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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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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Sep 142014
 

Concentration Camps with the Leica Monochrom

by Dan Bar

Hello Steve and Brandon,

It has been some time since my last photos. Anyway I spent a week in Poland intending to visit the two concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. I decided to take the Leica Monochrom + 35 Lux 1.4 only. I first started with Birkanau ( first 5 pics) which was not easy to watch and certainly not easy to photo , yet still bearable. The long line of concrete with the holes in it is actually a latrine where they were forced to do their needs in front of the others. I then went to Auschwitz where I had to stop soon after starting my visit, simply could not face the horror . So I decided to put on only some of the sights I saw there. I hope these deeds will never ever happen again anywhere on the planet.

Thank you

Danny

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Jul 132014
 

The best for me: Leica Monochrom!

by Francois Roosens

I think it’s the moment to send you some pictures from my Leica MM (Monochrom). Leica came into my life about 2 years ago, I sold my D4, D800e and all reflex kit to buy it.

The Leica MM is for me the best camera I have bought. I now own the MM(The best), M240,  A7r,  A7s (fabulous), and also the Lumix GM1 (it’s a perfect micro camera). I like your job.. Thanks for everything.

I am sending you some picture of « GILLES » from Belgium, it was in March for the « Carnaval » It was an important feast in my country. Early in the morning Gilles come pick  up other gilles and drink and eat at each house. in front of every house, they dance around… and lunch some oranges to give at children or at people for have a lucky year. I hope you like this.  The Leica 24 Summilux and 50 Noctilux 0.95 was used for that and I was up at 4AM.

Thank you!

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Mar 062014
 

Judo Shooting..with Strobes and a Leica

by Jochen Kohl

The shooting took place at a Judo Dojo and the main participant was local Ving Tsun Master and a former national league Judoka. The picture showing the kick was done with the Leica Vario.

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Lightning setup was a Multiblitz X10 with a 5 ft. Superbrolly Silver Umbrella and a Profilux Plus 400 with a standard reflector, both powered by a Propac on location and triggered via radio trigger on the MM’s hot shoe.

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For the Judo pictures I used the Leica Monochrom with the 35mm Summarit placed on a tripod.

Because for this kind you don’t need an autofocus or a high frame rate and the final pictures should be black ‚n white using the MM was a simple move.

It was a small location with white walls reflecting the flashes badly. Simple closes the aperture and used flags to set the light.

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So easy it can be.

Regards

Jochen Kohl

Mar 042014
 

LEICA M MONOCHROMATIC IMAGES

By Michael Nemlich

I gain so much from yours as well as others posts, so I would be honored to contribute some in revenge. These days I use the M (240) following M9, M8 and Digilux 3. Since I do a lot of B&W images, before I moved to the 240 I considered the attractive and tempting MM; but my left side brain resisted, for one and only (good) reason, as follows:

According the phrase: “a picture is worth a thousand words”’ let’s talk (4) pictures:

The image “A” is of a scene in Manasseh-Heights. The image is chromatic, as a standard human eye sees it.

If this scene would have been taken with the MM it would be seen as image “B” with very close tones of both fields. No much can be done to distinguish between them.

Nevertheless, converting the original (color “A”) image to monochrome IN PP has the inherent option to influence the grey tones via the color channels; so lightening the oranges and darken the greens yields the image “C” and vice-versa results the image “D”. For me this was the one and only – but crucial – reason to stay with a ‘color’ sensor for B&W photography. Some short experience with the MM encouraged this theorem.

I hope this short essay helps.

All the Best. Nemlich

nemlich.leicaimages.com and www.beshumma.com

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Jul 052013
 

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Marriage with the Leica Monochrom by Leonardo Perugini

Dear Steve,

My name is Leonardo Perugini and I am a professional photographer. I work with my colleague in a photo studio in the outskirts of Florence, www.spbstudio.it .

I often read your website, that is full of many interesting information and at the same is very funny and enjoyable. Recently I replaced my beloved old Leica M9 with a Leica MM and I started using it for working purposes together with my reflex.

The first time that I tested it, I was at a wedding and it was really amazing: I felt like a child, it was even more fun than usual!

Then, when I went back to my studio, I took a good look at the files and I verified that their quality is amazing, also because you can use great lens with that camera.

I send you some pictures attached: they are all taken with Canon 50 0,95 and Zeiss 35 f/2.

I hope this might be helpful to anyone interested in working with more than one camera.

I really think that for wedding reportage and fashion shoots, Leica MM can add something to the way one takes pictures.

Best regards!

Leonardo Perugini

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Jun 212013
 

S+M: Dream combo!

By Jan Brunaes

What a journey it has been! My first memory of being in awe of a camera was at the launch of the legendary Canon AE-1 some 30-odd years ago. All I remember was it had a computer inside and it looked awesome. Fast forward to more recent times and I still find myself being impressed with the developments in this industry.

The line-up of past cameras in my bag indicate a total lack of brand-loyalty; Minolta, Porst (!), Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Panasonic – all a part of searching for The One.

Leica M7 was my first revelation of what was possible to achieve of optical brilliance. I bought a chrome body and a 35mm Summilux without ever having tried a rangefinder. Needless to say I spent several rolls of film and a lot of time failing before starting to get the hang of it. I had a Canon 20D at the same time which was my go-to camera in case I had mission-critical assignments like my kids’ birthday parties. It was great, gave predictable results and it was somewhat….boring. The M7 was different. Stripped of all the automation in the 20D you knew it exposed your skills, there was nowhere to hide. But when you got it right it you just felt good, really good. My first few shots with the M7 in Coogee, Australia, gave me the first inkling of what the Leica glass can bring in terms of bokeh.

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I spent several years with the M7 (and the 20D) before the M8 made it’s entrance. It was not a full-frame, but it had the lure of being digital. Never mind you had to use special filters to adjust for the sensor shortcomings (black became purple), it was 10MP and a totally new way of shooting – fire away, baby, no costs of film! No doubt the M8 had it’s issues and so did it’s successor M8.2. It wasn’t until the M9 was released with it’s full-frame that you got the sense the M now was a mature platform.

One thing remained constant; the lenses. It did little matter what body you had, the glass you put on it would always make sure you got the most out of it. I have used my 35 Summilux for almost a decade, and it is still my preferred if-I-can-take-only-one lens. It got a much deserved adjustment in Germany last year and performs brilliantly. For a long time it seemed like I didn’t need another lens, the 35mm was sufficient in most situations. Then along came the new Noctilux. Beyond reason expensive, but with the lure of magical bokeh and in-the-dark performance. I have to say it is the most difficult and temperamental lenses I have ever owned. Brilliance followed by disappointment, though mostly down to the photographer… This is a lens you want to shoot wide open, all the time and in all situations – with very varying results. I took this shoot of my dog after having unpacked the Nocti and M9.

