Oct 082014
 

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The Lomography Petzval Art Lens Review

You can buy the Petzval Art Lens at Cameraquest using the direct link HERE

A long time ago in a land far far away there was a special and important portrait lens invented. The 1st usable portrait lens ever created, and it was designed by  Joseph Petzval in 1840. It was made of brass and it was very large, intended for cameras of the time. The unique look of the images from this lens was normal at the time, as it was the only useful portrait lens around. Even so it was a lens designed to cut down on exposure time from 30 minutes to mere seconds.

More on Joseph Petzval from Wikipedia:

Joseph_Petzval

“Petzval’s greatest achievements lie in his work with geometric optics. In 1839, Louis Daguerre presented the Daguerreotype, the first commercially successful photographic process. Fox Talbot’s calotype was discovered earlier but did not enjoy commercial success. Petzval learned of the invention from his friend, Viennese professor Andreas von Ettingshausen. The daguerreotype was problematic in that it required exposure times as long as 30 minutes to create a portrait. With Ettingshausen’s urging, Petzval set up a workshop and laboratory at Kahlenberg in Vienna and, after six months of complex computations, produced designs for improved objective lenses for both portraiture and landscape photography. Because the artillery was one of the few occupations that used advanced mathematical computations at the time, Archduke Ludwig lent eight artillery cannoners and three corporals to the computational efforts. The calculations these men carried out in tandem with each other have been regarded as an early (albeit human) example of a parallel computer.

Petzval’s portrait objective lens (Petzval Porträtobjektiv) was an almost distortionless Anachromatischer vierlinser (double achromatic objective lens, with four lenses in three groups). The luminous intensity of this flat “portrait lens” was substantially higher than the daguerre standard of 1839, the Wollaston Chevalier lens (f/16). The screen f/3.6 with a focal length of 160 mm made crucially shorter exposure times possible — using exposures of only about 15 to 30 seconds compared to the 10 minutes previously. Thus, snapshots became possible for the first time.”

So Mr. Petzval is an important guy in history as he was responsible for creating the first usable portrait lens. Photos from that time all have a unique classic yet surreal look due to the photo process AND the lens being used.

Enter Today’s Re-Creation of the famous Petzval Lens

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As time went on of course lens design became more of an advanced art and therefore lenses became sharper, well corrected, and with more sharpness across the frame. Today most lenses are perfected for optimum performance as we can do things today that could not be done in 1840.

Personally, I would say that many of the expensive lenses made today are almost too corrected! Sure, there are many more uses for a perfect lens than a not so perfect one but sometimes I get bored with that “perfect” look as it is the same look everyone has in their images today. Many of us are constantly seeking perfection it seems when it comes to our cameras and lenses, so I say it is a good thing when we take a slight curve or u-turn into a surreal dreamy world ever now and again :)

When something unique comes along TODAY that goes against the normal then I am always interested to take a look, so this new Petzval lens made by Lomo attracted my attention from the get go. Over a year ago now in August of 2013 Lomography put up a kickstarter for an exciting new portrait lens. This lens was the NEW Petzval, recreated in a smaller for full frame Nikon and Canon mounts. While much smaller than the Petzval of the old days, this one retained the same shape, design and brass construction. It also kept the insane swirly bokeh, soft edges and classic out of this world fantasy land look. The new Petzval inspired lens was announced as an 85mm f/2.2 design and promised a classic look just like the old version put out.

As you can see, an original Petzval lens is on the left..the new version (which was a prototype) is on the right. Much more manageable in size :)

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As soon as I saw the Kickstarter I WANTED THIS LENS but for some reason my funds were low so I was going to wait to contribute enough to get one of the first lenses. Then, I forgot about it and before I knew it the Kickstarter raised 1.4 Million (they had a $100,000 goal). It was insane! Almost one and a half million was raised which really showed not only the power of Kickstarter but also showed there was a true demand for this amazing new recreation/re-imagining of the first classic portrait lens. So while the signature of the bokeh and rendering is not for everyone, plenty of backers contributed and gave money for this project so they would be assured of a lens for themselves.

 Even though this is an f/2.2 lens and not an f/0.95 design, the Bokeh effect is insane. Some will HATE it, some will LOVE it. Me, I adore it and feel it is a great “every now and then when the time is right” kind of lens. To be honest, the lens is so beautiful to see and hold, I wanted one just to have it on my shelf! Even if I use it only a few times each year it will be worth it just to have this tool in my arsenal. I shoot it on my Sony A7s which is IMO, the best camera available today for using all kinds of cool lens via adapters. Can’t beat a small full frame with intense low light capabilities.

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So yes, I wanted to try one…

A year or so went by and I forgot about the lens until a site sponsor, Cameraquest.com informed me that they were now a Lomo Art Lens dealer and they had the lens IN STOCK! $599 with free shipping.

I was asked if I wanted to review it so of course I could not pass it up. Soon, Stephen Gandy shipped me the lens and when it arrived I was literally blown away by the gorgeous packaging that went into the lens. A gorgeous quality box, a full book about the lens and the history of it with many sample photos, the aperture system and a few other things. For $599, to me, this seemed like a steal. When I pulled the shiny brass lens out of the bag it was in I was very impressed. The look, design, weight and quality was so nice down to the engraving of the name on the lens barrel.

The lens is made in Russia, and it looks and feels TOP NOTCH. The only issue I have found is that the lens cap, which is also brass, always falls off. It is not tight enough so I always find it at the bottom of my bag. Lomo may want to adjust this in future production runs.

Below is the video I made when the lens arrived. You can see the packaging and hear my very 1st thoughts on it:

Love at 1st Sight

After I had the lens for 3-4 days I knew I wanted to commit and buy it. I contacted Stephen at Cameraquest and told him I was going to make the purchase. I also needed the adapter as I was using a Nikon mount version on a Sony A7s, so I needed a Nikon to Sony E-Mount adapter, which Stephen also sells and sent out to me for my testing and eventual purchase as well.

A lens I recently re-reviewed here on these pages was the Canon Dream lens. A lens I had bought not once, but twice in Leica M mount and when I bought my 2nd copy for $3100 I vowed to NEVER sell it… until I received an offer impossible to pass up for it via email. Then I did indeed sell it as I knew I would be a fool to pass up that offer. Even though I sold that lens for much more than I paid, I missed it as soon as it went out the door and started searching for something unique again..something that could give me a similar vibe..and when the Petzval arrived, THERE IT WAS! Just what I was looking for.

With this Petzval lens coming in at only $599 I can get a taste of that Canon dream lens..a bit of that flavor for MUCH MUCH less. While this lens is not the same as the Dream Lens I owned (IMO) I do feel it is a bit similar in rendering with a different signature at the edges and slightly in the Bokeh. I like the dream lens better but for the money, now that my 2nd dream lens was gone, buying the Petzval for my special effect lens was a no brainer.

Color or B&W..does not matter. What you will get is the same Petzval rendering and look. 

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Using the Petzval Lens…

As stated, my Petzval was purchased in Nikon mount which makes it easy to convert for use on the Sony A7s or Leica M 240. The lens is slightly long and manual focus only. The Aperture system is the old waterhouse system meaning there are aperture plates you put into the cameras aperture slit. Me, I use this lens at f/2.2 or f/2.8. By f/4 it sharpens up so much it almost renders like a normal lens, making the Petzval a Jeckyl and Hyde kind of lens. I feel the unique selling point of the lens is the swirly Bokeh effect and soft edges. So I basically always leave the f/2.2 aperture plate in. If you remove the plate you get a TEENY bit more speed according to Lomography and possible flare issues but when I tested this I saw no real difference in Bokeh or Exposure or flare. For those hoping to see more craziness without a plate, there really is none. Many would ask “Why use any plate at all”? Well, without an aperture plate inserted you are allowing dust to float down into the lens, and this is never a good thing :)

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The way you focus the lens is also unique. There is a dial on the left of the lens and this is what you rotate to focus. It is VERY simple and works well. In fact, I wish more lenses worked like this! It seems much more precise. It was so easy to focus on the Sony A7s with the nice big clear EVF that I never had a focus issue. It’s brilliant!

More in COLOR – All wide open at f/2.2

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On the Sony A7s I just plopped on the Nikon to E Mount adapter and then the lens. That was it, ready to rock and swirly roll. Using the lens was a piece of cake. I feel an EVF based mirrorless makes it easier to use this lens because with a Nikon DSLR you are looking through an optical viewfinder and it makes it very very hard to nail focus using the Petzval. I prefer the what you see is what you get type of thing.

