Apr 282011
 

M in the Mountains – A Beginner’s Experience

By Darell Miller

**All photos were shot with a vintage 1961 50 Summilux

I come alive in the mountains. The sense of silent power, crystal clear air, and hushed awe lifts all my senses. On a clear day the sky is a deep delirious blue that that you can almost drink in and just looking at it refreshes exhausted legs after a 2km thigh burning black diamond ski trail. Exhilarated and relaxed at the same time, I am in my element.

I have always longed to be able to capture some of that mountain magic I feel in my photographs but when using digital compacts had not really done anything more than point and shoot and failed. Things started to change last year when through an email conversation with Steve I took my first steps to serious considered photography I bought an Olympus EP2. Six months later after having used some M series lenses on the EP2 I signed up for Steve’s meetup in NYC and managed to pickup a secondhand M8 through the Leica Forum. Now I really stared to learn about the elements that produce an image and actually have control over it. My photos from NY weren’t fantastic but I was learning and loving the process. Now if i could just combine this with my great love of the mountains and skiing that would be great!

 

Sun, Snow & Wind

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The problem was that I normally go skiing with my teenage son who isn’t all that tolerant of my taking photos at the best of times, I slow everything up apparently, and not at all when there’s skiing to be done. This combined with all the kit I have to carry in my backpack for the two of us when we are skiing meant that the best I could hope for was some quickly snatched shots on my EP2, which wasn’t my aim. I was chatting about the problem with my friend Luke, a Canon user and a far better photographer than me, when he came up with a fantastic solution “How about a boy’s skiing and photography weekend in Cervinia, Italy?” Well that didn’t take much thinking about I can tell you! Once we had both obtained the vital green light from our wives it was full steam ahead.

Now came the vexed question of kit. Lenses were easy, my 28mm Voigtlander and my vintage 50mm Summilux were the obvious choices, but a Billingham Hadley Pro is hardly the ideal bag for skiing with. A backpack is more practical but makes it difficult to get at your camera quickly. Here Luke came up trumps again as he uses the Lowe Pro Slingshot as a light weight quick access bag for his Canon and a lens. This is a single strap backpack but with aside strap which holds the bag more firmly in place which can be unclipped from the sling in front of you. This means the whole bag can be swiveled around your body and opened up from the side entry zip with no chance of your camera falling out, even on a ski lift! If you are into active sports and want to take your M this is definitely a bag to consider. With an M8 and two lenses it still has room for a spare sweater in the main compartment, vital when the temperature gets down to -27 degrees Centigrade.

So one Friday evening in we found ourselves touching down in Turin in the north of Italy. For those who haven’t been there Turin is one of the major industrial cities in Italy, the home to Fiat cars, and is located in a bowl literally surrounded by mountains. For a skier it would be heaven to work here as your are no more than an hour and half drive from some serious ski resorts. Oh and if you want to know what it looks like then just watch the original 1960’s Italian Job movie as the whole robbery sequence is set in Turin, don’t get me started on Mini Coopers.

Early Saturday morning we are up and ready to drive form our hotel to the slopes, and I mean early, the Moon hadn’t even set yet and the Sun was barely peeking over the top of the surrounding mountains.

Early start for the slopes

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Cervinia itself is right up on the Swiss/Italian border where you can ski down into the Swiss town of Zermatt and both resorts play host to one of the most iconic mountains in Europe, the Matterhorn. This really is mountain straight form your childhood imagination, especially when seen from the Swiss side. A perfect pyramid of rock, snow, and ice towering over everything else, it punctures the sky like an exclamation mark. Needless to say there were many attempts made to capture its extraordinary beauty and I hope I have done it some justice here and in the first photograph.

 

Majestic Matterhorn

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Complementing the Matterhorn is the seemingly endless Aosta valley. A sinuous, winding corridor of snow clad peaks reaching down from the border with many wonderful ski resorts along its sides.

 

What followed was two and a half days of bitingly blue skies (it really did get down to -27 at one point!), fantastic skiing, great food and wine (well we were in Italy) and lots of photography. Here are a few more of my favourite shots from this amazing weekend.

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Matterhorn Towering over Cervinia

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Last of the day’s Sun

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Luke and his Canon

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Luke carving a turn in front of the Matterhorn

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I thought I’d finish in the style of Steve’s & Seal’s M9 contest with two images that for me define why I love the mountains.  Thanks for reading.

 

Heaven is a place on Earth

 

Jan 242011
 

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New lens reviews coming soon for Leica!

Im busy shooting two Leica lenses I have never shot before. The Leica 50 Summarit 2.5 and the 90 Summarit 2.5. I am shooting and testing them on an M8 and M9 so we can see the differences between the two cameras. Lots of M8 shooters still frequent this site so I am happy to be able to still test lenses on the classic M8! The 50 review should be up within 2 weeks shortly followed by the 90.

My 1st impressions of these lenses are that for the money they are just as good as the 35 and 75 summarits I have shot with. The whole summarit line is fantastic and if you want to buy new glass from Leica then these offer the most “bang for the buck”. Of course you could always search for a used 50 Summicron or 90 Elmarit but for new options the Summarit line is the most affordable in the Leica line up.

I was testing out shooting them yesterday while my son had his puppy over at my house. I still LOVE the M8 and feel it is still today a great camera to own if you cant swing the M9. In decent light with a good lens the M8 still provides IQ good enough for almost any situation.

Reviews will be coming soon! Oh and  thanks to Ken Hansen for sending me the lenses to test out! As usual, he has them all in stock. HIs email is [email protected]

This one was shot with the Leica M8 and 50 Summarit wide open at 2.5 and ISO 160 – click image for larger version

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and one from the M9 and 90 Summarit at 2.5 – click image for larger version

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Jan 032011
 

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From Steve: Starting off this Monday morning with a cool little guest post by Mikael Tornwall. Coming this week…The M9 Contest Details, Pentax K5 review, some film stuff, and a look at the Panasonic LX-5. Enjoy!

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Why a used M7 is more expensive than a new M9

The true cost of film by Mikael Tornwall

You have probably all heard the argument that you can buy an awful lot of film for the price difference between a new Leica M9 and a used M7. After all, the M9 is 7000 dollar, while you can get a used M7 in good condition for little more than two grand.

Besides, it’s fun to shoot film, so what is there to argue about? Well, it turns out that the M7 will probably cost you more to own than the digital M9.

Don’t get me wrong, I´m a big film enthusiast and I regularly shoot with both my antique M4-2 and M3 and my Hasselblad 201f. I love the results, but I can do without the waiting, and I can definitely do without the cost for processing and scanning.

Photography is my first and foremost my passion, even if I do take pictures from time to time for the newspaper that pays my salary. My profession is a business journalist, and as such it’s my job to calculate the true cost of things. So when I decided to get a new Leica, naturally I sat down with an Excel-sheet on my PC and figured out how much a M7 would really cost to own, including film, developing and scanning.

Top my surprise I found out that a 2500 dollar film M-camera quickly becomes more expensive than a used M8 or even a new M9.

If you are a casual photographer that maybe shoots one roll per week, the figures would suggest that you get an M7 over an M9. But even at that low rate, the M8 is less expensive to own.

I come back to all the details later in this post. For now you just have to accept these figures:

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 880

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

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Basically the cost for the M8 and M9 is only how much it loses in value every year + interest for the money it costs to buy. (Never mind if you have the money in your wallet, capital is still a cost. If you did not buy the camera, you would have a few grand to invest at let’s say 5 percent capital gain. Not taking that into account feels better, but it’s still fooling yourself!)

For the M7 the capital cost is a total of 275 dollar, while film will cost you 605 per year. I have calculated a total cost of 12 dollar per film, including processing and scanning.

Now let’s see what happens if you are a bit more ambitious and process and scan your own film. You can probably get the film cost down to about 6 or 7 dollar. Bear in mind that you will have to buy a pretty good scanner to really get full use of your expensive Leica lenses. That’s going to cost you a dollar or two per roll.

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 577

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

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Finally, the M7 is the least expensive alternative. But honestly, if you spend 2500 on a used camera and maybe as much money on lenses, you will probably shoot more than one roll per week.

So let’s try doubling that to two rolls per week, and then test one roll per day. The latter is probably more that most enthusiasts will shoot, but a low figure for a professional.

2 rolls per week (pay for scan and processing)

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 1485

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

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One roll per day/20 rolls per month

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 3155

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

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Wow, 3155 dollar per year to operate that M7, if you shoot one roll per weekday as a professional! That’s almost three times as expensive as owning the new m9.

Now, you might ask how come the M9 only costs 1350 per year, when the price tag is 7000. Here is how I have calculated.

For all three cameras I have assumed a price that you will eventually sell them for. Old film Leicas lasts forever, so I have assumed that you will keep it for 10 years and then sell it for 1000 dollar. (That is more or less what you pay for a M6 today.) The M8.2 and M9 you keep for three years. I assumed you get the M8.2 for 3000 and that you can sell it for 1500 in three years. That´s a loss of 500 per year. The M9 is new, so that’s going to lose more in value. I have assumed that it will lose as much as the M8.2 have so far, or about 3000 in three years. That’s a cost of 1000 per year. To that you have to add interest of 5 percent of whatever you buy it for.

You can argue that the film cost can be 10 instead of 12 dollar, even if you don’t process yourself. Or you can go for an even cheaper camera, lets say a M6 TTL for 1500. And yes, that will change the figures, but not dramatically. Even now the M8.2 comes out as the cheapest alternative, if you shoot 2 rolls per week.

Camera Yearly cost

Used M6 TTL $ 1133

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

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Bottom line, the M7 or the M6 might be absolutely right for you. Film after all still has a unique look that I have not been able to fully emulate with my digital cameras. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will save any money by getting that M7.

Myself? I had an M8.2, which still might be the second best digital camera in the world. But this little exercise made me even more convinced that upgrading to the M9 was the right choice.

BTW, here is a quick comparison shot between an M7 and M9 by Steve from last year. Fun!

Mikael

Dec 152010
 

Check out these amazing IR photos taken with an M8..WOW..Inspiring!

Inspired by a “Faulty” Sensor

By Konstantinos Besios – (See his Blog)

The Leica M8 was “in trouble” when its high sensitivity to infrared light was discovered, M8 owners had to live with a UV/IR filter on their lenses, but when this cursed filter is replaced with either a Hoya R72 or a B+W 092 IR filter, then a door to a new world opens ….

A great tool for infrared photography and the best thing is that you can even shoot infrared without a tripod and get away with it ….

Below are some images I’ve taken with the Leica M8 and B+W 092 infrared filter.

