Apr 292014
 

The Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic Lens Review

by Johnny Ciotti

(from Steve: I will be reviewing this lens on the M 240 in the next 2 weeks. For now, here is a review from Johnny on the Sony A7! Thanks Johnny!)

With so many individuals moving on to the growing trend of the more sensible mirror less interchangeable lens camera bodies more than a few are finding a lacking in the tele range. Well, at least without destroying the smaller form factor by using larger SLR adapters and lenses or breaking the bank.

Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic mounted on Sony a7 via Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter

Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic mounted on Sony a7 via Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter

Enter the Voigtlander 75mm 1.8 Heliar Classic. Before getting into my thoughts I’d like to share with you a few tid bits of information in hopes of giving this some credibility and not just a “this guy bought the lens and rambled on about it” type of post. Being a photographer can mean many things to many people. A hobbyist, a professional, a collector, we all have different reasons for our purchases. So take what you will from this review but I’ve written it for the most decirning digital photographer who might enjoy premium quality at an affordable price. Myself being one of those that doesn’t care to own more than a few pieces of glass in the effort of simplifying the way he shoots. My clients shouldn’t have to pay for my gear acquisition syndrome when I can get the job done with a lot less.

As with most modern Voigtlander lenses, this 75mm is beautiful in a classic sense and refined to meet todays standards. No frills, no extras, just a clean black metal barrel and bright beautiful glass. Lens caps front and rear do as they should with my favored center pinch on the business end. Screw in metal hood feels wonderful and still allows for the front cap to be positioned properly when stored. All that needs to be visible is crisp and easy to read. No sloppy or unneeded branding to tarnish the over all aesthetic of this short tele focal lens.

Voigtlander 75mm Heliar Classic without lens hood attached

Voigtlander 75mm Heliar Classic without lens hood attached

The feel is better than what would be expected from such a bargain. The aperture ring clicks smoothly and precise with little effort. As effortless as it is to hop up or down a stop I’ve had no issue bumping into the wrong setting even with “rough” use. The same characteristics are followed by the easy to use manual focusing ring, clean and well dampened are the best way to describe this short throw. People often toss around the term “cheap” when they mean inexpensive, this lens is not “cheap” even though it is beyond affordable with a meager asking of sub $700 new.

The barrel extends slightly when focusing adding some length to this long piece of glass.

Barrel fully retracted

Barrel fully retracted

Barrel fully extended

Barrel fully extended

With having hit the ball out of the park in the presentation and tactile sensation department, I’d like to focus on the look the lens provides to the user while peering through it and not at it. Because this is what is important, right? You know, the images we make and not how awesome we look while making them. Voigtlander is not new to the lens manufacturing game. The company as a whole has been around since 1756, that’s not exactly a short stint. The new lenses have been manufactured by Cosina since 1999, another reputable name in optics. I hate to think of any piece of glass with such heritage as second-rate.

The lens provides a wonderful rendering of depth, sharpness, and contrast in appropriate proportions for such a piece of kit. The colors are as accurate as you are at insuring the proper white balance is selected. Vignetting is mild at most for a lens like this.

Vignetting

From left to right f1.8, f2, f2.8, f4

Vingette-top

From left to right f5.6, f8, f11, f16

Vingette-bottom

Clarity being one of the stronger aspects, taking a back seat only to the fantastic out of focus qualities and subject separation. The lens is more than sharp enough at f.18 for anything that needs to be shot at f1.8. Stopping down quickly takes these 3 groups of 6 conventional spherical elements from above adequate to what would be considered ridiculously sharp.

Bokeh

From left to right f1.8, f2, f2.8, f4

Boek-top

From left to right f5.6, f8, f11, f16

Bokeh-bottom

The multi coated process allows for deep contrasting that compliments the in and out of focus portions of any well thought composition. The straight 10-bladed aperture creates a lovely organic display of bokeh that is typically only found in much pricier prime optics at this focal length.

Iris opened to f1.8

Iris opened to f1.8

Having used this lens in many situations I have noticed flaring occasionally in the studio environment where a flag might have not been used with other more modern designs. This isn’t necessarily crippling for a rather flawless lens as it is easily correctable in most situations. Outdoors I haven’t noticed any flaring as long as the lens hood is implemented.

When possible I highly recommend shooting with a lens hood/shade, especially when it is this good, as it increases contrast by not allowing stray light to bounce around in your nifty chunk of glass. Often times sharpness is confused with lack of contrast and can plague the reputation of lenses from the miss informing improper user. The lens hood should be considered a part of the lens design for delivering optimal image quality. Why skimp when you’ve paid for the tools to be made available to you?

Raquelle Lawrence was gracious enough to model for this lens review.

High contrast outdoor location for recent head shots. Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic & Sony a7 stopped down to f9

High contrast outdoor location for recent head shots. Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic & Sony a7 stopped down to f9

The compatibility of legacy glass has been often questioned with digital sensors and their performance together. I find in this particular combination between the Sony A7 and the Voigtlander 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic that the two work together most desirably. User skill level and purpose for creating the image should be questioned as often as image quality. How sharp do you need the bottom right pixels to be if it’s a faded off-white stucco wall?

Gate

Gate

100% corner crop also showing minor color fringing.

cropgate

This lens really wouldn’t be my first choice for something demanding critical corner to corner image quality. Use a tilt shift and/or stitch multiple frames if that is the case. Picking the proper technique and tool for the job will make things work much easier. Now what this lens does do well is allows for a no fuss operation in creating wonderful stories with heaps of character. This is really important for me as I’m a dedicated wedding and headshot photographer. My equipment needs to allow me to make connections with my subject in a natural way.

Are we really looking at corner sharpness?

Are we really looking at corner sharpness_

The biggest draw back of this lens is it having such a long minimum focusing distance. Common with rangefinder lenses, this can be problematic if you work in cramped conditions often. A false sense of breathing room can be created with the coupling of the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter. The two increase the usability of the lens and open up a new world of creative options while giving the ability to increase subject separation in close foreground objects.

VM-E Close Focus Adapter

VM-E Close Focus Adapter

Now while I seem to praise this lens in high regard for its technical merits I cannot stress enough that the joy of using the lens as an artists tool can often help produce more meaningful images for yourself or clients. The way it feels and operates is ever as important as how many coatings the elements have. From day one it felt like an extension of my eye, something that if it cost even more could not be afforded.

You can buy this lens and the adapter from CameraQuest by clicking HERE. 

Apr 172014
 

The Real Digital FM3? Nikon Manual Lenses on the X-T1

by David Nash

DSCF0647

Hi Steve and readers.

Not being as young as many of you I still have a soft spot for small metal cameras with lots of dials (even if I don’t actually turn them) – and a bundle of Nikon lenses including one or 2 old bought cheaply at our local camera shop (yes we still have one in a city of 500,000!). So like many I was desperate to get my hands on the Nikon Df – and I did. But I was a bit underwhelmed and when it had to be returned because of an AF fault I took a refund rather than a replacement.

With the money I got back I’m now the delighted owner of a Nikon 24mm 1.4 and, arriving yesterday, a Fuji X-T1. And it’s definitely not going back…. But being a bit slow on the uptake I hadn’t up till now thought about using Nikon manual lenses on Fuji X cameras (I had an X-E1) and immediately ordered a Nikon fit adapter that arrived this morning. So I spent a couple of hours this afternoon shivering my way round the streets of Edinburgh with my brand new X-T1 and a 135mm f.3.5 Nikon that I picked up for less than £100. As you’ll see in the photo it’s really quite small for a 200mm equivalent focal length – but very solid and well made and quite sharp (though not in the same league as the 90mm Elmarit which I will be trying out next).

Here are few photos of bits of some of our local buildings. What I really enjoyed about using the X-T1 with the manual lens was how well the focus peaking worked (in most circumstances) and how easy it is to magnify the focus area with the focus assist button. You need to focus at max aperture to get the best result but it’s no hassle to stop the lens down a few clicks if you need some depth of field. But what I particularly like about using the X-T1 with a longer lens like is that if I turn the ISO dial to auto (yes I do actually use the dials a little) and the shutter speed to 180th of a second the camera will automatically change the ISO as I (manually) change the shutter. That way I can keep a high enough shutter speed and have complete control over the aperture. Smart! Oh, and I think you all know anyway that the Fuji sensor is rather good at high ISOs. And I did I remember to say the viewfinder is brilliant??

So – as many others seem to be saying – is this not what the Df should have been?
Thanks
David
www.davidnashphotos.co.uk

DSCF0082

DSCF0092

DSCF0085

Apr 092014
 

titleotus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

Putting the largest and heaviest lens on the smallest and lightest body… doesn’t seem to be the smartest move, does it?!

Indeed, no other FF lens of standard focus length weighs more and is bigger than the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55, and no other FF body is smaller and lighter than the Sony A7r (at the time of this writing, April 2014). Combining those two indeed appears to be a major contradiction. Obviously.

But let me make another statement now.

Putting the best lens on the best sensor… makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?!

Indeed, the Otus was developed by Zeiss with only one simple goal: creating a full frame lens with the best possible image quality, to meet the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) full frame hi-res sensors, that are able to provide an IQ close to medium format cameras. Zeiss clearly felt the need for lenses that meet (and surpass) those sensor specifications. Therefore the Zeiss engineers received no restrictions whatsoever concerning size, weight and budget. So this lens is indeed big, heavy and expensive. What did you expect.

With the A7r, it’s clear that Sony wanted to come up with nothing less than a masterstroke: combining the most advanced FF sensor with the smallest body, to offer the highest IQ in a FF body of today’s market.

Yet it doesn’t make too much sense to compare Sony’s situation with Zeiss’. Already the life span of both products will differ significantly. The evolution in sensors and bodies rushes further at an incredible pace, with a continuous stream of major new announcements. Still, although every camera body that one can buy today can offer satisfactory results for quite some years, the life span of a good lens remains a lot longer and can be estimated as virtually a lifetime.

Nobody doubts the Otus IQ. And, as far as I followed publications about the A7r, all test reports stated that its IQ is at least at par with, if not surpasses this of the Nikon D800E (until recently the sole standard for hi-res FF sensors). So purely regarding IQ, paring the Otus with the A7r makes a lot of sence. Obviously.

So on Wednesday, October 16, minutes after the first official presentation of the A7/A7r – by Sony Australia on YouTube – I placed my order. This was the camera body that I had been waiting for since about 5 years, when I bought my first NEX-5. Ever since that moment, I had been thinking: “If only they’d make a full frame camera like this, with a good viewfinder and enough knobs for direct manual control of the basic parameters…”

The NEX-7 was already a big step forward, with the EVF as an unexpected bonus. And when the full frame RX-1 was launched, unfortunately not an IC body, I was sure that Sony was in the final straight line towards my dream camera. So that Wednesday morning, I didn’t have to think it over for a second, because I already considered it for five years. During the whole presentation, I thought: “Yes!”

Also when the Zeiss Otus was announced to become available, I placed an order to get one of the first possible lenses that would ship to Belgium. The Otus 1.4/55 immediately tremendously appealed to me. Those who’ve read my first article, being published on this site, won’t be surprised, since my love for Zeiss goes back some 50 years. What I love about Zeiss can be summarized as: achieving the highest possible quality but still selling for reasonable, not Leica-crazy prices (sorry, Leica). All test reports about the Otus spoke of the most extra-ordinary full frame lens of all time, better than the Leica Apo-Summicron, that more than doubles its price. The Otus is said to be virtually perfect in all domains that really matter. OK, it’s not perfect in ALL domains, but that wouldn’t be of this world, would it. It’s big and heavy, actually the biggest and heaviest standard focal length glass on the market. It’s probably not really completely weather sealed, it’s not suitable for autofocus, it has no image stabilization and it scratches pretty easily (that’s what I read, so I try to handle it with great care). Oh yeah, it’s also pretty expensive.

Two versions of Otus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/50 comes in two versions: the ZE for Canon mount and the ZF.2 for Nikon. Both versions can be used with the A7r – of course with different adapters. (BTW, also the Sony comes in two versions, A7 and A7r, but there has been written enough about this on this website.)