It’s NOT an Everyday Lens!

If you are looking for ONE lens and one lens only, this would not be it. While fun, interesting and unique, the look can be overdone so I would reserve it for certain situations or scenarios. I have seen GORGEOUS portraits with this lens and I have seen AWFUL portraits and mis-use of this lens. Using it takes some practice as not everything will look good with it. Some subjects may look really awful using this lens and it probably takes a month or two to really get to know it inside and out. Me, I have been shooting with it for only two weeks so I still have some learning to do before I create my own Petzval “Masterpiece”.

I bought the lens for those few times a year I get the itch for an “artistic” lens. Lenses like the Noctilux, the Canon Dream Lens, Canon 85L and this lens are what I call “Art Lenses” because they create images that can sometimes appear as paintings. They specialize in the surreal and I LOVE these kind of lenses.

Take a look at a few more samples using this very crazy lens – click them for larger versions that look better, especially if you are using a large display (I use a 27″)

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What to expect from the Petzval

If you buy this lens one thing to keep in mind is that when shot wide open you will get images just like you see here. Swirly Bokeh, soft edges and corners, sharp in the dead center of the frame and lower contrast (which is easily fixing in post). All of these ingredients add up to create the signature look of this lens. I can already make a prediction: Many comments here will say “The Bokeh makes me dizzy or sick”, “Those shots are awful”, “I could never use this lens”…then others will say “Wow, that is a cool lens” or “I own one and love it” or “I want one”!

People are usually split on these kinds of swirly lenses. This is one thing that makes the world so great and interesting, no two individuals are alike :) 

Many classic lenses render in a similar way though not so extreme. When shooting this lens remember it is manual focus, manual aperture and will work perfect with the camera set to aperture priority mode. Focusing via a nice EVF is, for me, a breeze. Also, this lens was made for full frame sensors and to get the most out of it this is how I would recommend using it. When taking a full frame lens and using an APS-C or smaller sensor you lose part of the lens signature which is why I never use Leica M glass in Micro 4/3. This lens would be fantastic on the A7s (all images here with the Sony) or even the Leica M 240. All you need is the adapter for each and you are in business. Of course, you can also use it on any Nikon DSLR or if you buy the Canon mount, any Canon DLSR.

This lens is indeed an “Art” lens and I would love to see a 35 or 50mm made just like it as sometimes I find this focal length of 85mm a little long. Lomo should create wider versions with the same design..a trio if you will.

Man I just love the swirl in this shot. Surreal, dreamy, with just the right amount of softness for the portrait. I shot this to show the background rendering of foliage as well as the swirl.

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When shooting this lens expect the Bokeh performance of a faster lens. For some reason it blows out the background like an f/1 lens. It’s crazy but for me, it is beautiful (on most occasions).

My Bottom Line Conclusion on the Petzval Lens

When this lens was announced I WANTED ONE in a bad way. Then I was busy and forgot about it. When it was finally released and I saw samples, the early samples, I was not so impressed. As time went on I studied some of the amazing samples available online and knew I would eventually own one. When Stephen Gandy offered the lens up for review I could not pass it up. I would be able to test it and if I liked it, I could purchase it. Once I saw the attention to detail in the packaging and design as well as the build of the lens and accessories, I was hooked. After shooting off 10 frames or so I was sold.

The lens is not an everyday lens but it is one that will be used from time to time when I want that special dreamy effect. Much like the Canon Dream Lens I recently re-visited, this lens has some craziness to the rendering, but I am a crazy guy so I love it. But…I would tire of it if I used it daily, really quick.

Depending on the background of your subject you could end up with a nasty busy mess or a beautiful ethereal image that looks like a painting. It takes reality and distorts it a little, giving us a taste of what it is like to be an artist. Those photographers with the eye and vision for the unique will get it. Others will not. 100% personal preference. But it does take practice to determine the best distance from subject to lens and subject to background. Get these just right and the images deliver the look you want. It’s a hell of a lens! While shooting it in Las Vegas I had so many ask me about the lens. When eating a waitress saw it and had to ask all about it telling me she wanted one for her son. It will get attention, but it was all good attention. People were genuinely curious about it due to the design and looks.

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I am happy I decided to make the purchase as it can be used on my Sony A7s or on a Leica M-P. It also sharpens up more at f/2.8 and by f/4 will give you pretty nice consistent results without the swirl. Using the old-fashioned aperture system is quite nice actually. I haven’t lost one yet and I love the process of pulling one out and using the next, though I admit, I feel this lens is made for wide open use so I RARELY change it.

If this type of image rendering suits you, I highly recommend this lens. I feel in 10 years it will be desirable and one day even collectible if they stop production of it. Look at the Canon Dream lens. A few years ago you could buy one for $900, now expect to pay $4500-$5000 and up for a clean M mount version. (what I sold my last one for).

At $599, it is priced more than right IMO. You get a great experience from opening of the box, to holding the lens, to using it. There is only ONE complaint from me and that is the lens cap. It always falls off, so I usually leave mine off unless it is sitting on the shelf. Other than that it is just what I expected and I am really surprised that this lens was not priced a little higher due to the superb packaging, build quality, brass design and novelty of it.

Thanks Lomography!

You can buy this lens from Stephen Gandy at the link HERE. He ships FAST and is a great guy to deal with.

You can buy the Nikon to E-Mount adapter from him as well, using the direct link HERE.

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Oct 022014
 

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The Leica M: A Working Review

by Sam Stroud – His website can be seen HERE

A few weeks ago I picked up Leica’s M typ 240. In my own research, while looking to buy one, I couldn’t find a lot of reviews from the wedding industry on those who were using it. I wanted to post a little bit of my thoughts about it now that I have had a few weddings under my belt with it.

First let me say, what this wont be. I am not going to talk about the technical details much. As odd as this sounds, I don’t quite care about that. I am not a pixel counter. I knew well in advanced that the quality of the image was going to be fantastic. No surprises there. For me shooting with this camera had to be about a few things;

1. It couldn’t inhibit the process of creating
2. It absolutely had to push me beyond the place I was currently in. I didn’t want to spend money on something that would allow me to just keep doing what I am doing. What’s the point in that?

Those two seem kind of vague I know. But it was important to me that I could get the image I set out to create, and that at the same time I wouldn’t be tied to creating the same kind of work I have been.

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The Basics

The M typ 240 is a 24MP Full Frame, Manual focusing camera with a CMOS sensor. It comes in Black and silver. (I chose black) It also has an optical view finder that is easily used to frame and compose your subjects. There are a lot of other really neat technical details that I honestly couldn’t care any less about. Oooh wait… it has a movie mode.

There aren’t a lot of features to brag about. I think it is purely a digital rangefinder. No frills. It wont shoot 100 frames per second and it wont HDR an image for you. Looking through the viewfinder is about one thing and one thing only. Composing, framing and taking the shot. There IS a red dot above the lens mount that reads “Leica”. So there is that.

Using It For Work

Focusing

I don’t think there is any question you could buy this camera and without feeling any pressure to get anything right, could go and shoot some street photography and be really pleased. But for me, in my work, there is a certain level of pressure not to miss anything. With that pressure, for me, comes the absolute need to know my camera. To know how everything works together. And to be honest I struggled with it at first. And that has nothing to do with any kind of limitation of the M. It has everything to do with my current system and setup. I could legitimately close my eyes and in a matter of seconds set my MK3 to be ready to shoot in any situation and get the image I want right away.

That isn’t a bad thing at all. But when you introduce an entirely different system it becomes a problem. So at first I kept it simple. The first wedding I stuck with using it exclusively for the getting ready shots and portraits. Focusing was tough. What can I say? The MK3’s auto focusing system is incredibly fast. I don’t know how it compares to a Nikon and I don’t care. For me, the MK3 AF system works and acquires focus so quickly!

So to move to a completely manual system was again, intimidating. And slow. You want to be precise, and you don’t want to miss. At first, yes I was slow with it. And for me photographing natural expression, including during the bride and groom’s portrait sessions, is paramount. It’s tough to try to be precise without making it, seemingly, awkward. But I knew the more I did it. The faster I would get.
Once you’re used to it there isn’t an issue. Focusing is as easy and as fast as moving the focusing ring clock or counter clock wise. There is a box in the center of the view finder. Find your subject, and align the boxes. That’s it.

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Low Light

Again the MK3 is king. Throw the 50mm 1.2 on and you are ready for any situation. I was really excited to see totally usable images up to 6400. I had read online, some people saying files were only really usable up to 3200. I found that not to be true at all. The beauty of this is that I knew I could totally use the M in darker spaces like during the reception. More specifically during the first dances where really beautiful images can be created.

