Apr 112014
 

The legend : A Leica story

By Yves Oliver

I am an enthusiast 47 years old photographer. I live in Belgium, so forgive me for my possible bad english. But first, before the pictures, a true Leica story….or how I finally bought an M8.

Back to…1944 !

My father was a 12 years old boy and passionate about…photography. In 1944, that meant a foldable 6×9 Zeiss Nikon and, of course, black and white film. Living in a village in South Belgium, he was by far the only guy aware of photography. It was the end of the Second World War in Europe and the Germans were going back home. A German troop stopped in the village and an officer spent the night in my father’s house. He had a Leica (probably Leica III). It was the brand new top camera at the time coming from Germany : shiny, tiny and easy to use with 35mm film. My father had his eyes wide open. The next morning, the soldier left to join his troop and….forgot his camera on the kitchen table. My father was dying to keep it without a doubt ! These were dangerous time, the Germans were nervous because they were losing the war and the family could have been accused to have stolen the camera. You could be shot for nothing. “Too dangerous” said my grandmother who forced his son to run after the officer and give him the Leica back. You have to imagine the fear of the young boy among enemy soldiers, and his disappointment for holding a dream camera for a few seconds before giving it back.

10 years later, he had become an engineer and with his very first pay, he bought a Rolleicord 6×6. At the time, if you shot sport or actualities you used Leica, if you shot landscape you used Rollei. Simple. That was before Japanese cameras. He travelled, so he chose Rollei, but in his heart, he never forgot the Leica he once dreamed about during the war. He continued with Rollei, then Exacta, later with Olympus but never with Leica.

15 years later, he had a boy (me) and give him the photography virus. I learned with him, spent time in the darkroom with black and white prints, and with the years, I owned different cameras from Minolta to digital Nikon. When he died, I gave most of his old gear to a famous photography museum (except the Rolleicord I still use !). A part of my life had gone with him but I knew something was missing to close the circle . He had told me the story many times and, as a child, I also dreamed about the “legendary Leica from the war”. In memoriam to him, for my pleasure, and for the father and son dream could finally come true, I bought a used silver M8 with a Summicron 35 for my 45th anniversary. A real gem, he would have been happy for me.

I now have a 5 years old daughter who began shooting with a cheap Coolpix. I wander if the name of Leica will still mean something for her in twenty years…

Yves Oliver

Pictures on Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/51484580@N07

General website : www.yvesoliver.com

Book : www.blurb.fr/user/yvesoliver

Now, some of my pictures (Leica M8 + Summicron 35 mm, all processed with Silver Fx Pro)

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Feb 182014
 

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A Year in “M” Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

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Hello, my friends, the time has come to reflect upon a year seen primarily in black and white (and many, many shades of gray, which really is life, now, isn’t it ?) through the eye of Leica’s amazing Leica M Monochrom. I have previously written about my experiences with the “MM” after 6 months of use, and following journeys with the camera in Paris, Italy, New York City, and the Palouse. In this world of constant camera turnover, where every M9 is replaced by an M240, with Sony and Olympus seemingly staking their claims to fame in the digital camera world in place of Canon and Nikon, and with Fuji surprising and delighting us with every turn, the MM is now a venerable camera that remains unique as the only current mass-produced camera with a black and white sensor. The camera’s sensor, stripped of any ability to see in color, rid of the capacity to block moire, ends up being a photon eater, proving and incredible tool for capturing light in its many presentations.

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While it has not yet been around long enough to be deemed “legendary”, the MM is already ascending that ladder, and for those whom have had the privilege of using it, you’ll see that glimmer in their eyes of the prize that rests in their hands. So come along with me for my ride, should you choose, in words and images, of this camera that is destined for legend.

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Over the past year plus, I have taken over 15,000 shots with the Leica MM. I can truly and honestly say that the camera has delivered me the most joy of any camera that I have owned. The camera’s incredible CCD sensor that seems capable of coaxing the very best out of nearly any lens that you could put on it. In particular, the sensor seems to play particularly well with older rangefinder lenses, which in some cases were designed and coated for black and white photography. It provides a rich modern look with today’s aspherical glass, almost providing “shockingly real” views of the world, which I have yet to see from any camera. For me, the look of the MM with most modern glass is almost surreal, and I have thus primarily stuck with using older, “cheap” rangefinder lenses with the camera to great satisfaction. What’s interesting to me, and what I have heard increasingly from users of the camera, is that the camera’s sensor itself seems capable of coaxing something special out of these lenses, even when the M9 and M240 may not be able to coax the same look, clarity, or detail.

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Seeing in Monochrome

First and foremost, the Leica MM is a tool for image capture, as is really any other camera that the photographer may use. However, the sensor’s capacities and limitations have forced me to change my creative perspective. As I began my journey with the MM, I had to accept the challenge of only “seeing” the world around me in black and white. Color was no longer an option, and could not be used as a crutch or a tool ton lean upon. Having converted many of my M9 images to black and white, I initially did not see an issue with the process of only seeing in black and white, but after using the M monochrome a few times, I suddenly realized at what I had given up. Shooting in color offers its own creative possibilities and limitations, and when I suddenly forced out of this option, I found myself jarred. I decided to re-calibrate and try my best to see the world around me in black and white, before I even composed or took the shot. In a sense, I began to focus on light and dark, highlight and shadow, essentially in luminosity. I began to “ignore color” to the best of my abilities and focus instead on the remaining elements of any scene that I wished to capture Over a few months, what first was a challenge soon became inspiration and motivation. I was starting to see the world in monochrome. Just as switching from the AF-10FPS SLR’s to rangefinders is freeing to many photographers who are stuck in a rut, shooting with the M Monochrom re-invigorated me to explore the world around me in new ways. I called it “Going back to finishing school.”

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Monochrom magic?

There is just something about the MM’s sensor that seems magical to me. I know that this may come off as overly dramatic, but for me and for others out there with whom I have discussed the camera, it is true. The images that I have been able to capture seem to defy my own meager skills as a photographer. Lenses that were forgotten or passed aside on the M8 and M9 suddenly took center stage in the manner of how they interacted with the MM’s sensor. Let me say a few more words about this (The following is entirely theoretical, so feel free to disregard)

I have said in many instances that the MM seems to play particularly well with older lenses. Many vintage lenses from Leitz, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku were designed and used in an area of black and white photography, where color options were rare, limited, or non-existent. Thus, such lenses utilized coatings and design that was suited to capturing monochrome images, or so I have gathered. Whereas some of these older lenses’ coatings provide poor color reproduction on digital cameras, they seem to offer subtleties in tonal capture that modern lenses of aspherical design, aimed at gathering maximal contrast and detail across the frame, seem to miss. I have noted than many modern aspherical designs seem to limit the M Monochrom’s abilities to capture shadow detail, in particular, while older lenses, which tend to capture much lower macrocontrast, save these shadows, and instances, highlights as well.

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Second, I suspect that some of the MM’s magic in interacting with old lenses actually may have come from within. When I consider photographers that have inspired me, I have tended to prefer the “look” of the works of the early Magnum photographers, Sebastio Salgado, and others who shot in an era where my “vintage” lenses was their modern options. In a sense, I learned to prefer a way of seeing in black and white in the manner that was reflective of their gear…i.e. older lenses.

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Third, the MM’s sensor seems to be unique in being able to hold incredible detail with post-processing. This seems to be due to the dynamic range that MM images seem to possess in the mid tones. The MM has been roundly criticized for its tendency to clip highlights, and this is absolutely a reasonable criticism. What is often not discussed, however, is the incredible detail and flexibility of tone that preserved in the midtones captured by the camera, as well as the shadow detail that the camera preserves. When I first used the MM, I was enamored by the near infinite shades of gray captured within the RAW file, and as a result, my initial images with the camera tended to look generally grey. Over time, I found myself exploring these greys more and more, and using Adobe LR and other post processing tools to extract the contrast and detail that I desired from this more “boring” grey. One can push and pull the images in any number of ways, and MM files will not fall part, especially those captured at ISO 3200 or less. When used in “decent light”, the camera does just fine at ISO’s as high as 5000, capturing fine detail and suppressing noise appropriately (not really like film, though, but still pleasing).