The construction of the optics are identical with both lenses, which implies that the distance from the back lens to the sensor is the same (as it is with all “pairs” of Zeiss ZE and ZF.2 SLR lenses). So the “mounting foot” of each version is adapted to the specific camera body it is designed for, which is a bit shorter (some 3mm) on the ZF.2, due to Nikons longer FFD (flange focal distance = distance from flange to sensor). Thus, when mounting an Otus on the A7r, the appropriate adapter for the ZF.2 version will be 3mm thicker than the one for the ZE. But the total length of the camera/adapter/lens combination will be exactly the same for both – necessarily so, to make the optics work. (The camera is measure from the point where the sensor is mounted in the body.)

Besides the mounting, there are some other obvious differences. The ZF.2 has an aperture ring, which lacks on the ZE. Here the aperture must be set from the camera body. So there is an automation mechanism in the lens that makes the ZE 60g heavier and a bit fatter at the rear end. Yet, on the ZF.2, the aperture ring locks when set to f/16, allowing shutter speed priority (according to the manual), and thus automated aperture setting. With some bodies, it would even be possible to chose whether the aperture is set from the lens or the body. Because the lens manual indicates this, I don’t doubt it for a second. But I didn’t try it.

Which one to choose?

It took me quite some time to make up my mind about which version to choose for my A7r. Initially, I made the following considerations. The A7r has two customizable turning knobs on top of the body, one for thumb control, the other for the index finger. Aperture and shutter time control can be programmed to those, which makes sense, when using the ZE version. Also, I noticed that on the press presentation, the ZE was used in combination with the A7r. So this must mean something, no? They used the Metabones Smart Adapter Mark III (make sure to order the Mark III), which is that one adapter on the market that I’d trust to do the job for the Otus ZE. With some cheap EF to E (former NEX) adapters, you just loose the aperture control. (At the time of this writing) I’m really astonished that those are even on the market. Who for heavens sake would settle for only being able to shoot wide open? Then there are adapters that provide build in aperture blades. Neglecting the aperture system of the lens, those adapters offers an “ersatz” set aperture blades… ? I never tried one of those, and I never will, because, for sure, the character of your lens’ bokeh will be lost. So everything else but the Metabones is definitely a no-go for the ZE, IMO. Luckily the Metabones works really well (with one restriction – I’ll come to that later). It transmits all necessary electronic data perfectly back and forward. BTW, (at the moment of this writing and to my knowledge) there is no adapter on the market that does the same job for the ZF.2, so there’s no data exchange, no lens Exif data available, no lens control from the body, although, in case of the ZF.2, that’s not really dramatic, since the aperture can be set on the lens. To finish this off, all ZF.2 controls (Nikon-style) work in reverse to what I’m used to, which I thought can be confusing sometimes. Concerning the weight, I considered the extra 60g of the ZE to be not really important, in regard to the total lens weight of around 1kg. So it’s clear that I ordered a ZE Otus and a Metabones adapter. (Recently I noticed the appearance of some other data exchanging adapters that are a lot cheaper than the Metabones. But I would be very reluctant to buy a cheap adapter for the Otus, in regard to the problems this can cause – I come to that later.)

The adapter arrived first, even before my A7r. When picking up my camera at the shop, first thing I did was mounting the adapter and putting on a Canon EF lens from the shop, to see if everything worked out alright. And it did! Flawlesly. Even the autofocus beeped and nailed. So my A7r’s DSC00001 picture is shot in full automatic mode with a Canon Zoom lens! I just went outside the shop, pointed and shot – no thinking, just pushing the button. Being a 100% manual shooter, using prime lenses solely, this must be a unicum for both my camera and myself! :-)

Later, a friend of mine lent me his Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 ZE, to compare it to my own Planar 2/50 ZM. It also offered me the opportunity to further try out my Metabones adapter, imagining how it would operate with the Otus, once it would arrive. And then I made some remarkable observations. First of all: regardless of the set aperture, the lens always stayed wide open, until the moment the release button is pushed (Canon shooters will be familiar with that). I found that very inconvenient, making it impossible to estimate the DOF in the viewfinder and not consistent at all to what I’m used to with the other lenses I have, like the Zeiss ZMs. But I knew this problem could be solved. Canon has a designated button to check the DOF, and indeed, one can program the implementation of the set aperture under one of the customizable push buttons of the A7r, to obtain this function as well. Problem solved. At least, that’s what I thought initially… The DOF is indeed veraciously visible. But when using my other prime lenses, the A7r makes it possible to check the DOF very precisely in the viewfinder, by magnifying critical zones (as a matter of fact, the EVF can magnify any zone I want). Especially when hyperfocusing, I consider this a unique and major quality – “modern manual shooting”, so to speak. And here the ZE (and all Canon EF mount lenses) cause a problem, since it’s impossible to combine closing the aperture blades to the set value (holding down the designated button) with the viewfinder magnification function (for which we need to push another button – it’s exactly the simultaneous activation of two functions that’s impossible). But again, one has tried to provide a solution. This time, Metabones did an effort by features two operation modes on their adapter: Green and Advanced. First of all, it’s not evident to know of those modes, since there comes no manual with the package, nor is there any mentioning that the manual can be found on the Metabones website. If you’re interested in it, you can find it here: http://www.metabones.com/article/of/green-power-save-mode. The adapter is set to Green mode by default, featuring an operation as described above.

The activation of the Advanced mode is very simple: mount the adapter, switch the camera power on and mount the lens on the adapter, while holding down the “wide open” button of the adapter. In Advanced mode, the lens blades will always directly adjust to the set aperture. So there’s no longer need to activate two functions at the same time, which indeed ensures the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. Still there remains a serious handicap with respect to the ZF.2 version, since the ZE doesn’t allow finetuning of the DOF while monitoring in magnification mode. That is, in VF magnification mode, the wheel with which you set the diafragm gets another function, namely moving the magnified zone to the left and right. Maybe Sony will eventually come up with a software upgrade to fix this, but that’s not a certainty of course. So what is the exact difference ? Both versions offer the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. But with the ZE, this is done in a static way: set the aperture and magnify to check. If you wanna change, leave the magnification mode, set a different aperture and check again. With the ZF.2 on the other hand, you can do this in a direct interactive way: go to VF magnification mode and determine the DOF by fine tuning the aperture ring on the lens, while monitoring the changes in the VF. Fast, simple and accurate. IMO the ZE version makes a lot of detours to end up with a crippled functionality. And on top of it, it’s pretty battery consuming, since every change of aperture requires battery power.

Anyway, at this moment, it’s a no-go for me, and I guess the ZE will never enthuse me. I really can’t think of any real advantage that a body set aperture has – not one. I consider Exif-data interesting, but not really vital (although I’d welcome a Novoflex ZF.2 adapter with electronic signal transmission to remind me of the set aperture) and I look upon aperture setting on the body as an unnecessary detour. But interactively fine tuning the DOF to precision on the other hand, I consider that to be a vital operation for “modern manual shooting”, especially when using a hi-res lens on a hi-res sensor. (No OVF offers this possibility. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that the EVF has the future.)

So I changed my Otus order to a ZF.2 version, bought a Novoflex NEX/NIK adapter with tripod collar (necessary IMO) and put my Metabones for sale. Yes, I’ll have to live with the inverse settings and mounting of the “Nikon-style” lens, but hey, there’s no ideal world, is there…

Furthermore, choosing the ZF.2 has even more advantages. The possibility to mount a tripod collar on the adapter improves the camera’s balance on the tripod, since the tripod base plate of the collar protrudes a few cm. The Metabones has a tripod base too, but this one is positioned closer to the body, changing the balance. And when shooting OOH, you can’t remove this plate, which “scratched” my left hands fingers from time to time (nothing serious really, but still…). Another point: when using the Otus, I like to mount the vertical grip on the body (which is a no-go in combination with the Metabones, because it inhibits any upwards tilting). This grip substantially contributes to improve the balance of the lens/body combination. I’ve read in several reviews that the Otus would not really be suitable for the A7r, for reasons of unbalance when OOH shooting. I strongly disagree! (See hereunder in the “Balance” chapter.) Just buy the vertical grip and you’ll experience a completely different story. I know some criticized the A7r’s ergonomics, the knobs not being positioned in the places where they expected them. But isn’t that just a matter of getting used to it? I know that’s how it worked for me. And of course, some thorough consideration, about where to program the functions you always wanna keep at hand, helps a lot. What I like about the A7r is that it offers all the possibilities to work without having to pass through the menu and that I can blindly find all the functions I need.

Oh yeah, last advantage of my choice for the ZF.2 version: it gives me the instant overview of focal distance, aperture and DOF scale with a single glance on the lens – as traditional primes do and as it should IMO (I’m old fashioned in that department). This is shown in my picture “Aperture on lens” below:

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus anyway? Well, I can only tell you why I bought it.

Since the time Leica launched its M8, I started dreaming of it and later of the M9. I also could see very interesting lenses being reviewed for those cameras. Now I don’t easily sell my lenses, since good ones can virtually last a lifetime, and it’s the glass above all that determines the character of the image (next to the photographer of course). Some of those reviewed lenses were very appealing to me indeed, but most of them crazy expensive. First of all I think of the Noctilux and Summilux. The latter, being a lot less expensive, was still a no-go for me, regarding it’s price/performance relation. I found a much healthier relation offered by Zeiss, still being of top level (sometimes even outperforming Leica IMO) but being sold for 2 to 3 times less money. It’s clear I went for Zeiss.

The first reports on the Otus immediately pulled me over. Here was a lens that outperforms all my former dream-lenses and is still payable – with some effort admittedly (but that’s a personal matter). That’s my motivation, plain and simple.

The Otus Image Quality

From the very first reports, literally everybody that tried this lens was somewhere between impressed and flabbergasted by its IQ. What I read was that it performs close to perfection for all criteria, at all apertures and in the whole picture up to the extreme corners. The superlatives were flying around. It has the finest detail in all apertures and throughout the whole image, (close to) no flare, no distortion, no CA, incredible micro contrast, the smoothest bokeq (front and hind equally). Read the reviews for all the details… The comments of the reviewers are that homogeneous that I couldn’t but believe them. And having a more than 50 years experience with Zeiss myself, it only allowed me to be even more confident. So I really immediately ordered without any doubt.

But the question is: now that I’ve got it, does it live up to my expectations? Short answer: indeed it does, in every way! I had been searching for all possible Otus pictures online, but still, looking at the first images that I shot myself, really made my jaw drop. I spend minutes, looking at all details on all places, trying to absorb what I saw. Yes, this was really happening! No anomalies in whatever parameter. Detail and (micro) contrast like I’ve never seen before in my pictures. No need for sharpening. An incredibly soft bokeh, with super smooth transitions, especially when setting the sharpening to zero. And the bokeh is of an equal beauty in front and behind the focus point. Do I need to say more? Well, I’ll try: think of anything you want and the Otus will probably outperform any FF lens you know.

Combined with the A7r, the files offer not only tremendous detail, they are very workable as well. Not that you need to process them a lot, but you can, if you wanna go for a certain image that you have in mind. Of course the sensor has a huge participation herein. In “Glass Doll”, I wanted to emphasize the green color in the glass.

2.Glass doll

I literally pushed every relevant parameter in RAW conversion to the limit (really to the max), just to see how far I could go. And the result still remains very credible IMO. Notwithstanding the very fierce processing, the bokeh and the color transitions remain a treat for the eyes. This one was shot at f/1.4 and the focusing took half a minute or so, to have it exactly on and equally divided amongst the eye, noose and mouth of the doll. The full size version is available on my flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12444908724/sizes/o/in/photostream/) – I advise you to look at it to really see what’s going on with the color transitions and the details in the glass. All of a sudden, all the tiny faults in the glass become visible in a way that refers to macro shooting. The small focal distance, close to the minimum of 45cm, combined with the hi-res sensor makes this happen.

The Otus is specially conceived for hi-res sensors. So the detail is really important. That’s why I wanted to apply this detail in some of my pictures. In “Bicyclist under trees” I hyperfocused, wanting to get everything sharp, from closest to farthest object.

