Jul 112014
 

My New Challenge: Black and White Landscape

By Dirk

Hi!

I decided I need a new challenge in photography. Thirty years ago, I printed black and white landscape. After a move I didn’t have a darkroom anymore and it stopped. Some years ago I started shooting medium format. My favorite camera was the Mamiya 7 rangefinder with the 43mm lens.

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I started shooting landscape again. I discovered I could directly use all my darkroom experience in Photoshop. This week I bought a 6×9 technical camera. I’m going for serious landscape now, with a camera with movements. I hope to make about ten good images a year. I very much enjoy going to the basics of photography. I know the Sony A7R with the Canon 17mm tilt – shift is better, but I don’t care: there is simply no comparison. I get my images printed with an inkjet on Hahnemühle baryta. I like grain and thus I shoot with 400 ASA film.

Here are a few images, shot with the Mamiya 7 with the 43mm lens:

The Bernia mountain range, Costa Blanca, Spain, orange filter.

Bernia mountain

Schelde river at Antwerp, red filter; this image was on my first roll off the Mamiya.

River Schelde, Antwerp

A village in the Ardennes, shot with an orange filter.

Falmagne

Dirk.

Jul 042014
 

Death Valley with the EM1

By Goran Nikolic

WARNING Long intro =)

I am one of those guys that bought a good (canon 1100d) camera when he got kids too make good pictures of them while they are growing up. However, I was not aware of the d@mn possible photography addiction. They should come boxed with a clear warning, WARNING possible photography addiction (stage 1) followed by the more serious G.A.S. (stage 2) hehe :). I really liked taking pictures from the start and took the camera everywhere with me, everything was fine until I hit stage 2 of my addiction…

When I got struck with G.A.S. I told myself that I absolutely had to have a full frame camera, the main reason why my images were simply snapshots was because I did not have a fullframe camera with a 2.8 zoom and an awesome prime… So I saved up and got the Nikon D700 followed by a Nikon D800 (obviously! I mean come on… they were still snapshots I needed more Megapixels! That was the problem off course).

For some reason yet unknown to me I could not make a sharp picture with the D800 unless I used a tripod! It obviously was Nikon’s fault… so I switched to the Canon 6D because obviously Canon is far superior… I think by now you can image that I really had a bad case of G.A.S. and that my wallet was shrinking faster then that I could fill it up :). But it did not end here! Oh no… the next problem for my ‘dull’ images was obviously the big and heavy DSLR, so I got a Fuji XE-1 haha, yeah…. I know what you are thinking, dude what the…..?

So you would think thats it! He got the Fuji and this post would be full with Fuji pictures and those awesome fuji colours. Sadly no, I was used to some amazing DSLR’s and that little Fuji frustrated the hell out of me, it was a love/hate relationship because the images it chunked out were amazing! This was the first camera I was actually happy with the JPG images! If I could get the damn thing to focus… even with all the updates (why aren’t all companies like Fuji in this department?).

Luckily for me this was the end of the line and I saw that I was way to focussed on the equipment and not on the actual images that I made with them (or the experience!). I have had some great and amazing keepers from all of them but I went too far and had to stop (……. year right… by now you probably figured out that my wife got fed up with my gear obsession and told me to stop haha :). So I sold everything! I was actually quite amazed by the amount of money I was able to get back when I sold it all (except for the Fuji), the loss was actually limited to a few hundred euro’s (phew!).

I then spend almost three months to find the camera that would suit me best, and eventually ended up with the EM1, after having tried the camera a few times (even had it on loan for a few weeks) I decided to buy it with just one lens (the kit 12-40 zoom, probably should not call this a kit lens?), this report is my first experience with the camera (and next to that it is also the first time I am sharing my pictures outside of my friends and family too!).

Wow, now that was a large intro right? Well sorry for that :) but this was the path to ‘my style’ of photography. Through that process I learned that I was not a pro photographer, and it also is not my goal in life to become one. I just like to take pictures from time to time. So when a friend asked me whether I wanted to go to vegas with him (and leave our wifes at home) I obviously thought about the great pictures I could take with my new OM-D :) haha.

We took a plane from Amsterdam to LA (yes I am from the land of Heineken) and after a flight of almost 11 hours we rented a car to drive to Vegas. Not just any car….no no, a mustang convertable! Now I think that for Americans this is not really that special because they are quite common in the US, however Europeans love the idea of driving on the truly amazing roads (sorry have to exclude LA here….. that was no fun at all) in the US with either a Harley or a Mustang.

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After a rather long drive mostly due to the some brutal LA traffic jams we finally made it to Vegas and checked in at our hotel. And Vegas was …. well yeah I did not make a lot of pictures in Vegas hehe. Man what a place!

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But during the day I really had to buy a baseball cap for myself (I wear glasses and did not have my sunglasses with me) because the sun was really not what I was used to. Here in the Netherlands we are happy if we get 3 weeks of sun per year! It was a Yankees cap by the way which cause everybody to yell go Yankees at me, quite an experience :).

But what I did noticed was that the camera was actually handling itself pretty good! Both during the day was well as by night! That image stabilization is quite magical. The image of the new york new york resort was shot hand-held (1/60th @ 5000 ISO) and still looks pretty clean and sharp! I do not really use a lot of noise reduction because I also quite like the grain structure of the EM1, its pleasant, I think that maybe due to the high pixel density but I am not sure what contributes to the grain structure. Also when printed below A4 you see almost no noise at all.

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This image below I call arty farty, it was a bit of an experiment. We sat down for a moment to enjoy the awesome cars that were passing (camaro, mustang, charger, and more! Wauw!) that I just thought I would try something out, after freezing my brain with a slushy. So I stacked my ND filters (10 stop + 3 stop), set the camera to its lowest native ISO (200) and stopped down as far as I could (F22) and saw that still I only got a 5 second exposure (was hoping for 20+)… thats how bright the sun was that day! It was pretty easy to set the camera up and change all the settings without using any menus. I really love all the various dials and buttons that I can completely setup to my own preference.

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After a few days started passing by we noticed that Vegas was quite EXPENSIVE! Yes you would think that we could have expected that, and we did, but a few ice-cold beers @ twin peaks can do strange things to your brain :). So we decided to do some sight-seeing. One day we decided to go to death valley, so we packed the car with water and were off. Again the roads, it is simply stunning to drive on roads with amazing views for hours with only seeing a few cars pass by. So I could not resist to stop from time to time to take some pictures of the road! Which drove my buddy to insanity since we kept stopping so I could take another picture of the road… again and again … and again haha

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What really impressed me about the EM1 was also how it handled in the desert, and how it handled the images in the harsh sun (this is also dynamic range right?)! Wish I was as resilient as the EM1! When we first arrived in death valley and stopped for the first sight, I saw a small hill and thought ow man that looks amazing (actually that was what I said for the entire route because everything was amazing!). I decided to run up there to take some pics…. yeah people told me death valley was hot…. but damn… hot does not give it credit! I now know how a burger feels on the grill. Anyway, I made it up the hill but I felt like I was baking in an oven! I couldn’t breath and everything in front of me started turning white! So my first priority was to drink drink and get my ass back to the car and turn on the AC. My buddy was actually quite worried and told me afterwards that I really did not look so well haha but after some AC time and one of the best hot dogs I ever had @ Furnace Creek and about 6 or 7 liters of water I luckily felt much better. When we walked back to the car I saw the thermometer outside read 120 degrees! So I took it a bit easier from then on and took my time (and had even more water!) :).

We unfortunately did not have a lot of time in death valley itself, we had to get back in time, so we decided to pick a few points to go to and then drive back to Vegas. We stopped at Rhyolite (ok not really death valley but close enough) to see a real ghost town, and it was pretty cool to see how people in the area lived once. Images were made on a tripod.

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After Rhyolite we stopped @ Beatty (errr did time stop there?) for some gas (GAS! you get it? probably not the best of jokes….) and then drove back through death valley. Up until Zabriskie Point I didn’t make a lot of pictures at all. The scenery was so amazing that I was enjoying every bit of it. It is such an amazing place that I really hope I can go back to one day and spend a bit more time there to see more of it.

By the time we got to Zabriskie Point the sun started to set and I started to walk around in search of different perspectives. At first I thought damn… how can I make some landscape shots without having all those tourist in my pictures! Haha great isn’t it… a tourist that is taking pictures that is saying that about other tourist that are also trying to get the same pictures :). Anyway after a few attempts I got these shots. A small warning though! I like colors! COLORS!!! I like them but I can imagine that some might find it a bit too much :).

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But after making them I felt something was missing. I really liked the pictures even though I still think they did not do the scenery justice because that truly was AMAZING! Wow the colors and the mountains and patterns… just wow nothing more to say! Really have to go back there one day. But back to the pictures :), I felt something was missing, but then I saw a few girls sitting down near where I was taking shot nr. 4. And then I though but what if I include them in my shot? Would that be better?

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And there it was…. my favorite shot of the day :). How such a small element can make such a big difference, I like the fact that one of the girls just made a picture and is showing it to her neighbour. Now most probably not everybody will agree with me here but I really thought that including them in the shot gave a totally new feel to the image. I also tried zooming in a bit and getting a closer shot of the amazing sunset and the four girls enjoying the view but I still thought the first shot worked better for me.

