Shooting Medium Format alongside Leica M for Travel and Documentary Photography
by Pascal Vossen
Hi Steve, thank you for your contribution to the photographic community and giving me the chance to ventilate my thoughts to other photographers!
Shooting medium format alongside 35mm format is what I did during my latest trip to Sri Lanka and it turned out really well for me. I enjoyed it a lot and it made sense to me before I left, during shooting and afterwards when I looked at the results. The only ‘regret’ I got is that I didn’t go bigger in film size. Still though, the Leica M was and will remain to be my main travel and documentary camera. Let me first tell you why, before I move on to the medium format part;
Photographing with a Leica M is special. I don’t have to explain that to someone who handled a Leica M before, but to the photographer who didn’t. It’s a camera with a magic feel, handling and character to it. It gives you the best of 35mm in a small and intuitive package. You don’t feel like you are getting blocked off to what is happening around you as soon as you bring the camera to your eye. The design of the Leica M, being a rangefinder camera (i.e. with a separate optical viewfinder), will allow you to stay in contact with what is happening around you. You never loose focus on your subject. You see everything. Notice the light, meter, frame, focus, reframe, anticipate and shoot your image. Its a fast process that always allows you to stay in control. Rangefinder focusing is imo also the most accurate way of focusing, since you don’t have to rely on an auto focus system that might fail. You are in control, you decide where you put the focus. This means that you know exactly where your focus point is. Is this off, then you failed and not the camera.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Polonaruwa.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Red Mosque, Colombo.
Because of its construction, the fact that it is a rangefinder and thus not has a mirror like a DSLR, the Leica M is compact and elegant. It is without a doubt the most beautiful camera I will ever own. The first time I tried one myself I noticed by its reassuring weight that this thing is build to last. Furthermore, it does not scream for attention and gives most people the impression that you are carrying an ‘old-timer’ around. Yes, sometimes that’s true, but its a very competent ‘old-timer’. But then again even the 2013 Leica M (type 240) still looks like the camera Leica build 30,40 years ago. That is partly the beauty of it and gives its user the freedom to walk around without drawing too much attention to themselves. Even the small time street criminal would more often go for a larger looking plastic DSLR from e.g. one of the Japanese brands, because they think you are holding a worthless old camera that is not worth stealing. If I however go on a trip where I suspect to end up in more dodgy areas I would maybe tape off the ‘Leica’ sign and put some more tape on it to make it look broken, just to make sure. I don’t care what it looks like when I am photographing (I do when its on the shelf ;)). The purpose of having this camera is to be able to get the shots I wouldn’t get with another camera. It is inconspicuous and enables the photographer to get really close without getting noticed. Even the shutter won’t give away your presence when you are photographing with an analog M, since it a cloth shutter and therefore near silent. I have found the digital Leica M (e.g. M8.2 that I also shoot with) in ‘discreet’ mode also very silent until you take your finger of the shutter button and the shutter re-cocks. Prepare yourself to be notices or walk away first.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Temple of the Holy Tooth, Kandy.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400@800 | Temple of the Holy Tooth, Kandy.
It is my opinion that photographing with a Leica M stimulates you as a photographer to take pictures in a more intelligent way. This has partly to do with the way you frame your images through the viewfinder. The frame lines give you the possibility to anticipate and be in control of the moment. Furthermore, the typical rangefinder character and lenses (prime lenses, mostly ‘wide angle’ to ‘normal’ focal length) force you to come close or be more creative. These are all reasons why the leica M is my main choice for shooting travel and documentary photography.
Leica M7 | 50mm | Portra 400 | Kandy.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Colombo.
So what made me bring along a medium format camera and why did I think it was a great combination? Let me say this first; Before I left for Sri Lanka I figured out that too many options is no good! I planned on limiting myself to two lenses for the Leica M, the Summicron 28mm F2 for wide angle landscape and environmental portraits and the Summilux 50mm F1.4 ASPH for shots/subjects that are better suited with a normal focal length or less depth of field. But then I threw in a Voigtländer 15mm heliar! I forgive myself since I got some good shots with it.
Then I had the choice of leaving it the way it was, which is a really light travel setup, or fill the bag (i.e. a Billingham Hadley Pro) up with a medium format camera + one standard lens for portrait and landscape. Reasoning behind this was my intention to take close-up portraits and high resolution landscapes. A larger negative means you can capture more information, details and you gain quite a bit of dynamic range (that’s even more true when its digital imo). This and the larger control in depth of field all add to the look of medium format. Nevertheless, the obvious image quality gain was not the surprising part. It was mostly the ease and the way of handling both cameras alongside which I found to be great.
A standard part of my day would be that I would ask my driver to drop me at the beginning of a town/village/city on the way and pick me up a few hours later on the other side. I walked, explored, observed and talked a lot to people. When I saw something interesting I would normally have my Leica M7 in my hand, approach my subject and photograph my subject from the intended angle in the most natural way. This often required me to get pretty close without disturbing them with what they were doing at that particular moment. Would they have noticed me and stopped what they were doing then the image would have been lost. This is definitely important in countries like Sri Lanka where people don’t mind to be photographed and gladly pose with a smile when they notice you. I don’t want that. At least not when its not intended as a portrait. You could consider this ‘phase one’ in the approach to my subject.
Leica M7 | 28mm | Portra 400 | Dambulla.
‘Phase two’ would be approaching my subject for a short chat, making him or her feel comfortable and then ask them if I can take their portrait. If you photograph people in this way you set yourself apart from the average tourist that just snaps away at them and then walks away without saying anything. It really is more or a social and respectable thing to do and you will notice that you will gain a bit of their trust. Just enough to get close enough for an intimate and well-composed portrait.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Dambulla.
If you use digital you show the image to them, which could lead to fun reactions and even more photos, or you give them a chance to hand over an email address (if they have that) so you can send them the picture you took of them upon arrival at home. For exactly these kinds of shots I would grab for the medium format camera. I have introduced myself and my intentions to them and I can now take the tool that gives me the largest IQ. Handling the cameras together was great since I could easily tuck away my Leica M and take out the medium format SLR (I used a Contax 645 + 80mm F2). They fitted comfortably in my Billingham Hadley Pro bag, which is not a gigantic bag. It has great padding and with its flat shape it fits perfectly to your body. Another great advantage was that I didn’t have to fumble around and switch lenses on my Leica M the whole time. Switching lenses is a process I find annoying and a little tricky when traveling to dusty and humid places.
So, to sum up what I found great about this setup is;
-Inconspicuousness and intuitive handling with the Leica M
-Advantage of higher IQ from a larger negative (6×4,5> or sensor a-like) when needed.
-It is still a fairly compact setup (Leica M, two lenses and a MF camera) and packs well in a medium sized camera bag (most Medium Format cameras are actually not that big if you think about it).
-It avoids that you have to change lenses when you want to take a portrait or landscape (if you are comfortable using one lens on the medium format camera)
Some more medium format examples:
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | View from Lipton Seat, Haputale.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Kandy Bride, Kandy.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Provia 400X | Near Adams Peak.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Portra 400 | Mihintale.
Contax 645 | Zeiss T* 80mm F2 | Acros 100 | Galle.
I have found there to only be one possible downside and one ‘regret’ to this all. Downside was that you would have to bring two different formats of film and load two different cameras (if not one or both are digital). The regret was in a way that I didn’t bring a MF camera with a larger negative. That would have been even better. Thus, in the future the MF camera alongside my Leica M will be either a Mamiya 7 or a MF DSLR (Phase One or Hasselblad) depending on the destination, subject/project or way of shooting.
All images are taken in Sri Lanka and the whole series can be viewed on my portfolio (www.pascalvossen.com):
Thank you for reading!
Using the Hasselblad 200 FC/M for Street Photography by Jerry Bei
“UFO” Kodak Ektar 100
I am a street photographer based in Sydney and I have a strong passion for photography in general. I used the Leica M9 and MP as my main tools for street photography in the past couple of years but recently decided to acquire something different. The temptation of medium format have always been there but I could not justify the cost of digital medium format cameras, at least for now.
Hasselblad has always been my dream medium format camera and luckily I got the chance to buy a Hasselblad 2000FC/M camera body with a A12 magazine at a very reasonable price that got me started into medium format. The world of medium format film photography was new to me so I had to learn everything from the start. I got a grasp of how the Hasselblad V system works very quickly since I had quite a bit of experience shooting film before.
“J&M” Fuji Pro400H
First thing I noticed when holding the camera is its superb build quality, I have held many Leica cameras before but this thing is different, it is built like a tank; heavy and solid. The Hasselblad 2000FC/M with a lens attached is significantly heavier than my Leica M9 with a 50 Summilux ASPH combo but still lighter than a full-frame DSLR setup.
“Black Riders” Ilford HP5+
The viewfinder on the Hasselblad V system is like nothing else I have experienced, big and beautiful. It is almost like a live-view 3 inch LCD screen in the modern days but even better since it is all optical rather than electronic. Viewing through the viewfinder is a pleasure and truly a treat to eyes. I have upgraded the original stock viewscreen to a even brighter Accute Matte D screen that helps to achieve faster and more accurate focusing for street photography.
The Hasselblad V system is equipped with a waist-level viewfinder and it is perfect for street photography. You can simply hold the camera at your waist aimed at your subject and most people don’t even know that you are taking a picture. It’s discreteness is perfect for the streets. The shutter click sound is no where as quite as a leaf shutter or Leica quietness but it is still a pleasure to hear the mirror flipping when the shutter fires.
“Circus Lady” Kodak Portra 400
“Gossip Girls” Kodak Portra 400
One of the big advantage of the Hasselblad system over other medium format film systems is its inter-changeable backs, which allows swap between different films on the go. There are several different types of film magazines available that can shoot different number of exposures. The most common is the A12 magazine, which allows photographers to shoot 12 frames of 6×6 exposures of 120mm film. You simply insert the dark slide to remove the film back and apply another back loaded with the film you desire. Therefore, you don’t have to wait until all exposures to be finished and able to shoot B&W or Colour during the same photo-shoot.
The lenses are made by Carl Zeiss thus equates to superior image quality. There are several different types of lenses for the V system, some with lens built-in Synchro Compur shutter like in C and CF lenses and some without that uses the in-camera shutter like the F lenses. My Hasselblad 2000FC/M can uses all three types of lenses since it has a built-in shutter and a top shutter speed of 1/2000 second. The optics are all made by Carl Zeiss and has the typical Zeiss quality with its renowned 3D rendition. Some people buy the system because of their famous lenses. There are also difference in lens coating and are noted by the T* sign. The lenses I used are the Carl Zeiss 150mm F4.0 CF T* lens which is equivalent to 94mm in 35mm format, which is the perfect lens for head and shoulder portraits. I am also using the “magical” lens in the Hasselblad world , the Carl Zeiss 100mm F3.5 C T* lens that is equivalent to 63mm and it is a mysterious lens that is rarely used but contains some magical qualities. One day I hope to get the “Noctilux” of Hasselblad, which is the Carl Zeiss 110mm F2 lens that will produce stunning bokeh!