3.Bicyclist under trees

Hyperfocusing with a 55mm lens is far from obvious, the DOF getting considerably smaller with this focal lenght. A Zeiss sales manager told me: “I wouldn’t buy this lens that much for hyperfocusing purposes.” But personally, I believe it’s really possible, although this requires a very precise focus setting. The detail remains at such a high level throughout the whole field, that IMO it is absolutely possible to hyperfocus with the Otus. The EVF of the A7r, that combines checking the DOF (the amount of detail) in focus magnification really helps in this case. (I don’t wanna work without EVF anymore!) I absolutely wanted to try hyperfocusing, since this is an excellent way to get detail all over the picture, and as such to prove the exceptional quality of the Otus. Looking at this picture, you can see that even in the corners (especially obvious in the upper left and lower right corners) the IQ remains excellent and consistent.

When looking at the objects far beyond the focal point, there is still detail, but the image is unmistakably becoming a bit softer, because those objects are situated at the very end of the field, if not slightly beyond (indicated by the DOF scale). It’s still at par with most lenses at “normal” aperture, while this one was being taken at f/16. In this picture, I really pushed the hyperfocal possibilities to the limit, by focusing at around 7m. On flickr you can get a 100% image, for you to really see what I’m talking about. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12294747935/sizes/o/in/photostream/) I thought the detail, especially in the branches on the left, is flat out amazing.

I guess IQ is best experienced when shooting yourself, because everybody is used to get a certain IQ level, when opening his own pictures out of camera. You never now what kind of processing was done on somebody else’s picture, but when looking with a fresh eye at your own shots, you can more easily compare. I can honestly say, that I was really deeply impressed when looking at the first shots of my A7r, but I was flat out flabbergasted when looking at the first shots of my Otus. And what I absolutely wanna emphasize on, is how workable those Otus/A7r files are. You can really underexpose and retrieve beautiful natural colors out of close to black zones. Also the opposite is possible: retrieving colors from over exposure. This PP can be done to a really amazing level as I never new before – not by far. Again, the sensor has a huge participation herein.

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus? There is only one answer: for its flabbergasting image quality, especially combined with the A7r. IMO those two pair amazingly well. This combination will not only deliver a top level IQ, you will also have great cropping power. “Overview” is an example hereof. Cutting off the woman from her surroundings, was an obvious choice. But since I couldn’t get any closer, I needed to crop this picture to 27,5%. Still the image remains pretty detailed. Who needs a zoom?!

4.Overview

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory”, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

5.Forest, canal and factory

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory” above, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

I have been fantasizing about a Leica Noctilux for years, I have even been very close to buying an SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 and I reckon I’m not the only one. I guess many would have liked Zeiss as well to come up with such a hyper fast lens, for them to “play in the same league”. But I have only seen pictures shot with those hyper fast lenses of at most 24MP. By stepping up from the NEX-7 (24MP) to the A7r, I experienced that with a 36MP sensor (let alone even more MPs in the future), focusing at f/1,4 becomes extremely critical – the more with the hyper detailed Otus. I guess Zeiss regarded it as useless to go any faster, in any case, that’s exactly how I feel it, now that I own and shoot with the Otus.

6.Bicycle parking

In pictures like “Bicycle parking” (above), a typical OOH street shot, where the moving subject obliges you to focus fast and constantly readjust, it’s extremely difficult to nail the focus perfectly. I took four shots of this girl, trying to catch the most significant moment, but only in half of them I nailed the focus to what I consider an acceptable level, when looking at full size, that is. I was pretty pleased with this one, beautifully illustrating the scene, but as a matter of fact, the focus is perfect on the handle bars of the bike and “acceptable” on the girls face. I would rather have it the other way round, but if I would be that demanding, my percentage of keepers would drop dramatically. I have to say, it’s only when looking at 100% that one can see the difference in focus quality, but if you don’t look in that much a detail, what’s the use of using the Otus anyway? (Yes, I know, there’s a lot more to the Otus than just the detail, but still we can’t disregard it.) All in all, with a f/0.95 lens of this optical quality, combined with a 36MP sensor, I guess nailing the focus in this kind of circumstances would be a matter of sheer luck…

Even to exactly nail the focus on a still subject at f/1.4, the Otus requires an extremely careful and precise setting, regarding how quick the blur occurs (again, when looking at 100%), to the extend that I absolutely wonder if I would even want to use any faster glass, and, in regard of the wonderful 3D separation and the absolutely gorgeous bokeh of the Otus, if there’s really anything further to gain. When I think of how much bigger and (even more important) how much heavier such a f/0.95 lens would be, provided that Zeiss would want to obtain the same optical quality, there’s no way that I would have even considered for a second to buy such a lens. I really don’t want to carry and handle a standard focal length lens of >2kg! You think I exaggerate? Just think of the Noctilux being more than twice as heavy as the Summilux… BTW, such a lens would probably sell for about double the price. So it’s a no-go on all fronts. But most importantly, I truly believe that the gain would be of very little use, if not virtually nonexistent because of it being next to impossible to exploit. And if Zeiss was to produce a f/0.95 lens of about the same size, weight and price of the Otus, in addition to the present 1.4/55, the choice would go between a significantly better optical quality in the 1.4/55 version, versus a very questionable gain of speed in the f/0.95 version. As far as I’m concerned, I’m absolutely happy with the choices Zeiss made and I’m 100% “cured” from my “hyper fast lens fever”. :-)

Another few words on the Bicycle Parking picture. I slid the sharpening in the RAW converter back to 0% and didn’t use any unsharp mask, preferring to preserve the hyper smooth bokeh and grain, which would always become harsher when adding even the smallest amount of sharpening or unsharp mask. I really would like you to go watch this picture on my flickr page in full size version, to appreciate the quality of grain and bokeh that this lens renders. To my taste, although the background buildings make for pretty nervous and busy surroundings, the grain and transitions are still from an utterly butter-smooth quality as I’ve never seen before and, what’s even more exceptional, this counts for both front and hind bokeh to the same extend. In the places where the focus is perfect, the detail is absolutely impressive, until recently pretty unthinkable at f/1.4. Still, there is indeed a tiny slight degree of softness here, where at smaller apertures the Otus becomes bitingly sharp. But IMO this slight softness is absolutely desirable when going for bokeh. To conclude about this picture, this wasn’t an attempt to realize the most spectacular shallow DOF – the focus distance was way to long for that – rather than it was to 3D-separate the subject and realize a beautiful bokeh, while still transmitting information of the surroundings. This is how I prefer to use shallow DOF. Oh yeah, this picture was first cropped to 88% and than (obviously) cropped to square, which diminishes the shallow DOF effect to some extend. But I’m not one who’s really into pursuing the most spectacular shallow DOF, merely for the sake of the “effect”.

It’s also important to look at the 100% size picture (flickr), to see how shallow the DOF really becomes, when shooting with the Otus on a 36MP sensor – or in other words, how early the blur occurs, when looking in full detail. Looking at 100%, you’ll see how precarious the focusing becomes (compare the handle bars and the face) and you’ll probably agree that f/1.4 really is the widest meaningful aperture.

The issues

No concept is without issues. No camera serves every purpose. No lens pleases every photographer. So how do I deal with the most common published issues of the Otus, particularly in combination with my A7r? And do I experience some issues myself?

Here are the possible issues that I can think of and/or that I read about:

- Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

- Adapter issues.

- Ending up with a poorly balanced camera/lens combination with poor handling.

- Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

- Hyper delicate focusing.

- Manual focusing only.

- No image stabilization.

- A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

As a matter of fact, I don’t feel like loosing this. Like probably any buyer, I chose the A7r for it’s compact size and light weight, combined with its FF sensor. Steve mentioned it frequently: “With a heavy DSLR, I’d miss a lot of pictures, because 85% of the time, I’d leave it at home.” Same for me. So most of the time I have my A7r in my bag, body without vertical grip, the Zeiss Planar ZM on it and two extra lenses of different focal length as backup. Total weight around 1,6kg, bag included. That’s the weight of my wife’s purse. Camera/lens in a smaller bag (without backup lenses) will weigh around 900gr. When I go out shooting with the Otus, this will mostly be the only lens I carry, because I will more have a plan on forehand of what to shoot. Camera with grip plus lens weigh a good 1900gr. My tripod another 1300gr. Adding the bags gives me a total weight of 4,25kg. Too much to carry all the time, IMO (that’s why I have my “compact formula”), but not that much when going out on a dedicated “shooting trip”. Last situation, when going out for OOH shooting with the Otus, I carry 2,4kg with me. Still very manageable.

I often think of my A7r as a kind of chameleon. It can really adapt to any situation. So do I loose the compact concept of my camera? Not at all. I believe the A7r only offers opportunities. Whenever I wanna travel light, the A7r offers me this possibility. On other times, when I wanna go for uncompromising quality, again the A7r helps me out. I don’t wanna go compact on every shoot, but whenever I want, I can. So what did I loose? Nothing. I only gained.

Adapter issues

The most important problem (that I experienced) with inferior adapters are planarity issues. No surface is perfectly plane. But if the deviation is too big, one side will focus closer then the other. So it will be impossible to focus consistently throughout the whole image. For many pictures, this will hardly be seen, but on some occasions (for instance technical or architectural pictures), you really can get into trouble. Surely, you don’t wanna ruin your Otus with a lousy cheap adapter. So my advice is not to economize on the adapter and always perform test shots immediately after buying. Personally, I’ve put my trust in Novoflex adapters. I even tried putting two on top of each other (NEX-M and M-FD) and then shooting a flat surface positioned perpendicular in regard to the lens. I shot with the Canon FD 1,4/50mm wide open, to induce the blur as early as possible, focused on one corner and I could not observe any irregularity in how blur occurred in the four corners. This was not a scientific test, but it was good enough for me. I’m sure that Novoflex stays way below acceptable tolerances. Still, testing every new purchase remains mandatory IMO.

Another adapter issue is that often the adapter makes the lens to focus beyond infinite. But the Zeiss engineers themselves conceived the Otus to focus beyond infinite, to oblige the photographer to carefully focus in all circumstances. So can we really talk about an issue here? Not regarding it having percussions on the focusing process anyway. But if the shift is too big (which was the case with some cheap adapters I’ve tried), you’ll lose a considerable part of your closest focal distance. And again, that’s a no-go.

Conclusion: don’t economize on the adapter(s).

Balance

First thing I thought when I started shooting the Otus was: this is a lens for tripod use! So let’s talk about that first.

Until I got the Otus 1.4/55, my “personal” photography (that is: for personal use, just for fun, the shots that were not mentioned for our publications) was almost all shot OOH. But I knew from what I read that with the Otus, I’d want a tripod. So I bought a new one, since the one we use for product shooting is much to heavy to carry. Now I have to admit that my experience with tripods “on the road” was non-existent. After reading some articles and talking with a few guys, I bought a Sirui lightweight one (1310gr, ballhead included). But a few days later, when commenting on an editorial online, I started to doubt wether or not I made the right choice, after someone said he was sorry that I didn’t buy a really good and more stable tripod, like a Gitzo. That was even before the Otus arrived. So to check it out, I mounted a Canon FD 200mm tele with 2x-A Extender on my A7r, to get a weight that matched the Otus and I shot the same images with the Sirui tripod and a heavy Benbo. Looking at 100%, indeed I saw some slight but still noticeable motion blur with the Sirui – about half of what I got when shooting OOH. But then I thought of the hook, at the bottom of the central pole, and attached my bag to it to increase the weight, in an attempt to enhance stabilization. And it did the job: the motion blur was gone. Since I didn’t want to spend another €1500 or so at this time, after the €3500 for the Otus, I planned to stick to the Sirui and just use my bag as extra weight.

