I’ve been a regular visitor to your site over the years, and thought it was time I contributed something, rather than continue to sit on the sidelines.
I work for a national newspaper in Scotland. I love my job – I’m based in Glasgow, as is my newspaper, so much of my work is in and around the city, although I also get to see a fair bit of Scotland.
But the city is what fascinates me. And when I’m not working I get out and about with my Leica M Monochrom. I love to document everyday life on the streets. I’ve owned, and used, a Leica M6 since the mid-nineties, and always liked the images it produced. They seemed to have more life to them, dare I say it, more soul than the pictures I got from the Nikon F5 I used for work, and the rangefinder camera was simply much more fun to use.
When I started at the newspaper full-time, around five years ago, they supplied the camera gear needed for the job, so I was left with all the Nikon kit I had used as a freelance. I sold it all (thank you, eBay) and bought a Leica M9. That camera was a revelation – essentially the same as the M6, but with the advantages of being digital. And when it was announced that Leica were launching a black and white only M, I didn’t hesitate – I traded in the M9, and found myself with an M Monochrom. I’d been converting the majority of my shots into black and white anyway.
Eighteen months later, I’m still smitten by this camera. Picking it up make me want to go out and shoot with it. And I do, pretty much every day (I post a daily photograph on Blipfoto:http://www.blipfoto.com/contraflow). A lot of praise has been heaped on the M Monochrom, and I find myself much in agreement. The camera is very small, light, unobtrusive, a joy to shoot with, and the files it produces are like nothing I’ve seen before. You can step on them hard and they just don’t break up. Not that you need to be hard on them, because if exposed correctly, they need hardly any work. Everything is in the file – it just needs to be breathed on a little to coax the best from it.
One of the best things about the M Monochrom is that you get to use Leica lenses on it. I’m an ex-Nikon user, and now a full-time Canon user, so I know all about the image quality of those two systems. But the tiny Leica lenses have detail and character in spades, by comparison. It almost seems ludicrous how heavy and large a pro Canon DSLR is, when the diminutive Leica has the same size sensor, and much smaller, faster, sharper lenses. Any DSLR I’ve ever used feels like the computer it is. I can’t bond with it. And when I see the results, they fulfil the brief, but it almost feels as though the camera made the picture, not me. That’s a good thing, because it makes the job easier. But there’s no fun involved. Using a Leica rangefinder is fun. You have to really slow down and think. Just take a single shot and make it count. When I get a picture from a Leica M that I’m happy with, I really feel as though I made the image, not the camera.
My two favourite lenses for the M Monochrom are the 50mm M Summilux ASPH, and the 28mm Summicron ASPH. Occasionally I’ll use an old 1960′s 90mm Tele Elmarit “fat” version 1, but generally it’s just the two lenses for me. And mostly it’s the 50mm. A lot has been made about the modern aspherical lenses being too sharp, too clinical in their rendering for the M Monochrom sensor, but I just don’t see it. I think the modern 50mm and 28mm render beautifully, and with plenty of character. But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, I could go on and on. I adore the M Monochrom. It doesn’t get in my way, it just allows me to take great pictures. It’s like my M6, loaded with an endless supply of all my favourite black and white films.
My name is Marco Wolff from Hamburg. This is my first article I write about my thoughts as a photographer, my ideas and gear I use.
More than 3 years ago I deeply stepped into digital photography, took online trainings and made a lot of photo sessions. These sessions follow 2 streams, the first is about portraits – going next to people, talking to people and focusing on what they are and what they think. The second stream is about dancing – Flurina (first picture above) was the first dancer I took pictures of and right at this moment I was addicted to the passion of the dancers expressions and their life.
During this time I used several cameras and lenses like olympus, nikon, Leica etc. to find for me the most suitable one. Hopefully, now… I have found it. In this article I like to tell you a little bit about my way I used Leica and my experiences with the Leica monochrom.
2 Years with my Leica M9
I bought my first Leica (M9) in silver in 2011 with 35 mm f/2 and 50 summilux f/1.4. I started to take pictures for a local culture organisation in Lucerne (Switzerland). I was able to take pictures during concerts and also backstage. It was always a dream to me to work like a reporter with artists, being next to them as observer. Amazing moments are always before the gig starts, the members of the band are lazy, funny and relaxed. But then, after they entered the stage – their mind totally changed.The way they look and behave is totally different – you can feel they are passionated to their music. I try to be so close to the band to be able to freeze their expression to the picture.
Picture of the band “When Saints Go Machine” (Leica M9, 50 Summilux)
This picture was taken during a concert of the danish band “when saints go machine”. It was nearly dark, hard to focus. I just work with available light with no extra flash etc. The M9 with max 800 ISO and summilux 1.4 was the best combination for me.
I grew up by the pictures of Anton Corbijn, especially the pictures he made of Depeche Mode. I knew it is hard to copy his contrast and sepia style – especially when adapting them in the digital world. I spent days on producing my own presets in lightroom to go in this direction. Every single picture of the M9 gave me a lot of post work, but the results never really kicked me.
Good friend of mine (Leica M9, 50 Summilux)
In august 2012 I could join the “St. Moritz workshop” with Steve McCurry, Jock Sturges and Amedeo M. Turello. Leica was the official sponsor during this 2 days workshop. I was able to use a pre-production Monochrom for half an hour with my lens and memory stick. After importing the RAW files in Lightroom I was just sitting in front of the screen astonished by the quality of the pictures that just came out of the camera with no additional post work. – I just could kick my M9 lightroom presets and was able to work with the monochrom files with just some fine post editing.
But as you may know, buying a Leica especially a Monochrom is expensive and it took some time until one camera was available at my personal camera store ;-) I sold the M9 with the summilux, bought the monochrom and a used 50 f/2 summicron. After some weeks working with the monochrom, I didn`t miss any color. No more taking decisions which color style would fit to the pics. I just felt home and free – I was now able to concentrate on the object in front of the lens. It just reduced everything to the minimum – my personally essence of photography.
Now I fully concentrate on having contact to the “model”, the composition of the background, everything just in black and white – an amazing feeling.
The good news about the monochrom are also the higher ISO compared to the M9. I use ISO 6400 as maximum – the results are still amazing.
dancing choreographer in zürich (Leica MM, 50 Summicron)
In these pictures above I just added some contrast and blacks and have just the style I was always looking for.