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That was it! Our day in death valley with probably the biggest intro this blog has ever had! Sorry about that :), but I wanted to share my experiences and share that for me having better gear did not increase my joy in photography. I truly love making pictures, but I love doing it because it gives me the opportunity to freeze time. To hold a moment in my live that I wish to remember, to have images that can trigger my memories, that can take me back to the time when I made them and relive the moments I experienced. The gear I used to make the images with will most probably fade from my memory since they are not a real part of my experience (more of a supporting element). So what worked for me is to have a tool that is the most complete package for me. Good image quality, good build (I did not have a single speck of dust on my sensor using that 12-40 zoom lens!) but most importantly that I can operate with joy. I wanted a camera that I did not have to think much about when using it, and for me I found everything that I need in the EM1 and cured my G.A.S. to a certain amount as well. I say to a certain amount because I am looking forward to that 7-14 zoom from Olympus :).

I also do not really worry about the camera because it is built like a tank. I dropped it a few times (it has a few chips on the bottom), spilled some lemon water over it and banged it into several people while walking the streets. But I’m not really bothered with it because I know it will survive, which gives me piece of mind as well. And it was this blog that got this camera to my attention. Thank you both Steve and all of your readers for that because I found a piece of equipment that gives me a great deal of satisfaction and helped me to focus more on the images then on the gear I use to make them. I even shoot more pics with my phone now, which I never did before because of the ‘inferior’ quality of the photo’s. In the end it’s all about the moment and what that moment captured does for you, what feeling it gives you, and possibly even what memories it relives for you if it is a personal photograph. I got that now :).
I hope you will like (some of) my images, my style of editing and have enjoyed my first ever photography related article! I thought about also adding a few more details about how I processed my images but I think I will not bore you with those details :).

Now obviously while driving back to Vegas…. I still drove my buddy nuts (yes again… sorry mate!) by stopping constantly to take pictures of the road! Amazing roads!!!!

Thanks for reading!

GN.

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Apr 162014
 

The Sony RX1r meets the Olympus E-M1 in Iceland

By Chris Bakker

My website – http://www.chrisbakkerphoto.com

Hi Steve and readers of SteveHuffPhoto.com!

My name is Chris Bakker, a free time photographer from the Netherlands. I began to do photography around Christmas of 2012. I started off with a Sony RX100 by taking photos from all kinds of subjects what surrounded me and It didn’t took me long to really get caught by the beauty of photography . Right from the start I tried to read as many (e)books on photography as I could, follow on a daily basis the online forums and practice the acquired knowledge in the field. I am also a frequent reader of this site and let me tell you this site has giving me so much that I thought it would be time to give a little bit of my contribution in return.

Because I was so into photography I decided in the summer of 2013 to trade in my trusty RX100 for his bigger brother the RX1r. This indeed is a magical powerhouse and capable of delivering some stunning photo’s. This camera has got me even more into photography. Later that year, in November the Olympus OMD E-M1 came out and because I wanted to do different things in photography which needed faster auto focus and different focal length than 35mm, I decided to buy the E-M1 alongside my beloved RX1r and step into the world of micro 4/3.  I can say I have no regrets at all. This camera is so well designed and thought out, it works so well, it just makes you want to go out and shoot.

I often attend workshops and like to learn from the pros. So when the opportunity came by to go to Iceland for 11 days with a pro landscape photographer from the Netherlands, to learn in the field, I decided to go. So on February the 22 I went off to Iceland to return 11 days later home with an overwhelming experience by the beauty of Iceland. Not only did I came home with a lot of photos but also with a lot of acquired knowledge and practical experience.

So l’ll stop the twaddle, let’s get to the photo’s!

E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Kirkjufellsfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Going to Iceland in the winter takes some planning in advance. Although the temperature is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t too cold the wind can be really extreme. And the combination of those two makes it cold. Proper clothing, like multi layers, warm hand cloves and a fur cap is not a luxury. A good windbreaker can be a rain suit. Because of the hard wind, I can advise to take a big and sturdy tripod with you. I have come to situations where I definitely had to hold on to my MEFOTO Globetrotter tripod preventing it from falling over. A tripod can allow you to shoot at times of day when the light is unlike any other. If you want to shoot at sunrise or sunset, and you want to keep the ISO down, you need that long exposure. when you want to work with HDR you need a tripod for sure. Light is everything, don’t miss some of the best light of the day because you didn’t want to carry a tripod. What also comes in handy is to wear knee-pads. The ground is often stony and wet.

Snaefellsjoekull – RX1r

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E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Brúarfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Shining stones in river – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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While I was out making photos in the field I did quite often use my filters. There are many people that think in digital photography you don’t need filters anymore. Many think that this is also possible in post processing. When you need a slower shutter speed to blur motion, like with waterfalls, or polarizing light to reduce glare, do it with filters. Filters still enable an aesthetic that’s not possible through simple post-production, and in some cases not possible at all, even in Photoshop. Everybody has his own way of working but we people often work in sequence. We start off with 1 go to 2 than react to 3 to get to 4 or so. While this is a quite similar process as in post-production, like Lightroom, it is also a good process at point of capture. When experimenting with filters in the field you see the result immediately and that gives you the change to react to it. So it can definitely be a good thing for creativity. I used mostly a 3 stop ND filter from Singh-Ray and a Big stopper from Hoya the NX400. In a few occasions I used graduated and reverse grad filters, mostly at sunrise or sunset. For Polarizer’s, Singh-Ray Color Combo and the Gold ‘n Blue.

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Northern Lights near Vik – RX1r

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Vik Beach – E-M1 pana 35-100f2.8

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Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – RX1r

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Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Sunset JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

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What really fascinates me is that you can learn infinitely, it’s an ongoing process. Photography has become an essential part of my life. It’s so much fun, it’s a way of living. I hope you enjoy watching these photos as much as I did making them.

Chris Bakker

A few more…

Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

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Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Vik Beach – RX1r

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Old Turf Farm House – RX1r

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Icelandic Horse – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Nov 122013
 

Steve,

I’ve never really been a landscape kind of guy. Let’s just say that I wasn’t until my wife and I spent a week in Moab, Utah.

I’ve always been into the outdoors. I was eleven years old the first time my folks dropped my twin brother and I off in the woods and said “Hike to your aunt’s house if you get into trouble. Meet us at this spot in a week.” It was the mid 1980’s and parents had much more freedom and didn’t have to worry regarding public criticism from the media as they do today.

Backpacking and hiking have always been a passion in my life. Other outdoor hobbies have followed. I do not bring many new hobbies into my life as it is already full and I’m not willing to lessen the time with loves I already have.

The great thing about photography is that it does not interfere with the activities that I do or the adventures that I take. It compliments them.

My love and I always take at least one week-long outdoor trip per year. We fill the rest of the year with weekend trips as one week a year isn’t enough for us. On occasion I sleep out in the back yard for a quick fix.

While planning for the Moab trip my wife asked “Are you going to take some landscapes for me?” My love doesn’t feel as much passion as I do for street photography or my attempts at documentary style visual story telling. I used this opportunity to reply back “I am. But….. if we want to print the photos big I should probably invest in a wide-angle for my M9.” I still can’t believe that she agreed without hesitation or question.

I ended up purchasing a Voigtlander 28mm Ultron f2. I made sure that I went to your site and clicked the link to B&H for the purchase. I visit your site everyday and want to give back.

I must say that after spending a week in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park I will definitely look forward to taking more landscapes. On a side note, many men ask how I get my wife to head out into the wilderness for a week at a time. I always respond…… Keep her gear light and comfortable. Keep her warm. Don’t forget to hold hands and snuggle in the tent. Tell her you love her.

A Leica M seems to be the perfect on trail, off the grid, landscape camera and here’s why I feel so:

SIZE: No explanation is really needed. Pack a DSLR on the trail with a battery grip attached and you’ll understand. On the trail no one has anything to prove. Carrying a heavy pack doesn’t make you any more tough. Have a good time. Pack light and enjoy the trip.

OPTICS: Corner sharpness? Micro contrast? I don’t really think about these concepts as I normally only care about composition and light when shooting street or documentary style. This matters when printing landscapes. I look at the landscapes I took during this trip and don’t really focus on a single subject but admire the composition as a whole. I actually look into the corners and into the details of the rocks. The quality from the M9 and M lenses amaze me.

TRIPOD: What are those for? With no mirror slap I shoot handheld. I’ve been known to shoot as slow as 1/8 of a second with my M9 in a dark bar while having pints with friends. I’m amazed that the photos actually turn out pretty sharp. I actually take a Zipshot Micro for the occasional self-portrait when on the trail. We occasionally run into people when out and about. When people ask to take our photo for us I’m nice, oblige, and hand them the camera. But….. we all know where that gets us.

CONNECTION: My buddy has a great saying “It feels right.” When I’m on the trail with a pack on, the pack feels apart of me. It feels right. When I’m on stage my guitar feels apart of me. It feels right. I hold a rangefinder to my eye with a finger on the shutter release. It feels right. Shooting a manual rangefinder feels pure. That’s also why I head out on the trail. It feels pure.

Attached are several photos from our trip. All photos were processed using Lightroom 4. I couldn’t resist converting them to black and white. I couldn’t get Ansel’s photos out of my head. My only two M lenses are a VC 28 mm Ultron and a 50 mm Summicron V4. I used both for these shots.

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You can view more of the photos at:

www.photographsbyben.com

www.photographsbybenmiller.tumblr.com

www.facebook.com/photographsbybenmiller

Thank you for keeping such a wonderful website and giving all of us something to look forward to everyday.

Cheers,

Ben

Aug 262013
 

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User Report – Sony RX1R and Leica S2 in Glacier National Park, Montana

by Eeraj Qaisar

Hello Steve!