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So fresh out of the box that the settings was still at default and gave me a JPG instead of a raw-file. I liked the creamy colors and was quite pleased I nailed the focus on the dog’s snout at wide open. I have since added a 21 Elmar and a 90 Summicron to the arsenal. The Noctilux got little usage and was sold off a couple of months ago to fund another lens, and now I miss it…

When news of the new Leica M started circulating I took notice. That’s not remarkable in it’s own right, I easily get excited about new gear. But the prospect of a new sensor and Liveview sounded really good. I could actually get the hitrate on my Nocti shots up by focus peaking. So in anticipation of the new M I sold my M9 while second-hand prices were still alright. Then I waited. And waited. I wanted to bring it with me on a trip to Paris, but there were just no availability. I decided to pick up camera to keep me going until I could get the new M, and a trip to Tokyo resulted in a Fuji X-E1 with the 18-55 kit lens. Cheap, flexible and a ton of fun! Focusing was slow, yes, but it was such a great little camera to put in the bag when traveling. I got my first post here with shots from this trip.

The black and white format just seemed to work so well. Which of course led me to the Monochrom. It seemed like a crazy concept; only black and white and really expensive. Whatever it’s shortcomings, price, quirks – this is by far my favourite camera. It will perform brilliantly under any circumstance I normally shoot, and it’s low-light performance is unique. Just to put it out there; even it’s noise is beautiful, like it’s algorithm was done by a pointillist painter. Here are a few more Monochrom shots taken with little available light(there is a little Silver FX processing applied). The IQ impresses me, even more so when you consider the compact size and being handheld.

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So no more color? The qualities of the Monochrom had me wanting more out of a color M as the dynamic range and quality is best described as addictive. Maybe the M240 was it, but going by early reports this was not necessarily so. I had read about the S range, but never thought of it as an option. Too costly, too big and no low-light capability to speak of. I got an invite to test a new S-lens here in Singapore and handled the S for the first time. Five frames later I was hooked. Here you had Leica IQ, autofocus and oceans of pixels to play with. The ergonomics were so natural to a M shooter and it handled just like another SLR. Simple and logical layout, and top-notch build. Two things weighed against it; price and bulk. This was not a camera to put in your Billingham M bag.

I got a 120mm macro as my first S lens and have used it now for a few months. A clinically sharp lens that is well suited for studio and portrait work. It is a heavy unit to handle handheld and it needs a lot of light unless you put it on a tripod. The only negative I have is the autofocus which quite often hunts through a full cycle. I would be good to have the option to disable macro and have a shorter cycle time in autofocus, hopefully it can be done in a firmware update. Meanwhile a common solution is to assign autofocus to the joystick button at the back, this works quite well.

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That’s it. I think I have found my dream combo here. I will always carry the Monochrom with a 35mm, and for color shots I will pack the S. I can’t see a need for the M240 any longer (although that might change at any point of time when I actually get to try one…). What’s next then? Shooting, lots of it. Both the Monochrom and the S require a different approach than my M9, and learning these new skills are what makes it fun. That and nailing focus on wide-open Leica glass ;)

Happy shooting!

Jan.

More photos on my blog: www.sortvitt.com

 

 

May 172013
 

Friday Film: The Leica M Monochrom vs Leica M6 on a wedding

By Joeri van der Kloet – see his website HERE

Let me start with explaining what I do for a living. I am a documentary wedding photographer, based in the Netherlands and a little more than two years ago I switched from a DSLR to the M-system. I work with one M9 and one M9-P and a couple of lenses. Being a documentary photographer, my approach to wedding photography is to capture real moments, without interfering in these moments. For me, and for my clients, this approach really works. The Leica M fits perfectly in this approach, after lots of practice though. During a wedding, things are happening fast, so focussing and exposure have to be adjusted continuously. Manually of course. I have trained myself to focus my lenses within an instant of a second.

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A few months ago I was asked by Transcontinenta, the company responsible for Leica in the Netherlands, whether I would be interested in testing the Leica M Monochrom on a wedding. Sure, I was interested! However, I didn’t feel like ‘testing’ a new camera on one of my clients, so I asked my friend Vivian, who is a wedding planner, if she had clients that would be interested in having a second shooter on their wedding. She came up with two couples and because I was available for those dates, I decided to shoot both weddings. The same day my contact at Leica called me and told me he had made a mistake. The Monochrom would only be available on the second date. Vivian however had already promised her clients that I would be there as a second shooter. I told her I’d come anyway, bringing another black and white camera: my trusty old Leica M6. The couple was excited and I was scared to death. Why on earth did I just say that?

I started in photography with manual film cameras: the Minolta XD-7 and XD-5. However, I had never covered a wedding with these things. When I started doing weddings, I had already switched to (D)SLRs. I don’t use my M6 that often. For professional work, it is not very usable. For fun photography, I also take the M9.

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So I decided to keep it very simple. I packed ten rolls of Kodak T-Max 400, my M6, a 35 and 50, a three-stop ND-filter, my Gossen external meter and drove all the way to the venue. During the day I shot seven rolls of film and only used the external meter occasionally. I trusted my internal exposure computer – my brains – and even left out the battery of the M6. I had to shoot at long shutterspeeds – 1/8th – and at very fast shutterspeeds, but it didn’t bother me at all that I was stuck to 400 ISO. Since I’m not exactly a machine gun shooter with the M9, the need to take ten pictures of the same moment is non-existent. Compared to a normal M9-wedding, I had to wait and anticipate more with the limited amount of frames that I had. On the other hand, it was quite fun and I enjoyed being able to work with the M6. Also, I loved the inconspicuousness of the M6, which I prefer to the M9 because of the shutter that is way more silent. Because the depression of the M6-shutter is quite big, I used a soft-release, to prevent camera shake.

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After the wedding, I mailed the films to a specialized company of which I was quite sure they’d do a good job. A little nervous, I opened the package a week later. Within one minute I knew that my internal exposure computer was still working great! All frames were perfectly exposed! Not a single one was ruined. A week later, when I had some time on my hands, I started camera scanning the frames. I needed a fast and cheap method, since the job was completely unpaid. Using my 5D2, a speedlite and a 90mm macro, I worked my way through the frames. It still took me more than a day to scan them all and I hadn’t even started selecting and editing yet. From the first frame on I decided to go hardcore: I would scan the edges of the frames and not crop the final image. It meant I had to throw away quite a few pictures that otherwise would have been good. Framing can be a little hard in the heat of the moment. Also, tilted shots, that otherwise would have been cropped, became unusable. Was I being too hard on myself?

