Nov 192012
 

Lessons Learned – Using Classic Lenses on the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE or his Facebook Page HERE

As a caveat, the article that I am presenting below is entirely subjective, and my opinions are subject to change. My thoughts represent my current state of thinking. I have found that the Leica M Monochrom is a flexible tool capable of pushing the photographer in new and different ways. It happens to be that the MM has pushed me in the direction discussed below, as of 11/2012, and we’ll see where the journey takes me in the months and years to come….

Hi fellow photographers, gearheads, and friends, today I am writing the first of my “lessons learned” articles regarding the use and function of the Leica M Monochrom (MM). The MM is unlike any camera that I have used in my time behind the viewfinder. Sure, one can approach its use similarly to how he or she would use a M9. In practical use, it’s a rangefinder and nothing more. However, shooting in black and white may necessitate a change in approaching the subject of the photo. For me, this has meant focusing on light and dark, highlight and contrast, and composition over color.

Of equal importance is the difference in the files produced by the camera, when compared to the M9 or any other camera currently in production. As I processed my first set of images, shot entirely with modern aspherical lenses on the MM, I started to notice a few “issues” with my files As many have discussed, images looked flat and grey, yet with occasionally overexposed highlights. To compensate for loss of highlight detail, I decided to under-expose by 1/3 to 2/3 stops. In some instances, using this method with modern glass, shadows were so deep that it became more difficult to recover details in the underexposed portions of the frame.

One other issue some images had a decidedly “digital” look to them. A fair number of commenters made mention that the files had a look that didn’t appear film-like. This is no fault of the MM, which after all is a digital camera, but rather with our expectation that files coming directly from the camera should look entirely “film-like” (whatever that means….there are many types of film)…What could be behind this? After all, the Leica M system is replete with some of the best glass ever made, capable of fantastic clarity and tonal rendition. The MM’s sensor is capable of resolving incredible detail, in some cases more than presently capable of the lenses in Leica’s collection. Shouldn’t fantastic glass coupled with a fantastic sensor produce…well…fantastic results? I haven’t always found this to be the case, within the confines of my own limitations as a photographer….let me explain why I think this (IMHO, as always).

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

QUANDRY # 1- Lens choice: Modern vs Classic.

When shooting with modern lenses, as I did in the MM-NYC article that Steve posted a few months back, I only used aspheric lenses, specifically the 35 mm Summilux FLE and 50 mm Summilux Asph lenses. On looking at these files again today, I find that the coupling of modern lenses with the MM creates files that are bursting with clarity and contrast. To me, it may be that the files offer too much clarity and contrast for my brand of black and white photography. For those willing to experiment with modern glass on the MM’s sensor, they may well be allowed to explore territory that has yet to be explored in BW photography. So when some offer criticism that MM files have an overly digital look, I’d respond that MM files have a unique look as offered by the combination of sensor and lens. The creative possibilities of exploring these combinations is both exciting and daunting, but offers up a type of black and white imagery that we may not be used to. Just as HDR images became popular and controversial several years back, the MM files offer something different from bread-and-butter CMOS and CCD sensor rendering. Images shot via the MM when using modern glass seem to have a “hyper-real”, almost surreal look to them. This is not a familiar look to many of us, and thus invites criticism or concern in some instances. Some of us, such as Kristian Dowling, have assumed this challenge, and are making the MM sing with modern glass. I went in a different direction….

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

I debated whether or not to stick with the “MM-Modern look”, as I have taken to calling it, and decided to put it on hold. I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to delve into that look without being met with significant challenge and criticism. Rather, I purchased the MM to progress as a black and white photographer, along the lines of the images that I have explored from the film era. With this in mind, I began to explore the possibility of how the MM behaves with vintage lenses from prior eras.

Over the past few months, I dusted the cobwebs off some of my classic lenses,that haven’t gotten much use in recent times. In particular, I have extensively used the Leica 50 mm f/2 version II Summicron, also dubbed the “Rigid Summicron”, as it was the first Summicron lens to have no collapsible elements. This lens was very popular in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s, and it was highly regarded for its clarity (for the era), tonal rendition, and smooth out-of-focus rendition (i.e. bokeh). To this, I added a 90 mm f/2 Summicron II (E 49 filter thread, collapsible hood) which was manufactured in 1970. I also pulled out my old Leica Tele-Elmar 135 mm f/4, which I reviewed here several years back, and picked up a 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit, which to my eyes has a smoother tonal rendition than its aspherical cousins (35 FLE and 35 cron asph) and stands nicely side-by-side with older glass. Needless to say, I have been very pleased and excited with the results of these lenses on the MM.

