Feb 042016
 

Visiting the European Motor Show in Brussels

by Dirk De Paepe

A different approach to a car show.

1902 was the first year of the Motor Show in Brussels.

It has been a big event in our country as far as my earliest memories go (and far beyond that). I remember the black and white TV reports, showing the new cars of the late fifties. I still treasure the remembrance of visiting the show as a little boy in the early sixties, together with my parents and my brother, exchanging thoughts about what would be our next car. I also remember visiting with the last class of high school, around 1970, and later a few times to get information for my own next car. The event gets much attention in the Belgian media and provokes lots of traffic jams in the area.

This year, I didn’t visit the show because I was into buying a new car. I visited it because, being such a big event for so many people, I find it an inspirational place to take pictures. Yet this isn’t a typical Motor Show report, with lots of new car models in the lead role. I even carefully avoided to make it too obvious what cars are in the picture. Instead, I wanted to show the visitors. Perhaps you remember from earlier articles of mine, that “people’s behavior” is my favorite subject. Therefor I like to visit places where people behave in a typical, specific or remarkable way.

It always strikes me how people behave in a particular way, when visiting a car show. Well, that’s precisely what I wanted to picture. I’m looking for scenes that stimulate my imagination, that make me wonder what people feel – how they experience the event. I fantasize about their mutual relationships, what there intentions might be, what makes them act as they do, etc…
I hope it’s not too big a disappointment, having to miss all those car pictures, but I’m sure, if you wanna see those typical motor show shots, that you’ll find it not difficult at all to get tons of them on the internet. :-)

First the picture

I invite you to first look at each picture, before reading its title and story. With the title, I try to nail the essence of my personal thoughts about the scene and my intent with the picture. If the title is not immediately clear, the short story will clarify, I hope. Like I said, what I write is just my personal thoughts that go with the scene. I’m not at all saying that those thoughts are all the absolute truth. They’re just the reflections of how my imagination was stimulated by the scene. They are the reason why I took the picture.

It’s clear that I have no part in the scene itself. I’m merely observing and registering. My part is limited to the scene selection, viewpoint, timing and framing. So I didn’t have any power over the light neither. Many consider the light the most essential element in photography. I tend to not share that opinion completely. I believe the most important power of photography is its ability to freeze moments out of reality, giving that moment “a life of its own”. IMO no other art form can do this as easily as photography does. That’s why, again IMO, registering typical and remarkable scenes out of human life, is one of the main “tasks” of photography. Of course, if the light conditions are optimal, that’s wonderful. But I find being there at the right place and the right moment, to be even more important. I believe, when registering, the occurrence outweighs the light.

So each picture is a small story on itself. But let me be clear. I’m not proclaiming that my stories are the absolute truth. Indeed, some of what I describe actually happened. On the other hand, much of it is my personal interpretation of the scene. Which is truth and which is fantasy is completely irrelevant, because I have no journalistic aspirations with this article, not in the least. It’s merely a painting of general human behavior, feelings, reflections. Anyway, I always try to interpret the scene in a way, that very well could have been what actually happened. My goal is to make viewers reflect on human behavior, and thus to induce a better understanding. You are very welcome to interpret those scenes in your personal, very different way. I even strongly invite you to do so. That’s why I prefer the title to be put under the picture, instead of above – like Claude Debussy did with his preludes for piano, putting the title at the end of each score, inviting us to listen and have our own fantasy first, and only afterwards suggesting the subject.

Zeiss Loxia and Batis

When registering, one is first looking for a place that offers opportunities. Then it’s a matter of feeling: moving oneself to a favorable viewpoint, and acting as fast as possible – which sometimes requires cropping/reframing afterwards in pp. To be able to act very fast, is why I often apply zone focusing (with lenses up to 50mm focal length). The Loxia MF lenses are absolutely perfect for this application, IMO – great for zone focusing, thanks to their straightforward DOF scale and fantastic to manually focus very fast thanks to their super smooth focusing ring. Although, for these series, I also used the Zeiss Batis 85 – my first AF lens. I thought it could make sense to have AF in a tele, since its DOF is a lot smaller by definition, which significantly reduces the possibilities for zone focusing. But I have to say that, as far as now, I’m a bit disappointed in AF. I’m just having a hard time, handing over the decision to the camera. And I can’t say I’m experiencing that much “extra comfort” from the AF, compared to using a MF 85mm. It’s different, but on the whole… it’s not that spectacularly focusing faster or better (sometimes the focusing is worse than when performed manually).
Like I said, the other lenses I used were both Loxia’s, 50 and 35 (mainly the 50 here). Those Loxia’s are IMO simply perfect for the A7RII. When Zeiss will make a Loxia tele, I guess I’ll sell the bulkier Batis and replace it with yet another Loxia. (BTW, while writing this, my Loxia 21mm just arrived. The first thing that struck me is that it’s absolutely very compact for a 2.8/21. And I’m also immediately blown away by its IQ.)

OK, enough introduction. Let’s go to the pictures. I hope you’ll enjoy.

 

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Sheer Delight

American cars with big V8 engines are still pretty exotic in Belgium. To experience this is a real joy for many guys, regardless of their age – even if it’s only in a static way and for just a few minutes… at the motor show.

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Still Dreaming

Although already of very respectable age, this man’s mind is in another place. He’s not considering how much he can use this car – how much convenience he can get from it in his professional activity. Instead he’s dreaming about how much he wànts this car – how much pleasure he can get from it for his leisure passion. At the motor show, the dreaming is served for all ages.

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Not Sure

I admire this stylish lady. She proves that women can age beautifully, while still remaining completely natural. I noticed how she came to the show, watching and judging the cars. She wasn’t carrying a paper bag to gather brochures of so many different brands. She was only holding one catalog, the show catalog. A representative was explaining her the specs of a specific model. She was eager for the information. But I think that not all new, modern car features were immediately clear to her, which made her unsure as yet about what to decide. It was the duality of her motivation on the one hand and dubiety on the other that made me wanna take her picture.

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Matters into her hands

This remarkable lady was really into a new car. A few things stroke me. She was on her own. She was visiting the booth of a pretty exclusive brand. She was getting very specific information from this representative for her next personal car. She was connecting very targeted and without any restraint with this young(er) man. I even wonder if he was not taken slightly discomfited by her pretty assertive approach, not looking towards her, while she was absolutely focusing on him. It made me wonder about her place on the social ladder. For sure, she made herself a great career. She seemed to be at the pinnacle of her performance ability – in the stage of her life that she’s 100% self confident, going straight to her goal, fully aware of her exceptional competence. Scenes like this make me realize that we live in an absolute wonderful society in Belgium, where women can make a difference.

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The changing of the guard

Fathers teach their sons. That’s how we believe it to be. But at a given age, this changes, although we usually don’t dwell on it. The son, that I pictured here, wanted to visit the big Motor Show, and has invited his father with him, as a kind of treat. Of course he remembers, as if it were yesterday, how his father took him to the same show as a little boy, more than four decades ago, giving him the best day of his life. Today, he is pleased to return the favor – so happy to demonstrate the marvels of modern car technology, even though his father is at that stage of his life where cars are merely a means of transportation and a lot less thrilling than they used to be. In this scene, the son demonstrates how the lid of this heavy SUV can simply be closed by pushing the button. It’s obvious that the father didn’t know this feature yet. He’s clearly watching in fascination, as if a kind of small miracle is about to happen. I absolutely love this scene. It’s probably my favorite picture of this series. The profound love between father and son screams from it and really moves me.

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Athletism

This man has made it. He’s getting a special VIP treatment. He’s trying out the flagship of a leading brand, a state-of-the-art sports coupé, with all thinkable features and comfort and stunning performance. But merely getting in and out apparently is kind of an ordeal. Although in great shape, training his body on a regular basis, it took quite some time to figure out how to get back on his feet. I took several shots of him – one even showing him with the tongue a bit between his teeth, thinking of the best way to accomplish this task. I even thought of putting those pics in a series of five, for better illustration, but finally reckoned that this one shows a perfect synthesis. It illustrates the required body strength and control. It proves how, once found out the right way to go, one can “dismount” in complete harmony with the lines of the car – as long as one is kind of an athlete. BTW, next picture shows his collaborator (who takes profit from his “boss” to enjoy many exclusive cars on the show), having more difficulties.