It`s always interesting how the MM also interpret the lights. Like at the pictures above. Behind the woman is also a lot of light, but on the file it is almost black. After a photo sessions like with dancing choreographer, it is always a pleasure to me, looking at the screen and being fascinated what potential the camera has – that’s a kind of soul the camera has. It`s not just another gear that makes great pictures with high-resolution, no it`s just sees the light differently
Some words about online printing services. I tried out some of them over the last years, apple printing, whitewall (the official shop) and others. If you like to have the best out of your MM on paper I really can recommend the WhiteWall-Leica printing service. After registering your MM camera you have access to this shop. My recommendation is the “Lambda print” just on paper or paper on aluminium. The black parts of the picture are like painted, the fine details e.g. of the hair are amazing. Looking at the portraits is like looking directly at the face.
Gear I also use:
VSCO (film 1&2), MacBook Pro Retina 15.4”, Sony A7r – yes, I´m also one of them ;-)
Another Portraits all with Leica MM and 50 Summicron:
Next time I will you tell a little bit more about my dancing photo sessions I took over the last years with different professional dancers from Angela Rabaglio, like this:
I’ve not long been back from a trip which took myself and my family back to the UK via a few other places, this wasn’t a photography trip but I’ve included a few of my favourite images picked up along the way. The are more images along with a more extensive write-up on my blog here – The Reluctant Tourist.
I have no idea how much time I wasted thinking about what gear I should take on this trip, certainly it was too much time. In the end I tried to keep it simple and went with what I’m most comfortable with, the Leica M Monochrom. For lenses I went all Voigtlander – 21/1.8 – 35/1.2 and 50/1.5. I also had a cheap PROST adapter which was all I could get hold of initially.
My gear plans went out of the window when the Sony A7R arrived by courier just a couple of hours before departing for the airport, at that point I really had little choice but to take it as leaving it meant I’d not see it again for 2 months. Obviously any new camera monopolises your attention and it also means a bit of a learning curve, it certainly did with the MM and the Sony A7R was the same just for different reasons.
I had a rocky start with the A7R, whilst I immediately fell in love with the OOC JPG’s I found focusing accurately at wide apertures to be almost impossible without magnification. Yes my eyesight is fine…
Image 1 – Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II – OOC JPEG
Image 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II
Touching on my original gear selection and with the benefit of hindsight it was totally flawed. I may prefer B&W but I still needed a colour option, fortunately the A7R filled this void. My biggest mistakes were in lens selection though, this was not a light bag!!! I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me and selected the recently acquired 35/1.2 over my v.1 Summicron. The 35/1.2 is optically superb but it’s huge and consequently heavy, in contrast the v.1 Summicron is tiny, light and optically superb. The 21/1.8 I just didn’t use, another weighty option. Instead I found myself wishing I’d taken the Summicron 90/2 on lots of occasions, a lens I’d been using quite frequently before I left. Now I didn’t carry all this everywhere, each day I’d select a camera and lens, on odd occasions I’d take two lenses but when you’re away for so long size and weight are big issues. The real winner was the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Asph, I really do love everything about this lens.
You’ll notice the next two images were taken with the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, having tried and failed to get my hands on this in NY I managed to get one in the UK. There were a couple of factors that drew me to the Sony A7R initially, one of those was having a FF camera with the ability to autofocus, there are certainly times when I’ve missed this and I’ve missed shots.
Image 9 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
Image 10 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA
I’m still very much committed to working things out with the Sony A7R, Indeed I’ve just added the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA to the kit and I’ll be endeavouring to become more proficient with the camera on all levels. For now, well the Leica M Monochrom is still my favourite camera, you can get great B&W’s from other cameras but there is just that bit of something special in the files from the MM, to my eye at least.
Ralph Gibson Monochrome – 100% SOLD OUT at $28,000 each!
That was FAST. I had a feeling this special limited edition Ralph Gibson would indeed sell out because the set was absolutely jaw dropping gorgeous and there are always some out there looking for ways to spend their cash. Only 35 sets were made which included the Monochrom in a special limited edition color of chrome and black with a special Ralph Gibson signature on the top and a special edition 35 Summilux FLE. A fancy box and strap topped off this kit. Normally a Monochrom and a 35 Summilux would run you $13k so this one was more than double the cost of a normal set. It doesn’t do anything different but it sure is pretty!
So 35 lucky people out there have this beautiful set. The question is..how many will USE the camera and how many will sit the box on a shelf?
I had a huge dilemma, I own the Leica MM ( which I love) and on the other hand I was curious about the Leica M 240 ( I know how much you love her, and so does Thorsten Overgaard and many others). So on Wed Jan 8th my friend who owns the 240 and I drove to Jerusalem in order to try to learn about the M 240.
The first few hours I took his M and put in my SD card and he took mine. Than we changed again to our own cameras. From what iso, the M is a very nice camera, built like all M rangefinders which means good and solid , so it does not take much to understand the very few changes and get used to it.
I loved the new shutter which is even more silent than my MM, what I did not like was the wheel on the upper right side, I kept bumping into it not really wanting to but I am used to holding my MM there while taking photos.
One more thing I did not like was the line of knobs-5 – on the left side instead of 4 on my MM , as they added the LV- Live view, this does not leave enough space for ones fingers ( and mine are slim) so sometimes instead of pressing the play I pressed the LV.
The colours are nice and yet I saw some tendency to red colour , especially on the faces which i had to fix on Lightroom. All in all it is a fantastic camera , easy to manipulate , simple and yet gorgeous.
Hello Steve and everyone. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your space and attention with me today. I always enjoy passing by and discovering your reviews or your readers’ field tests that are very often interesting and esthetically nice. So that’s pretty cool to contribute and have the chance to speak to a wider audience today.
Like many of you I have GAS. I know it’s bad but I have GAS. However, for nearly one year I am in love. Yes, one year ago my Leica dealer called me and told me about a new drug I could be interested in. The thing they name Monochrom. A black and white only device. Well, why not I thought, let’s give it a try. And that’s what I did. Immediate addiction. Few shots and it was done, it was home with me. And I am in love since then. Monochrom is a remedy to GAS, Monochrom is bringing me back to Monogamy.