(Note: the b&w image with the lady on the bridge is shot with a Leica M7 and Ilford SFX 200 film, the close up tree b&w photo against the sun is taken with a Leica M1 and Efke IR820 film.The rest of the images are from the M8)

Dec 092010
 

The Leicva M8 and Zeiss Biogon 2/35 does Tyrolia

By Felix Esser

Today, I would like to tell you about my experience with the Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM on the Leica M8. As you may (or may not) already know, the 2/35 Biogon ZM is a very high-esteemed lens in the rangefinder world. If you didn’t already, I suggest you read Steve’s review of the lens (you can see this review here) on the Leica M9, in which he praises it quite a lot. I’ve been using this lens for a couple of months earlier this year, and even though I had to sell it eventually to fund some other lenses, it has won a place in my heart. This article is about my experience with this lens during our traditional summer holidays in Tyrolia, Austria this year.

For the last thirty-something years, my wife’s family would traditionally spend their summer holidays in a small village called Nassereith, situated in the north-west of Tyrolia, close to the German border. Her grandparents were the first to visit, rather by chance actually, and liked it so much that they would come back each year, accompanied first by their children and later also by their grandchildren. Today, our son Emil is the fourth generation of her family to visit the place.

Nassereith is a small village at about 2500 feet altitude in the western Tyrolian alps, surrounded by mountains in every direction. It is located between the Mieminger Plateau, the city of Imst and the Tyrolian capital Innsbruck, and anywhere between Nassereith and any of these three places, possibilities for hiking, trekking, climbing, skiing, rafting and other outdoor activities abound. Even so, the climax of Nassereith’s tourist attraction has long passed, as becomes obvious by the many decaying buildings all around the place. Those who come, however, often come again.

On our many hiking trips, the Biogon has proven to be an excellent companion. Wandering the gorgeous landscapes, it helped me effectively capture the many wonderful scenes I passed by. With its effective field-of-view of 47mm on the Leica M8, the lens was well-suited to capture not only entire landscapes (if they stretched far enough), but also landscape details, environmental portraits, close-up portraits and even close-ups of nature details.

The Biogon is excellently sharp already wide open at f/2, and becomes bitingly sharp when stopped down. It has rich, warm colours and strong contrast, which is good for nature shots. Stopped down to f/8, I could capture entire landscapes sharply across the whole frame, and at f/2, it delivered superb subject separation for close-up shots. There isn’t really much that this lens isn’t suited for.

What I especially loved about this lens was how it makes subjects stand out from the background when shooting at larger apertures. (This is what is called the ‘Zeiss 3D pop’.) This made it especially satisfying to take close-up pictures of details such as small flowers or animals, and even at medium distances, there is enough background defocusing to create interesting effects. But the lens also shines when used stopped down, when everything is in focus, sharp, with great macro and micro contrast, superb colours and a very even rendering across the whole frame.

The Biogon 2/35 ZM really is an outstanding lens, as I am sure many of you already know from first-hand experience. It’s also a bang-for-the-buck lens, being optically excellent and still affordable for many of us. According to Steve, it shines on the M9. It shines on film from what I can gather, and it also shined on my M8. So there really isn’t any reason not to own one. Still, I sold my copy. Why? Well, my budget was tight, and even though it was a great performer overall, it was quite restricting for me as my only lens. I wanted something faster and something wider, so I sold it and got a fast 28 and 50 instead – a combination which suits my needs much better. Going through the pictures I took with it, however, I always remember how much I liked it. So, if I should have the opportunity one day, I might get another one, just because it’s such a great little lens.

One last word: if you like hiking, climbing, rafting and/or other activities in the mountains, or if you just plain like the mountains themselves, and if you’re uncertain where to spend your next holidays – go to Nassereith. People are lovely there, the landscapes are gorgeous, the air is pure, the water is fresh, the food is great …. you’ll like it. But be careful – you might end up wanting to come back …

You can see more from Felix at his website HERE and you can order the Zeiss lens HERE

Nov 232010
 

A reader of this blog, Konstantinos Besios, sent in these two images in where he snapped the same scene with his M8 with a B+W 092 Infrared filter and his Leica M7 with Tri-X 400 and a B+W 091 Red Filter. The M7 was scanned on an Epson V500 scanner so it is not even close to the full potential fo film, but I am digging those dramatic tones of the M8 shot with the filter. These are really a “just for fun” post as teh images are too small to really appreciate but at least we can get an idea of what an M8 with the filter is capable of :)

Thanks for the images Konstantinos!

Sep 222010
 

Ok, lets get back to business…

Why the M8 might be the right rangefinder (for you)!

By Robert Chisholm

I am excited to be writing an article for Steve’s site! I have enjoyed watching the site develop and appreciate the genuineness of the site, with photographer-oriented articles, rather than pieces for pixel-peepers. Look, I’m a daily shooter, someone who takes photos because of the product AND the process. To me, photography represents a release, a break from my daily stress and worry and a means to connect with the world creatively. I intended (and started) to write an article for Steve about shooting the M9 with less expensive, “alternative” lenses (Voigtlander, Konica, Jupiter, etc), but that article keeps evolving with my lens collection, and is still much a work in progress. After joining flickr recently I began going through old photos on drives to add to my page. I am rediscovering many amazing photos I forgot I even took and many of them were taken with the M8. This has provided me with a wealth of material upon which to reflect. I now better appreciate what a fantastic camera the M8 was (and is)!

The M8 was my first love affair with the rangefinder. I came into photography at the early part of the digital SLR revolution, missing film altogether. I can not remember having a camera as a child – my parents were not “artistic” in that way – but I do remember appreciating visual art early in life. Unfortunately it was apparent from an early age that I can not draw or paint and being a creative person I needed an outlet to express myself visually. Through that desire came my love of photography. Now, while I never experienced film photography, my wife was a graphic designer by trade, and had worked with both film and digital (early photoshop) processing. From her photoshop instructions, and from reading all I could online about digital image processing, my photography and digital processing evolved hand in hand. In retrospect, I guess film was never for me. I only mention this because when I also stumbled onto rangefinders, the digital rangefinder was my only real option. And we all know that, right from the get go, the only player in digital rangefinders was and is Leica (with a somewhat more limited attempt from Epson).

Today I shoot and enjoy my M9. However, as the cost of the M9 is (much) more than most can afford, and as comparable image quality is available at a fraction of the price in dSLRs from Canon/Nikon/Sony, justifying an M9 might be difficult if not impossible. This fact brings up, right from the start, a very basic argument herein that needs to be discussed. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the argument that stops many people from going Leica at all: The rangefinder is a manual focus camera and doesn’t do sports/macros/long lenses well, if at all. Single Lens Reflex cameras can do every focal length that rangefinders do, plus have snappy autofocus and can shoot anything. Who needs a rangefinder?

Yes, this is THE basic question. If the answer is not obvious to you, then go no further. The whole rangefinder “thing” is not going to work – and that’s OK. For everyone else, you know the answer: Some people “see” the world and photograph differently with a rangefinder.

Bear with me for a minute…

I enjoy trying “new” things. Since 2005, starting with the digital rebel XT, I have used cams from Canon (rebel xt, 5D, 5D2), Nikon (D300, D700, D3), Sony (a850). I also have owned the Leica M8 and now M9. Like most of you, I shoot and shoot and shoot, for enjoyment and as a passion. My subjects are my world, which means mostly family/people photos (boring to most, but priceless to me) and I am guessing that I have taken probably 150,000 photos. Or more. In the digital world, you can take (and toss) a lot of photos. I’m not trying to say I shoot more than someone else, and most of my photos from any given session are so similar that I keep one and recycle all the others. But as an avid user of several systems, I have a decent amount of experience on both the SLR and rangefinder platforms. I know the “on paper” pluses and minuses of both systems, and, on paper, slr cameras clearly have the advantage, given price to performance.

As I mentioned, I recently joined flickr to host images mostly for my family (the grandparents) to view and enjoy. While much of what I consider my best work will never see flickr (or the light of day) because it is more fashion or “fine art” oriented subject matter, what I discovered is that, out of everything that I have taken over the years, my best photos on flickr come from my rangefinder shooting. Because of the different cameras I’ve enjoyed over the years, the BULK of my work comes from SLR cameras. There might be ten times the amount pictures from my Canon/Nikon/Sony but the photos that I love (and that my unbiased wife really likes) come from my Leicas.

This brings us back to the start: Some people will and do see the world and photograph differently with a rangefinder than with other cameras. And this might be, as in my case, better (That premise also says that for others, it could be worse!). But if you, like me, do your best work with a rangefinder, then you’ll want one, no matter the cost!

So, what about the M8? The camera once championed but now forgotten with the arrival of the M9. Was it the flawed failure some say? A half-baked attempt at a digital rangefinder? Cropped sensor a handicap? 10 megapixels is too little? ISO limitations too much? Read the online forums and you will get all sorts of answers and arguments from fanboys and haters alike. But with the release of the M9, and as the price of the M8 has fallen to $2k or less, the M8 is a camera to take a hard look at if you need to shoot a digital rangefinder but can’t afford the M9.

Now, I’m going to save my discussion of “cheap” rangefinder lenses to the aforementioned article I am writing with the M9 in mind (if, after this piece Steve is still interested!). Let me skip right to article’s conclusion and give my not so humble opinion: While Leica glass may be the “gold standard” by which all rangefinder lenses are compared, there are plenty of quality lens options available on the new and used market to allow, for the price of one new Leica 50 Summicron lens, a person to completely outfit their rangefinder lens kit. Boom, there it is!

So, you can get a New-To-U (used) M8 for about $2k (or less) and a complete lens outfit for another $2k (or less) and you are all set. For a bit over half the price of the M9, you can have an M8 and lenses and be out taking and making great photos! The price of admission, my friends, is reason #1 that the M8 should be considered over the M9 as your way to enter rangefinder photography. Let’s look at a few other things.

The Crop Factor

The M8 has a 1.3x crop factor. That’s not too terrible. The mid-level Canon’s and Nikons and even the pro-level Canon sports cams have crops. The downside is that wide angle lenses are not so wide. And “apparent” depth of field is increased, so lenses appear to give you a slightly higher depth of field (we won’t discuss why this is, but it is mostly because of subject distance from camera which seems to change depth of field). What about the benefits? The most obvious benefit is that lenses known to be “not so good” due to softness at the field edges are now usable. As you are using the center of the lens, the softer edges do no impact the image as much or at all, depending on the lens. This makes older lenses that might be too soft on the full framed M9 now viable options. So, your pool possible lens choices is actually larger with the M8 than what you would consider with the M9. Additionally, the 50mm lens, which is a decent portrait lens on the M9, becomes a fantastic portrait focal length on the M8. I actually miss this with the M9!

Ten megapixels.

