Oct 312014
 

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From the Leica M9 to the Leica M240…and Back to the M9

By Ashwin Rao – Follow him on Facebook HERE

Hello my friends. It’s Ashwin, back to talk about my recent GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) journey with Leica. I have been a huge fan of both the Leica M9 and Leica M Monochrom over the course of the life cycles of these cameras. I have always enjoyed the rangefinder way of seeing, from the time I first came upon my very first rangefinder, an M6 TTL. I joined the digital rangefinder transition, as did many others, with the Leica M8, and while that camera had many benefits (incredibly clear and crisp sensor), it was not quite ready for prime time due to its IR sensitivity issues and operational foibles, all of which have been well documented. That being said, many Leica M8’s remain in service today, over 8 years after it first came into production in September of 2006. The Leica M9 was released to much fanfare on September 9th 2009, heralded as the first full frame digital rangefinder, featuring a high quality CCD sensor with the same pixel pitch as the M8, and some cosmetic and operational refinements. The infrared sensitivity issue ,which plagued the M8, was mitigated for the M9, and for many, it is considered a modern legend of digital photography. I received my first Leica M9 in December of 2009, and soon thereafter wrote my first article for Steve, reviewing the M9 and a “travel camera extraordinaire.” 5 years later, I believe those same words hold true. The Leica M9 remains a remarkable camera, capable of capturing the decisive moment and motivating the eager photographer.

Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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M240 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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With time comes progress (right?) and in September of 2012, Leica announced the Leica M240, or in short, the Leica “M”, the first full frame sensor to feature a new CMOS sensor, which would permit higher ISO shooting, and importantly, live view. In theory, the Leica M240 boasted many performance and design refinements learned from the limitations of the M9. It also allowed rangefinders to compete with other modern cameras in providing an option to focus lenses with live view and it can shoot video. For many rangefinder enthusiasts, particularly those with aging eyes and a large collection of R lenses, the M240 represented an option by which to focus more accurately and use their R lenses, which have not been supported by a modern digital Leica R.

Like many, I was very curious when the M240 was launched. I kept a close eye on those who were able to use the camera early in its production cycle, such as Steve, Jono Slack, Gary Tyson, and others. As the camera became more widely available, I regularly browsed online photo forums and facebook enthusiast pages to find compelling images and reasons to justify upgrade….this process was a year long journey, and one accompanied by great struggle. I truly loved my M9, the “CCD look” that I perceived to be true, and had truly bonded with the camera over years of use, but new cameras are always compelling and entice the prospective buyer with the promise of new features and improved image quality. I also struggled with the concept of investing another $7000 in a camera, when I had just done this a few years back.

Leica M9 and 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH pre-FLE

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Finally, in the spring of this year (2014), I purchased the M240. It was a harrowing, yet exciting moment. In the year that I had debated whether or not to purchase the M240, I remarked that the color palette, dynamic range and look of files from the M240 was vastly different M9 files. Initially, the M240 seemed to be plagued by inconsistent white balance, but over the year, through firmware upgrades, Leica seemed to improve upon this. Yet, the colors coming from the camera, and skin tones in particular, seemed so different, warmer and more red/orange (a common problem with CMOS digital sensors, by the way), than what I had accommodated to with my M9, which provided a seemingly cooler skin tone profile. As I reviewed images, I came to compare the M9 and M240 images to different image stock. Ultimately, I was compelled to try the M240 to see if I could adjust to this different way of seeing.

M9 and 50 mm Noctilux f/0.95

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M240 and 50 mm APO Summicron-ASPH

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In the process of buying my M240, I quickly sold my M9 to be able to focus on one color rangefinder option. I set into getting to learn my camera, and was able to have the M240 around for a very important part of my life, that is, my wedding and the months around this event. I managed to shoot the camera regularly.

What were my conclusions, you might ask? What was my conclusion from this costly experiment? Well, the title of the article summarizes the basic experience, but let me elaborate. I simply couldn’t get used to the M240 and I could not find a bond with the camera. First, and most challenging for me, was the color reproduction of the camera and its inconsistent white balance reproductions under artificial light, particularly in rendering skin complexion. I often found skin tones to render excessively yellow or orange, and I simply could not find ways in Adobe Lightroom, to get skin tones to look as I enjoyed. I could get close, but adjusting skin tones would often affect the color reproduction of the rest of the image. Apparently, I had accommodated to the look of the M9, and I could not get close enough with the M240. Second, and disappointing to me, was an issue with banding at higher ISO’s. Whenever I took a shot that was underexposed, lifting the shadows resulted in noticeable banding at ISO’s of 3200 and higher (and occasionally at ISO 1600). I was able to remedy the banding issue using software fixes (Nik software’s has a de-banding tool that’s very useful). In practice, shooting in low light was nearly as limited for the M240 as it was for the M9, which has a practical ISO limit of around 640, after which banding behaviors are the norm with image adjustment.