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Battery Life

I will keep this short… I shot two weddings this past weekend on one charge. The battery is big. The charger is kind of awkward. But it did come with a car charger. So that’s cool. I am not sure I will use it. But regardless, the fact that the battery lasted two weddings is a huge positive.

The Experience

Handling the camera feels amazing. From the moment I picked it up I was impressed. It feels good. I don’t know how to properly describe that. It just feels like a camera should feel. The dials are tight, the size just right, and the sound of the shutter click is quietly sweet. The menus and buttons are minimal to say the least. You can quickly and easily move around once you are familiar with where everything is located. It is a sturdy build and is surprisingly heavy.

Here is where I really care about this camera. Using this camera has been a completely different experience for me. I started out using the Canon 5D, and have been using Canon exclusively. So with that in mind, from the moment I picked up the Leica I was both intimidated and confused. And I am not new to the rangefinder. But first using the M I could tell I was going to have to undo a lot of terrible habits I have picked up over the past 4 years.

The look and feel instantly creates a different atmosphere for creating your work. It also requires from you a level of patience and “slowing down” that I haven’t experienced in quite some time. I think the initial inclination is to fear what you may miss. But when you think about it, if you are comfortable with your gear, and you are required to slow down and pay more attention to whats happening, you will be infinitely more connected to your subject. And if you are connected to your subject you will create better work.

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Conclusion

I have now been asked on so many occasions (so many times that now every time I hear it I want to smash my face with a mallet) one of two things;

1. “Is it worth spending $7500 to shoot with something that is on par with other cheaper systems like the MK3 or D800″

2. “Can you really tell a difference? You can’t really tell a difference.”

Honestly, I cant answer that for you. All I can tell you is that for me it absolutely is worth every single penny. For now at least. And if you are asking for my recommendation, I would tell you unequivocally, yes buy it! And for so many reasons. But mainly because of the experience. There is an experience that exists between me and my subject that is realized when shooting with this camera. And I would of paid double to have it because of that reason alone. Yes, the images are beautiful. Yes the technology behind it is fantastic. And yes there are very very few companies who make a better lens. All of that absolutely matters. But more than anything and above all of that, it is about the simple and beautiful process of creating and nothing else.

Sam Stroud

Sep 232014
 

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Jupiter 8: A cheap and lovely character lens for your Leica M or Sony A7 camera

The best $30 I have ever spent? This old, beat up, tiny 50mm f/2 Jupiter 8 Russian lens. Yes, I bought this lens on the cheap locally here in Phx AZ along with a Jupiter 9, which is an 85mm f/2 for $70 or so (though the 9 is a tad off with focusing on my M). I never owned a Jupiter though they have been around forever and what has kept me away from them is the fact that many say they are not very good lenses, will not focus correctly or are just plain cheap in construction. Well, taking all of that in to consideration I decided that $30 would be a no brainer way to test out the Jupiter 8 and I am glad I did as this is truly a “no guilt and no buyers remorse” lens. For $30, it could easily be resold if I did not like it, but again, at this kind of money, this lens will always be in my kit for when I want the character of this lens. I am a huge fan of classic Rangefinder lenses and many of them are better to me than modern-day pricey lenses.

Shot wide open at f/2 on the Sony A7s with the only purpose being to show the Bokeh. This was shot up at some trees and defocused

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I have always seen these lenses for sale on E-Bay for pretty cheap prices but samples online that show the softness, low contrast and strange rendering put me off on the Jupiter 8. While I am looking around for a decent Jupiter 3 now, the 8 has actually surprised me with just how sharp it can be, even at f/2. In addition, it has that classic Zeiss Sonnar rendering that I recognize. I will say though that an article on this very website is what really had me really wanting to give these lenses a shot. You can see that article HERE.

At f/2 focusing correctly on the Leica Monochrom. Yes, this lens focuses great on my MM. Click the image to see just how sharp it is, you may be amazed that a cheap lens such as this one can do this!

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…and it works just as well on the A7s, even for B&W :)

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Dreamy, Creamy and Classic

Basically what this lens will deliver is nothing like what a Leica Summicron or Summilux will bring you. I have talked any times about lenses being like the artist’s brush. Choosing a specific lens will help you create the vision you are looking for whether that is in the form of a Leica Noctilux, Canon Dream Lens, or a Zeiss 50 Planar. This Jupiter 8 reminds me most of the Zeiss 50 Sonnar but for 1/30th the price! While not as nice as the Zeiss in build, feel, or IQ, it has something unique about it that I can enjoy from time  to time. IN color on the Sony A7s it is gorgeous (for me) even though the Bokeh is a teeny bit nervous at times. Other times it is silky smooth.

These three test shots were taken to show the rendering and bokeh and color. All on the fantastic A7s. Click them for larger and better viewing experience! 

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Portraits

Some people use this lens for portraits due to its softer look when wide open (when compared to critically sharp lenses like a 50 Summicron or APO or 90 APO) and I tested it and found it to be lovely. The lens does feel cheap in construction but it has lasted this long so I assume to will last me many more years to come. At this price, the Jupiter 8 is a bargain of massive proportions. A fun lens to have around and mess with when you want a classic creamy look.

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So for anyone who wants to try out a new lens but you do not want to put a dent in your wallet, give a Jupiter 8 lens a try. It may surprise you. Many say that when being used on a Leica M that the lens may need shims to get it to focus correctly. My copy did not need this but I guess some do. It is a small, light, oddball lens but it works nicely for some applications. I will be using it again and again, and for Sony A7 shooters, using this lens with the Voigtlander close focus M to E adapter, it is lovely and a breeze to focus.

Highly recommended!

Steve

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Aug 282014
 

VIDEO: The Leica M-P and Silver Monochrom

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Ahhhhhhhh, the beauty of Leica. No matter what anyone will ever say, there is nothing like the beauty and feel of a Leica M camera, and I feel this way about the M3, M6, M7, M8, M9, M9-P, Monochrom and M 240/M-P. To me, they are just what I want in a digital camera and have all that I could ever need (except an affordable price and super low light which the A7s covers for me very well). Even after all of these years the Leica M is the ONLY digital rangefinder on the planet (not counting the no longer made Epson RD-1) that is available. So if you are an RF fan, this is it.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus..none have even attempted it although I was hoping Nikon would do so a few years ago. So as of today, mid 2014, Leica is the only game in town if you want a real life back to basics digital rangefinder camera and NO, Fuji do not have ANY RF cameras (some seem to think they do).

With that out-of-the-way, here we are a couple of months before PHOTOKINA where all kinds of goodies get released and announced. I am sure Leica will have something new, Sony will have something new and huge and Nikon and Canon will probably have the same old same old. Olympus will have something new, probably Panasonic as well. But just a couple of months early Leica not only announced but released the black paint M-P.

The M-P is basically an M240 with a larger buffer, sapphire LCD screen and all black paint without any markings on the front. This means NO “M” and no RED DOT! On the top you have the classic Leica logo which appears just as it did in the M-9P (which was crazy popular, sold out at launch for months). The M-P is not selling out at launch and that is mainly due to the fact that at the price of $8,000 it is too expensive in 2014 even for a Leica. With Sony rocking the A7 series that have an even better sensor at 1/3 the cost it makes it hard to justify a digital Leica today. With that being the case, why did i just purchase TWO of  them? EEEK!

The deep rich tones of the MM (with a Zeiss 50 Planar, one of my fave M lenses ever due to bang for the buck)

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Well, part of it is passion. Part is foolishness. Part is from my heart and the rest is due to the fact that no matter how many times I drift away from Leica…I ALWAYS COME BACK. I have an emotional connection to the M and when I am out with it I enjoy it more than any other camera, even if other cameras can do more for me. The Leica M 240 is my favorite camera of all time, previous to this it was the M9. When the Sony A7s was released it was tied with my M 240 and I said “why would I keep this M when I love the Sony so much”. So I sold my M 240 and banked the money.

Two months later, while I still am in love with the A7s and have no desire to get rid of it, the M has creeped back in to my head. Just days before the M-P was announced I was looking for a used deal on an M 240 yet again. So away I go and email Ken Hansen who said “I will have the M-P week, if you want one let me know”. Too easy. Bam. Ordered. He also said “I have a few silver chrome Monochrom’s in stock” – and that was it, BAM! I went crazy..I was foolish..but do I regret it? No, because I now have an M-P which is the most beautiful M 240 yet and the chrome MM is a sight to see and about as unique and pure as a digital camera can get. Both have their uses as does my Sony A7s.