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The more time I worked on the frames and files, the happier I became. Although the files are far from clean – TMax is pretty far from clean either – they have a unique feel and character. Maybe I fell in love with these pics, because I put so much effort and time in them, but to me they are pure and authentic. It is just one camera, two lenses, a few rolls of film and loads of work. Of course, I would have preferred to make some very nice fine-art prints in the darkroom, but I don’t have one and my dark-room skills are rusty.

The Monochrom

A few weeks later I picked up the M Monochrom and I couldn’t wait to see the results of this much praised camera. Having countless hours of experience with the M9, the Monochrom wasn’t hard to get used to at all. Even the post-processing wasn’t that hard. I only used Lightroom and was satisfied with the results. Compared to the scanned files from the M6, the Monochrom files are easier to work with, since they are so much more flexible. The toning is amazing, as is the crisp sharpness and the ability to use high ISO. After getting used to the camera I shot a wedding as a second shooter. While driving to the venue I thought it might be a good idea to make a comparison between the two cameras. Lots of things have been said about the Monochrom and one of the things is people saying: “I already have a Monochrome. It’s called Tri-X and my M2/3/4/5/6/7”.

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During the wedding, I found it hard to resist picking my M9 from my bag just to take some shots in colour, but I figured that would blur the experience. The wedding was one big party with many, many kids, lots of colours everywhere and there I was with a black and white camera.

I can’t say it felt different from shooting with the M9. The shutter is the same, as is the sound. The only noticeable difference is the high ISO capacity and that was useful. I even left my 35/1.2 at home for that reason. The biggest difference is during post-processing. There you’ll notice that sometimes black and white just doesn’t work, or sometimes just rocks! Also the files are more flexible than the M9 files and that is a good thing.

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Would I take the Monochrom or the M6 to one of my own weddings? No, unless I was asked to do so. In my work I use roughly 60% color and 40% black and white and that works. However, I like to be able to decide afterwards which picture will be converted to black and white and which picture will be in color. This is obviously not possible with the MM. With the M6 I would only use it with a couple of extra film bodies. One for high ISO film, one for color, etc. I would also have to invest in a high quality scanner and even then I would have to spend more time on each wedding, meaning my price would increase. Even though I would like that idea to work, I don’t think I can sell it. So if I, as a professional, had to choose between the two cameras, I’d go for the Monochrom. However, besides being a professional, I still have a passion for pure, raw documentary photography. And for me, the M6 just adds to the sensation of documenting reality. Despite the technical limitations of these pictures, I think I prefer them to the far better M Monochrom output. Maybe I even prefer them BECAUSE of the technical inferiority. I don’t know.

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I would have loved to keep the MM for a couple of weeks, but I had to return it. The M6 however will stay with me. Although I only shoot a few rolls each year, the amount of sheer happiness it delivers makes it impossible to part with it.

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May 132013
 

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The Voigtlander 21 1.8 Lens Review by Steve Huff

Thanks to new site sponsor CameraQuest for loaning me this lens and viewfinder for review.

Hello to all who lurk here on stevehuffphoto.com! It is once again “review day ” and what I have to talk to you about today is a real GEM of a lens for any and all Leica M shooters, the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M lens. I have already posted many of my thoughts on this lens in my 1st look of it HERE, so if you missed that go take a look if you like.  Wether you shoot an old or new film rangefinder or use one of the digital versions like the M8, M9, M9-P, M-E, MM or M this lens delivers. While I have not shot it on the new M yet, it does well on the M9/ME and is gorgeous on the MM as well. In fact, it does so well I would PERSONALLY take this lens over the Leica equivalent (The Leica 21 Lux) any day of the week, not because it is superior but because it is almost its equal and I would save myself $6000 in cold hard cash, yes…$6000 separates these lenses and the Voigtlander is really good. I’d rather take the 5-10% less build and performance and pocket over $6k to take an amazing vacation/photo trip to really use the lens. If I were a rich man, I’d take the Leica but when it comes to saving money you can do so with this lens and trust me, your photos will not take the quality hit. Hmmm. Did I just finish the whole review? Well, not really, read on…

While not small in size, it is smaller than the Leica 21 Summilux 1.4 and about 90% of the performance..and then some.

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These days, Voigtlander is really rocking it with some of their newest glass and this 21 1.8 is no exception. Compared to the Leica 21 Lux, it has less distortion, is only a teeny bit slower at 1.8 vs 1.4 and is also lighter and smaller. It is just as sharp if not sharper and gives no magenta edges on the M9/M-E, even without coding the lens. It also focuses close at .5 meters though you will lose the RF focusing at .7. I was able to shoot a few at .5 meters by guessing and it works quite well.  Compared to what I remember from the Leica 21 1.4, this Voigtlander has a little bit less micro-contrast and is also a little less contrasty in general and the Leica will win in overall heft and build, but that is about where it ends. When it comes to quality, the Voigtlander and the Leica has it, but this one will cost you MUCH less.

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At $1249 for a fast quality wide angle lens, it is a steal of a deal. Even this little rescue dog thought so :)

The Voigtlander 21 1.8 Lens on the Leica MM, at 1.8

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While this shot is nothing special, the Bokeh quality from this lens is smooth and silky. 

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Shooting WIDE. It can indeed be a challenge. 

I am not really a wide angle shooter, at all. My go to focal lengths have always been 28mm, 35mm and 50mm with rare use of the 28. So shooting a 21, for me, was a challenge when trying to create interesting review snaps. My goal for review images though is to create a mix of interesting shots while showing what the lens can do on a given camera. I look for nice colors if shooting color, I look for shots that will present interesting Bokeh opportunities and I look for detail shots to see what the lens can do with sharpness and detail. I also like to see what the lens can do with B&W photography using the Leica Monochrom, so what you see in this review will helpfully help you to understand what the lens can do on the Leica MM and M9/M-E.

Product shots with the Sony RX1

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Ever since selling off my Leica M 240 to be able to keep the MM (which I already miss… of course) I wondered what this lens would do on a color M. Any color M. I was able to get a hold of a Leica M-E for a few days and took it out with the 21mm. It performed much better than I expected in all areas. Sharpness, color, bokeh, etc. I kept thinking to myself “man, if Voigtlander did this well with a 21mm lens, I can not wait to get my hands on that sweet new 50 Nokton 1.5 that is set to hit in June. While shooting the Leica M-E I was reminded of the M9 color and signature, which is indeed different than what comes from the new M 240. After shooting the M-E again I can easily state that yes, I still and do prefer the new M 240. I hope to have one again within 9-12 months.

When I do get one again I will try out this 21 on it and add to this review.