Is ten megapixels enough? For what? For many users and for most applications, ten megapixels is plenty. For people with size issues and number envy, ten might seem far too little. The major camera manufacturers have been using the bigger-is-better argument to sell point and shoots and DSLRs to the masses now for years. And this argument works! People believe they need the biggest, the “most” of whatever they can get for the money. This is a psychological argument that is in no way limited to sensor size: We see it every day in commercials for fast food, homes, automobiles, etc. No matter the product, people psychologically link value to perceived measurements. The bigger objective value retailers place on a given aspect of a certain product, the more we as consumers seem to attach a higher subjective value on that product as well. Once you impose a real life limitation to this argument, such as how big do you need to print, then this argument comes to a screeching halt at a certain point. While 6 megapixels was a great improvement from 3 megapixels, once you reach ten megapixels of super sharp data (given the lack of the blurring anti-aliasing filter) and you can print 16×24 inches very, very nicely, how much more do you really need? I rarely print over 8×10. Sometimes 11×14 or 11×17, I guess. Where is your hard limit?

I suspect that most people do not print much bigger than 16×24 on a regular basis. If that is your portion size, then the bigger-is-better megapixel argument has hit its limit with you: You don’t need to super size this one!

ISO Limitations

I will be the first to say it: I did not like the inherent ISO capabilities of the M8 and greatly appreciate the 1 to 1.5 stop advantage of the M9. This makes a real difference to me. I live in the cloudy Northwest, where it rains and is dark most of the year. Summer is short and light is scarce. Now, if I lived in sunny Florida where it stays lighter and brighter for most of the year and that light remains late into the day, I might not noticed the ISO limitations of the M8 at all. ISO is really where the Leica’s fall behind their competitors. For me my hard limit is hit with the M9: I can shoot what I want when I want, and I really would not shoot much more. For a guy who shoots concerts or in low light venues, the M9 might not reach their hard limit. The Canon or Nikon low light camera du jour might be the only way to go, if you have to get “that shot” in the dark!

That said, the M8 (and M9) has very grain-like noise. Not the color-smudgy-blurry noise I get with my Canon 5D2 – Rather you get a really a nice, grain-like pattern that, when viewed in prints, is not unattractive and reminds me of “the look of film.” What can I say, I like it! Sometimes I would purposefully use ISO 640 on the M8 to get that film-like noise.

So, if the crop factor, the megapixel count and the ISO capabilities of the camera do not impact your shooting, then the M8 is a fantastic camera for you! An inexpensive used but clean M8 might be the perfect way to enter digital rangefinder photography.

There are definitely aspects of the M9 that I appreciate, subtle but very real improvements that make the M9 the “right” choice, for me. No matter what “the experts” pontificate about online, I know, from shooting the camera and working the images, the M9 files have less noise, more dynamic range (which helps me when processing) and definitely have a different in-camera image engine that make the overall look of the files more rich and colorful. The M9 is what I had hoped the M8 would be. But looking back at the photos that I now cherish, the M8, for all its real or imagined shortcomings, gave me more “keepers” than all my dslr’s combined. Boy, that’s a terrible camera!

Rob Chisholm is a photo-enthusiast living in the Pacific Northwest.

More of his work can be seen on his flickr site at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/feros-ferio/

Aug 152010
 

How I became a rangefinder aficionado – by Felix L. Esser

ABOVE: M8 + Nokton 35/1.4

First of all, I’d like to thank Steve Huff for giving me the opportunity to write a guest article for his website. I feel very honored, as there have already been many great articles by many great photographers here–besides the great work Steve is doing here. I’ve been a frequent visitor to Steve’s site for about a year, and he (and all of you who are contributing here) is partly responsible for my decision to try out rangefinder cameras in the first place. I am thus glad to be able to contribute to this site by writing this little essay, and hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

I first read the term ‘rangefinder’ in an article on the Epson R-D1s a couple years ago*. By that time, I was shooting my trusty Panasonic FZ30 superzoom bridge camera, and wasn’t as much into photography as I am now. (Had you asked me the difference between aperture value and exposure time by then, I couldn’t have told you–let alone explain what the terms even meant!) So you can imagine how I felt about this “exotic” device–I had no understanding for it at all. (In fact, my exact thoughts were something like “Who shoots such a thing! Looks awfully complicated!” :-))

I’d like to digress at this point and tell you a little about myself. I’m 27 years old at the time of writing this article, graduated from studying Comparative Indo-European Linguistics about a year ago, am married and have a son approximately 1 ½ years of age. As much as I love my profession as a linguist, my great passion is photography (although it only came to be that during the last year or so). I mainly take pictures of my family, but also of the world as I see and experience it, so I can remember where I have been and what I have done. I like to share my work with others, hoping to be able to inspire people by sharing what inspires me. I wouldn’t consider myself a technically good photographer at this point–I just love to take pictures, to tweak them to my liking, and to look at them and share them. But I am also interested in the work of others–contemporary photographers or masters of the old days–, to find new inspiration and enhance my photographic skills. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to make some money from it!?

My wife and son – M8 + Nokton 35/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 640

My son was born in February 2009. Before that, I had always enjoyed photography (to the extent where not much more than pointing, shooting and then looking at the result was involved), and being sort of a tech geek, I was also always very interested in the technology behind it (and thus pretty quickly gave up on film when digital established itself as the new standard). After my son was born, I quickly realized that I couldn’t capture many of those magic moments with my FZ30, as the combination of an f/2.8 lens with a maximum of 400 (quite noisy) ISO didn’t allow for much available light work. So I got the Olympus E-P1 (because it looked nice) and the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens (because I finally understood what aperture values were all about) as soon as both were readily available–and from that point onwards my interest in photography made a huge leap forward. The new possibilities were vast and overwhelming, the images looked so much nicer and I felt so much less restricted suddenly. It was like a revelation, as if a hidden door had suddenly been unlocked.

ABOVE: Watching the rain fall – M8 + Biogon 2/35 @ f/2, ISO 2500

Sometime late last year, I accidentally and completely unintentionally stumbled across this website. I don’t’ remember what exactly I was looking for (possibly a review of the E-P1), but reading Steve’s articles and seeing the work of him and other Leica shooters, I became so fascinated by rangefinder cameras (and Leicas in particular), that the craving to experience rangefinder photography myself became stronger and stronger–up to the point where I couldn’t resist anymore. So I got myself an old film rangefinder (a 1969 Yashica Electro 35 GT), just to see if I’d like it … and experienced a similar kind of revelation as I first had with the E-P1. A whole new world of possibilities opened up in front of me–again. I felt like having so much more control suddenly, and the relation between me and my subject becoming so much more direct and intimate. You can probably imagine that it didn’t take much time until I lusted for a real Leica …

Let me digress once again. I do have considered (D)SLRs, multiple times in fact. The last time was before I decided to get the E-P1. But I wanted something smaller, more portable, less obtrusive. I have shot a film SLR several years ago–a Pentax ME Super, coupled with its standard 50mm f/1.7 lens, which was, in retrospective a very nice combo I probably shouldn’t have parted with–, but at that time my interest in manual operation wasn’t really existent. Today, when I look through a DSLR viewfinder, I can’t imagine getting friends with it. Not after having experienced the Leica M rangefinder, anyways.

ABOVE: Weed in the wind – M8 + Biogon 2/35 @ f/2, ISO 160

Now, being the kinda tech-geek that I am, I knew that if I were to get a Leica, it had to be a digital M. I also knew it wouldn’t be the M9–not in my professional and personal position. So I went for a quest on a used M8, and found a lovely second-hand chrome version for an acceptable price. When I first held it in my hands, I knew I was finally at home. That solid, all-metal body, the large and bright viewfinder, the sheer sensation of holding something in your hands that has been carefully and meticulously assembled by just a few talented craftsmen in a small factory somewhere in the rural areas of Western Germany (and, coincidentally, not at all that far from where I live)–it just felt so right, so basic, so natural. Holding a rangefinder camera–and a Leica M in particular–in your hands and up to your eyes is just a really, really special experience. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.

Today, I am shooting my M8 whenever I find the time. Despite being smaller than most DSLRs, it is still considerably more bulky than my E-P1, so I can’t carry it with me everywhere–that’s what I’ve got the Olympus for. But I do take it with me on many an occasion, and especially when I know I want the best image quality. Yes, the M8 is four years old now, and in the digital world this means it’s already a classic. But even though it might be technologically „outdated“, it does still deliver much richer files than most of what you can get in the consumer segment today. The latitude for processing that the M8’s files offer is just astonishing–over- or underexpose your images by one stop, and the DNGs still have more than enough reserve to spoil you with a great-looking picture. And thanks to the non-existent anti-aliasing filter in front of the M8’s 10 megapixel Kodak CCD, the amount of detail being captured is just stunning! Even at 100% magnification, a crop from an M8 file can easily be used for web presentation. Try to do that with your leading-brand consumer DSLR–not even to mention your holiday snapshot superzoom compact.

Party scene – M8 + Nokton 35/1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 640

I know, photography isn’t just about the gear, it’s also (or even primarily) about the skill of the photographer. I’ve seen many great pictures taken with cameras that come at a much lower price than the M8 (the Holga, for example, or even cellphone cameras). But for me, taking a picture isn’t just about applying the rule of thirds, or correctly framing the „decisive moment“ from the right angle–it’s also a great deal about the experience of taking the picture, as this is what helps me forget the hassles of everyday life and work. In this manner, shooting the M8 is also a bit therapeutical for me–it helps me focus my mind, calm down my thoughts and just enjoy what I am doing. Besides rewarding me with so many invaluable memories that don’t get lost in the maze of my subconscious mind …

* Technically, it wasn’t the term ‘rangefinder’ but its German equivalent ‘Messsucher’.

You can see more of Felix at his blog HERE! Lot’s of cool photography info :)

Aug 122010
 

Is the Leica M8 Still A Good Choice? By Steve Huff

(or, one hour with an old friend, the Leica M8)

Hey guys! Still working on my film stuff as I am awaiting a couple of more rolls to get back from the lab. Having a lab process and scan this time and they take 2-3 days! Anyway, I was out in Phoenix today with a dear old friend, the Leica M8! Yes, an M8.It’s been a long time since I shot with one, and a local shop in Phoenix had one in mint condition, used, at a very good price. Looked like new so it got my brain to thinking… Seeing that I have been missing my M9 so much, and really missing having an M in general, I sold my X1 to fund this M8. DOH! But I  feel REALLY good about the decision. I love the X1, and as fantastic as it is at what it does, my heart is with the M.

So….there I was at the shop and I bought it, and after selling my X1 it only cost me a teeny bit more for the M8, so it was almost an even swap. It already had a fully charged battery and a 4GB memory card inside so I took a quick walk even though the temp was a pretty hot 110 degrees. On these days it feels like you are walking inside an oven. Brutal!

