Leica M9 Travels…On A Budget! By Armando Chiu

So you guys want to know how to shoot a Leica M9 on a budget? Ha ha! Well, here you go. Just buy some Voigtlander glass like Armando Chiu did! Here is his article on shooting the M9 with budget glass during his trip to San Francisco. Enjoy!


Leica M9 travels…on a budget – San Francisco trip

By Armando Chiu

Is it possible to place the word “budget” and “Leica” in the same sentence unless the word “budget” is referring to the need for a BIG budget in order to shoot Leica? After much soul searching and drinking, I finally splurged on a M9 a couple of months ago. Coming from the 4/3 world, I was amazed by the Leica’s superior resolution and dynamic range. The difference is simply huge. Unfortunately, it was also huge in terms of cutting into my disposable income! So I just could not convince myself to exhaust my not yet in existence children’s college funds to buy some “real” Leica lenses to go with the M9.

The solution to my woes was Voigtlander! I will forego the discussion about the humble history behind Voigtlander as it has been told ad naseum in other websites. But I eventually picked up a Nokton Classic 35 1.4 (MC), a Nokton 50/1.5, a Skopar 21/4, and a Heliar 75/2.5. The total cost for the lenses was cheaper than a new Leica 35 Summarit.

How did the “budget” kit perform? I brought these four lenses with me on a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the great things about these lenses is the size and weight. The 35 and 21 are literally tiny. The 50 and 75 are about the size of a 50 Summilux ASPH. The total weight of the kit (M9 plus four lenses) is probably about 1600 grams.

During the week long trip, I took about 1100 – 1200 photos with the M9 (and another 100 or so with the Canon S90). Not all the photos were keepers, but I was very pleased with the results. I got some nice photos to look back at, which will remind me of this particular trip in my old days.

One of the things that I learned about my photography during this trip is that I shoot wide more than long. Most of my shots ended up being with the 35.

My second most used lens was the 21. The 50/1.5 is probably the best out of the four lenses in terms of image quality, but I found myself rarely using the 50 or the 75. The usage ratio may have been a product of the subject matter. But in retrospect, the 35 appears to be more versatile than the other lengths, and it ended up staying on the M9 quite a lot. I also concluded that people photography is what I find the most interesting, whether it’s photos of people I know or strangers.

I considered a used Leitz 21 Elmarit as my super wide lens for the trip. But the Skopar was so much smaller, lighter and cheaper. And the Skopar came with a viewfinder too, which saved me a few more bucks. The Skopar 21/4 was perfect for the stereotypical tourist photographs (i.e. Golden Gate Bridge). It does have the red edge issue when used with the M9 though, but that can be fixed during post processing.

The 21/4 also turned out pretty good for capturing shots that I didn’t have time to really focus on, like this trolley shot (another tourist “must have” photograph), because it has such a large depth of focus even at f4…

…and this quick shot of some tourists making the long climb back from the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

The Heliar 75/2.5 paid for itself because of one shot in the trip. During the hike up the path to the lighthouse in Point Reyes, I came across an eagle sitting high on a big tall tree. I took about a dozen shots with the 75. The 75 was not long enough to get me really close, but it was close enough to give me a few keepers. This was my first time ever seeing an eagle that was not in flight.

My most awful moment during the trip was breaking out in hives from eating bad shrimp in Chinatown. Fortunately, I carry Benadryl with me for situations like this. Unfortunately, the Benadryl turned me into a walking zombie for the next four hours! At this same restaurant, I took a photograph of a customer digging through the “dim-sum” cart. Where’s the food police!?!? I would name the restaurant on this article, but we don’t want to cause a legal incident for Steve!

The next photo displays the wonders of Chinese cuisine as captured by the Nokton 35/1.4.

This Bay Area trip was my first time shooting the M9 almost exclusively for several days. It was fun and relaxing. The four “budget” lenses did their job admirably to capture the essence of my Bay Area experience — like witnessing the “bushman” scare the heck out of tourists at the Fisherman’s Wharf for a buck! Panhandling at its highest creativity. And yes, I did tip the guy for entertaining me.