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Suction Force

With a less well-trained body and being not that limber as his boss, this guy has great trouble getting in the cockpit. His body just seems much too colossal to ever succeed. At this stage, I almost expect him to be sucked in with a loud “pwah!”, by a big vacuum-cleaner-like force in the car. Well,… he finally got in alright, but the getting back out was just problematic. He performed like a dozen different stages, taking a good twenty seconds to complete the process in the most inelegant way thinkable, before finally getting back on his feet with a big smile on his face – just to conceal the shame of his fumbling. This car clearly is worth every penny – a show within the show.

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A Job to Love

Years ago the girls, working at the booths of a motor show, had kind of a pinup role. Nowadays, there are still (young) women working, but they do a terrific job in informing the visitor. All of them, as far as I could observe, were perfectly multilingual (in Brussels that means at least Dutch, French and English) and were professional in their approach. The young lady in this picture is clearly loving what she does. I spoke to her afterwards, showing her this photo and asking if I should delete it. Of course I could keep it. But the way she communicated with me in an open, friendly and welcome way (like she did with all other people) was simply telling me that she absolutely loves working at the motor show. And she does a great job indeed!

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The Decisive Test

I took four shots of her, since she gave me so many nice poses. When she realized that I was really shooting her, she stopped, looked at me and said (with a big smile): “You are taking my picture, or what?!”. I answered: “Well, I find girls much more beautiful than cars.” “Oh”, she replied with an even bigger smile, “a normal guy!” I can tell you, she is a very beautiful girl, playing a nice role in this scene, kind of how a movie star often has to play expressive scenes. What is the value of a car anyway, when you can’t properly check you makeup…! Her brother, sitting in the passenger seat, is just checking the dashboard. The representative, standing next to her, doesn’t seem to get the relevance of her test and is just patient.

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Tresspassing

When an exhibitor places a barrier around a car, he indicates that this is a very expensive and exclusive model. He expects the visitor to be that tactful, to stay behind the barrier, unless he is invited to approach. The two guys in this scene visit the show together, since they work together (like is the case with many male duo’s visiting a motor show). One is the boss, the other a privileged employee. The employee feels the need to prove his initiative and dynamism to his boss, by stepping over the barrier and elucidate some technical specs of this exceptional automobile. The boss absolutely keeps his reservation, being able to get all the information that he wants, from the place where he is expected to be. In a very controlled and subdued way, he’s perfectly mastering every situation.

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Ultimate Specs

This male duo is young friends, and are staying well behind the barrier. They are reading the specs of a Formula 1 car. And it’s not just any bolide, it’s the one that became World Champion in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. It’s a car that, for 200% sure, they will never drive. Still they are absolutely fascinated about those specs. Totally unrealistic of course, but still the ultimate car fantasy for sure.

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Inspection

Yet another duo of friends. But those are apparently really into the technique. I guess they know what they’re looking at and that it’s not just an act for show. Future customizers?

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On Facebook in a Minute

I guess about half of the visitors is taking pictures. Many with a camera, even more with their smartphones. Those two cars are in an enclosed environment. I didn’t see how this young man was able to enter “the premises”, but I could see him perform the “I was here” act.

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Enlightened Admiration

The exhibitors spare no effort to draw the visitor’s attention to their booth. Here, they performed a quite impressive light show at the ceiling. This young man is clearly loving it.

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Design

Some visitors have a double purpose: watch and be watched. This young lady drew a lot of attention.

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Keeping it beautiful

Those booth workers, both male and female, have different assignments: informing the visitors and from time to time cleaning up the cars, wiping away the dust and possible finger prints. Like I said, those jobs are done by man and women alike – and I shot them both. But who can blame me that I selected this picture as the most beautiful one?! BTW, again, the professionalism of those workers is remarkable. I was very obviously aiming my camera at here for about maybe a minute to get the right frame. But this didn’t change her attitude or her facial expression one single bit. All the time she just kept on cleaning, just as if I wasn’t there, not specifically posing, but giving me all the time I wanted for my shot! Indeed, the exhibitors still engage beautiful girls, but they are so much more than just looking good.

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The Essence

I noticed this scene, because, although this is one of the smallest cars of the show, it brought the biggest smile on people’s faces – like if it made them realize that it’s the feel good factor that matters the most. This girl clearly enjoyed this particular one a lot. So I wanted to catch her happy face in the rearview mirror. But her face immediately changed in a kind of wondering expression. I didn’t notice that her boyfriend was in fact trying to get a beautiful picture from his love, sitting in the driver’s seat of her dream car. He was waiting for me to leave, because he didn’t want me in his picture. I, from my part, unaware of his presence, was waiting for her happy face again to appear in the mirror. After some five seconds, she understood what her friend was referring to. She looked in the mirror and gave me a beautiful smile. Only at that moment, I understood what was going on, noticing (part of) her boyfriend with his camera in the very corner of my frame, so I came half a step closer. I pushed the button and thanked them both for their open and welcoming spirit. I believe the boy took his shot ten seconds after mine.

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Today and Tomorrow

This is not a typical motor show picture, but rather one that shows our present world. Since Bataclan, also the Belgian government pickets protection at every event where lots of people gather. This is what we see today, and it’s not gonna change any time soon. The shot was taken, while standing in the cue at the cloakroom, just before getting back home.

See more on flickr

You can get more technical details about these pictures, via the exif data, that goes with them on my flickr pages . I gathered all these pictures in HR in a dedicated album, with the obvious title “Visiting The European Motor Show Brussels 2016” (https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/albums/72157663992622111), where there will also be black and white versions of them.

And I’d like to conclude with thanking Steve and Brandon for keeping this unique site online. I insist on mentioning with every article, that the opportunity they give us, by publishing our articles, is flat-out fantastic. We have a really great community here, thanks to their effort. And having been in the publishing business myself for over 3 decades, I know that this is far from obvious. I love to read the articles of so many of you, I also hope you liked mine.

Dirk

Jan 302016
 

Using the Leica Q for street photography

by Stephen Swain

Dear Steve,

I submitted some images to you almost exactly a year ago (back stage with the x-pro 1), which you kindly placed on your site. Since then you have had some really valuable reviews of various new camera models, and the one that tempted me most was the Leica Q, so much in fact that I put my name down on the pre-order list!

I must say it has not disappointed…it is an ideal tool for the type of street pictures I like to take.

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As you see from the images here I like to work very close to the subject, but at the same time to keep “invisible”. I am not a very patient person, so I try to squeeze interesting images out of the mundane, and I thrive on very busy streets where it is easy to blend in and not ne noticed.

The 28mm lens on the Leica is ideal for me as it creates a feeling that you are “in and amongst” whatever you are shooting, which you do not achieve if you are zooming in (I think this gives a more voyeuristic feel…which is fine if it is what you are after). The very quiet shutter is perfect and nobody has heard me yet…which used to happen sometimes with the Fuji, and I also have the option of the silent electronic shutter. The EVF is perfect and shutter lag is virtually non-existent.

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Focus wise it is a game changer. I use three different settings for focusing depending on the situation, zone focusing and face detection auto when I am shooting blind, and manual focusing when I am shooting using the viewfinder. The face detection mode is very fast and has allowed me to get shots I would not have been able to catch manually (the girl wearing a blue hat is a prime example of this) Granted sometimes it focuses on the “wrong” face, but this is a price worth paying for when it works as you wish. It also allows you to shoot blind with a wide aperture and throw the background out of focus…even with the 28mm lens.

Thanks again for all of the great work you put into your site. Do let me know if you would like any more information.

Best wishes,

Stephen Swain

www.capturethemoment.co.uk

Jan 292016
 

MonoWood

STREET SHOOT: Hollywood Blvd.

By Darwin Nercesian

If you are looking for a target rich environment for a little street photography, there are almost always those local spots where we all know we can go to strike gold. Is this cheating? No, not really, but it certainly helps get the creative juices flowing. For me, well, I have the distinct pleasure of being both close enough and far enough from the famed Hollywood Blvd, home of Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and of course, millions upon millions of locals and tourists that flood the street daily to get a glimpse, or perhaps just feel like they are in the thick of it. So when I got the call to accompany a few photographer friends into this jungle for a day street photography, it was simply an offer I could not refuse.

As always, I hit the street with my companions of choice, my trusty Leica M-P 240 an M246 Monochrom, and my 3 go to lenses, the 35mm Summilux FLE, 50mm Summilux ASPH, and 50mm Summicron APO. Ultimately, however, it was the M246 and the 50mm APO that saw the most action.

