Dec 122012


Scary Faces – Pushing the Monochrom Further

by Jason Howe – Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook


From Steve: I know, I know…many of you are tired of these Monochrom articles! At the same time, many of you are NOT. This will be the last one for a while because I feel we have PLENTY of information on this camera now on this website, let alone the entire internet. I could not resist posting these as it really shows what the camera can do better than any previous post on the MM. I am dubbing Jason  Howe the “MM Master” as these are masterful shots and he certainly has learned the camera better than I have! Enjoy and THANK YOU JASON!


In the short period of time that I have owned the Monochrom it has already established itself as my “go to” camera, in part this is due to its incredible performance but also because my subject matter of late has been dark, in every sense……this camera along with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE make a formidable team, one I’m finding difficult to break up despite the other lenses available to me.

In the last week I took the opportunity to visit the theatre once more, this time with a view to having a closer look at the higher ISO’s on the Leica M Monochrom. With nothing specific planned we decided to do some impromptu “Scary portraits” by utilising the fixed stage lighting and a borrowed LED torch which on occasion I managed to hold in my teeth whist shooting. Clearly, this is far from ideal but it did actually work out reasonably well and I’ll be adding a torch to my bag for those occasions where you just need a some additional light.

Even though this show is very dark I still found myself not needing to push the camera beyond ISO 3200, even then it was artificially so and I could probably have shot at 1600, but as I wanted to see a little more from the Monochrom I went ahead. I also continue to deliberately underexpose by 1/3 of a stop to as much as 1 stop on occasion, I feel I’m really getting to grips with this particular Monochrom idiosyncrasy and as there really is so much detail in the shadows of these MM files that there is absolutely no point in risking blown highlights. I also wanted to take a closer look at what I would describe as being the Monochrom’s digital grain.

These images were all shot as JPEG’s, this was something I’d not yet tried on the MM and I was very curious to see the results, I always found the B&W JPEG’s from the M9 to be very pleasing, as you’d expect the MM files were even richer.

Please remember to click on the image to see a better quality rendition.


Scary Faces – No 1 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 800 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 1

Scary Faces – No 1 – 100% Crop at ISO 800 – YOU MUST CLICK IT TO SEE FULL 100%

ISO 800 Crop

I’m absolutely loving the sharpness and detail from the Monochrom and 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE, traces of what I would describe as the Monochrom’s distinctive “digital grain” are just apparent at ISO 800, this shot was taken in total darkness and illuminated by the LED torch only.


Scary Faces – No 2 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 2– 

Scary Faces – No 3 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 3

Scary Faces – No 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 4

The image above will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come, I’d say these are some of the richest blacks I’ve achieved so far with the Monochrom, there is still plenty to learn and a lot more experimenting to be done but the progress has been satisfying so far. Despite being shot in JPEG the images still exhibit a huge tonal range and whilst I don’t think I’d ever use them straight out of the camera the PP certainly only took 1-2 minutes each to process.


Scary Faces – No 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 5

Scary Faces – No 6 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 6

Scary Faces – No 7 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 7

Scary Faces – No 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 8– 

Scary Faces – No 9 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 9

Scary Faces – No 9 – 100% Crop at ISO 1250 (click it)

ISO 1250 Crop


To me this crop at ISO 1250 is indistinguishable from the ISO 800 crop in terms of “digital grain”. In fact, I’d actually say it’s superior to the ISO 800 image, I don’t have enough insight in to this camera yet to give a categorical reason for that and I’ll definitely be looking closely at future images. Once again the detail is quite staggering.


Scary Faces – No 10 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/90 Sec

Scary Faces - No 10 –

Scary Faces – No 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

Scary Faces - No 11

This particular image brings a smile to my face, it’s most definitely enhanced by the third face in the background!!


Scary Faces – No 12 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 3200 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 12

Scary Faces – No 12 – 100% Crop at ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Crop

Usually we’d be referring to digital noise when looking at images shot in these lighting conditions and ISO’s but whilst that may be technically correct it does not seem fair to use this term when analysing the Monochrom images. I prefer to refer to this as digital grain, it’s certainly a more accurate description, whilst it is not directly comparable to film grain it is certainly closer to that than digital noise in my opinion. I’m sure plenty would disagree with this statement…..


Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 2500 – 1/750 Sec

Scary Faces - No 13– 

Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1600 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 14

Scary Faces – No 15 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/350 Sec

Scary Faces - No 15

With each passing week I grow more competent and excited in equal measure with the MM, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I talked myself in to this purchase. I’m sure there are many more out there going through the same thought processes I did when considering this camera, all I can say to those people is go for it, you will not regret it.

As I initially mentioned I’ve been finding it difficult to break the MM partnership with the 35 Lux but in order to further my learning and enjoyment of this camera I am going to need to, I’ve got lots of vintage glass to try and there are photographers out there already getting excellent results. I’ve also got some exciting new lenses in the pipeline, certainly one of these has the ability to force me to ditch the 35 Lux for a while……..

Once more I’d like to thank the cast, crew and all those associated with the Tauranga Musical Theatre, your enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the making of these images is really evident in the photographs and most certainly appreciated. I’ve made no secret about my own feelings for this wonderful place, I look forward to capturing more moments and memories in the future.

Cheers, Jason.

Aperture Priority – Photography by Jason Howe
find me online: Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook

Apr 022011

My Theatrical Adventure with Leica M9

By Greg Shanta

I live in Moscow, Russia and I am an amateur photographer. After reading all those fantastic reportages by Steve from his coverage of Seal’s South American Tour and enjoying his great images from those events, I decided to challenge myself and try and shoot a concert with my Leica M9.

My brother’s wife is a choreographer and she had recently invited me to see their new dance drama performance based on an ancient Indian legend called ‘Dasa-avatara’ (no relation to the movie). It’s a great tale of God Vishnu descending on Earth in ten ‘incarnations’ at different times in history.

They put together a colorful show that was showing last Monday at one of Moscow’s most prestigious theatre halls, The International House of Music. It’s a huge modern round-shaped structure appearing to be made entirely of glass. The main hall inside has excellent acoustics and often hosts various great performers from all over the world.

Unfortunately, I don’t own the legendary Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 lens. So, I couldn’t duplicate Steve’s setup in my challenge shoot. Instead, I took three lenses with me: my favourite Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5, Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8 and, just in case I would need an occasional close up shot, I also packed a Voigtlander APO Lanthar 90mm f/3.5 lens. In addition, I had in my bag a tiny Nikon SB-30 Flash with a spare battery.

Just prior to attending the concert I met with a friend of mine who wanted me to help her with a portfolio. I took some shots of her near the Theatre with my 50mm Sonnar at f/5.6. Here is one of those shots, just to open my presentation with a beautiful young face.

I just love the way my Sonnar draws portraits, so I couldn’t resist showing it to you. The girl’s name is Irina and she is a very nice and friendly person, as you can see.

After my little photo-shoot with Irina, which was just a part of our ongoing portfolio project, I went straight to the Theatre. My brother’s wife had secured for me a nice second raw seat right in the centre. So I was in a very good position for shooting and close enough to the stage.

As I had my Sonnar on camera already, I took some initial shots with it but somehow I wasn’t very happy with the perspective. So I decided to do some close ups and swapped the lens for the 90mm Lanthar. I liked it immediately! That particular performance, I reasoned, was ought to be shot with a short telephoto lens, due to the specifics of the setup on stage and my own position. So, I just left the 90mm on for the entire show.

My Lanthar, mind you, is not a very fast lens. The hall was quite dark and the lights on stage very dim. That was done on purpose, considering the nature of the drama. So, I just had to use my Flash (fortunately, as it turned) in order to keep ISO at 160, which was my initial intention. It wasn’t a native Leica flash and TTL was not an option, so I used it in Manual mode. The Nikon SB-30 has only three manual positions: 1/32, 1/8 and full power, plus a 1/2-stop compensation both ways. Not much to play with but it’s so tiny and its output is so strong for its size that I just love it and carry with me almost everywhere, just in case. It proved to be very handy at the Theatre that night.

Well, enough of my talking and let me show you some pictures.

As you can see, the pictures came out quite nice! Out of about 300 shots I had more than 50 definite keepers and about 10 to 15 frames that I was very satisfied with. Not bad!