Monochrom is all I need: The perfect combination of past and present. It is a Leica rangefinder, has a blowing dynamic range and high ISO capabilities. All I need when 99% of my M9P shots were converted in B+W. So I sold the M9P keeping MM as the only one digital device. But I had plenty of lens and just two M bodies. Brainstorming every time I wanted to go out and shoot: What lens shall I take? Worst when I was out: Oh, shall I shoot with the 35, 50 or 75, no maybe I need the 21…. Waste of time. Missing the point, missing where I should have really been focusing on: My subject. Therefore missing l’instant décisif praised by HCB. So I have started to think I should be selling off my lenses, keeping just one, a 50, my favorite one, so that I could improve my work and get concentrated on one thing: What I see in the rangefinder and where I go. And came the famous 50APO Summicron that I have been lucky enough to find fairly easily and rapidly. Perfect match, while the MM brought me back to Monogamy, 50 APO brought the MM to Monogamy. Perfect world… although I have to admit I still sometimes cheat on my MM with a X2 for landscapes and things that need to be color.
Here we are in July 2013. 10 days off from work: The opportunity to see what I can do with “just” a MM coupled with an APO50 and a X2. The opportunity to rest and discover new things, satisfy my curiosity. Where to go to? What to do? Wanted something new, something far without being too far from Paris as 10 days are a short timeframe. Somewhere enriching, somewhere with a great cultural heritage, somewhere preserved from mass tourism, somewhere with some landscape diversity, somewhere new. Armenia and Caucasus came quickly in my mind… Read a lot about Armenia first: its history rich of thousands of years, Noah and the Arch on the Ararat (actually in Turkey nowadays but a strong symbol for Armenian people), churches and monasteries from the 4th, 5th, 6th centuries everywhere, mountains, the lake Sevan, the Karabagh, the war with Azerbaijan, hospitality of the Armenians, the wine, their lovely alphabet, among others…. So deal done, it had to be Armenia and Caucasus.
And there we went for a 10 days trip on the Armenian roads –which as the title says also brought us in Tbilisi-Georgia for a short visit. We hired Garik, our driver, in Yerevan and we drove: Yerevan, Chor Virap, Goris, Stepanakart, Shushi, Sevan, Dilijan, Tbilissi and many other places. MM to shoot the streets / people with the 50APO and a X2 to shoot landscapes while in or out of the car.
Simple but challenging method. Why? Well, hard white light from 10am to 5pm and 50mm is a bit narrow for street. I have been very frustrated at the beginning, and above all, very disappointed with the first meaningless results. But I have insisted, trying to adjust my vision, trying to forget about how I wanted to see things and trying to see things as they were, carpe diem as the motto. And things improved, I think. Started to adjust to the light, the people, anticipating the moments, and forgetting about the gear – had no choice but 50mm after all so stop whining and shoot. Anyway, the result is for you to judge now!
A quick word on my editing choice though as it might surprise some of you: You will not see the marvelous landscapes of Caucasus and the old churches of Armenia here. I have really tried to choose those that I enjoyed the most to capture and those that I felt where conveying something deeper than mere representation of a person or of a thing. That is also the reason why post processing of the black and white pictures aimed at giving an old look, conveying a sort of nostalgia.
My keywords before leaving: Armenia is a wonderful country / Caucasus is beautiful and diverse / do what you want and shoot as you want (I have no lesson to teach here) but if you want to free yourself from GAS and gear addiction, go simple, try to travel light with one piece of equipment and shoot, save this money and travel more…. and of course…. I love my MM coupled with the 50APO! Thanks for your attention and I hope you will enjoy this selection!
It appears Leica has finally caught up with demand with ONE of their current M cameras. Yep, the $7995 Monochrom is available at various dealers without any wait whatsoever. While expensive, there is NOTHING like it on the market, period. It is the only current production camera with a dedicated Black & White Monochrom sensor. Many articles have been published here showing what this bad boy can do and if you have a spare $8k lying around and a hinger for Monochrom photography, this could be your baby for life :)
There is still no stock of the Leica M 240 or the M-E, which has been MIA for a couple of months it seems. The problem is that Leica makes these in cycles. They probably recently did a Monochrom run and then a 240 run is probably going on right now. Leica are like turtles, very slow but it seems they win at the end because they usually sell everything they make in the M world.
You can pick up the Monochrom right now at any of my recommended Leica dealers below:
I have given my Leica a break for the past 2 months because I have been concentrating on other reviews and preparing for upcoming reviews. But I can honestly say..I have missed using it. Even if a camera like the M 240 does not give you anything special in IQ over cameras like the RX1, D800, or 5DIII there is still a joy to using it, holding it and testing out all of the incredible lenses that can be used on the new M. Some of the classics are incredible AND cheap. In any case, I feel some M time coming on soon. :) The M 240 and Monochrom have my highest recommendation as do the dealers and sites above that sell them.
Hi my fellow friends, I’m back with an article based on a series of pictures taken during Steve’s most recent workshop in the Palouse, which I assisted in coordinating. (Ashwin did more than assisting and it could not have been done without him! – Steve)
As you all are discovering from personal experience or from browsing through images of this beautiful place, the Palouse is truly a land of incredible and austere beauty. Filled are vistas of visions of a place lost to time. The Palouse is also known as a land known for its beautiful swaths of color. In the spring, landscapes are painted in blue, gold, and green, while in the fall harvest, it’s amber waves of grain through and through, and gold and blue dominate. In the winter, vast swaths of land gently blanked in snow. Needless to stay, it’s poetic stuff to even the visitor wielding the humblest point and shoot. It’s hard to take a bad picture in the Palouse.
As I embarked on my second trip to this wonderful place, I began to consider my recent foray into black and white photography and decided to challenge myself by taking in the scenery of the Palouse in black and white. Instead of being able to see in color, I decide to challenge myself to see in light and shadow, white and black….to take the journey in Monochrom…pardon….monochrome.
Along with me on the trip came 2 very capable cameras: The Leica M Monochrom and Pentax 645D. It was my goal to use the M Monochrom to frame my perspective. This being a camera that literally can only see in black and white, I was immediately forced to see in this manner. The other camera, one that I have written about before on this site, is the marvelous Pentax 645D, the bargain in medium format imaging and a camera that is destined to live on as a cult classic. While the Leica M Monochrom would allow me to shoot in my comfort zone, the Pentax 645D requires a more measured way of shooting, forces one to slow down, and allows one to reach far into the scenery to capture photographic vignettes via the wonderful tool of compressed landscape imagery.