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

While modern glass can be nearly jarring on the MM, due to lens sharpness and abrupt focus-fall off coupled with the MM’s resolving capabilities, these vintage lenses provide a different, less-clinical signature, which to my eyes, provides a dare-I-say “more pleasant” look…Here again, is where I feel that I am being entirely subjective. To my eyes, at the very least, vintage Leica lenses do very well with the MM. While they resolve slightly less detail than their modern counterparts, their lower contrast and more gentle focus fall off seems to allow and gentler tonal rendition and better preservation of shadow and highlight details. Further, color is taken out of the equation, and while many old lenses don’t always render color accurately, they tend to offer a very appealing greyscale rendition. I feel that the MM’s greyscale capacities take great advantage of lenses with lower macrocontrast. In general, I find that I am able to achieve a more “film-like” black and white look, at least one that more closely represents what’s developed in my thoughts as to how a BW image should look.

In particular, I was stunned by the performance of 2 lenses on the Leica MM: the Rigid 50 mm Summicron and the 90 mm Summicron II. Let me talk a bit more about these lenses

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 At this time, the 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron wins my award for “Best overall lens for the Leica M Monochrom”. I know that this is a very bold (and entirely subjective) statement to make, but I have my reasons. The Rigid ‘Cron was one of the best lenses, if not the best lens, in its era, combining high resolution with fantastic performance from wide open through f/11. It’s bitingly sharp if stopped down to f/4 and fully acceptable when shot wide open. Out-of-focus rendition is beautifully classic, and it has a tad of that “Leica glow” thanks to some of its aberrations, none of which goes overboard. If you are willing to live with a minimal focus distance of 1 meter, and if you can find one in good to excellent optical condition, you should buy one in a heartbeat. It’s simply a no-brainer, given that this lens is one of the most affordable 50 mm Summicron lenses on today’s market can be had for 1/10 of the price of the current 50 mm f/2 APO-Summicron.

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

The 90 mm f/2 Summicron II has long been regarded as a fantastic performer for portraiture and people photography. It was first released in the 1960’s, and it is one of the only Leica M lenses with a built in tripod mount. It’s a big beast of a lens, though it’s not terribly heavy. It has a telescoping hood, which is a nice feature. But it’s nicest feature is its AMAZING rendering. This lens has become my “go to” portrait lens on the Leica MM, supplanting the 75 mm an 90 mm APO-Summicron lenses. I find the focus fall off of the version II 90 ‘Cron to be beautiful and the lens does an amazing job with OOF rendition and preservation of highlights. It’s one of Walter Mandler’s designs, and it shoes. In many ways, I am reminded of the Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux when viewing images taken with this lens. However, it’s a much more economic offering than the 75 ‘lux, whose prices have entered the stratosphere in recent years. The 90 Summicron II wins 2 awards for me:

1. Best portrait lens on the Leica M Monochrom

2. Most underappreciated lens for Leica M (previous award had gone to the 135 Tele-Elmar)

If you are willing to put up with the 90 Summicron II’s size, which is its only drawback, you’ll be greatly rewarded, particularly if you use a Leica M Monochrom. It has that Leica Magic!!!

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

Finally, I wanted to put in a brief word on the Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5 lens on the MM. As you know, I think very highly of the diminutive Summarit, finding it to have the most pleasant bokeh of any of Leica’s lenses. In some ways, I’d call the 35 mm Summarit to be the “King of Smooth”…it’s very well controlled, renders sharply, and provides and image with moderate contrast and smooth tonal transitions.

 

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

In summary, at this time, I find that vintage lenses have a very appealing look on the MM’ sensor, and one can re-discover many old lenses using this camera. This does not, in any way, invalidate the use of modern glass on the MM. I simply feel that these lenses offer 2 different sets of solutions for the black and white shooter. The choice ultimately is upon the photographer to determine what better suits him or her.

 

QUANDRY # 2 – Greyscale

When first acquiring the Monochrom, I became enamored with the details and tonal magnitude of MM files. There is a wealth of detail in those greys, and I first attempted to capture and present those greys in a meaningful way. What resulted were files that had a lot of “grey”, which, on some monitors, projects out as flat or washed out. On my NEC High Gamut 27 inch display and on high quality archival prints, the images do have quite a bit of depth in those greys. Yet, there was a certain “pop” that may be missing in having images rendered with whiter whites and darker darks, so to speak, or at least a sharper fall off between darks and whites. In some cases, it actually is much easier to take an M9, convert the file to BW, and obtain a fantastic, more readily approachable image. Why then even bother with the MM?

Well, there are a few reasons, actually, for those who are willing to be patient and make adjustments in post processing. Buried in all of those greys is a wealth of information that allows MM files to be pushed and pulled in many different directions, without a dramatic loss in image fidelity. In other words, by processing carefully, one can adjust the look of their MM images so that they don’t look so…grey.