M240 and Summicron 28 ASPH

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Leica M9 and Noctilux 50 mm f/0.95

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For the M240, I also struggled mightily with the “start up time” of the camera. When powering the camera on, it takes about 2-3 seconds before the photographer can actually take a shot. Initially, I thought this was a camera defect, but trying a few friends’ M240’s, I found the behavior to be universal. I tried to remedy this by leaving the camera on all of the time, given that the M240 sports a much-improved battery than the M9. However, after prolonged periods when the camera went back to sleep, I noticed the same lag. There were several instances where I missed an important shot , and this became an increasing turn off as I used the camera more.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Lauren

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As I used the M240 more, I became increasingly aware of the weight of the camera. At first, I felt that the camera felt more confident, more solid, less “airy” in hand, but after some time, I found the added bulk to be unwanted. My shooting arm would get sore. Not a huge deal, but enough of a difference to be annoying. After all, there was an outcry when the M8 and M9 were built with much thicker bodies than previous film M bodies, and here was a camera that provided even more bulk and heft to a shooter (myself) who valued size and discretion in his camera.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Andi

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M9 and Noctilux f/0.95

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Finally, I became increasingly annoyed over time with the menu layout. I wasn’t entirely sure when to press the “Menu”, “set”, and Info buttons. It was not nearly as intuitive an experience as to how best to adjust settings on the fly as it was with the M9. Even the ISO adjustment methodology seemed more cumbersome to me, who had gotten used to the simplicity of the M9’s menu and button implementation. The M240 had new buttons in unexpected places, and on occasion, which thought I was capturing images, I had accidentally triggered video shooting.

M240 and 90 mm f/4 Macro Elmar

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M9 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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As you read this, you may feel that I am unfairly bashing the M240, and that with more time, I would have adjusted to the cameras many quirks. While this may be true, I kept coming back to my struggles with the M240’s image rendering. As I looked on my screen at old M9 shots, and compared them to the M240 images that I had captured, I took note of several things. I find the M9 to have rendered a more “crisp” pixel, while the M240 renders a slightly softer pixel. Further, the M240 renders with much more dynamic range, but for some reason, images taken with this camera seemed to exhibit less 3D pop that I saw with my M9.

In summary, I began to find reasons to return to my Leica M9, and in August, after 4 months, I sold my Leica M240 and returned to the M9. I can say that I am happy with this choice and much more settled with keeping the M9 and its awesome CCD sensor and way of rendering.

Well, I spent a lot of time bashing the M240, no? Let me bash the M9 for some balance. The M9 is a camera full of quirks and deficiencies. First off, it has a completely inadequate and dated 200,000+ pixel LCD. It was an out of date LCD the moment it was released, and 8 years later, it’s ridiculously poor…One cannot count on confirming clear focus with the M9’s LCD. Further, there’s a slight delay between when the image snaps into focus on the LCD, making images seem blurry for a moment.

There are times when the M9 freezes operationally and won’t take a shot. And I don’t just mean when the buffer is full. At times, I have missed important shots because the M9 simply refused to take the shot. Further, battery life is quite poor (300-400 shots), compared to the far improved M240 sensor. The M9 has an ISO limitation that stems from its CCD sensor. It’s only capable of being shot reliably through ISO 640 (or 800 if you are willing to live with lost dynamic range, muddier images). Compared to today’s sensors (think Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic), this ISO limitation seems arcane. Compared to the M240, which offers clean ISO’s through 1600 and inconsistent but occasionally decent performance at ISO 3200, it seems old as well. Yet, at base ISO through ISO 400, the M9 offers something unique. It offers a lovely color palette. Images, particularly of people jump off the screen. Skin tones and rendering can take on a lifelike look, while the M240 occasionally presents skin tones in a waxy (CMOS) manner. You’d never see this on your cell phone or laptop monitor, but on a calibrated larger home monitor or large print, there’s a difference there that’s continued to be noticeable to me.

Ultimately, I came to accept the limitations of the Leica M9 to gain its benefits. The M9 turns on and is ready to shoot instantaneously. It’s silent shooting mode is cleverly implemented and useful when employed. It’s a lighter and airier camera and is less fatiguing to hold in the hand for prolonged shoots. It’s menus offer operational simplicity, which seems to echo the rangefinder way of seeing. It’s CCD rendering (yes, I believe that the CCD “look” is real…sorry to all of the naysayers) is awesome and increasingly unique in a world where CMOS sensors have taken over.

I believe that the Leica M9 continues to represent the pinnacle of Leica’s imaging achievement. Like many countless others who’d hope for a camera that offers the best of all worlds, I strongly suspect that such a camera will never materialize. I doubt that there will ever be another CCD-sensor Leica. And thus, I am “stuck” with the M9, and of course, my beloved Leica M Monchrom. For those times when I desire revelatory ISO performance, I have moved to the Sony A7s, which I have used extensively (nearly exclusively) with Leica M lenses, and I find that its limitations (primarily the 12 megapixel sensor and tunnel view SLR way of seeing) don’t bother me all that much. The Sony is not built anywhere as confidently as the Leica (in terms of feel), but it’s a great camera worth checking out for a modern CMOS option. IT’s colors are not Leica colors, but I have found that I can get skin tones that I like with this camera.

Leica M9 and 35 Summuilux FLE

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

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Thus, for me, the Leica M240 is now part of my photographic past. The Leica M9 has returned to my kit. It represents my photographic present. I certainly hope and expect that Leica will continue to re-invent itself with new innovative products and improved rangefinders. The Leica M240 was not the right camera for me, but I hope that the next iteration will be a better fit. At that time, the M9 will remain with me. It’s a lifetime camera, unless Leica finds the guts to go back to CCD or a sensor the renders similarly. It offers a unique rendering that blends so well with M lenses. It’s a great option for photography, even today.

M240 and 50 mm APO-Summicron ASPH

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I imagine that many of you will take exception to my thoughts and comments. I welcome your thoughts, your debate, and your criticisms to this argument. It simply represents my opinion and current thinking on the matter.

Here’s a summary of what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the 2 cameras discussed:

Pros of the Leica M9
• CCD sensor – per pixel microontrast and dynamic range at low ISO
• Menu and operational simplicigty
• Weight
• Heft
• Instant On
• Silent shooting mode

Cons of the Leica M9
• ISO limitation
• Rear LCD is terrible
• Poor battery life
• Indoor and outdoor white balance inconsistency
• Reduced dynamic range compared to modern sensors
• Occasionally the shutter doesn’t fire
• IR sensitivity is still there, though less so?