I loved shooting with 35mm film on my MP, although the film qualities are presented i.e. the great exposure latitude, dynamic range and tonality but the sharpness is not up to the standard that I desired. Medium format film seems to be the “Perfect” solution for this, it has incredible sharpness, even at 100% crop looks tack-sharp amazing to me. Although with the significant gain of resolution over 35mm film but it still retains all the film qualities that makes it so attractive. There is also a great gain in shallower Depth-of-Field and the bokeh from the lenses are incredible. The frame is 6×6 which makes it a unique square shape that stands out from all other images. I have yet to print those images in large sizes but have heard that you can even blown them up to 2 by 2 meters prints, which is perfect for commercial usage.
It has been a real joy to use the hasselblad and I am still amazed at its quality. While my journey in the medium format world continues that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting try out medium format film photography : do not hesitate!
Please feel free to visit my Flickr or 500px to see more of my work:
500px: HYPERLINK “http://500px.com/jerrybay” http://500px.com/jerrybay
“Father & Son” Ilford Delta 400
“Hairy Chest” Ilford HP5+
“1958 Chevrolet Corvette” Ilford HP5+
“French Nun” Fuji Reala 100
“In the Wind” Fuji 400H
Quick Comparison - Leica Monochrom, Sigma DP2 Merrill and Hasselblad 39CF
by Michael Ma
Huge fan of your site. I am lucky to own two pieces of equipment that you have reviewed, so I thought I’d contribute. My Leica Monochrome just arrive today and I decided to give it a spin in terms of image quality. Both the Leica and the Merrill DP2 are reviewed in detailed on your website and they are renowned for their image quality. Since I’m lucky enough to have a loaner Hasselblad with the CF39 digital back on hand, I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty IQ comparison using the Hassey as bench mark.
Dim room light
1.7 meters to subject
All images had gone through only contrast adjustment, no sharpening
Hasselblad 39CF with 80mm CFE lens F2.8, F5.6 1/2, 1/4S
The Hasselblad yielded a pleasing overall image in terms of tone and rendering. With 39 mega pixels 49x36mm sensor, we don’t expect anything less. The 100% crop shows that even when wide open, the CFE lens is sharp and shows nice contrast. Note that the physical size of the Hasselblad image is almost twice as large than the Leica and Sigma.
Hassey crop (click image for full size cdrop)
Next up is the Leica Monochrome with Summilux 1.4 ASPH latest version F2.8, F5.6
WOW, the Leica is sharp! I don’t have a M9 to test the comparison between the mono sensor and the regular CCD sensor, but the 100% crop looks sharper than the Hasselblad shot and you can see the details in the canvas texture. The image was over blown in exposure but the details are still nicely preserved. Very impressive!
Leica Crop – (Click image for full size crop)
Finally comes the Sigma DP2 Merrill.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the pictures. It is clearly the most rich and detailed of all three. The photo was shot with the lens wide open at F2.8. Astounding details and color. Now look at that 100% crop. The texture of each brush stroke is so vivid. Beats the Hasselblad hands down.
Conclusion? Well this is a very clumsy test. But besides the poor testing conditions I think there’s a story to be told here. All three are great camera systems. The Hasselblad is older and the lens probably could have used with more stopping down. But this is also a 9000 dollar set up (used price). The Monochrome setup is 12K all in (when bought new). The Leica lens is incredibly sharp and the Monochrome retains so much details in the shadows. But the ultimate winner here is the Sigma DP2. At a tiny fraction of the price of either the Hassey or the Leica, it delivers the best results in color, details, and contrast.
A Film Legacy by Jason Howe
I’d really like to share a recent discovery with you, I am posting the full version on my blog HERE but I know this will reach far more people if you show it so thanks so much for helping me achieve this.
I’ve featured my own work on your site several times before but on this occasion I’d like to present the work of a deceased doctor and amateur photographer from New Zealand called Roland G Phillips-Turner who in the 1950′s and 60′s travelled around remote regions of New Zealand’s North Island doing medical research and documenting his travels with his Leica M5 and Hasselblad 500c.
A Film Legacy
I clicked on the email attachment, whilst the image of assorted camera equipment wasn’t the best the list was clear enough….. Leica M5, 35mm Summicron f/2, 90mm Elmarit f/2.8 all caught my eye, words that meant nothing to me only a couple of years ago were now very much etched in to my photographic brain. Other lenses in both M & R mount were listed amongst a myriad of Leica equipment. The email arrived via the father of a friend, word of mouth regarding my fondness for all things Leica had ensured it found its way to me, good fortune indeed. I phoned the contact number and made arrangements to view the items at the earliest opportunity and in doing so acquired not only a wonderful collection of vintage Leica equipment but also the opportunity to show the world the photography of Roland G Phillips-Turner, his film legacy so to speak.
As I carefully packed away the equipment, the daughter and I began to chat about her late father and his photographic exploits, as I listened intently my connection to this newly inherited equipment grew stronger with each spoken word. All vintage equipment comes to you with a history, more often than not it’s imagined on the part of the new owner, to actually know the story behind it makes it very special indeed. With this history comes what I would almost describe as a sense of duty, one I would come take very seriously, lenses have since been serviced and as I write this the M5 is at DAG in the US receiving the attention it deserves. Indeed, upon its return from CLA the 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1 made its debut for me HERE.
I’d describe myself as a rational person, I don’t believe in such things as fate and destiny, but I have to admit it has crossed my mind when it comes to this equipment. From opposite sides of the world, separated by two generations and via a huge slice of good fortune this equipment has landed in my possession, the survival and continued use of this Leica equipment is now ensured.
In addition to the equipment I was also entrusted with his slides, these have only been seen by the family prior to this post.
Image 1 – Hasselblad 500c – KODAK EKTACHROME
I was so pleased to find this amongst the negatives, after some research I’ve been able to establish that it was taken at Marokopa Falls in the Waikato, New Zealand. It was also fascinating to discover that the photographer used the Hasselblad 500c for the medium format work. I had also purchased a 500c from the USA a month or so before coming across the slides, just another wonderful coincidence.
Image 2 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
Kuia with a moko – “Kuia” being an elderly woman, grandmother or female elder and the “Moko” is the Maori facial tattoo.
Image 3 – Leica M5 – KODAK KODACHROME
Image taken with the Leica M5 and most likely with the VISOFLEX that was also included within the set of equipment.
Image 4 – Hasselblad 500c – KODAK EKTACHROME
Deer Hunters in the Urawera’s, a rural scene that is no doubt still repeated in the present day.
Image 5 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
In this image Mount Ngauruhoe appears to be active. You may recognise this volcano as Mt Doom from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Image 6 – Hasselblad 500c – AGFACOLOR DIA
Traveling amongst the indigenous people in these rural areas whilst doing his research must have been the most incredibly rewarding experience. Add to that the opportunity and ability to photograph them and it really must have been a joy on many levels.
In years to come will people have similar experiences to the one I have just shared with you? What is the likelihood of my photographs being rediscovered 40 or 50 years from now? You would have to say, highly unlikely! Film has made this discovery possible, it has preserved these images beautifully and ensured their survival to date.
Boxes of slides, stored in an attic, a garage, who knows where, you open it, hold it to the light and instantly you can see the magic, will people recover digital images from old hard drives in this way? I can’t see it myself……..only film can make this possible. I already had an affinity with film, this experience has strengthened that bond still further, I never say shoot film over digital, I always say shoot both. There is true value in both media.
The images posted here are indicative of the collection I have been entrusted with and I will continue to share them over the coming weeks and months, I hope you’ll join me and follow these posts with interest.
Chasing Light in The Palouse with the Pentax 645D
(& A Brief Review of the Pentax 645D system)
By Ashwin Rao – Visit his blog HERE
The Palouse… Eastern Washington’s pastoral land of rolling hills, has long been a source of photographic inspiration and pilgrimage. It’s a land replete with broad swaths of color, vistas with horizons that stretch into an endless distance, gently undulating fields of grain, crumbling barns, and giant machines processing the land’s primary industry of grain harvest. Type the word “Palouse” into your browser, and you yourself may be inspired to travel to this beautiful land, situated along the far sound and east of Washington’s boundaries, crossing into Idaho and Oregon. It’s but a five-hour car ride from Seattle, and yet, in a decade spent living in the Emerald City, I had never made the trip to the Palouse until recently. And now, the call of the glorious land reaches back to me.
The inspiration for my trip, of all things, was a change in gear. For many years, I have been a rangefinder shooter, but prior to this time, the DSLR and landscape photography had been my principal passions. As the rangefinder ethos grabbed a firm hold of my soul, my photography drifted towards a more photojournalistic approach, with attempts to capture tiny slices of life in meaningful ways. I had kept a Pentax K5 in my kit for over a year for the rare times where an SLR would see more practical use for a particular assignment of photographic task. And one day, while at my local camera store, Glazer’s Camera in Seattle, WA, I stumbled upon a “find” that jogged my sensibilities…a lightly used, nearly pristine Pentax 645D, priced to sell….and suddenly the gearhead’s dilemma and GAS confronted me. Until this time, I had considered medium format digital photography to be out of my reach financially, lest I up and sell my M9 kit, something I’d not be willing to do. So I was content to view others’ fabulous medium format images and hope that one day, such a camera would fall to my price point. Turns out that this was my lucky day. I quickly travelled home, gathered my K5 kit, and promptly traded it towards the 645D, Pentax’s clever entry into medium format.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the Pentax 645D, here’s a quick overview. It costs $10,000 new as of this writing, and can be had on the used market for around $7,000-$8000, possibly less. The sensor is a lovely 40 megapixel 44 x 33 mm CCD sensor produced by Kodak, which thankfully lacks any anti-aliasing filter., thus preserving the native detail of this conventional Bayer-arrayed sensor. Thus, the images that the camera is capable of producing can rival that of the Leica S2, which has a similar sensor (quality of lens notwithstanding). In fact, there are reports out there that the Leica S2 and Pentax 645D share a nearly identical sensor. Added charms of the 645D include weather sealing (with the appropriate lens) and compatibility with the full lineup of prior Pentax 645 lenses. When compared to the film Pentax 645, one must account for a 1.3x crop factor when using the same lenses, as the sensor in the 645D is 1.3x smaller in surface area than its film counterpart. In contrast, the sensor is 1.25x larger than a full frame 35 mm sensor, providing that much more real estate over which to spread its 40 megapixels. The 645D is capable of ISO’s ranging from 200 to 1600, and it does remarkably well in suppressing noise over this entire range of ISO, without introducing processing/smearing artifacts. The Pentax 645D was initially made available only to the Japanese market for nearly a year after its initial introduction, but it has been available in the U.S. since the early spring of 2011. Other features include a high-resolution 921K dot, 3 inch LCD and a menu layout that is the same as found in the Pentax K5. To boot, it takes the same batteries as the K5 and uses dual SD cards, accepting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards without issue. It’s not the fastest camera in the world, with regards to buffer or shot to shot performance, churning out 1.1 Frames per second. However, given its intuitive, SLR-like layout, ergonomic design, weather sealing, and “fast” (for medium format) performance, it’s gained a bit of a cult following in the medium format world for being a workhorse camera capable of excellent results. Additionally, Pentax 645 lenses have long been regarded as price-performance champs in the medium format world, coming in at prices far lower than comparable lenses in the Hasselblad, Leica and Mamiya lineups.