As hsas been my way, I brought along with me several vintage lenses to use with the M Monochrom: The Leitz Super Angulon 21 mm f/3.4, The Leitz 8-element 35 mm f/2, The Leitz 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron, the Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM m, and the diminutive yet powerful Canon 135 mm f/3.5 LTM. I will write an article soon on the magical Canon LTM lenses at another time, but needless to say, I was well covered to capture images with the MM. With the Pentax came lenses including the 35 mm A, 75 mm FA, 120 mm FA, 150 mm FA, 200 mm FA, and 400 mm FA lenses…
I found the challenge of shooting this wonderful land in black and white to be an invigorating one. In general, focusing on black and white photography can recalibrate the photographer, and I really do feel that it has re-calibrated by way of seeing. While in the Palouse, I found that “seeing in black and white” really channeled a sense of nostalgia into my eyes that then seemed to invade my photography. In some ways, I found that the MM and 645D suddenly became a time machine, transporting my must into the 1930’s, allowing me to take in the vistas with a time worn eye…or so I felt as I photographed the region.
As I have mentioned many times before, using older lenses on the M Monochrom can be a true pleasure. Not only are most of these lenses far more affordable than their modern counterparts, but they often imbue a sense of charm in the way that they “paint” the scene.
In most instances, I shot the Palouse stopped down to f/5.6 to f/8 on the M Monochrom and even more so using the 645D, which was nearly always mounted to my tripod.
While the M Monochrom and 645D are incredible tools for black and white imaging, one can really use the approach to seeing in monochrome with any camera. All it takes is a frame of mind, shooting the camera in BW-JPEG (I don’t recommend this, but it is an easy way to go about it), or coming home and immediately converting your files to BW. That being said, I found that having the Leica M Monochrom gave me no other choice than to see the area in black and white.
I hope that you all enjoy the images. Steve and I plan to organize future trips to the Palouse, so if you find these images inspiring, please take a moment to consider visiting the Palouse in the future. It has a way of inspiring you, and I hope that these images bring you a piece of my own inspiration and spark that same inspiration in you.
I am writing to share my experiences to date with what would be one of the most controversial cameras ever released! The M Monochrome. I must admit, when it was first released I had never shot with a range finder camera and knew very little about Leica and the lenses.
I too thought it was absurdly priced for a black and white camera with an older CCD sensor. I still do!!
So how did I end up owning this camera? I have to pinch myself every now and then that I do. It all started with wanting a smaller camera to take out and use more often. No more DSLR. Firstly the x100 (great camera albeit a little frustrating, but aren’t they all at some point) and the OMD (great camera, great lenses and punches well above its sensor size). During this time I had started to read more about rangefinders and their attributes (and idiosyncrasies/drawbacks). The price for these cameras was/is mind blowing.
Lets just say curiosity got the better of me (don’t die wondering) AND I wanted to learn more about other types of cameras and systems (rangefinders in this case).
So when I was contacted by a friend that one was coming available I took the plunge. Am I a Leica fanboy?…..Not at all. I chose the Leica Monochrome for two reasons:
Leica really is the only genuine digital rangefinder game in town
It was an opportunity to see what my thought process would be using a black and white only camera and find out what all the fuss was about.
I have used the camera now for 2 months, all the while keeping my OMD in the event that we did not find a bond! In that 2 months I’ve picked up the OMD a handful of times to come back to it and see where my mind sits with colour (and camera enjoyment).
So where does my heart lie when it comes to which tool I prefer……?
Well it’s providing what I want in terms of the process of photography (a new challenge) and also one other key point ….SIMPLICITY. Compared to most digital cameras, there is minimal menu options and features to digest. There are no color aspects to consider. Just subject matter and composition. The color present in the world will deliver the tones that may just enhance the image.
On the topic of tones, it has been really interesting thinking in terms of tones vs. color. I do miss color, no doubt. But for now I will continue committing myself to seeing the world this way. There is beauty in all the tones from black, through the various grays.
Do I find it “liberating.” No.
But I do find it’s easier on my brain in this day and age, to move away from our feature/technology driven world, and use something which is a simple set up. This at the same time being able to retain the current high ISO capability and for the first time in my life try a full frame camera, which does have the ability to take on some incredible glass across a range of brands. For the record I use a 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH (80%), a 35mm 2.5 Color Skopar (Voigtlander) and a 15mm 4.5 Super Wide Heliar (Voigtlander).
All have different purposes for me -
The 50mm is the favorite…by a long way! It’s the lens I use to practice focusing to try an achieve those wonderful shallow depth of field images. Do this at 1.4 AND being on the move I marvel at the masters of this, e.g. Peter Prosophos (he’s partly to blame for this stage I find myself in, in the photographic journey :-)). I’ll keep practicing.
The 35mm at 2.5 was intentional. This lens is not about DoF, but composition. I know when I go out with this lens it’s about this first and foremost (subject matter should always be present in my opinion) and not DoF. I find this lens a good tool to move in a different direction and help train my brain.
Finally the 15mm is yet again another way I can challenge myself to see the world from a different perspective. It’s a fun lens, and a focal length I am learning to respect. Choose your subject wisely to get the best out of this lens!
So come tomorrow the OMD will be sold, I’ll shoot some color on a film camera and continue my journey with the Monochrome. I do think about just how much it costs, but when I achieve the result I want….it’s the furtherest thing from my mind!
Above all else to anyone who reads this…..it’s not about the camera. It’s about being happy, learning and improving. It’s ok to try different cameras given there is so much choice now. If you have the three points I raised present in your photographic life, then go for it…try them all if you want to!
Marriage with the Leica Monochrom by Leonardo Perugini
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.
USER REPORT: The Japanese Summilux – Canon 50/1.4 LTM
By Jason Howe
Hi Steve, hope your well and enjoying the combination of MM and M240, I was pleased to see you got the latter back and I look forward to you slowly convincing me that I need one………..anyway I’ve been taking a look at a lens I’ve had for sometime and I’ve recently seen cropping up a little bit more than usual, the Canon 50/1.4. I’ve done a full write up on the Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM which can be found HERE but I thought I’d give a small taster of the images in this post as I really feel the lens is, well pretty awesome!!