I have been following your web-site for quite some time now and have seen it s tremendous growth over the past several years. Having enjoyed many user contributed stories, with some very impressive photo shoots (Ashwin Rao’s “Chasing Light in the Plaouse” is one such story that comes to mind). Here is my contribution.

About me: I have been interested in photography and outdoors since a long time. My first camera was an Afga Click III. Currently I use various Leica cameras with some of the newer digital compacts like Sony RX1R and Sigma DP3 thrown in the mix. While I am not a pro-photographer, I am dedicated enough to devote substantial time to photography and get out of bed at unearthly hours to catch that elusive pre-dawn or dawn glow and stay up late at night to get that one moon-shot. My photostream on Flickr is here and I also published a book on blurb.com featuring some of my photos from this user report here.

This will be a part user report and part travelogue with some notes about my recent visit to the spectacular Many Glacier National Park in Montana.

As it happened, I ended up with 3 cameras on this trip – Sony RX1R (the new version without the AA filter), Leica S2 and Sigma DP3. I will cover my impressions with the first two in this report. Sigma DP3, a formidable but quirky machine in own right can perhaps be covered in another report. For the Leica S2, I took the 180MM and 35MM lens. I could have perhaps skipped the 35mm, but since I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to haul both these beast sized lenses across the country in my backpack.

So my backpack included: Sony RX1R, Sigma DP3, Leica S2, Leica 180MM Elmar and Leica 35MM Summarit, Really Right Stuff ballhead, memory cards, batteries, rainsuit, a light jacket, and some snack bars. Add a medium-sized carbon fiber tripod in my carry on to the mix and I won’t blame if someone says I need to see a therapist soon.

TIP: In the USA, TSA generally allows tripod in carry-on luggage. Make sure you don’t have spiked feet with it and remove the heavy ballhead and keep it separately. Regulations may vary at other places and even TSA is inconsistent at times. I however carried my tripod in my carry-on.

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My thoughts on Sony RX1R

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Steve has already reviewed the RX1 in detail earlier and also the RX1R recently. Let me say that it is the best full-frame 35 mm compact cameras in existence today. I say it on the basis of the totality of its package that includes image quality, size, portability, FF sensor, superb Zeiss lens and the controls it offers. There is nothing like it out in the market today. There are some nice APS-C compact cameras that come close, but not equal to it in 35MM format. At the risk of upsetting some Leica diehards, I would say that for 35MM focal length, RX1R will give more consistent results shot to shot, with no loss in image quality compared to either Leica M9 or even the new M (yes, I have access to Leica M9 and Summilux 35 FLE). (I agree – Steve)

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Its one Achilles heel is no built-in EVF and that renders it virtually useless in bright sunlight. Non-articulating LCD is another. I was unfortunately not able to get the EVF on time for use with it. The other thing is that the battery life while not bad is not great either. Plan to take 3 batteries if this is going to be your only camera for a full-day’s worth of shooting. Otherwise two will suffice.

On all cameras, I use only singe center point AF, aperture priority and this is how I used the RX1R also.

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It feels nice in hand and has a certain heft that without being heavy, manages to convey a feeling of solidity. A very fine balance indeed. In use, I found it fluid and fast. Most controls I needed were a click or two away, including ISO (left click on the wheel), exposure compensation (dedicated wheel on the top – brilliant), real aperture ring on the lens (lovely), drive mode (press the Fn key and select the drive mode).

I am not sure how Sony engineers managed to squeeze in a built-flash too. Perhaps they can make the LCD screen articulating and add an EVF too in a later iteration while keeping size largely same. One other thing Sony can improve upon is to tone the camera down a bit – I mean it looks a bit too flashy with bright white markings and the ring around the lens saying “35MM Full Frame CMOS Sensor” is downright silly. These flashy things reflect Sony’s consumer electronics background, but please can they just tone it down?

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I used AF most of the time (and it never missed), with probably only 3 or so shots taken using MF as the targets were a bit tricky (small berries behind some leaves). When shutter speeds got low and tripod was not viable, I raised ISO to 400 without hesitation. In practice it can go much higher on the ISO without practical image degradation, but personally I prefer to then use a tripod and keep the ISO low especially for critical shots in places that I may not visit again that easily. Obviously it depends on the situation too – if it is a shot, that moment that you must capture without wait, then feel free to go up to ISO 3200 or perhaps more. RX1R will deliver. Another thing is that this camera has a much larger headroom than its image previews with blown highlights indicate (these are incorrect in most cameras anyway as they are based on JPG previews, even if you shoot RAW), so feel free to experiment by pushing the EV to +0.3 or +0.7 and then pull back in post for even better noise control. In other words, play with ETTR. You can also look at the histogram in live-view as that is closer to reality.

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Tip on batteries: If you are like me, you will be out shooting by 5am and won’t be back by 8pm or even 9pm as the real fun for evening photography happens when it starts to get dark. Add to this the fact that you may have been hiking and will dead tired when you get to your room. You also need to get up early next day – 5am. Given all this you may not have time to wait for one battery to finish charging so you can put in the next one, unless you are awake all night. So think carefully how to manage all this.

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Leica S2

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Note: Steve reviewed the S2 earlier, be sure to read his review as it covers more ground than my user notes here.

If Sony RX1R is the svelte model, the Leica S2 with its lenses is to put it delicately, Rubensque. Well maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. It is the exact opposite of RX1R, not only in size but also in appearance – devoid of any bright white markings nor any announcement on the outside stating that it has a larger than FF sensor. Though the body alone is no larger than pro FF DSLRs, with the lenses, it is big and heavy. You will get noticed. Its high ISO sucks. Actually, it does not have high ISO by modern FF or APS-C standards. Its LCD screen is barely adequate at 480K. A D800E can not only compete, but exceed it in some cases, especially at high ISOs. So why did I take it? As it happened, I was offered a loaner for a month or so. At first I was hesitant to carry it due to size and weight. But a few hours with it and I made a decision. A big and bright viewfinder, superb ergonomics, lenses with gorgeous manual focus ring and precise autofocus all convinced me to haul it with me. I was not disappointed.

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Glacier_National_Park_Morning_Mist_Leica_S2 (8 of 17)

In hand, ergonomics are superb and all buttons are placed so that the thumb and the forefinger rest at the right places. I found the AF very accurate. Having used the D800E before and the need tweak AF to get the right focus, it was a pleasure to not do this hocus-pocus with the S2. Each Leica S2 lens comes with embedded firmware specific to that copy of the lens that ensures accurate AF. Except in very dim light when the AF did not work at all, I tried hard to see if I could do better than the AF with manual focus on my own. Even when using a 2X loupe over the viewfinder, I did not find one instance where manual focus was more precise that the AF.This is simply amazing. In the S2, you can set the camera to manual focus and yet, by pressing the function button at the back can have the lens AF. I found this very useful and used this setting all of the time as it allows you to quickly set the focus via AF and then tweak a bit if needed. The focus ring on the S2 lenses is a joy to use with a large grip and very precise movements. Some may find Leica S2’s single center point AF limiting, but that was more than adequate for my purposes. S2’s AF while accurate is not exactly fast if you compare it to the likes of Nikon D800E or Nikon D3X.

Going_To_The_Road_Leica_S2 (11 of 17)

Glacier_National_Park_Leica_S2 (14 of 17)

One thing to note is that the 1/F rule for handholding does not really ensure crisp shots with the S2 or any other larger than FF sensors for that matter. 1/2F is a minimum and 1/3F is needed if you want to increase your odds. Given this and the fact that I used the S2 180 mm lens most of the time I used the tripod with it for all of my shots. Yes, a pain. But that pain and ache is gone in a few days and the results will last a long time so it is worth it. Another thing: on the tripod, I either chose drive mode of 2 seconds self-timer that enables mirror-up automatically or 12 second-timer and enabled mirror-up. This is important to ensure that any vibration resulting from shutter press dies down before the shutter is tripped. A better way is to use a remote release which I did not have.

A tripod does limit mobility and at times creativity. At other times, it can slow you down and force you to be in a more methodical shooting mode as opposed to a machinegun shooting style, so that can be good. So plan ahead about your objectives for that day’s photographs and how you will accomplish those.

Waterfall_Goint_To_The_Sun_Road_Leica_S2 (15 of 17)

I ended up using the S2 180mm Elmar lens a lot on this trip. The reason is that vast landscapes like these require long lenses to really focus on the interesting parts. I would say it is much harder to pull off convincing landscapes in places like Grand Canyon or Glacier National Park with wider lenses. If you don’t have a tele-lens with you in such areas then it is simply not possible to get certain shots. You can’t zoom with you feet and walk on water or air to get that shot of the mountain-top with fog on it or pick a certain structure far in the canyon. This is not to say that a wide lens is not needed or cannot be used effectively in these situations – the point is that you need to plan for both situations.

Note that the crop factor on the S2 is 0.8x.

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Battery life is superb. After a full day of shooting, the meter had barely budged.

One comment I often hear on cameras like Sony RX1R, Leica S2, Leica M9 “camera xxx is thousands of dollars cheaper than [RX1R/S2/M9] and can produce equally good photos”. The reality is that all modern cameras are good and you have really have to try hard to find a BAD camera today. It boils down to your personal preferences, ergonomics, camera size and your budget. Even the iPhone can take excellent photos. So find a camera that you like and can afford and enjoy.