The Voigtlander 21 at f/4 on the Leica M-E – AWB

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Nature Trail in full AZ sun, mid day. The 21 1.8 at f/4 

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While a challenge to those of us who are “wide angle challenged” the 21mm focal length can be very cool to use sometimes. While not an every day lens, in some situations it can help you capture “more” of the scene. I took the MM and 21 to a local immigration reform March here in Phx (that only had about 100 people show up) and shot some with the 21. It worked out well and using the external viewfinder was a MUST to frame the shots, and man what a nice VF it is. The version II VF from Voigtlander is all metal, hefty but small and just has overall amazing quality. I can HIGHLY recommend the Voigtlander 21mm VF for any 21mm lens you may use. It is large, bright and easy to frame with. One of those products that is a joy to use and at $209, it will not break the bank. If you are using the new Leica M and have the EVF, then you will not need the optical VF of course but this little guy is so clear, bright and well made…in addition to being sexy to look at. (more on the VF later on).

The next three shots ranged from f/2.8-f/4

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The viewfinder… it feels just as high quality (if not more so) than any Leica or Zeiss finder I have tried over the years. It is metal, solid, and feels like it will last a lifetime. Focusing using the rangefinder and then framing with the external is a pain in the ass but if you want to frame correctly, it is needed for this lens and any lens wider than 28mm.

Shooting the lens in B&W on the Monochrom was a pleasant experience as the lens just seemed to be quite amazing for B&W. Just the right amount of contrast and sharpness with pleasant Bokeh makes for a classic yet modern-ish rendering. Shooting at 1.8 also shows that this lens can suck in some light with the best of them. The self portrait shot below (3rd shot) was taken wide open in my kitchen which was actually a bit dim. The lens made it appear brighter than it really was. Great fast lenses do this but not all of them do. For example, the classic Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 shot in dim lighting results in a duller and darker rendering. Lenses that do suck in the light? Noctilux, Summilux, Canon 85L, Nikon 85 1.4, etc. So this lens is in good company.

This is a crop of an image shot at f/1.8…

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…and this shot was at .5 meters with me guessing the focus by bringing the camera down to the dogs level and moving it in to what I felt was .5 meters…

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…and a self portrait at .5 meters wide open. The Leica 21 Lux focuses to .7 meters while this one gets a little closer :)

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Some smooth bokeh in color – an OOC JPEG at 1.8 on the M-E

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Crop crop till you drop

Using the Leica MM and the 21 1.8 I often found the lens to be too wide for my tastes but at the same time, when viewing that full 21mm frame I kept thinking that I could really grow to love this focal length. To show how wide it is check out the shot below that I snapped in a restaurant. I will first show the original, then a crop and then an almost 100% crop. Click them to see larger and better looking sizes. They look VERY nice on my iMac 27″ display.

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The Monochrom is a gorgeous camera that for me, easily replaces any film camera. It can indeed meet and exceed the quality of any B&W film. Outside of the window in the above scene was the full harsh Phoenix AZ sunshine. The camera and Voigtlander 21 1.8 captured it all, inside and out. This 21 1.8 has a little less contrast than the Leica 21 Summilux so when shooting on a camera such as the Monochrom, it will be easier to avoid blowing highlights as the lens will not render in a harsh way, unless of course you like that look. Then you can just process the photo to give you a higher contrast look like below where I purposely blew out the background to make the image pop more:

This lens has a very pleasing way of rendering on the Leica MM – I blew out the background on purpose to create more pop.

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How sharp is the Voigtlander 21 1.8?

This lens is sharp as any lens I have ever tested, has minimal distortion and during my 2 weeks of use I found no issues with the lens that would deter me from buying one. In fact, if I were more of a 21mm shooter this would indeed be in my kit. I may pick up the luttle brother to this lens, the 21 f/4 as it is much cheaper and smaller and for the amount I use 21mm, it could be just the trick. Then again, if I went that route I would lose the look of the 21 1.8 due to no longer having any shallow DOF capabilities. I love the way this lens renders and it reminds me a bit of classic mixed with modern and somehow they managed to get it all together in the perfect way.

But let’s get back  to sharpness. This lens is as sharp as you can ask for and on the MM and M-E, without any coding at all I did not have any color or vignetting issues, which is quite incredible for a wide angle lens such as this. The lens does vignette wide open at 1.8 a bit but nothing objectionable. Check out the image below which is a 100% full size file from the Leica M-E via RAW conversion. Click it to see the full size detail.

click the images below to see the 21 1.8 in full size on the Leica M-E

1st one at f/4 – focus is one the top of the metal rail, closest to me. Still some shallow DOF here at f/4. Corners are sharp, the ones in focus. The trees in the upper left are not in focus as that is not the focus point, so those are blurred due to shallow DOF.

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This image was shot at f/2.8

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So for me, this lens gives plenty of sharpness and detail, no question. No one would need more.

Below you can see the same shot at various apertures. This lens is sharp at 1.8 and stays that way as you stop down. You can see the slight Vignetting at 1.8 which is all gone by 2.8. Click each image for larger with 100% crop embedded.

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Sharp corner to corner…

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The Voigtlander Viewfinders

Looking through the excellent 21/25mm Viewfinder – All metal construction – $209 

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When shooting a lens wider than 28mm on a Leica M you will need an external viewfinder to frame your subject. You will still use the standard viewfinder/ramgefinder window of your camera to focus, but to frame it all up you will need the external viewfinder with 21mm framelines. This way you can see what you will get on your final image. External viewfinders can look really cool but in reality, for me, they are a pain in the rear. Having to use one VF to focus and another to frame kills any “decisive moment” shots unless you are zone focusing (which is easy to do with a 21mm) but I was able to try out a couple of cool Voigtlander viewfinders. One of them is the 21/25mm all metal designed version 2 viewfinder which is the latest and greatest Voigtlander 21/25mm finder. It is solid, small but has some heft due to its rock solid metal construction. THIS is the VF I would buy with the lens at just over $200.

Comes with a nice little velvety blue bag for storage :)

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There is also the Voigtlander monster of a VF, the 15-35 which will give you 15-35 frame lines. So if you have the excellent 15mm f/4.5 you can use this one for both lenses, all the way up to 35mm. It’s large and bulky but versatile. You can choose between 15, 18, 21, 25 or 35. Also excellent but for those with multiple wide angle lenses.

It’s large and in charge…for those who want one viewfinder that will take on all wide angle lenses. Still smaller than the Leica “Frankenfinder”

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What about the .5 meter close focus? How can you focus this close on an M9/MM/ME?

Here is a quick tip! It may not be the most practical thing to do but as most of you know a Leica M8, M9, MM, ME, etc can not focus closer than .7 meters, even if the lens you are using focuses as close as .5 meters. Old classic lenses usually had a 1 meter limitation. Newer lenses from Leica all focus to .7 meters (most of them) and some other lenses can focus as close as .5 meters, which is about 1.6 feet. Once you turn the lens past .7 meters to go to .5 you lose rangefinder focusing. You can just move in a little closer and guess but it can be hit or miss. If you want to focus close on a regular basis here is a way you can do so and all you need is a string (I used a cable for my example photo so you could see it clearly), a measuring tape and some scissors.