In fact. I will use my A7s for low light, macro,  and some times when I need a hassle free AF camera. I will use the MM on those occasions when a pure B&W mode strikes me and the M 240 on all other occasions. The great thing is that the lenses can be used on all three cameras without issues.

Here I am almost 45 years old and still being stricken with GAS. Today though I will acknowledge that the prices required to get into a Leica M system are way too high, but for those who gain happiness and joy from it then it doesn’t really matter as long as you can swing it. Life is short and I would rather LIVE IT than sit around on my couch all day watching TV, waiting for something good to happen to me. So that is what I do and how I live life.

So the new Leica M-P is available and shipping NOW! For those interested, you can order them at Ken Hansen, PopFlash, Pro Shop, B&H Photo, Amazon and Leica Store Miami. The Chrome MM is also available from all of those dealers.

Below is my video featuring both cameras. Enjoy!

Aug 122014
 

Copenhagen with the Leica M 240 and 50 APO Summicron

by Howard Shooter

Copenhagen is a difficult city to shoot. The buildings are spotlessly clean and beautiful, the roads are spotlessly clean and beautiful and guess what…the people are spotlessly clean and beautiful.

This presents the street photographer with a problem; no urban decay, no old men with interesting creases which tell the story of their lives and therefore no photography which is focusing on the contrast of modern society. Denmark, like their most famous invention, Lego, is designed beautifully.

My wife and I managed our lucky annual weekend away without our gorgeous children to have a little of us time leaving our three children, happy as could be with the grandparents.

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Copenhagen is famous for Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”, Canals that look like they are straight out of Amsterdam, (as a result of the Dutch building some of them), interior shops, posh designer food, beer beer beer, bicycles and a design ethos which is evident everywhere.

I was looking forward to using and testing my newly acquired Holy Grail of lenses, the Leica 50mm APO Summicron with the Leica M240.

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These shots are a miss mash of images and colours taken from around the city. I didn’t take hundreds of shots as I was there to relax and soak up the atmosphere rather than document it but I was pleased and I’m still learning all the time what this lens is capable of. I feel I always need about six months to a year to understand a lenses characteristics and this little gem is no different.

Now I think this is a lens which once purchased needs some financial justification as it is stupidly priced. I am not rich, I am quite sane (sometimes), and I am not a man who easily jumps on bandwagons. However I am a professional food photographer, I did sell two lenses to help pay for this piece of glass and I do use the Leica for the odd professional celeb chef portrait when the opportunity arises. I had ordered one of these, cancelled it and then six months later wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

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I think with lenses there is a misconception about what quality is all about when all of these graphs and charts and grids are produced by scientists who are comparing various tolerances across various apertures. I’ve seen enough shots of bookcases and scenes of toys with colour charts to last me a lifetime. Lenses are not solely about sharpness and yet this lens is sold partly because of its incredible sharpness. This, in the grand scheme of things definitely isn’t the main part of this lens that interests me. I did have a Leica 50mm Summilux and on the M240 it does display a little softness but it is a beautiful, quiet lens displaying subtlety and beautiful bokeh which is arguably nicer than the 50mm APO.

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What this lens does better than any other on the M240 is incredible dynamic range to the point where shots properly look like medium format film. The bokeh is nice but not incredible in my opinion, but the 3D pop combined with the sharpness and dynamic range is remarkable. It gives this lens a versatility like no other. Images can be deliberately overexposed and look subtle and beautiful without the whites bleaching out, and yet dark shots are rich and saturated with black blacks and eye popping colour. Black and white converted RAW shots look so authentically Bressonesque in their tonal values that the digital Leica feels like it has come of age.

The big question surely is “is it worth the money?”….. well for me it makes using extra lenses on the Leica seem superfluous and to that extent if you have a few lenses and traded up to the 50mm APO you wouldn’t be disappointed… I wasn’t… but blimey…. how much!

Howard Shooter

www.HowardShooter.com

Aug 072014
 

Why cameras are important!

By Rudiger Wolf

Steve,

Your site really does provide inspiration. After the A7s review, I decided to try the low light monster. I had hefted the A7 before, and it just did not feel/sound quite right. The A7s arrived just before our annual family pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe. We try to enjoy family time together at Lake Tahoe every summer. This time it would be especially fun, because the grandkids are getting old enough to enjoy the festivities (2 and 5 years old). Many years ago, I read an article wondering why some professional photographers use the best cameras and lenses on their clients, and then use lower quality gear for pictures of their families… pictures that could bless the lives of family members for generations to come, long after the value of client pictures are gone. I took that lesson to heart, and use the best equipment I can on my own family. Here then, are a few pictures of our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, using the A7s and Zeiss 24-70.

Ok, well not quite always that camera and lens combination. In this case, it was the A7s with Leica 21mm f3.4. Shot at ISO 3,200, F3.4, 20 sec.

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This is my 5 year old grand-daughter. She woke up early one morning. I was already working on the images from the previous day. The light streaming through the glass doors looked like it might offer some interesting images. She is an absolute sweetheart, and agreed to model for our photo shoot. I used the A7s and Leica glass, but ultimately, this is one of my favorite shots. Leica M240 with 90mm at f3.4, 1/30 sec at ISO 800. The colors on the A7s just did not match up as well.

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There is no intention of a fake out here. The A7s is an impressive instrument. I did have the chance to use the A7s exactly as I imagined it. Auto ISO, shutter speed fast enough to capture the active grandkids, Zeiss zoom lens for auto focus and flexibility. It all came together with a series of shots in a pretty dark room and my two grandsons…cousins. Sony A7s, Zeiss 24-70, 1/125 sec, f4.0, ISO 12,800! This one will last a lifetime! Where is the grain? Awesome.

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Obviously, we also watched the fireworks. I had tried to get them from the boat before with my D800e. Don’t get me wrong, I love that camera. Like any camera, it has limitations. Again, the A7s showed it’s capability. This was shot with Zeiss 24-70 at 1/125 sec, f4.0 at ISO 51,200! Just a fantastic camera for low light.

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Did I mention my grand kids? They loved the show! Sony A7s, Zeiss 24-70 at 1/40 sec, f4.0, ISO 12,800.

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To wrap this up… Thanks for the recommendation on the Sony A7s. It has enabled me to capture images I will treasure for a long time. My kids and their kids will see these, and remember the great times we have had together as a family. I can think of no loftier goal than to invoke those memories and feeling of joy and love together as a family.

Rudy

digitalwolftracks.smugmug.com
Rudiger Wolf

Aug 012014
 

The Walter Leica Contrast Lens, an invaluable addition to your M?

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Walter over at Leicawalter.com sent me an email message about his latest item he has created and made available to all Leica M users, and this one appears to be fantastic. It is a contrast lens that goes over your eyepiece and will give you much more contrast when viewing through the viewfinder. This will make it easier to focus, easier to see and give you a more pleasurable experience when using your Leica M or so says Walter himself.

Here is what Walter says about the contrast lens:

In order to get the best focusing possibilities for our clients, we created the WALTER contrast lense.

This amazing eyepiece has a special golden colour coating, which intensifies the light, resulting in better contrast for easier focusing.

The lense is manufactured by hand, utilizing the best optics available and is mounted in solid ‘Gun Kote’ brass.
Multi coated optics to reduce glare.
Contrast-enhancing tint for improved focusing.
Refined and improved dimensions.
Larger optical curved lense for clearer, wider view.
Simply screws into any Leica M camera.
Coating can be used with prescription lenses (WALTER eyepiece), diopter lenses and plano (normal) lenses.
Special launch price: $180.00 (includes postage by registered airmail)
Please enquire about lead time.

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Walter tells me that Leica themselves had a similar golden coating on some early M3 cameras, and that they actually used real gold so it became to expensive to implement.

If you would like  to pre-order the Leica Walter Contrast Lense, you can do so directly at walterleica.com HERE. Walter told me there is a 2 week wait time right now on this piece. Keep in mind..as it was not already obvious..that this is NOT a review of the eyepiece. I have not even seen one in person. Just posting about the new product. Walter always creates cool things for Leica and has been around for a while and is well respected by those who buy his products.