While Hollywood Blvd is thought of as more of an adult’s playground, apparently it can be fun for children of all ages.

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This kid was having a blast, the the Globetrotter could not be more entertaining to the little guy. This went on for some time andwas a joy to watch. Lets just hope he doesn’t grow up and take advice from this guy.

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And speaking of less than stellar advice, here is one I wouldn’t recommend, but then again, I take sides with Indiana Jones when it comes to the slithery in nature. Too bad this isn’t sin city because the symbolism really struck me here.

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But giant reptiles were not all that was lurking on this day, and something march larger, and perhaps much more sinister was afoot. It is always great to be aware of your surroundings, lest you be caught off guard…

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But no matter where evil lurks, there is always a watchful eye keeping the people safe. One need not look too far on this stretch of the boulevard to find a hero, and in this case, the calm fell over me when I noticed that we were under the protection of none other than…

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And so it was that people celebrated the day, paying tribute to the arts, each in their own way.

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While people from all walks of life shared common distractions…

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Because who doesn’t like a slice of pie?

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But in the end, after a long day amongst the stars (the ones embedded in the sidewalk), we found our true calling. In the midst of the glitz and glamour (not really), we learned that the lesson to take with us was, “Defend Democracy in Poland”.

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My name is Darwin Nercesian. I am an architectural, street, and travel photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. You can see more of my work at: www.dna-image.com

Jan 192016
 
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A trip to the top of the mountain with the Fuji XT-1

by Mohamed Hakem (NOW THESE ARE GORGEOUS FUJI IMAGES! BRAVO to Mohamed’s beautiful eye and skill – Steve)

Hi Steve! I am back again with another adventure! I decided to climb the highest mountain in Egypt with my Fuji XT-1

First please visit my website http://www.hakemphotography.com
Follow my FB page on http://facebook.com/hakemphotography
Instagram: http://instagram.com/moh_hakem

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People who go Hiking knows what it means to have a heavy backpack on a rough mountain climb. The Hike here was up to the top of Mount Moses in Saint Catherine Mountain in Sinai, Egypt. Saint Catherine Mountain is not the toughest hike in the world, it is 2422 meters up, you have to walk 8 KM ion extremely rough grounds. The place is magical and full of culture and history that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians. They first built a city in the shape of a fortress at around 1000m high it as part of the road from Egypt to Jerusalem. This area was then converted to the famous Saint Catherine Monastery which has tons of religiously important heritage for Christians, Muslims and jews. There is also a place during the climb where it is believed that this was the place God talked to Prophet Moses (peace be upon him).
To prepare for such climb, the first thing you think of is weight you hold as a burden on your back. you take minimal things, energy bars and water, you should not take anything else. but what about us photographers!? the answer is simple, it was impossible for me , a man with moderate health and stamina to lug around a DSLR body, tripod and two lenses that would be around 4-5 kilos minimum, My D800 was 945g+ (14-24)950g +70-300 (700g) + a big tripod = a break in your back!
to solve this problem I took with me the XT-1, the 10-24, 8mm fish eye and the 55-200 lens + plus the 3leggedthing punk tripod. all of these combined did not cross 2.5 kilos.

The path is rocky and extremely rough but its not dangerous. We took 3 hours to finish the main stage then 1 hour to climb what the bedouins call the stairs, vertical rock formations that forms natural stairs. Its not easy at all but its doable. Your second enemy other than the gravity is the Cold! it really was cold. We were all wearing heavy coats but the thing is during the climb your body becomes sweaty, so whenever you stop you instantly feel the cold to your bones!. reaching the top! after finally reaching the top,we had two hours till sunrise so we took the most uncomfortable nap in the world. Your sweat is freezing inside and you really can’t wear anything more. After waking up extremely tired and cold I packed my equipment and went for the sunrise. Sometimes I couldn’t feel the camera in my hands, I wanted to press the shutter button but I can’t feel my fingers! somehow after managing and warming up you begin to see the magic! a sunrise that you will never forget! Stunning sky colors, stunning rock formations, the place really touches your soul! every minute the colors change and the scenery changes magically until you see the sun and all your problems are gone! you instantly become warm and energetic.

The experience was never to be done without a mirrorless camera. I sometimes held it on my neck to capture on the go, it was never doable with a DSLR. as for the quality I will leave the judging to you.

That is me on the top of the mountain (shot by a fuji X100)

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Note the Bedouins below…click images for better versions!

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Saint Catherine Monastery

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Jan 152016
 
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The Last Best Bit of Him. Capturing my Father Before He’s Gone.

By Greg Turner

Hi Steve,

As ever thanks for all the effort you put into your website. I check it pretty much every day and enjoy the contributions from so many talented photographers as well as your own insights and thoughts. It’s something I look forward to at the end of the day.

Lately my photographic journey has been going through a ‘purple patch’ and I’ve been trying to find an answer to the question ‘what kind of photographer am I?’ Most likely this is just a mid-life crisis but there’s a lot from my childhood that I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to understand and come to terms with and so now I find myself doing that through the medium of photography. Some might think that pretentious. I don’t care. They’re my demons I’ll exercise them any way I like!

One of the things I did over Christmas in pursuit of finding an answer to that question was put together a website. The process of ‘curation’ was fascinating and insightful in itself and it was precisely that process that I hoped would lead me to insight. If I am going to select what I show, I should be able to say why I am showing this and in doing that, come up with an answer to my question.

I named the site ‘Tears in Rain’, the line comes from the film Blade Runner (which has been my favourite film since way before it was cool to say that!) and references the idea of memories being ‘lost, like tears in rain’. I don’t want the memories to be lost; I want them to be captured after all, that is the essence of photography. And since the film and the book on which it’s based, deals with the notion of what it means to be human, I find myself coming up with my answer.

I’m just an amateur photographer, motivated to understand the world and the people who live in it a little better through the medium of photography. The website address is www.tearsinrain.co.uk

Which brings me to the project I really wanted to share with you and one that has had the most profound impact on me personally.

My father was always my inspiration for my interests in life; my hobbies and pursuits all come from him (I get my work ethic and intellectual drive from my mother). It was he who introduced me to photography for example.

About eight years ago he got quite ill and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. As a consequence of this, he had a small blood clot cause a minor stroke of some sort, which in turn resulted in part of his brain tissue dying, the area around the frontal lobe. The consequence of this has been a slow but very noticeable decline in his cognitive ability, empathy and behaviour. He’s formally diagnosed with ‘frontal lobe dementia’ and the condition is progressive. It took a long time to diagnose and for many years we struggled with the subtle but difficult shift in his behaviour. Now that subtlety has long since passed and being with him is a lot like being with a young child.

So as we all watch him fade, and as we struggle to manage his behaviour, it occurred to me that I really needed to both capture the essence of who he is/was now before it’s gone and also, in the process, reconnect with him in some way. So we arranged a photo shoot and these are the pictures I wanted to share. I don’t think the individual pictures need much commentary. For those that are interested (and I see no problem with that), they were taken with a Sony A7s and either the 35mm Sony Zeiss f/1.4 ZA (the B&W image shot at f/1.4) or the Sony Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZA with the LA-EA4 adapter (the colour versions, shot at f/5.6 and with off camera flash). There are other images and these at a larger size under the ‘Projects’ folder on the website. The project is called ‘Dad’.

Rememberance

The Creeping Darkness

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This was also my first attempt to shoot with a flash, either on or off camera, though for this shoot I went off camera with a single light source shot through an umbrella. I think the results, good or otherwise as they are, are more good fortune and luck than anything else. But I am very pleased with the results not least because the process of looking and thinking engages us with the subject and it’s been a long time since I properly did that with my father.

Best regards

Greg

Jan 132016
 

The Power of Imagery

by Sebastian Szyszka

Hi Steve and Brandon,

Been enjoying your site for a while, especially the positivity it exudes. It’s a nice change of pace.

I started shooting sometime between the ages of 7 and 10 while I lived in Germany with my parents. We were Polish refugees waiting to come to America. One of my birthday presents during that time was a plastic 110 camera that I absolutely loved, which was quickly upgraded to a Polaroid. It was the Polaroid, decades before I ever read the words “decisive moment,” that taught me the power of photography. I didn’t gravitate towards posed stuff, I reveled in the moment. Real, unscripted, often ambushed. Those images were ones I was not used to seeing because most shots around me were “say cheese” kind of shots. Looking back at it, I still remember the first image that struck that chord with me. Can’t share it though, my poor mother would kill me…

The power of imagery has always stuck with me. Nowadays photography is a quick, immediate balance against the daily routine of being an advertising artist. The two go hand in hand, and both strengthen and compliment each other.

