Aug 232013

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens for Micro 4/3 is here! Review SOON!


Hey guys! Happy Friday! Just a note to let you all know that the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens has arrived for Micro 4/3 and it has been with me since yesterday :) GREAT lens, solid build and feel, HEFT as the 17 and 25 0.95 lenses and insane sharpness, even at 0.95. This lens is gorgeous and one of the nicest I have come across for Micro 4/3 to date. Up there with the other two 0.95 Micro 4/3 offerings, the 17.5 and 25 Nokton lenses. This trio would be astounding with the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

I will have a full review of the 42.5 Nokton within 7-10 days!

Thanks to for sending it along to me so fast so I could review it. This one may be a keeper. :) You can check it out HERE but stay tuned for the full review!

Quick Specs:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Metal Lens hood included with lens

1st shot, wide open at 0.95 on the E-P5. Click it for an 1800 pixel wide version. This one was converted with the VSCO Slide Pack.  The grain you see was added by the AGFA Scala preset. When I post the full review I will have plenty of full size out of camera shots. 


and the gorgeous out of camera JPEG color. This is an untouched OOC JPEG, just resized. Click for larger. WIDE OPEN.


Jan 072013



The Ultimate Leica M Super Fast 50/60mm standard lens battle

by Kristian Dowling – His website is HERE

While Greek mythology brought us the Titans, it was the Germans who applied the Titan qualities to their cars and cameras. Like any good battle, the Japanese also made their presence known with their own version of Samurai. Fast lenses are like fast cars, and when considering both, they share the same kinds of adjectives like ‘exotic, alluring, superlative, amazing, glamorous, extraordinary, unique and unusual’. Both fast cars and fast lenses have an appeal for their ability to give its operator more speed, control and power. To photographers wanting to express their vision through shallow depth of field, the ultra fast lens is a valuable tool, as it enables you to narrow the vision to the exact precise focus position within a frame. But there is much more than subject isolation to think about when analyzing a fast lens. Different lenses exhibit different and unique characters in the way they draw both the focused and defocused areas, and there is no better way to explore this area than by comparing the world’s top Titans.

For the Leica M Rangefinder, the top competitors include lenses from Leica, Konica, Canon, Nikon, Zunow, Fuji, Voigtlander and many more. These fast lenses are large and heavy compared to their slower f/1.4-f/2.8 counterparts, so not exactly great all round lenses, as their qualities are focused around shooting at maximum aperture. They are also very expensive and often the buyer/user may have misconceptions about their perceived performance. Manufacturing a lens that performs consistently throughout all its apertures is the general goal of lens designers, and the faster the lens, the more challenges there are. Therefore there are a few compromises that need to be made. Fast lenses are often not so well corrected for field curvature and/or distortion. Field curvature in this case is an attribute often enjoyed by fast lens users as it can accentuate the effect of the out of focus areas (bokeh), as most notable in the Noctilux 50/1, which is often referred to as the ‘dream lens’, for it’s dream-like, swirly bokeh signature. Often, one caveat of this is that shooting off-center subjects can lead to focus difficulty, especially with a rangefinder where you need to focus in the center, then recompose. I am sure many photographers who have used these kinds of lenses on a rangefinder will tend to agree with such experiences, often resulting in miss-focused and spoiled shots.


I was fortunate enough to have access to the top players in this field in Chiang Mai, Thailand, so decided to put them to the test.


Therefore in this article I will focus my attention to three main factors:

• Bokeh – the way the out of focus areas look and feel.

• Sharpness and contrast around the focus point.

• Signature/Character – the way the lens renders/draws.

• Color – shifting from warm to cold depending on the lens design, coatings used and age of lens.

Here are the top 5 most sought after lenses for the M System being tested.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 (Hermes edition used for test)


• Released in 2008 for regular production

• Current street price US$10,450 (regular black version)

• This is the largest lens in the group with excellent handling and the best build quality. Has a built in hood and is quite easy to focus.