7.Tripod balance

But then I got the Otus. And since I bought the ZF.2 version, I use the dedicated Novoflex collar, attached on the adapter of the same brand, to mount the camera/lens on the tripod. This collar provides a mounting point a few cm further away from the camera body. And to my pleasant surprise, when also mounting the vertical grip to the body (which I always do when using the Otus), I got nothing less than a perfect balance from this camera/lens combination. Even with the clamping knobs completely loosened (hold your breath!), the camera stays perfectly horizontal, thus in absolute balance. My picture “Tripod balance” shows the camera on the tripod with completely loosened clamping knobs, the camera still not falling aside. This perfect balance has two consequences: 1) the framing can easily and quickly be performed to perfection, since there is no more movement whatsoever after tightening the clamping knob, and 2) the weight is equally distributed amongst the three legs, increasing the stability and as such eliminating motion blur even without hanging extra weight to the central pole hook. Conclusion: chances are real that I will never have to buy a €1000+ tripod. I simply don’t see where it could improve my performance. Oh, and when comparing tripod work between the A7r and a traditional DSLR (like the D800): since you’ll mount the DSLR with the body on the tripod, instead of via a collar, the weight of the Otus (1kg!) will cause some serious unbalance, compared to the A7r. So I guess the advantage clearly goes to the A7r in this department.

After a week or two of tripod work, I felt the urge growing, to use the Otus for OOH shooting as well. In the articles that I read, there were quite some questions put, regarding OOH shooting with the Otus on the A7r. Those made me reluctant to shoot OOH for some time. But like I said, the urge was growing.

Anyway, in the meanwhile, I removed the tripod collar, because its long tightening screw really sits in the way of the right hand fingers, when shooting OOH. If you’d wanna go back and forward between tripod and OOH shooting, you can also twist the collar to the left, to move it out of the way of your fingers. BTW, twisting the color gave me the idea to use this position for vertical framing on tripod as well, since as such the perfect balance on the ballhead is remained. Indeed, it can remain upright, because the 90° twist is performed by the camera within the collar.

But let’s get back to OOH shooting. When holding the camera with the right hand and using a “free” left hand for focusing (as I’m used to do with a lightweight camera/lens), the 1kg Otus makes the front really too heavy. Your right hand will get tired very quickly. I think this is a no-go. The balance is absolutely lost. Already after a very short while, it will be very hard to hold the camera still and you will induce motion blur very quickly, needing even faster shutter times. In short: your performance will suffer from it. A 36MP sensor already asks for a faster shutter speed, since the motion blur is earlier induced – that’s a fact. Coming from the 24MP NEX-7, I didn’t expect this to be that prominent, but It’s as if a threshold has been taken: I really need to set the shutter speed faster. Of course, when reducing the resolution of the picture in PP, I can shoot with the same speeds as before, but with an A7r, you wanna use its full abilities at least sometimes, don’t you. So the faster shutter speed becomes a reality at that point. When using an A7r with a lightweight lens like a Zeiss Planar ZM, resulting in a mere 720gr for the camera/lens combination, it’s not easy to hold everything stable. One simply needs to shoot with extra care. But when mounting a hyper precise, super detailed lens like the Otus, that ads 1kg front weight, you might expect it to get worse. But as a matter of fact the weight will help a lot, if you carry it with your left hand. I did some experimenting with holding technique and got some extra-ordinary results.

8.Left hand balance

Having never been afraid of exploring new paths, I experimented with alternative ways of holding the camera, to tackle the weight and balance issues. And it didn’t take me long to find out the most stable way to hold the camera – it almost came to me spontaneously. The Otus has large fixed zones, that can easily be used to hold and support the camera+lens. I have the A7r handgrip rested on the cushion of my hand palm, near my wrist. My thumb supports the fixed ring between focus and aperture. My index finger points forward and supports the lens, centrally below the front end. My middle finger is located at the right side on the focus ring. My ring finger holds on to the same fixed ring as my thumb. And my little finger is on the aperture ring. Middle and little finger can operate their respective rings. Zeiss has coated those rings with the exact covering material (and provided a butterly smooth yet perfect feedback giving operation) to be set easily with one finger. Of course the focus can only be fine tuned in this way, since it features a 270° turn from min to max. But it’s exactly the fine focusing that’s really delicate and takes extra care, right before pushing the release button, so that works out perfectly. A 270° turn is large indeed, but IMO that’s what’s absolutely needed, to offer enough “play” when fine focusing this lens at f/1.4! Also the aperture doesn’t need more than to be fine-tuned, when looking through the viewfinder, that is: I only might want to adjust the DOF very slighty at that point. Anyway, holding the camera in this way provides an absolutely exceptional stability, the index finger playing a crucial role, by supporting the very front of the lens and the whole camera resting on one stable surface. You absolutely don’t need to “grab” the camera – it’s just lying relaxed and comfortably in your left hand. And with your elbow resting on your chest, you barely need to use any muscle power to hold it, and your hand has a direct connection with your body.

My picture “Left hand balance” (above) shows you how the camera is lying in my left hand. You’ll use your right hand for operation of all functions (except for focus and aperture) – all knobs of the A7r are very conveniently located at the right side of the body for that matter, except the menu button, that you never have to use during shooting, since every function that you need can be programmed under the customizable buttons. And of course the right hand also provides extra safety, should anybody give you an unexpected push. Thanks to this really exceptional stability and balance, you only need to use very little muscle power and wont get tired that soon. Muscle power induces instability, hence motion blur. No muscle power means relaxation. Relaxation means stability, hence absence of motion blur. As a matter of fact, the size (enabling a large support surface) and weight (largely contributing to the stability without becoming too heavy) of the Otus/A7r (with grip) have become big advantages as far as OOH shooting is concerned. Of coarse it’s still a considerable weight that you’re holding. And after several minutes staying in the same position without moving, some tension will arise. But it’s very rare to stay unmoved that long.

An unexpected stroke of luck: while my hand has a reverse position (thumb to the left) with this lens in comparison to its position with other lenses (thumb to the right), there’s actually no other technique needed, to set focus and aperture, neutralizing the “inverse Nikon-style”. Streching my middle finger results in focusing closer in both cases, pulling it back moves the focus point further towards infinite.

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

I can understand you being skeptical when reading this. Therefore I wanted to give you some kind of proof and I wanted to push it to the limit. My “Selfie” was shot in manual mode in front of a mirror, giving you proof that it’s absolutely an OOH shot.

9.Selfie

I’ve also put this picture on my flickr pages, in full resolution, with published Exif data. Please check it to verify. You’ll notice that this is indeed a 1/10s shot, with the Otus mounted on the 36MP A7r. Pretty amazing, isn’t it. Please click on the link to choose the full size 36MP file. This is a converted RAW file with zero sharpening applied. I only flipped this picture 180° to get rid of the mirror image. I focused on the text at the bottom of the lens. And as a matter of fact, the lens front is the only thing in focus in the whole picture, whereby the in focus area is that small, that it almost seems as if the whole picture is blurred. Still, what I wanted to show here was the extreme balance of the camera and so I chose one precisely defined focus point, with zero margin for error. In this case, you absolutely must look at 100% to even notice that there really is something in perfect focus. The extreme shallow DOF, due to the f/1.4 aperture, makes the blur set in very quickly. So the stability of the camera was not only required in left/right and up/down directions, but also in back/forward. OK, on tripod, the result would probably have been yet even a bit better. Still, to my eye, this is a pretty good OOH shot – as good as it gets. But remember, this one was shot at 1/10s. Needless to say that this would be plain impossible if the A7r/Otus combination would offer less than a perfect OOH balance. I wonder (and even doubt) if this can be improved by the D-800E/Otus combination. So in this department, I guess the A7r is at least at par with the best DSLRs. I rest my case.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that 1/10s is a normal OOH shutter speed for the A7r/Otus, because it isn’t. What I’m saying is that, with the right technique, this camera/lens combination provides an exceptional balance, otherwise I could impossibly have succeeded in taking this shot. What I’m also saying is, that, where one expects to need faster shutter speeds, due to the hi-res sensor and hyper precise lens, one can actually work with “normal” speeds and even go slower. When applying a minimum of care, I consider 1/30s as a normal feasible shutter speed for this combination. I took my first Selfie-testshots in aperture priority mode. I operated very carefully and succeeded from the first shot, which appeared to be taken at 1/13s. That’s when I thought; let’s push this to the limit. So I switched to Manual mode, kept the aperture at f/1.4 and set the shutter speed at 1/10. I missed the first two shots and realized that I needed to hold the release button longer, beyond the moment of the shutter’s closing. Keeping it down gave me my third picture, the one you can see. BTW, the A7r release button helps a lot for this kind of shots. It has a very soft action, without resistance point – some call it “spongy” and that’s correct. For many applications, one could prefer more definition, but for this kind of use, it’s absolutely a benefit. Furthermore, and this is IMO, for normal “action” shots (in my case that’s mostly candid people shooting) the shutter release button requires some habituation, but isn’t problematic at all.

Delicate focusing

This is absolutely the matter. This lens/sensor combination reveals every detail, as no other FF does (the D800E does as well, of course). Result: when looking in 100% size (and again, you need to do this – where would you otherwise use this combination for), the out-of-focus is induced quite a bit earlier than what we were used to. Of course, with smaller apertures the margin gets bigger, but as you approach the f/1.4 it really gets tough. And wide open, even on a tripod, you need to proceed with great care. The viewfinder magnification function is no unnecessary luxury in this.

Yet I need to add that when shooting for “normal” formats (using less MP), the focusing can be done as easy and fast as with any other lens. And with the A7r EVF, you don’t need any special assistance. In the parts that are in focus, the EVF produces an almost overly sharp image. It’s difficult to describe, but when you’d try it, you’d notice immediately what I mean. With some experience, you even don’t really need the focus peaking anymore for those shots, let alone the VF magnification. But as I said, at large apertures, with very shallow DOF, and at full resolution, it’s another story. The focusing becomes absolutely very delicate.

Manual focusing only

I’m a MF guy. So I can’t really compare with AF systems. But I read in different reviews, that AF is not always absolutely precise on a 36MP sensor. Another statement I remember was that the EVF of the A7r does a better job in focusing than the OVF of the D800E. That, and my own focusing experience with the Otus, makes me understand why Zeiss chose to make it a manual focus lens. I guess with (today’s) AF systems, it’s not possible to set the focus to the same level of precision as one can perform manually. For instance in “Glass Doll”, I wonder how an AF system would manage to determine the exact in focus zone where I wanted it (eye, nose and lips).

Moreover, Zeiss has a vast tradition in manufacturing MF lenses. And personally, that’s exactly what I want.

No image stabilization

This is my personal opinion. After reading the “Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec” chapter, you’ll understand that I really don’t care the Otus not having any image stabilization. Nor the A7r for that matter. I’ve never been missing or wanting it. But I can absolutely get that some people would’t wanna shoot without it. So this is a personal matter. This lens is not for them. Nevertheless I still think that one should work on improving his shooting skills first. But, OK, this is not my domain of experience.

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

I heard the rumor that Zeiss developed the Otus as if it were a medium format lens. In that way, by cropping the corners of the image, we’d get rid of the zones with less than optimal performance. I don’t know if this is really true, but I guess all lenses follow the same optical laws, performing less in the corners. So it makes sense to me: if you want your lens to perform optimally in the corners, you need to crop – which makes you end up with a bigger and heavier lens.

And if you want an image that’s (virtually) free of distortion, you need to correct the image internally. This means more glass elements (12 in the Otus 1.4/55). Again: bigger and heavier.

There are no miracles in optics, I guess. Only choices and consequences. If you want a smaller lens, settle with less perfect performance. I do anyway, when I wanna go compact. I surely don’t always need the Otus performance. But I have to admit, it’s tempting and it’s kind of addictive. It’s inspirational too.

Then the price. Is it expensive? Sure it is! But is it crazy expensive? Sure it isn’t! Being less expensive than the 50mm Leica M Summilux, let go the Apo-Summicron or Noctilux that double and triple it’s price and that the Otus still optically outperforms(!), I guess we gotta stay reasonable concerning the price. To all that criticize its price, I can only say: what do you expect anyway?

I’d say the Otus is not cheap at all, but still it’s absolutely very attractively priced. I love Zeiss for that.