Some of you who inhabit popular gear forums have no doubt heard of the stir that the Nikon D800 and D800E have provided to landscape and commercial photographers, many whom use medium format for their work. For pro work, commercial fashion, print, and landscape work has long necessitated the use of medium format (and large format) sensors to optimize capture of detail, tonal rendition, dynamic range, and image size necessary for commercial and print work. With the Nikon D800 and its “sans AA filter” version, the D800E, the commercial and landscape world has been suddenly challenged by a new option, far cheaper (in terms of body cost), with a wider array of lenses capable of producing remarkable pixel-level detail required for this type of work, and some say, rivaling medium format. In fact, many individuals are jumping ship from medium format to join the Nikon fray, to provide them with the flexibility of that system, along with better high ISO capacity. Why then, did I disregard this exodus and jump onto a purportedly sinking medium format ship?
Well, actually, the answer boiled down to price and a desire to try something new. SLR’s have been a “been there-done that” thing for me for some time now, and while the D800E would offer the benefit of superior image quality and clarity coupled with 36 plus megapixels of imaging goodness, it still possesses a sensor with far less real estate (by a factor of 1.5) than the sensor provided in the Pentax 645D. Second: Lens prices. After contemplating the price of the 645D, I naturally began an assessment as to how much it would cost to assemble a kit worthy of this sensor. Would lenses be pricey and add dramatically to the cost of my kit? In fact, many excellent Pentax lenses can be found used for between $150 and $650 dollars. I was able to gather a lens kit that included a 35 mm f/3.5 (28 mm 35 mm equivocal focal length), 75 mm f/2.8, 45 mm -85 mm f/4.5 zoon, 120 mm f/4 Macro (one of the best lenses ever made for medium format by many accounts), 150 mm f/2.8, and 400 mm f/5.6 lenses, for less that $3,000 USD. If I had elected to purchase only manual focus glass, I could have saved at least half of that price and spent $1,500 to assemble a high quality kit for my camera. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually, how well priced heritage Pentax 645 glass is.
In order to purchase a Nikon D800E along with lenses of comparable focal length capable of resolving on its sensor (i.e. high end Nikon glass with nano crystal coatings, or Zeiss ZF glass), I would have had to spend more on lenses..well, truth be told far more…here’s a run down, just for fun (keeping in mind that medium format lenses are not nearly as fast/wide aperture as 35 mm equiv lenses, yet allow shallower DOF for any given focal length. Thus the comparison below is admittedly artificial, but would likely give you perspective on price differential for the “best” option for each system at each 35 mm focal length equivalent. This was the process that I went through, essentially trying to compare the best lens option at each focal length for each system, looking at typical lens prices on the open market
|35 mm equiv focal length||Pentax A or FA lens (MF/AF)||Pentax price||Nikon/Zeiss high end lens||Nikon price|
|28 mm||35 mm f/3.5 A||$ 600-$ 800||24 mm or 28 mm f/1.4||$2000-2500|
|35 mm||45-85 mm f/4.5 FA (considered the best option at this focal length, better than the 45 mm f/2.8 FA prime||$ 600||35 mm f/1.5||$1,650|
|50 mm||75 mm f/2.8 FA||$ 400||Nikon 50 mm f/1.4||$400-500|
|90 mm/macro||120 mm f/4 macro A||$ 300-400||Zeiss 100 mm f/2 Makro Planar||$1800|
|135 mm||150 mm f/2.8 FA||$ 500||Nikon 135 mm f/2 DC||$1,300|
|300 mm||400 mm f/5.6 FA||$1200||Nikon 300 mm f/4||$1200|
If you do the math, you can imagine that for an equivalent kit, the price of the Nikon body ($3,300 as of this writing) plus lenses is at least comparable to the price of a used 645D with the lenses assembled above. The issue for gearheads like me would be that the Nikon system offers many other tantalizing options, including lovely zooms, tilt-shift lenses, and other options, for which the cost would continue to mount. The Pentax 645D is a far more limited system, in terms of lens diversity, and most lenses are cheaper or of equivalent price to their FX Nikon lens counterparts…what is lost is Nikon’s high ISO capabilities, size benefit, and lens flexibility. What is gained is a larger sensor and the medium format look….I decided to jump onto the Pentax 645D kit, for better or for worse.
A Bit About the Palouse
So, with that quick review of my decision to invest in this system aside, it was off to the Palouse to see if the Pentax 645D was capable of delivering excellent results with the lenses that I had purchased for the system. For those of you who have never been or heard of this region, the Palouse encompasses parts of Souteastern Washington, northwestern Idaho, and northeastern Oregon. It is a major agricultural region producing wheat and various other crops. The region is also crossed by the Snake River and crosses over with Walla Walla, a region known for it’s lovely wines. It’s through that the regions dune-like geographic formations were formed during the ice ages, cast from the glacial outwash plains. For years, the Palouse has served as a scenic pilgrimage for landscape photographers for its dramatic and unique geography, and it has long been a beck and call for me, as I mentioned above. Thus, I assembled a crew of like-minded photographers, all whom had previously attended one of Steve’s workshops here in Seattle,.All are now friends within Seattle’s Leica users community. From Seattle, it is a 4.5 journey by car to the western edge of the region. Once there, we were met by a talented local photographer, Ryan McGinty, a friend of mine from Flickr (who also came to know of me through Steve’s site), who has lived in the region for many years and magnificently photographs this region through a well-trained and creative set of eyes. For any of you who haven’t had a chance, please check out Ryan’s images on flickr. You are in for a treat, and you will see the possibilities that this wonderful land has to offer through his images:
Our journey to the Palouse began along Washington State Route 26, which is the primary byway that brings people into the heart of the Palouse region from the West. From there, we stopped for breakfast in Colfax, and began a lovely loupe through the scenic byways of the Palouse. During our brief, 24 hour stay in the region, we visited many sites along state routes 27,272, 95, and 195. We passed through the towns of Palouse, Garfield, Colfax, Farmington, Pullman, La Cross, and others. We climbed Steptoe Butte to gather in views of the entire region. Along the way, there were old, abandoned barns, farmhouses left behind, windmills, grain silos, winding roads and paths, statuesque trees, horses and lifestock, and endless fields of grain. At the time of year (June), the color palette was principally made up fo blue, green, gold, with hints of brown, and occasional reds. The chance of the occasional thunder/lightning storm will bring darker swaths of blue, maroon, and magenta into the color mix of the Palouse palette, and evening light can add warm yellows, pinks, and pastels. Wildflowers would sprinkle in occasional batches of vivid color now and again, but by and large, this is a land to be taken in macroscopically at first glance (microscopic will come later)….
The wonderful thing about the region that we saw is that there is usually a remarkable vista over every hill, expanding out towards most horizons. In front of us were endless rolling hills, sunbreaks and cloud shadows spotting and colorizing the views in front of us to add drama. Further, unlike many regions here, the cloud patterns are truly dramatic, with cloud formations ranging from statuesque cumulonimbus and cumulus clouds to wispy cirrus & stratus clouds, providing ever-shifting perspectives of the scenes in front of us. In a very tangible way. We were busy chasing the right types of light as the day passed, sometimes as the contrast, clarity, color, and luminance changed from moment to moment. It was an exhilarating experience for me, a suddenly eager landscape photographer.
The 645D in the Palouse- A New User Experience
I was very excited to use the Pentax 645D in ths majestic landscape. Along with me came a range of lenses from a 35 mm f/3.5 A (28 mm equivalent in full frame) to a 400 mm f/5.6 (320 mm equiv in full frame). I was excited to use the wider lenses to get close and capture scope, while using my telephoto lenses to compress landscapes, while reaching out to grab far away details. Along the way, I did a bit of chimping on the 645D’s wonderful LCD screen, but my and large, I let fate do the talking hoping that the images that I acquired would be in focus, thus allowing all 40 million pixels to shine. Would these older, heritage lenses hold up? After all, Pentax has only unleashed 2 new lenses, a 55 mm FA and 25 mm FA lens, since the Pentax 645D was released. All other glass available to the camera has been present long since the advent of digital photography. IF there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that digital photography can bring out all of the flaws and softness inherent to imprecise or imperfect lens design or compatibility with the digital sensor. Did my kit of assembled heritage glass work out okay? The answer is…..
A RESOUNDING YES!
I’m psyched. I came home and began to edit my photos on my NEC 27 inch high gamut dual displays, and wham, there it was…detail….lots and lots of detail. The heritage glass did marvelously on the digital sensor, and I must say that I have been more than satisfied the Pentax 645D’s output.
Most images were shot at lower ISO’s, from 200-400, as I had the benefit of a nice tripod (Gitzo 3541L) and ballhead (Arcatech) to stabilize my kit. It should be noted that the 645D incorporates 2 tripod mounts, so that if you add 2 really right stuff brackets to the body, you can rapidly change the camera from portrait to landscape orientation.
The 645D is capable of resolving tiny details at near and far distances. Tiny blades of grass come to life just as much as enormous silos. The Kodak CCD’s sensor (No AA filter) produces remarkable detail, and to my eyes, there’s adequate dynamic range to rescue highlights and shadows in post-processing. White balance is a bit challenged on this camera, however, and thus it would make the most sense to shoot in RAW and post process afterwards.