• This lens was manufactured with modern lens design so I expect the sharpness and contrast to be excellent wide open with neutral bokeh. From my own experience owning this lens, it is extremely well corrected for such a fast lens and doesn’t exhibit many flaws except for purple fringing wide open against bright light sources.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2


• Released in 1976 with production limited to only 1700 units

• Current street price US$20,000+

• Leica’s first Noctilux is quite small in size, closer to the Summilux than the Noctilux f/1.

• I have yet to use this lens and as Leica’s first Noctilux, I expect contrast to be low and sharpness average, but possibly better than the f/1 Noct as f/1.2 lenses are easier to produce. I’m really not sure what to expect from the bokeh – possibly a little messy.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1


• Released 1976-2008 for regular production with several cosmetic changes during this time

• Current street price US$5,000+

• Quiet a large lens, slightly smaller than the Noct 0.95 but bigger than it’s older 1.2 brother, with average handling and slightly difficult focus.

• Known for it’s dreamy bokeh and slightly soft rendering I’ve always felt this lens is a one trick pony and best used with subjects centered due to the large amount of field curvature.

Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Original DesignDSC_1653

• Released 1956 for limited production with numbers unknown, but very rare

• Current street price US$13,000+

• A small lens for it’s design with nice handling and very smooth aperture transition. It’s a screw mount lens so requires a screw to M mount adapter, preferably with 50mm lens frame selection.

• I have never used this lens before but due to it’s age I expect very low contrast wide open. I have no idea about it’s potential for sharpness.

Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design


• Released 1998 with production limited to only 800 units

• Current street price US$12,000+

• Small in size, similar to the Noctilux 50/1.2, the Hexanon

• Like it’s older brother, it’s a screw mount lens so requires a screw to M mount adapter, preferably with 50mm lens frame selection.

• Unlike it’s older brother it was designed with modern lens design, optimized for excellent sharpness and contrast at wide apertures. This lens was made famous by street photographer Yanick Delafoge I always say “pictures sell lenses” and Yanick’s amazing street pictures from his travels around the world have single handedly raised the value of this lens from $3k to $7k+ in a matter of a few years. According to Yanick, this lens is the sharpest standard lens at f/1.4, and from my own experience owning this lens, I would be confident agreeing with him.

Testing parameters:

• Camera used in test is the Leica M9 and (some) M Monochrom, all shot in manual exposure for consistency. Exposure will be adjusted to lighting changes.

• No tripod used as this is a field test, not an MTF or resolution test

• 3 hour time frame with model and lenses available for testing

• All exposures were recorded on paper with filename/lens used

• All images were shot wide open at maximum aperture of each lens, ranging from f/0.95 to f/1.2.

Testing restrictions:

• Testing was done outside in the field so lighting changes in strength and color temperature will occur.

• No testing for CA/purple fringing on color digital sensors.

• No comparison of the lenses at the same apertures, which all would share at f/1.2 and up. Comparisons are for wide open to establish their ‘individual’ maximum abilities and characteristics.

• Such lenses are favoured for their abilities in low light as they allow both a lower ISO and/or higher shutter speeds, but I will not be testing for this.

• No testing these lenses for flare/internal reflections against strong light sources such as the sun. It is fair to assume that the newer the lens, the better the coatings and thus, better performance in such situations.

• No testing for distortion. I expect all lenses to exhibit average to poor distortion control and high field curvature as most fast lenses are designed this way due to the compromises needed in fast lens design.

• Lenses may suffer from slight sample variation, and therefore may not be 100% representative of the lens in general.

Individual Results – click images for full size files

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95


I really like this lens. Its size is large but handles very well and focus is super smooth. It has a sliding built in hood that rotates and locks in, just like it’s smaller brother, the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH.

I used it on production sets in Hollywood, and enjoyed this lens for it’s ability to represent a scene faithfully, meaning that it has minimal aberrations and field curvature, especially for having such a large f/0.95 maximum aperture. Out of focus elements are represented clearly and without much distortion. This is a very well corrected lens and is my recommendation for those needing a super fast lens for professional client work. Those looking to use this lens for ‘bokeh effect’ should look at other lenses that produce results with less perfection, such as the painterly Hexanon 60/1.2 V2.