Note: Processing in LR4 and Silver Efex Pro 2
The Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM first caught my attention quite by accident, whilst researching my purchase of the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE I stumbled upon references to a lens some referred to as the Japanese Summilux. Intrigued by this reference and fueled by my natural curiosity I took the plunge and picked up a perfect copy of the Type II version along with original Sl39.3C UV filter and Hood.
I’m fortunate to have some pretty amazing glass and I always seem to have a perpetual que of lenses waiting to get quality camera time. Because of this and despite me being happy with my initial testing of the lens the Canon 50/1.4 never really spent a prolonged period on any of my cameras.
Surprisingly there is not a huge amount of information around about this lens, certainly less than I anticipated. Therefore, having received several email requests for my opinion about it I decided that it fit’s the profile of my User Reports, by that I mean it’s not really mainstream or fashionable……..it is however very capable on the Leica M9, M Monochrom and film M’s and offers the user another cheap fast 50mm option.
Off the Rails – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 1/500 Sec
Rebel – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/500 Sec 4x ND Filter
Sound of Silence – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 160 1/2000 Sec
The Urban Jungle – Leica M Monochrom – ISO 320 1/180 Sec 4x ND Filter
On the M9
Alicia Sim 1 – Leica M9 – ISO 500 1/1500 Sec
Trapped – Leica M9 – ISO 400 1/750 Sec
Yours Truly – Leica m9 – ISO 160 1/3000 Sec
Alicia Sim 2 – Leica M9 – ISO 640 1/125 Sec
On Film M’s
A Long Day – Leica M3 – Fuji Provia 50
Golden Moment – Leica M3 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
The Navigator – Leica M6 – Fuji ASTIA 100F
First Light – Leica M3 – Fuji Provia 50
If you’ve got the Leica M Monochrom and your taking an interest in vintage glass, the Canon 50/1.4 is certainly a great place to start and you won’t find better bang for your buck at around US$400.00. On the M9 and Film M’s its still a very worthwhile proposition if you want to get your hands on a good, sharp fast 50 for relatively little. I’ve gone in to much more detail on my User Report but hopefully this will have piqued your interest in this awesome lens.
More Classic Lenses: Leica 50 1.5 Summarit & the Canon 50 1.2 LTM
1st up, the classic but unique Leica 50 1.5 Summarit
The Leica 50 Summarit has had a weird reputation as an oddball “crazy bokeh” super soft lens and for years I held off on buying one for that very reason. Every time I have seen samples they were crazy soft and without any sharpness to be seen along with almost NO contrast. But at the same time, it had a unique look..almost like the lens was painting the pixels on to the memory card from the sensor. When I thought about it more I knew that this lens may be just about perfect for shooting B&W due to the lower contrast and “glow” it usually has in images I see.
After deciding to try one I recently had the opportunity to acquire an old stiff focusing 50 Summarit 1.5 lens. This copy was made in 1951 and 3000 of them were made that year. This lens started production in 1939 and was made through 1957 so there are many copies out there from super old to just really old. There were a total of just under 75,000 Leica Summarit 1.5 lenses made and I always see them for sale on buy/sell forums or sites such as KEH.com.
This lens on the M 240 at higher ISO
When my 1951 arrived I was pleased with the small size, hefty build and chrome classic look. I attached it to my Leica Monochrom and took some test snaps. When I pulled them up on my display I was shocked! Expecting to see super fuzzy soft low contrast images wide open I was instead seeing images that were pretty damn sharp, had medium contrast and a Bokeh I could describe as “unique” with some swirl and pleasing attributes. Hmmm. I think I am going to like this little guy.
Here is a shot at f/2 from my Summarit and Monochrom. Looks good to me.
The lens I have looks a bit dirty inside when looking through the glass. I see a bit of dust, dirt and crud but not really any haze. The problem many have with this lens is HAZE. If you shine a flashlight through your old lens and it looks cloudy or “hazy”, you may have some haze going on. For this summarit all I see is dirt that has somehow been trapped inside for many years, but it still gives a decent image. No fungus, no oil, no scratches on the glass, no other issues. Dirt and dust will not really affect your images.
When shot wide open it appears that the lens can be sharp in the center with a super quick falloff into softness. The hydrant shot above…the hydrant is sharp but it is in the center of the frame and also at f/2 where my copy sharpens up considerably.
When shot at 1.5 you will see the Summarit character come out.
I have to say that I love what I am seeing coming out of this old classic but I wish my lens focused smoother. It is very stiff so I may just send it off for a CLA but I am afraid I will be trying to fix what is not broken, lol. It focuses SPOT ON perfect, even wide open. I have no focus shift and am loving the output, even the wild Bokeh it can give. I will be shooting more with this lens including some color when I get another new M 240 :) When I do I will add to this page with samples.
A full size from camera shot wide open with the little Summarit. Look at how sharp this lens CAN be. Focus is on the center leaves hanging from the tree.
Next up, the Canon 50 1.2 LTM Lens. A Superfast and nice sized 50mm on the cheap, and guess what? It’s awesome!
If you want something REALLY unique and different with Bokeh that no other lens will give you then take a look at this Canon 50 1.2 LTM. Expect to pay around $600 and up or so for a good copy (compare that to $7-10k for a Noctilux) and if you want the original 50 1.2 hood, another $200 on top of that. This lens is larger and fatter than most of these classic lenses but it has a massive front element. It looks bad ass on a Leica M and amazing on my Monochrom with a mix of chrome and black. While having that short and stout appearance it is not too large and sized very nicely and still much smaller than even a classic Leica Noctilux f/1.
Stopped down to f/4 it looks great. Sharp, contrasty, and just about as good as most 50′s around.
But this lens is no Noctilux when shot at f/1.2, not even close really.
When I shot this lens I was let down at first as what was coming from the camera was VERY washed out with the lowest contrast I have seen coming from ANY lens..ever. I was about to sell it until I saw the Bokeh and realized that with some Processing the contrast is not an issue. I also realized that I have never seen a lens with this type of output. Just like the Leica Noctilux has its own unique look that some love and some hate, so does this Canon 50 1.2 LTM.