Pros of the M240
• ISO improvements (though banding limits realistic ISO to < 3200, and in some cases, 1600
• Moderate Dynamic range improvement
• Solid battery life
• Build Quality
• EVF capacity, for those who want it
• Much improved shutter sound and less shutter shake
• Fantastic Black and White Conversions

Cons of the M240
• Heavier
• Meno complexity and dials
• Adds complication to a simple RF concept (i.e. video, EVF, etc)
• Unnatural Color reproduction of skin tones
• Indoor white balance inconsistency
• Shooting lag, when camera is first activated
• More IR sensitivity?

Feasible areas of improvement for the next Leica M:
• Improved color stability for white balance
• Improved color rendering of skin tones
• Reduced banding artifacts for high ISO, particularly when adjusting images
• Baseplate access to the battery and SD card
• Make the camera thinner, rather than thicker
In fairness to bias, my time with the M240 was self-limited to 4 months. My time with the M9 has extended to nearly 5 years. There may be much in that difference in experience that may explain some of my experiences with these cameras. All the best to you, and most importantly, keep your hand on the shutter and keep making images, regardless of camera.

M240 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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M240 and 35 mm Summilux ASPH FLE

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Jul 272014
 

Black and White Storytelling

by Ben Miller

Steve and Brandon,

I think that all photographers are searching for the perfect camera and a photographic style that they can call their own.

My main focus in photography is black and white storytelling. I find that the sum of several photographs which tells a story can be greater than one just one perfect image. I have found the gear that best suits my focus. In my bag is a Leica M9 and an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Both of these systems allow me to get close to people without being obtrusive. I believe in prime lenses and do not own any zooms.

I recently was commissioned to shoot an event with my M9 and E-M5. During the gathering I was pulled away and asked to join a few gentlemen in the parking lot. I wrote the following story to accompany the captures of what occurred:

 

At every party there is a secret party.

One that only few know about and are invited to.

I was lured away from the crowd to one of these clandestine gatherings.

I turned down the smoke as it is not my thing.

I partook in drink instead.

They handed me a big shot of Fireball whiskey.

I gargled the cinnamon spiced liquor and then swished it around in my mouth.

After swallowing I asked if they had handed me water and if there was anything stronger.

As I raised my Leica to my eye I said “document everything”.

I then smiled and said “don’t worry…..

I’ll only capture you from the nose down.”

 

Attached are the images from the photo story.

You can view more of my work on my website and blog:

www.photographsbyben.com

www.photographsbybenmiller.blogspot.com

Thank you Steve and Brandon for having a wonderful website that so many of us look forward to everyday.

Cheers,

Ben Miller

Secret Party 1

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Secret Party 9

Secret Party 8

Secret Party 7

Secret Party 6

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Secret Party 4

Secret Party 3

Secret Party 2

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Secret Party 13

Secret Party 14

Apr 142014
 

My Leica M9 & Grafea bag in London

By Dan Bar

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Hello Steve,

Just got back from London , took my MM as always with my 35 LUX, but this time I also had my M9 + 50 Cron with me, When I sold my previous M9 I knew that I lost a camera I loved dearly, and although I love my MM I knew I wanted my M9 back. I know the market is full off fantastic cameras, like Sony’s , Olympus, Fuji with much better ISO’s , and yet I love the simplicity and colours of the Leica cameras.

So I mostly shot my M9 with the 50, and some b\w with the MM Before leaving to London i was sure I shall buy the Ona Berlin as I needed a bigger camera bag. The Ona Brixton was to be for my taste, but then I found out about the GRAFEA PHOTO bag, which I thought was beautiful and was although the right size I needed. The bag is of great soft leather and has the exact size i was looking for. I called them in England and asked them if they had a bag with a slight defect, Honestly I expected a ” NO ” answer but against all odds they said they had one Caramel Bag ( which was exactly what I wanted ). They sent me a picture and I could not see any defect at all, so I asked them how much would I have to pay, and they said they will make me a 50% discount. :) The bag is big enough to hold 2 Leica M cameras + accessories. The side pockets are soft and contain a lot of filters, cards, cell phone etc. As said big enough for my needs.

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You can find the Grafea bag HERE.

Now for some photos:

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Aug 302013
 

Leica M9 vs Fuji X-E1 with Metabones Speed Booster by Christophe Carlier

Hi steve,

Firstly I want to thank you for putting my daily inspiration on your site.

I recently received a Metabones Speedbooster ring that allows me to get my Nikon F lens on my fuji X-E1 while keeping their 24×36 angle. A 50mm is a 50mm, a 35mm is a 35mm ….. and the more it will keep the effects of depth of field.

Manufacturing side of the ring is good quality, well-built. Its size is limited (see photo below) and reasonable weight 200 grams.

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  • The weight of the whole XE1 + SpeedBooster plus 35mm f2 about 740 grams
  • M9P + 40mmf1.4 about 820 grams and FM2 + 50mmf1.8 about 740 grams.

The results photos, first 3 pictures are taken at 35mm (fuji XE1 SpeedBooster + nikkor 35mm f2 afd, facing M9P + Voigltander 40mm f1.4 at 1.4),

Image on the left image will be with the X-E1 – right side is with M9-P – MUST click them for larger version

S.B. comp fuji leica 35mm I

S.B. comp fuji leica 35mm III

S.B. comp fuji leica 35mm II

The following 3 images are at 50mm (XE1 fuji SpeedBooster + nikkor afd 50mm f1.8, facing M9P + canon ltm 50mm f1.2 at 1.4).

the pictures left XE1 and right M9P – again, you must click them for larger

S.B. comp fuji leica 50mm I

S.B. comp fuji leica 50mm II

S.B. comp fuji leica 50mm III

All pictures are taken in jpg, and only to compare the bokeh from each camera and lens.