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Simple and effective. You could even tape a piece of light string to your camera body when shooting with a close focusing lens.

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The cons of the Voigtlander 21 1.8. What is wrong with it? My final thoughts. 

In the world of 21mm lenses, this is a jewel of a lens for more reason that the quality it gives us in our photos. The reason it is so special is that it has the look as well as the build and feel of an old classic while giving performance that is nearing the $7250 Leica 21 Summilux. When I tell myself that this lens is $6000 less than the Leica 21 Lux, it boggles my mind. The Leica is larger, heavier, uses more expensive filters, has more distortion and is much more expensive. The Voigtlander has a llittle bit less micro contrast, which Leica is very good at but other than that…well, what can I say?

The Voigtlander is still on the large side for a rangefinder lens and the Voigtlander also has less overall contrast than the Leica equivalent. But without any question of a doubt I would not hesitate one moment to buy this lens if I were a wide angle shooter and wanted a fast aperture wide. It offers incredible performance for the price and gives superb quality build to boot.

So there really is nothing wrong with this lens, and for the cost it is a home run it. There is also a Zeiss 21 2.8 lens but the Zeiss is slower at 2.8, not as hefty in the build and more expensive. When you look for a fast 21 mm lens for your M mount camera, be sure to NOT look past this Voigtlander. They are making some superb quality glass these days and buying an all Voigtlander setup could help save you a ton of cash and possibly your marriage :) This lens is HIGHLY recommended if you are in search of a fast 21mm.

If you have the mega-bucks, just go for the Leica and call it a day knowing  you have the ultimate but remember, you can get just about as good for much less :)

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Below: At f/8 this lens is insanely sharp and again, sharpness across the frame which is impressive for such a wide angle lens. 

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Where to buy this lens? 

This lens was sent to me for review by Stephen Gandy at CameraQuest.com. They are also a site sponsor and sell the 21 1.8 lens for $1249 with FREE fast shipping. You can go direct to their 21 1.8 page HERE.

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LENS SPECIFICATIONS:

Mount Type VM for M-mount Cameras

Focal Length 21mm

Aperture Range f/1.8-22

Angle of View 91º

Minimum Focus Distance 19.7″ (0.5 m)

Focus Range 27.6″ – infinity (0.5 m – infinity)

Lens Construction 13 Elements in 11 Groups

Number of Aperture Blades 10

Filter Size 58mm

Dimensions (Diam. x L) 2.7 x 3.6″ (69 x 92 mm) including lens hood

Weight 14.5 oz (412 g)

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Apr 292013
 

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Look what came in! The Voigtlander 21 1.8 Lens! A first look at this M mount wide angle.

Happy Monday to all! Hope you all had a great weekend, mine was sort of a lazy weekend hanging around the house but had some time to relax which is always good. So let’s get on with it…

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Thanks to Stephen Gandy at Cameraquest (who sent me this lens and viewfinder for review) I get to try out the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M mount lens and 1st impressions are that it is a beauty. I assumed this lens would be soft. WRONG. I assumed it would feel cheap. WRONG. I assumed it could not even begin to compete with the Leica 21 Lux. WRONG. I have only shot it for one day for “silly test shots” around my house but so far am quite impressed using it on the Leica Monochrom. I will have my full review in the next couple of weeks but also be on the lookout for a review of the Canon 50 1.8 LTM classic lens as well as the Nikkor 35 1.8 LTM. Maybe I will do a feature every Monday…hmmm. Maybe “Monochrom Monday” :) – Anyone want to start contributing for that series? Film, digital…doesn’t matter.

Very 1st test shot. Set the lens to the closest focus of .5 meters and took a self-portrait. ISO 1000, f 1.8

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Very 1st early thoughts on this Voigtlander lens is that it is well made, feels great, focus is smooth, aperture ring is smooth but clicks in firm and the quality even wide open is sharp, but in no way clinical – I’ll call it “sexy smooth sharp” and who doesn’t  like Sexy? At $1249 it is a semi affordable FAST 21mm Wide Angle and fills out the quite superb Voigtlander M mount lineup nicely.

With the 21f1.8, 28f2, 35f1,2, 50f1.1 and the 75 f1.8 already available and the brand new smoking hot looking Nokton 50 1.5 arriving soon, Voigtlander has improved mostly all of their lenses for M mount and having used them all, I really am impressed with the price/quality ratio. Actually, I am more than impressed.

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I really have not been a wide-angle shooter over the past 4-5 years but sometimes it is pretty cool to have a super wide for your camera as it opens up a whole new world. The 2nd  image above was the 2nd shot taken with the lens and I “guessed” at focus by setting it o 0.5 meters (close focus) and then held the camera down to the dog’s eye level. I missed a little but the 21 still gives and interesting perspective and yes, even at 21mm you can get shallow depth of field :)

The 1st shot above the dog was also wide open at 1.8 and it is gorgeous in quality when you click it for the larger view. So far…me like.

Below is a shot with a 100% crop embedded, yea, this lens is  sharp wide open which appears to help give it the extra pop and 3D qualities. Usually a wide-angle like this renders in a somewhat flat way, but this lens gives you the choice of shallow DOF or LARGE DOF depending on the Aperture you choose.

Click the image for a large size with 100% crop embedded at 1.8

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So yea, I know many of you are wondering..how will this lens do IN COLOR on the 240. Well, my 240 has been sold so can not say but I am getting fantastic results from the MM without setting up the camera for any lens at all. When I do the full review I will test it with the camera set to a 21 Lux to see how it goes. If I get a chance to try this on an M9 or 240 during my review period I will. You can see film samples HERE over at cameraquest.

One full size test shot that you can click on to see the full size from RAW image is below, and it is an OOC JPEG!

This one is wide open at 1.8 and an out of camera JPEG untouched   – click it to see how sharp it is even at 1.8 and being a JPEG

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So stay tuned for much more from this lens as I will be shooting it over the next 1-2 weeks. I will also have the new Sony NEX 3 with 20 2.8 review up soon along with the Nikon Coolpix A review! Lots to do which means more fun for me :)

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Steve

Apr 252013
 

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So what camera did I keep? The Leica M 240 or Monochrom, and why? 