I’m including three images, one that I took of a friend of mine, and two of my street stuff that keeps me sane on my Chicago commutes.

The first shot is of my friend and coworker Jeff on his custom 1967 Shovelhead. What makes the image special to me is the fact that it was taken in his father’s gas station, which was built-in the 1920’s. A lot of heritage and vintage in one frame. My only regret was not getting Jeff’s father in the shot. Alas, he was not there that day. Taken with a Sony a6000 and Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5. Lit with some wirelessly triggered strobes layered on top of available light. Post work in LR.

Click it for larger and better version!

Jeff and his custom 1967 Shovelhead

The second shot is of a “poet for hire” near Bourbon St. in New Orleans. For a small fee and 30 minutes of waiting, they write a bespoke poem for you. Taken with a Sony a6000 and Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5. Post work in LR.

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The third shot of a man exiting a train is from one of my old commutes on the “L” Train in Chicago. Shot with a Sony NEX-5 and 16mm f/2.8 with fisheye attachment. Post work in Aperture with some Nik SilverEfex 2.

Exit

(I know, a lot of Sony, but my favorite camera by far is my X100T. I use both for their unique strengths.)

Thanks and keep doing what you’re doing,

Sincerely,

Sebastian Szyszka

www.sebastianszyszka.com
500px.com/sebastiand
www.flickr.com/photos/sebastiand/

Jan 082016
 

Shooting the original Sony RX1

by Franklin Balzan

So last week I received my RX1R camera… yes its the first version of the camera (second technically as there was asl othe RX1). You may say that I am a bit late in this purchase as Sony has recently announced the RX1R II version of the camera… but the reason I bought the first version of the camera is I intend to use this as a fullframe compact carry around camera and not for work related stuff.

The Technical Details

The RX1R camera has been greatly praised in all reviews I have read, with its amazing dynamic range, very good bokeh and low light performance. The camera comes with a fixed lens 35mm Zeiss prime (f2), a very flexible So the camera had everything that I needed, in a very compact body. Also the camera has a silent shutter – no sound at all when you click for the picture – making it perfect for discreet work.

When I say that the camera has an amazing dynamic range, I really mean it. In fact it seems that it even wins against my A7s and A7ii in the amount of information and detail I am able to recover.

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Usability

If you are like me, I am always imagining street photography shots as I walk around. It happened to me a number of times that I said to myself that I wished I had a camera with me. Now I am making a resolution with myself to carry this gem around with me, wherever I am and up till today (around 2 weeks of use) I have always been able to take it with me apart from one time when I wore a very tight jacket.

What is missing

What I do miss, more then the viewfinder, is a tilting screen. Since this camera is a street photography workhouse, a tilt screen would have been really useful to shoot from the a low point and not attracting too much attention. I have also decided to purchase a wrist leather strap, since I find the camera grip to be existent and constantly feel as if the camera is going to slip from my hands.

The Pictures

I am here sharing some shots I have taken with this camera up till now.

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Well I must say, I am really happy with my RX1R and I feel I will be using is a lot over these Christmas holidays ! :)

More of my work on www.fbalzan.com

Jan 082016
 

Sony A7II with Mitakon 50 0.95

by Przemek

Hi Steve

My name is Przemek Przezak and I’m an amateur photographer based in Switzerland (but originally from Poland). In the attachment you will find a few pictures I shot this Christmas at the Cauma lake in the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. On December 26th me and my girlfriend went for a walk to the lake, not far from where we were staying. Because the winter is very warm this year, even here in the alps, we were pleasantly surprised to find the lake frozen and the surroundings covered in a thin layer of snow. What an eerie place!

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Anyway, I thought this was the perfect time and place to try out my Christmas presents (and I do have to thank you for at least some part of it, as your reviews played a significant role when I chose my new gear) – Sony a7II with the Mitakon 50mm f0.95. Also, here is the link to my facebook portfolio: www.facebook.com/digofoto

Best regards and happy new year!

Przemek

Jan 052016
 

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A Sony RX1R Mark II Camera Review, in Iceland

by Chad Wadsworth – His site is HERE

In 1988, The Sugarcubes debut album “Life’s Too Good” was getting heavy rotation in my cd player and served as an introduction to the quirky band’s native Iceland. Over the years other Icelandic bands like Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men, continued to sonically and lyrically paint an enticing canvas of their native homeland, further cementing the small country on my bucket list of places to visit. So this fall, while friends planned their winter vacation to warmer climes, I pitched the family on an adventure in the land of Ice and Fire. My wife has come to accept my odd predilections and the kids were just happy to get passports so we booked the flights and began our planning.

Anxious to capture the beauty of Iceland, I still had to be realistic about the nature of the trip. This was a family vacation, not a photo tour or workshop so I had to pack light and work quickly. Luckily, a friend was in possession of a loaner Sony RX1RII from B&H Photo and offered it up for use during the trip. This friend is building some impressive 3D printed Arca Plate compatible grips for compact cameras that add almost zero weight. Check them out HERE. – highly recommended.

With the RX1RII secured, I committed to use it for the majority of vacation shooting (everything presented here was shot with it unless otherwise captioned). Some may question why use a camera with only a fixed 35mm focal length but not everyone wants to play the roll of conspicuous tourist sporting a DSLR and zoom lens. On the contrary, the RX1RII embodies the classic concept of a decisive moment camera, similar to film compacts like the Konica Hexar AF that enabled pros to pack a much smaller kit when traveling, without sacrificing quality. The a7RII along with the Zeiss Touit 12mm and a Leica Summitar 50/2 also made it into the travel bag, but the primary test was to determine the RX1RII capabilities in real world shooting under some extreme conditions, not a traditional lab review with test charts.

While light was at a premium, what was available (about 5 hours per day around Christmas) was wonderfully diffuse and photography friendly. The weather in Iceland is quite variable with multiple daily changes in climate and conditions as we roamed the countryside. Unfortunately, there was record snow in December and persistent cloud cover so the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) were hidden from view, but that didn’t stop us from hitting everything else on the itinerary. With good planning, you can easily maximize the available winter light and complete a full day of activities. Based for part of the trip in a small coastal town named Stokkseyri (pop 445) we managed to drive our rental car to Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, the wreckage of an American DC-3 on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur, the Dyrhólaey promontory, Vik, Geysir, Seljavallalaug swimming pool, the Jökulsárlón glacial lake area and of course Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon.

Must click on the photos in this report to view them correctly. Also, all images are from the RX1RII unless noted. Some are from the A7RII. 

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Image below…a7RII 50/2 Summitar

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Back to the RX1RII Shots

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Reflecting back over the week spent with an RX1RII as a primary tool, there are few cameras that would have been more satisfactory for the task of vacation photography in this environment. The compact size allowed for easily accessible stowage in a jacket pocket, a more challenging prospect for big brother a7RII or even the Leica Q. Why was this important? While the camera was well protected from the weather – see below for thoughts on its weather handling – I still wouldn’t want it exposed to the cold and rain if needn’t be. Second, for many activities, not having a camera or bag swinging around or in a difficult to access backpack was a big plus. The fixed lens meant no concern for switching lenses in extreme cold, humid or dusty conditions and by using a small hood I was able to keep most of the foul weather off the front lens element. The RX is also by nature of its small size and with the new flip screen, extremely inconspicuous, perfect for street scenes and easy low perspective photography.

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Using the RX1RII in the field is a significant improvement over the first generation in terms of user interface and speed of operation although the speed of image review is rather sluggish. I’d like Sony to take note of what some competitors do to increase the appearance of playback speed – immediately display a low resolution JPEG image when you hit the play button as the buffer clears and the higher resolution RAW becomes available. This is a nice trick that would make playback more responsive.

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Autofocus is greatly improved over the original RX1 with advanced modes like object tracking and eye-AF that are not just gimmicks to be ignored. Being able to lock-on to my subject’s eyes or face with the push of the button is a useful feature that enables a more effortless and accurate off-center composition, compared to a traditional focus and re-compose technique. Sony claims a 30% improvement in AF speed and that figure feels about right – maybe 40-50% in some circumstances. Really we are at a level of AF performance with these cameras that is beyond good enough for most purposes.