What to shoot with the Otus

What I wanna tell you in this last chapter is about the considerations I made, when starting to shoot with the Otus – considerations about what kind of images to shoot, about how to select the subjects.

This is the best lens in the world, so obviously, my pictures should have to show it, no? Since the subject is the most important element of any picture, I started thinking about what kind of subjects would prove those exceptional Otus qualities. This made me shoot mainly at f/1.4 and f/16 initially, because at the widest and narrowest apertures, Otus still renders exceptional detail, where normally we’d expect a lens to get a lot softer. Another matter, that kept me busy, was how to show that this detail is rendered all over the image, not only at widest and narrowest apertures but also in the corners. And then there is the matter of the incredible micro contrast. And the lack of distortion, flare, etc… To make a long story short, finding “Otus-worthy” subjects quickly became a worrisome task.

But then I thought of how I always have compared musicians, that merely show off their technique, with a circus act (“look what I can do!”) – impressive, but having not much to do with music. Since, as a matter of fact, my professional education has been in music, it always helps my photography to think of comparable situations in music. All of a sudden, I realized that I absolutely don’t have to show off the Otus’ superiority. Whatever lens is used, one rather just needs to think about the picture, and how to shoot it in the best possible way, but not about how to come up with the most “virtuoso” images, using this exceptional lens. That would only have a paralyzing effect and stand in the way of creativity. From that moment on, I felt kind of liberated an relieved. I could use all apertures again in regard of the most favorable DOF and not regarding the “applause” I’d get for the “stunning technicality” of the picture. Every Otus image would already have a superior quality, compared to what I would have gotten, should I have used another lens. Thinking about this lens in this way, makes me absolutely enjoy every shot, also the most simple and modest ones, and makes me use it without restraint whenever I feel like it. In every picture, I see the extra that is contributed by the lens, as I also did, when upgrading from the NEX-7 to the A7r.

Besides that, this lens/camera combination is particularly appropriate for large format printing and extreme cropping, two things that for most of today’s photographers are pretty exceptional. Still, as I said, owning and enjoying one myself, I simply use it, whenever I feel for it and whenever its focal length makes sense – as I do with all my lenses. It’ll never let me down when I employ in that way.

My overall conclusion

The A7r absolutely offers the widest variety of lens/body combinations amongst FF camera’s on the market today (surely for MF shooters that are not afraid of buying some good-quality adapters). Of all those combinations, the A7r/Otus is probably the most extreme concerning size and weight, since in that department, they differ the most (which can be harmonized by mounting the grip on the A7r). Still, both have pretty much all other characteristics in common. It’s not the case, but when combining them, it surely feels as if they were meant for one another. Indeed, this turned out to be a very workable combination for me, one that not only offers the summit in IQ, it’s also surprisingly well balanced, as well on tripod as in the hand. Thanks to the latter, and with the right technique, one can shoot OOH at surprisingly slow shutter speeds, significantly slower than average. So the Otus performs wonderfully great on the A7r, but this is no “plug-and-play” lens. You need to know what you’re doing and if you wanna exploit it fully, you need to proceed with great care.

The Otus 1.4/55 is not cheap, but still it’s very competitively prised. (Same counts for the A7r, BTW.) This lens is not compact at all, but still it’s a tremendous joy to use, because it’s so well made. It really feels good to operate and it’s so extremely rewarding regarding IQ, the more in combination with the A7r, that it easily becomes an addiction.

That’s more than enough for me!

(There are some more pictures hereunder. You can look at all pictures in bigger size in a dedicated set on flickr, by clicking on http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157641276669365/)

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you enjoyed it.

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

There are more Zeiss Otus images in Steve’s A7 and A7r review HERE.

Apr 042014
 

Beijing Fashion Week with Fuji XE-1 and XF 55-200

By Paolo Mercado

Hi Steve, Brandon,

I’ve been a follower of your site for about 3 years now but have only shared now. I am an occasional-but-passionate photographer. I normally take with film on a Leica MP or M7. I love my Leicas and may one day share some of my film scans. A year ago I bought an XE-1 with a Leica adapter to use some of my Leica lenses on. I was so impressed with the image quality I found myself shooting more and more with the Fuji zooms.

Last Sunday I went to one show at the Beijing Fashion Week to test out my XE-1 with the XF 55-200 lens. Here are 3 sample images I took. Before commenting on the images though, I must say that while I love taking photos with the XE-1 on manual focus peaking mode with my Leica lenses, taking on AF mode in low light was very difficult/frustrating and I missed a lot of moments. However I was pleased with a few shots I managed to squeeze through. All files are straight out of the camera, not retouched or cropped in any way (just resized for this sharing).

First shot is of the star model on the runway. I was quite pleased to have captured the details on the wire mesh head-dress on this shot. (Fuji XE-1, XF 55-200, ISO 2500, 156.1mm, -1 EV, f/5, 1/60).

First shot is

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Second shot is “faces in the crowd”. These ladies were seated 20 meters away from me, across the other side of the runway. What was actually happening on the runway is that one of the models stumbled painfully on the runway due to the impossibly high heals (stilts really!) that the designer insisted everyone wearing. The girl on the left is looking quite concerned. The camera captured these two glowing ladies quite well (including the tattoo on the arm of the lady on the left). (Fuji XE-1, XF 55-200, ISO 6400, 148.5mm, 0 EV, f/4.5, 1/60).

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Now for an outdoor shot with this charming beauty. This was a quick shot and I didn’t adjust manually. The camera took it at ISO 1000 as it took the exposure value from her black dress. This highlighted her porcelain skin quite well (and to my eye captured it quite accurately!). (Fuji XE-1, XF 55-200, ISO 1000, 148.5mm, 0 EV, f/5, 1/125).

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What amazed me the most about the Fuji is its wonderful ability to capture great skin tones straight out of the camera. No retouching on any of these (I don’t have the patience for retouching!). I am very happy with the IQ of the Fuji sensor and the capabilities of the XF 55-200 lens. I am thinking of getting the XT-1 for it’s speed and better handling, but I will hold on to the XE-1 for my Leica lenses as I like how small and discreet it is.

Many thanks and I hope these make it to your site!

Paolo Mercado

Beijing, China

Currently shooting with Fuji XE-1, Leica MP & M7, Leica X1

 

Jan 072014
 

It’s all about Inspiration!

By Sebastien Chort

Hi Steve

First I’d like to deliver a huge THANK YOU

I’ve been working for a long time in the so-called “graphic/animation/movie industry” therefore I’ve been dealing with picture composition, lighting, framing for years. But I mainly spent my time behind my computer creating images in 3D for animation studio or VFX companies. I always had an interest for photography but when digital cameras appeared my envy to snap pictures kind of vanished (IQ was disappointing) and I gave most of my energy toward my pro activity.

Eventually I started to feel frustrated with the long process it takes to create Computer Graphic images and I started to lurk again toward photography with the high expectation to create spontaneous pictures. Then while I was looking for a decent digital camera 2 years ago, I stumbled across your blog and it opened the Pandora box. The flow of great pictures and great reviews you share helped me a lot to find inspiration and to renew my interest toward photography.

I bought a GH2 which caught my interest for its movie capacities and later on I couldn’t resist the OMD EM5. I loved using the GH2 but the OMD is such a great tool I can’t thank you enough for advising it so loudly. I started to go mental with photography gear to be honest and bought a lot of lenses (C-Mount, Canon’s FD, and pretty much everything I could on Panasonic and Olympus MFT).

Finally I started to look back to some film camera as well and I’m the happy owner of a Hasselblad CM with 3 lenses, a Rolleiflex from 1928 and recently I acquired a Leica M3. This might sound like a G.A.S. issue, but I don’t feel that way. I’m experimenting a lot with all my cameras, I love to carry them, to shoot with them, those are just symptoms of an ongoing passionate story with a great medium to create pictures.

I mainly do portraits of my relatives or street photography, but I feel like I’m barely starting to discover how much fun I can get with photography, so it’s a permanent excitement to know I still have to learn about landscape, sport or studio photography.

So I think you have a large responsibility in my renewed passion for photography and I can’t thank you enough for that. I hope you’ll like the few pictures I’m sending and I wish you the best for the years to come

Thanks for reading me ;)

Sebastien Chort

WebSite : http://sebastienchort.com

Flickr : http://www.flickr.com/photos/sebchort/

From Steve: Thanks so much Sebastien! I am glad that reading my site has inspired you but I must say that it is readers just like you that inspire ME in a day to day basis. Seeing so many great photographs helps to push me to get out there and shoot every week. So thank YOU! 

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Nov 262013
 

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My first play with my dream camera, the Sony A7r by Josh Perera

Ever since I first got into the Sony Nex system cameras early in their inception with the Nex5, I knew there was something special about these little cameras and their 18mm e mount. Packing the power of an APS-C DSLR sized sensor into a tiny package that can easily be thrown in your girlfriends handbag, it was pretty easy for me to fall in love with it. The only thing that held it back was the lack of lenses. We originally started out with the 16mm 2.8 prime and the 18-55mm kit zoom. The zoom is satisfactory but the surprise of the two was the great little 16mm f2.8 prime lens, which is a great little wide-angle.

Wanting something more but disappointed with the lens selection available I turned to third-party manufactures after Sony made the prophetic decision to make the e mount spec freely available for third-party manufacturers to produce for. I had read about the ability to mount old slr lenses on the nex via adapter but this seemed daunting so I went looking for propriety e mount lenses first. The first to pop their head up and try to cater for this new market of e mount shooters was a company called SLR Magic. I purchased their 35mm f1.7 manual focus lens which I reviewed here, and their 28mm f2.8 manual focus lens which I reviewed here.

These two lenses introduced me to manual lens photography on the Sony Nex system and I was hooked in minutes. I continued to shoot them exclusively for about 4 months until I decided I wanted more. Like all good GAS starts. I looked on eBay and quickly found a Minolta 50mm f2 I was interested in (I always had an affinity with Minolta since I was a boy) after winning that auction I then ordered a cheap adapter and waited. This was all the start of my obsession with mounting vintage glass on the amazing sensors of the sony Nex’s. I still shot my Nex5 but have since also purchased the fantastic Sony Nex5n who’s 16mp sensor was a great improvement on the previous 14mp version.

As much as I have loved my Nex’s there are two things I have always craved, a viewfinder, so as to feel even more connected with the shot, even though I do now love shooting them waist level like a medium format camera…and a fullframe sensor so i can enjoy my lenses in all their glory at their actual focal lengths instead the 1.5x crop that happens with an apsc sensor. I kind of new the day was coming where Sony would release just this for a long time now, so I invested in the system even more, with more lenses and more adapters etc. and started saving my pennies for what I knew eventually must come.

Then earlier this year the rumors started to surface that there was in fact a Sony e mount full frame mirrorless camera being tested around the traps…and then the rumors started come more frequently and we knew it was finally coming.

Little did we know that Sony in fact had two new full frame e mount cameras for us, the cheaper A7 with 24mp sensor, slightly less robust build and phase detect af, and the flagship more expensive A7r with a 36mp sensor minus AA filter with entire magnesium alloy body, but only had contrast detect af. I of course straight away wanted the 36mp version with out AA filter as it would give me access to the absolute best (or worst) my lenses could offer, that and I had always tried to purchase the robust version of the nex in the past thus why I started with the Nex5. So it felt only right to go with the A7r for me.

So I placed my pre-order and waited and saved the last bit I needed and enjoyed my nex’s in the mean time. Then just last friday rumors started to surface that they had started shipping. So I rang the Sony store in Perth where I had placed my pre-order and was informed they were unpacking them as we spoke and would put mine aside for me to pick up. I was beside the moon and of course rushed in to grab my prize.

Getting home I was keen to un box my baby, but at the same time I wanted to take my time and savor the occasion. haha. The first thing I pulled out which impressed me was that Sony is giving away a free mount adaptor (which reminds me I need to apply for mine) to help deal with the lack of native lenses at this time.

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After getting past the manuals and such I finally came to my beauty and I was instantly impressed by the styling, which reminds me of the old x700′s, the size which is not much bigger than my nex5n and the weights, which too was not much more than my nex5n.