Anyway, I had the old 40mm Summicron attached (from the CL)  and my 50 Summitar from the 40’s, without a UV/IR filter (dont have one on hand) and took a few shots around town. No premo lenses..nope, nothing fancy. No coding either. Just the basics. A used M8 and some old lenses. I was not expecting much and started to wonder if I should have kept my X1 for its lovely size, quietness, and image quality. As soon as I lifted the viewfinder to my eye I felt like I was home! THIS is me. THIS is what I have been missing. No, it’s not an M9 but the next best thing IMO, and until I can save for another M9, this will be my constant companion. This leads me in to a question I get asked quite often, at least 1-2 times every single day…

So, is the M8 still a good choice, even today?

I always get the question….”Is the M8 still a good camera”? I always say OF COURSE IT IS! The M8 and M8.2 are still my 2nd favorite digital camera ever (the M8 and M8.2 are really the same as far as operation and IQ) with the M9 being #1. It’s not all about the image quality with these cameras but more about the “usability factor” AND the quality! Using an M, any M, is just a rewarding experience and yes, with plenty of M8’s on the used market these days, it is still a GREAT alternative if you want a digital M. If you do not have the $7000 for an M9 that is. For about $2200-$2700 you can buy a perfect M8 on the used market. Add a used Leica lens and you have a wonderful digital M setup!

M8 vs M9 – Well, I am betting that ALL of you reading this have read my M9 review, so you know the differences between the M8 and M9. After an hour of shooting today with the M8, I can say that the M9 has richer files, better color out of camera, and better high ISO. Also, full frame, no need for UV/IR filters and its somewhat faster as well. The M9 IS a better camera, but the M8 is no slouch. The key to the M8? Shoot RAW and tweak during processing!

Here are a few during my one hour I spent with the Leica M8 today :) Click on any image to have a lightbox open up with a nicer, larger version :)


ABOVE: I shot this graffiti mid day in the Phx, AZ sun. After the RAW conversion in ACR, it almost looks like a nice chrome film stock! This was using the old 40mm Summicron that came with the CL I am reviewing. A lens that usually sells for $300-$400. Click the image for a larger version!


ABOVE: Again, the 40mm summicron, no coding and no UV/IR…mid day full AZ sun…Leica look anyone?


ABOVE: Check this out! The M8 I was walking with today had a pinhole body cap adapter. I shot this out of my window while driving. It’s Abstract yes, but the possibilities seem interesting. More testing with this coming soon.


ABOVE: Crazy bokeh anyone? Colors were pumped up here but the lens used was my 1940’s 50 Summitar wide open at F2. Just seeing how this lens behaves on the M8 as I loved it on the M9.


ABOVE: At Photomark in Phx, AZ


ABOVE: I was testing focus with the 50 Summitar and focused on the right edge of the shovel (when looking at photo, right) – found out focus was spot on and that this lens still has a unique character.


ABOVE: A pretty silly subject for a photo huh? But look, an M camera with a unique lens like the $300 50 Summitar can make almost anything look interesting :)


ABOVE: More with the 50 Summitar – lovely at F2 in my living room.


ABOVE: Me with the M8 and the 40 Summicron at F2.


ABOVE: With the 40 Summicron at f2


ABOVE: Another with the 40, wide open.


ABOVE: Just a quick window snap…40 Summicron at f2


ABOVE: 40 Summicron at f/2


ABOVE: Crazy 50 Summitar Bokeh…


ABOVE: The M8, just like the M9 has always been a great camera for B&W conversions. This one was done with Silver Efex Pro.


ABOVE: OK, these last three were shot after the first hour, but still within a 10 minute time frame of each other :) With the 40 again, which seems to be a great lens on the M8 with the crop.


ABOVE: Abandoned Shopping Carts, M8, 40 Summicron at f/2


ABOVE: M8, 40 Summicron, f/2


ABOVE: M8, 40 Summicron


ABOVE: The 40 Summicron DOES looks good on the M8!


So while I only shot for an hour today with this camera, it’s pretty amazing that no matter what I shot, no matter how silly, the results came out nice. Maybe it’s the “Leica Look” or maybe it’s just the way one shoots with a manual M camera? Not so sure, but I like it! So if you are out there and wanting an M mount digital, give the M8 more than a thought. Even with old lenses and no UV/IR filters it can pump out more unique images than most other cameras in the price range of $2000. Also, you get the enjoyment of using an M camera, which is a thing of beauty in itself. :)

Mar 282010
 

The Decisive Moment – By Ashwin Rao

“Photography is not like painting….There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative…Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Hello to all of you stevehuffphoto readers! Today, I hope to tackle the topic of the Decisive Moment, both in words and through some of my captures taken over the past few years. So what is the decisive moment? May the better question to ask is: “What is a decisive moment?”

In my opinion, the decisive moment really boils down to the capture of a moment in a sequence of events that best sums up the special meaning of that moment. To explain, let me give an example. When shooting a wedding, there are so many chances one may get to photograph a wedded couple. The most obvious decisive moment is the “You-may-kiss-the-bride-moment”, that is, the first kiss. This moment, in an effect represents the couple’s relationship, the moment of the coming-together of two people as one. The photograph taken at this moment, if captured in the right way, can bring even more poignant power to that moment and can really represent what that couple is all about, how deep their love for each other must be, and maybe even be a reflection of their hopes and their dreams. It’s a lot to ask from a photograph, but then again, you look at some photographs that do just this!

Canon 5D- Joel and Kirsten’s wedding, Kirsten’s sister, a bridesmaid, feeling the moment…there’s that tear in her eye!

But the decisive moment may not simply the most important or obvious moment in a ceremony. Photographically, capturing some of the subtle moments within the event may bring even more power to that event. Sometimes, the best action takes place aside of the main event. For example, take the wedded couple once more. Capturing a bridesmaid or groomsman’s expression, maybe that fleeting tear in the eye, can carry so much more attention than even the momentous capture of the couple kissing. In other words, there may be many such decisive moments reflected in any particular event. Your job, with camera in hand, is to capture this event artistically and to capture meaning within your photograph. It’s subtle.

Bottom line: Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best. You have to know when to click the shutter release, so that you can capture that important in an artistic and meaningful way. Think of the difference between your wedding snap shot with a Canon/Nikon/Sony chicken-fried point n’shoot versus some of the true art captured by a talented wedding photographer. In both cases, a shutter release is pressed, and an image is projected from a lens, cast upon the camera’s sensor, and then recorded onto memory card. The technical details are identical. The results are dramatically different.

Leica M9 and Summilux 50 Asph: Contemplation


History of the Decisive Moment.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the20th century’s most famous photographers, is the one who coined the term as the title of one of his most critically important monographs, “Images à la sauvette”, which, when translated into English, means “Images on the Run” or “Stolen Images.” When translated into English, the title “The Decisive Moment” was adopted. For those of you who don’t yet know, Cartier-Bresson came to be one of the most famous Leica-carrying photographers, and his name has, in some circles, become synonymous with Leica. In his era of photojournalism, Leica cameras represented a unique, highly portable, and unobtrusive tool to capture important moments in history. Many of those who have shot Leicas know intrinsicly that their cameras become an extension of themselves. Leicas also have the added benefit of frame lines and a view finder that allows one to see what is coming in and out of a frame at any given moment. This can really aid in determining and identifying photographic moments. SLR cameras tend to set photographers, myself included in seeing the world in tunnel vision. It’s a different way of seeing. Neither is right nor wrong, and in fact the images you see here, all taken by me, were taken with both Leicas and Canon SLR’s.

Back to HCB. Cartier-Bresson is, in fact, responsible for some of the most important images in 20th century and world history. If you haven’t googled him yet or paged through one of his photographic monographs, you owe it to yourself to do so. You’ll learn so much and become a better photographer/artist from just seeing how he composed, how he saw the world, and how he did it so powerfully.

Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment” was masterpiece of contemporary photography that was first published in 1952, shortly after HCB came to prominece as a renowned documentary photographer, and just after Cartier-Bresson, Robert and Cornell Capa, David Seymour, and George Rodger came together to form the Magnum Photography Collective. While Magnum Photos remains one of the most influential and important photographic collectives to this day, sadly “The Decisive Moment” has long since gone out of print. Yet, the title still echoes through photographic theory and pop-culture. The book, which now retails at rare book auctions for thousands of dollars, contained a 4700 word treatise by Cartier-Bresson regarding some of his core photographic priciples, as well as a 126 image monograph of photographs taken during his travels through both the East and West in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Possibly most importantly in his writings, Cartier-Bresson wrote, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”….Pretty much sums it up, right? Decisive moments are everywhere. We just have to find them and capture them.

Canon 1D Mark II- Mavis and Christina – Walking out from the “I Do’s”

Canon 1D Mark III- Playing with the Wedding ring

Canon 5D Mark II- Bliss?

The Tao of The Decisive Moment

Let’s reflect upon that last statement, and say it again. “There is nothing…in this world…that DOES NOT HAVE…A DECISIVE MOMENT”. Simple statement, powerful words…To me, this quote represents what photography is all about….across genres, be it street photography, wedding photography, sports photography, or even landscape and nature photography, there really is nothing that doesn’t have a decisive moment.. As you wander about, look for images that strike you. Think and see photographically, if it suits your style. As I wander through the world, camera often in hand, I see images before me as if they were photographs. I used to think, “Gosh, what lens would I need to get that image just right? What aperture, what focal length, what ISO?”. Now, that stuff comes more or less instinctively, and I can focus more on composition and finding the meaning in the moment. How cool would it be to just pick that camera up out of your pocket or backpack, and capture just that moment? Well, why not? To me, it’s important to have a camera by your side, ready to shoot. You’ll never know when that moment will come. Wham, there it is….

Leica M8 & Summilux 50 asph- Train Conductor at the Wheel

Leica M8 with Noctilux- 2 Skaters, taking a break to take it in

Keep an eye out for images in the world that you may want to come back to. How about that stroll along the beach at high noon? Maybe the lighting’s not right now, but coming back during sunset, capturing the couple strolling down that very same beach, will bring more power to a photograph. Maybe just shooting at a different angle, or from a different vantage point, can add dimension to the image. Better yet, keep that camera with you, and capture the images as you go a long. So many of you are undertaking picture-a-day projects to foster this behavior. While I doubt I’d have the fortitude or endurance to undertake such a process, others of you may find such a task worthwhile.

Study the masters. See how they saw and captured their images. When I got into Leica photographers, I started to study the works of famous photojournalists such as Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Weegee, and others. I saw their style as something I wanted to draw my own photography closer towards. In studying these works, I have seen my own style evolve, and I am more satisfied by what I shoot now than how I captured images just 2-3 years ago.