UPDATE May 21st 2013This post is not even relevant as I once again have an M 240. I rented and used a Leica M-E for a while and it made me really miss the M 240 and I took my own “you only live once advice” and with a bit of luck I was able to buy one a reader was going to refuse delivery for from B&H. SO yes, I have teh M 240 again :) 

As some of you may already be aware (if you follow my Facebook page) I have been in sort of a dilemma over the past 2 weeks. I have had the pleasure to actually own, both paid in full, the Leica M 240 and Leica Monochom camera. A luxury indeed and one that I was blessed to have. I wanted them both for longer term reviewing purposes but knew in the end one would have to go and one would stay, only due to the limitations of my funds and the fact that I really did not “need” both. But as time went on there was a problem… and that was that I wanted to keep both… and that was creating an issue right after Tax time :)

I assumed the choice would be easy as the M 240 does color or B&W imaging. It has the new body, the new features, the new LCD, the new shutter, the new frame lines, the new thumb grip and scroll wheel. It also has the new huge long life battery and if I ever wanted it, video or live view all for $1000 less than the simple, basic, all charcoal looking Monochrom that has NONE of those features for the extra $1000 it commands. Clear as a bell right?

A no brainer, at least it should have been. When shooting both I found things to adore about each body. I love the Monochrom due to that basic simplicity and the fact that it does one thing and one thing only which is to take fantastic Monochrome images in just about any light situation all while giving the rangefinder experience of the M9, M, etc. No matter what anyone says, the files from the MM are not the same as those from the M9 or the M 240. There are differences and when you start digging into those files you start to really appreciate what it offers.Shooting it at night is quite liberating as well because you don’t have to worry one bit about ISO.

Shooting B&W also feels “classic” and I have always admired the old school B&W photos more than any color images I have seen over the years. The MM was taking the lead…

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But the new M 240. It is a hot commodity right now, it is new and has a huge wait list, possibly a year to wait if I wanted another. Yep, If I let go of the 240 it would be a while before I can buy another if I realize I made a mistake. Hmmm.

So why not keep both and be happy? Well, I can just not justify both for my personal use, at all. It is far too expensive for me to keep both at $15k for the set. So I had to decide. Keep the versatile 240 after it has proven itself as rock solid reliable without any issues to me (besides the loose strap eyelet) or keep the Monochrom that does one thing and one thing only but that one thing that it does do is gorgeous.

So I went out one day with both cameras and told myself that I would keep whichever one I enjoyed shooting more as well as the one that gave me the best results. At the same time I was trying to justify keeping both.

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So what did I do? I did the smart thing and while I loved BOTH and feel these are the best Leica M digitals EVER I decided to keep the Monochrom and commit to it for the next year. But I have used both extensively and can still say (as I did in my huge review) that the 240 is a big step up from an M9 in usability, features, mechanics and just about everything except one. That is COLOR. The 240 needs a firmware update to improve the AWB in the camera as it is very unpredictable and sometimes it will give you some crazy super warm WB results and other times it will be just right. I mentioned this in a post a while back HERE. Other times you will have a yellow cast or an orange cast. But these are issues the Leica M9 and Leica S2 had at launch and were slowly fixed with firmware updates. Even with the AWB issues I love the 240 as I custom WB’s everything I shot in the RAW conversion anyway so it did not really bother me much.

The 240 is a near masterpiece for Leica. I even used the video for a few videos (not for this site) and it worked out very nicely. 

But in the end I chose the Monochrom as most of what I have been shooting, even with the 240, I was converting to B&W! The MM outclasses the M in B&W and high ISO and shooting the MM would mean I can just shoot and know 100% what to expect. I also have a fantastic Sony RX1 and Olympus OM-D so I have cameras that can shoot color already. What I did not want to do was lose the one unique  tool that can not be replicated with the M 240, RX1 or OM-D and that is the Monochrom. It really is a basic but simple tool that not only delivers on its promise but also is a joy to use and gives the detail and tonality that neither the M9 or M 240 can give.

Of course this kind of money for an all B&W camera is borderline insanity for a guy like me to spend money on but as I have always said, we are here on earth to LIVE life and be happy, and that is how I like to stay. Happy :)

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I am happy with my choice 100% and in 9-12 months I will buy another 240. For now, the MM goes with me everywhere :) The M 240 sold within minutes and i Had 10-15 wanting it with just a brief mention of it being for sale. Crazy. Be sure to keep an eye on my Monochrom sample gallery which is updated every week. 

Apr 112013
 

Zeiss 50 Sonnar on Leica Monochrom

A new look at the Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 Lens

By Steve Huff

Note: all images in this post were shot with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 ZM lens and the Leica M 240 except one image with the Monochrom (which was noted). You can click them for larger versions. 

A Beautiful Old Friend

It was 4-5 years ago when I wrote a review on the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 Lens, the current model that is still sold by Zeiss for $1200. I originally tested it on the Leica M8 and LOVED it. That old review was hosted on my original website but has since been lost..gone..kaput. So no more old review of the Zeiss Sonnar.

But there’s no need to fear! A review refresher is here! With the new Leica M I have been testing out all kinds of lenses, mainly the 50mm focal length from Leica and Zeiss and I have to say these Zeiss lenses are really beautiful. I recently fell in love with the 50 Planar for its low price and unique signature but remembered the Sonnar from the old M8 days and when I tested it briefly on the Monochrom. The Sonnar is so much different from the Zeiss Planar or Leica Summicron or Leica Summilux that it is worth checking out if you want to make your shots a bit more interesting..or classic..or beautiful. :)

I always embrace “different” :)

The Dynamic Range of the M 240 is superb and mates well with the Sonnar

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The Zeiss Sonnar is an old 1930’s design (designed in 1929 by Dr. Ludwig Bertele) and this lens as it is sold today uses the same optical formula as the 1934 version but with new modern coatings for enhanced contrast. This modern version of the classic lens does indeed have the classic look but it also has the Zeiss colors and 3D pop to go along with it, which can get addicting because when you go back to Leica glass it is just not there. Leica renders the image in a much different way, technically better but different colors, bokeh, sharpness, etc. There is a Leica look and a Zeiss look. Each look has their share of fans.

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It has a 1.5 aperture for shallow depth of field and is beautifully built as well as sexy to look at. Some of the greatest shots by the masters were shot with Sonnar 50mm designs and this design is just as capable today as it was back then. In a day of modern aspherical and APO lenses things can sometimes start to look too perfect, too clinical and too sharp. By going out on a walk with a lens like the Sonnar you will be guaranteed to come back with shots that look much different and unique to what you would get with your normal 50mm lens.

Nice Zeiss color…

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Just a few days ago I revisited the 50 Zeiss Planar, which I adored but even that lens will render a more perfect scene then the Zeiss Sonnar. I argued that it may be wise to own BOTH the Planar and the Sonnar. This way, you get your sharper more perfect look as well as your classic bokeh filled look for just about $2000, or $300 less than a Leica Summicron lens alone :) It’s a win/win.