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The text around the mount just makes me smile every time I read it.

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It took me a few minutes to adjust to the new controls and figure out how to set it up to my shooting style but was ready to go in no time. I am still being blown away by how much this feels like shooting one of my film slrs, it really is enjoyable to shoot. Oh, and I was quite surprised by how quiet the shutter was, many initial reports had stated it was really loud, but it is no much louder than on the Sony Nex’s.

Of course I had to get in some test shots around the house before the light faded too much. All images taken from camera jpg as i have no way of editing the raw files at this stage unfortunately.

(click on images to view larger)

As many of you may know my two dogs feature prevalently in my test shoots, this day was no different. haha

Shot on the voigtlander 35mm f1.4 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/20

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Shot with my Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 manual focus lens, iso 200, 1/50

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I was short for options as the light was fading fast, so just shot what I could on my street with what lenses were lying around my desk for now, I will delve into testing everything properly in the future.

shot with Nikkor S 35mm f2.8 manual focus lens, iso100, s/sp 1/800, wide open

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Shot with Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 manual focus lens, iso 64, s/sp 1/400, @f2.8

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Shot with Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 manual focus lens, iso 100, s/sp 1/400, @f2.8

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Shot with Nikkor S 35mm f2.8 manual focus lens, iso 100, s/sp 1/400, @ f4

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So that was about it for my testing on the first day before the light faded too much. However the next day I needed to get out of the house (I have been busy finishing mixes for my bands latest release) so decided to go for a walk at a nearby nature reserve and try my hand with the A7r and a wide-angle. I had recently gotten this Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens back from being serviced by Max, so thought I would test this guy out. I was not expecting much as it is not a name brand lens, however what did surprise me was how it’s imperfections actually add a nice uniqueness to the shots. It’s not particularly sharp, it is low on micro contrast and it vignettes on the full frame sensor, but there is some thing beautiful and character about the way it renders. Of course I cannot fully judge any lenses on sharpness until I can edit the raw.

Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/1250, @ f5.6

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Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/1250, @ f5.6

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Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/320, @ f5.6

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This one is my favorite of the batch from this walk, this huge lone tree just standing there in the middle of this field of dried grass. I started walking through the tall grass to get closer for my shot when I realized I was only wearing thongs not enclosed shoes and this was rather snake friendly grass, so I quickly took my shot and got out of there. haha. I will return again in the future with the proper footwear and frame my shot as I see in my mind’s eye.

Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/800, @ f8

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Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/800, @ f8

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As we climbed the hill to return to the car to leave, a jogger ran past us which caused me to turn and realize the view I had missed, so I framed and quickly snapped trying to make sure I got the jogger in frame.

Shot with my Spiratone 17mm f3.2 manual focus lens, iso 50, s/sp 1/1250, @ f5.6

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Like I said that combo is far from perfect and I believe resolving well below the sensors capabilities, but it still produces pleasing shots. Food for thought that maybe not everything is sharpness.

Later that night was my sisters 16th birthday party. She was having a black light party and had asked me to take some shots for her. This was a perfect excuse to test the A7r in low light shooting with manual glass and an off camera flash. I used a Yongnuo 560II with remote trigger off camera. I had to zone focus in the really dark situations which I am used to from my nex’s, all in all I am impressed by how the combo performed.

Shot with Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 manual focus lens, iso 250, 1/160, @ f2.8

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Shot with Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 manual focus lens, iso 200, 1/160, @ f2.8

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Shot with Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 manual focus lens, iso 250, 1/160, @ f2.8

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Shot with Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 manual focus lens, iso 250, 1/160, @ f2.8

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What a great weekend that was. I can’t believe how quick it went. haha. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting my new Sony A7r, in fact when I showed it to my partner within 2 minutes of her having a go she said I had to buy another one for her. haha. Only gives me hope for the future.

I truly enjoy this camera already, it has more than performed fully straight out of the box. I look forward to more thorough lens testing in the future, make sure you keep checking back, I also look forward to be able to edit the raw in the future too.

Unfortunately it is Monday and I am back at work, so until next time, happy snapping.

Nov 252013
 

The Sony A7r – A Short Review by Tianyu Zhao

(Note: This is a guest user report, my full A7 and A7r review should be up within 5-7 days, Steve)

Hi Steve,

I’ve been reading your blog since I got serious into photography a couple of months back. Can’t say how much your real world reviews have helped me when choosing my lenses, so I’ve decided to share my experience with the new A7R and hopefully it can be of help to others.

I’m by no means a professional photographer, just an amateur who loves to play his camera and taking candids on the street. I pre-ordered the A7R once it was put up online as an upgrade to my NEX7. As of now I own 3 RF lenses: ZM35f2, ZM50f2 and ZM18f4. The first two have been reviewed by Steve and received quite some positive feedbacks and needless to say my results replicated the findings. The two lenses were excellent on the A7R, with the ZM50f2 being a stellar performer and while the 35f2 had some vignetting and slight magenta cast (which you won’t be able to notice for everyday shots), I found it more than comfortably tolerable. Overall the two lenses rendered superbly, and for those who want an extra stop over the FE35f2.8, you won’t go wrong with the little ZM35. On the other hand, the ZM18f4 is an interesting lens. While I’ve heard comments saying how lenses of asymmetrical design should fare better on A7/A7R, there were still noticeable vignetting and magenta cast. Although a simple Cornerfix profile creation would solve this issue rather easily, for those who would prefer not to go through this additional step I would recommend that you wait for Sony’s FE wide-angle zoom to come out (heard it’s about mid next year), or pick one of the SLR WAs – if you can’t live without a WA and can tolerate the added weight. That being said, the images produced by this lens is quite good with rich Zeiss colours and no visible distortion. Definitely among the better performing M Mount WAs.

Back to the camera itself, I found the new A7R to be an exceptional little beast. It’s extremely well-built, though I’ve had problems with the placement of the shutter and some of the control wheels were a bit too tight for my liking. With regard to the shutter sound, it would definitely be picked up if you intend to shoot street with it, but I’ve grown to like the shutter sound a lot – a firm mechanical noise that would give you a sense of security as you snap a shot. Image quality wise it’s pretty impressive, though high ISO performance is falls a little short of my expectation (the A7 will be better in this area due to the lower MP). I’ve had no problems shooting candids with this camera – it is a little bit ‘slow’ and obtrusive as compared to my NEX7 and other street cameras such as X100S and Ricoh GR, but it is definitely manageable and the image quality is stunning.

Here are three images I’ve taken in Shanghai using A7R + ZM35f2 and ZM50f2 (the last image). The images are RAW files processed and converted using Lightroom 5.3. Hope you’ll like them!

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Jun 172013
 

My new Noctilux Story by Jim Main

Hi Steve,

I’ve been a reader of your excellent site for a few months now and between yourself and Thorsten Overgaard you have ‘forced me’ to the position where I just HAD to go and buy a Nocti 0.95.

I’ve been looking for a second-hand one for ages and keep missing them as they sell so quickly. Well this weekend I finally succeeded and as it was a bit more complex than walking into a shop I thought you might like the story as an example of how far us mad photographic types will go to blow a few thousand $ or £’s!!

The brief story was I came home quite late on Friday night and had a quick look on eBay to see if there was any interesting lenses on there. I spotted this new listing for a 2 week old Nocti, the story given that a girlfriend had bought it for her boyfriend but he didn’t like it (we all want a GF like that!) I stuck it on my ‘watch list’ and went to bed. When I checked in the morning and it had been taken off, I thought damn it but sent a message to the seller. To cut a long story short we ended up talking on the phone and I took the gamble that they were genuine after they sent me photos of the lens, receipts etc. I stay in S.West Scotland so I drove to Carlisle and jumped on the train to London then jumped on a tube to the Wimbledon area where the guy told me to wait for him driving by in a black Audi. At this point I’m thinking do I really want to jump in someone’s car that I don’t know! Anyway the car came past and he was with his GF so they parked up and we went to a cafe. I tried the lens and everything was above-board. She had paid the new UK price of £8k for the lens the week before in Selfridges. I got the lens and two B+W Pro1 ND filters (0.9 +1. for £6.5K, I reckon that was a relative bargain (if you can ever say £6500 for a lens is a bargain!!) He told me he’s quite a novice photographer and has an M9 but he couldn’t get used to focussing the lens and preferred the Lux 50 that he also has. It was like a scene from a film when I sat with my ipad doing an online bank transfer to him, you know the ones where the criminal is watching the progress bar tick along with the money

I then jumped back on the Tube and caught the 6:30 back to Carlisle and was in the house by 10:15, 700 mile round trip in 10 hours and a big hole in my bank account!

I’ve attached a few pics of my first shots with the lens, the face on shot in the cafe was my first ever with a Nocti and I was sold straight away (he’s the guy I bought it from). So far I’m finding it easier to focus than my Lux (not sure what to do with that now). All these pics are OOC Mono jpegs focussed using the RF. I snapped a few of my son in a field this evening on the way home from his swimming lesson. I’m blown away with the creamy look to these although for some reason a couple are showing vignetting and others aren’t?? I cropped one in the filed to straighten the horizon.

Keep up the excellent work.

Jim

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Jun 102013
 

Dear Steve,

A few times ago I sent you a small post telling you that I was waiting to replace my old X100 by the new S. I got one mid-April from a friend who went to Japan for business trip since it was totally impossible to find in Beijing at that time.

I’ve been fooling around with it since and what I can tell is that I highly confirm all reviews / comments I’ve read on the net. The camera, in its price range, is really the best available on the market right now! Fuji has fixed all main quirks from the previous generation and I totally agree with you that the S stands for Speedy. For the rest of improvements, X-Trans sensor and so on… I’m not going to say anything since there are plenty of reviews out there and all I’ve read to make my final decision to upgrade was true.

For me, the main issue on the X100 was the AF. Fuji knew it, worked on it and came back with real improvements. It is now faster, more accurate and able focus in the dark (but be careful it is still not perfect and can hunt in some situations). What I can say is that I’m now CONFIDENT into it and for the event which was coming, AF was THE go no go for my choice because… my baby girl was on her way and she is born 10 days ago!!!

If the AF was not there I would never ever have purchase the cam’. Why? I was able to calm down with the X100 for my personal shots but I knew deep down that missing my baby’s first moment would have driven me crazy. I can guaranty that this time I had no any issue due to this, the X100s just simply does the job. I you are still hesitating to upgrade or to get one, don’t! It’s a masterpiece of camera and really worth its price.

This time Fuji really did great job, the feel, the size, the sensor, in camera jpegs, the AF, the OVF/EVF, external controls & ergonomic… everything is there, works well, no more struggle, this camera is vanishing in favor of photography! I enjoyed so much having it with me to capture all these memories, quietly and discretely.

Plus, to my personal taste, I love the film simulation Fuji is giving us combined to the OOC jpegs quality. I’ve recently felt in love with the PRO Neg. Std/Hi film’s simulation for portrait, especially for my baby girl’s, skin tones rendering is as smooth as her skin… Love it~

Now no more talk, just let me introduce you the little Jeanne (悠然).

For the first picture, I took it on my way to the hospital, impossible to find a taxi at that time so I used the old school Chinese tricycle (the custom electrical version), going as fast as we could, in the small streets near by the forbidden city, to reach the hospital.

Enjoy Steve and thanks again for your great website!

Renaud Perez.

(All pictures are OCC jpegs, using film simulations PRO Neg. Std or Hi, NR set to -1, Sharp +1, Auto ISO to 3200 with min shutter speed 1/60 – no post processing right now, no time for this, but I keep the RAW ;-).

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Join the Forum discussion on this post

Jun 062013
 

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Sheep-breeding – dying activity

By Illya Krasnoshchok (Illya Reddy)

Hello Steve and readers of Steve Huff’s website. This time I would like to share my impressions after spending time in mountains and observing sheep-breeders lifestyle in modern Europe.

Last month I had an opportunity to go the south of Poland, mountain district with little villages and tiny towns hidden between green hills. People that live there differ from those who live in the other parts of Poland, some of them don’t even consider themselves Polish, they are “górale” (people from mountains). The place is gorgeous: green hills, forests, lots of creeks flowing from the mountains, many small villages, and hard-working people, – no wonder that sheep-breeding used to prosper here.