Speaking of RAW files, they are huge, providing 7264 x 5540 pixels of real estate and file sizes of 80 mb or more. Thus, if you are shooting RAW, make sure to bring adequate memory. I used 16 GB SDHC cards for this trip, but on returning home, I promptly purchased two 32 GB SDHC cards (SanDisk Extreme 45 mb/s) to use and not worry about space.
For the most part, I tried to operate in the wheelhouse apertures of these lenses, stopped down to between f/5.6 and f/11, though I found that Pentax 645 lenses perform admirably even wide open.
Many of you may ask if I am happy with my decision to purchase into this system. Does the medium format experience bond well with a Leica M street photographer? Are the file qualities up to snuff, once one has tasted the M9’s sans-AA filter experience? All that I can say is that I am profoundly satisfied, enough to disregard the Nikon D800, as I am unsure what more image quality that camera can offer, especially given that my trip to the Palouse proved to me that 645 lenses are up to the task of critical digital workflow. Further, I hope that the images provided in this user-experience review communicate how I feel about the camera, and to some degree, what type of image quality the camera is capable of.
Concluding thoughts and comments
The Palouse is a beautiful region to visit. It should be on your bucket list, if you are a serious landscape photographer or lover of pastoral scenery. Shooting the region with a Pentax 645D in hand (and on tripod) was a pleasure, and I look forward to returning during another season, when the colors offer a different palate and perspective.Along the way, I found that I was very much impressed by the output of the 645D and its heritage lenses, and I look forward to planning future trips for which the 645D will be taken. I found that the medium format experience is one that can be embraced by someone used to hand holding a discrete kit, when the right opportunity presents itself.
Is the Pentax 645D right for you? Only you can make that decision. For those of you considering a Nikon D800/E for landscape or portrait needs, you may want to consider buying into the Pentax 645D system for a similar cost (depending on your lens selections), as you will be duly rewarded by outstanding image quality, pixel clarity and sharpness, and enormous sensor real-estate.
(From Steve: Anyone interested in a Palouse workshop? A couple of days shooting, learning and getting some amazing images in this beautiful and breathtaking location? If yes, let me know in the comments! If there is enough interest we can set something up!)
- Medium format – lots of sensor real estate for BIG prints and BIG crops
- 40 MP sensor without an anti-aliasing (blur) filter
- Useable ISO’s ranging from 200-1600
- Dual tripod mounts
- Excellent user interface & menu layout (best in class for medium format), making it an easy transition to those familiar with SLR’s and looking to make the jump
- Dual SD card slots
- Weather sealing (with an appropriate lens)
- Outstanding ergonomics (for a medium format camera), including a deeply recessed hand grip
- Cheap (relatively speaking) selection of Manual and Autofocus lenses, which perform admirably.
- Limited ISO range compared to 35 mm
- Bulky (for a M9 user)
- Slow image preview times and buffer
- Slow FPS (1.1 frames/se) make sports or rapid street work difficult
- Care required to optimize sharpness (every tremble and shake can be easily seen at the pixel level). A stable is a must for critical work
- Limited number of vendors for Pentax, compared to Canon, Nikon, NEX, or m4/3
- No AA filter can mean “moire” artifacts are possible (less likely in landscape photography)
Istanbul is an amazing city – and for street photography it ranks right up there if not slightly higher than my up-until-now favourites like Mumbai, Cochin, Jodhpur and of course NYC. Istanbul offers a fabulous mix of culture, amazing people and super food.
Bustling modern thoroughfares and timeless cobbled street neighborhoods are within a twenty-minute tram ride of each other – truly a photographer’s paradise.
I decided to shoot predominantly medium format b&w film on the streets during our 4 day visit. I have grown to love this format that forces me to slow down and think before shooting each frame. There are only 12 frames per roll and I try to make each one count.
And as it turns out, contrary to what you would expect of large equipment, I was somehow viewed with less suspicion. And ironically, with a waist level finder on my camera, I found it easier to become invisible when shooting in the streets. No one would notice when I looked down into my camera finder to frame my shot. I think most people thought I was just fiddling with this ancient looking contraption.
Traveling and Film Photography by Ibraar Hussain
When people talk about travel and photography, exotic National Geographic or Lonely Planet type pictures come to mind, blue lagoons, snow-crested mountains, arid deserts and dusty hot Asian streets with notes of markets, food and spices emanating from the image.
One hardly thinks of England and Wales as exotic, and Travel photography and the two are hardly mentioned in the same breath. But England and Wales hold many delights for the adventurous, inquisitive, curious, wonder seeking and creative photographer.
We have The North of England and the Midlands; Cumbria and The Lake District which a well-known American photographer; Tom Mackie, says is his favourite place to photograph in the whole world, The Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and “Wuthering Heights, Bronte country”, The North York Moors, Worcester and the Malvern Hills where Tolkien was brought up and upon which The Shire of Lord of The Rings fame is based among many other places, Nottingham of Robin Hood fame, Oxford and Cambridge and of course the old cities of York, Worcester, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham complete with their architecture, nightlife, history, people and football clubs!
We have the Cotswolds with their rustic thatch roofed houses, villages and bubbling brooks and water wheels, and we have The Victorian Mill towns which Don McCullin has covered so well, farther East we have Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and East Anglia with their windmills, marshlands and dreamy coastline, we have Kent and the so called garden of England.
On the western most side of the British mainland are Devon and Cornwall with their Jamaica Inn, Bodmin, Dartmoor, Lands End and St Michaels Mount. I’ve never had the chance to visit Cornwall and Devon yet, but hopefully this summer I will!
In this article I will concentrate on the Counties lying west of my home in London and Wales.
London itself is a fantastic city, with everything a photographer could wish for, but if you’re like me and born and brought up in a place you’ll probably know less than the average tourist about it! Any how, I love London but I tend to avoid it (though I do love walking through Epping Forest) , I’m not one for busy streets and zillions of people taking my space – call me an unsociable b’stard and misanthrope who will, but I prefer the Countryside – and besides, London to me is like being married, course you love your wife but she doesn’t half get on your nerves – but it’s better as I can ‘cheat’ on her all I like, dump her for a more attractive lover, then come back when I feel home sick! ;)
Anyway, we have the “Home Counties”, quaint olde world but rather more affluent counties and green belt surrounding London such as Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex, I think they’re called the ‘Home Counties’ as they belong to
Travel West out of London, past Heathrow Airport and you’re into Berkshire with Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire slightly North of it. Through Berkshire and its villages, English Country gardens and Stately Homes, , the Chiltern Hills into Wiltshire with Stone henge, Avebury, its White Horses, ancient chalk figures and burial mounds. South of Wiltshire and we’re in to Dorset with its beautiful and rugged Jurassic coastline. Westwards and we’re into Somerset, Arthurian Glastonbury and then eventually over the Severn Estuary and into Wales.
If you’ve never been to England before, you’ll hardly be surprised that the official language is, English! And road signs are in, you guessed it, English. But cross the ‘border’ into Wales and everything isn’t in English, but in Welsh! Welsh is a Gaelic/Celtic language, but differs greatly from Irish or Scots Gaelic – words in Welsh tend to be real tongue twisters and seemingly unpronounceable! I mean how does one go about pronouncing “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch” ? haha! Look it up! It’s possibly the longest place-name in Europe and one of the longest in the world and probably the most unpronounceable place-name ever!
Wales is a fantastic place, absolutely gorgeous, sparsely populated with perhaps more Sheep than people! Lovely Villages, towns and pubs, great food, stunning landscape, hills and beacons and best of all, magnificent Castles and ruins and the Magical Roman town of Caerleon with its Roman Amphitheatre, Baths and Barracks.
The best thing to do, if you ever visit England and Wales and want to really see and enjoy the sights, is to join The National Trust. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
Best thing I ever did, as I now have access to historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs! The national trust was founded in 1895 to save the Nations Heritage and to protect it, and 116 years later, boy, they’re doing a sterling job of it!
If visiting Wales, I recommend the National Trust and visiting http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/?lang=en CADW is the Welsh historic environment service which plays a similar role to The National Trust. You’ll have access to so many castles ruins and places of interest that it’d take years to visit them all!
Wales is dotted with castles, priories, monasteries and fortresses, as Wales has always been a bit unruly, and rebellious. Wales also has The Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia, and these places are dotted with Castles and Forts and Standing Stones.
If you’re adventurous and want to stay in some stunning remote locations throughout England and Wales for peanuts, I recommend http://www.yha.org.uk the Youth Hostel Association. I’ve stayed in many YHA places, in some stunning locations with my family and love every second of the experience.
Anyway, on to some photography, I have spent many years photographing some of these places and am in love with quiet dreamy places tucked away amongst the hills and valleys – I just wish I had more time, and more talent to really capture the feel and mood of some of these places.
Walking or driving around the countryside, Spring will see the woods awash with Bluebells, which bloom in late April and May, summer will see deep red poppy fields showing off their colour and glory, Autumn will show New Englandesque displays of gold, russet and crimson and Winter has its own beauty.
Below I’ve included a small selection of photographs, I’ve taken far too many to post here and I have no gallery or anything online anymore, but I hope you enjoy the photographs, they’re no masterpieces but I hope they can inspire people to perhaps visit!
They’re mostly Black & White, but I had to include a shot of a bluebell Wood and a Poppy Field.
Stowe Landscape Garden
A huge classical themed Landscape Park in Buckinghamshire
Fuji GA645, Ilford Pan F 50, Ilford ID11. Epson 4990, Adox MCP 312.
Tretower Court and Castle
Ruins of a 12th Century Fort, Castle and Manor House. Powys, Wales
Fuji GA645, Ilford Pan F 50, Ilford ID11. Epson 4990.
User Report: Concert Photography & Portraits with a vintage Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid Back by Chad Wadsworth
Hello Steve Huff Photo readers! Steve was kind enough to let me share with you some concert photography and artist portraits that I’ve taken over the last few years with Polaroid land cameras and an old Mamiya Universal Press with a Polaroid back. It seems like we are all constantly searching for the next new piece of digital gear, whether it be the M10, X-Pro 1, OMD or NEX-7. I’m guilty of buying a ticket to this carousel and have been through my share of m4/3 and APS-C compacts as they certainly do have their important place in our daily photography. That said, in retrospect, the work that is often most satisfying to me personally has been the “lo-fi” analog photos captured with vintage gear.
As a concert and editorial photographer, my weapon of choice is a DSLR. It offers the perfect combination of rugged build (I recently had to use the body of my 5D to brace myself against the stage as the crowd surged forward), speed of focus, access to excellent optics and a comfortable user interface. But as most my contemporaries use the same equipment, it can be challenging to craft a signature to your work outside of composition and post processing. Vintage gear or larger format cameras can bring new looks to your work and are a ton of fun to use.
