told it is made in China. These haul people or other loads. The bed can operate like a small dump truck. This one is delivering people to a monastery in a small town in the center of the country.


I hope you like them.


Nov 152012

Fisheyes are more than a gimmick.

A recent post discussed the choice of fisheye lenses for 4/3 cameras, particularly the Panasonic f3.5. The comment was made that these lenses are mostly a gimmick because of the severe barrel distortion. That is true in many instances. These lenses do not work for portraits, for example, unless you want to show someone with a really big distorted nose. I would not take a fisheye to walk around a city.

But I have found a fisheye an indispensable lens for shooting some landscapes, especially wide open desert vistas in southern Utah. Some of the best shots are those that capture as much of the whole vista as possible and a fisheye, used correctly, is the ultimate wide-angle lens. Here are some examples.

This is an early morning shot from an overlook at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park. It takes in a nearly 180 degree view. Island in the Sky is a 6000′ elevation mesa with the Colorado River on the east side and the Green River on the west. Both sides of the mesa have 1000′ cliffs dropping to a level of concrete hard white sandstone named the White Rim. From the White Rim a maze of canyons drop another 1000′ to the two rivers (which eventually converge at the southern end of the mesa). This view is to the east. The mountains in the distance are the second highest in Utah at over 13,000′. Capturing all of this in one shot is key to depicting what is so spectacular about this region. The secret to getting the shot without distortion is to put the horizon in the middle.

There are three iconic arches in this area. Two are in Arches National Park (Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch) and the other is in Island in the Sky, named Mesa Arch. It is a spectacular sight at any time but especially on a clear morning when the sun hits the cliff below the arch and reflects up making the bottom of the arch glow a brilliant orange as if it were on fire. There are thousands of photos of Mesa Arch but virtually all show only a portion of the arch. The best shot shows the many formations that can be seen through it down to the White Rim but you have to stand close to get it. Only a fisheye can both capture the full arch and the scenery below it. Shot straight on a fisheye makes the arch appear like a big mouth but off to the side it works better than any other lens to capture the whole scene.

This is a shot of the goosenecks of the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah. Again, the most spectacular feature is the whole scene, the number of meanders the river takes through this section. Monument Valley is in the distance. Only a fisheye can capture this whole scene in one shot. A very wide-angle like a 14mm would only get three meanders. The fisheye gets all four. Another option would be a series of stitched shots but sometimes you also want the foreground and the sky with the sun. This is not that spectacular because it was shot mid day but that is the only time to see the details down in the canyons.

This final shot is of a place named The Citadel in Cedar Mesa, near Bluff, Utah. This was a defensive site accessible only across a very narrow neck leading to a rock outcrop surrounded by deep canyons on both sides. These 600 year old Anasazi ruins cannot be seen from the neck and there is very little room to back away from the ruins for a shot. I wanted to get the ruins and the canyon next to it so show how precarious this site is. Again, only the fisheye would do the job. A 35mm lens would only capture a portion of the ruin and none of the canyon to the side. My son is only about 4 feet from me when this shot was taken.

Obviously a fisheye is not a take everywhere lens but at times it is the best lens for the job.

Mar 222012

A really quick comparison of the Canon G1x and Leica M9 – What?!?! by George Sutton

(From Steve – This was sent in by George last week and figured I would post, as crazy as it is,  for anyone interested in some thoughts on the new Canon G1X compact.)


Here is my initial impression of the Canon G1 X including a comparison with the Leica M9. The G1 X has a lot of positives but essentially it is an advanced point and shoot with excellent IQ and modest versatility. It is perhaps best described as a small self-contained DSLR. Its principal competition is probably Fuji X100 and Leica X1 (what is with all the Xs in camera names these days??). In comparison the Canon is less expensive and more versatile.

Its main advantages are the following:

— excellent IQ — DSLR quality

— very sharp lens

— 4x zoom lens compared to fixed lens on many comparable cameras

— articulating back

— good ISO performance all the way to 12500


— face detection autofocus

— IS

— good movies




— autofocus is not lightening fast — limited ability to keep focus on fast moving kids

— viewfinder is not very useful

— instruction book not included — requires 240+ page download

— menues are somewhat complicated


I think the controversy over this camera has been figuring out its niche. It is a high-end point and shoot, a great camera for traveling and landscapes when you don’t want to carry a bigger camera. It also has very good high ISO performance. I picked it over a Sony NEX because the Sony is significantly larger with a comparable zoom attached. Carrying a Sony is like carrying a Leica M9 and I have no plans to replace my Leica. The G1 X is too large to fit in a pants pocket but it will fit a jacket pocket. And it is self-contained. Lack of lens choices is both an advantage and a limitation.

The photos below show the G1 X at its widest and longest. The photos only demonstrate the camera’s IQ, nothing more. The enlargements are approximately 100% crops.

Canon G1X at its widest  – f/5.6 and 1/180 – click image for full size

Canon at its longest – f/5.6 1/160 – click image for full size

Leica M9 – Click for full size

100% crop from the Leica

The comparison shots with the Leica are interesting in two respects. The Canon lens is very sharp, close to the Leica. The bigger difference is the greater depth and richness in the Leica shots. Maybe that is just subjective, a desire to see some benefit in paying more than ten times the price for the Leica. But that said, the Canon produces a very good photo. For me the camera is a keeper for that reason together with the added versatility compared to an X100 or X1.

The other interesting thing is the moire in the Leica enlargement. If you ever wondered why many digital cameras have low pass filters this shows the reason. Canons have low pass filters (also known as anti aliasing filters), Leica does not. A low pass filter blurs the image slightly to avoid moire. The Leica occasionally shows moire but the rest of the time produces a slightly crisper image. This can be seen in the vents in the building that show through the ad. Look above the model’s hands then follow the line of vents across the whole frame. Moire happens when small parallel lines produce false shapes and colors. This shot not only produced some wild false colors but also produced obvious false lines and shapes.

In the Canon shot the same vents are remarkably sharp and the colors and shapes are accurate. (That isn’t a criticism of Leica. Eliminating a low pass filter is a trade-off — some images will end up with moire in order to make all shots clearer). Hope you found this interesting.

George Sutton


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