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Since the majority of my work takes place in front of a music stage, I don’t normally expose my gear to the elements in a way they were in Iceland. Both the a7RII and the RX1RII were used unprotected in significant exposures to rain, snow, waterfall spray and sub freezing temperatures. I came away with new found confidence in the weather handling capabilities of these cameras. On the RX1RII I even used the EVF in the rain which I was initially worried would expose the camera to water due to the pop-up mechanism. The one criticism I can lay on the RX is the poor battery performance in cold weather. The little battery just couldn’t hold the juice when the temperature dropped below the freezing point. With a pocketful of spares, I never ran out of power but the hassle of swapping batteries in -15 C was not an overly pleasant experience. There are solutions available, such as using an external power pack via USB and I may look closer at those options if I was to use the camera extensively in such cold environments again. Comparatively, the a7RII battery held up quite well and I never once had to change it in the field.

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The Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2 lens that the public and reviewers raved about in the original RX1 makes a return in the new camera matched to the resolving power of the 42mp sensor first introduced in the a7RII. The Zeiss was magic on the original and none of that mojo has been lost on the RX1RII. The Zeiss renders almost like a Planar design, with softer/smooth bokeh, while retaining a Sonnar’s critical sharpness in the center wide open and across the field when stopped down – an almost perfect recipe for a 35mm lens. No one should call this Zeiss clinical, but rather images have an organic feel that is hard to come by in modern designs. The lens appears to be resolving every single one of those 42mp, especially evident in scenes with a distant subject such as a landscape. I am simply staggered by the level of detail this combination is resolving in many of the Iceland scenes. Even more impressive was the few handheld panoramics I attempted. The results were beyond expectations; the 42mp sensor in the tiny RX1RII is capable of generating impressive high megapixel stitched images. One shot on the Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue resulted in a 162mp file with levels of detail unheard of in a camera this size.

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Image below…Sony a7RII 50/2 Summitar

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A7RII and 12mm Zeiss Touit

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All images here are shot in RAW so I can’t comment on JPEG performance but working with the Sony files in post is a pleasure. Dynamic range is as expected – stellar – and having continuity between my a7RII and the RX1RII is a big deal as it can be a challenge to match output on a shoot from different camera models. Color is subjective and easily manipulated but I enjoy working with the base Sony color space. So far there haven’t been any surprises or ugliness in terms of how the files react to edits -no artifacts or banding, just rich malleable data.

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To wrap it up, if I measure the RX1RII based on the resultant images, the satisfaction while using it and the desire to keep using it, this field test in Iceland can only be categorized as a success. As groundbreaking as the original RX1 was, expectations were high for the new camera and if my experience can be used as an indication, Sony delivered a worthy successor.

Camera talk aside, I hope it is obvious that we fell in love with beauty of Iceland. Thanks to Steve for sharing our little trip and if interested please visit my site where I have a full day-by-day travelogue with details of each stop.

Chad

Dec 242015
 
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Through the Looking Glass – A In-Depth Review of the Leica SL

By Ashwin Rao

Dear friends, I am here with a review of the Leica SL, Leica’s latest system camera and its first serious foray into the mirrorless digital interchangeable camera market – if you don’t count its rangefinder cameras. By now, you know that the SL is Steve’s 2015 Camera of the Year. He praises the camera for its design, build, utilization, and amazing VF, as well as its overall implementation. I wanted to offer my own experience with the camera, having spent several weeks using the camera with its native 24-90 lens, a variety of modern and vintage Leica M lenses, and several Leica R lenses. I have found the Leica SL to be the modern evolution of Leica’s ethos and vision, representing both its present and its drive to create a bright future.

Leica’s marketing campaign for the SL highlighted its professional attributes and its ‘mirror-less’ designation. For Leica, this is much like viewing the story of Alice in Wonderland “Through the Looking Glass”, in which Alice climbs through the mirror into the new and fantastic alternate world beyond. This turns out to be a very appropriate analogy for Leica’s effort with the SL.

If you are not interested in reading past this first paragraph, I will say this: The Leica SL is a highly useable, well-built, well-conceived, functional camera that targets both M users and new users seeking the Leica brand with autofocus implementation. Its clean design harkens to such well-designed cameras as Leicaflex and subsequent R system cameras. However, some of its design queues come from the M system. Its layout, once learned, allows the user to meld his or her photographic style and eccentricities with the camera’s functionality. In many ways, as I will come to discuss, the Leica SL represents Leica’s ultimate bridge camera, a “Jack-of-all-trades” device that ties together many systems into a cohesive package. And, you know what? It does a great job accomplishing this task in a way that only Leica can achieve.

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At first glance….

I first caught wind of the SL like many of you, in the weeks preceding its official announcement. Reading the tealeaves and given the recent release of the incredible Leica Q, I presumed that Leica was set to release an interchangeable Q or something of a Q/M hybrid. It only made sense to carve out a niche aimed squarely at Leica’s base, that is many of us who enjoy quality craftsmanship coupled with the Joy of photography. Given Leica’s install base of rangefinder users, many of us who are not getting any younger, a mirrorless camera, less reliant on the RF focusing mechanism, made sense to permit its users to focus their manual focus lenses with precision while being afforded an opportunity to use newly designed AF lenses. A compact, sleek competitor to steal back those of us, including myself, who had taken to using our M lenses on Sony A-series bodies for a compact solution.

Well, Leica certainly threw most of us a curve ball when they officially announced the SL. At first glance, I was dismissive. Here was a camera, that looked much like an overweight Sony A series body. It seemed boring in its design, offering nothing new that others had not already designed. I was doubtful that it would be ergonomically useful for M lenses. I was uncertain that a camera/lens system using contrast-detect focus only could achieve reliable and quick focus. As much as I love the size and functionality of many Leica cameras, including the M series, I also am a huge fan of a camera’s haptics (how it feels in hand) and design cues (how it looks). With the Leica SL, I was far from convinced on first viewing. However, coming from my overwhelmingly positive experience with the incredible Leica Q, I decided to reserve judgment and keep my order in place with Ken Hansen (honestly, one of the best Leica dealers on the planet) to see what Leica had up its sleeve.

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In the weeks that followed, the initial reviews by such great reviewers as Jono Slack, Kristian Dowling, Sean Reid, Jeff Keller (DP Review), Jim Fisher (PC Mag), and Lori Grunin (CNET), who had the privilege of first trying the camera, were overwhelmingly positive Despite its new release, it was never described as a limited first generation product. Very few bugs were encountered, other than those described as issues related to user preference (grip size, for example). The camera was described as operationally fast, built to the highest standard, and remarkably facile as an image-maker.

I was able first to test out the Leica at the Leica Store Bellevue (another great dealer) when the regional representative, Brad Weeks, brought in the camera for a first look. My first impression on holding the camera was…doubt. Yes, on first handling, I admit that I became even more uncertain about the camera. While I found that it was incredibly well built, it felt immediately larger than expected. The body itself is not much bigger than a Leica M, until you factor in its large grip. At first, the grip was a turn off, to be honest, but over time, I have found it to be very well implemented (more on this later). Further, as I attached the SL 24-90 mm lens, the only lens available for the camera on launch, onto the SL, I was daunted by how large the camera felt…It felt like a bulky SLR!!!!

I had given up on such cameras due to size years ago, as I found that I could produce more pleasing images with smaller cameras. Now, here in my hands was Leica’s SL (minus the R)…a funny play on words/letters/what have you, but drats, it felt like an SLR. Next up on my concern list was the button system and menu layout. On first handling the camera, I found the lack of clarity and definition around the buttons to be frustrating. I was not sure what buttons to press, or how to press them to get the camera to do what I wanted. I was quickly told how to focus magnify, and then futzed around, taking a few shots, leaving me with an uneasy sense that I was not sure how to use the camera…
Bummer, right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all… Read on…..

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Learning the interface, and giving the camera second chance

I must say that the Leica elves in Wetzlar sure had magic up their sleeves. The more that I ended up using the camera which I first doubted, the more I began to see an output that is a genius of design implementation. Let’s get into this a bit more….
Let me come out and say it right away. The Leica SL is not an immediately intuitive camera. However, in the case of useability, all good things come to those who wait and who actually use this camera. At first, I was daunted by the camera’s “4 button” (IT’s actually got a few more than 4) interface, but as I began to sort the camera out things became clear.