Leica MM with Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM (“Japanese Summilux”)

 

Leica MM with Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2 LTM

Once again, you may ask, “Why bother? My M9 does it well and does it easier…” I would suggest that for the dedicated BW shooter or the photographer interested in getting different looks for their BW imagery, the Leica MM is unparalleled in its ability to produce files capable of being manipulated to achieve many looks in BW without loss of image fidelity. I am a Lightroom user, and I find that using the “Black” and “White” sliders, coupled with the “Shadow” and “Highlight” sliders (available in LR4 and beyond), followed by a dose of contrast/clarity tweaks, allows me to achieve any number of looks. Add to that a bit of dodging and burning, and suddenly one begins to appreciate that files from the MM are very flexible, and the greyscale depth, if I may call it that, is profound. Thus, if you like the Tri-X look, it can be achieved. HP-5, Neopan 1600, TMax 3200? No problem…. How about slow film, like PanX or Agfa 25 film? Yes, the MM can do those “looks” well too ….The one limitation that I see to the MM is that it’s native ISO is 320, which is relatively fast compared to slow film stock. In order to use fast glass at base ISO on the MM, one must either stop down or buy an image degrading ND filter to do so.

I enjoy being permitted many options on how to make my BW files look. The MM allows this in plentitude. MM files are incredibly flexible, and I have found the challenge of processing MM files to be ongoing. I suspect that in the years to come, I’ll come back to my old files, with new eyes and new processing techniques, and see them again for the first time. Here’s an example 2 files taken from the same photo session, where in-camera settings were the same but processing was a bit different:

Early processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

More recent processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

Looking at both files, I wouldn’t necessarily say that either version is “correct” per say, or represents the events as I “saw” them. They are both different truths to the same story, and this, to me, is where the MM excels. It allows one to tell many different stories, and provides files that are more flexibile than the M9 to do this, in some regards, despite losing out on R/G/B channels and selective channel tweaking…

 

QUANDRY #3 – USING FILTERS

The use of filters on the Leica MM has been well documented and discussed. In summary, it appears that the MM’s sensor takes well to the use of color filters, and one familiar with the use of such filters on their film bodies will feel at home using these same filters on the Monochrom. I have found that for ease of look, it’s best to use a yellow or medium orange filter to increase contrast straight out of camera. This can save time in processing, particularly for those of you whom are not enamored by overly grey images. Additionally, for shooting people, green, yellow, and in some cases organe filters brighten up complexion enough to provide a more “natural look”.

For many of us, using filters can be cumbersome. One has to take heed when using them, making sure to match the filter to the intended look or shooting circumstance. At times, I bring my filters, and at times, I leave them home. In either case, I find that the MM provides acceptable results. As I have lenses of many differing filter threads, I decided that I can’t own R/G/Y/O filters in every thread, so I elected to snag filters for 39 mm and 46 mm thread size. One could alternatively get several step up rings and purchase 60-72 mm filter size, and use the same filters on a variety of glass. The problem with the latter option is that it’s a bit clunky to use a 60 mm filter on a e39 lens. Filters still cost a fair chunk of cash, but keeping your filter collection reasonable is probably the way to go. If I had to choose 1-2 filters, I’d probably chose a yellow and orange filter, since the other filters tend to be a bit more specialized to more extreme looks.

 

Leica MM and 50 mm Summilux II (pre-asph) E43 lens

 

QUANDRY # 4- Too much resolution!

With the MM’s files, I marveled at the resolution capable of being displayed by the MM’s sensor, partricularly when paired with modern glass. It was definitely new territory, in terms of the camera’s capacity to resolve small details extraordinarily well, and in some cases too well. This is commonly a criticism of Leica’s current aspherical lens lineup (if there could be such a thing as that), who some state may be too “clinical” or can render details with the harsh clarity of reality, making the system’s new lens a bit controversial for portraits (see all of the internet fodder regarding the 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, a brilliant lens for which the devil may be in the “details” (that it renders), so to speak.

I myself have never found modern Leica glass to be too clinical when using my M8 and M9. I have seen brilliant work from many MM shooters using modern glass, by my own journey, has lead me to use older glass with slightly lower resolving capacity. Using these older lenses seems to “tame” the MM’s sensor a bit, but the results remain fantastic, and the images taken with older glass maintains adequate to superior resolution, albeit with less bite than modern glass…which I think is a good thing.