The important thing is to get out there. Get shooting. Develop your own style. Learn from others Find the decisive moment. See the decisive moment. Focus…Click…. Shutter release…. Image captured…

Canon Digital Rebel XT- Todd and Tina’s wedding, just before the rehearsal dinner, off to the side of the crowd, no one noticed…but me

Canon S80- A picture of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Mono Lake, taken just after we passed through a cloud bank, taken out my window side view

Canon 1D Mark III- Fiona and Aaron, a young couple with that young love, just at sunset atop the Seattle Space Needle:

Canon 5D- How Happy Does this guy look?

Leica M8: Take a bow…

Be sure to visit Ashwin at Flickr!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/

Also, you can visit Ashwin at his blog:

http://photos-ash.blogspot.com


Mar 212010
 

Here is the conclusion of Ashwin’s journey to Vietnam with his Leica M8 and D-Lux 4! This was supposed to go up yesterday but I have been sick with some sort of flu for the past 2-3 days and slept most of the day. All better now so sorry for the delay! Enjoy!

If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.


All Text and Images by Ashwin Rao.

Part 2 of 2

Day 8 – Hue Mausoleums

The end of our trip on Day 8 included stops to Several of Hue’s imperial and dynastic mausoleums. We spent much of our time at the tomb of Tu Duc, one of Vietnam’s most famous dynastic rulers. These tombs are nearly essentially palaces dedicated to the life and worship of these dynastic rulers of Vietnam. There are many main buildings, sub-buildings, and statues worth photographic, and despite our enjoyable and long day out along the coast, I took out the M8 and D-Lux 4 again for a heavy round of photography. Like many other sites in Vietnam, many parts of these famous historic sites are falling into decay. Some of this has to do with financial limitations, but other factors including weather and humidity, wreck havoc on these structures. Once again, this makes for fascinating photography, but keep in mind that you are visiting something precious, and something that not be the same for generations to come.

Leica D-Lux 4: Crumbling wall

Leica D-Lux 4: Working outside the pagoda

Day 10 – Hue Imperial City and Mausoleums

Much of the city of Hue is build around the Old Citadel and Imperial City of the Nguyen Lords of the 17th-19th century, who presided over the southern part of Vietnam during this time. In 1802, Hue became the capital city of all Vietnam, and it remained so until 1945, when the Communist government declared Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Minh City, as capital. Through Hue crawls the Perfume River, which while photographically captivating, does not live up to its romantic name. It can be fairly foul smelling and is quite littered, but waterside settlements are in abundance and sadly proclaim Vietnam’s poverty stricken lower class to visitors.

We spent much of our time in Hue crawling through the Old City and Imperial Palace, which is housed within the walls of the city’s citadel. We spent most of our time getting lost in the endless passages of this city, which offers many photographic highlights. In the Imperial city, it was possible to make good use of either the M8 or D-Lux 4. Unlike other sites, we had all day to explore, so photography was unrushed. The Imperial Palace is also falling into ruin here, and there are signs of a violent past, with bullet holes ravaging the sides of many of the palace’s walls. As I walked through, I could only imagine the violence-plagued past of this city, including events such as the Tet Offensive and the Hue Massacre, which included some of the sites that we passed through.

Hue’s Imperial palace is worth spending quite a bit of time exploring. I could have spent several days shooting both wide and telephoto in this fascinating site, capturing both the smallest details and the scope of imperial rule, along with the effects of humidity and time in decaying what must have been a beautiful architectural marvel in its heyday.

Leica D-Lux 4: Colorful decay

Leica D-Lux 4: Fern in the wall

D-Lux 4: Gait to the Imperial Palace

Day 11- 13 Hanoi

Our next destination was Hanoi, the largest city in Northern Vietnam, As we moved northward, the temperature changed from HOT and humid to cool, and even rainy. In fact, Hanoi in February seemed to have a very similar climate to Seattle in the winter, at least when I was there. We busted out our sweaters and raincoats, and marched out into this marvelous city.

There’s much to see and eat in Hanoi. The city has plentiful Viet cuisine and AMAZING French restaurants. Truly, the French food here equals that which I have had in Paris. Absolutely marvelous. Hanoi is probably the city most like European or Western cities in Vietnam. Many Westerners feel quite at home in this charming, albeit crowded, town. There’s much to buy and see. The city’s home to 6.5 million people and is an important site in Vietnam’s political history. While there, we visited the famous “Hanoi Hilton”, the site of John McCain’s imprisonment during the war. It was interesting that the Vietnamese presented this prison as a place of gentle imprisonment, not of war-related torture. Walking through the Hilton, McCain’s flight suit is prominently featured in a case, which is a bit startling. There are plenty of pictures of American GI’s “enjoying’” their captivity, or so it is made to seam. The truth, I suspect, is otherwise, given that Senator McCain does not wish to speak about his years there. Seeing these places, including the war museum, made me acutely aware of the many sides to any story. What is refreshing however, is that the Viet people showed us, as Americans, absolutely no hote or malice. When I inquired about hidden anger or suppressed anger, people looked as if I had asked them a silly question. To most to whom I spoke, the Vietnam War was a disappointment of the past, and the proud Vietnamese had won this war and moved on in their history and struggle for independence.

There are many places to visit in Hanoi, including its many lakes, of which we visited Hoan Kiem Lake, with it’s famous island in adjoining Monkey Bridge.

The city is quite walkable, and it was funny to run into many Americans, Aussies, and Europeans carrying around the same Lonely Planet Guides as us, following similar walking tours. Photographically, many of these markets along the guided walking tours that you can find in Lonely Planet make for fascinating photographic opportunity. I think of Hanoi as a favorite place to shoot for “Street Photographers.” Here, both the M8 and D-Lux 4 shined in their use.

Leica D-Lux 4: Hanoi graffiti?

Leica D-Lux 4: Hanoi traffic

Leica D-Lux 4: Hanoi calligrapher

Day 14-16 – Halong Bay

Now for one of the highlights of the tour, and what I feel is a CAN’T miss part of any photographic foray to Vietnam: Halong Bay. Possibly Vietnam’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bay encompasses over 1,500 square kilometers and nearly 2,000 small to large islets. These islets are essentially sea stacks (think Oregon Coast) that stretch out into the calm waters of the bay. While we were there, the weather was rainy and grey. Initially, I was disappointment. I had seen many pictures of Halong Bay at Sunrise, and marveled at the gently beauty of this grand place. However, the fog and rain turned out out to be a great photographic opportunity. Suddenly, giant sea stacks would emerge from the fog as we cruised through the waters. It made for an experience much like I might imagine Frodo from Lord of the Rings having: a journey of mystical discovery.

During our time on a overnight stay cruise on the bay, we visited floating settlements, Kayaked into areas of utter isolation, and even crawled with headlamps into underground passageways. Halong Bay was a magical place.

I braved the rain and fog, with M8 and D-Lux 4 in hand. Thankfully, neither camera ever received a serious dousing, but if wet weather scares you, make sure to bring appropriate protection for your camera. You may need it.

IMAGES:

Leica D-Lux 4: Symmetry

Leica M8: Travelers in the mist

Leica M8: Into the mist

Leica M8: Seastacks in Halong Bay

Day 17: Back to Flooded Saigon & the Journey Home

Leaving the misty shores of Vietnam, we returned to Saigon, now flooded by recent flash floods. The flooding made for fabulous street photography, and I snapped off a few with the D-Lux 4, but after steady shooting an over 2,000 images to bring home and process, my endurance was waning, and the homesick feeling was starting to creep back in. All in all, my visit to Vietnam was a magical experience, full of beautiful sites, unique experiences, terrific food, and an exposure to a culture that I had never experienced. I found that travel was surprisingly easy. With th country’s alphanumeric script, it was easy to communicate with our Vietnamese guides and escorts. The people are remarkably kind, helpful, and knowledgeable about their unique and wonderful country. I heartily recommend a visit, if you have never been and crave a photographic adventure of a lifetime

Issues with photography

The climate: As you may know, Vietnam is known for its humidity, heat and rain. While I traveled there, I didn’t find any of these issues to be so bad as to interfere with my photography. However, I do take some chances with my gear, and feel that it’s okay to expose my cameras to light rain on occasions. I never had any issues with humidity or moisture related damage to my gear. Never did my M8 or D-Lux 4 stop working. All in all, I came home unscathed. Make sure to protect your gear

Too many things to see

As a photographer with passion, you’ll see so much to photograph. I tend to see the world these days as a series of snapshots, and I am always thinking how an image I may see with my eyes can translate to an image from my camera. Vietnam presents a stunning, and at times, overwhelming array of photographic opportunities. Make sure to take images, but also make sure to take in the culture and take moments to step away from the camera to enjoy perspectives with the most important lenses, your own eyes.

Power conversion

Make sure to bring appropriate power converters and chargers for your trip, lest your batteries run dry.

Photography is not always welcome

Be respectful. Not everyone wishes to be photographed. If you can, ask to take an image. If someone waves you off, respect their right to privacy. There are many cultural differences to contend with, so if an opportunity to capture an image seems to induce an unwelcome sentiment, pass up the opportunity. It’s not always worth it.

You can’t see everything in 2 weeks- What I missed and wished that I had seen

  • Sapa and Northernmost Vietnam
  • Angkor Way and Cambodia
  • Laos
  • The De-militarized zone (DMZ)

Here are few images to conclude my article. I hope you enjoyed my reflections of this journey, now one year gone by. I do find that my images bring me back, and to me, that’s the most important thing.

Leica D-Lux 4: Monkey Bridge in Hanoi

Leica M8: Hoi An Shoe emporium

Leica D-Lux 4: Misty trip through the bay

Leica M8: Balloon vendor

Leica D-Lux 4: End of the day journey

If you want to take a look at the rest of my travels, here’s a slideshow of my images from Vietnam.

Here’s a link to my flickr site:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/

And here’s a link to my photo blog:

http://photos-ash.blogspot.com

See ya out there, camera in-hand!

Mar 152010
 

I am pleased to present another superb article written by Ashwin Rao! This one is loaded with some really inspiring photographs and great writing and is being presented in two parts.  Thanks Ashwin!

Part two is now up HERE.

Steve


The Leica Travel Companion – Vietnam by Ashwin Rao

Part 1 of 2

Destination: Vietnam

Date: Feburary, 2009

Tools: Leica M8 and Leica D-Lux 4

Itinerary:

Day 1-2: Saignon (Ho-Chi Minh City)

Day 3-4: The Mekong Delta

Day 5-7: Fly to Danang, travel by taxi to Hoi An and the clothier markets

Day 6: My Son Hindu Temple Ruins

Day 8: Coastal Drive along China Beach to Hue

Day 9: Hue Masoleums

Day 10: Hue Imperial City and Citadel – Walking Tour

Day 11-13: Amazing Hanoi

Day 14-16: Magestic Halong Bay

Day 17: Back to Saigon and Homeward Bound

Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I have written for Steve’s site, and I wanted to share another of my travel experiences with a Leica M set up. In February of 2009, a good friend and I met up for a 2 week trip to Vietnam. Our goal: to explore and see the country on our own, NOT through guides or week-long organized tours, but through measured planning and the use of the internet, the knowledge of locals and Lonely Planet. Truth be told, my friend Andrea is an amazing trip planner, and she organized much of the trip’s itinerary. It’s good to have friends with skills!