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About Many Glacier National Park, Montana

Stunning. Amazing. Breathtaking. It is a wonderland if you like the outdoors, the mountains, the spectacular scenery, several hiking trails at all levels of difficulty, lakes and much more. From the US East Coast, getting there is a bit of a hassle requiring two flights. But it is worth it. I met many persons not only from the USA but from all over the world there during my trip. I spent 6 days there and probably could have stayed 4 more without running out of things to do. For staying there are several options, both inside and outside the park.

Going_To_The_Road_Leica_S2 (16 of 17)

Main Activities & Logistics

The park has two main entrances, West Glacier and East Glacier. I found East Glacier to be more scenic but the West side is no slouch either. I would recommend dividing your time by staying on both sides to be able to enjoy the scenes from both sides. Whether you are a hiker, biker, want to enjoy the scenery just from the car or all of these, there is plenty do here.

One of the main attractions here is the aptly named “Going to the Sun Road” that makes its way through lakes, and then reaches dizzying heights with spectacular views of valley below. It was built in 1932 and is a fine example of civil engineering and sheer willpower even today. It passes though small tunnels, waterfalls right by the road (!) and has several pull-outs along the way to stop and soak in the majestic sights. It runs West To East (or East-West) and if you have time, I highly recommend covering it from both sides, West to East and East to West. Several hiking trails exist to challenge you and range from short easy hikes to strenuous multi-day adventures. Outside the park, there are a few small businesses that offer customized hikes, kayaking and other activities if you wish.

Logan Pass, a point approximately mid-point along the Going To the Sun Road is the start of many popular trails including highline trail (full day hike) and hidden lake trail (4 to six hours hike). Plan to arrive at Logan Pass by 8:30am or so as the parking lot tends to get full. Free shuttles run throughout the park, so that is another option instead of trying to jostle for a parking spot.

Popular hikes on the East side of the glacier include those to Grinnell Lake (easy 2-3 hour hike + boat trip), and hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake(both full-day). In addition there are several others that will take another story to cover. For non-hikers, a car drive along the Going To the Sun Road, scenic drives outside the park, several boat tours and other less demanding physical activities exist.

Early September can be a good time to visit as the crowds will have departed by then and it will be cooler. July and August are peak months. If you want to see the wildflowers in the valleys, then probably mid-July is best. Note that at the highest points on the Going to the Sun Road, snow drifts can occur even in late June or early July.

As for me, I hiked, I walked, I drove on the Going to the Sun Road 4 times, took many scenic byways and marveled at the stunning and at times powerful and poignant scenes I came across. I stayed two days on the West Side, 3 days on the East Side. Apart from enjoying many a misty morning and sunsets along several lakes, I hiked the highline trail which was physically demanding but I was rewarded with scenic eye candy all the way. Yes, I carried the S2 + 35MM + tripod + RX1 + 2 liters of water, bear spray, rain jacket and food on this trail if you are wondering. I took a few other short hikes including the easy hike to Lake Grinnell in East Glacier.

Overall, I found the combination of Sony RX1R and Leica S2 with 180mm APO Elmar-S complementing each other very well. I used the RX1R a lot while hiking and for quick shots while driving or when there was simply not much time to set up the Leica S2. S2 was brought into the mix during early morning and late night shots of distant horizons as well as during the day when I wanted to focus more on some of the more interesting parts of the landscape.

Wildlife encounters are not uncommon, but the time I went was unseasonably hot, so most were probably hiding from the sun. I did however, came across a bear swimming in Swiftcurrent lake that is right behind the Many Glacier hotel and what an impressive beast it was – silent, strong swimmer, came from one end to another in a short time and then scampered via the parking lot to the forest. I managed a bit blurry grab shot of it swimming. In addition, I was greeted by a small mountain goat at Logan Pass. Generally there are quite a few of them in the open, but again, they were taking shelter in trees due to the sun.

Note 1:

You cannot carry bear spray [a form very powerful pepper spray) on airplanes. So donate yours (hopefully unused!) to the park ranger office when you leave. These park rangers are awesome and will not hesitate to risk their lives to rescue you.

 

Note 2:

This is backcountry and even though the trails are well maintained for the most part, be very careful while hiking or navigating the rugged terrain. Do not hike alone. This is bear country and that is not the only danger. People have fallen to death and drowned here. Cell phones do not work in most of the area and certainly do not work on most trails. To put it bluntly, you can get killed or vanish and never be found if you are not careful. You may be working out in the gym every day, but that does not come close to the effort needed for some of the longer hikes. I saw a woman being carried by two park rangers on a narrow trail. She was hiking alone and slipped, fell and hurt her leg badly. She was lucky that another hiker was in the area and he went down to get help for her. I recommend the excellent and free ranger led hikes for those not experienced with backcountry hiking. Check the NPS web site for activities. You can enjoy the place without hiking too if you wish.

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Lodging

At places like these and especially if you are coming from afar, I always recommend staying as close to the scene of action as possible even if it means paying more. See the few images I took at dawn. These were right outside the lodges I stayed in. It would have been very hard to reach most of these locations on time to catch the light if I stayed outside. Having said that, the lodges inside the park are very old and Spartan and not exactly cheap. Some of them like the Many Glacier Hotel are about 100 years old. So you are paying for location and not creature comfort. I would however, say that irrespective of where you are staying in this area, do visit Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier hotel and see the lobby inside. It will be hard not be impressed by the magnificent wooden pillars and interior made of wood.

Lodging in the park can be hard to get, so plan well ahead you intended dates of visit. Campgrounds also tend to get filled, so if you plan on camping do not expect to drop in and find spot.

Montana_Moon_Leica_S2 (5 of 17)

Note that a lot of shots were taken is hazy conditions due to grass fires in Idaho and the greater than average temperatures that resulted in a persistent haze for most of the period. Enjoy and I will be happy to questions in the comments area.

Thank You

Eeraj Qaisar

 

 

Jan 022013
 

My top 12 for 2012 by Jason Howe

As the year draws to a close, I felt it would be a worthwhile exercise to reflect on 12 of my photographs from the last calendar year, images that I feel were significant to me for one reason or another and to elaborate on the reasons behind their selection.

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” these words, immortalized by the great Ansel Adam’s are of course well-known in photographic circles, but are they still relevant in todays photographic world? Well, I believe so, of course it’s true that this statement originates from a generation where even the most industrious of photographers would have taken far less photographs than we do in the digital age, yet despite this obvious imbalance I feel it still holds some relevance.

Firstly, we must understand the context to the word “significant”, as only a relative handful of individuals are in a position to be producing images of “global” significance it’s important that we measure significance on a personal level and furthermore that we’re clear on the underlying reasons for that significance. Whilst this objective may seem quite achievable vs. the number of photographs taken, we must endeavor to look subjectively at our “crop” amongst the good, great and wonderful images we’ve collected only some will hold true significance.

I’ve applied the definitions of “meaning” and “importance” to the word significant, in addition to this I have imposed a further caveat that the image be technically sound although one could certainly argue that there are technically poor photographs that are of extreme significance, that is really a personal judgement.

Of course you may have more and you may have less? If you have hundreds, I’d suggest you look again! Too few, well there is always next year. Remember, I’m not talking about the number of good shots you have, just your significant ones.

Bridge Dynamic – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super WIde Heliar f/4.5

Bridge Dynamic – This image featured in my User Report on the Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide Heliar f/4.5, you can view that HERE. I know from the emails and comments I received following this post that many people either went out and bought this lens on the back of my report or were able to achieve superior results because of it. The satisfaction that came with knowing my images and writing had assisted others really was the most rewarding experience. As a result of that and because this really is the most incredible little lens this image is included here.

Bridge Dynamic

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Day Dreamer – Leica M9 – 50mm Leica Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE

Day Dreamer – This is one of my favorite images of my youngest son and whilst that is reason enough in its own right to be included here it also marked the arrival of the 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE lens. This heralded a significant shift in my thinking on lenses. Yes, I moved from cautious to cavalier in the blink of an eye, in the main, because I had established that rangefinders were going to be my cameras of choice for a long time to come. You can read about my purchase of this lens HERE if you want a laugh….. As it happens I have not used this lens as much as I thought I would, that’s no reflection on the lens, just my attentions have been elsewhere, it is on my list to explore further in the new year.

Day Dreamer

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End of the Road – Leica M9 – 35mm Leica Summicron f/2 Asph

End of the Road – Looking too hard, yes I’ve found myself doing this a few times over the course of this year, I’m sure it’s a condition many will relate to. Your traveling to interesting places, thinking there must be a photograph here somewhere and before you know it that’s all your thinking about and it can become counter productive. This image and several others that almost made it in to this selection were taken on a road trip with my son’s, relaxed and having fun I still managed to see photographs, in fact I probably saw more and it finally sunk in that you don’t have to be on high alert to see photographic potential around you. This particular scene was spotted in the rear view mirror as we drove past in the opposite direction, I guess that kind of proves my point.

End of the Road

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Awakenings – Leica M9 – 15mm Voigtlander Super WIde Heliar f/4.5

Awakenings – Striking a balance between your love of photography and your love of family, should be easy, right? I’ve touched on this before and it is still one of the biggest challenges I have come across photographically. My family was of course quite used to seeing me with a camera over the years, but when my relationship with the camera became a little more serious (ok, obsessive) then at times it seemed there was a conflict between to two. This image serves as a reminder that with a little care, it is possible to combine the two, although admittedly there is probably still plenty of room for improvement on my part. Taken on a celebratory break in Queenstown, this image almost never came about as I seriously contemplated leaving my gear at home in a bid to avoid any photography/family clash. A last-minute change of plan and some of that care I mentioned previously, proved the two can be combined, most of the time…..you can see all the images from this post HERE.