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Finally, there may also be something to the M Monochrom’s naked sensor that coaxes the most out of vintage lenses. Lenses such as the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, which seem soft and washed out on color rangefinders, simply sparkle on the MM, both in detail and tonal rendition. I was surprised in particular, by the amount of detail and resolution that some lenses, over 50 years old, are capable of capturing when paired to the MM. I theorize that the lack of the low pass filter and Bayer array allows for optimal capture of unfiltered detail. No blur or image loss is imparted upon the captured image, as light does not have to pass through any barriers.

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The journey from new to old

So here I am, a year later, a year older and hopefully a year wiser, and my journey with the MM continues. The MM continues to be my favorite camera and my preferred way to see the world around me. My aspherical lenses continue to be relegated to my M9, while the MM continues to be mated to classic rangefinder lenses. I feel that for me, what was a casual experiment with vintage lenses has turned into a serious enterprise in how I prefer to see the world around me. It mates the rangefinder experience with a unique way of seeing the world around me and brings me closer to my own idols in the photographic world.

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Onward and Upward

The journey continues, and I hope to report back to you as I gain even more experience with this wonderful camera. Obviously, I can no longer wow you with reports of impressive specs, more megapixels, and quieter shutters. I hope to bring you more images, as my explorations with the camera, its files, and my use of processing, continues. These are exciting times for many of us, as photographers. Gear these days is so excellent that it’s really up to you to choose what tool suits you best. For some of you, it may be the camera phone that is always on your person. For others, it’s the latest greatest offering, with ever improving dynamic range, color reproduction, detail capture, and camera performance. For some, it’ll be the increasing capacity of cameras to deliver images and an experience that can be instantaneously shared. For me, it’s the simplicity of a camera that’s not capable of any of this, not even capable of seeing in color, that will continue to inspire and challenge me to grow my photography in new directions and to new summits. All the best to you all in your own journeys, and I’ll be sure to check in again soon!

Yours truly,

Ashwin Rao

February, 2014

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Feb 072014
 

The Leica M 240 at Night

by Ivan Makarov

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to visit New York City for a few days, focusing only on photography. Well, I focused on the food too, as it’s kind of legendary. Because I live on the West Coast, near San Francisco, NYC was an eye-opening experience in many ways, as I discovered a new culture, new kinds of architecture, and a new big city I heard so much about but never visited before with my camera.

I also used the visit as a chance to keep learning my new Leica M, which I acquired last summer before the birth of our son Yuri who’s doing great, by the way and is sleeping in my arms as I type this.

Up to this point, I’ve been using Leica mostly during day light, and sometimes indoors for family snaps around the house. It’s an amazing camera in those situations. When I was choosing between getting a new Leica M or a used M9, one of the deciding factors that swayed me towards getting the M was the high ISO performance, which Leica delivered with the improved sensor. I knew that some of the most important family photographs I would capture with this new camera would be indoors, or in darker conditions and having the ability to shoot clean images using ISO1600 or ISO3200 was worth paying extra money, at least for me.

When doing my research on Leica, I came across a lot of images online that were taken outdoors, but at night, using fast M-mount primes. There was something different about those images compared to what I’m used to seeing from SLRs in similar conditions. The colors looked more natural and vibrant. The contrast was beautiful. The sharpness was always top-notch.

As I thought about what to shoot in New York, I thought I’d spend some time in the evenings after dinner testing how Leica performs in those night conditions, using my Leica M, and Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH lens. I did have 50mm f/1.4 Summilux on me as well, but I spent most the trip shooting with the 35mm lens, as I just bought it, and also found it more suitable for street photography.

So how did Leica perform in those night conditions? In short, I was very happy with the results.

My goal was to capture the lights of New York as my eye saw them. The beauty of New York City at night is that it’s full of colors, lights, and contrasts, no matter where I look. Leica proved to be a very good companion in recording those scenes – just how I saw them, or even more beautiful when coupled with the rich Leica bokeh.

I shot these images with the wide open aperture, and using ISO1600. They were shot at China Town and Times Square – two locations that are excellent for night street photography.

The one downside was that the files still came out somewhat on the warm side, which Leica M is now known for. I had to pull down the saturation in reds and oranges a bit during post processing to restore skin tones to their more natural color. I’m used to doing it now. The recent firmware upgrade fixed those issues somewhat, as you noted in your article, but it did not fix it completely.

As a result of this trip and my new experience of shooting at night, I am now incorporating night street photography in all my photo related travels, especially when it’s a city that offers plenty of life after it gets dark.

My site – http://www.ivanmakarov.com/

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May 312013
 

I’m back! Some Leica M 240 pics from my trip!

My full M 240 review is here

I am back! But some of you had no idea I was gone all of last week because through the magic of blogging I had several posts all set to go live each and every day last week. I had very limited internet access all week as I was on a mini vacation with my fiancée Debby at Disneyland in California. We were there for four days and had a blast though these old feet have taken a serious beating with three days of nonstop morning until night walking and line waiting! If you e-mailed me last week and did not get an answer yet, this is the reason why. I had no way to get to all of the e-mails but I will be doing my best to get back to everyone over the weekend or on Monday.

We spent the week at Disneyland in Anaheim California and I did indeed have my Leica M240 with me and while I only snapped around 40 shots, I had it tucked away in a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 20 with the 50 Summicron and 50 Summarit. Yep, just two 50′s, OH and a couple of shots were taken with the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 (which does exhibit the nasty color edges with the 240 just like the M9, but rocks in B&W). The camera with two 50′s and the charger fit neatly into the Mirrorless Mover 20 and it was absolutely perfect.

The camera survived all of the rides, all of the walking and the heat and humidity without one issue or quirk. The RF stayed spot on even with rides on Space Mountain, The Matterhorn and Tower of Terror :) Yea, I believe in using my gear! While at Disneyland I saw countless EOS Rebels and Nikon DSLR’s. I saw maybe three Sony NEX cameras and one Olympus OM-D. A few point and shoots but the #1 camera I saw at Disneyland were SMART PHONES! Yes, those are the hottest cameras as almost everyone has one.

I did see ONE Leica other than mine and it was a D-Lux 5, but that was it. One of the girls at a Cafe thought I had an antique film camera and she was surprised when I told her it was digital..and of course she loved it though she had no idea of the cost :)

Anyway…

Below are just a few of the snaps I took. Nothing fancy but just posting them for those who want to see more M 240 real world shots. Some of these have been processed with Alien Skin, others are direct from camera. Most were with the 50 Summicron and a one was shot with the 50 Summarit with a small handful with the 15mm. The one Summarit shot should be easy to spot  as well as the 15mm images.

I hope everyone had a great week! Click images for larger, crisper, more colorful versions!

Coming in the next week or two – MUVI HD review, Ricoh GR 1st look and review, Amy Medina’s review of the SLR Magic 35 T1.4 and a look at the Canon 0.95 on the M 240 as well as the Canon 50 1.4 LTM via Guest Post! Stay tuned!

All images below were taken with the M240 as vacation snapshots..nothing more and nothing less. I only took the M out for one of the four days as I wanted to concentrate on spending time and having fun with my Fiancee :) But the images I did capture look great to my eyes. As for the Leica “Look” that all depends on what lens is being used.

CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER AND BETTER VIEW! If you do not you are seeing compressed and duller images!

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The image below WAS shot with the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5, at 4.5 lat at night. 

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The image below was taken while in line for tower of terror, in the dark and was an OOC JPEG shot in B&W at ISO 6400. 