At $1200 it seems the Sonnar is not cheap but when compared to Leica glass, it is much less expensive in some cases. For example, the Leica Summilux 1.4 comes in at $4000 and yes, the Summilux is the mother of all fast 50’s when it comes to the combo of speed, size, beauty and build. It’s just about the most perfect 50mm lens in existence because it does everything right and never lets you down. The Sonnar is much different because images coming from the Sonnar will not look like what you get from the Summilux ASPH. They will not be perfect, nor modern looking nor will they have the Leica feel.

Part of the beauty of the Sonnar is the flaws and the character that comes along with it. Also, the challenge of shooting it on a digital M body.

Both of these are wide open at 1.5, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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BEWARE!

It’s true. This is a lens you will either love or hate! It just so happens to be very challenging to use and there has been controversy surrounding it since its release. When it was released, some users thought it was a very soft lens wide open and there were statements about it being so soft it appeared dreamy. That could not be further from the truth. This lens is pretty damn sharp wide open but the key is to get the focus right, and using a rangefinder makes it tough because this lens is usually calibrated for use at f/2.8 which means focusing with your rangefinder at 1.5 will not be accurate and will result in a soft “dreamy” look. It is called “Focus Shift”. Keep in mind that this only affects rangefinder cameras and using the rangefinder focusing patch. If you use this lens on a mirrorless system with live view you will not experience focus shift. 

There are simple ways around this issue if you want accurate focus every time at 1.5 though, and if you like the character of the lens it is worth it to put a few minutes into figuring it out.

If you have a Zeiss sonnar set and optimized for f/2.8, it will take you a few minutes to learn how to use it at f/1.5 to be reliable, just as I have when taking the images you see here. These were all mostly shot at 1.5 and captured in one shot using the Rangefinder of the Leica M 240, not live view. They are all in focus where I intended the camera to focus.

The newest copy I have here came from B&H Photo and it appears to me that it is optimized more for f/2 than 1.5 or 2.8 because I can focus in the RF at 1.5 and get a sharp result but if I turn the focus ring a hair clockwise after I line up the RF patch I get super sharp results as you can see in the shot below:

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In other words, this copy of the lens is sharp wide open when focusing normally but can get REALLy sharp wide open with one little trick. I basically shot this scene above as a test for 6-7 shots and figured out where my perfect focus was when using the rangefinder, which as stated, was a hair to the right after I lined up the patch. What I mean by this is when I focus normally the shot is a teeny bit soft due to focus shift. If I move the focus barrel a teeny bit more to the right after focusing I will get real spot on focus. If I do this every time I will nail focus every time.

Still, paying $1200 for a lens you have to work with to focus accurately may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be worth it because this is one of those lenses some call an “Artists Lens”. The look it gives is unique and super classic. Much like the Noctilux has its own gorgeous signature, the Sonnar has one as well. If it is Bokeh you are after, this lens will give it to you. The image below was a test shot to see Bokeh quality and here it is pretty smooth.

Use it, Learn it, Love It!

This one shot on the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and 1.5

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I have seen some who bought this lens give up on it in frustration because they would focus and get soft results. Some users did not know if it was a problem with their eyes or what but this lens has its share of haters and lovers. I am in the lover camp but let me be honest…there are loads of 50mm choices for your M rangefinder and if you can only have ONE 50mm, I would not recommend this one as an only lens because it does offer such a unique look and you may tire of it after a while. The lens also has a 1 meter close focus limitation where lenses like the Leica 50 Lux let you focus closer t0 0.7 meters.

You can own this as  your only 50, and I know a couple of guys that do, but I feel the 50 Planar or Leica is better as an only one lens solution (which is why I went for both). I am now up to four 50mm lenses but I love my 50’s!

If you learn how to use your Sonnar on your camera it will become quick and easy to focus the way it needs to be focused for sharp results at 1.5, and that is where the magic of the lens happens..wide open.

Leica M 240 and B&W conversion

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In the world of 50mm rangefinder lenses there are many choices from modern Leica perfection to old classic RF lenses from the past like the Canon 50 1.8 LTM (which I also own) and everything in between. The 50mm is a classic focal length and probably the most popular for rangefinder shooters. My #1 recommendation for a 50mm Lens is money is no object is  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH or new 50 Summicron APO. If money is an object, and for most of us it is, you can still buy a lens or  two that will not hamper you in any way and still give you gorgeous results. Zeiss ZM glass is just one of those options where you get to pay less but still have that special quality that makes  you say “wow” when you nail a special shot.

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The images here were all just test shots around my yard, nothing special at all but it goes to show that a lens like the Sonnar can make things look better than they actually are in some cases. Even a silly shot of some dusty mini blinds (yes, I have now cleaned them after seeing the shot above from my office blinds) have that special Sonnar “look”.

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The Zeiss Sonnar is one of those lenses you buy with your heart. Like I already mentioned, you either love it or you hate it. But for me, it is a lens I will always love and have a soft spot for. I guess you can say this lens has a “romantic” quality, and there is nothing wrong with that because we all need a little romance in our lives every now and then :)

You can buy the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at B&H Photo, PopFlash.com or Amazon!

Jan 142013
 

Quick Comparison  – Leica Monochrom, Sigma DP2 Merrill and Hasselblad 39CF

by Michael Ma

Hi Steve:

Huge fan of your site. I am lucky to own two pieces of equipment that you have reviewed, so I thought I’d contribute. My Leica Monochrome just arrive today and I decided to give it a spin in terms of image quality. Both the Leica and the Merrill DP2 are reviewed in detailed on your website and they are renowned for their image quality. Since I’m lucky enough to have a loaner Hasselblad with the CF39 digital back on hand, I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty IQ comparison using the Hassey as bench mark.

Conditions:

Dim room light

1.7 meters to subject

All images had gone through only contrast adjustment, no sharpening

On tripod

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Hasselblad 39CF with 80mm CFE lens F2.8, F5.6 1/2, 1/4S

The Hasselblad yielded a pleasing overall image in terms of tone and rendering. With 39 mega pixels 49x36mm sensor, we don’t expect anything less. The 100% crop shows that even when wide open, the CFE lens is sharp and shows nice contrast. Note that the physical size of the Hasselblad image is almost twice as large than the Leica and Sigma.

Hassey picture: 

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Hassey crop (click image for full size cdrop)

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Next up is the Leica Monochrome with Summilux 1.4 ASPH latest version F2.8, F5.6

WOW, the Leica is sharp! I don’t have a M9 to test the comparison between the mono sensor and the regular CCD sensor, but the 100% crop looks sharper than the Hasselblad shot and you can see the details in the canvas texture. The image was over blown in exposure but the details are still nicely preserved. Very impressive!