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Christophe

www.christophecarlier.com

 

Aug 152013
 

titlem9cuba

Cuba with my M9 and 50 Lux by Phillip Pegden

Dear Steve,

I’ve been an avid reader of your site for quite some time now – I love the mix of gear and general photography articles, and now check in each day. It’s like tuning in to the morning radio show.

I got sucked into the world of Leica over a decade ago. At that time I had a Canon EOS1 body plus the classic trinity of f2.8 zoom lens. I’m not sure how I stumbled into Leica, but I do clearly remember the day I was standing in a photography shop fondling an M6 and second hand 35mm Cron. Sometime later all the Canon kit had been listed on eBay – I found the rangefinder shooting style suited me better and I felt my photography had improved. Fewer options focused me on my subjects and composition. And from there I never looked back, swapping the M6 for an M8, then last year finding a nice second-hand grey M9 to upgrade the M8.

By that time I had a brace of lenses – the original 35mm Cron, plus a 50mm Summilux, an 18mm Elmar and a 75mm Cron. But I was beginning to feel that I was swapping lens too often – had my focus drifted too much from my subjects again? Thus on a holiday to Cuba with my wife I decided to experiment: safe in the knowledge that I had all my glass with me I opted just to only use the 50mm. Sometime later the 18mm and 75mm had been listed on eBay – I just couldn’t part with my original 35mm Cron though! So now I mainly shoot only with the 50mm – I love the simplicity never feeling I miss any shots, rather I find others. I would really encourage others to try a single focal length over an extended time.

Well that’s quite enough talking from me – I leave you with some of those images from Cuba. Keep up the good work.

Phil

www.pegden.co.uk

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Apr 242013
 

All Black & White to me……..

By Jason Howe

Hey Steve

Hope your well, I’m sure many will agree with me when I say your site continues to be an amazing source of inspiration and information and is the first website I browse each day.

Some of your readers may be familiar with my photography but for those who aren’t, every now and then I throw something Steve’s way from down here in Middle Earth!!! New Zealand is such a beautiful country and landscapes make up a large part of my photography, however……….

At the start of the year I made a decision to try my hand at a few things I had not previously attempted, one of them was to arrange shoots with models. It’s very early days in this process but I thought I would share some of my initial images with you. I’m always looking to put posts together for my blog so I had several combinations of camera and lens in mind to shoot on this occasion, specifically these were –

Leica M9 and Canon 50/1.4 – I’m of the opinion that this lens is one of the best you can buy in the “inexpensive” ltm lens bracket and particularly suited to images of this nature. Leica MM and Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 – I was fortunate enough to acquire this lens just before Christmas, I’ve messed around with it but this was essentially the first time I’d used it at length. Contax 645 and Zeiss T Planar 90/2 – A recent addition, I’m still getting to know this camera but I wanted to at least shoot a roll or two through it, film of choice Fuji Pro 400H.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of B&W, it accounts for most of what I shoot, I am pushing myself to shoot more color this year though, honestly!! I had a specific look in mind for these images before I shot them, you can see those versions HERE. The truth is though, no matter what I do or how I attempt to view my subject matter it almost invariable looks better to me in B&W.

Here are a few of those images taken on the Leica M9 with Canon 50/1.4 this time converted in Silver Efex Pro 2 and LR4. I have always been happy with the B&W conversions I was able to achieve with the M9 files and they definitely are not inferior to the MM files when shot in these conditions, the MM for me is really about shooting at higher ISO’s, that is when it comes in to its own.

Model – Alicia Sim

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In the next couple of weeks I’m going to be posting a full set of images taken on the Leica M Monochrom with the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2, here are a small selection of those. Again these images are converted in Silver Efex Pro 2 and LR4. The Hex is incredibly sharp at f/1.4 and equally superb in these conditions at f/1.2 with the edge just taken off the sharpness. I’m delighted with it for sure although I would never defend the purchase price I took the decision to buy this lens over the Noctilux because quite simply I will always be able to get hold of one of those.

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I did get the chance to use my Contax but despite liking the images shot on the Fuji Pro 400H I still could not help myself converting them to B&W, this may be sacrilege……..

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Things really are “All Black & White to me” when it comes to processing, well mostly……..

Cheers

Jason

 

You can keep up with my photographic journey down under here -www.aperturepriority.co.nz

 

Apr 062013
 

$T2eC16hHJHQE9nzEztUqBRU0iRvS0g~~60_57

Sylvester Stallones Leica M9 and 35 Summarit Lens (sort of) for sale..

Had a few e-mails informing of this e-bay auction for a Leica M9 used ONCE in the film “Expendables II” by Sylvester Stallone. I am posting this not because it comes with a manual signed by Stallone, but because with 1 day to go the M9 and 35mm Summarit lens is only up to $4600 so someone may get a deal here. This is an unused in box M9 with a lens, so value should be around $6000-$7000 without it being signed by a celebrity. For fans of Stallone it also comes with his signature and a DVD of the movie it was used in, Expendables II. You also get his brother Franks signature :)

You can check out the auction HERE if interested. 

$T2eC16V,!zUE9s38+COlBRU0irMI3!~~60_57

$T2eC16hHJF0E9nmFTMCpBRU0i8T+rg~~60_57

You can check out the auction HERE if interested. 