Awakenings

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Showtime – Leica M9 – 50mm Leica Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE

Showtime – So many great memories are encapsulated in this one image, it really embodies all that is magical about the theatre in my eyes. My post The Producers which you can see HERE was the culmination of my time spent with the Tauranga Musical Theatre. What initially started as a one-off project has now evolved in to a more regular association. This ongoing involvement holds more than photographic significance to me, it enables me to be in the company of other creative individuals and that has been a real blessing.

Showtime

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The Mob – Leica M9 – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1

The Mob – An image with dual significance, I realized a long time ago that you can either sit around and wait for things to happen or you can make them happen. Have the courage to ask and be prepared to try new things, this mindset got me behind the scenes at the regions biggest horse racing meet and I was delighted to capture this scene. Less significant but still worth baring in mind is a point about equipment, I was prepared to part company with the 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.1 lens that was used in the making of this image. I hadn’t given it enough time on the camera and consequently I had not seen it at its best. I learnt a valuable lesson on the day I shot these images, you must get to know your gear and be prepared to take the time to do so.

The Mob

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Lakeview – Leica M6 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5

Lakeview – I began to shoot and develop film around 18 months ago because I felt somehow that I had missed out and also because it could only improve my photography in the long run, now with the benefit of hindsight I believe it was the right move and I would recommend this route to anyone. I suppose when I look at this particular image I associate it with my love of film photography. Certainly I have a very long way to go when it comes to film and this will be something I look to explore more in the coming year.

Kodak Gold 200

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Misty Mornings – Leica M9 – 35mm Summicron f/2 Asph

Misty Mornings – I’ll always look at this image and remember the wonderful time I spent on the road with my boys earlier in the year, having fun, exploring new places and really seeing them in a different light. Much like the light in this image their personalities and sense of humor really shone through on this road trip, we had so many laughs. Photographically, this journey really highlighted the quality of the 35mm Summicron f/2 which I had considered selling just a few months before. I bonded with that lens and in truth it was the only lens I needed on that trip. You can see the full post of images from the East Cape HERE.

Misty Mornings

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Rock Thrower – Leica M9 – 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5

Rock Thrower – One of the main draws to the Leica M9 and indeed the M/LTM system was the ability to shoot with retro glass, this image underlines that appeal for me. Shot on an inexpensive, 49 year old lens from the former Soviet Union I still look at it today with the feeling that I could almost reach in to the scene, such is the quality of the 50mm Jupiter 3 f/1.5. Proof if any were needed that it is still possible to get great quality without spending a small fortune. Not to mention, so much fun to shoot because there is always a chance of a magic. You can read my User Report on this lens HERE.

Rock Thrower

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Reach Out – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Leica Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE

Reach Out – The Leica M Monochrom didn’t mark any great shift in preference from colour to b&w for me, it’s quite clear from my photographs that b&w imagery is very much a part of my photographic identity. I mention it here because I have a strong feeling from what I have already seen from this camera that it is going to be very significant for me, I guess only time will tell……….This image featured in my first post from this camera which can be seen HERE.

Reach Out

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A Turning Point – Leica M3 – 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5

A Turning Point – This image has not appeared on here before, shot on Ilford HP5 plus 400 it made such an impression on me that for a while there I was considering abandoning digital and shooting solely with film. However one thing that I learnt early in photography is that your opinion on a specific genre, image, film type, you name it, can change quite quickly and decisions need to be considered. As time past my love of film remained strong but I eventually began to see that for me at least it did not need to be a choice between film and digital, I can see the merits of both, therefore I should enjoy both.

A Turning Point

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Lake Placid – Leica M9 – 35mm Summicron f/2 v.1

Lake Placid – I had the remarkable good fortune to not only discover some great equipment this year but more importantly the photography of the late Roland G Phillips-Turner, so far I’ve featured his work twice on my website with more to follow in the new year. It’s really been a discovery that has bought myself and many others a huge amount of joy. The image above was shot with the 35mm Summicron f/2 v.1 that belonged to the aforementioned photographer, this was certainly the first time it had been used in many years and it worked it’s magic accordingly. A great reminder of this wonderful discovery

Lake Placid

Food for thought…….

Taking an overview of my selections here it’s actually quite insightful and as it happens, a very accurate assessment of my shooting habits, for instance –

Two of the twelve photographs are film, equating to 1/6th of the images This is an accurate reflection of the amount of film I’ve shot this year compared to digital, I really want to increase this next year.

Three of the images or 1/4 are in colour. Again, I’d say this is a fair reflection. I only want to make great photographs, B&W or Colour it makes no difference to me, although it’s fair to say I can’t see the the ratio of colour increasing next year.

It’s been a good year for me photographically, I’ve continued to develop and whilst there have been challenges I’ve certainly done my best to overcome them and progress. Whilst it’s always rewarding to look back on the images you’ve taken the real excitement lies in the images your yet to capture, that thought should fill us all with encouragement and excitement in equal measure, enjoy!!

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a safe and prosperous 2013.

All the best, Jason.

Nov 152012
 

Fisheyes are more than a gimmick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 142012
 

New Zealand’s South Island with the M9

By Jason Howe

In the last couple of weeks we got the chance to visit Queenstown in the South Island. My initial excitement around the photographic potential of this trip was again tempered by the realisation that, taking lots of photographs, whilst on a short birthday celebration break with friends, may not make me the most popular person in the South Island. With this in mind I initially decided against taking my gear however at the last moment after the tiniest bit of encouragement I had a change of heart.

I’d travel “light”, for me that is…..and I’d try to take images that would enable me to do a post based around vintage Leica glass on the M9.

In the Bag -

Leica M9

35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

50mm Summicron f/2 (Rigid Type II)

15mm Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 – Yes I know it’s not vintage!!! Here’s the thing, this lens is so small and versatile that it now comes with me whatever…..

As I suspected the opportunities were few and far between and it soon became apparent that on this occasion I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the intended theme of my post. Time, weather, light and to some degree my lens choice were all conspiring against me. Whilst the vintage Leica glass is superb it does lack contrast, leaving you struggling when the light is less than favorable.

Things just weren’t going to plan, all I could do was hope that at least one opportunity would present itself , if it did I’d be ready to squeeze every available image from it. Eventually, in failing but favorable light we approached the shores of Lake Wanaka, time was short but I gave it my best shot!!!

Lake Placid – Leica M9 – 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

One of the real surprises that photography has given me is the ability of an image to tap in to the darkest corners of the mind and evoke a memory, in the instance of the next image it was the first verse of a poem I’d read in secondary school (more than a few years ago)….obviously I couldn’t recall the entire poem, that would just be weird!!

Ripples – Leica M9 – 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

The full version of the poem by James W. Foley can be found here

I’ve championed the merits of the Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 previously, an extensive user report can be found here. It’s worth me mentioning that I always code this lens as a 21mm 11134, you can read why in the aforementioned user report. Simply put, the more I use this lens the more I wonder how I ever managed without it!! I believe continued evidence of its capabilities and justification for taking it everywhere can be seen in the image below.

Awakenings – Leica M9 – 15mm Super Wide Heliar f/4.5

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A Dream Within A Dream – Leica M9 – 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

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Isolation and Exhilaration – Leica M9 – 50mm Summicron f/2 Rigid Type II

So, there we have it, another amazing New Zealand destination that I have only scratched the surface of…….another place to add to the ever-increasing list of places I have visited and to which I would love to return with the sole intention of photography. They say that the further south you travel in this country the better the scenery gets, it’s so very true.

Thanks for reading.

Jason Howe

Aperture Priority – Photography by Jason Howe 
find me online: Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook

Jul 152012
 

The Nikon V1 does Western Alberta

by Paul Chance, aChanceEncounter.com

After years of using the Nikon D200, D300 and D700 bodies with the 2.8 aperture lenses, I recently went light with the Nikon V1, along with the two-lens kit (10-30 and 30-110 lenses), making a nice 27-300mm package that was considerably smaller than my D700 assorted glass. My main objective was not to replace my D700 but to have less gear on family vacations.

I went to Death Valley earlier this year with both the D700 and the V1; the V1 got good results, so when I recently vacationed in Western Alberta, I left the big gear at home. I used the V1 kit with a Gitzo Traveler tripod and a couple of filters, the Singh Ray Vari-ND and the Canon 500D. I took the vast majority of waterfalls and river shots with the tripod and VariND filter.

Since a family vacation is often not conducive to the golden hours of 5:30-7:30am and 9:00-11:00pm, I used the Vari ND filter and split ND filters to create various moods.

V1 advantages include (1) Size & Weight: I strapped my tripod on one side of my Camelbak, my collapsible hiking stick on the other side, and attached camera and lenses to the waist belt of the Camelbak using small Lowepro bags. I hiked hands free with equipment very accessible. (2) Easy Controls: I had no problems setting exposure compensation, manual focusing, time delay or remote shutter release. I used Aperture mode for 100% of the trip. (3) Sensor Size: The increased depth of field of the sensor helped on the landscape shots. (4) Focus: The camera focused quickly; I easily adjusted the AF sensor to my chosen target, and easily switched to manual focus in dim light using hyperfocal distance.

V1 disadvantages include (1) Wake Up Time: The camera goes to sleep and takes two seconds to wake up, causing several missed wildlife shots. (2) Noise: The small sensor creates unacceptable noise levels above ISO800. (3) Lens Limitation: Currently no fast zoom lenses are available for this camera. While Vibration Reduction is good, it does not replace a fast shutter speed. The small lens size makes using gradient filters difficult.