1. Each button has different purposes. A quick push gives you one level of access, primarily allowing you to get into the camera’s menus. A LONGER push & hold allows custom assigned tasks to come to light. Even better, one can custom-set each of the button’s functions to suit one’s user preference. For me, I set the camera’s principal 4 back buttons to select: 1) ISO, 2) Exposure Comp, 3) lens selection – to choose what M lens or R lens, if such a lens was not coded), 4) white balance. I set the front black button to select metering mode.

2. The rear scroll wheel, if pressed and held, allows access to P, A, S, M modes. When shooting with M or R lenses, I generally use aperture priority or manual modes (with aperture set to whatever I want). In Aperture priority mode, the camera can be set to recognize the 6-bit coding of a lens and correspondingly set minimal shutter speed to 1/focal length or other options. I personally chose 1/2x-focal length)

3. The top scroll wheel is not active for aperture priority mode with manual lenses, but in manual mode becomes a shutter speed dial. Nice implementation again…

4. The joystick: Another great way to move around in the menu systems, as well as a way to review and zoom through images. It also functions as an AEL button. Now, with an updated firmware, the joystick is repurposed to allow focus magnification with Manual lenses mounted…This is a great update and allows one to use his/her thumb to zoom in without having to use his/her other hand to magnify field of view and achieve critical focus.

5. Menus. Once you get used to moving around in the menus, using both the 4 buttons and the scroll wheel, things become gradually more and more easy.

The Leica SL represents a product of clean, modern, minimalistic design. I found that it took me a few days to adjust to the menu design and layout of the camera, but once set, I have not had to make any changes, save for updating the firmware and thus permitting use of the joystick for focus magnification, making the camera even more pleasurable to use.

In the end, I settled on the following configuration for my assigned custom functions:

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Key feature – the viewfinder

Many of you have experienced the Leica SL’s incredible 4.4 megapixel “EyeRes” electronic viewfinder. In my opinion, the SL’s viewfinder represents the state of the art as of 2016. In decent light, the viewfinder’s refresh rate seems fantastic, and there’s no lagginess. Even in low light, the EVF performs admirably. Leica has even implemented a focus aid that many have not talked about. When magnifying the image (when an M or L lens is mounted), the image is artificially brightened. This effective trick is effective even in the lowest of light, and such enables accurate focus with M and R lenses in circumstances in which focusing may not be otherwise achievable.

When you first stare through the EVF, you’ll be amazed. It’s much like viewing a 4K TV for the first time. The experience is a bit overwhelming, and while it’s not quite as clear as looking through an optical viewfinder in good light, the benefits of being able to “see” in any light with the added perk of additional focus aids or shooting information makes the EVF spectacular.

Further, the viewfinder feels HUGE, providing a 0.8x magnification, one of the best available on the market, far surpassing the EVF’s produced for Sony and Fuji cameras. Thus, we have a huge viewfinder, capable of providing the user with accurate and precise focus in any light. Might this sound like a great non-rangefinder solution for your M lenses? Um, yes!

On further use with M lenses, I found that I could achieve my post precise focus with lenses with narrow depth of field. Lenses such as the Leica Noctilux, Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2, and all Summilux lenses, have dramatically shallow depth of field that is incredibly easy to focus using the EyeRes view finder. In fact, it could be said that slower lenses with deeper depth of field (particularly wide lenses), take a bit more effort to focus critically, and one should be sure to focus-magnify to confirm critical focus.

Speaking of focusing aids, the EyeRes EVF permits focus peaking. However, when enabled (somewhat awkwardly by selecting different views by quick pressing the bottom right button), focus peaking effects are quite light. For me, using the “red” focus peaking permitted the easiest-to-see focus peaking effect. That being said, I am not sure that most people would need to use focus peaking to confidently achieve focus with their manual focus lenses on the SL. The viewfinder is that good, and the EyeRes viewfinder sees the plane of focus quite easily.

Manual focusing with the SL is a true joy, and the SL’s viewfinder is a convincing complement for autofocus composition as well.

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Haptics (How the SL feels in hand with SL, M, and R lenses)

In hand, The Leica SL is a surprisingly comfortable and responsive camera. It’s equally nimble working as an autofocus camera, when the SL 24-90 mm lens is mounted, though in this manner, it become a large, hefty camera, very similar in field to most medium size SLR cameras. Thankfully, it’s as responsive as most of its SLR cousins, though I’d imagine that a Nikon D3 series or Canon 1D series may be more responsive for sports shooting.

Make no mistake. The SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 lens is bulky. It’s not terribly heavy, though when mounted on the camera, the set up does feel somewhat front heavy. I certainly do hope that Leica future lens efforts for this system balance somewhat better and are somewhat smaller, though I suspect that Leica is not going for a size win with the SL. The upcoming SL 50 mm f/1.4, which is rumored to be the optically best 50 mm lens ever made, looks rather bulky. Certainly with all of the extra real estate, Leica can really push the performance of these lenses to the bleeding edge.

The camera does change character when using Leica M lenses. Instead of feeling large and voluminous, as it feels with the 24-90, it becomes far more nimble. The SL body in fact occupies a footprint that’s not all that dissimilar to a Leica M with half case added (with grip), and thus, after using the camera with M lenses via the M-adapter-T accessory, the camera began to feel like a great option with larger M lenses, such as the Noctilux. Even smaller M lenses, including the 50 mm f/2 APO Summicron, feel like nice fits for the camera, though truth be told, they seem slightly small on this body.

With R lenses, the difference is split. R lenses seem, in many ways, to be a natural fit for the camera. They are mounted using a slightly awkward dual lens adapter setup, coupling the M-adapter T to the R-adapter-M. Doing so then permits access to the R lens menu, which allows the camera to correct appropriately for any lens specific aberrations. Thankfully, the dual adapter set up works well, though I am personally waiting for the R-adapter-SL to be introduced to make things simpler and potentially to enable additional features in ROM lenses. With R lenses mounted, the SL is transformed into a “small SLR” in terms of feel. R lenses seem to be appropriately sized for the SL, particularly its prime lenses, and are a joy to use on this camera. For those of you looking for a more permanent set up for your R lenses, the SL is a far better body for your lenses that the M240 body.

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Image quality

So how does the Leica SL perform? How is image quality? I can say convincingly that the camera’s sensor performs admirably, producing fantastic, beautiful, natural colors in outdoor/natural light. Some inconsistency is encountered, particularly in skin tones, when certain indoor lighting or mixed lighting is present. Skin tones, as with many digital sensors, tend to take on an orange hue, and the red channel seems overemphasized. Some have commented on a “tomato face” tendency of recent Leica sensors (M240, in particular), and at times, in artificial light, the SL does not escape this. It takes a bit of effort to adjust colors to obtain pleasing skin tones. Yet the possibilities are there. All of that said, I continue to prefer the M9’s color palette to the current Leica offerings, but the SL does reasonably well to produce nice colors most of the time.

Such affects are generally abated through careful selection of white balance. The SL adds a nice “Grey Card” white balancing feature which can be very helpful in achieving consistent white balance. Colors coming from the sensor behave much in the same way as output from the Leica Q, and as many have postulated, I suspect that the sensors are very similar or exactly the same.

However, I will say that the high ISO and shadow performance of the SL surpasses the Q, with less banding when underexposures or shadows are lifted. In general, the camera does a great job at suppressing noise or producing tasteful grain-like noise through ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, dynamic range is noticeably decreased, through grain is reasonably controlled and detail remains crisp.

In good light, the SL is a dream camera, producing some of the most natural and convincing images, regardless of lens used. I have used modern and vintage M glass, R lenses, and the SL24-90, and the sensor seems to play quite well with many types of glass from many different eras. In darker, muddier light, the SL tends to perform well through ISO 6400, and I generally have avoided ISO’s higher than 6400.

Many of you would ask if I prefer the output of the SL at base ISO to the venerable Leica M9? For me, finally, I have found a camera rivals the M9 in its color and crispness reproduction and sensor that suits me so well for my M lenses. I loved my M9, using it steadily for 5 years, but ultimately moved on to try new gear due to the limitations and issues with the M9’s sensor (limited ISO, corrosion). I was first impressed by the output of the Q, and now, I am equally impressed, if not more so, by the SL, which improves upon the Q’s sensor performance while performing admirably with SL, M, and R lenses. Colors are natural, and white balance is more consistent than the M9. Images from the SL do pop in that 3 dimensional way, much like M9 files. And to benefit the SL, ISO performance FAR exceeds the M9’s CCD sensor output. Summicron lenses are capable in low light. Noctilux lenses can see in the deepest and darkest of nights, in the shadows of this mirrorless world.