Apr 022013
 

More Leica in Asia photos by George Sutton

I recently had an opportunity to travel to Myanmar. It is just opening to tourists after being essentially closed since WWII. The military has governed (using that term charitably) most of that time repressing all opposition and otherwise living apart from the general population and controlling all the wealth. The rest of the nation mostly lives as it always has. Today it is one of the most impoverished nations in Asia but that only means a lack of material wealth, not the kind of desperate living on the street and scavenging in garbage dumps for things to eat and wear found in other places. We didn’t see beggars or people crushed by poverty. It is a fully intact society frozen in time in one of the richest Buddhist cultures anywhere (rich in a spiritual, not material sense). For now, taking a tour is unavoidable. The food is excellent but you have to know which restaurants to pick. Paying for anything is very difficult because credit cards are not accepted and US currency can only be exchanged for the local money at some places and they only take crisp new unwrinkled dollars. There are excellent hotels but getting a room can be difficult.

This was a photo tour led by a guy (Karl Grobl) who specializes in photographing Asian people particularly in remote areas or places affected by a disaster. He mostly works for humanitarian organizations but leads a few photo tours to fill his schedule. His style of shooting is interesting. He shoots hundreds of photos then sends them via the internet to clients who select shots to use and do all the post processing. It works best to shoot jpegs. Limited internet access and bandwidth makes it impractical to send raw files. He carries two DSLRs, one with a zoom telephoto and the other with a wide-angle zoom. He clips these cameras on each side of a belt designed to carry cameras. That enables him to quickly grab either camera and get a shot of any scene he may encounter. He currently shoots Nikon D3s because of its high ISO quality and ability to get a rapid sequence of shots. He has adjusted the camera to get the saturation, contrast and sharpening he wants in the jpeg then sends the batch as it comes out of the camera at the end of each day or as soon as he reaches a place with internet access.

I took a DSLR but shot raw. I also took a Leica M9 mostly to try it out and to see if it would work better in some places like walking around a city or village. It worked great in those situations. The DSLR was indispensable in many other places like inside dark temples, when a very wide or long lens was needed, or in rainy weather. I first tried the Leica in a market where I figured it would not be a big loss if the shots were not as good as the DSLR and ended up with some of my favorite shots of the trip. Some of those shots follow.

The first is of a lady who spends hours every day sitting before a statue of Buddha in a monastery. Buddhists don’t worship Buddha. They practice good karma because that is what enables them to live a better life in the next reincarnation and with enough good karma one can escape the cycle of birth and rebirth. They revere Buddha for teaching that and revering him is itself good karma.

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The next shot is of men making the alms bowls that monks carry to collect food. Lacking automation, these guys take lids cut from the top of used oil drums and beat them in the bowl shape with hammers. This is literally the main shop of the biggest bowl maker in Myanmar. Once the bowl is pounded out it is painted with a thick lacquer and fitted with a lid and handle made from bamboo.

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The next shots are scenes from a typical city marketplace. The old guy has just finished his morning soup and is enjoying a cigar watching a soap opera.

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The guy on the large tricycle is a typical delivery man. These are the equivalent of a delivery van in a modern city.

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The girl was probably on her way to school. The decoration on her face is a kind of wood dust made into a paste. For her it is makeup but for most people it is a kind of sunburn protection.

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The last shot shows a kind of truck used for just about everything outside the cities. I was told it is made in China. These haul people or other loads. The bed can operate like a small dump truck. This one is delivering people to a monastery in a small town in the center of the country.

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I hope you like them.

George

Mar 192013
 

The M9 Sensor is more than adequate by George Sutton

This post is a response to the recent DxO report on the Leica M9 sensor. I chose to respond this way because I can include photos. Photos are, after all, the final word in this whole discussion.

The overpriced and under featured M9 body only exists because it has a full frame sensor and mounts Leica M lenses, but that is enough to be one of the best cameras made. The M9’s biggest drawback is a lack of versatility but in circumstances where it performs well it produces some very good images. I am not disputing the DxO results but to me the take away is that there is not a great deal of difference between high end sensors in actual use. I say that after owning and using a M9, Canon 1Ds, 1Ds III and now a 5DIII, and an Olympus OM-D. To me, the telling thing is the big diss DxO gives the 1Ds. When it was first released the 1Ds was probably the best camera made. It was way ahead of anything Nikon offered (they have played leapfrog since) and it even surpassed medium format cameras for detailed image quality (there were no medium format digital cameras at that time). Yes, that was then and now there are better cameras but the 1Ds still produced great photos. What I have learned in the meantime is that the single most important factor in a camera’s quality is the lenses. The biggest drawback to the 1Ds was the soft to unusable corners in many Canon lenses back then. Nothing, in my experience at least, equals the quality of a Leica M lens. The following illustrate this point.

One of the toughest camera tests for me is shooting a city at night.

The shots below are all taken at f8 and the camera’s lowest ISO on a tripod with cable release and are close to 100% enlargements for the Leica and Canon and about a 125% enlargement of the OM-D. I selected f8 because it produces star like effects around lights and is typically the sharpest aperture for any lens. The images are somewhat flat because it was hazy and I was shooting from a few miles away. The shot with the Leica was taken with a Leica 90mm f2.8 that I bought used. My guess is that the lens is 10 to 20 years old. The shot with the Canon 5DIII was taken with a new 24-70mm f2.8 II zoom at 70mm. That lens is generally regarded as the best medium range professional zoom currently made and it is very sharp corner to corner. On the OM-D I used a Lumix 12-35 f2.8 zoom at 35mm (equivalent to 70mm on a full frame camera), which is generally regarded as the best medium range zoom for a 4/3 camera. Detail in the buildings is close for the Leica and Canon. The OM-D is worse but that is mostly due to the smaller sensor. Printed 8×10 these differences would be barely visible. The biggest difference is the lights. Note the clear multi point stars produced by the Leica. The Canon is close but the rays emanating from the lights are slightly less distinct. The OM-D is the worst. The star effect is there but the lines are distorted and broken with what appear to be concentric circles radiating out from the light. The star effect can be eliminated by shooting the lens wide open. Wide open the Leica and Canon both did a great job of capturing the light as it was. The OM-D did not do as well. I tried different lenses on the OM-D including a prime and got a similar effect each time. If I were shooting this for sale, I would shoot it with both the Leica and Canon and pick the best. If I could only shoot one it would be the Leica.