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Apr 042013
 

Two new videos…Leica M 50′s and an M 240 Video with the Noctilux

Just realized I have not posted these here though they have been on my youtube channel for a week or two. The 1st one is an overview of three mega Leica lenses. The 50 cron APO, the 50 Lux ASPH and the 50 Noctilux ASPH. The 2nd video is a short little video I shot with the 50 Noctilux ASPH to show the rolling shutter effect that is very noticeable when shooting 50mm. It was taken with the Noctilux wide open and with the M 240 in B&W mode.

Enjoy!

Mar 292013
 

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Just arrived! A quick first look at the Leica 50 Summicron APO ASPH Lens on the Leica M

Well thanks to the guys over at I-SHOT-IT.com I have a Leica 50 Summicron APO ASPH in my hands to test for 3 weeks on the Leica M. Yep, Leica did not even have a loaner as this lens is super rare and hard to get and made in very small quantities. Coming it at just under $7200 I was super skeptical and upset when it was announced almost a year ago. I mean, how many of us can afford a 50 f/2 lens for $7195? I did not understand how the old cron could be improved upon as that was a lens I loved dearly for many years until finally settling on the 50 Summilux for the rendering at 1.4 that the cron could not do.

At nearly $4k, the Lux is almost double the cost of the old cron and at $7200, the new cron is getting close to 4X the cost of the old cron! How oh how could this be justified?

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Well I do know that the new APO Cron is claimed by many to be Leica’s best lens ever. Period. Leica has also said it has been very challenging to produce because they are accepting nothing less than perfection with each and every hand inspected copy that comes off the line.

When I saw the photos shot by the new Summicron at the Berlin Monochrom event I was blown away at the colors, the contrast, the details and super smooth Bokeh (that the old cron does not have). When I started seeing samples from another online blogger/reviewer I thought the lens was a but too sterile and lost interest. I decided I would be happy with my Lux. But after just a day of use I realized this lens is not sterile at all, quite the opposite.

When the lens arrived to me just yesterday and I snapped it on my M and fired off a few test shots I knew I would be in trouble. What I saw over the lux is richer deeper color, more contrast, more details and more 3 Dimensionality without being harsh or clinical at all, quite abit like what the Noctilux ASPH did over the previous F/1 version.. It does indeed have its own character and I am looking forward to full reviewing this lens. The new slide out twist hood is very nice and the lens comes packaged like the $11k Noctilux in it’s own small presentation case.

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Size wise it is smaller than the Lux and feels great on the M. I will stop now because I need to save my words for the review but even though this lens is $7200 it seems to be very high in demand. Dealers have wait lists for this bad boy and I can now see why. Below are 1st samples shots in my kitchen yesterday of my fiancée’, my feet and my friend Mike. I will be taking a road trip to shoot this lens and really get to know it and after that I will write my full review. Can’t wait!

Thank you I-SHOT-IT.COM for sending this lens out to me to review. Without your help it would have been a long time for me to get a hold of one. Be sure to check out their contests they run on their site as the main prizes are cash and cameras. The Monochrom contest is up to over $11k and the Leica MM. Damn!

 

1st off, a full size file from RAW – click it for the full size Leica M file – no editing or PP

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The following test snaps were done minutes after getting the lens in my hands. You can click them for larger 1200 pixel wide versions as the sizes below are compressed and do not look correct. All of these were shot on the Leica M 240. Full size pixel peeper samples will be in the review as well as comparisons with the Lux. These are just snapshots, in and around my house, and resized in low res for web. 

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The usual suspects are taking pre-orders for this lens but mostly all have lists going:

Ken Hansen – [email protected]

PopFlash.com 

The Pro Shop

Dale Photo

B&H Photo

Amazon

My full review will be up in 2-3 weeks!

Mar 212013
 

Crazy Comparison – Leica M, Sony RX1 and Fuji X100s

You all asked for this so here you go. I have three sets of images here, all full size direct from RAW from each camera without any PP, just right from camera results. You can click any image for the full size file.

Here is how these were done. Same aperture on each camera, same focal length or equivalent in the case of the X100s. Processed from raw using Lightroom 4.4 and exported as a JPEG without any PP.

The Leica M was shot with the Leica 35 Summicron ASPH, a $10,000 combo.

The Sony RX1 was tested as it comes out of the box at $2799

The Fuji X100s is a $1299 camera.

Let us take a look a couple of files..

The Leica M – 35 Cron at f/4 – No PP at all – flat light mid day image – click for full size. I tried to match WB as close as I could.

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The Sony RX1 at f/4 – No PP at all – take seconds after the M image above – click for full size

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The Fuji X100s – f/4 – no PP – taken right after the RX1 image above – For $1299  this is the bang for the buck champion without question!

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Let’s take a look at one more but this time with each lens at f/2, wide open.. I let the cameras color character come through here. Base ISO on each camera, no PP

The Leica M with the 35 cron at f/2 – click it for full size – base ISO of 200, f/2, AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

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Sony RX1 at f/2 – click it for full size – Base ISO of 100,  f/2,  AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

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Fuji X100s  at f/2 – click it for full size – Base ISO – f/2, AWB, in camera metering – from RAW

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crops…

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and three more:

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When wide open you can see the softness of the X100s lens and when viewing on a decent moniter you can see it is a bit more “flat” than the other two (this is what I am talking about when I say the X-Pro/X-E can look flat at times even though this was taken in flat lighting, it is flatter than the other two). When you take into consideration of the costs of these cameras the X100s is a winner but in the house shot above the X100s does have some funkiness going on in the details when viewed at 100% (leaves) but this is due  to LR 4.4 not fully supporting the X100s yet. But remember the costs! $10,000 vs $2799 vs $1299! ALL cameras these days are highly capable.

But for the shoe shot, for me, the Leica wins easily as that 35 cron character shines through with some nice Bokeh and depth. The Leica look is real :) You who have been reading my site for a while know that I much prefer “character” to “perfection” which can be sterile at times. Looking a these shots side by side the warmth, 3 dimensional feel and smoothness comes through in the Leica shot.  I showed these three to my son side by side without telling him what was what. His fave was from the M by a mile. My mom picked the Leica M as well and my niece picked the Sony. All thought the Fuji was dull compared to the other two.

The RX1 is a resolution monster as well and seems to beat the Leica M here for sharpness/detail but again, on a nice display it appears flatter than the Leica and lacking in any kind of character. It is colder and more sterile. Still, it appears the Zeiss lens beats the cron for sharpness, which may come as a surprise to some.

In the house shot I see the RX1 is the sharpest across the frame  to the corners.

These have had no PP at all and appear a little dull out of the camera but that is how the files come out without any adjustments. When it comes to PP, the M and RX1 files hold up extremely well, better than the X100s files.

One thing that is not shown in these images is the fact that the M can take other lenses. A 24, 28, 50, 75, 90, etc. The other two are fixed 35mm cameras so they are less versatile than the M. If you are mainly a 35mm shooter, you have choices :)

To see shots with some adjustments and a few with PP, you an see my ever growing Leica M gallery here, my RX1 gallery here and I will have an X100s gallery soon.

As for the X100s it seems the wait lists are growing every day. You can pre-order the X100s at B&H Photo or Amazon. My review will be up within a few days. Probably Monday morning :)

What are your thoughts?

Just for fun, the shoe shots converted to B&W in Lightroom using LR B&W Look #4 preset – Leica M, RX1 and X100s in that order. You can click for larger 1800 pixel wide resized versions.

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Nov 192012
 

Lessons Learned – Using Classic Lenses on the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE or his Facebook Page HERE

As a caveat, the article that I am presenting below is entirely subjective, and my opinions are subject to change. My thoughts represent my current state of thinking. I have found that the Leica M Monochrom is a flexible tool capable of pushing the photographer in new and different ways. It happens to be that the MM has pushed me in the direction discussed below, as of 11/2012, and we’ll see where the journey takes me in the months and years to come….