A traveler’s biggest challenge visiting San Francisco is the lack of parking. The use of public transportation is highly recommended. Otherwise, be prepared to pay outrageous parking lot prices or spend hours looking an empty metered street parking spot. Needless to say, parking fees (and fines) are a big source of revenue for the City of San Francisco.

The people are what ultimately make a place feel worthwhile to visit though. And there are some nice folks out there in the Bay Area.

From the parking meter guy in Chinatown …

… to the food stand vendor at the Fisherman’s Wharf …

… to the boutique store owner in Sausalito.

Speaking of budget travel, for this trip, I flew for “free” on Southwest Airlines. And to top it off, we paid $63 on a $150 hotel at the Fisherman’s Wharf, thanks to Priceline!

Word of advice, to buy some peace of mind while carrying the M9 around with me, I added the M9 as an insured item under my homeowner’s policy. Considering that the insurance covers the full the replacement value of the M9, the $70 annual surcharge is a bargain.

Here are some additional photos from the trip. Hope you enjoyed the budget photos as much as I enjoyed the trip itself!

St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral.

Taking a break inside Alcatraz.

Ghirardelli guy looking unhappy.

To see more images by Armando, visit his Flickr page HERE!

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  1. I shoot an M9 and a IIIf – I have some old leica glass, but my new lenses are CV or Zeiss. In terms of IQ and build quality – Zeiss glass is superb. I think, a flat out match for Leica. CV lenses are good. Damn good. And sensational value — look at the 50mm lens shootout at vidaleica. The color skopar 2.5 is damned close to the incredible Zeiss Planar F2.

    Modern lenses are so close (and I mean Zeiss/Leica) it’s ridiculous. I say, buy your basic clean/sharp lenses for less with Zeiss. Then spend the money you save on fun and interesting old character lenses.

    As far as M9/Leica camera back lust. Yes, it’s a bit of a fetish. But it’s a way of working. I’ve tried to love the Fujis — just hate the lag and EVF and focus by wire. The Sony Nex 7 with its amazing OLED finder is great – but it feels like you’re shooting a with a computer.

    My favorite Leica experiences are shooting film. But the M9 comes close and I don’t have to wait for the processing or spend the time doing the scan.

  2. Personally, I would have sprung for Leica lens(es) and used them on a 4/3 camera until I could save up to purchase the upcoming M10, when it comes out.

  3. Great article. These are budget lenses and, I mean this with no disrespect, it shows. If there’s a ringing endorsement for buying high quality lenses instead of the stuff you bought, this article is it.

  4. The CV lens are OK, but they are not comparable to Leica’s lens. M9 itself is nothing without Leica glass. A Canon 5D mark I or Canon 5D mark II, Nikon D300, Nikon D700 all better full frame camera than the M9 by itself. It is a choice, but having a 6k-7k M9 without Leica lens, I don’t think there is much point of shooting Leica M9, except the smaller size of rangefinder Full Frame. I do have 15mm f/4.5, 35mm f/1.4 MC and 50mm f/1.1 of CV lens, on my M7, they are very good lens, but don’t have the character from the Leica Lens. Great photos are because of the photographer, not because for the gears. Gears are tool to help the photographers to implement what he/she wants to do without limitation.

  5. @Jon – Thanks! And thanks for explaining the cultural nuances. I obviously still have lots to learn! So it’s even ok to dig through the dishes on your own? I just picked a tiny VC 50/2.5 and it’s actually performed beyond my expectations. Not as good as the 50/1.5, but 1/3 of the size and weight

  6. [img]http://i143.photobucket.com/albums/r142/6650mc/L1001684.jpg[/img]

    2nd attempt at a picture….wish there was a preview button!

  7. Great post, thank you. I have been using the tiny CV 2.5 35mm pancake and have nothing but praise for it. I am seriously thinking about that 50 1.1..

    BTW, here in Hong Kong it is considered perfectly acceptable to customers to look inside the dim sum baskets rather than the server having to explain to each and everyone what is inside. Some trolleys have many different baskets inside too, so then one can just point to the ones you want. Yes, it’s all very casual, but that’s dim sum eating![img][/img]

  8. You really don’t need a m9 to shoot photos like these, a compact DC with AF will do a better job.

    • Richard – you are a pixel counter and a snob. You really must link us to your photography.