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

 

QUANDRY #5- ISO capability compared to film stock

I am thoroughly impressed by the MM’s high ISO capacities. Unlike the Leica M9, which I found to be limited in its ISO capacity, there appears to be no such limitation with the MM. When shooting a properly exposed scene, the photographer can easily capture files that look remarkably clean and details at ISO’s upto 5000. To me, this has opened up opportunities to shoot the MM in many new settings, including darkened street scenes. The MM’s high ISO capabilities allow the facile use of slower (smaller) lenses on the MM in more settings, opening up even more creative possibilities. . While much talk has been given to how the MM’s high ISO (3200 and beyond) looks film-like, I tend to disagree. While the camera’s high ISO grain seems fine and tasteful and allows for preservation of details of the image (without any introduction of mushiness into the pixel-peeping equation), it does not take on the look of film grain, to my eyes. The grain, particularly at ISO’s of 3200 and beyond, is decidedly digital, but not objectionable. Occasionally, when adjusting contrast or exposure when shooting at high ISO, banding may be seen. All in all, I am far more comfortable shooting the MM at high ISO’s than I ever was with the Leica M9. I try to keep my ISO cut off at 3200 for this camera, though on occasion, ISO’s beyond this are called for. Further. I find that MM’s capacity to render clean files through ISO 1600 makes it amenable to “adding” film like grain in post processing.

 Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

Alright, I have rambled on enough. I am sure that you all have had your fill of Leica M Monochrom reportage. Suffice it to say that it’s a fascinating camera capable of outstanding results for those interested in using it. It’s definitely not a camera for everyone. It is a fantastic option for those who desire superior ISO performance and broad dynamic range within the greyscale realm.

All the best,

Ashwin

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

 

Oct 222012
 

My First Week Fuji X-E1 Review… with X and M-Lenses by Amy Medina

By Amy Medina 

I’ve been watching the mirrorless market evolve from its beginning. Small and light cameras have become a top priority for me in the last few years, and it was one of the original reasons I switched from a Canon 5D (the first one) to a Leica M8 back in 2007. I’m a woman who never carries a purse and who hates lugging around a camera bag, so if it doesn’t easily sling over my shoulder and fit in my pocket, it doesn’t come with me. I have always been a fan of what Olympus has been doing, but have also been watching Fuji closely.

The new Fuji XE1 is the closest thing to perfection to come along since the dawn of the eletronic-viewfinder, large sensor camera, at least when it comes to my needs. The image quality of the files is nothing short of amazing. They are sharp but natural — “film like” I’ve heard said by others. High ISO performance is clearly one of the best in the APS-C market, and it leaves me amazed at just how good it performs in low light. I’m not primarily a low-light shooter, but it’s certainly nice to be able to set the camera to AUTO-3200 — and even AUTO-6400 — and not in the slightest way be worried about too much noise. The color rendition of the files is beautiful, and the auto white balance seem to be bang-on. The hype you’ve heard about the JPG files? It’s true… with both the x100 and now the XE1, I don’t bother shooting RAW because the JPGs are just that good. And did I mention sharp? Wow, is the XE1 ever capable of producing some really sharp results, due in part to its lack of AA filter. But disclaimer: I’m not a technical person :)

A lot of questions about this camera revolve around the new electronic viewfinder (EVF) Fuji has put inside it. I’ve been shooting with EVF cameras for quite a while now and have become quite used to them. I will put it out there to all of you, if you’ve never shot with a camera that only has an EVF, you need to give yourself at least two weeks of steady use before you can even begin to make a decision whether you like it or not; one or two tries in the store isn’t enough. ALL viewfinder methods, from DSLR optical to rangefinder to EVF have their downsides, and to make a fair judgement you should give yourself enough time to get used to it before you decide either way. Some people legitimately don’t like EVF-only cameras and that’s fair enough, but don’t make that judgement based on borrowing a friend’s camera for a day or only trying it out at the photography counter in a store.

The EVF on the Fuji XE1 is probably one of the best I’ve used in color, contrast and clarity. It’s essentially the same one used in the NEX-7, though with lower refresh rates. Where this matters most is in darker settings. I haven’t noticed too many problems outside or in brightly lit environments. The only issue that arrises is in poorly lit spaces… this is where the slower refresh rate becomes more noticeable. In practice, with a fast lens like the 35mm f/1.4, I wouldn’t anticipate too many snags — however, manual focusing in a darkly lit environment, because of the slower EVF, might be more challenging. For me, if I’m going to shoot in that kind of dark environment, I might leave the M-lenses at home in favor of Fuji’s very good (and fast) primes.

Compared to the x100′s EVF, the color is better, resolution is clearly better, and the contrast is better. In the brightest sunshine it sometimes still requires a hand cupped over the top of the eye-piece to be able to see it best. I don’t know if EVFs are usually judged by dynamic range, but it seems like the XE1 does better seeing the difference from highs to lows. For example, when pointed at a window with bright sunshine outside, I can see the details in the shadows better than I can on the x100.