I won’t take up much more of your reading time other than to tell you a little more about the gear and techniques used.
In this group of shots I am using my trusty Mamiya Universal Press (a medium format rangefinder) with a broken shutter trigger so I have to manually hit the shutter lever on the lens. This particular concert was well-lit but the film was slow – Fuji FP-100 and my shutter speed was around 1/30 at f/2.8 with a Sekor 100mm lens. I basically zone focused and tried to stay steady during an exciting set by one of my favorite bands – Spoon. I also had some fun with a double exposure shot from the stage – not sure if it works completely but I like it fine.
The same camera and Polaroid back combination was used here for an album artwork shoot. This one was shot at sunset on a farm in the Texas Hill Country.
The Mamiya / Sekor 100mm also makes for a great lo-fi portrait lens with nice swirly bokeh and strong vignetting. Here are some artist snapshots taken at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX. The artists are: Bounce/Hip-Hop musician Big Freedia, John Dwyer from the San Francisco band, Thee Oh Sees and the truly remarkable Merrill Garbus of the music project tUnE-yArDs
And finally, here are some photos from an ongoing portrait series using an old Polaroid 450 land camera with portrait lens attachment. Some of these were shot on the real deal – Polaroid 669, others with Fuji FP-100. The camera is positioned about 10 inches from the subject’s nose which can result in an intense emotive quality as they stare into the camera at close range. Artists are: the lovely Annie Clark, also known as St. Vincent, Matt Berninger of The National, Matt Shaw of the now defunct band, Hymns and the beautiful and talented Shara Worden, also known as My Brightest Diamond. Thanks for looking and thanks again to Steve!
From Steve: On Saturday I posted part one of a guest report featuring many images with the Leica M9 and various lenses (see that HERE). Bjarke sent in this article and I splitted it in to two parts. Part one featured all Leica M9 shots, and part two, shown here, features shots with his medium format gear as well as a from a Canon 7D. It is interesting to compare the shots here. I find the ones with the most “feeling” happened with the M9 but but the images with the Hasselblad are amazing in texture, quality, richness and also feeling. The Canon shots are great as well but get even better when he mounted Zeiss glass. Either way, there are some great personal shots here so thank you Bjarke for sharing! Enjoy!
Weekend Inspiration Part 2 – “The Children and Medium Format”
by Bjarke Ahlstrand
My Leica M9-P is my favourite camera of all time — but the Hasselblad H3D follows right after. The images it produces in full resolution are breathtaking when it comes to details, rendering, colors etc. and even though many consider this to be a studio camera only, I often bring it along in my bag, both for professional assignments as well as private excursions.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 35 MM F/3.5
Elizabeth and her rabbit captured on my favourite medium format lens–it’s equals a 23 mm on a 35 full frame format–but it has not distortion, it’s tack sharp all over and I often use it as a portrait lens. With 39 megapixels at hand, cropping is no problem :-)
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 50 MM F/4
Magnus being portrayed for his mother’s 40th birthday
HASSELBLAD H3D-31 + HC 55-110 MM F/3.5 – 5.6 ZOOM LENS
A Hasselblad zoom lens that continues to amaze me, it’s so deadly sharp
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 80 MM F/2.8
The kit-lens, I rarely end up using it, as I usually go for the 100 mm instead, but it is, as all of the Fujinon built HC lenses, a great performer. And no, it’s not real poison, it’s just water.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 100 MM F/2.2
My favourite portrait lens EVER. Wide open it produces amazing results unbeatble by ANY lens I’ve ever tried.
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 150 MM F/3.2
The Hasselblad lenses are BIG, especially compared to the little Leicas, but since I only shoot handheld, I often bring this 150 mm along, since it’s relatively “light”
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 210 MM F/4
The more tele these medium format lenses get, the more the background dissapears :-)
HASSELBLAD H3D-39 + HC 300 MM F/4
My heaviest and most difficult to shoot (handheld, hehe) lens, and the one I miss most shots on, but once they’re there, I’ve got nothing to complain about!
The Fuji GF670 Medium Format Film Camera Review
By Steve Huff
Wow, I am on a roll! Three reviews THIS WEEK alone! Holy cow. I am waiting for that moment where I get writers block and I sit in front of my screen for hours while writing one sentence. It has not happened yet and that is probably because I am so nutty passionate about photography and I LOVE trying out new gear just to see what is out there and available. I may not be able to buy it all, but at least I can find out what is cool and worthwhile. One camera that caught my eye a few months ago was the Voigtlander Bessa III folding medium format rangefinder camera. I saw it online and found out it took 120 film (medium format/larger negatives/better quality) and it allowed you to shoot in either 6X6 square format or 6X7 for even more negative real estate.
Yes, this is film and yes it is medium format. But that doesn’t mean it is a big, clunky and heavy camera. Nope, this one is actually pretty sleek and designed to be easy to carry around with you wherever you go. The Voigtlander model comes in black but for those who like silver you can also buy a Fuji version, which does indeed come in silver! That model is the Fuji GF670.
The big BAD ASS Fuji GF670 – 6X6 or 6X7 with a flick of the switch
*This review will be on the Fuji version of the camera.
The Fuji GF670 comes with a built in 80mm lens that folds out of the camera, just like the old Voigtlander Bessa II. When I first saw an image of the camera I thought it looked like a normal 35mm rangefinder on steroids!
After reading about it and thinking how cool it would be to shoot one, I ended up forgetting about it for a few months. Then one day I spoke with my contact at B&H Photo and realized they had the Fuji and Voigtlander version of this camera. As already stated, the Fuji version is actually the same camera but is silver and marked with a lens that says “Fujinon” instead of “Heliar”. From what I understand and after doing some digging I found out that these cameras are the same, made in the same factory and of the same quality. They are made by Cosina in Japan. What is interesting is the Voigtlander version is $2299 and the Fuji is $1899. A savings of $400 if you pick up the Fuji. $1899 is quite a bit for a new (non Leica) film camera but again, this is Medium Format and it’s a somewhat portable, take anywhere camera. PLUS, it is MEDIUM FORMAT!
For those that do not know, Medium Format film gives you a much larger negative than 35mm. Because of this, you get less grain, better tonality, and better details. The files are richer, much like they are with medium format digital. But this is film and with digital MF kits running between $20 and $40k, it almost makes this GF670 look like a bargain. So I wanted to try one out once and for all and see what it was all about.
TOP – Medium Format Ektachrome slide film – BOTTOM – Standard 35mm film negatives – You can see the size difference between the two formats with Medium Format providing a much larger negative.
I asked B&H Photo to send me one to check out and when it arrived I was actually quite surprised with the build quality which seemed to be pretty good. No, this was no Leica MP but it was semi-solid and felt like a Leica RF, just taller and wider. The cool thing I noticed right off the bat was that when the lens was folded in to the body the camera was VERY portable. Here is the video I made when it arrived.
The Fuji GF670 Un-boxing
After the video was shot I loaded the camera up with some film and decided to test it out in my backyard with a portrait test and then on the street AT NIGHT! Usually medium format cameras are used in studio or for posed portraits in good light, and I will admit that to get the most out of the negative you should use it in good light. But I am a goof and I wanted to see if this could double as a 35mm rangefinder, so my wife and I went to a first friday event in Phoenix. I was loaded with Ilford Delta 400 and had a spare roll of Delta 3200 in my pocket. But before I get into the results, let me show you another video on how to load this camera with film. It’s easy and takes only a minute or so. One of my fears when it arrived was that I would not know how to load it, but after reading the loading section of the manual, I knew it would be simple.
Loading film in the Fuji GF670 – Video shot with Leica V-Lux 20
The Build and Feel
First things first. I have to say that the viewfinder of the GF670 is FABULOUS. Its huge, bright and clear, and the frame lines are really easy to use. It makes framing a breeze and due to the size of the VF, it is a joy to look through. The rewind knob is a roller wheel and not a crank. I was not so sure I liked it but it worked well. It was smooth and easy to advance the film. The film counter on top makes it easy to know what frame you are on. Overall, the camera was well built and felt substantial in the hand. Again, it is not up to Leica standards in this dept but I have no complaints. The only concern I had is that the bellows seems fragile and if it were ever punctured or damaged then you would have an instant light leak. I am not familiar with folding cameras, and this is the first one I have EVER used so I am not sure how easy it is to damage the bellows. It just seems like it would be easy to rip or tear so I was very careful with it.
My First Experience With the GF670 – Quick portrait test
After loading the camera with film I told my wife I had to take some test shots of her outside. I had some Ilford FP4 (ISO 125) loaded and snapped off a few frames just to make sure the focus was good and also to see how the lens would do wide open at F3.5.
Two shots wide open with Ilford FP4 – I found the lens to be wondeful
and of course, the obligatory “test my camera cat shot”
So the 1st test shots came out great. Focus was spot on and wide open, the lens drew in a very pleasing way with smooth Bokeh and plenty of detail. After I shot through the 12 frames of FP4 I loaded up some Ilford Delta 400 and we headed out for some evening street shooting. I was not sure if this would work out at all, I mean, who takes a medium format film camera for night time street shooting?
My Second Experience with the GF670 – Night time street
Here I am shooting the GF670 at night using it just as I would a Leica MP or M7. This image was shot by my wife with the E-Pl1 and 7-14 lens in grainy B&W mode.
My wife and I drove downtown to a first Friday even where there are lots of street vendors, artists and just plain ol’ crazy people roaming around. It was VERY cool and we plan on making this a regular event to go to and shoot, eat and have fun with friends. We saw a VERY talented girl who wrote her own songs and she was performing them with just her and her keyboard. She sounded amazing and we stood and listened for a while. If she would have been selling CD’s I would have bought one on the spot.
There was still some light left for this shot – Ilford Delta 400
When we arrived there was still some light left and I knew the 400 speed film would be fine until it started getting dark. But I was really digging using this camera. It was not too big, nor too heavy and when I wanted a bite to eat or something, I just folded it up and let it hang at my side using a strap. After 20 minutes I felt like I was shooting a 35mm RF, just one that was a little larger.
So as I walked the street with the camera I realized that this was VERY doable. I left the lens folded OUT while walking and I had a few people walk up and ask me if this was an old antique camera. With its fold out lens it resembles the old cameras as there were many made like this back in the day. Everyone seems to think it was really cool but when they asked how much it cost they freaked out! Here is one conversation I had with a guy who walked up to ask about the camera:
Guy: Hey man, is that an antique?!?
Me: Nope, its a new camera.
Guy: How many megapixels, that looks wicked.