Hi fellow photographers, gearheads, and friends, today I am writing the first of my “lessons learned” articles regarding the use and function of the Leica M Monochrom (MM). The MM is unlike any camera that I have used in my time behind the viewfinder. Sure, one can approach its use similarly to how he or she would use a M9. In practical use, it’s a rangefinder and nothing more. However, shooting in black and white may necessitate a change in approaching the subject of the photo. For me, this has meant focusing on light and dark, highlight and contrast, and composition over color.

Of equal importance is the difference in the files produced by the camera, when compared to the M9 or any other camera currently in production. As I processed my first set of images, shot entirely with modern aspherical lenses on the MM, I started to notice a few “issues” with my files As many have discussed, images looked flat and grey, yet with occasionally overexposed highlights. To compensate for loss of highlight detail, I decided to under-expose by 1/3 to 2/3 stops. In some instances, using this method with modern glass, shadows were so deep that it became more difficult to recover details in the underexposed portions of the frame.

One other issue some images had a decidedly “digital” look to them. A fair number of commenters made mention that the files had a look that didn’t appear film-like. This is no fault of the MM, which after all is a digital camera, but rather with our expectation that files coming directly from the camera should look entirely “film-like” (whatever that means….there are many types of film)…What could be behind this? After all, the Leica M system is replete with some of the best glass ever made, capable of fantastic clarity and tonal rendition. The MM’s sensor is capable of resolving incredible detail, in some cases more than presently capable of the lenses in Leica’s collection. Shouldn’t fantastic glass coupled with a fantastic sensor produce…well…fantastic results? I haven’t always found this to be the case, within the confines of my own limitations as a photographer….let me explain why I think this (IMHO, as always).

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

QUANDRY # 1- Lens choice: Modern vs Classic.

When shooting with modern lenses, as I did in the MM-NYC article that Steve posted a few months back, I only used aspheric lenses, specifically the 35 mm Summilux FLE and 50 mm Summilux Asph lenses. On looking at these files again today, I find that the coupling of modern lenses with the MM creates files that are bursting with clarity and contrast. To me, it may be that the files offer too much clarity and contrast for my brand of black and white photography. For those willing to experiment with modern glass on the MM’s sensor, they may well be allowed to explore territory that has yet to be explored in BW photography. So when some offer criticism that MM files have an overly digital look, I’d respond that MM files have a unique look as offered by the combination of sensor and lens. The creative possibilities of exploring these combinations is both exciting and daunting, but offers up a type of black and white imagery that we may not be used to. Just as HDR images became popular and controversial several years back, the MM files offer something different from bread-and-butter CMOS and CCD sensor rendering. Images shot via the MM when using modern glass seem to have a “hyper-real”, almost surreal look to them. This is not a familiar look to many of us, and thus invites criticism or concern in some instances. Some of us, such as Kristian Dowling, have assumed this challenge, and are making the MM sing with modern glass. I went in a different direction….

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

I debated whether or not to stick with the “MM-Modern look”, as I have taken to calling it, and decided to put it on hold. I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to delve into that look without being met with significant challenge and criticism. Rather, I purchased the MM to progress as a black and white photographer, along the lines of the images that I have explored from the film era. With this in mind, I began to explore the possibility of how the MM behaves with vintage lenses from prior eras.

Over the past few months, I dusted the cobwebs off some of my classic lenses,that haven’t gotten much use in recent times. In particular, I have extensively used the Leica 50 mm f/2 version II Summicron, also dubbed the “Rigid Summicron”, as it was the first Summicron lens to have no collapsible elements. This lens was very popular in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s, and it was highly regarded for its clarity (for the era), tonal rendition, and smooth out-of-focus rendition (i.e. bokeh). To this, I added a 90 mm f/2 Summicron II (E 49 filter thread, collapsible hood) which was manufactured in 1970. I also pulled out my old Leica Tele-Elmar 135 mm f/4, which I reviewed here several years back, and picked up a 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit, which to my eyes has a smoother tonal rendition than its aspherical cousins (35 FLE and 35 cron asph) and stands nicely side-by-side with older glass. Needless to say, I have been very pleased and excited with the results of these lenses on the MM.

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

While modern glass can be nearly jarring on the MM, due to lens sharpness and abrupt focus-fall off coupled with the MM’s resolving capabilities, these vintage lenses provide a different, less-clinical signature, which to my eyes, provides a dare-I-say “more pleasant” look…Here again, is where I feel that I am being entirely subjective. To my eyes, at the very least, vintage Leica lenses do very well with the MM. While they resolve slightly less detail than their modern counterparts, their lower contrast and more gentle focus fall off seems to allow and gentler tonal rendition and better preservation of shadow and highlight details. Further, color is taken out of the equation, and while many old lenses don’t always render color accurately, they tend to offer a very appealing greyscale rendition. I feel that the MM’s greyscale capacities take great advantage of lenses with lower macrocontrast. In general, I find that I am able to achieve a more “film-like” black and white look, at least one that more closely represents what’s developed in my thoughts as to how a BW image should look.

In particular, I was stunned by the performance of 2 lenses on the Leica MM: the Rigid 50 mm Summicron and the 90 mm Summicron II. Let me talk a bit more about these lenses

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 At this time, the 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron wins my award for “Best overall lens for the Leica M Monochrom”. I know that this is a very bold (and entirely subjective) statement to make, but I have my reasons. The Rigid ‘Cron was one of the best lenses, if not the best lens, in its era, combining high resolution with fantastic performance from wide open through f/11. It’s bitingly sharp if stopped down to f/4 and fully acceptable when shot wide open. Out-of-focus rendition is beautifully classic, and it has a tad of that “Leica glow” thanks to some of its aberrations, none of which goes overboard. If you are willing to live with a minimal focus distance of 1 meter, and if you can find one in good to excellent optical condition, you should buy one in a heartbeat. It’s simply a no-brainer, given that this lens is one of the most affordable 50 mm Summicron lenses on today’s market can be had for 1/10 of the price of the current 50 mm f/2 APO-Summicron.

 

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

The 90 mm f/2 Summicron II has long been regarded as a fantastic performer for portraiture and people photography. It was first released in the 1960’s, and it is one of the only Leica M lenses with a built in tripod mount. It’s a big beast of a lens, though it’s not terribly heavy. It has a telescoping hood, which is a nice feature. But it’s nicest feature is its AMAZING rendering. This lens has become my “go to” portrait lens on the Leica MM, supplanting the 75 mm an 90 mm APO-Summicron lenses. I find the focus fall off of the version II 90 ‘Cron to be beautiful and the lens does an amazing job with OOF rendition and preservation of highlights. It’s one of Walter Mandler’s designs, and it shoes. In many ways, I am reminded of the Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux when viewing images taken with this lens. However, it’s a much more economic offering than the 75 ‘lux, whose prices have entered the stratosphere in recent years. The 90 Summicron II wins 2 awards for me:

1. Best portrait lens on the Leica M Monochrom

2. Most underappreciated lens for Leica M (previous award had gone to the 135 Tele-Elmar)

If you are willing to put up with the 90 Summicron II’s size, which is its only drawback, you’ll be greatly rewarded, particularly if you use a Leica M Monochrom. It has that Leica Magic!!!

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

Finally, I wanted to put in a brief word on the Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5 lens on the MM. As you know, I think very highly of the diminutive Summarit, finding it to have the most pleasant bokeh of any of Leica’s lenses. In some ways, I’d call the 35 mm Summarit to be the “King of Smooth”…it’s very well controlled, renders sharply, and provides and image with moderate contrast and smooth tonal transitions.

 

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

In summary, at this time, I find that vintage lenses have a very appealing look on the MM’ sensor, and one can re-discover many old lenses using this camera. This does not, in any way, invalidate the use of modern glass on the MM. I simply feel that these lenses offer 2 different sets of solutions for the black and white shooter. The choice ultimately is upon the photographer to determine what better suits him or her.