In fact, it is one of those lenses that can define you as an artist, just do not expect razor-sharp results or even normal results. After messing with the files a bit and adding some contrast to wide open shots I started to realize that this lens was staying in my collection of classic glass.
The Bokeh can be gorgeous (if you like crazy and unique)
Using this lens for a while makes me want to find an M mount Canon 50 .95 “Dream Lens” which uses the same formula but is much larger, heavier and of course faster at 0.95. Those are usually much more expensive but could be worth it if you get a good copy and like the look these old Canon’s put out.
So for me, this lens is a keeper for me and one day I will try the 0.95 (if anyone has one they want to sell already modded to M mount or see me write about/borrow let me know). It offers such a unique way of seeing the world and while far from perfect, and very far from the norm, it has a beauty to it in the rendering as well as the build and feel. Focus is smooth, is almost spot on with my Leica MM and is easy to adapt to an M camera with a $20 adapter.
Since committing to the Leica MM I have become a classic lens Junkie, especially for 50mm lenses. Most are so cheap you can buy a few and decide what type of look you want for any certain day or project. You can also just buy one you love and shoot that one and only lens. For me, this one may be my new classic 50 fave next to the Summarit above. Both are lovely.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
click on any image in this review for a larger size image
Ahhh yes. Classic solid brass and chrome lenses from the 1950′s certainly have a charm about them. When you find one, hold one and use one you will indeed say to yourself “they do not make them like this anymore”. While Leica still makes damn finely built lenses today, the prices are so high that I see many shooters priced out of the market. I have friends who save for an entire year just so they can buy one 50 Summilux ASPH. Well, I am here to tell you that if you shoot a Leica M, digital or film, there are some special lenses out there that you can buy for much less than a modern Leica lens and in some cases you may even prefer the output.
While many of these old lenses have poor performance and tons of “glow” (which is another word for “flaws”), many of us love those old flaws and imperfections. Those of us who use and get to know these old jewel like lenses realize that once you master them they can be quite beautiful, even by 2013 standards. Some of these old lenses are gems..diamonds in the rough so to speak. Many were used by press shooters in the 50′s and many of those swore by this exact lens, the Nikkor 8.5cm f/2. I was lucky enough to find one in LTM mount in quite amazing shape for a screaming deal, chump change for most Leica lens buyers, and I am glad I did.
I found one!
The Nikkor 8.5 f/2 Lens is considered a legend by many shooters in the know and I have been keeping an eye out for a Leica screw mount version for a few weeks without any luck. Suddenly I happened to stumble upon a rare version of this lens at a local Scottsdale, AZ shop called collectiblecameras.com . They had received a “MIOJ” Tokyo version of this lens which is not the oldest version but it is one of those that is harder to find, even more so with a hood, front cap and original rear metal cap. This one had it all, even the matching case for the lens. Score!
When I saw it on their website I bought it and chose to pick up in person and pay in cash. I then picked it up a week and a half later as it was out getting a cleaning and adjust.
When I held the lens I was struck by the beauty of it. The heft. The smoothness of the focus barrel and the great condition it was in for being a 1950′s rangefinder lens. I was put off by the fact that it is a clickless aperture lens and that the aperture dial moves with the focus ring but even so, after firing off a few test shots and seeing how sharp it was wide open as well as the buttery bokeh, I knew had to have it. Whipped out my debit card and made the purchase final. Those are some great guys at collectible and they have loads of old classic gear. You can see their website HERE. You never know, you may find something you like. They also buy and trade old gear.
Shooting the lens at f/2 will give you sharp details at your focus point with a beautiful buttery fall off into melty goo goo land :)
Indoor at high ISO works as well..
This lens is an all out steal at the prices you can get them for, and the shop where I bought this one even made a goof on the price on this specific lens as they did not realize it was the more rare collectible version. If I did not know any better I would think it was 10 years old, not 60. It is in that nice of condition. The lenscompetes with lenses like the 75 Lux 1.4 at 1/20th the price. While not as “perfect” as a Leica 75 Lux which is not known for its unique Noctilux type of rendering, the Nikkor has loads of charm and in case I have not said it enough, lovely Bokeh in 90% of situations. This could be called Nikon’s original “Cream Machine”. This is a Sonnar design and it has a great smooth signature with biting sharpness if you indeed nail focus. Best of both worlds in one lens.
Wide open at ISO 6400 on the Leica MM
A portrait classic, 85mm. But the M does not have 85mm framelines!
True! The Leica M cameras do not have 85mm framelines, but it is not so hard to guess when using the 75mm framelines. Once you snap a few shots you will get the hang of what is happening. By using an adapter like THIS ONE you can screw it on the bottom of the lens, snap it to your Leica M and have the 75 lines show up. I took the portrait below and while not framed perfectly, it came out OK for a test shot. It was taken at f/2 wide open. Here you can see the Bokeh in the background is a little “busy”. With foliage it can do that but this is a challenge for any lens.
As for the adapter I have tried quite a few from the $10 cheapies to the $25 mid range to the $50 Voigtlander models. If I were buying from scratch I would go with the Voigtlander adapter. It is the best of the lot. I tried the Kippon adapters and they just do not fit right and are made sort of rough. The $10 cheapies are OK and work but also not up to the quality of the Voigtlander adapters. I have 7-8 adapters here and for this lens I have the Voigtlander attached without any issues.
So yes, you can use this lens effectively on a Leica M camera. It may not have the perfection of the modern lenses, and if shooting professionally I would use modern glass but for those times when you want a little bit of a classic injection, these lenses simply rock.
Think about it, for the cost of one modern Leica lens, say a 35 Lux ASPH FLE you could buy 8-10 classic lenses in all focal lengths and give them a spin, and then sell what you do not want or need without losing anything. You can even do so by using my own buy/sell forum here on this site.
When shooting these old lenses in black & white they can be phenomenal as they were made in the B&W era..it is what they were made for. Usually single coated you will get less contrast and a bit of glow/coma/flare as well. These things can indeed add to the charm of your photos. After all, back in the 50′s there were some astonishing photos made and what lenses were used? Lenses like this one right here.
I Found a 2nd One!