Colors were noticeably warmer from this lens and sharpness wide open was exemplary. Contrast was also very high for the 0.95 aperture, matching its sharpness nicely. I would say that at f/0.95, it almost matches the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH at f/1.4.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.2


I really like this lens’s size to performance ratio. It’s the smallest lens in the group and renders in a neutral way, leaning slightly towards the newer f/1 version with a hint of ‘dream-like’ rendering.

Being the most expensive lens in this group, I had quite high expectations and hope for sharpness, so I was a little disappointed when I saw softness wide open, and felt the rendering to be a slightly softer character than both the Noct f/1 and the slower Summilux f/1.4. To best describe it’s drawing, I would say it’s a cross between the Noct f/1 and the f/0.95 with a soft rendering. For the money, I would have liked to see a little more character from this lens.

Colors were a little on the warm side which is not a bad thing. Contrast was quite high for such an old lens, which does help raise the perception of sharpness, when the reality is that it’s a little soft wide open at f/1.2.

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1


I’ve had a lot of experience with this lens before and have bought and sold it a few times due to it being more of a ‘one-trick-pony’. By that I mean it isn’t so great when stopped down so it’s only really good for shooting wide open to create that ‘dream-like’ effect that has made this lens so famous. I am referring more to the way its bokeh is rendered than actual ‘glow’ as seen from older vintage lenses like the Hexanon 60/1.2 V1.

Due to it’s high field curvature and lack of correction for aberrations, the out of focus areas are very smooth, giving a rounded circular effect, especially noticeable when framing subjects in the center of the frame with a symmetrical background. The focus point isn’t what I’d call sharp, but more so ‘sharp-enough’, and a good step forward from the older and softer Noctilux f/1.2 version.

Focus isn’t as smooth as the Noctilux f/0.95 and the focus throw feels longer in use so I found handling to be a little slow. It’s also quite large and heavy but is also quite modern in the way it draws. It has neutral color balance and has medium contrast wide open, which works well for the way it renders bokeh. Overall, it was a nice improvement from the f/1.2 model it replaced.

Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Original Design


I was super excited to try this lens. I’ve only ever seen two for sale and this is one of them, acquired by Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this lens except for low contrast because I’ve never seen samples from it before, even on film. What surprised me most was the size of this lens. It’s very small and built very well, as you’d expect from Konica.

Out of all the lenses, this is my favorite, due to it’s unique glow qualities, but with excellent sharpness underneath the glow. Contrast is very low, which makes it fantastic on a camera like the M Monochrom, but not as great on the M9. It takes a bit of adjusting to processing these pictures to a modern state of contrast, especially in color. With the lower contrast comes more shadow detail, which was very welcomed when using this on the M Monochrom.

Konica Hexanon 60m f/1.2 Updated Design


Out of all these lenses, I would have to rate this lens as the most sought after lens in the M line for users wanting a unique lens that delivers outstanding performance. I have also owned this lens before and it has been the best overall standard lens I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning and using. It’s handling is fantastic. While not being a small lens, it fits well in the hand and focuses very smoothly. It’s also noticeably lighter than the Noct f/1 and f/0.95 lenses.

Sharpness and contrast is medium to high and works beautifully with the way it renders out of focus areas. Just for reference, this lens sharpens up considerably at f/1.4. What I like most about this lens is the way it renders the bokeh. It’s smooth, but with a painterly quality of smaller circles that have more edge definition than those of the Noct variety. Compared to the V1, the V2 is a very different lens. It’s more modern design makes it a great all round lens in any situation. I love the way it draws using natural colors, compared to the extra warm Noct 0.95. They just seem to look more natural to my eyes.