Separately, my goal for the trip was to capture Vietnam photographically in a way that I would always remember. In other words, I wanted my photographs to take me back there when I looked upon them again, years later. Well, it’s been a year since that trip, and as I look upon the images here, I find myself smiling at my recollections of that wonderful trip. My hope was for my photography to reflect what I saw and how I felt when seeing it, and the Leica M system is an exceptionally adept tool to accomplish this goal. My goal for this article is to show you this.

For the trip, I used the following set-up

Leica M8: Burning the incense

I brought along a Leica D-Lux 4, which was recently purchased at the time, anticipating that I may be using this camera as a back up. Truth be told, I shot essentially an equal number of shots with the M8 and the D-Lux 4, convincing me that having a compact camera for shooting discreetly can be equal parts rewarding and satisfying. If found that while I counted on my M8 to be the work horse for important pictures, there were times where even an M system could make my presence to conspicuous. In comparison, the D-Lux 4, an extraordinarily versatile and capable camera and was nearly invisible, even when I was shooting. I could approach subjects in a manner that allowed my photography to be invisible. I found the pairing of the M8 and D-Lux 4 to be quite natural. I also captured interestingly, equal numbers of “keeper” images from both cameras, and in fact, I have a show at a local international medical clinic comprised of images taken solely with the D-Lux 4!

Leica D-Lux 4: Vietnam’s Ace Hardware?

Most of my prior feelings on using the Leica M8 and M9 for travel have been documented in a prior article on Steve’s site. However, it’s important that you take the tools that you have and develop a style with which you are comfortable. This will allow you to capture images that are meaningful to you. My travel partner brought along one camera, the Canon G10, and composed beautiful images with a small, compact, powerful set up. It’s all about using what you have and using it well. Obvious, as a rangefinder enthusiast, I found that using the Leica M8 while in Vietnam allowed me creative flexibility, and surprisingly, the D-Lux 4 added to this experience.

Vietnam is a fascinating country of great diversity, wonderful people, and great culture…oh, and the food, the food is amazing. If you are a “Foodie”, this is THE country to visit. I believe Anthony Bourdain, of “No Reservations” and “Kitchen Confidential” fame, would count this as one of his favorite countries to visit from a culinary standpoint, and I for one completely agree. It doesn’t get better than this. So, please, if you go, eat your way through the country. It’s worth it!

Photographically speaking, Vietnam is a fascinating country to observe and capture through the lens of a camera. The country’s cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, are bustling, cosmopolitan hubs buzzing with activity. The traffic in these cities can be stifling and interesting photographically speaking. The cities reflect a merging of cultures, both Viet and French, as well as other Asian and American influences. What I found even more interesting was how the cities found a way to merge ancient traditions with modern trends and capitalism quite seamlessly. Everywhere in Vietnam, there is a crackling energy and a depth of beauty. There’s also a lot of decay. The city seems endlessly burdened by humidity, pollution and change, and some of the ancient art that is spread throughout the cities and country side is decaying as we speak. I suspect that it you go, you’ll very much enjoy this country as a photographic foray.

Leica M8: Sunrise in the rainforest

Photographically, these images make for compelling photographs, but truth be told, it is sad to see places such as Hue’s imperial palace deteriorating, and it remains to be answered whether such sites will be present for future generations to enjoy.

In the following paragraphs, I’ll detail my journeys through the country alongside my good friend Andrea. We explored great palaces, beaches, mausoleums, clothing districts, floating markets, ancient cities amongst the rubbles of war-era destruction, and the magesty of Halong Bay and other such natural wonders…all in 2 weeks. You can do it too….

So without further adieu, my travel journal, with images:

Days 1 & 2- Adjustment and Seeing Saigon

Suprisingly, adjustment to Vietnam was quite easy. Customs was no major hassle at all, and we were through them within 10 minutes. I make a point to carry all of my belongings onto the plane, and I do not check in any bags. I accomplish this by packing 1 week’s worth of clothes. Most hotels in Vietnam have a laundry service, so doing laundry during the journey is not a problem. Once clearing customs, a driver from our hotel was waiting for us, placard in hand with our names, and swept us into his taxi and directly to our hotel, Madam Cuc’s, located in the heart of Saigon, around 9 pm. IT was dark, but the city was hopping. Saigon seems endless active. People are milling in the streets at all times, and one may see anything from farm animals to elegantly dressed metrosexuals, traversing the same alleyway. It’s a crazy place.

Our first 2 days in Saigon were spent adjusting and exploring the city. The Lonely Planet is a great way to plan your visit. It is full of useful tips and walking tour maps. One nice subtle travel benefit of Vietnam is that the national script is alphabetical. This means that you can read street signs, and even if you can’t speak, you can navigate by reading signs or pointing to an address in your book, and the many denizens of the city will help you out. The Viet are an extraordinarily friendly people, both passionate and enterprising, and they’ll help you out if you are in need.

Saigon is a bustling metropolis.The first thing that struck me about the city – TRAFFIC. It’s nearing claustrophobic levels, but makes for fascinating photography. Once you learn how to negotiate traffic, hail a cab, and cross busy intersections (hint: follow the locals), the city shows many charms. Saigon has many temples and sites to explore in depth. The War Museum, in particular, is a poignant take on the Viet experience and vision of the “American War”…very powerful stuff.

While in Saigon, make sure to experience the food. Try out some street vendors. Make sure to have some Pho, Vietnamese soup (a breakfast food there), which is lovely. It’s a yummie place to visit.

Leica D-Lux 4: Marriage day

Leica M8: Prayer in Saigon pagoda

Leica M8: Taking a nap

Days 3 & 4 – Mekong Delta and the Floating Markets

Day 3 was spent being Escorted by private vehicle to the Mekong Delta. Along the way, we stopped at a church that combined the religions of Islam, Chistianity, and Local Religions into one! Whoah! Apparently, the Vietnamese are an adaptive culture, and have assimilated many religions into an all-encompassing one…

Arriving at the Mekong Delta, we took a leisurely trip along the delta, and along the way, made our first foray into the fascinating Floating Markets, actual sites of commerce similar to Farmer’s Markets in the US, where local producers and farmers would sell and exchange their products….the interesting thing is, all of this happens right on the water, from one boat to the next. The floating markets are an amazing place to be able

Our night was arranged at an overnight stay at our local guide’s home, where we had the chance to eat a fine meal of freshly caught fish, rice, and soup. Food on the delta was simple, but delicious. Our night was spent in an enclosure, with cots for beds and mosquito netting to keep the bugs away. Overall, after the first few days, we slept quite well.

The following day was spent in further exploration of the delta and floating markets, a brick making mill, and afterwards, we were escorted back to Saigon, where we spent one more night before leaving for the city of Hoi An, via Danang’s airport.

Leica M8- Along the Delta: Man on a Dirt Mountain, Floating

Leica M8: Pineapple vendors

Leica M8: Ad Hoc Repair along the Delta

Days 5 through 7 – Hoi An

Hoi An is Vietnam’s clothier city. It’s the place where much of Vietnam’s fine silk garments are fashioned, and it’s a very pretty city positioned on Vietnam’s coast. Hoi An is also famous for its markets and its food, and from a photographic standpoint, opportunities abound. Due to the city’s position as a centralized clothing marketplace, bright colors are everywhere, adorning silk scarves, near-designer ties, and endless counterfeit North Face bags….

While there, we had a chance to take a sunset cruise along the banks of the Thu Bon River. There’s a lot of local fishing that comes up. I found the D-Lux 4 to be a very handy tool in this city, given that subjects were close, and it was difficult to take time to sit back and compose rangefinder-style. However, one should use their M8, M9, or SLR to capture some of the activity in the markets, as post-card images abound!

Leica M8: Flare!

Leica D-Lux 4: Fisherman’s catch

Leica D-Lux 4: Blowing a bubble, Hoi An market

Dasy 6 – Trip to My Son

My Son is a fascinating set of ruins dating back to the 2nd through 15th centuries, when the Champa Kingdom ruled the country. In fact, the duration of its occupation makes it one of the longest continuously occupied sites in Southeast Asia. Those days have since passed, and My Son is now the abandoned site of Indiana Jones style temples, which are falling into decay. Some efforts are being undertaken to restore this site of famous Hindu ruins, which were largely destroyed by bombing raids during the Vietnam War, but much is sinking into the surrounding tropical forests.

My son was one of my favorite photographic forays. We left Hoi An by car at 5 am, and arrived by 6 am, in time to catch sunrise across the ruins. It was here that I really got to give my Leica M8 a serious work out. There are so many beautiful sites to see, so using both the wide-angle lenses to “take it all in” and telephotos to capture the details was worthwhile. The site probably requires a 2-3 hours to be fully enjoyed, so we requested our transportation for a half day and returned to Hoi An to relax by the beaches and river for the rest of the day.

Leica M8: My Son ruins sunrise

Leica M8: My Son sunrise # 2

Leica M8: Headless relic

Day 8 – Beach Day Trip along the Vietnam Coast & China Beach

Next up on our foray was one of the favorite and most pleasant parts of our trip. We hired a driver who spoke some English to transport us north from Hoi An to Hue (a center of Vietnamese Imperial and Dynastic rule) over the course of a day. The trip was spent driving along coastal Vietnam, along China Beach. Many of these sites were areas of US Military Staging During the Vietnam War, and for some of you fan of 80’s TV, a show named “China Beach”, starring Dana Delaney, was shot to detail the stories that took place during that time.

Our experience traveling along Vietnam’s coast was wonderful and soothing. Our driver really helped with the experience. We arranged for travel through a Hoi An Travel and Booking agent only after we had arrived in the city, and spent $70 organizing the day long, transport. The great thing was that our driver knew all of the cool local spots to visit along the way. Our Lonely Planet did help us pick a few notable beaches along the way, but our driver was able to fill in the gaps. Along the way, we stopped at Marble Mountain, a giant rocky outcropping overseeing the city of Danang, about which a giant Pagoda was positioned for us to see. Also, we were whisked, a bit predictably, through a Marble dispensary full of many “souvenirs” for potential purchase. While there was some attention given to us, it wasn’t too bad, and we were able to take many pictures. I used the Leica M8 and D-Lux 4 in equal parts during this portion of the trip, capturing some of the beautiful details of this seaside region. We even visited some natural springs, only inhabited by locals who giggled at our Western Style Swimtrunks….we got along marvelously and they tolerated us and our Ugly American Tendencies.

Leica M8: Seaside fisherman, with storm arriving

Leica M8: Military exercise

Day 8 – Hue Mausoleums

See Part 2 – click here for the conclusion!