I readily recommend the V1 for shooting landscapes if final prints are no larger than 10×15. It’s a great camera for vacationing, hiking, and taking family shots. I would not recommend the V1 solely for wildlife photography.

To view more images from the V1 in Western Alberta, visit my website: www.aChanceEncounter.com/westernalberta

Comments are welcomed!

 

Jul 022012
 


Chasing Light in The Palouse with the Pentax 645D

(& A Brief Review of the Pentax 645D system)

By Ashwin Rao – Visit his blog HERE

The Palouse… Eastern Washington’s pastoral land of rolling hills, has long been a source of photographic inspiration and pilgrimage.  It’s a land replete with broad swaths of color, vistas with horizons that stretch into an endless distance, gently undulating fields of grain, crumbling barns, and giant machines processing the land’s primary industry of grain harvest. Type the word “Palouse” into your browser, and you yourself may be inspired to travel to this beautiful land, situated along the far sound and east of Washington’s boundaries, crossing into Idaho and Oregon. It’s but a five-hour car ride from Seattle, and yet, in a decade spent living in the Emerald City, I had never made the trip to the Palouse until recently. And now, the call of the glorious land reaches back to me.

The inspiration for my trip, of all things, was a change in gear. For many years, I have been a rangefinder shooter, but prior to this time, the DSLR and landscape photography had been my principal passions. As the rangefinder ethos grabbed a firm hold of my soul, my photography drifted towards a more photojournalistic approach, with attempts to capture tiny slices of life in meaningful ways. I had kept a Pentax K5 in my kit for over a year for the rare times where an SLR would see more practical use for a particular assignment of photographic task. And one day, while at my local camera store, Glazer’s Camera in Seattle, WA, I stumbled upon a “find” that jogged my sensibilities…a lightly used, nearly pristine Pentax 645D, priced to sell….and suddenly the gearhead’s dilemma and GAS confronted me. Until this time, I had considered medium format digital photography to be out of my reach financially, lest I up and sell my M9 kit, something I’d not be willing to do. So I was content to view others’ fabulous medium format images and hope that one day, such a camera would fall to my price point. Turns out that this was my lucky day. I quickly travelled home, gathered my K5 kit, and promptly traded it towards the 645D, Pentax’s clever entry into medium format.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the Pentax 645D, here’s a quick overview. It costs $10,000 new as of this writing, and can be had on the used market for around $7,000-$8000, possibly less. The sensor is a lovely 40 megapixel 44 x 33 mm CCD sensor produced by Kodak, which thankfully lacks any anti-aliasing filter., thus preserving the native detail of this conventional Bayer-arrayed sensor. Thus, the images that the camera is capable of producing can rival that of the Leica S2, which has a similar sensor (quality of lens notwithstanding). In fact, there are reports out there that the Leica S2 and Pentax 645D share a nearly identical sensor. Added charms of the 645D include weather sealing (with the appropriate lens) and compatibility with the full lineup of prior Pentax 645 lenses. When compared to the film Pentax 645, one must account for a 1.3x crop factor when using the same lenses, as the sensor in the 645D is 1.3x smaller in surface area than its film counterpart. In contrast, the sensor is 1.25x larger than a full frame 35 mm sensor, providing that much more real estate over which to spread its 40 megapixels. The 645D is capable of ISO’s ranging from 200 to 1600, and it does remarkably well in suppressing noise over this entire range of ISO, without introducing processing/smearing artifacts. The Pentax 645D was initially made available only to the Japanese market for nearly a year after its initial introduction, but it has been available in the U.S. since the early spring of 2011. Other features include a high-resolution 921K dot, 3 inch LCD and a menu layout that is the same as found in the Pentax K5. To boot, it takes the same batteries as the K5 and uses dual SD cards, accepting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards without issue. It’s not the fastest camera in the world, with regards to buffer or shot to shot performance, churning out 1.1 Frames per second. However, given its intuitive, SLR-like layout, ergonomic design, weather sealing, and “fast” (for medium format) performance, it’s gained a bit of a cult following in the medium format world for being a workhorse camera capable of excellent results. Additionally, Pentax 645 lenses have long been regarded as price-performance champs in the medium format world, coming in at prices far lower than comparable lenses in the Hasselblad, Leica and Mamiya lineups.

Some of you who inhabit popular gear forums have no doubt heard of the stir that the Nikon D800 and D800E have provided to landscape and commercial photographers, many whom use medium format for their work. For pro work, commercial fashion, print, and landscape work has long necessitated the use of medium format (and large format) sensors to optimize capture of detail, tonal rendition, dynamic range, and image size necessary for commercial and print work.  With the Nikon D800 and its “sans AA filter” version, the D800E, the commercial and landscape world has been suddenly challenged by a new option, far cheaper  (in terms of body cost), with a wider array of lenses capable of producing remarkable pixel-level detail required for this type of work, and some say, rivaling medium format.  In fact, many individuals are jumping ship from medium format to join the Nikon fray, to provide them with the flexibility of that system, along with better high ISO capacity. Why then, did I disregard this exodus and jump onto a purportedly sinking medium format ship?

Well, actually, the answer boiled down to price and a desire to try something new. SLR’s have been a “been there-done that” thing for me for some time now, and while the D800E would offer the benefit of superior image quality and clarity coupled with 36 plus megapixels of imaging goodness, it still possesses a sensor with far less real estate (by a factor of 1.5) than the sensor provided in the Pentax 645D. Second: Lens prices. After contemplating the price of the 645D, I naturally began an assessment as to how much it would cost to assemble a kit worthy of this sensor. Would lenses be pricey and add dramatically to the cost of my kit? In fact, many excellent Pentax lenses can be found used for between $150 and $650 dollars. I was able to gather a lens kit that included a 35 mm f/3.5 (28 mm 35 mm equivocal focal length), 75 mm f/2.8, 45 mm -85 mm f/4.5 zoon, 120 mm f/4 Macro (one of the best lenses ever made for medium format by many accounts), 150 mm f/2.8, and 400 mm f/5.6 lenses, for less that $3,000 USD.  If I had elected to purchase only manual focus glass, I could have saved at least half of that price and spent $1,500 to assemble a high quality kit for my camera. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually, how well priced heritage Pentax 645 glass is.

In order to purchase a Nikon D800E along with lenses of comparable focal length capable of resolving on its sensor (i.e. high end Nikon glass with nano crystal coatings, or Zeiss ZF glass), I would have had to spend more on lenses..well, truth be told far more…here’s a run down, just for fun (keeping in mind that medium format lenses are not nearly as fast/wide aperture as 35 mm equiv lenses, yet allow shallower DOF for any given focal length. Thus the comparison below is admittedly artificial, but would likely give you perspective on price differential for the “best” option for each system at each 35 mm focal length equivalent. This was the process that I went through, essentially trying to compare the best lens option at each focal length for each system, looking at typical lens prices on the open market

 

35 mm equiv focal length Pentax A or FA lens (MF/AF) Pentax price Nikon/Zeiss  high end lens Nikon price
28 mm 35 mm f/3.5 A $ 600-$ 800 24 mm or 28 mm f/1.4 $2000-2500
35 mm 45-85 mm f/4.5 FA (considered the best option at this focal length, better than the 45 mm f/2.8 FA prime $ 600 35 mm f/1.5 $1,650
50 mm 75 mm f/2.8 FA $ 400 Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 $400-500
90 mm/macro 120 mm f/4 macro A $ 300-400 Zeiss 100 mm f/2 Makro Planar $1800
135 mm 150 mm f/2.8 FA $ 500 Nikon 135 mm f/2 DC $1,300
300 mm 400 mm f/5.6 FA $1200 Nikon 300 mm f/4 $1200

If you do the math, you can imagine that for an equivalent kit, the price of the Nikon body ($3,300 as of this writing) plus lenses is at least comparable to the price of a used 645D with the lenses assembled above. The issue for gearheads like me would be that the Nikon system offers many other tantalizing options, including lovely zooms, tilt-shift lenses, and other options, for which the cost would continue to mount. The Pentax 645D is a far more limited system, in terms of lens diversity, and most lenses are cheaper or of equivalent price to their FX Nikon lens counterparts…what is lost is Nikon’s high ISO capabilities, size benefit, and lens flexibility. What is gained is a larger sensor and the medium format look….I decided to jump onto the Pentax 645D kit, for better or for worse.