Hexanon 60/1.2 V1 vs V2





ALL compared

60 V1


60 V2


Leica 50 f/0.95


50 f/1


50 f/1.2


100% Crop Comparison



Leica Monochrome Comparison of ALL

I was fortunate to be able to shoot some of the Padaung Long Long Neck Karen people as they were visiting the Manadarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi hotel for the New Years celebrations. They have never left their village before and it was such a privilege to meet and photography them.


Noctilux 50 0.95


Noctilux 50 f/1


Noctilux 50 f/1.2


Hexanon 60 1.2 V1


Hexanon 60 1.2 V2



Conclusion and thoughts about the lenses and applications

Let me be blunt. It is impossible to pic a winner in this clash of the titans. While there is no doubt that the Noctilux 0.95 is the Zeus of this bunch, there is so much more to a lens than just technical perfection. The Hexanon lenses pack a punch that’s well above their weight grade, albeit in different ways, and the Noct f/1 and f/1.2 are truly unique lenses that have their own strengths and abilities that will be very compelling to photographers.

The best way to summarize the their rankings is with the table below.


In application, these lenses are very difficult to focus, especially for newcomers to rangefinders. With such shallow depth of field, the plane of focus is so narrow that recomposing can cause major issues for maintaining focus until the point of exposure. I would advise that photographers use the focus bracketing technique where you take 3-5 exposures, each at a slightly different focus distance. This can be achieved by either shifting focus ever so slightly in front and behind the focus point, or shifting the camera forwards and backwards, again, every so slightly.

The more important the shot, the more exposures you should take. In general, you should aim to keep your focus point more front-focused than back-focused. Most recomposed shots by Leica photographers suffer from back-focus, so try to move slightly backwards after recomposing and your hit rate will increase. Also, front-focused images tend to look better than back-focused ones, in my opinion.

As a photography coach I always stress one important factor to my students – The photographer should be very mindful of one important factor when using these ultra fast lenses…..a blurred background does not necessarily make the photo a better picture! It’s very easy to get carried away, focusing on the bokeh attributes of a picture, when in fact, the background may be of high importance to the subject and may require some depth of field to establish the relationship between subject/background. Take history’s best pictures for example. I can’t think of many that were shot with such shallow depth of field. The background is a very important element to a photographer and should be taken seriously when creating pictures.

I see the use of fast aperture lenses in a similar way that I view using fisheye lenses. Shooting fast lenses at their maximum aperture is a novelty technique that should be used carefully, and not too often, unless for portraiture use where the background is not so relevant to the subject. I’d rather increase my hit rate of focus by stopping down a little to counter any potential focus issues, than missing focus all together and ruining the shot. Fast lenses also have apertures that extend to around f/16 for a reason (wink). So I recommend shooting wide open all you like, but for important pictures, also take a frame or two stopped down 1-2 stops.

Lastly lets not forget that when a photographer has the opportunity and privilege to herald one of these incredible lenses, it is still his responsibility to make the picture great, using all the usual photographic techniques to create the best picture possible. No lens in the world, no matter how sharp, how amazing the bokeh, will not make a great photo – that my friends if the responsibility of the photographer!

Testing equipment provided by Khun Suchet

Models: Tukta from Chiang Mai, and a member of the Karen people, Padaung tribe, Burma.

Location: courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

May 082010

Street Shooting…Wide Open!

By Max Marinucci

When it comes to street shooting, we all know well that Rangefinders (and Leica especially) are in an undisputed domain. It always amazes me to see street shooters walking around Manhattan with huge Canons or Nikons and telephoto lenses. I guess they donʼt have much of a choice since sticking a DSLR in someones face would probably not exactly go unnoticed and may even get you a dirty look or worse. A Leica with a small lens (a 28mm or 35mm are usually a wise choice) with its silent shutter click and non-intrusive look has been the weapon of choice since the the 1940s for many professional and amateur street-shooters, with many memorable shots by famous photojournalists.