Be sure to check out his flickr and blog!

Here’s a link Ashwins Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/

And here’s a link to his photo blog:

http://photos-ash.blogspot.com

Feb 152010
 

I Take Pictures. Every Day. By Amy Medina

I have always been fascinated with taking photos of everyday things, and now I take photos of them every day.

I was always a sporadic shooter. You might know the feeling: Going months without taking a single photo and then suddenly some blog (like Steve’s), or book (remember those?), or movie, or new camera gear rekindles interest and provides inspiration for two straight weeks or even months of shooting. Then as suddenly as it started, that excitement dies down again and the camera goes back in the cabinet, bag or closet for a while. I didn’t want to be that photographer anymore. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to take it up a notch. I wanted to see if I could be creative every day. I wanted to learn more and develop more of a personal style.

So in July, 2009 I decided to commit myself to taking at least one Picture-A-Day.

In the Corner

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon
Common objects can be beautiful to me.

So, the PAD Project begins…

No more “it’s too cold, rainy, hot, hazy, foggy, or smoggy to go out and take pictures”. No more “I’m too lazy, tired, bored, busy or drunk”. Okay, I really don’t drink, but you know what I mean. No more lame excuses. Each day I would have to take at least one photo and post it to my online gallery, twitter and facebook. I would find time for photography each and every day.

Rainy Day

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton (single-coated)
Rain and adverse weather never keep me away from going out and taking a photo.
Matter of fact, the lighting of misty drab day can be wonderful.

At the beginning I was using mostly my [new] Olympus E-P1. I had just purchased it the beginning of July and it was part of my inspiration to start the project. Being so small and yielding such good quality files, there was no excuse not to have a camera with me all the time. However, what the E-P1 helped me realize was just how small my M8 already is and how much I truly love shooting with rangefinders in general. Though occasionally I’ll still shoot with my now neglected E-P1, for months I’ve been doing my PAD photos almost exclusively with the M8 and taking a whole lot more photos with both her and my Zeiss Ikon.

Suburban Pond

Camera Olympus E-P1 – Lens: Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Heliar
An example of a park I’ve passed by a million times in my life,
but had never stopped to visit, or even photograph, until my PAD Project.

What do I shoot? Some days I take my time and go to a favorite spot, a new beach (not a nude beach, though that might prove amusing), or take a drive into an unexplored neighborhood. Sometimes it’s a previously undriven road on the way home from running errands. In the winter with shorter days and sunset coming early, you’ll often find me between meetings or deadlines, on a lunch break from work, rushing to find something to shoot (can’t I just win the lottery, please?). Once in a while my daughter gets to be my model, though she’s a teenager and doesn’t have the patience to let me chase her around with a camera much anymore. Twice I’ve taken photos of my cat, but I try to spare the world from more cat photos. Beaches, abandoned buildings, interesting signs, garbage cans, mailboxes and chickens (yes, chickens!), I’ll shoot anything that looks interesting to me. And sometimes — more often than I should admit — I go out in my pajamas and slippers to take my picture of the day.

Plaza Theatre

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Heliar
I love to visit old and abandoned buildings. I remember going to this theater as a kid.
Mom would drive us there on Saturdays.  I’ve heard they’re tearing it down soon.

Imagine, if you will, a forty-year-old woman (oh god, am I really 40 now?!) who dresses too young, wears her hair like a boy, sporting several tattoos, stumbling around some abandoned building, bad neighborhood or desolate beach in her fuzzy slippers, Leica around her neck. If you see her, you’ve found me trying to taking my daily photo. I got snow in my slippers once.

How do I come up with ideas? Well some days I wake up knowing exactly where I want to go and what I want to shoot. Other days the idea gets formulated while I’m driving around observing my environment. One day my husband and I were driving along and low-and-behold there was a “stray” chicken dawdling along the side of the road. This is not something you see on Long Island all that often! It just had to be my picture for that day…

Wild Long Island Chicken

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton
A chicken roaming the streets on Long Island? Really? (and no, he didn’t tell me why he crossed the road)

…So sometimes the photo brings itself to me.

After starting this project I quickly realized that there are times I have multiple ideas on a given day, so I’ve learned to be patient. I create a pushpin for them using Google Maps (thanks iPhone) and keep a running list as future suggestions; I will return to those locations when the light is good, the weather is what I hope for, or the time of day is better suited to the photograph.

I don’t take my camera bag with me anywhere. I hate camera bags. They defeat the whole purpose of having a small easy-to-carry camera. All but the camera I’m using and the lens I choose for the day go with me, and I actually tend to keep the same lens on for a few days, or even weeks at a time. I might spend two weeks with my Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon and then switch to my recently purchased Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton for a few days. I almost never have more than one lens with me, and if I do it’s only because I’ve brought along my Zeiss Ikon (film rangerfinder) camera.

Charles E

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton (LTM)
This is a beautiful old cemetery in the middle of a strange neighborhood not too far from where I live.
It’s been severely neglected over the years.

I even started developing my own film this year. Once in a blue moon, on a day I finish up a roll of film, I can develop it the same afternoon and then scan and post a photo from it that night as my PAD Photo. So much fun! If you’ve never developed your own film I highly recommend it. I know, I know, it seems so “old school” — and it is — but there is something incredibly satisfying about it! And self-souped black and white photos can be stunning.

If I could only get my hands on a nice used Leica M6 or M7 I’d be in heaven. Alas, it will have to wait…

Up and Down

Camera Zeiss Ikon – Lens: Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton (single coated)
Film: Arista Premium 100 developed in Diafine (in my bathroom!)
There is just something really special about true black and white film. I took this one in NYC.

Does every day yield a work of art? Of course not. One day I was sick in bed and took a picture of my feet. Another day I was stuck at my in-laws and ended up with a photo of a bowl of salad. Once in awhile my vision just doesn’t play itself out and I end up with a photo I absolutely hate, but I post it anyway. It’s all part of the learning process, even if what I learned is what I did wrong.

One interesting thing I didn’t expect that my PAD journey has brought me:  It’s a bit of a photographic equivalent to “stopping to smell the roses”. I notice my surroundings a whole lot more. More often now, I take more scenic routes and avoid highways. I stop and look at or explore places that have always been there, but I never really noticed. Little churches I didn’t know about, wonderful beaches I’ve never been to, interesting shops and fascinating neighborhoods I’ve never visited, but have always been in the surrounding area where I live. I spend more time at the beach (which I love), I visit local parks more often, and I scan Google Maps for new uncharted territory, even if it’s only 15 minutes from home.

1965 VW Delux

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon
My daughter wants me to buy this… I think she needs to get a job and buy it herself!

My photos aren’t always what you’d expect. On Thanksgiving most were waiting for a photo of a turkey, or my family, or a beautifully set table. All nice things. However, on the way to dinner my husband, daughter and I stopped at a Potter’s Field cemetery I had recently discovered and read about online. It’s historical in nature and is very close to my in-laws’ house (who knew?). We stopped and walked around and I took some photos. I talked to my daughter about what it means to walk through a Potter’s Field and how important it is to be thankful for the people that love you, because there are some that pass on from this world who go unloved. It was a moving experience to be there — a good reminder to be thankful for the truly important things in life — and it was my PAD Project that inspired the trip.

#38

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Voigtalnder 15mm f/4.5 Heliar
Thank You Number 38… for the most important Thanksgiving Day reminder.

How long will I continue? That’s difficult to say. My initial goal was to get to at least six months. When I reached the 180-day-milestone, I thought doing a picture-a-day for a year would be a good goal. I’ve recently reconsidered and thought that getting to 1000 photos could be interesting, but I’m not fully committed to that quite yet.

The way I feel about it in the last few months is that the longer it goes, the more fun it’s become. I supposed I will continue as long as it keeps feeling good to do so.

Tied Together

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
This has recently become one of my favorite spots to go and sit and look at the water. You’ll often find me here still in my pajamas.

Through my Picture-A-Day Project I’ve started to develop a style. I’ve been able to refine my technique, both in the camera and on the computer, and have learned a great deal about what I like and don’t like and how that relates to the message I want to convey through one of my photos. I’ve been taking photographs for a long time, but it’s only through this Picture-A-Day adventure that I’m starting to feel like my photography means something. I’m finding my photographic “voice”, if you will.

But more importantly, it’s brought a new sense of appreciation for the people, places and things I come in contact with every day in this life. I celebrate the beauty and ugliness around me, for it’s what makes this world an interesting place.

My mother says I can take a picture of garbage and make it look good. But she’s my mom; she has to say that. My PAD Project has helped me start to believe it.

Life and Rainbows

Camera Leica M8 – Lens: Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar
Garbage?

I love sharing my photography with other people, so feel free to follow along on Facebook, Twitter and in my Gallery!

Follow my PAD Project on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DangRabbitPhotography
or Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DangRabbit
My Gallery: http://www.dangrabbit.com/photography

…and a special THANK YOU to Steve Huff for inviting me to write this article and for his great website! (From Steve: Thank You for writing it and for the inspiration!)

~Amy Medina – aka. DRabbit – from DangRabbit.com


A Sampling...


Feb 082010
 

From Steve: Today I have a treat for you guys! A wonderful article on the M8 by Micky Faas, a 21 year old artist living in the Netherlands. This one is heavy on the photos, just how I like it!  I hope you enjoy it as well. Micky obviously has loads of fun with her “Hello Kitty” M8 and it shows in her superb photographs. Thanks Micky for the fun and informative article!

Is the Leica M8 a women’s camera?

By Micky Faas

The presumption that photography is a men’s thing should well belong to the past by now. As a female member of a local photography group, I can say that about half of it’s members are actually women and that they are also among it’s most active participants. The one thing where men do have an edge over women, is when it comes to expensive gear. At a retail price of € 3000.-, the M8 really falls into this category. It is also a highly specialized instrument that is only for a very small group . But what the heck. I tried out if could be something for me.

I shall first introduce myself before getting away from the topic to much. I’m a 21 years-old self-taught photographer and painter living in The Netherlands. I do both as a hobby, while study is consuming most of the time. I’m not new to photography though. I’ve been making pictures for several years now, having owned a lot of cameras too, including two digital SLRs with countless lenses (I guess I’m some sort of a collector-type). I make pictures of basically everything and I print them myself. No, my memory isn’t that bad, but I simply LOVE pictures!

Since the time I read about the Leica M8, I’ve been intrigued by the little thing. I liked its minimalistic approach (I guess I’m a purist too) and its nostalgic looks as well. Moreover, I always hated the weight of my current camera, which weighted more without lens, than an M8 with lens attached! Of course, I couldn’t afford it as I was 18 at the time! So well, maybe when I ever get rich…. (which probably won’t happen).