Sheep-breeding is an ancient activity, which was one of the main professions of people living in the Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately, like many other activities it is no longer profitable enough to be popular. But there are still people who are really dedicated to this kind of work and I was lucky to meet such people, and get acquainted with a family that lives from this business: Władek, his caring wife, and nine children.

Władek has been a sheep-breeder for his whole live. Everyone takes part in this family business. They do all work by themselves only occasionally hiring people to help. Children, even younger ones, help father to take care of the sheep. Older ones even take initiative to make some improvements to the structure of family business. For example, Władek’s daughter, Basia, being 17 years old high school student initiated and fully implemented the idea of improving their sheep-farm in order to meet the requirements of the EU so now they get a little bit of financial support from the European Union.

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I was lucky to observe their life for a couple of days and took some pictures of what they see as every day life. It is quite amazing how hard-working their children are and even more so they manage to do well at school at the same time. Władek himself in spite of some very serious health problems continues to work hard because of necessity to take care of the family, but also because he is very passionate about what he does.

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The whole family lives in a house in the village as other people do there, but two or three of them are always shepherd sheep on green hills or just staying bacówka. Bacówka (pronounced like “batsoovka”) is something like a sheep-breeders base placed outside the village, where shepherds can keep their stuff, sleep, make milk products or slaughter sheep. This particular bacówka consists of a small house, two sheds and fumatorium.

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Inside the fumatorium.

 

Two steps from bacówka a small mountain creek flows.

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This place is literally by the board between Poland and Slovakia, so sometimes it is difficult to say in which country you are.

Slovakia, just an hour walk from Poland.

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Despite being impressed by sheep-breeders passion about what they do I also feel rather desperate about the conditions of their work. It is a pity that Poland and EU don’t try really hard to help such activities as sheep-breeding which are part of nation’s culture to prosper. Though EU funds farms it is often too complicated bureaucratic system for people to understand without having specific knowledge in law. Often funding is so little, that many consider it not worth all the efforts you have to make do get it. So there is a lot to improve in this sector. It is hard to imagine, that couple decades from now we may not be able to see green hills all covered with hundreds of white sheep. Landscape feels naked without them.

For me it was a great couple of days spent shooting in nice company. Such a great feeling when you just take photographs and think, nothing more.

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My personal favorite shot from the whole trip. Evening, shepherds fold sheep.

Thank you for reading. For those of you who are interested, all pictures are taken using Olympus E-P1 with 17mm f/2.8 lens.

Feel free to visit:

http://momentumstreet.com/illia-krasnoshchok/ - Momentum street photography collective

http://www.flickr.com/photos/illyareddy/ - my Flickr page

Apr 022013
 

What does it mean, to you?

By Mark Ivkovic – See his blog HERE

I’ve taken this quote word for word from a man who has photography to thank for a lot in his life and as such he’s pretty much dedicated it in return.

“As photographers we are all so desperate to make work that people will notice. Work that will matter deeply to someone other than ourselves. What I think we fail to realize sometimes is that this is one of the easiest things to do. Think of that snapshot you have of your mom or dad as a child. How much does it mean to you? Unless you make it to the Met or MOMA the work you make that will end up being priceless is the photos of the people you love. Get out there and document the love in your life.”

It’s not about the “likes” and “favs”, it’s not about pleasing your virtual (or actual) audience by giving them what they want. To me it’s about imparting self-worth into your work, create something you actually care about.

What follows are by no means works of art, they’re technically flawed, some are out of focus, others oddly composed. To me and I hope my family they’ll be memories of one sunday we had. I didn’t create them to change the world, I did it to remember.

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Dec 262012
 

A trip around the Cumbrian Coast

by Matthew Phillips

Hello readers!

I’d just like to thank Steve for letting me post my article on this site. It’s an honor to be able to have something that I worked on be on the site which I’ve loved for years!

I recently went on a trip around the Cumbrian coast, just north of where I call home, to try to get some images with new techniques and some footage using new techniques. It was a time to try new things. I wanted it to be a holiday for helping me find new techniques in photography and editing. Seeing as Steve runs my favorite photography site on the web I thought this would be a great place to show my results.

I’ve been doing photography for about 6 years now, since I was about 9 or so and when I got my first small fuji digital camera I loved it. Now I have a Sony A77 which has been funded by my late Grandpa and a small BESSA-R rangefinder lent to me by my cousin. Having spent a year with the A77 I wanted to go on a trip specifically for photography. Originally I wanted to go to Dumfries and Galloway in south-west Scotland but the weather wasn’t too good and being in the final exam year of secondary school this would be my final chance until the summer of 2013. Instead we went to West Cumbria. I never realised how beautiful the area was and it’s just on my doorstep.

With my (very new) first fully functioning tripod, camera bag, microphone and camera with 3 lenses we set off in the old camper van. The first thing I tried out was very long exposures. Arriving at midnight next to the sea, I had to try it out and see what results I would get.

This is my first long exposure landscape I have ever taken. Sometime around midnight this is. 

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Early the next morning I went to get some more photos and footage after being dragged out of bed at 6:30am. Within 45 minutes my SD card was full. After a quick backup of the images and wipe of the SD card I was ready to go on the first walk of the day, up Black Coombe. Some incredible views (and lots of sheep). If you’re in the area, it’s worth a climb. The views are incredible. Snow capped mountains and views for hundreds of miles. The only thing stopping my 100% enjoyment is the view of Sellafield Nuclear power station and the chill of the wind when I removed my gloves to change the settings on the A77.

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The final stop for that day was the coast along St Bee’s Head. This was something that was incredibly exciting for me as I’ve wanted to do long exposures at sunset with rocks and the ocean lapping over them. Setting up the tripod was the biggest pain and fear on the slippery rocks as the waves came closer and closer to me and my equipment. The tripod head was new but the tripod itself was not so I was fearful. Luckily everything went brilliantly and I got my personal most-liked photo I have ever taken. It took so many attempts to get these images but the amount of fun I got out of trying something new was high.

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The anticipation of waiting for the image to process, the excitement of the results, the amazement of the new technique that you’ve tried. This is unique.

This trip was an eye opener for me. I now know to try something new every so often. I started street photography just under a year ago and that is something where you can try something new every time you go out. So I urge you to head out and try something new. Something that you wouldn’t normally do. If your love for photography is fading or you just want to have a good time, have a go. There is nothing more fun you can do in my opinion.

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Thank you for reading. If you want to see more photos I have flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/matty1997phillips/ and my own site which I’m rebooting with 15 other people www.tinyland.co.uk (you can follow the progress on our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/tinyland.co.uk ) and you can follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/ma_ps_

Thanks to Steve again for letting me share this article and for making such a superb community site!

Aug 312012
 

The Leica M9 Does Spain

by Aravind Krishnaswamy

Earlier this summer I went on a tour of Spain with my 7 months pregnant wife, starting in Madrid and finishing in Barcelona. We were part of a tour group and over the course of about a week we got to enjoy the sights and tastes of primarily Andalucía, but also bits of Castilla La-Mancha, València and Cataluña. The last time I did a European tour, it was 2006 and I had only my DSLR so I lugged it along. Time time, I had the option of the Leica M9 and wanting as small and light a kit as possible I took it along with the 21 Super Elmar, 35 Summilux ASPH FLE and the 75 Summicron APO. All of this fit in a Tenba Mini Messenger along with a 13″ Macbook Air for editing my images.

About a week before departure, the anxiety of having so much expensive equipment with me drove me to try and pack a DSLR kit into the same bag. I took only one lift of that loaded bag to my shoulders to convince me it was a bad idea. My Leica kit went with me everywhere, to all the sights, all the meals, and no point during the trip did I feel “camera bag fatigue” nor was I tempted to leave the camera behind in the room safe.

On the way from Madrid to Seville is Cordoba where there is a Cathedral-Mosque, a world heritage site. The place has a long history, starting off as a pagan temple, eventually becoming a Visigoth church. After the Umayyad invasion of Spain in the 8th century it was turned into a Mosque and over the next couple of centuries expanded much in size. Then during the reconquest of Spain, a Catholic Cathedral was built in the center, giving the place a combination of architectures you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

One of the distinct advantage of not having a big mirror flapping around is the low shutter speeds you can get away with. I made the above image hand held at 1/3s. I managed to brace myself by a railing and fired off a couple of shots to be sure to get a sharp one. You can see in the inset how much detail the 21 Super Elmar can capture wide open even at such slow shutter speeds.

On the evening we arrived in Seville, we were treated to dinner and a wonderful Flamenco performance. I didn’t want to spend the entire performance behind my camera, so I opted to make the occasional image and it was the perfect chance to use the 75 Summicron APO. I initially focused on creating images at high shutter speeds to freeze the dancer’s motions.

Then, I started experimenting with blurs. Again, since there wasn’t mirror slap to worry about, I could hand hold the 75 Summicron at shutter speeds of about 1/30s to freeze the dancer’s faces but get motion blur on their arms and dresses.

The next morning, one of the first places we visited was Plaza de España. This scene may look familiar to some as portions of Attack of the Clones was filmed here (some scenes taking place in Naboo). With the incredibly high contrast of the scene I decided to capture this scene with multiple exposures with the idea of merging them with HDR later. Since I didn’t have a tripod, again this was done hand held.

I did use the M9 for what it was intended, photographing people on the street. My pre-trip anxiety on carrying all this expensive equipment was completely unfounded as it turned out. The M9 is very discreet with most people not even noticing my presence. In fact, another person in our group with a Canon Digital Rebel and a kit lens got a lot more attention as a photographer than I ever did. The ability to shoot without having many people stare at you was somewhat new for me and was a very liberating experience.

The M9′s lack of auto focus was never an issue, a bit to my surprise. Of course, I wasn’t trying to photograph fast action, but even with this young boy moving all over the place, the lack of AF didn’t get in my way. It naturally took a bit more work to make the image but in the end I still got what I wanted. One of the things I notice about a lot of images made with the M is how the subject gets put in the center. This is understandable since you have to use the center patch to focus. I’m finding that as my experience increases with the M, I get faster with focusing and then recomposing or just estimating focus distance and using zone focus.

I made several images while just walking by and this was one of them. On a city tour of Carmona, we encountered a film crew mid-shoot. They were setting up for the next scene and we were rushed through the streets of the set so that we could get from end of the street to the other. Again, my fairly discreet set up let me grab a quick shot as we walked by these three actresses. Several seconds before, I knew I wanted an image like this one, so I pre-focused using zone focus estimating what my distance to the actresses would be as well as stopping down to ensure sufficient depth of field to account for any focus error. Then as we walked by all I had to do was frame very quickly and release the shutter.

Another example of a quick, discreet image. As I was walking up to the candles, I knew that if possible I wanted an image of someone lighting a candle. Then, as I was walking by, on my way out I saw this couple, turned around focussed quickly and released the shutter. One of the observations I’ve made in the few thousand images I’ve put through the M9 relates to focus. I find that I have virtually no images where the focus is completely off. There are plenty where there are small focus errors, but usually that’s not noticeable unless the image is printed very large. In contrast, I’ve found DSLR autofocus to actually give me more grossly out of focus images, though also a higher percent of perfectly in focus images. Its not a tradeoff that can work in all situations but in many its one I’m happy to make.

I had a great time walking through the crowded markets of Barcelona, making images of the people and especially the food. Since the first day of the trip I discovered just how much Spaniards love their ham and it turned out to be a staple during the remainder of the trip.

In one of his previous posts Steve said that the M9 has brought him more joy and passion to his photography than any other camera since his MP. I feel the same way, minus the MP since I never had the chance to shoot with the MP. I have tried to figure out what exactly it is that brings this joy and am not sure its any one thing. I know that with my Leica lenses I spend a lot less time post processing, the colors and tones are usually spot on with minimal adjustments in Lightroom. Perhaps its the interface of the camera, where everything just works as I expect it to with nothing getting in the way. Whatever it is, the M will definitely be coming with me on future travels.