Steve

 

Jul 152014
 

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The Sony A7s: A New Camera for Leica M lenses

By Ashwin Rao – HIs flickr is HERE, his Facebook is HERE

Hello, gang. It’s Ashwin, back from a bit of a hiatus to discuss the camera du jour, Sony’s impressive A7s. The A7s has gotten quite a bit of press, in particular for it’s remarkable ISO sensitivity/performance, for it’s 4K video, and for it’s buck-the-convention 12-megapixel sensor. It’s been hotly debate, in light of the already-exceptional performance of its two siblings, the A7 and A7R, which offer different full frame sensors. I have extensively shot both bodies, and while I enjoyed the experience, I was left a bit in the lurch for entirely selfish reasons. Unfortunately, extensive shooting bore out that the A7r is really not a great option for Leica M lenses due to the critical nature of the sensor and how it plays (poorly) with M lenses, causing excessive vignetting, color casts, and detail smearing at the edges. The Sony A7 is better with regards to its capacity with M lenses (most lenses 35 mm and above do “okay” to “great” on the A7), but after shooting these 2 cameras, I came to the conclusion that perhaps Leica M lenses were best suited to be used on Leica M camera bodies, from a purely imaging standpoint. One can argue endlessly about the rangefinder (beyond the frame lines) vs SLR/mirrorless (tunnel vision) way of seeing, and there’s really no right answer there, as it’s more a matter of preference. But until recently, while the A7R and A7 were capable of using M lenses, they didn’t really make M lenses shine. And thus, I moved on, continuing to genuinely enjoy my Leica M bodies for my M lenses.

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A few months ago, whispers of a new camera began, and what resulted was the Sony A7s….a low megapixel (in today’s market), high ISO monster reportedly designed for videographers ready to make use of its full frame sensor and 4K recording potential. What people did not speak so much about was whether it would handle Leica M lenses better than its siblings. Maybe it was a lack of interest, and maybe the conversation moved on, but for me, my curiosity was piqued. I wondered whether the sensor’s lower megapixel (less critical) sensor, coupled with its gapless sensor design, would allow it to handle rangefinder lenses, which notoriously bend light into difficult angles at the periphery of digital sensors. My curiosity was also piqued by the high ISO capabilities of such a camera. If the A7s could handle high ISO’s as well as was being made out, suddenly, one could use compact, relatively “slow” M lenses such as the f/2 Summicrons, f/2.5 Summarits, f/2.8 Elmarits, and f/4 Elmars in low light conditions at high shutter speeds. Further, faster M lenses, such as the f/1.4 Summiluxes and f/0.95-1 Noctilux options might allow the photographer to see into the dim light of night like never before, and the lenses remain relatively compact to top it off. Leica M and other rangefinder lenses are generally much smaller than their mirrorless (at least FF mirrorless) and SLR counterparts, and balance quite well on the A7(s/r) bodies quite well, so one could make incredibly versatile images at very low light, using a very small kit…..in theory.

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To top it off, the Sony A7s was soon announced to have a “silent shutter” option, allowing the photographer to shoot with a full electronic shutter that would not announce itself whenever a photo was being taken. To me, this was one of the huge potential benefits to the Sony…Silence means that a photographer can work discretely, and the A7s, for the first time, offered this option to the photographer choosing a mirrorless body for work…For a Leica photographer-nutball such as myself, the value of discretion is part of the “rangefinder way”, and now, here was a mirrorless body that did it even better than the Leica M3 through M7, with their lovely/subtle shutter sounds….Here was a camera that could offer silence when shooting (albeit with the risk of a rolling shutter effect for fast-moving subjects)….wow, the A7s was now really grabbing my attention.

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But, All of this was fine and dandy, but only, and only if M lenses would play well on the Sony….

So the early reports came in, including Steve’s own detailed, fantastic, glowing review of the camera, using mainly FE lenses…Steve was blown away by the camera’s AF performance, high ISO performance, and it’s overall handling, for a full frame camera. But the images that intrigued me most from his review, as well as those of others, was the performance of the tiny Cosina Voigtlander 15 mm Heliar lens. Many of you know that while this lens one of the widest fields of view for a rangefinder lens, it plays quite poorly with the M9 and M240, and doesn’t do well on cropped sensors in many instances, due to excessive color shifts (magenta) and vignetting, due to the physics of the optics at play and how they project light through the lens and onto most sensors…Yet, the Sony A7s was handling the CV 15 mm lens, no sweat.

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So off I went to my camera store, armed with a host of Leica M lenses, ranging from a 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar through a 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron. After a few preliminary shots, I took note of dramatically less vignetting and what appeared to be more uniform color through the image field (i.e. no color casts). Hmmmm, great start, I thought….

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But what about smearing? One issue with using lenses 35 mm or wider at full aperture, is that many lenses start to smear details at the periphery of the imaging field. It’s a dirty little secret that Leica’s own wide angle lenses tend to do this on digital bodies, and this was one of the reasons that it took so long for Leica to introduce a digital rangefinder (and ultimately, the Leica M8 with it’s 1.3x crop sensor, designed to avoid the physics causing some of the issues mentioned). At one point, Leica’s CEO at the time mentioned that it might never be possible to produce a digital M body, but we know how that prediction turned out….

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Smearing has been a major issue for me with full frame bodies such as the Sony A7r and A7, and when added to intermittent color casts and high levels of vignetting, I had previously found that files just took too much work to get things right, and I gave up. Now, sitting home at my computer with a variety of files from a variety of lenses ranging from wide to telephoto, I was not seeing any objectionable colorcasts and much improved vignetting. How about smearing, then? Well, the jury is still out, but for the most part I have been entirely pleased. Of the wide lenses in my possession, I found that the 21 mm f/3.4 Super Elmar did exhibit slight detail loss at the far edges of the image, but this was not objectionable, just more than what I had seen on the M9 and M240 bodies. The lens that continues to “misbehave” on the A7s was the Leica 28 mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. This lens gives even Leica M bodies some trouble, and in the case of the Sony A7s, it has continued to produce moderate smearing at the edges. For real world street photography, in which edge sharpness may not be important, the smearing rarely matters, but if one were shooting landscapes, he or she would notice this, so it’s I lens I have considered avoiding for those moments when edge sharpness matters (For most other moments, the 28 ‘cron works great). Beyond that, I have had no issues with edge smearing. Everything works great. My Wide Angle Tri Elmar (WATE) works perfectly at 16 mm on the A7s, though this lens’ design plays reasonably well with even the A7r. My 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE, which didn’t work well on the A7 due to odd vignetting, works perfectly well on the Sony A7s.

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To add to the story, I have found that the Sony A7s does a great job with colors. It presents a palette similar to that of the Sony A7 and A7r, so if you are used to the files that those cameras make, the A7s will be similar. One nice added perk is that at higher ISO, while dynamic range does start to drop off a bit (particularly past ISO 4000, though files are totally useable, in my opinion, through ISO 12,800), the color reproduction at those high ISO’s remains solid. There’s only so much you can push today’s sensor tech, in terms of dynamic range and high ISO noise and color performance, but the Sony A7s is today’s state of the art.

Ultimately, I have been thoroughly pleased with my time using Leica M lenses as my sole lens set up for the Sony A7s. Everything works well. High ISO – check! Silent shutter – check! Minimal muss and fuss with edge image quality – BIG check! Colors and skin tones. Check that as well. Handling of camera with M lenses…big HUGE check! It all seems to work well.

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In summary, I have found the Sony A7s to be a great option on which to use Leica M lenses. If you have an investment in rangefinder lenses, or intend to do so, the Sony A7s is the current camera that you’d want to have on a budget. Sure the Leica M9 is fantastic, but it has high ISO limitations. The Leica M240 is great, but tends to start banding around ISO 3200. Those are fantastic options and allow one to see in the “rangefinder way”. But separating yourself from that, the Sony A7s is an incredible imaging machine. Sure, it has a lower megapixel count, but 12 MP files are plenty for the vast majority of us. The camera’s incredible ISO performance allows for the use of slower lenses, and thus more compact lenses, in low light shooting circumstances. Suddenly, your Elmars and Summicrons become relevant options for night photography, and lenses such as the Noctilux allow you to pear into the night better than your own eyes….it’s rather incredible. Creative possibilities open up, and I see new photographic horizons ahead! The Camera’s EVF is sufficient to reliably focus lenses, particularly if one uses the “Focus Magnify” option to achieve critical focus. The silent shutter allows for very discrete shooting, and for most street photography moments, it’s a perfect option (I have yet to see the Rolling shutter effect for my style of shooting) that’s silent and discrete. And year, silent shutter means no shutter shake to blur your images at that pixel level. Speaking of pixels, the camera’s lower pixel count allows for easier achievement of sharp images at slower shutter speeds, if desired, as 12 MP is much easier to hand hold than 36 megapixels in nearly any circumstance…something to consider if pixel peeping for sharp images is your thing.