 

QUANDRY # 2 – Greyscale

When first acquiring the Monochrom, I became enamored with the details and tonal magnitude of MM files. There is a wealth of detail in those greys, and I first attempted to capture and present those greys in a meaningful way. What resulted were files that had a lot of “grey”, which, on some monitors, projects out as flat or washed out. On my NEC High Gamut 27 inch display and on high quality archival prints, the images do have quite a bit of depth in those greys. Yet, there was a certain “pop” that may be missing in having images rendered with whiter whites and darker darks, so to speak, or at least a sharper fall off between darks and whites. In some cases, it actually is much easier to take an M9, convert the file to BW, and obtain a fantastic, more readily approachable image. Why then even bother with the MM?

Well, there are a few reasons, actually, for those who are willing to be patient and make adjustments in post processing. Buried in all of those greys is a wealth of information that allows MM files to be pushed and pulled in many different directions, without a dramatic loss in image fidelity. In other words, by processing carefully, one can adjust the look of their MM images so that they don’t look so…grey.

Leica MM with Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM (“Japanese Summilux”)

 

Leica MM with Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2 LTM

Once again, you may ask, “Why bother? My M9 does it well and does it easier…” I would suggest that for the dedicated BW shooter or the photographer interested in getting different looks for their BW imagery, the Leica MM is unparalleled in its ability to produce files capable of being manipulated to achieve many looks in BW without loss of image fidelity. I am a Lightroom user, and I find that using the “Black” and “White” sliders, coupled with the “Shadow” and “Highlight” sliders (available in LR4 and beyond), followed by a dose of contrast/clarity tweaks, allows me to achieve any number of looks. Add to that a bit of dodging and burning, and suddenly one begins to appreciate that files from the MM are very flexible, and the greyscale depth, if I may call it that, is profound. Thus, if you like the Tri-X look, it can be achieved. HP-5, Neopan 1600, TMax 3200? No problem…. How about slow film, like PanX or Agfa 25 film? Yes, the MM can do those “looks” well too ….The one limitation that I see to the MM is that it’s native ISO is 320, which is relatively fast compared to slow film stock. In order to use fast glass at base ISO on the MM, one must either stop down or buy an image degrading ND filter to do so.

I enjoy being permitted many options on how to make my BW files look. The MM allows this in plentitude. MM files are incredibly flexible, and I have found the challenge of processing MM files to be ongoing. I suspect that in the years to come, I’ll come back to my old files, with new eyes and new processing techniques, and see them again for the first time. Here’s an example 2 files taken from the same photo session, where in-camera settings were the same but processing was a bit different:

Early processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

More recent processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph

 

Looking at both files, I wouldn’t necessarily say that either version is “correct” per say, or represents the events as I “saw” them. They are both different truths to the same story, and this, to me, is where the MM excels. It allows one to tell many different stories, and provides files that are more flexibile than the M9 to do this, in some regards, despite losing out on R/G/B channels and selective channel tweaking…

 

QUANDRY #3 – USING FILTERS

The use of filters on the Leica MM has been well documented and discussed. In summary, it appears that the MM’s sensor takes well to the use of color filters, and one familiar with the use of such filters on their film bodies will feel at home using these same filters on the Monochrom. I have found that for ease of look, it’s best to use a yellow or medium orange filter to increase contrast straight out of camera. This can save time in processing, particularly for those of you whom are not enamored by overly grey images. Additionally, for shooting people, green, yellow, and in some cases organe filters brighten up complexion enough to provide a more “natural look”.

For many of us, using filters can be cumbersome. One has to take heed when using them, making sure to match the filter to the intended look or shooting circumstance. At times, I bring my filters, and at times, I leave them home. In either case, I find that the MM provides acceptable results. As I have lenses of many differing filter threads, I decided that I can’t own R/G/Y/O filters in every thread, so I elected to snag filters for 39 mm and 46 mm thread size. One could alternatively get several step up rings and purchase 60-72 mm filter size, and use the same filters on a variety of glass. The problem with the latter option is that it’s a bit clunky to use a 60 mm filter on a e39 lens. Filters still cost a fair chunk of cash, but keeping your filter collection reasonable is probably the way to go. If I had to choose 1-2 filters, I’d probably chose a yellow and orange filter, since the other filters tend to be a bit more specialized to more extreme looks.

 

Leica MM and 50 mm Summilux II (pre-asph) E43 lens

 

QUANDRY # 4- Too much resolution!

With the MM’s files, I marveled at the resolution capable of being displayed by the MM’s sensor, partricularly when paired with modern glass. It was definitely new territory, in terms of the camera’s capacity to resolve small details extraordinarily well, and in some cases too well. This is commonly a criticism of Leica’s current aspherical lens lineup (if there could be such a thing as that), who some state may be too “clinical” or can render details with the harsh clarity of reality, making the system’s new lens a bit controversial for portraits (see all of the internet fodder regarding the 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, a brilliant lens for which the devil may be in the “details” (that it renders), so to speak.

I myself have never found modern Leica glass to be too clinical when using my M8 and M9. I have seen brilliant work from many MM shooters using modern glass, by my own journey, has lead me to use older glass with slightly lower resolving capacity. Using these older lenses seems to “tame” the MM’s sensor a bit, but the results remain fantastic, and the images taken with older glass maintains adequate to superior resolution, albeit with less bite than modern glass…which I think is a good thing.

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

 

QUANDRY #5- ISO capability compared to film stock

I am thoroughly impressed by the MM’s high ISO capacities. Unlike the Leica M9, which I found to be limited in its ISO capacity, there appears to be no such limitation with the MM. When shooting a properly exposed scene, the photographer can easily capture files that look remarkably clean and details at ISO’s upto 5000. To me, this has opened up opportunities to shoot the MM in many new settings, including darkened street scenes. The MM’s high ISO capabilities allow the facile use of slower (smaller) lenses on the MM in more settings, opening up even more creative possibilities. . While much talk has been given to how the MM’s high ISO (3200 and beyond) looks film-like, I tend to disagree. While the camera’s high ISO grain seems fine and tasteful and allows for preservation of details of the image (without any introduction of mushiness into the pixel-peeping equation), it does not take on the look of film grain, to my eyes. The grain, particularly at ISO’s of 3200 and beyond, is decidedly digital, but not objectionable. Occasionally, when adjusting contrast or exposure when shooting at high ISO, banding may be seen. All in all, I am far more comfortable shooting the MM at high ISO’s than I ever was with the Leica M9. I try to keep my ISO cut off at 3200 for this camera, though on occasion, ISO’s beyond this are called for. Further. I find that MM’s capacity to render clean files through ISO 1600 makes it amenable to “adding” film like grain in post processing.

 Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

Alright, I have rambled on enough. I am sure that you all have had your fill of Leica M Monochrom reportage. Suffice it to say that it’s a fascinating camera capable of outstanding results for those interested in using it. It’s definitely not a camera for everyone. It is a fantastic option for those who desire superior ISO performance and broad dynamic range within the greyscale realm.

All the best,

Ashwin

Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

 

Aug 202012
 

MY THREE LEICA KINGS by Tuananh Nguyen

A shout out to Mr. Steve Huff for setting us up with the sweetest and most bitchin’ photography site to date! I also have to thank all of you folks that have written some of the most entertaining, knowledgeable, and opinionated “inspirations” that have not only inspired my photography, but I am sure also to the growing members on this site. Although I understand the need for numerous reviews on newer products, I’ve always enjoyed reading articles on the “classics”, if not just as much, but maybe event a tad more. So on this note, I wanted to share my knowledge on three of Leica’s classical lenses, or what I would call as “my three kings”.