A Bit About the Palouse

So, with that quick review of my decision to invest in this system aside, it was off to the Palouse to see if the Pentax 645D was capable of delivering excellent results with the lenses that I had purchased for the system. For those of you who have never been or heard of this region, the Palouse encompasses parts of Souteastern Washington, northwestern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon. It is a major agricultural region producing wheat and various other crops.  The region is also crossed by the Snake River and crosses over with Walla Walla, a region known for it’s lovely wines.  It’s through that the regions dune-like geographic formations were formed during the ice ages, cast from the glacial outwash plains. For years, the Palouse has served as a scenic pilgrimage for landscape photographers for its dramatic and unique geography, and it has long been a beck and call for me, as I mentioned above. Thus, I assembled a crew of like-minded photographers, all whom had previously attended one of Steve’s workshops here in Seattle,.All are now friends within Seattle’s Leica users community. From Seattle, it is a 4.5 journey by car to the western edge of the region. Once there, we were met by a talented local photographer, Ryan McGinty, a friend of mine from Flickr (who also came to know of me through Steve’s site), who has lived in the region for many years and magnificently photographs this region through a well-trained and creative set of eyes. For any of you who haven’t had a chance, please check out Ryan’s images on flickr. You are in for a treat, and you will see the possibilities that this wonderful land has to offer through his images:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanmcginty/

Our journey to the Palouse began along Washington State Route 26, which is the primary byway that brings people into the heart of the Palouse region from the West. From there, we stopped for breakfast in Colfax, and began a lovely loupe through the scenic byways of the Palouse. During our brief, 24 hour stay in the region, we visited many sites along state routes 27,272, 95, and 195. We passed through the towns of Palouse, Garfield, Colfax, Farmington, Pullman, La Cross, and others. We climbed Steptoe Butte to gather in views of the entire region. Along the way, there were old, abandoned barns, farmhouses left behind, windmills, grain silos, winding roads and paths, statuesque trees, horses and lifestock, and endless fields of grain. At the time of year (June), the color palette was principally made up fo blue, green, gold, with hints of brown, and occasional reds. The chance of the occasional thunder/lightning storm will bring darker swaths of blue, maroon, and magenta into the color mix of the Palouse palette, and evening light can add warm yellows, pinks, and pastels. Wildflowers would sprinkle in occasional batches of vivid color now and again, but by and large, this is a land to be taken in macroscopically at first glance (microscopic will come later)….

The wonderful thing about the region that we saw is that there is usually a remarkable vista over every hill, expanding out towards most horizons. In front of us were endless rolling hills, sunbreaks and cloud shadows spotting and colorizing the views in front of us to add drama.  Further, unlike many regions here, the cloud patterns are truly dramatic, with cloud formations ranging from statuesque cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds to wispy cirrus & stratus clouds, providing ever-shifting perspectives of the scenes in front of us. In a very tangible way. We were busy chasing the right types of light as the day passed, sometimes as the contrast, clarity, color, and luminance changed from moment to moment. It was an exhilarating experience for me, a suddenly eager landscape photographer.

The 645D in the Palouse- A New User Experience

I was very excited to use the Pentax 645D in ths majestic landscape. Along with me came a range of lenses from a 35 mm f/3.5 A (28 mm equivalent in full frame) to a 400 mm f/5.6 (320 mm equiv in full frame). I was excited to use the wider lenses to get close and capture scope, while using my telephoto lenses to compress landscapes, while reaching out to grab far away details. Along the way, I did a bit of chimping on the 645D’s wonderful LCD screen, but my and large, I let fate do the talking hoping that the images that I acquired would be in focus, thus allowing all 40 million pixels to shine. Would these older, heritage lenses hold up? After all, Pentax has only unleashed 2 new lenses, a 55 mm FA and 25 mm FA lens, since the Pentax 645D was released. All other glass available to the camera has been present long since the advent of digital photography. IF there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that digital photography can bring out all of the flaws and softness inherent to imprecise or imperfect lens design or compatibility with the digital sensor. Did my kit of assembled heritage glass work out okay? The answer is…..

A RESOUNDING YES!

I’m psyched. I came home and began to edit my photos on my NEC 27 inch high gamut dual displays, and wham, there it was…detail….lots and lots of detail. The heritage glass did marvelously on the digital sensor, and I must say that I have been more than satisfied the Pentax 645D’s output.

Most images were shot at lower ISO’s, from 200-400, as I had the benefit of a nice tripod (Gitzo 3541L) and ballhead (Arcatech) to stabilize my kit. It should be noted that the 645D incorporates 2 tripod mounts, so that if you add 2 really right stuff brackets to the body, you can rapidly change the camera from portrait to landscape orientation.

The 645D is capable of resolving tiny details at near and far distances. Tiny blades of grass come to life just as much as enormous silos. The Kodak CCD’s sensor (No AA filter) produces remarkable detail, and to my eyes, there’s adequate dynamic range to rescue highlights and shadows in post-processing. White balance is a bit challenged on this camera, however, and thus it would make the most sense to shoot in RAW and post process afterwards.

Speaking of RAW files, they are huge, providing 7264 x 5540 pixels of real estate and file sizes of 80 mb or more. Thus, if you are shooting RAW, make sure to bring adequate memory. I used 16 GB SDHC cards for this trip, but on returning home, I promptly purchased two 32 GB SDHC cards (SanDisk Extreme 45 mb/s) to use and not worry about space.

For the most part, I tried to operate in the wheelhouse apertures of these lenses, stopped down to between f/5.6 and f/11, though I found that Pentax 645 lenses perform admirably even wide open.

Many of you may ask if I am happy with my decision to purchase into this system. Does the medium format experience bond well with a Leica M street photographer? Are the file qualities up to snuff, once one has tasted the M9’s sans-AA filter experience? All that I can say is that I am profoundly satisfied, enough to disregard the Nikon D800, as I am unsure what more image quality that camera can offer, especially given that my trip to the Palouse proved to me that 645 lenses are up to the task of critical digital workflow. Further, I hope that the images provided in this user-experience review communicate how I feel about the camera, and to some degree, what type of image quality the camera is capable of.

 

Concluding thoughts and comments

The Palouse is a beautiful region to visit. It should be on your bucket list, if you are a serious landscape photographer or lover of pastoral scenery. Shooting the region with a Pentax 645D in hand (and on tripod) was a pleasure, and I look forward to returning during another season, when the colors offer a different palate and perspective.Along the way, I found that I was very much impressed by the output of the 645D and its heritage lenses, and I look forward to planning future trips for which the 645D will be taken. I found that the medium format experience is one that can be embraced by someone used to hand holding a discrete kit, when the right opportunity presents itself.

Is the Pentax 645D right for you? Only you can make that decision. For those of you considering a Nikon D800/E for landscape or portrait needs, you may want to consider buying into the Pentax 645D system for a similar cost (depending on your lens selections), as you will be duly rewarded by outstanding image quality, pixel clarity and sharpness, and enormous sensor real-estate.

(From Steve: Anyone interested in a Palouse workshop? A couple of days shooting, learning and getting some amazing images in this beautiful and breathtaking location? If yes, let me know in the comments! If there is enough interest we can set something up!)

645D pro’s

  • Medium format – lots of sensor real estate for BIG prints and BIG crops
  • 40 MP sensor without an anti-aliasing (blur) filter
  • Useable ISO’s ranging from 200-1600
  • Dual tripod mounts
  • Excellent user interface & menu layout (best in class for medium format), making it an easy transition to those familiar with SLR’s and looking to make the jump
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Weather sealing (with an appropriate lens)
  • Outstanding ergonomics (for a medium format camera), including a deeply recessed hand grip
  • Cheap (relatively speaking) selection of Manual and Autofocus lenses, which perform admirably.

 

645D cons

  • Limited ISO range compared to 35 mm
  • Bulky (for a M9 user)
  • Slow image preview times and buffer
  • Slow FPS (1.1 frames/se) make sports or rapid street work difficult
  • Care required to optimize sharpness (every tremble and shake can be easily seen at the pixel level). A stable is a must for critical work
  • Limited number of vendors for Pentax, compared to Canon, Nikon, NEX, or m4/3
  • No AA filter can mean “moire” artifacts are possible (less likely in landscape photography)

 

Feb 012012
 

The Ancient – M9, 35 Summilux ASPH II, ~f/2.8, 1/350s, ISO 160

 

USER REPORT: Landscape Photography with the M9

Aravind Krishnaswamy

I am a nature photographer. For several years that meant I mostly photographed Avians and Wildlife with some Landscapes thrown in for good measure. I recently started moving away from Avians to concentrate more on Wildlife and Landscapes. I have a backpack filled with a 5D Mark II and Zeiss lenses for my landscape photography and I’ve generally been happy with the images that kit generated.

However, I wanted something more compact which could also do double duty while traveling and also early last year my interest in the Leica M9 got piqued.

The River Rushes – M9, 28 Elmarit ASPH, ~f/22, 1.5s, ISO 160

 

I got an initial M9 kit with just a couple of lenses and started doing some shooting. The image above is one of the first images I made with the kit and immediately both the delight and the challenges became apparent, especially since I photographed the same scene with my Canon kit. One of the biggest challenges when working with an M9 on a tripod is framing. With my 5D Mark II, I use Live View extensively to get perfect framing and my depth of field precisely the way I want it. However, upon looking at and comparing the files later, it was clear that the M9 was producing accurate colors requiring little adjustment as opposed to the images from my Canon kit (You can see and read more about the difference on my blog post on the subject: http://blog.akimagery.com/2011/07/goin-leica.html).

Lonely House – M9, 50 Summilux ASPH, ~f/6.7, 1/1500s, ISO 160

 

One of the advantages of having accurate colors (and generally good color separation) is that it improves tonal separation in black and white images. I like making black and white images when I want to use the color information in an image to manipulate the tonal relationships in an image that would otherwise not be possible if it remained color. This only gets better with the fact that the M9 images withstand a lot of abuse in post processing.

The M9 is in many ways well suited for landscape photography. There’s no mirror to cause vibration and I do use a remote cable release for those times when the camera is on a tripod. I have found that there aren’t too many regular repeating patterns in landscape work to cause moire or aliasing which can in other photography be an issue due to the lack of an anti-aliasing filter. I’ve also observed that the 24″x36″ prints I’ve made from the M9 have as much if not more detail than what I’ve produced with the 5D Mark II.