The old say in street-shooting world is “f8 and be there”. With a Rangefinder and manual focus, catching that fleeting moment can be a little more difficult but, with your camera set @ f8 and using zone focus, one can easily concentrate on quickly composing and snapping away. It is also key here to practice your distances. I usually set my lens so that everything between 10 and 15 feet is in reasonable focus @ f8 and, with practice, I have learned to estimate those distances without any issues.

Having said that, I am a man who loves challenges and the look of certain lenses shot wide open. The king in this regard, in my opinion, is still the Noctilux Classic f1. No, it is not a “almost perfect” lens as the new Noctilux f0.95 but thatʼs exactly why it is so special. This amazing lens renders outlines, colors, out of focus backgrounds, shadows, like nothing else out there. The only lens that comes close to this type of rendering (in regards to shadows and colors) is the 50mm Summar from the 1930s. The Summitar may be a close second but its rendering is sharper and cleaner.

Make no mistake, the Noctilux is a specialty lens. If you plan to heavily use it @ f2 and beyond, get yourself a 50mm Summicron or even a Summitar for a mere fraction of the price. Its magic resides @ f1 and f1.4 at the most. Some people may say it is a gimmicky lens but trust me, it isnʼt by a long shot. It is a lens that I never get tired of shooting with because of its unique look. Skin tends to glow, outlines are unsharp, and, for this reason, it is one of my very favorite lenses for portraits.

When it comes to street shooting though, we have a few challenges to overcome. First of all, it is not a small lens. You will lose that “nimble” factor you would have with a 28 or 35 Elmarit or the great 35mm Voigtlander Color Skopar. Also, the long focus throw takes a while to adjust to but, with practice, that can easily be overcome and can actually work to oneʼs advantage. Now, street shooting wide open @ f1 with the Noctilux can give some very special results but it is not easy. You may miss a few shots but not as many as you may think, once you practice a bit. One issue to be considered, even with the M9ʼs top shutter speed of 1/4000, is f1 in the middle of a bright day. This is where the Leica shines and DSLRs leave you in the dark (pun intended). On a very bright sunny day I use a B+W six stop ND filter so I am able to use the Noctilux wide open and at speeds between 1/250 and 1/500. Try to do that with a DSLR. With a DSLR, you see

through the lens and slapping a 6 to 10 stops ND in front of it, will render you pretty much blind. But, the good old Leica doesnʼt see through the lens so my finder is as bright as the day. Perfect for wide open street shooting! Depth of field: like Iʼve mentioned above, @ f8 and with a little practice estimating distances, youʼre golden. But, at f1, the Noctilux depth of field is literally razor thin and that means you have to focus on your subject manually, fast and accurately. Thatʼs the way I enjoy shooting this lens but I also have used, successfully, the “walk to me” method for certain situations. That means parking yourself in a suitable spot, set your lens to focus letʼs say, at 15 feet and with your subject moving towards you, snap the shutter when he comes into focus.

Besides the welcoming challenge that I find with this approach to street shooting, the results can truly be special. You can achieve a very 3D look by playing with depth and, with the Noctilux way to render shadows (darker and less defined), black & white processing is quite gorgeous. In the color department, and with minimal post processing, I also like the way the Noctilux renders: subtle, not overblown, good, natural skin tones and that wonderful glow that no other lens in the world quite has.

All of the following were shot with the M9 and the Noctilux @ f1. Interestingly, the Exif data for those shot with the ND filter are screwy and recorded @ f11. I guess the filter throws something off and I am not sure of why. Also, Lightroom keeps giving me f1.2 or f1.4 for everything shot @ f1 so something needs to be fixed there. Most where converted to b&w with Nik Silver Efex Pro while Iʼve also shot a few straight with Leica b&w onboard JPG which can be fantastic. Frankly, Iʼd be happy to use the M9 as a b&w only camera with the onboard JPG. With minimal post processing, it gives great looks. Also, it goes without saying that you donʼt need a Noctilux to attempt this. The Voigtlander Nokton 1.5 comes to mind and it would be a perfect lens to have fun with at a fraction of the cost. Nothing will give that Noctilux Classic look @ f1 but that should not preclude anyone to get out there and have fun street shooting…wide open!