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Autofocus performance

The Leica SL achieves accurate autofocus of daily life activities without any issues, as long as a scene is reasonably light with reasonable contrast. I would say that AF is quite convincing in bright light almost all of the time. I have only occasionally had issues achieving infinity focus when shooting low contrast images (such as a hazy horizon), but this is a rare occurrence.
The Leica SL’s focus algorithms are challenged by very fast moving subjects coming in and out of plane (such as a sporting event), and I am yet to be sold on the camera as an autofocus option for fast moving sports (US football, soccer, basketball) That being said, it’s quite possible that my own technique is the limiting factor, though my hit rate, using both AF-S and AF-C, with various frame rates, was variable at best. I suspect that for slower moving action (such as fashion shows, slower moving sports, and weddings). Ultimately, I do not believe that the SL is designed with sports photographers in mind. After all, how many sports photographers would shoot a 1 lens rig (24-90 is all that’s available) at a 12,800 price tag? Not many that I know, especially when Canon and Nikon offer so many more options.

That being said, there are many professionals who will adore the SL and will find its autofocus capabilities to be exemplary. I suspect that the camera may well be aimed at professional wedding photographers, particularly those who can afford an expensive rig. Destination photographers and fashion photographers would be likely added targets. In fact, most pros that have invested in a Leica S system may well be suited for using the SL as a back up or second body, particularly when an S lens adapter is made available.

All in all, I have found autofocus performance with the Leica SL and 24-90 to be more than adequate for most shooting circumstances, save very fast moving sports in which the action is unpredictably moving in and out of the plane of focus.

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SL lens performance

While I can honestly say the the SL 24-90 lens deserves its own review, I will say that performance of the SL is equal to having a selection of primes within the focal length range. If you are willing to live with the size of the SL 24-90 and its variable and somewhat slow aperture, the lens produces incredible results on the SL, with pleasing out of focus (bokeh) areas and critically sharp in-focus areas (save at 90 mm, were there’s a subtle drop off in sharpness, which I’d call minor).

A camera with Multiple Personalities

The Leica SL is truly a camera with multiple personalities, depending on what system of lenses is employed on the camera. As mentioned earlier, the system feels very much like a pro SLR rig when the 24-90 lens is used. I can see this as a perfect camera set up for wedding and landscape or wildlife photographers, who benefit from weather sealing, fast autofocus, and incredibly image quality of the SL lens.
The camera becomes a “big” M camera when using M lenses. With R lenses, the camera feels like a compact SLR.

As mentioned above, performance of the Leica SL 24-90 mm lens is admirable. Similarly, Leica M lenses perform very well on the SL, and I have yet to see any images, which would have been improved by using the M240/9/Monochrom sensor, in terms of edge performance. I have found that using the SL with M lenses provides a different, yet equally effective way of seeing the world with M lenses. Many will prefer the rangefinder focusing method, particularly those with good eye sight and familiary with RF focusing, but for most others, it will be easier to focus your M lenses on an SL body with far more consistency.

R lenses perform equally well. To date, I have tested the 50 summicron R, the 80-200 Vario Elmar f/4, the 60 mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit R, and the 180 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt lenses. Leica R lenses are known to be exemplary performers and will surely do well on this 24 megapixel sensor, which does not stretch the lesnes’ resolving powers to the max. Given the telecentric design of R lenses, they are likely to perform marginally better at the corners than M lenses, though many, including Sean Reid and Jono Slack, have tested M lenses and found them to perform well on the SL (and not as well on Sony full frame bodies).

All in all, the Leica SL performs admirable in all of these venues. It’s truly Leica’s bridge camera, allowing users to tie many systems together, use any number of lenses on the body with adequate to admirable performance. Leica should be applauded for managing such a feat in a body that’s designed to be its own high performance pro camera. Color me impressed…

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Who is this camera for?

I can see the Leica SL as an appealing camera for several types of customers.

1. Leica brand loyalists who wish for a bridge camera with the Leica badge
2. Individuals with reduced eye-sight and a large install of M lenses or R lenses
3. Previously abandoned R lens users
4. Wealthy amateurs or pros who want the Leica brand in a pro rig
5. Leica S users wanting a second body
6. Individuals not pleased with M240 image rendering (preferring the M9’s rendering…this camera is closer to that)
7. Landscape and destination photographers who benefit from weather sealing
8. Wedding photographers seeking brand identity and the highest possible IQ

Ultimately, the market will dictate the case regarding who the SL is aimed at. I consider myself to be a Leica brand loyalist, and I am a dedicated M camera shooter. My eyesight (so far) is fine, and I don’t have a large install of M lenses. I occasionally shoot professionally, but most of what I shoot is for my own pleasure. Leica’s are my one life’s guilty pleasure, and thus, I am inclined to try what they offer as long as their offerings provide a new appeal. The Leica SL is a camera with great appeal, a camera that will likely grow on you with time. I imagine that a mature SL line may eventually steal some M users, but at the end of the day, may create more fans of the Leica brand by offering a camera that’s capable of broad appeal and impressive functionality.

Pros
1. Incredible EyeRes EVF – 4.4 megapixels, 0.8x magnification, minimal lag – best in class (for now)
2. Build quality – Built like a tank
3. Weather sealed for use in all conditions (with SL lens mounted)
4. “Jack-of-all-trades camera” – Can take M, R, SL, Cine and eventually S lenses. Works well in many settings, using different approaches to imaging focus and composition.
5. Clean interface (once you are used to it)
6. Color reproduction, particularly in natural light
7. Robust high ISO images.

Cons
1. Bulky if thought of as an M camera replacement
2. Grip may not suit everyone. Best for big hands
3. Haptics with small M lenses is a bit unusual, though functional
4. Learning curve. The camera is not immediately intuitive
5. Very limited native lens selection

Pride of Ownership

Over the years, I have owned and used many camera systems from many manufacturers. Each camera that I have used has had its merits and weaknesses, and some have engendered an intense pride in ownership, given a number of factors that made me excited and motivated to take photos. For me, the ultimate example of such a camera for me was the original M Monochrom. I found intense joy from this camera, as it both challenged and inspired me to become a better photographer. I was and am proud to own one, and when showing off photos taken with the camera, I will happy report that the image was made with this camera.

Each camera engenders a joy of ownership for different reasons. It’s the rare camera that engenders a pride of ownership. The Leica SL is such a camera. When you use it, you feel the confident build of the camera. You experience the detail and effort that was put into designing a tool for you, the photographer. You sense the history of the Leica brand as it stands by this product, with Leica’s incredibly rich history to back up and substantiate the camera’s existence. Yes, the Leica SL is a 1st generation product. While it may be the natural successor to the Leica R system, it’s really a unique system with its own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, it’s not as compact as an M system camera. Yet, it uses M lenses with aplomb. Sure, it does not have the R system’s amazing optical viewfinders, but this mirrorless camera offers a novel way of seeing, with a clarity not seen before. The fact that you can use literally any Leica lens within Leica’s own ecosystem engenders further confidence that this is a camera that has enormous capabilities. In your hand will be a camera that can handle many styles, many perspectives. IT can serve as a color solution for your M lenses. It can serve to give re-birth to your dormant R lenses. The SL 24-90 may be the best performing normal zoom lens ever designed.

All in all, I am proud to own the Leica SL. I am excited to present the images here as representations of how the camera has inspired me. I am sure that if you elect to pay the steep price for this camera, you will be similarly motivated to go out and shoot, and that you will be impressed by the results coming from the camera. I hope to see you out and about, Leica SL in hand. Ready!….Aim!….Image Capture!

Best,
Ashwin

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Dec 232015
 

The Sony Rx1R Mark II: Ballet, Bikinis, The President and More!

By Joe Marquez

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been quite busy with a number of shoots including photographing The Nutcracker ballet in Honolulu. During this time I’ve tried to incorporate the new Sony RX1RM2 into my workflow to test if it works for me. This is not a review, but rather an opportunity to provide my initial impression while using this camera and share a number of photographs. In the future you can see more of my Sony photographs at www.thesmokingcamera.com.

Overall, I am pleased with the improvements over the first generation Rx1 (which I sold about a year ago). In particular the autofocus speed is substantial. Sony claims a 30% increase, but I’m not sure I can quantify the improvement. The first generation camera struggled with ballerinas in low light. The new version is much improved and now focuses on moving dancers even in poor lighting. I’ve included a number of black and white ballet rehearsal photos – all shot wide open at f2 and all at iso 3200.