The size of the camera is nearly identical to the Fuji x100, and obviously smaller than the XPro1, but it feels solid and well-built. I went for the silver one, and the silver is a very slightly lighter color than on the x100. The little grip on the front and thumb “ridge” on the back make the camera feel great in the hand. On my x100 I have a thumbs-up, but I won’t need that on the XE1, which is good because it would probably cover the magnify wheel anyway (more on that later). Ergonomics of the camera are also similar to it’s fixed-lens cousin, with a few added buttons (like the Quick Menu button, which is well placed and a nice feature to access common settings). The AFS/AFC/MF switch is on the front of the camera, easy to access when needing to switch focusing methods. Shutter speed and exposure compensation are still in the same spots on top, along with the little Fn button for quick changing the ISO (the default setting). There is no wheel-pad on the back like with the x100, instead there are four directional buttons — and personally, I like it better; I always found the wheel-pad a little fiddly and the directional buttons feels more solid.

For manual focusing M-lenses, it’s quite easy. Put the camera in MF mode (switch on front). With camera up to your eye (or using the LCD), you can push in the mini-thumb wheel and it magnifies to 3x. Rotating the mini-thumb wheel to the right changes to 10x magnification (and back to the left for 3x again). I find the 3x much more useful for a few reasons. First, you’re seeing more of the scene, so it’s easier to get your baring on just what it is you’re focusing on. Second, in the 3x mode there is almost a “shimmer” that happens when the area you’re focusing on actually comes into focus. This is a hard thing to explain, but it’s almost as if the edges of the focused area appear over-sharpened… and it’s most noticeable in the 3x magnification mode. The 10x magnification mode is great for double-checking focus in more difficult situations, and it’s so simple to toggle between the two.

There is no focus-peaking feature. This would be a welcome addition to the camera for using manual focus lenses… However, I will say that so far, with the CV 21mm f/4, the 40mm f/1.4 Nokton and the 50mm f/1.5 Nokton, I’ve had no problems getting my shots in good focus. However, it’s important to note that the longer the lens and the wider the aperture, obviously, the harder it is.

I did not spring the extra money for the Fuji M-Adaptor… but went for the cheaper Fotodiox one. I’m not sure if it makes a huge difference as I’m not using many genuine Leica lenses, and the ones I am using are the “antiques” with lots of flaws and character. There is no button on the Fotodiox adaptor, so getting into the manual focus lens menu requires going into the camera’s menu system the traditional way (to change focal length). Also, the built-in correction options are grayed out (like distortion correction). It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but if it is for you, spend the extra money for the Fuji adaptor.

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So far I’ve tried out a few M-lenses…. so I’ll give my impressions along with photos:

The Voigtlander 21mm f/4 Skopar 

This one has been my favorite so far. I do wish it had a wider maximum aperture, but I can live with the f/4 for now. Focusing was a breeze, as expected with a wide f/4 lens. This lens has a great reputation on Leica cameras… sharp and contrasty, and quite small. It’s a great size-match for the Fuji XE1, and makes for a really nice street shooter, especially if you like to zone focus or set for hyperfocal shooting. The downside — and this is well-known on many mirrorless cameras using M-lenses, not just the Fuji — is that there can be “smearing” on the edges (due to the way the light enters the lens and hits the digital sensor at greater than 90 degrees — not something I completely understand). I knew this when I bought the lens, but can live with it for my style of shooting. If you want your photos tack-sharp edge-to-edge, look elsewhere. It’s important to note as well, from the research I’ve done, having the Fuji adaptor doesn’t makes a difference. It cannot correct for this smearing. It comes down to the specific M-lens… and some do better than others.

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

This is my favorite lens on my film rangefinder… and the focal length was quite nice on the XE1 (60mm equivalent). It’s small size was also a nice match for the Fuji body, and focusing was quite easy, even wide open. Because it’s slightly wider than the 50mm Nokton, it was slightly easier to manually focus. The 21 and 40 together make a nice kit for a day out shooting; The lenses are both small and their 31mm/60mm field-of-view equivalence is a great combination.

The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton

50mm on APS-C starts to get just a little long for my taste, but this lens didn’t disappoint either. It was harder to focus wide open than the 40mm Nokton, especially in very bright conditions because of the “glow” around edges that is characteristic of this lens. I did notice that bokeh was just a little harsher on the XE1 than the way it renders on my M8, which is usually buttery smooth — though in fairness, the day I was out testing the light was pretty harsh. Honestly, I’m probably not likely to use this one much on the XE1 unless I need the added focal length… the 40 was just a better match to the Fuji for me. Of course, the results were so nice, I might change my mind on that.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon

This one surprised me most, mainly because it’s my favorite lens on the Leica M8. I got some of that “smearing” at the edges, which I didn’t expect with a focal length of 35mm. And though it was easy enough to focus, I didn’t find the results as sharp as they should be. This lens is super-tack sharp on my M8, and performed very well on my Olympus EP2 and EPM1 the times I used it there, so I was a little disappointed it didn’t pair up as nicely with my new XE1. However, Fuji’s own 35mm f/1.4 lens is just so good, I think I’ll survive without the Biogon on this camera. In defense of the Zeiss, I was pretty short on time the day I tested it and the light has been pretty harsh all week, so take my opinion on this one with a grain of salt.