This was shot by focusing on a nearby window at about 10 feet and snapped from the hip when the subjects approached the set range

This is another hip shot by zone focusing at about 10 feet and estimating distance from camera to subject.

This obviously required a quick draw and focusing. I saw the scene as nice 3D situation by focusing on the subject on the phone at an angle that I know would render an interesting depth with the bright pedestrian lines and background subjects. With little post processing in slight darkening of the left and right, there is an interesting and pleasing sense of depth.

Same as above, this required some quick thinking and focusing, as I wanted to catch the three main subjects while they were all on the phone. Again, with the out of focus detail, a nice sense of depth is achieved.

Shot while walking right behind the subjects and moving, correct focus was achieved by maintaing the same distance and snapping at the right moment. Again, great isolation and blurring of the background.

Quick turnaround shot of my lovely wife and smiling daughter in the background.

For more examples, visit my Flickr page @ 72157623763960544/

Mar 172010

I have been testing out the Pentax K7 for a few weeks now and today I received a couple of nice lenses to use while I finish up with the camera, woo hoo! Finally happy to get some decent glass with a camera when testing it!  These lenses get super high raves from those in the Pentax community and the owners swear by them. The Pentax Limited FA 31 1.8 is one of these lenses. Many (in the Pentax community) say this is one of the best lenses ever made. A bold statement indeed! Since I happen to have a Leica 35 Summilux ASPH on hand I decided to do a “just for fun” comparison.

I was testing out the 31 on the Pentax K7 today, mainly shooting wide open at 1.8. Just for fun I was snapping right along next to it with my M9 and 35 Lux ASPH, also wide open! After looking at the images on my ImacI figured that some of you may like to see the results. I really just want to show how each lens renders. It’s not about showing crops but more about the “feel” of each lens. I can state right now that the 35 Lux is leagues sharper at 1.4 then the Pentax at 1.8 but what about the color and bokeh? The Leica 35 Summilux is a $4500 lens so I would not expect the Pentax to beat it, but how close can it come for 1/4 the price?

The Pentax K7 is not a full frame camera but the FA 31 Limited lens is meant for full frame and it is beautifully made. It is a VERY nice looking and feeling lens. I will have much more from it in my K7 review (hopefully this weekend). For now, here are some comparisons.

To see the differences clearly you can click each image for a large 1800 pixel wide version.

I shot this with both lenses wide open. The Pentax at 1.8 and the Leica at 1.4. If you view the larger version you can easily see how much sharper the Lux is over the Pentax, which I find soft when shot wide open. Some will say the Pentax version is OOF but nope. Not only did I AF this shot, I also manual focused when I saw how soft it was and I shot this 4 times, each with the same result.

Again, both wide open. I was wanting to see the Bokeh of each lens. The Lux is MUCH sharper here but which do you prefer?

This time the Leica is on the bottom…and these two are straight from camera JPEGS this time.

and one more….

So far I have shot about 50 frames with the Pentax 31 Limited and maybe 15 or so of those have been “real” photos and not  tests. In these side by sides you can see that the Leica is a sharper lens with a more “wow” kind of look. But remember! The Leica is about 4X the cost of the Pentax which comes in at almost $1000. So far, even with it’s softness wide open I really like the Pentax 31 Limited on the K7. It is not in the league of the Leica but there really are not too many that are and for the cost its build, feel and performance is really good. When stopped down to 2.2 it sharpens up nicely. If I owned the K7 or a Pentax Kx, I would probably buy the 31 Limited for myself.

The other Pentax lens I am shooting with is the 77 Limited 1.8 and that lens is REALLY sharp, even wide open. Look for images with both in my Pentax K7 review, which again,  I hope to  have up this weekend. Until then, here is one “real” image from the 31 Limited shot wide open at 1.8 and then converted to B&W using Silver Efex Pro. This is after all what the lens was made for…”real” photos :)

Pentax K7 and the FA 31 Limited 1.8 Lens, at 1.8


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