After my initiation into the Leica clan many years ago, I’ve had a chance to use some of the best optics in the world in both the pre- and post-digital age. I started out this love affair with my beloved Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron Dual Range, which I believe is as perfect as a camera can be. Its classic lines, dependability, and “glowing” images matched my style of photography and it also gave validation for my abandonment of the SLR idea. I’ve since owned both the M8 and M9, which I feel are the epitome of the digital rangefinder. The M9’s pixel count, full-frame CCD image characteristics, and classical build were all that I would ever dream in a camera (even in light of the advent of the M10 release).

Over the years, I’ve had countless opportunities to lend and own a long list of Leica lenses. But after a lot of “soul searching” I’ve concluded that there are three lenses that I found to have earned the title of “My Three Kings”: 50mm Noctilux-M (f/1.0 attached hood), 35mm Summicron-M (Type IV), and 90mm Summicron (Generation II, red numbering). Below, I will briefly summarize why I believe that these lenses are my favorite, but I will also include drawbacks when it is necessary.

 

Leica 90mm Summicron (Generation II)

After trying out a diverse group of Leica-M 75mm, 85mm, 90mm, and 135mm lenses, I’ve concluded that the 90mm Summicron was the best for me. Although the lens is much larger than the later editions, especially with the built in tripod mount, and odd filter size, I felt that it gave the most character out of all of these longer focal length lenses. As a portrait lens, the 90mm Summicron is soft and gives a nice glowing rendition, which is even more pronounced in the B&W images that it produces. Although not the sharpest lens in the Leica lineage, its excellent DOF/”bokeh” is silky smooth and excellent as a pure portraiture lens.

 

Leica 35mm Summicron-M (Type IV)

In the 1990’s, Leica lenses were expensive but not to the extent as they are today, especially in the used market. I was able to collect several editions of the 35mm and give them a thorough “shootout” before I decided which one was the keeper. I also tested out some wider angle Leica lenses, but I realized that the additional viewfinder was often obtrusive and it just didn’t fit my style of street photography with the Leica M2. The Type IV, also renowned as “The King of Bokeh” was my choice, simply because it was very compact and light, the replaceable lens hood was very affordable and easily attainable, and the new concaved focusing tab was an excellent focusing tool for such a small lens. This lens is exceptionally sharp but maintains that Leica “glow” and signature, more so than the other generations at this focal length. I chose this lens above all other wide-angles and aperatures because I felt that it had great balance for price, image quality, and compactness.

 

Leica 50mm Noctilux-M

Many Leica users and experienced photographers collectively know that the Noctilux is a very prized optical monster. It doesn’t just quiver under low-light condition; it actually lives for it, as Dr. Mandler would agree. This is my unequivocal favorite lens of all time. You might read online and various literature about the Noctilux’s focusing issues with the digital-M, lack of sharpness, extreme vignettes, enormous size, and countless other complaints. What is my response to all of these issues? Yes, I would have to agree with all of them! But I guess this is what taming a beast like the Noct is all about. Yes it requires a little love from the elves to make it perfectly adapted to your digital-M body. Yes, it is not the sharpest lens, but that’s the reason for its magic glow and signature bokeh. Images shot with a Noctilux can only be described as watercolors to me; the background always gives a very distinct paintbrush flavor while the outline of the subject usually glows with a warm soft texture. Yes, vignettes are a part of this lens’ repertoire, some folks hate it, but many like myself love it. As for the size argument, although the Noctilux is one of the largest of the Leica lenses, it is by far much smaller than many other normal focal length lenses in production. I was tempted to swap my classic Noctilux for the newer f/0.95, but after several days of using it at the Leica Akademie last year, I decided that the older model’s characteristics was more preferable for my taste.

These three lenses have many different attributes, yet the unique characteristics that they showcase are unmistakably, Leica. Will I use other cameras and lenses in the future, I am sure I am not immune to the shutterbug nor am I too stubborn or ignorant to say that this brand or that brand is the best for everyone. What I can say is that I love the Leica M system, for its simplicity, signature images, and obedience to what the idea of photography truly is – an art form.

Mar 282012
 

The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout! UPDATED!

by Brad Husick March 27, 2012

Many of us have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and have amassed a generous collection of lenses for our rangefinder cameras. The problem with having a wide selection of lenses to choose from is that when we reach up to grab a lens for our next shoot it’s sometimes hard to decide what to take. At one point my collection was up to 22 lenses and at that point I had become a collector as much as a photographer. Well, over the past few years I have whittled that collection down to the lenses I like most just for their optical qualities. My collecting interest has been refocused on photographs – the ones I take.

Fortunately for this test I still own too many lenses and I have a close friend who owns many more, so I thought I’d begin a series of tests with 35mm rangefinder lenses. These are not laboratory controlled tests of carefully arranged objects but a typical outdoor scene from a local spot here on Lake Washington near Seattle – a subject more people are likely to shoot from day-to-day. The results are my subjective opinion of the optical quality of the photos, and I am including 100% crops for you to make your own conclusions. Here’s the full frame 35mm shot:

Test Setup:

The test was set up to control and keep constant as many of the variables as possible. Photos were taken on a Leica M9-P mounted on a tripod, set at ISO 160, shutter speed 1/750 sec., aperture f/4, lenses set to their infinity focus point. Not all the lenses had the same maximum aperture and the day was bright enough that trying to shoot wide-open would have required the use of ND filters. I did not want to introduce any glass in front of the lenses for this test. The shutter was tripped using the 2-second self timer to minimize any hand vibrations. RAW files were brought into Adobe Lightroom 4 and exported as JPEG files with no adjustments from default settings.

The weather here in Seattle was in the 50′s with complete overcast and light winds. We get this ideal overcast many days a year – great for photographs, not too great for sun tanning.

The Eight Contestants in the Shootout:

MS Super Triplet Perar f3.5 Mark II (Perar)

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Leica Summarit-M f3.5, current version (Summarit)

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Zeiss Biogon f2.0 T* ZM Silver (Zeiss)

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Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

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Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Chrome (Chrome ASPH)

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Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Black (Black ASPH)

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Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

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Leitz Summaron f2.8 LTM/M circa 1959 (Summaron)

Lens Results:

I examined 100% crops near the center of the frame and at the top left corner. I studied the files looking for overall sharpness and ability to resolve detail, micro-contrast, lack of chromatic aberration (fringing) and distortion.

Not surprisingly, the Leica Summilux ASPH FLE was the top performer at both the center and corner of the frame. Leica took an already excellent lens, the Summilux ASPH, and corrected the focus shift issue by incorporating a new floating element in the FLE. The price of the new lens climbed substantially, with some selling for nearly $8000 a few months after introduction when the initial supply ran dry. Prices have since settled around $6500.

Somewhat surprising is how well the Zeiss Biogon performed, especially at the center, scoring a second place for center performance. Sharpness and detail were excellent. Overall contrast was higher than the FLE perhaps due to different lens coatings. Ergonomics are superb with buttery smooth focus and f-stop. Some may not like the chrome ring around the front of the lens that functions as a bayonet for the optional hood, but I don’t think it detracts from the lens. The Zeiss is the performance-value winner here with new lenses available for around $1000.

I compared two seemingly identical Leica Summicron-ASPH lenses, one black and the other chrome. They were not optically identical. The chrome lens was marginally superior at both the center and corner. This could be due to some slight variation in infinity focus between the two lenses. The pair of Summicron-ASPH lenses scored well, coming in second and third at the corner and third and forth at the center. The Summicron has always been a staple of the Leica shooter and will probably remain there. Used prices range from $2500-$3000.

Leica’s modern Summarit-M is positioned as an entry level lens for the Leica shooter, and is a small and affordable package. Optically however, the Summarit came in fifth in the ranking for overall softness and a lack of micro contrast; a somewhat disappointing result for a modern lens design. The Summarit is list priced at $1895 with clean used lenses selling for $1400.