Summer Storm – M9, 50 Summilux ASPH, ~f/6.7, 1/250s, ISO 160

 

Generally speaking, I’m not that fond of tripod photography as I have found that it keeps me from exploring interesting angles, but I’ve usually stuck to tripods for my landscape photography. As time progressed, I found myself spending more time making images with the M9 handheld rather than affixed to a tripod. I can’t be sure for the reason, perhaps its the difficulty in framing when on a tripod or perhaps its just because the kit’s diminutive size makes it so comfortable in the hand that I feel like wandering a scene and making images.

Aged Branches – M9, 18 Super Elmar, ~f/13, 1/250s, ISO 160

Late last year I had the chance to pick up the 18mm Super Elmar right here in Steve’s buy/sell which I’m using for the wide work. Of course, accurate framing in this case requires the use of an external viewfinder but I’ve found that I’m not that fond of them. I made the image above without the external finder but just approximating the framing and taking a lot of test images. It ended up working out as the result you see is an uncropped file.

One of the things that really becomes obvious after working with some of Leica’s finest lenses is how superb the optics really are. My favorite lenses are landscape photography are the 18 Super Elmar, 28 Elmarit, 35 Summilux and 50 Summilux. All of these lenses when stopped down are exceptionally sharp across the frame regardless of focus distance and all have very pleasing color reproduction. I have generally found that the amount of color post processing working I have to do with my M9 images are significantly less than with my other cameras.

Clearing Storm over the California Coast – M9, 28 Elmarit ASPH, ~f/8, ISO 160

 

I typically use a lot of filters in my landscape photography, particularly graduated neutral density filters. I find that trying to get the dynamic range down to control at capture time saves a lot of hassle when it comes to post processing. However, with the M9 using filters is tricky since you can’t visualize directly through the lens and hence I don’t use my graduated neutral density filters (though still use the circular polarizer). In scenes where the dynamic range is high, I’ve had to resort to capturing multiple exposures and fusing them together in post (such as the one above). One thing you have to be careful about is getting false colors on high contrast edges, so I’ve found that its important to set all sharpening to zero when exporting the individual exposures to whatever HDR software you use (I use Photomatix and almost exclusively the Exposure Fusion option for the more realistic results it produces).

Pismo Pier – M9, 35 Summilux II, ~f/4, 8s, ISO 160

 

Neither the M9, nor the M lenses are weather sealed. When working in an area such as beach, it can be a little distressing when you realize how much money you’ve got in your hands so close to electronics destroying water or spray. I just tend to be extra paranoid in such situations, I’m not sure there’s much else you can do there. Since I mainly work with prime lenses, I’ve found that its important to visualize an image at a scene before putting the camera out and attaching a lens. To that end, I’ve picked up Voigtlander’s 15-35 zoom viewfinder which is compact and useful for this purpose.

Light Portal – M9, 50 Summilux, ~f/4, 1/30s, ISO 160

 

Landscape photography with the M9 certainly has its challenges. The rewards however are the exceptional image quality delivered by M glass and the fact that my full kit fits in a small shoulder bag. If a future M10 adds Live View and a better screen on the back I don’t see why I wouldn’t switch to M system for most of my landscape photography work. I say ‘most’ because I still use tilt/shift lenses and there are currently no such offerings for the M system, though if Leica does add Live View it might then make sense for them to develop such lenses.

The wonderful thing about the M system is not just that I use it for landscape photography but also as a general travel and family photography kit. The same lenses are use for making 24″x36″ landscape prints can be used for photographing people in low light and best of all no one gets freaked out or self conscious when someone is pointing an M at them as opposed to a large SLR. This combined with its small footprint is why the M9 is becoming my go to camera and why I stick with it in spite of the challenges.

Jan 232012
 

USER REPORT: A stitch in time … with an M9

by Kefyn Moss

One thing I don’t see very often are stitched images using a Leica camera. Maybe this is anathema to many Leica users or maybe it’s just that the camera is so often used for a different subject matter that doesn’t suit them. I used to own the brilliant Nikon D700 but for travel purposes, which forms a large portion of my photography, I was wanting something more portable. I travel light. Even with a D700, three lenses and a tripod I can go with only carry-on luggage for months at a time. I’m definitely a minimalist, so reducing the size and weight of my photographic equipment while retaining full frame is a high priority. I had considered the M9 before but couldn’t afford it and keep my Nikon at the same time, but I finally took the plunge, sold all my Nikon gear to pay for it, and bought the Leica.

Monastic Outlook #2, Zeiss 35mm, 10,814 x 4897 px (53MP)

Leica glass (new) was almost impossible to find at the time I was looking, and out of my price range or not what I wanted with the few models that were available. I opted for mostly Zeiss optics (I had to literally scour the world for these too, in the time I had before leaving on a trip to Greece) deciding on the 25/2.8 Biogon, 35/2.8 Biogon and 50/2 Planar.

I also got a 90/4 macro Elmar second hand but used it far less than I thought I would. I have a variety of tripods and ball heads and normally use a Really Right Stuff head with the pano clamp and nodal slide, but this time, due to the small size of the lenses the accuracy of finding the exit pupil was not such a concern for me and I just took a lever release head and leveled the tripod. This still necessitated an Arca-style QR plate on the camera so I also shelled out for the RRS set which includes a replacement base (fits perfectly), L bracket and hand grip, which I found brilliant for hand held use (more ergonomic than the Thumbs Up IMO).

Monastic Outlook #4, Zeiss 25mm, 7039 x 4443 px (31MP)

 

I didn’t have a lot of time to familiarize myself with the camera before heading off for six weeks, but I was confident that it’s the photographer that takes the photos, not the camera, and I wasn’t going to blame the camera for my shortcomings. Some things I expected to be limiting, such as the high ISO performance and slow processor but high ISO isn’t a concern for tripod mounted shots, and the buffer/write speed? Frustratingly slow, which occasionally led to missed, or at least crippled, opportunities (waiting for the buffer when bracketing and watching the light starting to change … c’mon, c’mon) even though I tried to plan for it.

The metering was better than I expected (I didn’t expect too much having been used to Nikon’s accurate multi-pattern metering and having owned the lovely Olympus OM-4 with multi spot metering I find CW average to be a bit primitive on its own) but I bracketed a lot to make sure and I love how the camera automatically shoots the number of shots chosen when bracketing – this should be standard on all cameras! Manual controls were a joy to use in general and specifically I use the DOF scale on manual focus lenses for “f8 to infinity” which became my mantra for this type of photo. I haven’t had any issues with rangefinder calibration so selective focus using the viewfinder was a non-issue and focus lock is built in!

Calm Fortitude (this is actually an HDR pano for those that think HDR has to look over-the-top rather than to render highlight/shadow detail realistically), Zeiss 25mm, 7080 x 4499 px (31MP)

 

I don’t travel with a laptop, just a HyperDrive (although a MacBook Air would be OK), so I had to wait until I returned home before assessing the results. I wasn’t expecting the lack of an AA filter to be an issue, after all I wasn’t shooting fashion, but in a few cases moiré reared its head (the fences in the fish farms in “Klisova Lagoon” for example) and marred a potentially good image (desaturating the offending area didn’t often help and created more post-processing work).

The biggest annoyance however, and Matt Draper in his recent article seemed to have a similar experience, was DUST. The camera came with a dusty sensor and it just got worse with each lens change. Keeping one lens on the camera in street photography or portraits would reduce the problem significantly, but it is after all an interchangeable lens camera and the omission of some sort of sensor cleaning is, in my opinion, very remiss of Leica. For me this created a huge amount of work in landscape and architectural images during post processing. In (single) images taken in the latter half of the trip I have counted literally hundreds of dust spots that would show up on a large print – thank Adobe for the spot healing brush tool (and sync settings in Lightroom for multi-image stitches) is all I can say. And to answer the question “why not take sensor cleaning gear?” I would reply that: a) as I said I travel light so with the insane carry-on restrictions I can’t take cleaning fluid, and b) I have traveled with a D700 in a similar fashion with no dust problem (the mirror probably helps a bit too) so wasn’t expecting or prepared for the severity of it – when I did clean the sensor at home it took 3 or 4 “wet” cleans to remove some of the more stubborn crud!

Klisova Lagoon (the camera wasn’t vertical for this one), Zeiss 50mm, 10,765 x 3264 px (35MP)

 

There is inevitably some pixel loss with final image cropping, but to demonstrate finished file dimensions, I have included them with the relative image. Luckily I have an 8 core Mac Pro with 12Gb of RAM and a 30” NEC MultiSync monitor, so processing these huge files wasn’t too time consuming and the merge to pano in PS CS5 does a great job 95% of the time – no specialized software required anymore as far as I’m concerned.

Klisova Lagoon detail. Moiré does show up in some landscapes…

 

So is the M9 the best tool for stitched panoramas? Definitely not, as the frame-lines are not accurate enough for me to take sequences without building in more overlap error protection than I would normally use, increasing the time to take them, which is critical when the light is changing rapidly and already a limitation with that pitiful RAW buffer and slow write speed. But the low distortion lenses of small physical size and relatively simple design, the portability of the camera and system and the designers of stitching software all contribute to making it a usable tool for stitched panoramas and, as they are not the only photos I take, I am more than satisfied with the results. I hope you are too, but constructive criticism is welcome.

Thank you,

Kefyn Moss (and thanks Steve for providing the opportunities that you do).

 

Lasithi Plateau, Zeiss 50mm, 11,786 x 5161 px (60MP)

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Lasithi Plateau crop. A nice rendering for this landscape to my eye…

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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