However, when the second-hand prices for the M8 began to sunk, I started to think seriously about the ‘first digital M’. I tried it once at a local dealer (still unable to afford it) and fell immediately in love with it. My father who was with me at the store, instantly declared me nuts (among other things, which I won’t repeat here).

Windmills. Some hate their appearance. I think they make great pictures! M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5

I few months later though, I responded to an ad from a German guy who was selling off his M8. I decided upon it and the same evening I sent him a whopping € 2000.- without ever seeing the camera. That was about a year’s salary for me! WAS I indeed going crazy? Well, it was definitely among the most stupid things I ever did. I didn’t tell anyone, of course. The man told me that he had sent the camera to me, but nothing happened. Two weeks passed and I had a total nerves breakdown! Oh my….how was I going to explain this? However, finally, after many nights bad sleep, I received the package. I was SO happy! Read on to find out if I still like it that much!

Traditional houses in Northern Holland. M8 + Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5


M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5


Dutch mill. I didn’t code the 15mm, which gives those awful blue corners. M8 + Super Wide Heliar

Fashionable

If such thing as a handsome-looking camera exists, than the M8 is definitely one. It does away with all the button clutch of DSLRs that make them look like cheap calculators. It also lacks such things as a meaningless handgrip, which is to big for my hands anyway. I really hate those grips and I always thought that it was wasted space until I found out that in most DSLRs, it is where the battery goes – oh well. However, the M8 proves that it really is unnecessary when it comes to ergonomics, because it still holds really pleasant – if not better.

The M8 also has a cute retro look. Well, it isn’t a retro look, because the M8 actually inherits its appearance directly from its ancestors like the M6 – that’s long before my time anyway. This appearance means there’s no shiny plastic, but rather a robust looking metal (that feels so cold in the winter!). There’s also a rubber (or faux leather) strip that is wrapped around the entire camera. It give a nice soft feeling and makes sure the camera won’t slip out of your hands. For the same reason, a thin strap is provided to hang the camera around your neck. It’s definitely not the most handsome part of the kit (black nylon?). It also has some sort of rubber dots at the back that prevent it from slipping off your clothes. That tears the skin in your neck, however. I found it really unpleasant to use and replaced it with a wrist strap.

I doubted long between the silver or the black version of the M8. In the end, I got no choice at all, because I bought it second hand. I think both of them look cute, with the silver one being even more ‘retro’. It’s a pity there’s no silver version of the M9 (which I won’t be able to afford anyway, but still).

The M8 is also a wonderful camera to pimp. If there’s something you dislike about its looks, why not just change it? It easy to change the neckstrap, so that’s one problem less for me. I’ve also seen people put black tape on it in order to make it draw less attention or even change the faux leather with a crocodile print. Personally, I prefer Hello Kitty :) but your mileage may vary. Although the M8 doesn’t fit in a purse, I manage to squeeze it in my coat pocket with a small lens. I keep mine in a small red shoulder bag most of the time, which wasn’t possible with my D200 because it was way too heavy!

Cute yes. Practical nope. I prefer the plain M8. It already looks gorgeous when naked.

Abandoned fishing barn, shot at dawn. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4

Ergonomics

For me, the ergonomics of a camera are largely determined by its weight. Luckily, the M8 weighs ‘only’ 580g without a lens. That’s still a lot more than an average compact-camera, but then, it makes much better pictures too! On the other hand, my Nikon D200 almost weights one kilogram. Because the lenses recess deeper into the camera than with a SLR, they can be much smaller too. Lenses such as the Voigtlander 15mm or the 28/3.5 are really tiny beings compared to their SLR equivalents.

These lamas are probably held for their wool. M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5

Like I said earlier, the M8 has no handgrip. This makes it (for me at least) better to hold than a SLR. It has nice round corners that make it really comfortable in your hand. It feels a lot ‘harder’ than my SLR though, which has some sort of soft rubber all around it. Another drawback of the metal is that it is extremely cold in the winter. When it freezes, you almost can’t get your hands off the thing. However, because of the big (and few) buttons, the M8 is easily usable while wearing gloves.

Winter can be gorgeous at times, but why does it have to be that cold? M8 + Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5

Because the M8 is a manual-focus camera, you always need two hands when operating the camera. This can be a problem sometimes, especially when you want to influence your scene with one hand (here kitty kitty) and take a picture with the other.

With animals you have to be quick, there’s no time for focusing. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5

Picture quality

I make my own prints and enlargements with an (rather old) Epson 2100 printer. It can make prints up to 13” wide (A3+). Though it can be expensive at times, I find it really enjoyable to make my own enlargements. With the M8, there’s plenty of detail in the pictures to print even a lot bigger.

There’s already a lot written about the image quality of the Leica M8, so I won’t duplicate all that stuff right here (besides, I don’t feel I have the proper knowledge to do so either). However, I’d like to invalidate some strange myths that I heard about its quality. For example, when I told at my photo group that I had bought an M8, people were surprised and asked why I would spend so much cash on a camera with such a horrible image quality. ‘I though the M8 was a complete failure’ or ‘it’s bad because it’s only 10 megapixel’ they said. I’d like to prove the opposite, however.

Here’s a picture that was shot under ‘studio conditions’ (tripod & flash) with a Voigtlander 75/2.5 Color Heliar. Following, there are three cropped images of 700×500 pixels. One at 100%, one at 200% and one at 400%. The enlargement was done in Adobe Photoshop. The photos were imported from DNGs files from the camera.

BELOW, A 100% CROP

A 200% CROP…

and finally, a 400% crop

Alright, I assume one would print at a typical resolution of 300ppi and that your monitor has a pitch of 96dpi. This means that you’re looking at these crops as if you were looking through a 3x magnifier.

The 100% crop would print to about 13”x9”. Look at the amazing detail of the fabric! You can also see all the tiny bits of texture in the eggs (not shown here). Of course we’d like to print larger than this! The detail, especially at higher ISOs, is much better than my D200 – which also has 10 megapixels. This shows that the amount of megapixels cannot be used as a measurement of quality!

The 200% crop would print to about 26”x 17”. That’s around A2 size I think (bigger than my printer can do). The detail is still magnificent, even when seen from close-up. Remember, you’re looking with a 3x loupe here!

The 400% crop would translate to a size of 52”x34”. That’s a real museum-sized print! The detail starts to look really muddy right now, but it still has an unprocessed, analogue feeling to it. I think I wouldn’t hesitate making a print this big. And again, you’re looking with your 3x magnifier right now! You’re probably going to view a print this big from a larger distance as well.

My conclusion: up to 26”x17”, the M8 is producing excellent prints that leave nothing to be desired. If you want museum sized prints, they will be coarser, but still great. Period. If you want that plastic, grain-less kind of image, you’ll need to look further!

I’ll leave the rest of the pixel-fondling to the tech guys right now :-)

Viewfinder, rangefinder

Having used two different SLR camera’s, I wanted a rangefinder camera for a very specific reason. Before I decided I wanted to buy an M8, I initially went looking for a good compact camera. I tried dozens in the store, but unfortunately none of them pleased me (apart from their low weight). This was mainly due to the lack of an optical viewfinder. I find an LCD insufficient for taking pictures.

SLR vs. phone camera vs. RF? M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 at 1.5

The viewfinder of an M camera (or any RF-camera) has some special qualities to it that no other camera has. With a SLR, you have a narrow, tunnel-like vision that is limited to the attached lens. An M gives a HUGE bright vision that includes most of your surroundings (the M8 gives the equivalent to a 28mm lens on a SLR). Inside the frame, you see exactly (well, that’s debatable) outlined what portion of the world you’re capturing. You have the feeling that you’re inside the world, instead of looking at it from a distance. I find that this unique experience of photographing isn’t offered by any other type of camera.

It was HOT here. Without an IR-filter, the coals would have been white. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4

Of course, a rangefinder won’t let you use long telephoto lenses, which can be a pity some times (I like to shoot animals!). You’ll always have to use a SLR to these things, which is why I kept mine with only one lens :-)


Unnoticed

One type of photography I’ve been discovering lately, is taking pictures of people while they don’t notice (yes, that’s pretty much called street-photography). These portraits usually come out more natural and spontaneous than a posed picture.

I definitely don’t want to end up in a suit like this. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 at 1.5

I’ve been surprised by possibility of being unnoticed when using the M8. Because of its small size and sober design, it doesn’t draw nearly as much attention as an SLR does. On the other hand, the M8 isn’t a quiet camera. Even with the ‘silent-mode’ enabled, it still produces a fair amount of sound when pressing the shutter release. When it gets noticed though, people tend not to take it that seriously. Or maybe they don’t take ME seriously? Well, for most people, it looks like a cheap compact camera. Now that’s a real advantage!


I find it sometimes scary to photograph people without asking them, but the results can be so rewarding. In this case, it’s just my mom and our dog…

In the dark

I have always liked shooting pictures with as low light as possible. I know that the M8 has a reputation of not quite being the perfect low-light camera. It’s actually far from that. However, it’s about one ‘stop’ better then my D200 and with a good lens, I can’t complain. In low light I use both the Voigtlander ‘Nokton’ 50/1.5 and the ‘Ultron’ 28/1.9. I really love these lenses as they give such beautiful images. I especially like the blurring of the background that these lenses give at bigger apertures. Steve will agree with me :-) (Oh yes, I do!..Steve)

My grandma posed for this one, albeit a little unwillingly. Taken at ISO 1250 1/30s

Conclusion

Well, as you’ll probably know, the M8 isn’t a camera that everyone will appreciate. That is largely due to it’s high price, but also because it is such a specialized instrument. That’s why I can’t really answer the title question, but for me, it’s the best camera I’ve ever owned.

How the M8 changed my style of photography? Well, a lot I think. Because of it’s smaller weight, I tend to take it with me much more often. It also inspires me to try other types of photography as well, such as portrait photography which I didn’t try earlier (people tend to hate my big Nikon flash). The image quality combined with the wonderful Voigtlander lenses I have (I know Leicas would have been even better), simply give so much fun that it is hard to put it away. Lastly, because of its manual operation, it really slows you down. This can be frustrating at times when you miss a shot because of the lack of auto focus, but it can also force you to think more about your decisions. Although that won’t make you a better photographer right away, in the end it does lead to better pictures.

It’s a pity that it’s still a very expensive camera, haha :-)

4s exposure in almost complete darkness, I love the star-shapes in the lights!


I like:

  • Size and weight
  • The huge viewfinder
  • The style of focusing, even if it’s manual
  • Images are gorgeous
  • It looks so cute :-)
  • It’s plain fun to use!

I dislike:

  • It’s loud
  • I want ISO 100,000!!
  • It’s SO expensive
  • Silly dust keeps getting onto the sensor :(
  • One tends to want more and more lenses for it

Valves of an old steam train. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4


Train interior. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4




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