The Leitz Summaron from 1959 is a beautiful lens with sculpted sloping edges and an unusual focus tab that incorporates an infinity lock. Sharpness of the Summaron was soft, but lacked any chromatic aberration – a surprising result for such an old design and the state of lens coatings from that time period. The softness of the lens was pleasing, giving a somewhat nostalgic look to the photograph. Shooters looking for some of that classic old Leica glow won’t be disappointed with the Summaron. However, compared with modern optics the Summaron just can’t resolve the way the newer glass can perform. Clean used Summarons can be found for around $1000.

Last but not least in the shootout was a personal favorite – the unique MS Super Triplet Perar, often called simply the “Perar”. It’s been a favorite of mine because it is simply tiny. It’s smaller than any Leica collapsible lens in the collapsed state! The aperture is step-free and the focus is smooth with a focus “pin” to assist. Traveling with this lens is a joy since it barely sticks out from the front of the camera and it’s always in a ready-to- shoot position, unlike collapsible lenses. As good as the physical design and ergonomics are, the optical performance of the lens is not up to the standards set by the more complicated and expensive lenses in this test. Perar images are good at center but sharpness falls off at the edges. Perar lenses can be found on ebay and at the maker’s website www.japanexposures.com.

Vignetting is not a problem for any of these lenses and chromatic aberration is well handled by the entire group.

Here are my subjective rankings of the lenses:

Note: I’d like to thank my dear friend Ed (goes by the handle “fishandfowl” on many boards) for making available five of the lenses in this test. Ed introduced me to rangefinder photography and thus improved my life greatly.

Brad

UPDATE!!

ARTICLE UPDATE (3-29-12):
In my initial test the Skopar performed quite poorly when set to the infinity focus setting on the lens. I re-ran the test, this time backing the focus off from infinity by the smallest amount I could turn the ring in the case where the infinity stop was overshooting slightly. Center sharpness improved substantially while edge distortion remained problematic. This is probably due in part to the Leica Thread Mount (LTM) – to – Leica M bayonet adapter being used.

Here are the new Skopar crops:

Based on these new results I have revised my rankings:

Some visitors posted comments about the overall quality of the images in comparison to other camera systems. To assist in evaluating these images, I have included two more cameras – the Leica D-Lux 5, a highly respected small-imager camera set to 35mm zoom, f/4 and base ISO, and the Apple iPhone 4S, an 8 megapixel imager with an approximate angle of view of 30mm. I think most readers will agree that neither measures up to the images produced with the Leica M9-P. The iPhone was surprisingly good for a phone and has the unique quality of always being at hand when a photo is required.

iPhone 4s

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D-Lux 5

Jun 162011
 

Crazy Comparison! The Leica M9 with 35 Summicron vs the Fuji X100

By Steve Huff

I have been getting emails for a few weeks now asking me to post some full size images from the Leica M9/35 Summicron vs the Fuji X100…side by side shots, same settings, etc. What some of you want to see is just how the little X100 stacks up against the Leica $10,000 combo in the image quality department. This comparison will ONLY be on image quality as the usability of each camera is WAY different.

The M9 is a manual rangefinder camera and the Fuji is pretty much a point & shoot, though a very nice point & shoot. I have been shooting both while here in Tallinn, Estonia and I have to say that the little X100 has been a joy to use. Quick, easy, and reliable. I can’t help but imagine what would happen if Fuji released this in all black WITH the capability of interchangeable lenses. Something like an X200 with a 24, 35, 50 and 90 f2 set of lenses. Wow.

On the other hand, the Leica M9 still shoots and feels like a “real” camera. I have  that “bond” with it that is hard to beat. When you have this bond, and the took becomes a part of your eyes and brain, then it is  tough to beat in actual use. BUT, if the Fuji can come close to the M9 and 35 cron, it would be cheaper to buy an X100 instead of a 35 and take the savings for another lens! Then again, if you own and love your M9 and have no need for a 2nd camera, then the 35 cron would be the best bet as it is a superb lens as is every Leica 35mm.

Also, let me note that my M9 and lenses just came back from Leica last week where they calibrated the camera and lenses, so the focus is dead on.

Lets see how it goes…

Before I get to the pictures I have to say that Tallinn has been AMAZING! Such an awesome place to just walk and roam. I walked 8 miles yesterday, and a few hours today and enjoyed every second of it. From the cobblestone streets of Old Town to the even more scenic things we saw off the beaten path. Tallinn Estonia is full of life, great people and GREAT light!

The images below were converted from RAW using Adobe Camera Raw. You can see the full size file by clicking on the images (for those that have a full size file).

Ok, first up..FULL SIZE FILE COMPARISONS with CROPS

Leica M9 – f/2 – click image for full size RAW conversion

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Fuji X100 – f/2 – click image for full size RAW conversion

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Leica M9 – f/4 – click for full size image

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Fuji X100 – f/4  - click for full size

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Leica M9 – Click for FULL size image! I have to admit, I prefer the X100 version!

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Fuji X100 – f2.8 – click image for full size

and the crops if you cant download the full file..

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Leica M9 – f/2 – click image for full size

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Fuji X100 – f/2 – Click image for full size (see the slight distortion)?

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Lets stop it down….Leica M9 – f8 – click image for full size!

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Fuji X100 – f/8

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and some crops. You can see the M9 gets the prize for detail but at $1200 for the X100 and $10k for the M9, in the IQ department, the Fuji does quite well.

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So what are your thoughts?

My thoughts are that the X100 is quite the little camera if shooting 35mm is your thing! Sure, the M9 is better but is it $8800 better in regards to Image Quality alone? NO it is not. Add to this that the high ISO is better on the X100 and this makes the X100 the buy of the freaking year in digital camera land.

My M9 is not going anywhere though :)

A Fun Test – Can you tell which image came from which camera?

The EXIF info is intact so you can cheat, and I am not doing this as any sort of contest but look over the following images and see if you can tell which came from which camera. When sized down (you can click them for a larger 1400 pixel wide version) it gets tougher to  see the differences.

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My quick thoughts on the IMAGE QUALITY ONLY of the M9/35 and X100..

  • M9 files are bigger, more megapixels at 18 vs 12
  • M9 files will be somewhat smoother and noise free at full 100% view
  • Metering seems spot on with the X100 due to its three metering modes
  • White Balance is better on the X100, no question
  • M9 files can be sharper if focus is nailed
  • X100 has some distortion, 35 cron doesn’t really have any!

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below! If you are looking to buy an X100, you can try HERE or HERE. The M9 can be found HERE, HERE or through Ken Hansen at [email protected]!

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Mar 312011
 

As always, the Leica M9 has been by my side for the past 3 weeks and right this minute I am at the Venue in Mexico City where Seal will be performing his 2nd show here in about 2 hours. I’m blogging because they have a WiFi connection available so why not? :) I shot the show last night here in Mexico City and it was yet another high energy show. I will put up some of those images tomorrow after tonights show and mix them together.

Tomorrow afternoon I go back home to AZ and will have one week off before heading to South Africa for a few days. Lots of exciting things going on, and so many photo opps that I have been on photo overload! I love it!

This morning a few of us went out to get some shots on the street but we ended up having a great lunch instead. I managed to get in a few shots before getting on the van to the show.

While away on this tour I have been in “Photographer” mode instead of “Testing” mode so the change of pace has been good for me. Getting out and being able to take actual photographs instead of silly test shots has re-activated some passion inside of me, and it’s been great fun.

All shots below with the the Leica M9 and 50 Summicron

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My new buds, Chris and Steve shooting on the streets of Mexico City…

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I managed to capture this couple sharing a hug. He saw me but gave me a smile after I took the shot..

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Seal street shooting with his Titanium M7

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Mike the Bad Ass security guy with Seal while we waited for the restaurant to open up…

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I thought I focused on the food but somehow missed it :) The food was AMAZINGLY gorgeous and tasty :)

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After I made it to soundcheck the band wanted some shots of them but they decided to have fun with it. This is the last show of this short tour so everyone is in high spirits…The four shots below were all with the 28 Elmarit at 2.8, which seems like it was made for the M9.