During the 3 days of compiling and writing this review I acquired a 2nd Nikkor 8.5cm Lens from a trade deal I made and it is a later version. A teeny bit smaller, the aperture dial has clicks and goes to f/32 instead of f/16. Optics seem the same in my tests. Since I have acquired a 2nd copy, although without caps, hood or case I am selling the rarer and nicer “MIOJ” version which was responsible for every image in this review. I will keep the 2nd copy as my user. (UPDATE – the “MIOJ” has sold already, minutes after the ad was posted in the buy/sell.)
Fun with the Classics
It is pretty fun to mess around with these old classic lenses. They look great, feel fabulous, are easier on the pocketbook than modern glass and would be easy to resell without losing money after you try them out. After trying several classic lenses I have found 3 that I am thrilled with. One of them is this 85 f/2 Nikkor. While I am not an 85mm or 90 guy, it will get used a few times per year and by spending a few hundred compared to a few thousand it is much easier to justify. :) Dont forget to check out Ashwin Rao’s article where he shared some images from this lens as well.
If you want some of that classic fun with your rangefinder check out lenses like this 85 f/2 or the 35 1.8 or the Canon 50 1.8, Leica 50 Summitar or the Leica 50 Summarit 1.5 (review soon). All fantastic but that is just the tip of the iceberg and each one has their own unique flavor or fingerprint that you just may fall in love with. There are TONS of these beauties out there to unearth :)
But these old classics are not for everyone. For those who want perfection I’d suggest grabbing some of the best Leica M glass made today. The 35 Lux ASPH, the 50 Lux ASPH and the 90 Cron APO just to name a few. Ken Hansen ([email protected]), PopFlash and Pro Shop has all of those in stock now :)
The Canon 50 1.8 LTM & W-Nikkor 35 1.8 LTM Lens on the Monochrom – Character galore!
Ahhh, old classic lenses. Sometimes you just gotta love them, sometimes you just gotta hate them, and other times you just want to use them for their unique classic character to inject something cool and different into your photos. True, some of these lenses are gorgeous and some are not so gorgeous but the fact remains. You can get a classic unique rendering and many times on the cheap, especially when compared to big money Leica modern glass.
Since shooting the Leica Monochrom I have discovered, thanks to Ashwin Rao, that sometimes old classics will perform better on this camera than the newest ASPH versions. When I say “perform better” I do not mean “technically” because in that area, the newest lenses from Leica are tough to beat, by anyone. When you want perfection, sharpness and amazing micro contrast it is tough to beat modern Leica glass. Lenses like the 50 Lux ASPH and 35 Lux ASPH FLE are just plain perfection but I remember Ashwin telling me months ago that the modern Leica glass can (at times) look harsh on the Monochrom and that old glass is where it was at for this camera.
My 1st thoughts were..Hmmm, what about the Leica 50 APO masterpiece? I know that lens rocks on the MM but the more I thought about it the more I was intrigued simply because old classic lenses are MUCH cheaper (usually) than the modern counterparts. A few months ago I was using the beautiful Leica 35 Summilux ASPH FLE on the MM exclusively and did think that some of my results were harsh, mostly the ones in high contrast situations, which makes sense. High contrast lenses like those Leica ASPH lenses can be a bit too much contrast in bright conditions.
When the MM arrived in my hands once again a few weeks ago I was off to KEH, looking for some good cheap glass that I could use on the MM. The hard part is finding it though as many shooters out there buy these lenses up as soon as they appear on the site, but if you check every day you may just find something. I managed to find a Canon 50 1.8 LTM lens for $250. Yep, a teeny tiny fast 50 for $250. Much smaller than my Summilux but I just knew there was no way in hell this lens would even come close to the Lux. I imagined soft wide open, hazy and nasty Bokeh. The lens is a LTM” (Leica Thread mount) so it is not compatible with a Leica M camera as is but a $10-$20 adapter will solve this easily. In the video above I show the adapter and take it on and off. You can see how tiny it is.
So..how did the 50 18 work out for me? I will let you know in a bit but also wanted to talk about another little gem of a lens..a rare gem indeed. A Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 LTM lens, which is rare and damn expensive for being so old.
The W-Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 LTM
I was not aware of this little lens until an e-mail came in from Ashwin where he mentioned that once again, KEH had it. Curiosity got the best of me and there it was..a classic Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 LTM lens but man, it was $1599! It was recently reduced (I was told) from $1799 so this is considered a “deal”. Why so high for an old and aging 35 1.8 lens? Well, this one was rated as “EX” and I guess it is a legendary lens with only 1600 copies ever made worldwide. Before purchasing I made sure I knew the return policy because spending $1700 on a classic old lens is not something I take lightly. If the lens arrived in “BGN” condition or had issues with focus I wanted to make sure it could be refunded. Luckily, KEH has an excellent return policy so my worries were gone. KEH also has a great rep so I was not worried anyway, but still, $1599 for an old lens is nothing to scoff at.
I took it out and tested it out with an ND filter to tame the AZ sun. I wanted to see what this lens would do wide open in regards to Bokeh and character. If usable at 1.8, I would most likely keep it. Below are some samples, click them for larger. The Bokeh is interesting to say the least. VERY classic. When shot in B&W it gives off a nostalgic feel and vibe and on the Monochrom it can indeed take you back. Check out the images below and look at the tones in the image. The contrast with this lens is about perfect.
As always, click on the images for larger 1800 pixel wide versions
One side of the immigration reform fence…
I did some research and could not find too much but did see some on e-bay listed at over $2000 so I guess the pricing was on par, if not better at KEH.
So what did I have to lose? Nothing. What did I have to gain? Maybe a kick ass vintage lens that could indeed be quite special. I took the risk. Besides, my taxes are paid. My new iMac is installed and all paid for, and I just made the last payment for my Son’s Japan trip. I had a little left over to play with so why not? I placed the order and waited. When it arrived I was shocked at how tiny it is..man, it is SMALL. Much like the old Summilux PRE-ASPH lens from Leica, a lens I have always wanted to own but never could muster up the courage to spend $2300 for a decent copy of. I love the old lenses that have some glow and flare..I call it “character”. The old pre-asph Lux has it in spades but does the Nikkor? Not so much “glow” but it does have a unique rendering that is plenty sharp for what I shoot.
Fast Fact: The Nikon W-Nikkor.C 1:1.8 35mm uses a 7 element 5 group design. The lens also uses rare earth Lanthanum glass to improve performance, which is supposed to help with sharpness and flatness. Pretty cool huh?