The list goes on and on, but you can see that I am quite convinced that the Sony A7s is a viable option for those of you who want to use small, high performance rangefinder lenses on a mirrorless body. It’s the way to go. By the way, every image you see here was shot with the A7s and a M mount Leica lens. Now go out, test one out, and see if it satisfies you. The Sony A7s has certainly satisfied me.

All the best to you, my friends!
Ashwin (July, 2014)

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Jun 302014
 

leicaFW

Leica M 240 Firmware Update! Version 2.0.1.5

I just arrived back home from my eight day vacation and what do we have here? New firmware for the Leica M 240! Yep, Leica has released a new FW version for the M 240 and this is a BIG ONE! It fixes some bugs and adds some new features such as “Exposure Simulation” as well as the much waited for Auto ISO fixes! Yes, you can now customize your Auto ISO settings, which is very welcome. You can now turn OFF video and live view is available with EVERY lens made, even old screw mount lenses.

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Below is the list of ALL changes made but you can download the new firmware HERE. It is simple to install and takes about 3 minutes from start to finish. I updated my M without issue.

GET THE NEW FIRMWARE VERSION 2.0.1.5 HERE!

Improvements Firmware Update M240 Version 2_0_1_5_en

Improvements – Leica M (Typ 240) Firmware Version 2.0.1.5.

  • Improved description of the lens type in Exif-Data
  • Live view is now possible with every lens (including older screw lenses via an adapter) using“manual lens detection”
  • A “Video off” option is now available in the Set menu (see submenu item “Video recording”)The M-Button on the Top-cover is deactivated when this option is chosen.
  • The Horizon (level) is now visible in Live View, overlaying the live image. This additional info-screen is enabled using the menu item “Horizon”
  • New menu item “Exposure Simulation”Exposure simulation -> Permanent: Live View accurately shows image brightness according to the shutter speed and aperture set in manual exposure (as long as the chosen exposure time is shorter than 1/30s)Exposure simulation -> Release button half-pressed: Image brightness in live view is adjusted for best visibility, regardless of the actual exposure.
    Half pressing the shutter button shows the actual exposure.
  • Extended Auto ISO options
    All Auto ISO options are now visible using the ISO button
    Extra options for “Maximum Exposure Time” – 1x, 2 x, or 4x focal length – can be selectedto help avoid camera shake when using auto ISO and long lenses.
    “Auto ISO in M mode”is now offered as an option. This varies ISO sensitivity for correctexposure when shutter speed and aperture are set manually.
  • Crop marks
    In Live View, new crop marks for 3:4 / 6:7 / 1:1 / and 16:9 aspect ratios can be displayed. By pressing the up/down keys, the crop marks are superimposed on the live view screen (without additional information)
  • Korean language
    Korean is now available as a menu language
  • During video recording, 1/25s is now used instead of 1/24s. This reduces flicker effects with 50Hz mains voltage
  • Exposure bracketing settings are now saved when the camera is switched off
  • Direct exposure correctionAn “EV correction” option in the menu enables direct adjustment.
    So EV compensation can be altered by turning the thumb wheel, without having to press additional buttons.
  • New Light Metering Mode “Classic / LV disabled”
    In this mode, only Classic light-metering is possible; the LV button is disabled to avoid the activation of live view by accident.
  • New menu item “Focus Peaking”
    For improved visibility, the color of focus peaking can now be set to red, green or blue.
  • Better display of GPS location data
    Position is now shown for JPG files in Adobe Lightroom®
    Where the GPS signal is weak, the last position is now deleted after 5min instead of 24h as in previous firmware versions.
  • Bugfix in Live View at high temperatures
    Occasional malfunction of Live View at high temperatures has been fixed
  • Bugfix in light metering (Live view)
  • Bugfix regarding sensor cleaning function

 

Jun 252014
 

Still enjoying my Leica M8

By Jochen Utecht

Dear Steve,

It has been a while since you published my latest “inspirational” email (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/01/14/daily-inspiration-494-by-jochen-utecht/). This time I would like to share a few images taken with my Leica M8, which I love and hate at the same time. If I had to decide which camera to keep, it would be the Fujifilm X100s. But the M8 is capable of outstanding quality. It only is a slow and quirky device, which sometimes is a good thing.

You can hardly push the ISO beyond 640. There is too much noise showing up. Focusing often takes too much time for snapshots. But prefocusing can make looking through the viewfinder obsolete. Compared to the X100 it is a heavy piece of metal. But it feels soo good!

I don´t have Leica lenses, because I am by no means rich if money matters. But I could get hold of a few nice lenses second hand:
Voigtländer 21/4, VC 15/4.5, Minolta 28/2.8 and Minolta 40/2.0. The Minolta´s are the same in quality as Leica glass. And the 15/4.5 is fantastic. Very sharp lens. I use the 21 and the 28 most of the time.

Usually I shoot RAW (DNG). The wide-angle lenses from Voigtländer get a treatment with CornerFix first. Then I develop a bit with Photoshop (Camera Raw). After that I go into Picasa and make some adjustments to the jpg´s. (First I try the I´m-feeling-lucky-button) That works well enough for me at least.

VC 21/4, edited in PS (correction of converging lines)

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They don´t earn much money, but are really childloving people.
Minolta 28mm/2.8, prefocused image.

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The forbidden city is always a joy to walk around. I usually hate images taken from behind. They are cowardish and mostly don´t say anything than that the photographer was there and didn´t have the guts to ask for permission. But sometimes you cannot do anything else and the picture still works.
VC 21/4.

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The same goes for this one. This Panorama was also with the 21/4. I stitched it from 6 portait-style images. There is barely any distortion in the VC21/4, so PS didn´t have problems putting it together. I don´t mind that some people appear as doublettes. Next time I might bring a tripod and blur the people.

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First of all I asked for permission to take a picture of these beauties. After a posing picture was taken they immediately went back to watching their smartphones and I could capture the scene I had been seeing before.
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Sometimes you get nice results if you hand the M8 to a stranger to have your picture taken. This was on the first of May. I even had to tell that chinese fellow which button to press, but made the settings prior to handing the camera over. It would have been a fun pic if my face had been replacing Mao. I will try that next time. That might not be possible with a rangefinder camera though.
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I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if you don´t want to show all 6 pictures, feel free to choose three of them.

Thanks, Jochen
5intheworld.de

Jun 192014
 

Crazy Comparison: Sony A7s, 551.8 vs Leica M 240, 50 APO and more!

Many have asked for this, so here you go. Both files are from RAW and both were shot within 45 seconds of each other at f/2. The 1st image is from the A7s and 55 1.8 at f/2. This combo comes in at $3600 or so, not cheap by any means but I feel that the A7s, even after having it for only a day so far, is the best Sony camera made to date. For me it offers the best of all worlds. Lush low ISO quality with a nice rich, sharp, manageable and very pleasing file quality. It also offers the best in class high ISO performance and superb video capabilities.

Many have asked me to pit the Leica M with 50 APO (a lens that I feel is the best you can get on the M and for the M) against the Sony A7s with 55 1.8. The result is below. You must click on the images for larger version and to see the 100% crop. The Sony surprised me here! The Leica combo comes in at almost $15,000 so, $11,500 more than the Sony.

What do YOU think?

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

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Jun 182014
 

My story with Leica so far, Part 2

By William Bichara

A month or two ago, Mr. Huff was kind enough to post a Leica-themed piece I had sent him as a note of appreciation of his informative blog and a recount of a personal experience I had with a recent Leica purchase from Ken Hansen ([email protected]). As with many stories, opinions and other notes posted to this forum, my piece drew some commentary, some kind and appreciative, some pointed and critical, and a few that I dismiss as bitter and inconsequential. Because of the suggestive nature of some of the critical feedback, today I feel compelled to respond, while at same time aiming for a second shot at properly representing my work.

To the folks who pointed out flaws in the pictures posted with my initial blog piece, those images were included only for their sentimental value – being the first few shots I took with the new M. They were test pictures posted as-shot while just playing around with my new Leica, and are by no means a final product meant to showcase my professional work – that wasn’t at all the point from my post. It was a heartfelt expression of great enthusiasm towards a camera meant to be shared with an audience with similar passions. To the rest of the commentators with kind and appreciative remarks, thank you for seeing the post for what it is and for taking the time to write your thoughts. To those of you who went the extra mile to visit my website and critique my work, your reviews are highly appreciated. I enjoyed your commentary and I view the few perceived shortcomings as mere creative differences.