Me: It’s film.
Guy: Film?? (he looked confused)
Me: Yep, it’s a Fuji medium format film camera.
Guy: Oh, it’s those kind that take the big film..ahhh.
Guy: How much does it cost?
Guy: Whoa!!!!!! (then he walked away)
I thought it was cool that there was so much interest in it. A woman also walked up and asked me where she could buy one after she looked it over so there seems to still be some interest in film, especially if it’s to be used with a sweet looking camera like this one. But all of the looks and portability in the world wouldnt mean squat if the camera did not perform well. I was curious about the lens because some say it is a Voigtlander lens and others say It is a Fuji. I believe it is a Fuji designed lens but even if it is not, it performs very well and gives you that “medium format look” that you just do not see with 35mm.
Shot with Delta 400 at 3.5 as I walked behind them
This guy played three chords over and over and over while he swung his head around. I snapped this using Delta 400 and two hours later when we walked back towards the exit he was still playing and swinging.
After eating and walking around for an hour it started getting dark. I finished u p my 400 and loaded up the Delta 3200. It was no problem loading it in the middle of the street. It took me a minute or two but I had no difficulties at all. The cameras meter also had no trouble metering in the low light, so that was a plus. The following images were all shot with 3200 film. You can click on any image in this review for a larger version.
I admit, these kind of shots may be better to shoot with a 35mm camera but the GF670 did an admirable job here. By the time of the last photo above it was REALLY dark and we were headed out to go home. This lady was singing a horrible out of tune song about missing her dog. She had some guts though and was even making a few $$’s in tips. Maybe I should go out there and sing for some cash!?! All in all it was great fun heading out there and shooting with the Fuji. It was a positive experience and at this point I was really liking the camera quite a bit. My wife was giving me that look “Don’t even think about it, it’s going back to B&H!”.
My third experience with the Fuji GF670 – Vegas baby!
I delayed this review by one week mainly because I wanted to shoot more film with it before I wrote about it. I felt like shooting 3 rolls was not enough to really get to know it, plus I wanted to take a short travel with it to see if it still held up well, especially the folding mechanism and the bellows. We took a drive to Las Vegas and while I mainly shot with the Leica M9 and new 35 Summilux ASPH, the Fuji GF670 came out from time to time. This time I brought along some Tri-X 400 and Kodak Ektachrome 100VS.
First up, Kodak Ektachrome 100VS
This Ektachrome really POPS. This is a straight scan from my local lab though I did crop it a little. These reds are a bit over the top but it’s sort of interesting, and I can see how it could be really gorgeous in the right circumstance and light. You can buy this film at B&H here.
I was coming back over to meet my wife and she did not see me coming. I snuck this shot of her while she was texting me to ask me where I was at :)
Here is a shot that I snapped with the Fuji AND the M9 35/Lux. You can see the 35 Lux version in my 35 Lux review but I feel this Ektachrome version is more pleasing if not a little over saturated for skin tones. The color is bold but wow, the look of film wins me over every time.
Reds is where the Ektachrome really pumps it up…
I shot 12 frames with the Ektachrome and these were my faves. This film is pretty nice and VERY low grain. If you like your color to be bold and beautiful, this is a great film. I now want to try it in 35mm.
Good ol’ Tri-X 400
I love Tri-X. I used to shoot with it all the time and it was my #1 film of choice when I would process my own in my laundry room. It’s classic and it has a look like no other B&W film. I had one roll and one roll only so I loaded it up for day 2 in vegas and hoped to catch some cool scenes. B&H sells Tri-X in 120 HERE.
This is the guy who was breathing fire in my 35 Summilux lens review. Here he was looking at some girls in the escort books they hand out on the strip.
“Larry” – I saw him playing with sticks on his legs trying to earn a few bucks. This guy lives on the strip and survives day to day from money he gets from the tourists.
A Michael Jackson impersonator was on every block. This one charged $ for a photo which explains why he turned his back on me when I went to snap.
Hanging out at the Venetian
My wife wanted to take a shot with the Fuji so she snapped one of me in the parking garage..
On my roll of Tri-X I actually had 12 keepers :) I really liked this film the most and found it to be the best mix of speed, tone and texture. It’s also just about the cheapest film you can buy in 120.
Getting 120 Film Processed
I already have been asked the question on WHERE To get medium format processed. Local drug stores can not develop this film, well, they can but they will mail it out for you. I happen to have a pro lab not far from my house and they do the processing for $3 and scans for $10 so it cost me $13 a roll to have it developed and scanned to a CD. There are plenty of labs to mail the film to and most turn it around pretty quickly. But, you will not find a one hour processing drug store for 120 film, at least in the USA.
- Looks like a rangefinder, works like a rangefinder
- Medium format = less grain, smoother tones and better negatives
- Built in meter works great with Aperture priority mode. Just focus and shoot.
- Can be used for beautiful portraits, street work or just about anything due to its portability.
- The viewfinder is big and bright and actually nicer than my Leica MP finder!
- The shutter is SILENT. You may not even hear it click.
- Easy to load and unload.
- Build is decent and seems solid.
- $400 less than the Voigtlander version, and it is the same camera.
- Can shoot in 6X6 or 6X7 using 120 or 220 film. 12 or 24 exposures.
- Cost is on the high side but its build, results and quality make it worth it IMO.
- Not sure how the folding mechanism or bellows will hold up over a period of a few years. The bellows seems fragile so be sure and take care with it (as in do not poke it with anything).
- Sometimes the lens does not fold out 100% completely and you have to pull it out to make sure it is out.
- Lens must be set to infinity to fold it back in. I have forgotten to do this several times and wondered why it wouldn’t fold.
- Shooting film can get expensive with film costs, processing, scanning.
- How many more years will film be available? Your guess is as good as mine.
My final thoughts on the Fuji GF670
I like this camera. I like it quite a bit. I really enjoyed the quality and look of the medium format negatives but I disliked the costs involved. At about $18-$20 a roll for buying the film and getting it processed, it is not a cheap way to shoot! Then again, neither is 35mm film. You can also process B&W film yourself to save a few bucks and if I were to buy this camera I would limit its use to those special times when I wanted the MF quality or the look of film.
The GF670 is sort of like shooting a Leica M7, It has an Aperture Priority mode with a really good meter in the camera, it has a rangefinder and focuses the same way as a Leica M (or Voigtlander Bessa) and has the same feel as a rangefinder camera, just a bit taller and wider. It’s really well made and the shutter is SILENT. I mean, REALLY silent. There were times when I did not even know if the shutter fired! It makes a Leica MP sound like a freight train. Yea, it really is that quiet.
The lens is an 80mm lens which is like the equivalent of a 50 in 35mm land. Its bokeh is smooth and I had no complaints with the sharpness or detail at all. The camera is a cinch to load and unload and easy to fold in and out. My early concerns with the bellows almost came true. While in Vegas the belllows was bent in and it would not pop back out. I was afraid that over time it would rip but two days later when I went to do the loading video I noticed it was back to normal and look A-OK.
The camera seems sturdy, well made and I encountered no issues in my two weeks with it. Overall, if you are looking to get into medium format film photography and want something portable and easy to carry, this is a great option. These days you can find loads of medium format gear used at great prices but the key with this one is that it is portable, easy to carry and has a meter built in. You can buy this one NEW and you can buy either the silver Fuji at $1899 or the Voigtlander in all black at $2299. I’d go with the Fuji because it is $400 less and I like Fuji :) PLUS, it is the SAME camera, and this is not digital where you have to worry about firmware differences or packaged software. B&H Photo has it IN STOCK as of this writing.
So there you have it! I know many of you were waiting for this review and I was thrilled to test out this camera. It’s a beauty but up to you to decide if the cost is worth it for YOU. I would buy one today if I could swing it. There are so many great cameras today it is so tough to find that right one. I do know that this Fuji sparked my interest in Medium Format so I am currently testing out another camera thanks to a buddy of mine who sent it over for me to test. It’s a Bronica 645 and also a rangefinder. I’ll have a write up on that one soon, but probably not until after July 4th.
Thanks for reading my review of the Fuji GF670! Hope you found it useful! Until next time,
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THE FUJI GF670. My review of this cool camera will be up by this weekend but until then I wanted to share a couple of samples that came back today in my first roll. I shot a total of four rolls in the GF670 so far and the first roll was a test roll to make sure focus was good, and also so I could see how the cameras meter worked (wether it sucked or was decent). I had a total of 12 shots on this first roll and out of 12 shots, all 12 came out great in regards to exposure and focus! The camera is working well. Tomorrow I get my other three rolls back and I think I will have some cool shots as I did some street stuff, and yes, this camera was easy to shoot street with. Almost as easy as a Leica :)
As most of you know, the Fuji GF670 is a medium format FILM camera and the negatives it gives you are big and fat. Much bigger than a 35mm negative. This will give you better tones, smoother grain and that look many of use refer to as “That Medium Format Look”! Sure you can buy a digital MF camera but be prepared to pay. This brand new Fuji model goes for about $1900, and IMO that is not so bad for a compact medium format camera.
Anyway, I am not going to ramble on here as the full review will be up soon with MANY more shots, a video showing the details of the camera including loading and unloading, and a few more shots of the camera itself. I can say right now that this is one fun and easy to use camera and so far I am really enjoying it. It has been my constant companion for the past few days and right now I have my 5th roll, a roll of Tri-X, inside the camera. The samples below were shot wide open at f3.5 at about 1/30s with Ilford FP4. Also, these are scans from my local lab, not by me. Also, B&H still has this one in stock :)
The Leica S2 Camera Review – I have finally decided to sit down and start working on this Leica S2 review! About 2 weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a call from Leica. They asked me if I wanted to review their incredible S2 camera and I told them “nope, not interested”. YEA RIGHT! What I really said was “YES!!!!! Please send it right away!”. Then it hit me…I do not own a massive studio….I am not a famous landscape shooter…hell, I test cameras by shooting silly stuff like barns, cats and simple portraits! Uh oh…maybe I was in over my head?
Truth be told, I was excited to not only review the Leica S2, but to get to even hold it and have it in my possession for a few days, well that was VERY exciting and crazy cool. The S2 is a true Leica masterpiece, but a costly one. If you want to own one of these be prepared to pay with your wallet, your heart, and your soul. Their top of the line digital “Pro Format” camera goes for a cool $23,000 and this is for the BODY ONLY! Throw a lens in your shopping cart and you are looking at a grand total of about $28-29,000. This is for the standard S2. They also have a “platinum” package with sapphire glass and a pro warranty for $27,995 (body only).