Now, that you’ve seen the pictures, let me talk about my experience. There were a few things I wasn’t happy with and I want to get them out of the way before I move on to the ‘happy’ part.

First, I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t move around. I had to shoot the entire show from the same position from my seat. It was, as I said, very well situated, but you want to move around to shoot from different angles. I didn’t have that option. That event was very high-profile and I had Indian Ambassador sitting just a couple of seats from me and all kinds of important people around, too. So, alas, I was sort of chained to my seat.

Next problem was my Nikon Flash. It’s a marvelous little beast but the recharge time in full-power mode is slower than I am comfortable with. Besides, when the battery is not fresh the recharge time is getting really painfully slow. I missed many good shots due to this problem alone. Luckily, I had a spare battery, as I always do. Anyway, considering its tiny size, I think it performed beautifully. I shouldn’t be complaining, really.

That’s about it, folks. Another thing that could be classified as a negative experience, actually turned out to be one of the most positive ones. I am talking about manual focusing in difficult conditions. You see, the 90mm frame in a Leica is very small. It takes tremendous amount of concentration to nail focus consistently. Especially if you are shooting rapidly moving people in low light and you are 48 and slowly losing your once perfect eyesight.

Mind you, this was a dance performance. The dancers moved around all the time. It’s worse than shooting sports because sports activities are usually performed in good light and the main problem is to have a long enough lens to reach your subject. By the way, I have another exciting challenge up my sleeve, involving sports and a Leica M9. It may turn into a total disaster or a good article on Steve’s site. We’ll see.

So, shooting moving subjects manually with a slow 90mm lens in low light with a rangefinder camera is a major pain… Or, is it? Miraculously, it turned for me into a major gain, instead. Yes, it is difficult; yes, you get tired in the end; your face may stay deformed for hours afterwards; and yes, you will miss some shots. But the very fact that I had to concentrate so hard on my subject had allowed me to magically connect with the subject and become a part of the action. I totally forgot that I was sitting in a chair with a camera to my eye. I was on stage, dancing with all those beautiful people the whole time! My mind flew out of my body through my eye and then through the barrel of my lens right on to the stage. That feeling was unforgettable! I really enjoyed it. When I made those close ups of individual dancers it felt like an embrace (I seriously hope, my wife isn’t reading this!) And when I shot dancers in a group I felt like I was right in the midst of them, swirling away in an exuberant pirouette. And no, I wasn’t drinking that night… Amazing experience! All thanks to manual focusing and the resulting concentrated effort!

I am a lazy dude. I don’t usually enjoy hard work (sorry, Mom). But in this case I found it crucial to success. It had helped me to get into a state that was very important for the final outcome.

The only thing that is valid in photography is the feeling, both on the creator’s end and on the viewer’s end. I see the photographic phenomenon as a bridge between those two ends: a delivery system that brings human feelings across time. All great photographs ever made by anybody were born out of deep, intense feelings. There is some unexplainable magic to it and you can’t make it work if you are detached from your subject. You have to be there, right in the middle of the action. And that’s where Leica comes in very handy. There is something special about rangefinder photography. It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated but the evidence has been in abundance for decades.

I was so fired up at the Theatre that night that I felt like allowing myself a little experiment with dragging the shutter (inspired partly by Seal in a recent conversation here on this site). I made a few shots using that technique and eventually came up with a triptych that I happened to like a lot afterwards. I called it ‘The Fallen Angel’. The angelic theme is indistinctly evident in some other shots in this series; so to me the ‘Fallen Angel’ was a culmination of the theme. Besides, the ‘Avatara’ concept that was dominant in that performance was of God’s descending onto the Earth to bring justice and peace. I like juxtapositions in Art, so I had my renegade angel falling from the sky in order to screw things up. Don’t take it seriously, though. It was just a mischievous artistic expression.I want to conclude my article with that triptych.

If you would be interested to see more pictures from that night, please visit my Flickr page. I must warn you, though: it’s a big mess and in serious need of some housekeeping. I am in the process of setting up my own web site now , so in the near future I’ll have my portfolio displayed there.

Thank you all very much for your time!

Greg Shanta



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