Leica 50mm f/2 Summitar

This was the last one I tested out paired up with the Fuji… and keep in mind, I expect warts and wackiness with this lens! You don’t buy a 1953 inexpensive Summitar without expecting unique bokeh and unusual flare and flaws. It was a fun one to use, and retains its wonderful character across to the Fuji camera — but admittedly for me it has a specific purpose and doesn’t get used all that often. However, its performance surprised me on the XE1 (better than I expected), so it may get more use than I originally thought!

For the Fuji Lenses

I have the 18mm f/2 and the 35mm f/1.4… and the latter will likely stay on the camera a great majority of the time.

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Fuji’s 35mm f/1.4

I love the 40-50mm field-of-view in general and this lens performs so well that there’s honestly no reason to look elsewhere for a 35mm lens. Fuji has done a great job with it, and the reviews you hear from others on just how good it is are true. It’s light but well-built, renders smooth out-of-focus areas and produces sharp, contrasty results. My only complaint is that I wish it was just a little smaller, but it’s undoubtedly not all that large either; its light weight more than makes up for it’s slightly larger than maybe-unexpected girth. It renders in a way that reminds me of the M8 + 50mm f/1.5 Notkon, which is a good thing since it’s one of my favorite combos to shoot with.

And the 18mm f/2

The 18mm on the other hand, it one I wasn’t sure about when I got it. I’m not always a fan of the 28mm field-of-view as it’s just a tad wide for me. Of course, it’s very appealing because it’s got a pancake style design: very small and very light; and the f/2 maximum aperture is welcomed, if not a little surprising for something this wide. I decided to give it a chance because I enjoy the 14mm f/2.5 on the Olympus EPM1 (28mm equivalent)… and it didn’t at all disappoint.

One of the problems with the 18mm Fuji lens is that the 35mm one is just so good, so expectations are high going into its little brother. Honestly, I certainly find it easily sharp enough, and its small size and quick performance are reasons alone to give it a chance. From what I’ve read about it, you’d sometimes think this lens is a bad egg, but that’s far from the case. Though there is some distortion present, it’s quite a capable little lens, and certainly sharp enough for me.

Other thoughts…

The XE1 feels mature. I think Fuji has learned a lot over the last year from the release of the x100 and XPro1, and they’ve done a good job listening to feedback from the photographers out there using their cameras. Overall operational speed on the XE1 is good; not blazing fast like a high-end DSLR, but certainly fast enough for many of us. It’s less fiddly than the x100 (keeping in mind I’ve enjoyed the x100 immensily!), and from what I hear from XPro1 owners, autofocus speed is drastically improved with the latest firmware, which is already on the XE1 and available since September on the XPro1. I was a late adopter of the x100, with the latest firmware, and never understood what all the fuss what about with focus speed… but that’s likely because I bought it late, after Fuji had already made big improvements.

Autofocus is certainly fast enough (at least for me), though on some occasions with the 35mm lens, it had a little trouble locking on exactly what you want it to. I’d say it’s comparable in speed to the latest round of Olympus cameras when paired with the 20mm f/1.7 lens (which admittedly isn’t their quickest lens) — or at least it seems pretty close. to that, maybe just slightly faster. The biggest problem in judging autofocus speed is that some of it ends up feeling quite subjective… what is fast enough for me, is probably not fast enough for someone else. As an M-shooter, as someone who has been pleased with all the olympus cameras (back to the EP1) and as someone who never shoots sports or wildlife, in day-to-day use, the Fuji is certainly focusing quick enough.

A lot of photographers want to know whether to buy the XPro1 or the XE1 — and that’s a question I struggled with myself, especially since there are some great deals out there for the XPro1 right now. Both cameras have the same autofocus speed (when the XP1 has the latest firmware), and both have the same image quality (same exact sensor). So the differences come down to just a few things:

The Fuji XE1 is smaller and lighter. It has built-in popup flash you can even bounce. It has an EVF only, but the EVF is better quality.

The Fuji XPro1 is slightly bigger and heavier. It doesn’t have a built-in flash. It has the hybrid viewfinder for optical or electronic views, but the EVF is lower quality.