Leica calls the S2 ”Pro Format” but it really is medium format, and all of that power comes packed in a package smaller than a Nikon D3s or Canon 1ds while having even better build quality than those top end mega cameras. The sensor in the S2 is a huge 30X45 mm monster and I have to say that when I received the pelican case loaded with the S2, I was very impressed when I held it in my hands for the first time. Before I go on and on about it, let me show you guys the specs of the Leica S2:
Here she is with her big mouth exposed! The S2 is not just a DSLR, it’s a medium format camera with DSLR like features.
The Specs of the Leica S2
The specs of this camera are impressive. Before I even start talking about my experience with this camera, let me list out what this thing is made of.
- Larger-Than-Full-Frame Image Sensor
The Leica S2 has a huge 37.5 megapizel 30X45 mm sensor which is 55% larger than even a full frame sensor (like the M9). Leica managed to achieve this while keeping the size of the S2 down to that of other pro DSLR’s. Pretty amazing feat but this camera has been in development for 3-4 years so they took their time (just like Leica) and made the camera THEY wanted to make.
- Uses new Leica S series Lenses
Leicas new line of lenses are big, bad, and full of the special magic that makes a lens a Leica. These lenses will not vignette, will not have distortion, and will not give you any focus shift. They are also weather sealed so feel free to shoot in the elements. Do they have any of that magic Leica pixie dust? Yep, it’s there!
- The S2 AF System
Yes, this is one of the first “real” Leicas with Auto Focus. The AF of the S2 is fast but do not expect pro DSLR speeds. It is accurate though! You can also switch to Manual Focus for when you want total control and that also is a breeze with the super huge, super cool, super sweet, super bright viewfinder.
- Dual Shutter System
With the 2 you can use the focal plane shutter with speeds of up to 1/4000s, or you can buy the CS lenses with a leaf shutter inside for even more versatility.
- The magical MAESTRO Image Processor
This is the processor we have all heard so much about and is what does all of the work. Some say this will creep into the next M camera, whenever that may be. All hail Maestro!
- High Resolution 3.0″ LCD Display
This 3″ LCD on the back has 460,000 pixels and is nice and bright with great color. No complaints here, good viewing angles. What do you expect in a $23,000 camera?
- The Humongous Bright & Clear Porthole Viewfinder
Wow. NOW THIS IS A VIEWFINDER! HUGE, bright and beautiful. I have never seen anything like it. Makes the D3 series look tiny.
- Organic LED Info Display
The full color Organic LED up on top of the camera tells you all of the info you need to know like aperture, ISO, battery life, shots remaining, etc. Only problem is that in bright light it tends to vanish…
- Killer Design
The Leica S2 is a powerhouse medium format camera packed into a body smaller than a Nikon D3 or Canon 1ds while having better ergonomics, controls, and build than any of them. The design is superb and the body seems to melt in your hands like it was forged into your grip. Amazing feel and as much as I am not a “big camera” guy, the S2 felt good in my hand and around my neck.
- Easy-to-Use Camera Functions
The menus are simple and quick. With 4 control buttons and a wheel/dial that pushes in for extra control (on the back) you can learn the camera within 10 minutes, without a manual! But for those who want to check out the manual, you can download it from me here in PDF :)
- Dust- & Water-Proof
Finally! A Leica that is weather sealed! Bravo to this. What other MF cameras are weatherproof?
- Dual Memory Card Slots
You can shoot with a CF card or an SD card. One at a time, or both at the same time. This is great for backup!
The Leica S2 Arrives
When UPS dropped off the HUGE box the driver asked me what I am always buying. I usually get 4-5 packages every week and it appears curiosity has gotten the best of him. I just told him I am designing a time machine in my basement and these are all of the parts. :0
Anyway, I opened the box and pulled the S2 from its comfy spongy home inside the hard shell case. Leica did not send the packaging this time, so sadly no uber cool un-boxing video. They also did not send me a manual but as I was about to find out, I did not need it. Yes, the Leica S2 is a VERY simple camera to pick up, turn on, and start shooting. After all, it IS the Leica way. Just like the M9 and X1, the S2 keeps it simple. I did make a video showing the camera, the menus system, and the features that some of you may have seen already but here it is again for all of you who did not. BTW, some of you asked me what I shot the video with. It was with a Pentax K7 DSLR with kit zoom which I am testing right now as well.
I highly recommend watching the video as I explain the menu system which I am not writing about (in detail) in this review.
My Leica S2 “First Look” Video!
So if you watched the video above you will see how simple the S2 menu system is. You also saw how massive that mirror and sensor is inside the S2 body! Pretty sexy camera huh? The S2 build is absolutely INCREDIBLE. While holding it I felt like I was holding a solid block of steel. No creaks, no hollow feel, nothing. The S2 is as solid as any camera can possibly be. It almost seemed like it could fall down three flights of stairs and not suffer any damage. If I owned an S2 I would not worry about the build. It is the best I have EVER seen in any camera. Build would get 5 out of 5 stars. Easy.
The rear of the Leica S2 – Very simple. Four menu buttons, a scroll wheel, a function button and the on/off switch. Turn the camera to FPS when using a normal lens and CS when using one of the CS lenses with a leaf shutter in the lens.The function button can be used for AF which is how I preferred to shoot the S2. Just set the AF mode to manual and the button will control AF!
My 1st Day Impressions of the Leica S2
So my first day impressions of the S2? I was in awe. I have never shot with anything like it. I have always been a 35mm guy so I NEVER shot with any digital medium format cameras. I have shot with a couple of Hasselblad film cameras but nothing quite like the S2. I have seen the word “Hybrid” thrown around and I would say that is a good description. The S2 is like a pro DSLR in size and shape but a medium format camera in quality. The only thing that I had to keep telling myself was to NOT fall in love too much with it because at the price of $22,000+ there was no way I could ever buy or justify one, though I was already LUSTING for one. Uh oh…I smell trouble.
So after the fondling and messing around in the house it was time to go and shoot this thing! I mean, here I was with a $30,000 setup and I was sitting in the house!! So away I went with the S2 AND my M9. Just like an American Express card, I never leave home with it.
The First Shots
One thing to remember with the S2 is its large sensor. Much like a Micro 4/3 sensor has a 2X crop compared to a full frame 35mm sensor, the Leica S2 sensor has the opposite effect. The 70 Summarit F2.5 lens Leica sent me with the camera ended up being more like a 50mm focal length in full frame 35mm. Basically, I was getting just about the same focal length from my M9 and 50 Summicron that I was with the S2 and 70 Summarit. Pretty cool! I am not saying the 70 becomes a 50 because it does not. I am only saying what most of you know and that is when looking through the S2 with a 70 it will be similar magnification as shooting the M9 and 50. So, let’s get to some images shall we?
My first shots were taken outside with my son and some bubbles…
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit at 2.5 – ISO 160 – 1/4000
I took a few of these and you can see some of them HERE in my “first look” S2 post. The image above is direct from camera. No PP, nothing. It was shot wide open at F2.5 with the 70 summarit at ISO 160.
Here is another but this time with a “cross processing” filter from Nik Color Efex pro. I LOVE this filter with the S2 files!
I also took a few more just trying to get used to the camera. One thing I noticed right away is that there was no way I could handhold the S2 with shutter speeds even close to the ones I can get on my M9. For example, with the S2 and 70 I needed at least 1/160s for really sharp results. I found out the hard way when a bunch of my images were blurry. So if you shoot this camera, keep the shutter speeds up there! For comparison, I can handhold my M9 with a 50mm lens as low as 1/20s and get sharp results!
The S2 & High ISO
Ahhh, high ISO performance. Lots of worry about this with the S2 by many photographers. I have heard awful things with some people saying that anything above ISO 320 was not usable. Well, I disagree with that. Here is a shot at ISO 640, straight from camera with ZERO processing. Straight RAW conversion in Apple Aperture 3 at ISO 640. Sure there is some noise here but it is usable as far as I am concerned. But WOW, look at the way the camera and lens rendered this normal scene which practically had NO light. This was in my living room which is never bright or light. The S2 created a very rich file in conditions that were not ideal. I think this would print nicely.
Leica S2 – ISO 640 – 70 Summarit at F2.5 – Natural Light – Click Image for 1800 Pixel Wide version or Click HERE for full size JPEG.
Remember, this is a Medium Format camera and high ISO has always been an issue with all MF cameras. It comes with the territory. I do not see the S2 as a late night street camera but more of a Studio/Landscape camera that you will want to use in GOOD light. After all, when the S2 has good light you will be rewarded with amazing color and beautiful images.
Leica S2 and 70 Summarit at F4 – ISO 320 – Click image for larger version – Click HERE for full size
So out in the real world ISO 320 and 640 seem decent enough. Especially when you have some light. But I had requests to test the high ISO on my now famous “wall clock”, so here ya go!
Here is the scene followed by 100% crops at all ISO’s
These are all straight from camera and it appears there is some NR going on in camera after ISO 320. For comparison, here is the M9 at ISO 1250
So for what it is, which is a medium format digital SLR, the S2 is not bad at all IMO. Again, this will not be a camera one casually buys (It IS $22k after all) to go out and shoot night scenes. It excels and provides sweetly rich files when you have some nice light, which is actually the #1 thing that can make a photograph magical. It’s all about light as that is what the sensor is recording.
Taking a road trip with the S2 – A photo adventure
When I found out I was getting the chance to try out the S2 I immediately planned a road trip. You can read about that trip HERE. I really wanted some fresh scenery for testing this camera so I hit the road to visit the small town in Kentucky where my father was born, and my Mother ded. Along the way we spotted quite few sights though the weather was horrible for most of the trip. The rain was pouring down, the sky was grey, the wind was wild. Actually, it was the perfect chance to test the S2′s weather sealing!
Below are some images from that trip because what better way to test a camera than to get out there and get some real images? That is ALWAYS what I look for when I am researching a new camera buy, so this review will be heavy on the “real world” images. There are close to 40 S2 images in this review!
A few of the following photos have had some corrections and tweaks in photoshop but nothing has been added or taken away from the photos. Just some color, contrast and dodge/burn. I will note when an image has had some PP. I also have PLENTY of straight from camera files here and even some full size downloads so hopefully you have some high speed internet!
As we drove down a curvy stretch of two lane highway I spotted this really creepy looking house. Mountains behind it and trees all around it and I thought for sure it was abandoned. I mean, look at it! I got out and grabbed the shot. As I was taking a few more I heard a dog barking from INSIDE the house! I decided to get back in the car before the owner came out wondering why I was taking a photo. I could see it now “Get off my land! – POWWWW!”