At soundcheck just minutes ago..the band switched instruments to take this shot.

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From left to right: Mark Summerlin, Marcus Brown, Gus Isidore, and Steve Sidelnyk

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Katie, Sarah and Georgina

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Carol Jarvis – Master Drummer, faces and all…

The final South American Tour Report will be up tomorrow night, or at the latest Saturday. Then back to normal business for a week with guest reports and reviews. It will be good to get home tomorrow :) I have to say that the Leica M9 performed FLAWLESSLY for me during daily use on this three week tour. It withstood the bangs, the abuse, the humidity, and even some rain. To the naysayers, yes…the M9 can be used as a pro camera. Period.

I’ll leave you with one shot from last nights show…LOVE the color and the vibe in this one. It’s as if all of the Energy is coming out of Seal and exploding into the crowd…shot with the 35 cron at f/2.

Mar 242011
 

I’m still recovering from Brasilia and right now as I write this I am back at the Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo where we flew back today for another show. Last night Brasilia was GREAT! The crowds just seem to be getting better and better and last night was insane and just flew by for me. When I arrived at the venue with the band I noticed the stage was VERY high..taller than me. Looked like trouble for Leica M photography but I had a plan…more on that later.

I will rewind a but to when we were in the airport flying to Brasilia from Rio. It was like Deja Vu as we were just in that same airport a couple days prior and was the one where I shot the image of Seal and the one of the little girl. I had the little 28 Elmarit on the M9 and just snapped a couple of shots.

Marcus and the girls…

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I was sitting across from this man on his Ipad and it just seems like a great photo opp. Any excuse I get to take a picture I do it!

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We arrived at our Hotel in Brasilia and I snapped one of the Tour Manager Steve with the Nocti.

Arriving at the Venue – Soundcheck

We arrived to the venue early and the band immediately started their soundcheck while I scoped out the venue  top to bottom. After I found my way around and the “under the stage” shortcuts I went up on stage to get a few shots of the band playing..all with the M9 and Noctilux…and yes, ALL wide open at 0.95.

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So here I was…in a venue hours before the show with an Artist I have respected and enjoyed since the early 1990′s AND doing what I have ALWAYS wanted to do…shoot musicians and live performances. Back when I was in my early 20′s I would often try to get into shows to photograph them but never had any idea how to get into it. I was always a fan of Jim Marshall who used a Leica M4 to shoot concerts, sadly he passed away recently but he has made some iconic images over the years.

It’s not something one can do and get rich from but for me it’s about the satisfaction and excitement I get from creating images that I can look back on with great memories of my time “with the band”. I’m having a blast though I am tired and averaging 4-5 hours a night of sleep, mainly due to editing images after shows and waking up early to get packed back up for the airport travel. Still, it’s an adventure and for someone like me who has limited world travel experience it has been a learning experience. Plus, it’s also cool to not only hang with my friend Seal, but everyone else from the band to the road crew are SO NICE…it really is like one big family here and I respect this whole operation. It’s awesome!

Showtime

30 minutes before showtime I devised a plan to plant myself out front in with the crowd and so I followed through with that plan. But within 15 minutes there were thousands of people behind me. I felt like I was crammed in like a sardine in one of those roll back tins but hey, it’s all for the photos right? I couldn’t risk getting bad shots due to me not being out front so away I went! While in the crowd I was approached by a few people who must have seen my “All Access” badge as they were asking me  to let them meet Seal, which of course is out of my hands, but everyone was great in the crowd. One thing I have noticed is that Brazilian people are warm, friendly and seem very happy which is quite the opposite of many of those you meet in America. Pretty cool.

The Show kicked off and me and the trusty M9 started clicking away. I did not want to repeat all of the other shots from previous shows on this tour so I decided to tackle this night with a different style if at all possible.

Enjoy the shots. Lenses used were the 50 Noct, 28 Elmarit, and 35 Summicron.

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MEET & GREET!

After each show Seal meet’s some of his fans in a meet and greet session. This is always cool for any artist to do as it gives the hardcore fans a chance to meet their idol. I walked around with the Noctilux and the M9 set at ISO 2500 and took some snapshots. Seal always has a great time during these sessions and one night I saw him spend about 25 minutes with one fan. The Brasilia fans loved every minute of it :)

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On to the next…Sao Paulo Brazil – Show #2

As I type this I am in Sao Paulo…just arrived back here an hour or so ago and have another hour before we head to the venue for sound check. I’ll shoot this show tonight and then we have a couple of days off in Recife Brazil where we will spend almost 4 days before heading to Mexico City for two shows. Fun fun fun!

A shot of our cool hotel as we drove up from the van window…

If any of you are going to be at the show tonight feel free to say “Hey” if you see me walking around :) Until next time!

Steve

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Nov 262010
 

THERE IS NOW ANOTHER ONE AVAILABLE FOR $1299, 6-BIT CODED!

BUY IT HERE QUICK!


THE FIRST ONE WAS GONE WITHIN 10 MINUTES – SORRY GUYS, IT WAS SOLD!

I KNOW many of you reading this blog are looking for this lens and I just saw this Leica 50 Summicron, used but in a 9 condition for $1349. THIS WILL GO FAST and is a great deal. It’s the latest version so CLICK HERE to check it out but if you want it, I am guessing this will be gone within 15-20 minutes if not quicker. These always go FAST!

CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT!

more!

They also have a used 75 Summarit for a good price – you can see that one HERE.

May 212010
 

Hey guys! It’s Friday and I have some new film shots for ya! I had a roll of Fuji Velvia 100 processed through Dwayne’s in KS and realized that I did not ask for scans, just processing! BUT these slides came just 4 days after I sent them. AMAZING speed. I used these pre-paid mailers that I bought at B&H Photo which is also why I did not get scans.

It is so cool to get slides back in the mail. Much different than negatives from print film. With slides you can hold them up to the light and actually see the shot. I know most of you know this but many of you film newbies may not.

How the slides were delivered to me from Dwayne’s.

It’s so cool to hold a slide up to a light and check out your images. They are even better in a projector but these days our computer screens have turned those into old relics that wind up in bargain bins at old photo shops or thrift shops.

Anyway, I ended up scanning these at home at low res just so I could post a few. I also shot some Fuji Pro 400H and had those scanned at the drug store. Sometimes they do a decent job and other times they SUCK.

Velvia Rocks

But first check out the COLOR from this Velvia 100 slide film. WOW….

Fuji Velvia 100 will give you the EXTREME color POP! Leica MP, 35 Cron

I shot this specifically to test for the bright yellow and colors in the painting. Velvia is pretty saturated and may not be to everyones taste but I just bought 10 rolls so I have some on hand in case I ever want this kind of color.

Reds, greens, and purple. Velvia 100 delivers them all in a BOLD way :)

So yea, Velvia 100 rocks when you want really strong color. It rocks better than digital. I would say Velvia film rocks like KISS and digital rocks like MINI KISS. Just pick your preference :)

Fuji Pro 400H crap drug store scans converted to B&W

I also shot some Fuji Pro 400H last week and ended up converting most of them to B&W due to the scans from the drug store not looking so good. I HATE when that happens. So the images below have ZERO Fuji magic because there is no Fuji color!

But hey, working with scanned film is like working with digital except you have the “film look” so I just used Silver Efex Pro to convert these over in one click using my super secret “huff-o-matic B&W” preset…

All of the images below were shot with a Leica MP, 35 Summicron ASPH and Fuji Pro 400H but they were all converted to Black and White using Nik Silver Efex Pro!

Thanks for looking…I have to go finish packing for my big move on Monday AND shoot some film as well. Also, I have a VERY cool camera on the way to review. It’s a new MF film rangefinder that I have been wanting to check out. The Fuji GF670 should be in my hands as early as the end of next week. I should be settled in my new place by then so I hope to put it through its paces with all kinds of film. Until next  time!

Steve

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