I offer these only to illustrate the point that in use the M9 sensor is quite adequate to get a great shot. I am including one more shot to make this point (the last landscape image). The landscape is cropped from the original by about 30%. It was taken with the M9 on a tripod with a Leica 35mm f2 lens at f11. I don’t know if this can be seen in the image here but I have printed the cropped image at the largest size my printer will do, 17×22, and individual bushes about a foot wide can be clearly seen on the desert floor more than a mile below. I haven’t used every camera and lens made but of those I have used I have never seen this level detail from any other camera. That is mostly due to the lenses but the sensor has to be up to the task as well and in my experience the M9 sensor is more than adequate for the job.

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Canon

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Feb 142013
 

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Traveling through the land of color with a Leica Monochrom and M9 by Daniel Maissan

I think it’s always nice to put myself up for new challenges in life and not take the easy way. Most of the time it ends well, even though I tend to get a bit frustrated and impatient at the start. As I was leaving the Netherlands two months ago on a photographic journey through India, I got the idea of giving myself an extra handicap once again.

So traveling through the land of color I decided to bring a Leica M Monochrom and see what that would do. Since a year and a half I’m completely in love with my Leica M9 combined with the Summicron 35mm. So of course I brought these as well.

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At first I did get the frustration that I expected. Several times I switched my lens back to the M9, to capture the beautiful colors of the saris. Writing blogs and facebook  posts on not knowing what to do. Should I just shoot black and white and obey my challenge or should I capture the trip of a lifetime with that what I was comfortable with? After a while though, I did start to get the hang of looking at life in black & white. I soon started to notice that the lack of color made me focus more on what was happening. No distraction of color, only the light, movement and most important the contact with my subjects. For me photography isn’t so much about making the perfect shot. The main reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day.

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Getting more comfortable with the Monochrom along the way, I started to experiment a bit more with it. Compare black and whites that I shot with the M9 and then converted in Silver Efex, with the ones I made with the Monochrom. The difference was huge. Specially when shooting at dusk or at night, the higher ISO options were very welcome. Also the amount of detail in dark areas and the sharpness of the pictures were a treat. I was starting to fall in love with this new way of working.

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After a month I shot almost everything with the new Leica, my M9 was drastically neglected at the bottom of my bag. I noticed that the way I looked at things had changed. A lot of times it looked like I didn’t even see colors anymore. Not until I arrived in Jodhpur, the bleu city. There was no way around color here… the bleu houses, the beautiful dresses of the Rajasthan women, the colorful turbans of men. It was time to bring out my old precious again.

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Now I’m comfortable with both cameras. The two rangefinders again have done, what Leica did to me the very first time I used one. They make me think about what I am doing every single time. They force me to slow down, make decisions on the settings I’m using, and anticipate on what is going to happen. From now on I also have to decide whether to use color or black and white. I believe these cameras actually make me a better photographer.

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Working with the two different cameras changed my perspective of the world I’m traveling through as well. They made me even more aware of what is happening, what situation I’m in and who the person I’m photographing really is. Therefor they make me understand a little bit more.

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Don’t forget guys, if you have a GREAT B&W shot and feel lucky, the I-SHOT-IT premium Monochrom competition is underway and heating up. Prize is a Leica monochrom and thousands in cash. How cool would it be if a reader of this site won? AWESOME! – Steve

Feb 062013
 

Of Land and Spirit – Rural Thailand with an M9 and D3s by Lee Craker

I have been working on a project for a year documenting a small community in rural Thailand. The working title for this project is “Of Land and Spirit”.

I have found it fascinating to follow the cycle of the land here and the people who work it. In rural Thailand the land is life. The land provides for all physical needs of the people. Food, shelter and living expenses are all provided by the land. I also started to realize that the unique form of Buddhism practiced in rural Thailand is equally important to the people. Each day of a Thai’s life in this small community near Nakhon Nayok, Thailand begins and ends with this form of spirituality. Nothing is done without praying about it, consulting a shaman, or visiting a temple, usually all three. I found that the spirit and the land were impossible to separate. In rural Thailand one would find it difficult to talk about one without talking about the other. The farmers here are hard-working, up before dawn, and working till after sunset. The work is difficult and done without the aid of modern farming machinery planting, harvesting, and processing rice all by hand.

A woman farmer Sri, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

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Nien, a local farmer plants rice in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand.

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A local Buddhist Monk takes time for relaxation after a service in Nakhon, Nayok, Thailand.

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Sri, a Thai woman farmer, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

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Swai, a local Thai farmer separates the rice from the stock. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

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Sri, douses water on her face in the fields after a long day in the fields.