In The Hills Of Kentucky – Leica S2 – 70 Summarit at F2.5 – ISO 320 – 1/90s – PP in CS4 – Click image for larger view
We got back on the road and went through quite a few towns. I spotted this orange van and had to get a shot.
“Porter Paints” – Leica S2 and 70 Summarit at f2.5 and ISO 160 – Click image for larger
The sky was getting darker and the temperature a little cooler but we plugged along and had about two hours to go until we hit our destination. Here are a few more images caught along the way with the S2:
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit at f4 – ISO 160 – 1/125s – slight PP here. Click image for larger
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit – F2.5 – ISO 160 – (contrast adjust)
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit – f2.5 – ISO 160 – The depth of the images are pretty amazing. – Slight PP (color/contrast)
One of the many coal mines we found along the way – Leica S2 – 70 Summarit – f2.5 – ISO 160 – No PP.
and after 8 hours…we made it! My mom jumps for joy on an old (what used to be) train track..S2 – 70 Summarit – F2.5 – ISO 320 – 1/90 – No PP.
So there you go. For 36 hours during that road trip I had the S2 with me and the main thing I learned was that during cloudy gloomy days you may need more than a fast 2.5 lens. You need to bump up the ISO more because when low light hits this camera gets harder to use. The image of my mom was 1/90s at ISO 320. I really should have had 1/500s but even ISO 1250 would not have gotten me there. After the shot above I pulled out the M9 :)
The S2 AF performance
Not much to say here but while using the S2′s AF I found it to be pretty damn good for a medium format digital. Just do not expect to shoot blazing sports and do not expect pro DSLR type AF speed. Again, this is not a DSLR! This camera is aimed at Pros’s who want the best IQ in a DSLR sized package. It is also aimed at rich enthusiasts who want the best image quality in a nice form factor. It will not replace a DSLR like a Nikon D3 or Canon 1Ds for fast AF. The AF is really good, just not super fast. For it’s intended purpose of portraits, landscape, etc the AF is plenty fast.
The S2 and 70 Summarit BOKEH
Ah yes! Bokeh. The wonderful blur that so many of us drive ourself nuts over. The S2 with its massive sensor has no problem pumping out creamy backgrounds but how is the quality? I will post a couple of samples here and let YOU decide. After all, everyone has different opinions on what constitutes good quality bokeh. All three of these were shot at f2.5 and ISO 160 and are straight from camera files, meaning NO PP at all.
A CRAZY Comparison!
Ok, I had a few e-mails asking me to compare the Leica S2 with the Olympus E-P2. As crazy as it sounds, I was curious so I decided to do one small comparison with the Leica S2, Leica M9, Olympus E-P2 and even the Pentax K7 I have on hand. Here are the results…
Each camera was tripod mounted, lenses set to f5.6 and the base ISO of each camera was used. Here is the scene, followed by crops from each camera. These are all straight from camera with no sharpening applied and it was another grey, dreary day. (converted from RAW)
100% crop from the E-P2 with kit zoom set to 25mm (50mm equiv) – F5.6 – ISO 200 (base ISO)
Now the Pentax K7 with its Kit Zoom set for 50mm equivilant – f5.6 – ISO 100
Leica M9, 50 Summicron – F5.6 – ISO 160 (base ISO)
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit – F5.6 – ISO 160 (base ISO)
Out of all of these images the only one to get the color “right on the money” was the S2. The E-P2 came 2nd in color. AWB was used on all three cameras because I wanted to see how each camera would read the light and also wanted to check the AWB of the S2. That is one thing I really like about the S2. I find its AWB to be VERY VERY good and beats my M9 in this department. For some reason my M9 did not fare so well with the AWB here. I find the M9 is AWESOME as long as you have some sunlight but when its overcast it often gets the WB wrong.
If you downloaded the originals you will see that the S2 has less depth of field at f5.6 than the M9 due to the huge sensor. You will also see that the M9 may be the best of the bunch “overall”.
After this test I still was not happy. I wanted to compare the S2 and M9 when I had some light because I wanted to see if my little M9 could at least come somewhat close to the S2 in IQ, with less MP of course.
Leica S2 vs M9 Comparison
The day I had to ship the S2 back I noticed the Sun was shining so I grabbed both cameras along with my tripod to do one more comparison. Again, these are straight RAW conversions from Aperture 3. No sharpening, no color fixes, no tweaks. So if they appear soft it is due to there being NO sharpening applied.
Both cameras were at F4, ISO 160, tripod mounted, self timer shutter
and just for fun, one more for color and bokeh, both at f2.5…
and the M9…
When I was shooting these cameras side by side I did in fact notice the richness of the files of the S2. The S2 has more Dynamic Range and also more resolution of course but I would still rather have an M9 over an S2 for WHAT I SHOOT. If I were a serious big time portrait/fashion or landscape pro who wanted the best image quality, then I would buy an S2. Its a beautiful machine! I would still want my M9 though and these side by sides show just how good the M9 is. With that said, who wouldn’t want BOTH of these in their kit??
The image below can give you an idea of the size of the S2. Look at it next to my M9…
I would do almost anything to have BOTH of these cameras in my bag. Maybe one day…
SIX FULL SIZE S2 SAMPLES!
Before I wrap this up and get to my pros and cons, here are a couple more images from the S2, and you can download the full versions (note: the 1st one is cropped)
Leica S2 – F5.6 – ISO 160 – Handheld at 1/125s – Click HERE for FULL SIZE Jpeg – This one is a pretty severe crop! No PP, straight from camera. Saved as “10″ in Photoshop.
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit at F2.5 – ISO 320 - Click here for full size - Saved as a “10″ in Photoshop - So rich, even in the evening at ISO 320!
Leica S2 – f2.5 – 1/1000 – ISO 160 – No PP - Click here for full size - Saved as “10″ in Photoshop. – NO PP. The detail in the cats face is amazing!
Leica S2 – f4 – ISO 160 - CLICK HERE FOR FULL SIZE JPEG – saved as a “10″ in Photoshop – NO PP.
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit f2.5 – ISO 160 – 1/350s - CLICK HERE FOR FULL SIZE JPEG - Saved as a “10″ in Photoshop. NO PP, just added some sharpening to this one.
Leica S2 – 70 Summarit at f2.5 – ISO 320 – Click here for full size JPEG – Saved as a “10″ in photoshop. No PP.
When you have light, and a fast enough shutter speed the images are crazy sharp and detailed. They also have that smooth medium format quality and color. During my time with the camera the light pretty much sucked so while I may not have gotten the absolute best out of the camera I did shoot enough to know that the S2 is the best camera I have ever held in my hands.
My Bottom Line Conclusion
Where to begin…well, first I want to thank Leica for sending me this camera to try out. They didn’t have to and so I appreciate it. With that said, I am happy they sent it because it just confirmed what I already knew. That A: The S2 is the finest camera in regards to image quality that I have ever held in my hands and B: I will NEVER be able to buy one :) The photographer that will buy the S2 is one who wants the build, the quality, and the simplicity that Leica offers. Having a medium format camera in a ergonomically designed DSLR body is a dream in itself, but add to that the ability to attach beautiful Leica lenses that were created just for this camera and you have a combo that can create jaw dropping images.
My time with the S2 was short and the weather was horrible but I tried to make the best with what I had. I found that many of my shots were blurred due to me trying to shoot with low shutter speeds (did not include those in this review obviously), and on the S2 that is not a reality. I also had to keep it wide open 98% of the time due to the grey skies. The S2 begs for a tripod, good light, and a photographer who will take their time getting everything right. When you do, the results are magic. I have been reviewing many S2 shots from a friend of mine and I can state that in good light, there is indeed that Leica magic infused deep within the S2′s shell.
Would I buy one if I had the money? Sure, if I had a million or so in the bank I would add this to my collection but the M9 would still be my daily shooter. The S2 would also make for a superb landscape camera, again, using a tripod and with good light.
The S2 is a “dream” camera. A statement piece by Leica saying “THIS IS THE BEST OF THE BEST”. The only flaws with the camera are the same flaws with most medium format gear. High ISO is average, the price is high and the file sizes are HUGE! But in the grand scheme of things the cost of the S2 is not really that far off from something like a Phase One P40+ and it really offers more with its wether sealing, DSLR body, gorgeous LCD and the viewfinder…wow. Hasselblad released their own H4D-40 at $20,000 WITH a lens but it’s pretty large and does not have the weather sealed DSLR form factor.
One thing to remember if you buy a Leica S2 is that you will need a very powerful computer to handle the files. My Imac quad core handles them but once I start getting into opening a couple of S2 files things start to slow down. I would recommend something like an 8 Core Mac Pro (I am a 100% Mac guy) with loads of ram. The files from the S2 are 72MB each! For comparison, M9 files are just over 17MB each so you can imagine how much computing power you will need.
At the end of the day the S2 is just what I thought it was and if you have the cash and want one of the best cameras on the market right now then go get yourself an S2! I can not imagine ANYONE not being absolutely thrilled with it. After shooting with the S2 it is VERY hard to look at images from a normal DSLR. Yes, I am now gaining a small interest in medium format due to the “organic” qualities. If only we were all rich :)
PROS & CONS of the Leica S2
- Amazingly beautiful build quality. Best built camera I have ever held in my hands.
- The LCD is nice and can be seen in daylight without any issues.
- Simple controls, easy to understand. Can learn within 5-10 minutes.
- The file quality when in good light is flat out gorgeous. Best IQ I have ever seen (though I have not shot with other MF gear)
- Medium Format in a PRO DSLR size body.
- Battery life is good for this type of camera. (about 600 shots per charge, maybe more)
- Made in Germany!
- Dual card slots for backup – SD and CF capability.
- The viewfinder sets the standard. It’s more like a porthole than a VF.
- Color, AWB and Depth of the images is awesome.
- The price of $22,000+ for the body only leaves out the poor photographers :)
- ISO 1250 is pretty noisy, ISO 640 and under is good.
- The file sizes are HUGE and will bring most computers to their knees (even my quad core IMac slowed down with the S2 files)
Buy An S2!
I hope you have enjoyed my real world review of the Leica S2. If you have the cash and want to buy one of these, B&H Photo has been getting them in stock on both the STANDARD and the PLATINUM edition. Amazon also carries the S2. Also, you can download the S2 manual direct from Leica by clicking HERE.
More images from the Leica S2
I will leave you with a few more images from this lovely camera. These have all had some minor PP to them to match my style but the last one of the waterfall at ISO 640 is right from the camera. The S2 files are INCREDIBLY hardy! Thanks for looking!
Waterfall was shot at ISO 640 in horrible lighting conditions
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