…and the other…
In use the lens is very small and compact, much like the classic Leica Summilux Pre-Asph. It is chrome, solid and beautiful to look at. The image quality is indeed different from ANY modern Leica but that is what I like about it. It has some serious character and works very well on the Monochrom. One thing to note is that the aperture dial is in reverse from your normal Leica lenses so you will be twisting the aperture dial in the opposite direction to change the aperture. Doesn’t bother me at all though, especially when I mainly shoot wide open. That is where most of the character lies with this lens, between f/1.8 and f/2.8.
Damn, this lens got me…
So is the lens staying with me? Most likely as I feel it renders in a beautiful and unique way, especially for B&W. It is gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to use and it gives me something totally different from something like a 35 Lux, 35 Cron or Zeiss 35. It gives me a classic look to the images that I quite enjoy. May not be everyone’s cup of tea but for me, it is a winner. Ashwin Rao is also getting to play with one of these this week. I will be looking forward to his shots with this lens. If there is anything I can say about this lens that I am not a fan of..and could be a “make or break” thing for many is that it has a minimum focus distance of 1m like most older RF lenses. The newer 35′s from Leica, Voigtlander and Zeiss focus to .7 meters and allows you to get close. Something to keep in mind.
*If you find one for sale be aware they are sort of rare and do not show up often. Also be aware there are TWO versions. An “S” version for a Nikon Rangefinder and the LTM version. You can not use the S version with your Leica, so if you buy one for your M use be sure it is a LTM version.
The Canon 50 1.8 LTM on the Monochrom
The Canon 50 1.8 LTM is a double whammy lens because is gorgeous AND cheap! Teeny tiny, solid, metal build, and pretty fast at 1.8. No, it is not a 1.4 but Canon also makes a 1.4 LTM that is supposed to be superb-o. But I am not disappointed in the slightest with the 1.8, in fact, I am beyond thrilled. For $250 plus adapter cost I have a lens that renders beautifully on the MM. I also tried it on the M 240 and found it to be nice there as well, but the color was a little different from what came from the Lux. The contrast is softer but the lens is still sharp. Below are a few test snaps I shot, you can click them for larger views. I do know the last two were at 1.8 and the 1st one may have been at f/2 or 2.8. At $250 this lens is a no brainer if you want to test out some vintage glass.
I find the Bokeh pleasant, the lens is plenty sharp enough wide open and it gives us a little of that classic MOJO many of us like from time to time. Even shooting at night at ISO 1600 you can get a very nice look and honestly, not far off from some much more expensive glass. The 1st image below is an OOC JPEG from the MM at 1.8 using the Canon 50 1.8 LTM, the 2nd one is wide open at 1.8 from my “glasses” series using the same glasses on all who I meet or can talk into wearing them for a snapshot :)
So as you may have guessed, I highly recommend this lens on the Monochrom. It has character (but not too much) and it has most of the things we look for in a Leica lens. Small size, quality build and feel, sharpness, contrast and pleasant bokeh. In fact, I find the bokeh to be gorgeous. Maybe I got a good copy but I hope they are all like this one. At $25o I find it the Deal of the Century in the world of classic Leica glass.
On the Leica M 240:
The lens on the M 240 will give you a low contrast look with decent sharpness and a more “vintage” type of color, which is usually more washed out. But I find the results pleasing and a break from the “Hyper Contrast and Color” norm:
But do not take my word for it, hear what Ashwin Rao has to say as he has been shooting this lens much longer than me…
Words on the Canon 50 1.8 LTM by Ashwin Rao
Hi everyone, I wanted to provide a second perspective of the diminutive but fantastic Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM lens. I have become a huge fan of Canon rangefinder lenses in my journeys with the Leica M Monochrom, and the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM is no exception. This particular lens was designed by one of Canon’s legendary lens designers, Hiroshi Ito, who is credited with many designs that rivaled or even surpassed the performance of Leitz glass of the same era. The Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM remained in the lens line up for many years, undergoing cosmetic changes while the optical formula remained the same. For those of you who care about such details, The Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM is a double-gaussian design, which is also today called a “Planar” design. While the glass used and exact placement of lens elements varies a bit from lens to lens, planar lenses retain a certain look and richness that’s a product of their formulation.
In considering my options for the M Monochrom, I wanted to build a stable of vintage lenses through which to see the world in black and white. Whenever I used more modern lenses, I found their character to be too clinical or too contrasty on the monochromatic sensor. While others have been able to make this combination of modern glass and monochrome sensor work, I have had a harder time, and so I turned to older lenses. What I have discovered has been a revelation to me. These older lenses often resolve quite well, in fact impressively well, while imparting a wonderful character that’s more classic and filled with character than their modern brethren. Sometimes, the character is harsh, and at other times, it’s surprisingly pleasant. Such is the case with the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, one of the most pleasant rendering lenses on the MM. I have really enjoyed how the lens renders skin tones (almost looks like silver halide prints, where skin tones really shimmer). Out of focus elements (i.e. “bokeh” ) can be fantastic or jarring, depending on the context, but more often than not, everything is quite pleasing in a vintage sort of way. One of the biggest surprises that I experienced with this lens on the MM is how well it resolves. This is a lens that keeps up with the sensor, even when used wide open. It’s really incredible, and one of the mysteries that I have discovered with the Monochrom’s sensor. Some lenses that appear to perform poorly on the M9 really impress on the MM’s sensor, and I would put this lens in that category.
I find it to perform adequately on my M9, but it’s not a lens that I’d typically reach for on that camera. On the MM, it’s almost always one of the first lenses that I consider. The fact that it’s tiny, well-built, and images on part with such legends as the Leica and Leitz Summicron lenses makes it a worthy companion for the MM. I picked mine up from KEH for less that $250, and my copy is a later design with a black and chrome coloring (rather than all chrome). So for those of you who are looking for a bargain now that you may have invested heavily in the M Monochrom, this is most certainly a lens to consider adding. I have enjoyed it more than Canon’s more extensive faster offerings (50 mm f/1.2, 50, mm f/1.4, and 50 mm f/1.5), and it can be had for a very pleasing price. Pleasing images & pleasing price: what more could one ask for?!?