About Aravind Krishnaswamy

 

Aravind Krishnaswamy is a nature photographer based in San Jose, California. His current work focusses on making images featuring wildlife in their natural landscape. His work can be viewed at

http://www.akimagery.com

Aug 212012
 

The Noctilux 0.95 Unplugged

By Kristian Dowling

From Steve: This is a great piece with amazing photographs to show it off. Kristian is a talented photographer who I have been in contact with for quite a while through e-mail and I am pleased to publish this because in my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful photographs to come from ANY Hollywood photographer and really showcases what this lens can do ;) – Thanks Christian!

Many know the Noctilux 0.95 as a luxury lens, mostly suited to people with deep pockets, especially since lack of supply has pushed used prices beyond new prices. For me, it is a daily tool, which I used almost exclusively wide open at 0.95. Working in Hollywood, I have access to many great photographic opportunities with some great artists and talent. Having the right tools is essential, but I have to admit, I do not ‘need’ this lens. While it’s a tool, it’s one that is also quite extravagant and not easily justifiable because it isn’t essential to my work to shoot at f/0.95, and it doesn’t make me any more money compared to using a f/1.4 lens.

Quality

I won’t get too much into the build quality as Steve and others have already summed it all up nicely. Let me just say that build quality of materials, precision engineering and assembly don’t get any better than this. In terms of image quality, this would have to be the highest performing and most consistent ultra-fast lens ever produced. Consistency from wide open at f/0.95 is amazing and maintained throughout the aperture range until diffraction kicks in from f/16.

At 0.95, the image is very sharp, honestly very close to the amazing Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH at f/1.4. Using the lens wide open allows amazing isolation and fast drop off of focus to blur. So much so, that it’s almost too much, too fast at times.

One other quality to note is how well it controls flare and internal reflections. It’s amazing how well contrast, sharpness, and color are maintained when a strong light source is either inside or just outside of the frame. Make sure to remove any filters though if you want to totally avoid any signs of flare or reflections. In some of my examples you will see how the filter has caused a reflection that I actually like.

In use, and focusing accurately

While the Noctilux is large and heavy for an M lens, it handles extremely well. It’s focus ring is smoother than the f/1 and it’s focus throw is the perfect length. Not too short and not too long, making focus fast and easy to get right, especially for such a fast lens.

Despite being front heavy and large, it does balance quite well on the M9 and will intrude into the frame lines creating a blockage of your view. The key to accurate focus with this lens, especially in low light is to turn the focus ring past the focus point, then bring it back into alignment. I also focus bracket very important images, allowing me a choice of shots with slightly differing focus. This entails taking 2-5 shots of the scene while slightly adjusting focus for each frame, both in-front and behind the focus point.

See this video I made

 

Character and Signature of the lens drawing and bokeh at 0.95

This lens while being the upgrade from the f/1 version is not exactly what I’d describe as an upgrade. It’s more like a side step. I believe there’s room for both of these lenses in the marketplace but unfortunately, Leica discontinued it. While the f/1 version is known for it’s dreamy, swirly bokeh with a very distinctive signature, the 0.95 does not display these characteristics. Shooting at 0.95 doesn’t give the ‘appearance’ of a more obvious isolation as people would think, and this is because it’s a very, very well corrected lens. It’s aberrations are mainly obvious towards the corners, while the f/1’s aberrations are what made it famous.

Put simply, the 0.95 draws just like it’s smaller brother, the Summilux 501/1.4 ASPH. Both are highly corrected and produce bokeh that is very clean and corrected, representing the out of focus areas clearly and with little distortion of objects, lines and shapes. This is very important for my kind of work, because the environment in my backgrounds is usually important to my pictures and completes the story I’m telling. In contrast, the dreamy look of the f/1 version would distort the reality of my pictures, which can be great for generic portraits where the background is irrelevant to the subject or story.

I’ve been able to use the 0.95 for my work mainly because it is sharp enough at 0.95 and the M9’s sensor makes good use of the light entering that large aperture opening. Unless my clients wanted a soft dreamy look, the f/1 is not sharp enough at f/1 for most commercial uses, especially for today’s standards.

Need for speed or character?

Photographers buy these kinds of lenses for different reasons. Some for speed, and some for character. Most will say both. For me, it was about speed. If I wanted character, I’d buy the f/1 or the Zeiss C-Sonnar 50/1.5. Alongside my Leica, I also use the Nikon D3/D3s/D4 and lately the D800E, which all offer low light ISO qualities that easily surpass the M9’s sensor.

Therefor, when using the M9 in low light, the ‘need for speed’ becomes very apparent and there’s my justification for the 0.95 aperture. Hopefully, the M10 will improve enough that using this lens at 0.95 isn’t as important anymore. I say this because as digital camera ISO quality increases, I see thing differently to the general market.

Most people like high quality ISO so that they can use faster shutter speeds while shooting wide open. Whereas, I see the ability to stop down more, gaining extra depth of field and increasing the overall sharpness of the picture. I’m not afraid to bump up the ISO because I’d rather have a grainy sharp picture, than a smooth soft one due to camera shake and/or subject movement.

Issues with using the Noctilux

Some may see the size and weight and issue, but considering what this lens does, it really isn’t so large, and compares closely in size to most SLR 50/1.4 lenses.

All super-fast lens designs have compromises in the pursuit of perfection and the Noctilux 0.95 is not exempt. The biggest issue with the Noctilux is it’s purple fringing problem when shooting wide open against strong light sources, especially with bright backgrounds. While it’s an issue at times, I wouldn’t call it a ‘fault’ of the lens, as it’s not designed to be used in such conditions. Luckily, the new CA removal tool in Photoshop CS6, can completely remove just about any CA and purple fringing in its RAW conversion software – it’s quite amazing actually.

One issue I have with this lens is not due to it’s own fault or the fault of it’s designers. It’s about the mindset of the photographer when using this lens. Shooting at 0.95 can be very tricky and while it’s nice to isolate subjects, the urge to shoot wide open is very strong and may not always be the most appropriate aperture to use – but you do, because it’s right there in your face > 0.95!

I see way too many shots ruined by photographers because they’re in this ‘wide open’ mindset. The background in pictures is very important to telling the story in the picture and 0.95 may not always be the best decision when using this lens. I pretty much only used this lens at 0.95 because that’s what I bought it for, but there are some pictures I took where I wish I stopped down. Taking good photographs with this or any lens should be about choosing the most ‘appropriate’ aperture, and not the one you paid $11,000 for. Let me ask you this…..how many of the world’s best historical pictures were taken with backgrounds blurred beyond recognition?

Why you should and should not buy it

The Noctilux is a lens that is commonly bought and sold, sometimes 2-3 times by the same photographer. That is because it’s a huge expense and large size that many photographers find difficult to justify, especially in regards to keeping this lens over a long period of time. Once sold, the photographer often misses it and lusts after it once more.

I highly recommend the Noctilux to those who feel they ‘need’ the speed and know that they will use this lens on a regular basis for all kinds of work, shot wide open and stopped down. I cannot recommend this lens to those wanting to collect or use this lens for effect only. The effect of this lens is minimal in my opinion and if you’re interested because of the f/1’s rendering, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The Noctilux 0.95 represents Leica’s ability to create an almost perfect high-speed lens. It’s rendering is spot on and out of focus is very clean with little to no signature – meaning it draws very accurately, even when out of focus. So for professional photographers or those after authentic and accurate representation in their photographs, this is the very best high-speed lens available, in any format.

Kristian Dowling

www.kristiandowling.com

Aug 202012
 

MY THREE LEICA KINGS by Tuananh Nguyen

A shout out to Mr. Steve Huff for setting us up with the sweetest and most bitchin’ photography site to date! I also have to thank all of you folks that have written some of the most entertaining, knowledgeable, and opinionated “inspirations” that have not only inspired my photography, but I am sure also to the growing members on this site. Although I understand the need for numerous reviews on newer products, I’ve always enjoyed reading articles on the “classics”, if not just as much, but maybe event a tad more. So on this note, I wanted to share my knowledge on three of Leica’s classical lenses, or what I would call as “my three kings”.

After my initiation into the Leica clan many years ago, I’ve had a chance to use some of the best optics in the world in both the pre- and post-digital age. I started out this love affair with my beloved Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron Dual Range, which I believe is as perfect as a camera can be. Its classic lines, dependability, and “glowing” images matched my style of photography and it also gave validation for my abandonment of the SLR idea. I’ve since owned both the M8 and M9, which I feel are the epitome of the digital rangefinder. The M9’s pixel count, full-frame CCD image characteristics, and classical build were all that I would ever dream in a camera (even in light of the advent of the M10 release).

Over the years, I’ve had countless opportunities to lend and own a long list of Leica lenses. But after a lot of “soul searching” I’ve concluded that there are three lenses that I found to have earned the title of “My Three Kings”: 50mm Noctilux-M (f/1.0 attached hood), 35mm Summicron-M (Type IV), and 90mm Summicron (Generation II, red numbering). Below, I will briefly summarize why I believe that these lenses are my favorite, but I will also include drawbacks when it is necessary.

 

Leica 90mm Summicron (Generation II)

After trying out a diverse group of Leica-M 75mm, 85mm, 90mm, and 135mm lenses, I’ve concluded that the 90mm Summicron was the best for me. Although the lens is much larger than the later editions, especially with the built in tripod mount, and odd filter size, I felt that it gave the most character out of all of these longer focal length lenses. As a portrait lens, the 90mm Summicron is soft and gives a nice glowing rendition, which is even more pronounced in the B&W images that it produces. Although not the sharpest lens in the Leica lineage, its excellent DOF/”bokeh” is silky smooth and excellent as a pure portraiture lens.

 

Leica 35mm Summicron-M (Type IV)

In the 1990’s, Leica lenses were expensive but not to the extent as they are today, especially in the used market. I was able to collect several editions of the 35mm and give them a thorough “shootout” before I decided which one was the keeper. I also tested out some wider angle Leica lenses, but I realized that the additional viewfinder was often obtrusive and it just didn’t fit my style of street photography with the Leica M2. The Type IV, also renowned as “The King of Bokeh” was my choice, simply because it was very compact and light, the replaceable lens hood was very affordable and easily attainable, and the new concaved focusing tab was an excellent focusing tool for such a small lens. This lens is exceptionally sharp but maintains that Leica “glow” and signature, more so than the other generations at this focal length. I chose this lens above all other wide-angles and aperatures because I felt that it had great balance for price, image quality, and compactness.

 

Leica 50mm Noctilux-M

Many Leica users and experienced photographers collectively know that the Noctilux is a very prized optical monster. It doesn’t just quiver under low-light condition; it actually lives for it, as Dr. Mandler would agree. This is my unequivocal favorite lens of all time. You might read online and various literature about the Noctilux’s focusing issues with the digital-M, lack of sharpness, extreme vignettes, enormous size, and countless other complaints. What is my response to all of these issues? Yes, I would have to agree with all of them! But I guess this is what taming a beast like the Noct is all about. Yes it requires a little love from the elves to make it perfectly adapted to your digital-M body. Yes, it is not the sharpest lens, but that’s the reason for its magic glow and signature bokeh. Images shot with a Noctilux can only be described as watercolors to me; the background always gives a very distinct paintbrush flavor while the outline of the subject usually glows with a warm soft texture. Yes, vignettes are a part of this lens’ repertoire, some folks hate it, but many like myself love it. As for the size argument, although the Noctilux is one of the largest of the Leica lenses, it is by far much smaller than many other normal focal length lenses in production. I was tempted to swap my classic Noctilux for the newer f/0.95, but after several days of using it at the Leica Akademie last year, I decided that the older model’s characteristics was more preferable for my taste.

These three lenses have many different attributes, yet the unique characteristics that they showcase are unmistakably, Leica. Will I use other cameras and lenses in the future, I am sure I am not immune to the shutterbug nor am I too stubborn or ignorant to say that this brand or that brand is the best for everyone. What I can say is that I love the Leica M system, for its simplicity, signature images, and obedience to what the idea of photography truly is – an art form.

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