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This project when completed will take the form of an iBook and be available on iTunes.
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As your blog is often about equipment, I’ll share some thoughts on what I use. I don’t limit myself to one camera. I like to use different cameras depending on what I am shooting. I try to find the right tool for the right job. I use a Leica M9 for its fantastic image quality, and portability. I use a Nikon D3s for its speed in capturing scenes where rapid focus and/or focus tracking is important, and for scenes such as the monk above where high ISO’s are critical. Also the D3s is the most weather proof my cameras and this sometimes becomes important in the fields. I use a Nikon D-800 for its ability to make huge file sizes which is helpful if I find I need to crop the image when being close to the subject is an impossibility, and the D-800 is much lighter than the D3s so it saves on the neck and back when shooting all day.
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Thank you for your time, and looking at my work.
Lee
Dec 272012
 

My Leica love and Pursuit by Nilton Junior

Hi guys! My name is Nilton (speak it as Newton) and I would like to share with you a little about my Leica love and pursuit.

I can say that the very begging is when I was about 9 or 10 years old and my beloved Mom had a small eyeglasses store, I was there all time listening about dioptric grads, types of glasses, aberrations, and others optical terms, but the most I can remember was about good glasses from Carls Zeiss that she no so often used to sell. It was fantastic; if I remember right it was the most exotic glass you could buy for your frame in that time. Here it is, my very first memories about good German optics.

Panasonic GX1 + Canon FD 55mm 1.2f @ 1.4f – ISO 800 – 1/400

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When I was about 17 years old I realized I really loved Physics, Mechanical Physics, but pretty much Optic Physics as well, so I went to engineering school. There I had my second touch with German optics products as I performed a 2 year government paid research about laser emission from neodymium glass at about ultra violet spectrum, almost not visible light. So what equipment did I use to make all that measurements of emission, reflection and absorption? Almost all very high precision equipment was from Leica or Zeiss. They are the most well named brands between scientists tools and an optical lab, without them is legless, or so.

Well, but what does all of that geek stuff have to do about photography? Probably nothing but making a big story short, when little small things from the past creates standards and marks at our minds and influence ours decisions about every thing in life, this has done  a lot for my photography style, and I can tell it is just the beginning.

Fujifilm X100 from my wife J @ 2.0f – ISO 3200 – 1/300

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In 2007 I was about to make my first trip for Europe, and decided to buy a decent camera. I knew nothing about photography, but remember that the seed was planted, so I bought a Canon G9! Yes… I know, WTF?! Actually, the only preference I had that time that remains in me today is, I want a damn small but powerful camera with me. Never thought about using an SLR.

So after that trip I realized that the G9 didn’t achieve the image quality I wanted. I mean, it is a pretty good camera, but autofocus, high ISO and available light photography are not the highs from it. I needed to move on.

Panasonic GX1 + Olympus 12mm 2.0 @ 2.0f – ISO 160 – 1/3200

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So talking about photography with my best friend (this damn lucky boy today works at Playboy Magazine) he told me that a certain company was making partnership with Leica glass. Yes, something inside my head instantly lighted up and it all made sense. I WANT A LEICA. That time I didn´t know Leica and Zeiss made photographic products, I was a lab geek, remember?

Panasonic GX1 + Summilux 25mm @ 1.4f – ISO 160 – 1/1300

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So I started to research the most I could about Leica glass and the company making the trade with them. So I discovered Panasonic. Yes. My life brought me here, to Panasonic MFT cameras line up! I know that apparently Steve likes Olympus more but I never tried Olympus, but man, they don´t have the Leica partnership, J. I bought the GF1 and that was passion at first click and of course bought a summilux 25mm too.

That time I knew little about M cameras, just knew they were (and are) insanely expensive and that I would never, ever, ever buy one. I was so happy with my Panasonic/Summilux combo, it is a little taste and the closest I could get from a real Leica. From then to now I changed my GF1 for a GX1 and don’t regret that decision. It is very superior with faster autofocus and better high ISO capabilities. I’ve recently started trying third-party lenses with adaptor.

The major brand I use for my MFT camera is Canon FD. They are cheap and you can get great results. I just love my Canon FD 55mm 1.2f.

Panasonic GX1 + Canon FD 100-200mm 5.6 @ 16f – ISO 160 – 1/500

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But, what about Leica?! Is it in that tinny dark area from my heart? Forgotten? NEVER!  After discovering, about one and half-year ago, Steve’s Site, I made a decision, I will buy my Leica M with a summilux 50, so I started saving. Yes, I’m on budget and hope I can get my hands over the new Leica M next year!

PS.: Please, I hope my English isn’t that bad, it is not my native language.

Best regards guys!

Nilton Junior

www.photon-x.com.br

Dec 132012
 

1667 Nautical miles, 66 Days, 4 Countries and a Yacht called Rhombus.

By Matt Draper

Firstly I would like to thank Steve for allowing me to once again share some of my images on his forever-growing site. I visit Steve’s site daily and the useful information and inspiration it gives me at times are second to none. My last post was a while ago about my time with the M9.

Earlier this year I was given an amazing opportunity to help crew a very good friends yacht on an adventure of a lifetime.

Johnny Diamond left New Zealand 3 years ago on his 40ft yacht Rhombus and a dream to circumnavigate the entire world with no set time of when Rhombus would next sail into the port of Whangarei Heads New Zealand.

Leaving Malaysia we sailed to Indonesia then on to the Nicobar and Andaman Islands of India finishing off in the land of smiles Thailand.

Along the way our crew of four Kiwi’s including one female encountered endless days of dangerous seas, slat water crocodiles and the Andaman and Nicobar police who boarded Rhombus equipped with machine guns taking turns of twelve-hour shifts, which lasted three days as important paper work was helicoptered to the appropriate people who would decide our fate after anchoring in a restricted area to shelter from violent weather.