Since I like small, and since I plan to use the camera with M-lenses, I decided the XE1 was the way to go. I want all the help I can get with manually focusing, so the better EVF seemed the right decision for me. Also, having had the x100 with hybrid viewfinder, I find I never use the optical view, so giving that up was easy. I know others who swear by the optical view of the hybrid finder, so for them (or you) it might be harder to give it up. That comes down to a personal choice.

More 35mm f/1.4 Photos

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I expected to like the x100 when I first bought it, but I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. It was the first camera I’ve bought in a really long time that I felt I enjoyed as much as the M8, and that’s saying a lot. I bought the M8 in 2007 and still use it to this day… I will never sell it. The x100 was my introduction into the Fuji world and it helped me seal the decision on buying the XE1, and in this first week of use I can already tell that my M8 will be staying home even more. Don’t get me wrong… I will love my Leica until the day it ceases to function, but now that it’s five years old, I fear I’m closer to that reality and need a camera that I can “jell” with just as well… it feels like the XE1 can be that camera… to the point where I may have this one five years from now (but don’t hold me to it)!
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I’ve already gone on way longer than I expected, but I’ll end by saying that I’m happy Fuji dared to put these cameras out. They have given us something interesting: cameras aimed at photographers who want a great mix of modern technology and tactile, ergonomically well-designed, but small bodies; And these are cameras capable of stunning image quality. I also appreciate that Fuji seems to be a company trying to listen to what it’s customers want, and they will be a fun company to follow over the next few years; they already have been this last year. With the x100 and XE1, they definitely have me on their side.
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Oct 282011
 

The Sony NEX-7 with wide angle Leica lenses – A quick test and GXR comparison!

 

UPDATED WITH A SONY NEX-5n vs NEX-7 COMPARISON for COLOR SHIFT

It’s FRIDAY and I am in the best mood ever today. Why? Well, It’s gonna be a killer Halloween weekend. I love Halloween, and this year I am going to a couple of parties and am planning on bringing my camera along with me. Which one? Probably the E-P3 and Panasonic 20 1.7 due  to it’s fast AF. I will not be bringing the NEX-7 because A: It is not mine and B: I have to send it back on Monday to Sony. I have enjoyed my time with the camera and shot with it daily for the last 3 weeks or so and it seems my last ISO comparison between the 7 and 5n stirred up some controversy (and traffic..and some commenters that wouldn’t stop)! Bottom line is that I shot each camera in that test how they were meant to be shot. I was showing what you can expect from each camera when using it and letting the camera choose the exposure. It is what you will get in real life, not scientific testing. Besides, the NEX-7 was NOT underexposed. But anyway….enough of that. The bottom line is that the 5n is a little better at high ISO than the 7, but we all knew this already didn’t we? Besides, who here shoots at 3200 and up on a regular or non regular basis? Not many. I am sure other sites will be doing all of the scientific testing soon so for those who crave that…patience!

LensRentals.com Sponsored this test!

Thanks to LenRentals.com I was able to do some quick tests on the NEX-7 with some wide angle Leica lenses!  - Visit LENRENTALS.COM  as they rent more than just Leica. They rent Sony, Olympus, Leica, Canon and Nikon – bodies, lenses and accessories! 

So seeing that I wear able to get a hold of some lenses for a couple of days today I wanted to post some QUICK shots I snapped with the NEX-7 and these wide angles. I only had these lenses for three days so did not get to shoot much with them at all. I have been extremely busy with this site, e-mail, and personal things as well so I was just able to get out yesterday to shoot and I also brought along the Ricoh GXR M mount module (which I also have to return on Monday to Ricoh..contrary to popular belief, I do not get to keep anything).

But again let me thank LenRentals.com as they were kind enough to send me these lenses at no charge so I could do this test and add to my NEX-7 review. Without their help I could not have done this. So thank you LENSRENTALS!

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Onto the Images!

So the images you see below are all quick and dirty test shots out of the camera. They are not meant to be good photos, just test shots that should give you an idea on how these lenses can perform on the NEX-7. Let’s face it. There is no way I can shoot winning photos 7 days a week in Phx AZ :)

One thing to notice in some of the images below and that is that the Leica 21 Elmarit and the Voigtlander 15mm have the bad magenta color shifts on the NEX-7 with the magenta edges/corners. The GXR does NOT do this so this shows how Ricoh got it right when designing their dedicated module, as they should have. It is a dedicated one trick pony module designed to do one thing and one thing right, and they succeeded. The 15 may not be perfect on the GXR but it is miles better than it is on the NEX-7. UPDATE! Just tested the 15mm on the NEX-5n and it is perfect! No color shift. This is disappointing to me and now I am am going to have to slightly alter my “conclusion” in my NEX-7 review. You can see the samples below…

The NEX-7 was obviously NOT designed for Leica glass. You can see that using lenses 24 and wider can get you some nasty color shifts, just like the M9 used to do (and still does with the Voigtlander). But the GXR and 5n are clean. Why the 5n works well and not the 7 is beyond me.