Now that my very first post at stevehuffphoto.com is out and with it my nagging urge to share my enthusiasm about Leica in general, I’m ready to share other photography-related topics with followers of this blog and I would like to start with an overview of my background and my passion for photography, albeit with the same sentimental tendencies as before. I’m also sharing a set pictures from a recent personal photography trip that I feel may find interest among those of you who can appreciate the rawness of some of the images in this selection.

Growing up in the war-torn neighborhoods of Beirut, Lebanon, I was unsurprisingly absorbed into the harsh realities of everyday life, and haunted by images of the people touched by warfare, and the once happy and lively streets transformed into piles of rubble and skeletons of buildings. Coupled with my passion for photography from a very young age, these conditions have shaped my vision and style throughout my career path and made me consistently seeking to photograph the real and the raw. With a mind constantly swarming with deeply moving pictures, I found in photography the perfect medium to express my thoughts the way I experience them – mostly unrefined and evocative images.

My awareness of my preferred photography style started by a fascination with Leica cameras when I was a little boy. From the first images of Leica street photography I saw in the french PHOTO magazine spreads, to the time I bought my first Leica M system 30 years later, my pictures have always sought to speak the Leica language regardless which camera they were shot with.

One of my most recent photography destinations was Mexico, and as you may have already guessed, it was not the resorts and the touristic spots that I was after. One key location I was anxious to see and cover was the “Island of the Dolls”. Described as one of the creepiest spots in the world, this location is like a nightmare come to life, yet it was somebody’s superstition-filled reality at some point – a deserted shrine of countless forlorn dolls. This place was once a stage to a very different kind of human misery – a lonesome struggle with a supernatural enemy. I could not be more drawn to a less refined and more evocative subject.

Another destination was the University of Mexico “UNAM” where I photographed some of Mexico’s most treasured monuments – O’Gorman and Alfaro Siqueiros mosaic murals, and the Sculptural Space Park. For a reason I can’t really explain, these locations had a very special appeal to my passion for rugged imagery.

The rest of the photo selection is some other highlights reflecting random street pictures that captured my eye throughout my little excursion.

Sincerely,

William Bichara

www.williambichara.com | www.weddingsbybichara.com | www.williambicharasblog.tumblr.com

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Jun 062014
 

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The Leica 50 Summicron f/2 APO Review, Part 1

by Steve Huff

Technically, the best 50mm lens I have ever shot with. Period. End of Story. Done Deal. No contest. Really!

This is part one of a 2-3 part long term review of this lens. When all is said and done I will have shot this lens on the M 240 extensively, I will have shown you comparisons with the standard cron and other 50mm lenses, I will have shot it on the Sony A6000 and A7s and will do a complete video breakdown on this lens and what and why it is. For now, enjoy part 1 which is basically the introduction to this special lens for the Leica M system. Enjoy!

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The perfect 50mm lens..does it even really exist? Many say that this exact lens that I am about to write about is the best 50mm ever made, without question or doubt but I will tell you that what is determined as “the best” for you comes down to personal preference. To some, the best 50mm lens may be a 50 f/2 Rigid Summicron or for others it may be the 50 Summilux pre-asph, for others the classic 50mm Summarit or Summitar.

If someone were to want the 50mm lens with the most perfect specs, this Leica 50 Summicron APO f/2 would be the ticket though, without question. It would also be the one that will melt your credit card because at the price of $7,350.00, this is not a lens to consider lightly, nor is it a lens that is really “needed’ by 99% of us.

Yes my friends, perfection does not come cheap and this is a wallet buster for sure, even if you are well off or have cash in the bank. For quite a while I was upset that Leica priced this lens the way they did and I remember early on after the announcement I was ready to give up my Leica for good as they were pricing so many out of the M system. I mean, $7,350 for a 50mm f/2 prime when the still current non APO sum micron is $2300?

Well, time has passed since then and it was not until after I really understood what it was, and how hard it was to make and the that Leica is reportedly losing money on this lens that I decided to really take a look at it. When I actually had one in my possession for a while, which just happened recently, I realized how special the lens is. Even with that said, no 50mm lens is really “worth” $7,350 to 99% of people but I do understand why it is priced at this level and I do understand why so many of us Leica M shooters lust after this particular piece of glass.

Sure, I enjoy using a $600 50 Summarit just as much as I love using this APO cron but one thing is certain, I can not fault this lens in any way. From packaging, to construction, to quality, to the hood, to the size, to the pride of ownership that comes with it. It is a thing of beauty and just holding it you can feel the quality and care that went into making it.

It is beautifully made, beautiful in size and technically the best 50mm lens I have ever used. No distortion, amazing contrast, super detailed and sharpness, sweet color and smooth as you can get bokeh in an M mount 50 next to the $11,000 Noctilux. But just because this lens has all of those qualities does not mean that other 50’s now have to be dumped. In fact. Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander make some fantastic 50mm lenses for the M mount and they come in at a fraction of the cost. One could buy a Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 for $800 and take the $6500 saved and go on a massive photo trip :) One could buy the original summcrion for $2300 and save $5000 to use for whatever else they desire. Just because this lens is as good as it gets in a 50mm for 35mm does not mean it is needed to create good photos. I have taken many bad photos with this lens, I should know :)

The Leica M 240 and 50mm APO Summicron makes for one hell of a combo, but at $14,000+, it is pricey combo.

One thing I love about the M system is that I can capture moments just when I want to. Here I was prefocused and waited…looking through the viewfinder until the one moment that I wanted to capture happened. Ahhh, to be young.

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At the cost of this lens and how long it takes to get a hold of one (9-24 month wait after ordering) I do not expect many to actually buy or own this lens. Only the camera crazy G.A.S. stricken few will dare take the plunge into this kind of investment for a single lens, especially when it is a common focal length, 50mm, and common aperture of f/2. But yes! There is a long line for it and that line extends at some dealers for what would equal a good 2 year wait.

But me, I bought one as I have spoken with a few of you who have bought one and swear up and down about this lens. I also never did get a chance to do a full review of this lens so as a service to all of my Leica readers here, I felt I owed it to all of you to write about this lens, lol. Well, that is my way to justify buying it. That and I remembered just how good it was when I had it for a few days over a year ago.

But it is even better now because the latest version of this lens that is shipping has now been fixed of the “flare” issue that was reported on this very lens and the earlier batches. It seems if you bought one early on then your lens may have a flare issue, which was a big no no as this lens was supposed to be perfect. Well, Leica admitted the problem and fixed it. If anyone has an older version of this lens and it fares you can send it to Leica and they will send it back to you flare free. My version would not and could not flare so I know mine is the latest and greatest

Shot at f/2. this one has detail and pop. 

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50mm = the new crack

In reality, I am a 50mm junkie. I think I have tried just about every 50mm lens ever made for the Leica M system. I have loved many of them, even the old 1940’s lenses. Lenses like the Canon 50 0.95 were very cool and fun to use and the old summitar was beautiful and cheap.

I have used the 50mm Summilux ASPH for years, and feel that it is a legendary lens. A lens that is still expensive but more realistic in price at $4,000 (though still high compared to other 50mm lenses). The 50 Summilux offers a faster aperture at $3300+ less than the 50 APO, so for most, THAT is the ultimate Leica 50mm lens. I have captured many precious memories with a 50 Summilux ASPH on the M6, M7, M8, M9 and M 240. It has stood the test of time and still today is probably the most sought after Leica 50mm lens. With the Summilux being so good, why would one spend $3300 more on a slower aperture lens?

That is what I wondered myself but again, the 50mm Summicron APO is for those who want perfection and those who want the best technical 50mm lens ever made. For Leica, this lens is a statement lens. A lens that shows that you do not need a big fat housing to have a perfect 50mm lens ;) Proof that you can have no distortion, nearly no CA and perfect across the frame sharpness even at f/2, when the lens is wide open. The Bokeh of the 50 APO is much nicer than that of the older 50 Summicron, which has been known to have “busy” bokeh. The ONLY fault of this lens is slight vigneting when wide open, but it is slight and adds to the photo IMO. This lens uses very high-end exotic glass, the  best Leica can source.

ISO 3200, Leica M 240, 50 APO at f/2. Click it for larger and see just how nice this looks at 3200!

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or in color. Even at ISO 3200 in a dim restaurant the M creates acceptable color and smooth bokeh with minimal non offensive noise. 