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Introducing Sabang, a tiny kitten we stumbled across amongst a filthy Indonesian food market in the city of Sabang, located on Northern Sumatra’s picturesque Pulau Weh island. Gifted to us by a negligent owner, Sabang bravely boarded the yacht Rhombus to become part of our crew for the over 1000 nautical miles that remained of our sail. Completely flea ridden when we first took him in, we managed to succeed in ridding Sabang of every last bloodsucking insect the very day this photo was taken. Tragically, poor little Sabang ended up falling extremely sick and didn’t make the entire journey. This first photo is dedicated to our lost crew member. RIP buddy.

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Liam – aka ‘Salty’ – capturing one of the most amazing sunsets we had on our sail around Little Andaman Island, India. Not long before this photo was taken we had been caught in a ‘no go’ marine reserve by local authorities. Our punishment, it seemed, would either be the seizure of our yacht, or payment of a dodgy fine. After a few hours of heated negotiation we managed to leave without (further) incident.

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The latest arrival to the Pillow Millow tribe Nicobar, India. Pulomilow or Pillow Millow islet is part of Little Nicobar group of Islands and is separated from the main island of Little Nicobar by a deep channel. Following the deadly Tsunami of 2004 the islands few remaining inhabitants are mostly made up of men as the weaker woman and children could not run to higher ground where survivors had sought refuge as the killer waves surged in. The Nicobar Islands are completely off limits to any outside visitors. We were lucky enough to be invited to set foot on this magical land as some of the first if not only tourists ever to do so by the tribes elder who had paddled a hollowed out tree to our anchored vessel.

Tribe.

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Five young men from the Pulomilow or Pillow Millow tribe stand on what is left of their local police building, a reminder of the deadly 2004 tsunami. Home for the Pulomilow is an islet part of Little Nicobar Island, located between India and Thailand. The tribes elder showed us memorials for the lost souls of the over 100 family and friends who perished in the tsunami, and took us to the higher ground where survivors had sought refuge when the killer waves surged in. The houses the remaining tribes people now reside in are more resemblant of tree huts than adequate buildings. They cope without power or running water, with none of the island’s damaged generators having yet been repaired – let alone replaced – by the Indian government.

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Jarret – aka ‘The Rat’ – reflecting upon one of the most amazing sunsets we had on our sail around Little Andaman Island, India. Not long before this photo was taken we had been caught in a ‘no go’ marine reserve by local authorities. Our punishment, it seemed, would either be the seizure of our yacht, or payment of a dodgy fine. After a few hours of heated negotiation we managed to leave without (further) incident.

I have chosen not to share the type of camera I used to capture these images simply because so many people especially those younger are stuck in the mind-set that having the best equipment will give you the best results.

The best camera is truly the one you have on you.

I welcome any constructive criticism but will not reply to any negative comments.

Thanks :)

My name is Matthew Draper I am a young New Zealander currently living and working in the construction industry in Australia. Like many others who pass though Steve’s site I have a passion for photography, it’s just a hobby but I would love to take it further if the opportunity ever arose.

You can see more of my images here:

 

http://mattydraper.tumblr.com/

 

Oct 282012
 

Zombie Apocalypse! My weapons of choice? Leica Monochrom, M9 and Olympus OM-D!

Halloween is just about here and what better way to celebrate it than to attend a good old-fashioned Zombie Walk? I went out yesterday in Phoenix AZ strapped with my Leica Monochrom, a borrowed Leica M9 and my Olympus OM-D and a few lenses to see if I could snap any images of the undead without them eating my brains. The images below were all shot with one of those three cameras.  I also had the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye for M4/3 and LOVED using it at this event. I am writing up a review of that lens so will only include a couple of images here from that lens but it is great fun as fisheyes always are, even with their limited use.

This is just a quick Sunday post for fun as well as a quick POLL to see how many of you can spot the Leica M9 image below when mixed with two Monochrom shots. This site is always about the fun and passion in photography over the technical stuff and besides..it’s Sunday so I am not going to get to involved and sit at my desk for 5 hours :)

Zombies in Monochrom 

A few of the images in this post are from the Leica Monochrom which made me think of the original “Night of the Living Dead”, which was shot in B&W. Zombies really pop in color but they can also look pretty cool in B&W.

BTW, One of the three images below was shot with the M9 and converted to B&W. Can you spot which one? HINT: The M9 converted to B&W will give off a different look to the Greys/whites than the Monochrom.

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#2

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#3

Can you spot the M9 image? Vote in the poll below and cast your vote: WHICH IMAGE IS FROM THE M9? 1, 2, or 3?

10/29 – ANSWER: The M9 shot is #3!

Be sure to click the images for larger versions! In my upcoming part 3 review on the Mono I will have some full size 100% files for you to check out from the Zombie walk. It was loads of fun shooting with the Mono though I have to say..these walking undead zombies POPPED in color!

Zombies in COLOR

While at the walk I was blown away with some of the make up and effects some of the “walkers” did on themselves. There were zombies everywhere! Teenage zombies, old zombies and even kid zombies :) It is amazing how popular the whole Zombie genre is these days. There were entire families showing up as zombies and it was super cool to see and interact with everyone. The cool thing is that everyone there LOVED getting their photos taken. Take a look at just a few of the shots I snapped below using the various cameras and lenses.

The M9 and 35 1.4

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The OM-D and the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye

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OM-D and 12mm f/2

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Leica M9…this guy wanted to eat the camera and then feast on my brains!

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OM-D and Fisheye

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The OM-D and 75 1.8..this lady had the hair but no makeup so she resembled a troll doll :)

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Leica M9 and 50 Summitar 

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The OM-D and 75 1.8

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M9 and 50 Summitar

I have to say that if there is a Zombie Walk in your neighborhood  next Halloween then GO! It is loads of fun, there are a gazillion photo opps and everyone is friendly and having a great time, which makes for some great image making possibilities. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Steve  

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