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The tilt-able LCD screen is a bonus as I am able to easily compose low angle shots. In fact I had to stop myself from shooting so low and try out the retractable electronic viewfinder. At first glance the built-in EVF seems a bit toy-like, but I found it more than adequate. It is bright, responsive and easy to put away when not needed.

Face detection and Eye AF are very useful features. When turned on I can concentrate on composing the image and confidently allow the camera to handle focusing.

Image quality is superb as one would expect and I have no problem getting sharp, detailed images wide open. The Zeiss Sonnar T* lens is easily on par with my Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens on a Nikon DSLR – with a substantial weight savings.

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And the Sony is so small and light I am able to carry it around my neck at the same time I have a DSLR attached to a 70-200mm or 85mm 1.4 lens around my shoulder. This gives me focal length flexibility without having to carry two DSLRs or change a lens in the middle of a shoot. This was my setup at a couple of beach photoshoots and when President Obama shook hands with a small crowd (I’ve always wanted to use this oxymoron) while vacationing on Oahu. My guess is this is the first time The President has been photographed with the Sony RX1RM2.

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At a recent shoot I attached a Nikon Sb-800 strobe to the hotshoe via an older inexpensive sc-17 cable. This setup worked flawlessly and potentially gives me a small lightweight off-camera flash solution at future events when I need or want super high quality images. Of course I will be limited to manual flash adjustments but I can live with that.

And finally, I have to do more testing to determine if the new Sony is workable as a very long exposure rig (several minutes). My initial images contain a significant number of hot pixels that require post work, but it is so tempting to have this lovely lens in font of 42 megapixels for long artistic exposures.

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Although I’m pleased with the improvements I do find the camera a bit sluggish and I’m not able to make quick adjustments when shooting fast action. Of course this could be attributed to the large files and my lack of familiarity with Sony’s menu system and controls. Also, I wish there was a way to simultaneously keep Eye AF on while using the AEL button as an AF-ON equivalent. Just saying.

In conclusion, the Sony RX1RM2 has been a nice upgrade for me and I plan to carry it along on future assignments, shoots and just for fun. Happy holidays to all.

Dec 052015
 

AL JAZEERA AL HAMRA (The Red Island)

By Detlef

As with so many places of historic and cultural interest the United Arab Emirates is no exception to having its own folklore stories. A very interesting one centres around Al Jazeera Al Hamra in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Legends goes that decades ago a giant showed up who was so terrifying, villagers fled their homes never to return. On learning this, my interest was piqued up and I decided to explore the area further.

In the last 40/ 50 years the UAE has experienced rapid economic development. This development has naturally focused on modern, up-to-date attainments, particularly in architecture, with less focus being paid to the historical culture.
By accident, I explored an abandoned fishing village on the coast of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. A new village has been constructed just next to it and I assume, all the inhabitants of the old village got a comfortable, modern housing from the government – or may be it really was the giant.

The old village remains as a lapsed legacy. For years, the area has been left abandoned. However, recently some preservation work has been carried out to protect the heritage.

In 2014 I went there several times to portray the current situation and to capture the unique charm and the peaceful atmosphere of the site. As the intense sunlight bleaches out more or less everything, the play of colours are reduced to a range between black and white, which led me to the decision to do away with colour photos and I shot all pictures in black and white.
The derivation of the name “The Red Island” is still a mystery.

A first impression – some buildings are more or less intact while others are in a severe state of disrepair. In general, a plot consists of a group of buildings around a common courtyard and belongs to one family. Since every plot has a different size and shape the narrow paths between these plots flow in sweeping meanders and make the orientation difficult.

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The main building materials are coral stones and, from palm trees, wood and fronds. The disintegration starts from the roof structure as the rain washes out the mortar. Even so, rain is an unusual occurrence, damage caused by nature reclaiming its property is very minor.

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The entrance is always from the courtyard. The remains of a beautiful carving give an indication to the care taken by owners focus on the property entrance.

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Some of the hand carved wooden doors with original iron-work are still intact. What was curious to note was that the bolt was on the outside of the door (possible for animals).

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Especially in the older buildings windows are unusual as they would let in sand and heat; instead small decorative openings for air circulation can be found near the top close to the ceiling.

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To survive in the sweltering summers a wind tower was a necessity: The vents above the roof catches the air, leading it downwards and creating a pleasant airflow in the room.

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With the provision of electricity in the fishing village, modern techniques found their way to replace the wind towers by ceiling fans. Most buildings are one-room houses with a washing and ablution facility behind a decorated partition wall.

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Some walls have niches designed for storage of household items.

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In order to bring colour and design into the properties, repeated pattern wall drawings can be seen.

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Dangled frond mats from the ceiling structure. These would have been of the roof structure covered with mortar.

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A remnant from the beginning of motorization, a Land Rover is seen in a wide open space like a monument.

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A dry well reminds of the difficulty of water supplies in the past and is at the same time a warning to be careful with water resources today. Part of the well is made up of coral taken from the nearby Arabian Gulf.

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The abandoned area is now used as a parking lot for traditional boats.

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Ropes and fishing nets are everywhere – a reminder of the main economic industry in this area pre oil discovery. The purpose of the unique shaped tower in the background is unknown to me.

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I do hope you found my report interesting, enjoyed the photos, and perhaps got a new glimpse of a place you have not been. All photos have been taken with a Fujifilm X E2 with Fujinon 27mm, Fujinon 56 mm or Zeiss 28 mm straight out of the camera, no image processing.

I would like to encourage you to leave a comment and if there is someone who knows where to get more information about the place, please get in touch with me.

Many thanks to Steve and Brandon for the great website.
Wishing you all a great day,

Cheers,
Detlef

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.

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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

Thanks,
Aivaras

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

Dec 032015
 
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Camels, turbans and the people of Rajasthan with the new Voigtlander Ultron 35/1.7

by fiftyasa

You might remember my previous post about traveling in the sate of Rajasthan in India with some film cameras (here). This year I came back to Rajasthan with a Leica M9 and would like to share some images with you and the readers of your excellent blog.

A few weeks before leaving for this trip I acquired the new version of the Voigtlaender Ultron 35/1.7. I was in search of an affordable, small, sharp and fast 35 mm lens as main travel-photography lens, and gave the Ultron a try. I wrote a user review of the lens on my website here, mainly talking about sharpness and the use of the Ultron on the Leica M9 vs the Sony A7, but the first real use of the lens was going to be in this trip to Rajasthan.

The images below, unless otherwise stated, are shot with the new Utron 35/1.7 and Leica M9.

Bathing and preying in the sacred waters of the Pushkar lake:

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Although I was carrying around also a Planar 50/2 and a Biogon 25/2.8, the Ultron stayed on my camera 90% of the time. 35mm seems to be the perfect focal lens for me for travel photography: not too wide and not too short, excellent for environmental portraits and easy to manage when composing the scene.

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Pushkar also hosts a very popular camel trade fair which offers amazing opportunities for portraits and rural life scenes:

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I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but I have to say that I am very satisfied with the Ultron. Sharpness, bokeh, pop, micro-contrast are top. My only complaint is that my version seems not correctly calibrated. It back focuses. Before the trip I just glued a piece of black tape on the rangefinder cam and that solved the problem. Unfortunately achieving precise focus on a digital M system is in general a pretty difficult task, no matter how many times you send your M body to Wetzlar for calibration…

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In a temple in the countryside of Pushkar, Aloo Baba grows his potatoes (aloo) and kindly poses for a portrait:

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In Ajmer I visited some projects of a local non governmental organization (NGO) called RSKS (http://www.rsksajmer.org/about-us.php). RSKS is active in developing the rural areas around Ajmer with various programs, such as educational programs and income generation activities. I visited one of their schools in a poor rural village, a sewing training center for young women and a micro-finance program in a remote village.

The following picture portraits a student of the school (this time shot with Zeiss Planar 50/2):

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Here a woman who took part of a micro-finance program:

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After visiting Pushkar and its surroundings, I moved to Bundi, a small city in the South of Rajasthan. It looks like the blue city of Jodhpur but on a smaller scale. Its people are extraordinary friendly:

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For those interested in seeing more images of this trip, please visit: https://fiftyasa.wordpress.com/portfolio/rajasthan-again/

 

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