Leica picture

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Leica Crop – (Click image for full size crop)

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Finally comes the Sigma DP2 Merrill.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the pictures. It is clearly the most rich and detailed of all three. The photo was shot with the lens wide open at F2.8. Astounding details and color. Now look at that 100% crop. The texture of each brush stroke is so vivid. Beats the Hasselblad hands down.

DP2 Merrill

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DP2 Crop

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Conclusion? Well this is a very clumsy test. But besides the poor testing conditions I think there’s a story to be told here. All three are great camera systems. The Hasselblad is older and the lens probably could have used with more stopping down. But this is also a 9000 dollar set up (used price). The Monochrome setup is 12K all in (when bought new). The Leica lens is incredibly sharp and the Monochrome retains so much details in the shadows. But the ultimate winner here is the Sigma DP2. At a tiny fraction of the price of either the Hassey or the Leica, it delivers the best results in color, details, and contrast.

Michael Ma

Jan 022013
 

My top 12 for 2012 by Jason Howe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge Dynamic

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

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

Day Dreamer

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

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

End of the Road

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

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

Awakenings

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

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

Showtime

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

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

The Mob

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

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

Kodak Gold 200

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

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

Misty Mornings

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

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

Rock Thrower

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

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

Reach Out

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

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

A Turning Point

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

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

Lake Placid

Food for thought…….

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

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

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

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

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

All the best, Jason.

Dec 122012
 

titleforjason

Scary Faces – Pushing the Monochrom Further

by Jason Howe – Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook

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From Steve: I know, I know…many of you are tired of these Monochrom articles! At the same time, many of you are NOT. This will be the last one for a while because I feel we have PLENTY of information on this camera now on this website, let alone the entire internet. I could not resist posting these as it really shows what the camera can do better than any previous post on the MM. I am dubbing Jason  Howe the “MM Master” as these are masterful shots and he certainly has learned the camera better than I have! Enjoy and THANK YOU JASON!

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In the short period of time that I have owned the Monochrom it has already established itself as my “go to” camera, in part this is due to its incredible performance but also because my subject matter of late has been dark, in every sense……this camera along with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE make a formidable team, one I’m finding difficult to break up despite the other lenses available to me.

In the last week I took the opportunity to visit the theatre once more, this time with a view to having a closer look at the higher ISO’s on the Leica M Monochrom. With nothing specific planned we decided to do some impromptu “Scary portraits” by utilising the fixed stage lighting and a borrowed LED torch which on occasion I managed to hold in my teeth whist shooting. Clearly, this is far from ideal but it did actually work out reasonably well and I’ll be adding a torch to my bag for those occasions where you just need a some additional light.

Even though this show is very dark I still found myself not needing to push the camera beyond ISO 3200, even then it was artificially so and I could probably have shot at 1600, but as I wanted to see a little more from the Monochrom I went ahead. I also continue to deliberately underexpose by 1/3 of a stop to as much as 1 stop on occasion, I feel I’m really getting to grips with this particular Monochrom idiosyncrasy and as there really is so much detail in the shadows of these MM files that there is absolutely no point in risking blown highlights. I also wanted to take a closer look at what I would describe as being the Monochrom’s digital grain.

These images were all shot as JPEG’s, this was something I’d not yet tried on the MM and I was very curious to see the results, I always found the B&W JPEG’s from the M9 to be very pleasing, as you’d expect the MM files were even richer.

Please remember to click on the image to see a better quality rendition.

 

Scary Faces – No 1 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 800 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 1

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Scary Faces – No 1 – 100% Crop at ISO 800 – YOU MUST CLICK IT TO SEE FULL 100%

ISO 800 Crop

I’m absolutely loving the sharpness and detail from the Monochrom and 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE, traces of what I would describe as the Monochrom’s distinctive “digital grain” are just apparent at ISO 800, this shot was taken in total darkness and illuminated by the LED torch only.

 

Scary Faces – No 2 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 2

Scary Faces – No 3 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 3

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Scary Faces – No 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 4

The image above will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come, I’d say these are some of the richest blacks I’ve achieved so far with the Monochrom, there is still plenty to learn and a lot more experimenting to be done but the progress has been satisfying so far. Despite being shot in JPEG the images still exhibit a huge tonal range and whilst I don’t think I’d ever use them straight out of the camera the PP certainly only took 1-2 minutes each to process.

 

Scary Faces – No 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 5

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Scary Faces – No 6 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 6

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Scary Faces – No 7 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 7

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Scary Faces – No 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 8

Scary Faces – No 9 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 9

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Scary Faces – No 9 – 100% Crop at ISO 1250 (click it)

ISO 1250 Crop

 

To me this crop at ISO 1250 is indistinguishable from the ISO 800 crop in terms of “digital grain”. In fact, I’d actually say it’s superior to the ISO 800 image, I don’t have enough insight in to this camera yet to give a categorical reason for that and I’ll definitely be looking closely at future images. Once again the detail is quite staggering.

 

Scary Faces – No 10 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/90 Sec

Scary Faces - No 10 -

Scary Faces – No 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

Scary Faces - No 11

This particular image brings a smile to my face, it’s most definitely enhanced by the third face in the background!!

 

Scary Faces – No 12 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 3200 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 12

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Scary Faces – No 12 – 100% Crop at ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Crop

Usually we’d be referring to digital noise when looking at images shot in these lighting conditions and ISO’s but whilst that may be technically correct it does not seem fair to use this term when analysing the Monochrom images. I prefer to refer to this as digital grain, it’s certainly a more accurate description, whilst it is not directly comparable to film grain it is certainly closer to that than digital noise in my opinion. I’m sure plenty would disagree with this statement…..

 

Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 2500 – 1/750 Sec

Scary Faces - No 13

Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1600 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 14

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Scary Faces – No 15 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/350 Sec

Scary Faces - No 15

With each passing week I grow more competent and excited in equal measure with the MM, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I talked myself in to this purchase. I’m sure there are many more out there going through the same thought processes I did when considering this camera, all I can say to those people is go for it, you will not regret it.

As I initially mentioned I’ve been finding it difficult to break the MM partnership with the 35 Lux but in order to further my learning and enjoyment of this camera I am going to need to, I’ve got lots of vintage glass to try and there are photographers out there already getting excellent results. I’ve also got some exciting new lenses in the pipeline, certainly one of these has the ability to force me to ditch the 35 Lux for a while……..

Once more I’d like to thank the cast, crew and all those associated with the Tauranga Musical Theatre, your enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the making of these images is really evident in the photographs and most certainly appreciated. I’ve made no secret about my own feelings for this wonderful place, I look forward to capturing more moments and memories in the future.

Cheers, Jason.

Aperture Priority – Photography by Jason Howe
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