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A True Masterpiece

The 50 APO is tiny. Smaller than a 50 Summilux. It is also gorgeous and has the coolest and smoothest twist out built-in hood ever. It is like a fine jewel in feel, use and in quality. The lens even ships in a large deluxe box that houses a fancy presentation case much like the Noctilux box does. The lens comes with two lens caps, one old school brass (black paint) and one plastic. I keep the black paint one in the box so I do not lose it and just use the standard plastic one. When on the camera it feels like I am shooting the normal standard summicron but when I look back at the pics the level of color fidelity and contrast and pop is on another level.

In use the lens is a joy, It has a focus tab so is easy to focus but I do have one quibble. The aperture ring is a little too loose. I keep the lens at f/2 as it is PERFECT for my tastes at this aperture. I find that sometimes it has slid to f/2.8 and I do not realize it until after the images has been taken. It needs to be a little stiffer to avoid shifting on accident. Other than that, I can find no negatives with this lens at all.

I know that when I grab my Leica M and head out the door for a day of shooting and this lens is attached..well, I know that when I return home and load up my photos to my large 27″ screen that I will be in awe of the colors, the details and the beauty of the files. Being who I am though, I know that I will also be telling myself constantly “You spent HOW MUCH on this lens…you could have used that money for something much more responsible”. So with my guilt of spending so much money on a small tiny lens, when this 2-3 part review is all done, it MAY go up for sale but then again, seeing that this lens makes such an amazing one lens kit with the M, that would be very hard for me to do. :)

Here are a few more of my 1st photos from the 50 Cron…

Bokeh is about as good as it gets in a 50mm Leica M lens (besides the ultra creamy and smooth Noctilux, but that is a whole new look all in itself) f/2

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Mid Day in Prescott, AZ – This little guy was looking at me, probably thinking “Damn, that is a sweet camera”! Click image for larger and more detailed version. f/2

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Debby enjoying the day. This is right out of camera at f/2.

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The color pops with this lens and the M 240

Many who shoot the M 240 notice that some of their favorite lenses performed quite differently than they did on the older M9. Color was different, the POP was a bit different, the sharpness was even different. In the case of the 50 Summilux ASPH I noticed a big difference in rendering from the M9 to the M 240, though I enjoyed both cameras way of presenting the files. Even so, the color was the trickiest part of the M. With this 50 APO, the color coming out looks rich, deep and much like a nice slide film. As close as you can get in digital anyway. For color on the M, there is nothing like the 50 APO. From pop, punch, depth, and tone…this lens rocks color on the M.

Kids playing at a mall in Scottsdale AZ. Click the image for larger size to see the detail and color depth. Shot at f/2, which is where this lens SHINES.

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The 50 APO is a lens that brings a little bit of medium format to the Leica M. Not fully, but a hint of that look from file richness to detail to perfect sharpness and no distortion.

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Smooth..

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This lens, in my opinion, is meant to be shot at f/2. Wide open BABY!

With most lenses and camera systems such as DSLR’s we have been trained to know that stopping a lens down from its wide open aperture will always deliver better performance. In the case of the Leica 50 APO Summicron, I do not feel this is the case. While you will lose the slight vignette that is there at f/2 when stopping down to f/2.8, you will also start to lose some of the signature of the wide open look that this lens creates. When shot at f/2, this lens creates a look that is part classic, part modern but never in an analytical way (which is what I thought it was going to be when I first tested this lens over a year ago). It has a beautiful smooth presentation and at f/2 you get all of this character. Stopping the lens down, say to f/4..well, this is when you will start to lose some of the reason you paid so much for the lens as there are quite a few 50mm lenses out that there perform just about perfect by f/4.

So if you test this lens, buy this lens or borrow this lens make sure you are NOT afraid to shoot it wide open, which is where it has been optimized to be shot.

More images shot wide open at f/2 and  feel free to click them for larger versions! EXIF is embedded in each image. 

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Full Size files:

The files coming from the M 240 when this lens is used, to put it mildly, is the best I have ever seen the M 240 files. The complete lack of distortion, fitness or soft corners is amazing. There can be teeny amounts of CA but it is the best I have seen.

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This is a TORTURE test for CA. The 50 Summilux and 50 Noctilux would be full of CA in this shot. The 50 APO is amazing. 

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The 1st photo in this article, but this time full size…right click to open in a new window for best viewing

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One more full size…

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Wrapping up part 1 of this lens review

Again, this is only part 1 of a 2 or 3 part review. I have lots of shooting and comparing to do with the Leica 50 APO Summicron lens but so far, so good. It is a beautiful lens with amazing build and contrast and sharpness across the entire frame, even wide open at f/2. After my 1st couple of weeks with it I feel that I could be just as happy with a 50 Summilux or maybe even a 50 Zeiss Planar (well, almost as happy). While this lens surpasses those other lenses for all out performance, as I said early on, performance of a lens will not instantly make you a magical photographer. I feel that this lens is for those who crave, desire and lust after the “perfect” lens. I am on of those nerds myself, so I love it but I do have hesitations about spending so much money on this little guy, especially when that money could have been used elsewhere that is, in reality, more important. Still, I am having a blast shooting the lens and over the next few weeks I will be taking this lens to the always photo rich Comicon, to the California desert and Lazy Meadows Airstream park/hotel, Joshua Tree Park, San Francisco and all of the photo opps it has to offer, Long Beach, CA, the Queen Mary, and a few cool spots as I go on a 7-10 day road trip in about 2 weeks from today with the love of my life, Debby.

I will be posting part 2 when I return, so in about 3 weeks. I will also be doing comparisons with the original 50 Summicron and Zeiss 50 Planar, two other 50mm f/2 options. ;) So stay tuned and check back soon for all of the good stuff. I will leave you with a few more early shots with this lens and the Leica M. BTW, my 50 APO came from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) but no one has this lens in stock, there is a wait but you can put your name on that list. Or you can pick up a standard 50 cron or 50 lux or 50 summarit :)

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

 

Jun 052014
 

The Kelpies – Scotland’s Most Beautiful Sculptures?

By Jonathan McAdam

Dear Steve & Brandon,

I have been taking photographs for only about 9 months now, and |’m grateful for the inspiration and encouragement provided your wonderful site. These are the first images I have ever shared as I’m still learning the art of photography, but I wanted to introduce your readers to an interesting new photographic location which I certainly found it very inspiring.

Recently I visited ’The Kelpies’ in Falkirk – Scotland’s newest work of public art and tourist attraction. The twin sculptures of the Kelpies – mythical Sea-Horses in Scottish Folk-lore – rise approximately 100 feet above a new entrance lock to the Firth & Clyde canal, and are intended as an homage to the Equine heritage associated with Scottish Industry. The sculptures were designed by the Scottish Sculptor Andy Scott, and are very dramatic and quite beautifully realised in Stainless Steel. Although I live in England now, I grew up less than a mile from these sculptures, and it makes me quite proud to see such amazing works of art being commissioned in my home country. I believe the 1:10th scale models were widely admired when recently on display in New York, and I understand they have since toured elsewhere in the USA.

These photographs were taken on my Leica M with 21mm f/3.4 lens, which allowed me to get in really close to the sculptures. It was late afternoon in early May and the sky was very moody, giving the opportunity for some tricky (for me..), but dramatic photography – although I suspect the sculptures are so beautiful in the flesh that it would be hard for anyone to take a really bad photograph of them. Although the surrounding parkland will need some time to mature, I suspect this site will become quite iconic in the future.

Anyway, I hope you and your readers like these images.

With Best Regards,

Jonathan McAdam
St Helens
England

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May 212014
 

New York City with the Leica M

By Bob Boyd

Hey Steve and Brandon,

With the opening of the 9/11 Museum today, I was looking back through images from a family trip we took this March to New York City. The Memorial is always such sobering place to visit and I was moved to see single white roses placed on some of the names.

New York is a favorite for me and my wife and except for one evening of heavy rain, we had a beautifully bright, sunlit week and the images definitely reflect that.

My travel kit consists of the M and 4 lenses: 21, 35, 50, and 90mm.

For anyone interested in seeing the whole set of images, they can be found here:
http://www.bobboyd.net/Travel/032014-New-York/

Many thanks,

Bob Boyd
www.bobboyd.net

This is a 12 image stitch shot with the 21mm Summilux ASPH:

9/11 Memorial & Museum

35mm Summilux ASPH:

A flower left for a 9/11 victim on their birthday.

50mm Summilux:

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21mm Summilux:

The Guggenheim.

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30 Rockefeller Plaza

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The iconic Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center.

50mm Summilux:

Thunderstorm, Times Square.

My crew.
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My crew in the morning NYC light as we head out after breakfast.

Homeward…
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Goodbye NYC... Next stop... home.

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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