One other thing I noticed is that the Sony can put out a very sharp image when using 35mm and longer Leica lenses. The GXR is a tad sharper though. The 35 Lux performed wonderfully on the NEX even with the CHEAP adapter I used today that was a bit loose and wobbly. I accidentally left my good one on the 5n at home but it still worked out even though I had a few out of focus shots from the NEX, and IMO, this is due  to the wobbly adapter.

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OK, NOW the images!

CLICK EACH IMAGE FOR LARGER 1800 PIXEL WIDE VERSION

The NEX-7 and 35 Summilux ASPH at 1.4 – This one was from RAW (Capture One)

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Again, the 35 Summilux wide open at 1.4 – focus peaking made this easy along with the tilting LCD (From RAW)

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The 21 Elmarit at 2.8 (From RAW)

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The 24 Summilux on the NEX-7  (JPEG)

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Next three shots…35 Lux once again at 1.4 – (JPEG) – Notice the 3D effect in the Life Cereal shot – The word Cinnamon sort of jumps out when you view the full size image. 

Some quick comparisons with the Ricoh GXR

These were all converted from RAW. The GXR has a totally different color signature than the NEX.

This 1st shot was with the Leica 35 Summilux at f/4 – click image to see 100% crop – SHARP!!! (from RAW)

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Here is the same scene but shot with the Ricoh GXR and 21 Elmarit at f/4 (from RAW)

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Sony NEX-7 with the 21 Elmarit at f/5.6

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GXR with 21 Elmarit at f/5.6 (again, from RAW and letting each camera choose the exposure to see how each camera will expose the same scene)

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Here is a shot from inside a restaurant/bar with the NEX-7 and 24 Summilux at 1.4 (click image for larger)

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Now the GXR, same lens, same aperture – totally different color signature (click image for larger)

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Magenta Color shifts – The NEX-7 has them – GXR does not! NEX-5n DOES NOT!

1st shot – NEX-7 with the Voigtlander 15 at 5.6. Out of camera JPEG. This is the color that came out of the camera. Not good. 

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Now the same lens, same aperture, same OOC JPEG but from the Ricoh GXR

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and the NEX-7 with the 21 Elmarit, same scene – still there but not as bad – more evident due to the light sky

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and the NEX-7 with the 24 Summilux – still some magenta color shift in the corners

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AND ONE MORE COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 5n and 7

First the 5n with the Voigtlander 15 at f/8

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and now the 7…disappointing .

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Who Wins?

So there you go. Some quick shots to show how these wider angle lenses work on the NEX-7. You do get the magenta color shift with the 15, 21 and even slightly with the 24. The GXR does much better here and did not show any shifting with the 21 or 24. The 5n also does wonderfully with no color shift. Hmmmm.

As for shooting these bodies, I did in fact enjoy using the Sony NEX-7 more as I stated before due to its EVF, superb peaking, and body feel/grip, which is just about perfect for my hand. The GXR, in use, was a little awkward in comparison but if you never see the Sony EVF or Peaking I can see someone being thrilled with the GXR in use. But all of the control and ease of use in the world means JACK if the IQ doesn’t stack up. If you are looking for a back up to your M and have been considering the GXR or NEX-7 AND have wider Leica glass, then the GXR would be your best bet. It does indeed work best with Leica lenses in regards to color shifting, and color in general. At the same time, if you just want to shoot an occasional 35 or 50 Leica lens and want to take advantage of everything the NEX-7 has to offer, then the 7 could be your solution. Overall, it is a powerhouse.

Then again, there is the Sony NEX-5n which just may be the one to go for as it has great high ISO performance (best of the three) and has no color shifting issues. Decisions decisions…

If the NEX-7 had the microlenses like the 5n obviously does, then I would call it a slam sunk between the three cameras. One of the reasons I wanted an NEX-7 was to shoot Leica lenses and now it appears the NEX-5n and GXR do a better job in this area. Arg! You can pre-order the GXR M mount A12 Module HERE, or the NEX-5n HERE.

Anyway, here are a few shots with some Post Processing just for fun, something I did not do to the images in my NEX-7 review, which I just updated. PP can add some excitement to any image and the Sony files seem to very robust, especially since all of the images below were taken from the OOC JPEG and then enhanced.

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Thanks for reading, coming soon my Ricoh GRD IV review and my Nikon V1 review. Coming down the road, a review of the Panasonic/Leica 25 1.4 Summilux for Micro 4/3 and yes, the Fuji X10. 

Steve

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