      Today, there are a ton of interesting cameras out there with beautiful IQ. I’ve been very happy with shots taken with my iPhone. I use it as a camera. As I use my old IIIF, and my Canon point and shoot and my M9. It’s all part of the process. It really has nothing at all to do with the camera.

      EXCEPT – there are those of us that prefer RFs. We love the experience of handling and shooting them. We find there’s a benefit in our work, beyond the IQ.

      So, we may not want the latest, most expensive lens. I, for one, think that the Leica lenses are enormously overpriced for their benefit. I acknowledge their very marginal superiority over the Zeiss lenses, but think it’s so slight as to be negligible. And the CV lenses have real value and deliver. The 75 is outstanding, in my experience.

      What I love, is that I can share lenses with my IIIf and my M9. And the images in both are wonderful. And I’m using cameras that I love to hold and focus and seem to be a part of me.

      I’m not knocking DSLRs – they’re terrific and I use them in my work. But don’t start with the pixel/IQ/best lens thing. It’s stupid. It has nothing to do with, at least what I consider, to be the experience and joy of photography. +

  9. Perhaps I can impart some understanding — some don’t make millions to buy a museum load of Leicas or to afford to buy Leica glass (whether new or old) after spending 7k on the M9. Not too many individuals out there who own a M9, and who also have the luxury of not knowing the exact price of what he paid for the M9. FYI, there are no other choices when it comes to a full frame digital RF. Moreover, new VC stuff is still 20-50% of the price of an old comparable Leica. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.

  10. Richard Ford says:
    June 7, 2010 at 6:45 am
    “Correct me if I am wrong. But isn’t the whole concept of Leica the glass itself?

    Wouldn’t a better budget approach me an M7,6,5,4,3 with Leica glass? Or an M9 with older – but still great Leica glass that is the same price as new Voigt stuff?”


    I concur. I really don’t understand why someone would spend 8K or whatever it is for an M9, then buy a bunch of garbage lenses. As someone who owns an M9, M8.2 and practically a museum load of Leica film cameras, at they end of the day they are just boxes with buttons. Glass, glass, glass…it is all about the glass when it comes to Leica.


  11. @Elaine – Thanks!

    @Jonathan – I have the red dot on my camera covered up. I always liked the look of the M2’s and 3’s, so I tried to make my camera look like it! 🙂 IMO, sharpness is not the “end all, be all” of photos. I’m a reformed pixel peeper. In any event, some of the photos (particularly the guy in the Chinese restaurant) were user error off focus shots. The photos were downsized twice from the originals. If you haven’t, you should click on the photos for the larger version for better details. Those were downsized only once. Thanks!

  12. Many people can’t afford the Leica lenses at first. Besides there are many nice lenses made by other companies, and the M9 is a full frame rangefinder. So many nice lenses that don’t have to break the bank. Win. Win.

    Armando, I love the pictures. Great job. You’re certainly getting used to that M9.

  13. @Linda – Thanks!! 😉

    @Amy – I REALLY like the Nokton 50/1.5. Probably the best in terms of IQ out of all the VC’s that I’ve used. Having used a buddy’s 50 Lux (the newest one), IMO, it’s close. Probably not as good, but it gets close for just a fraction of the cost. Would I like to own a Lux 50? Heck yeah!!! Maybe someone can pretend to be my rich aunt? 🙂 I just picked up an used VC 50/2.5 for peanuts. I figure that I’d give it a try because I like the small form factor. I’m willing to sacrifice some speed for size during daytime. Just hoping the IQ is at least decent.

  14. Being someone that has never been able to afford a Leica lens, I appreciate hearing about “budget” lenses that can still do a great job. I myself shoot a mixture of Zeiss (35/2 Biogon is stellar) and Voigtlander lenses (really love the 50/1.5 Nokton)… but alas, I do yearn for my first bit of Leica glass to try. Would someone like to pretend to be my rich uncle?

  15. @Michiel: Thanks! The Epson R-D1 is the first digital rangefinder camera in history. It came out in 2004 (I think) by the joint effort of Epson and Cosina — a digital version of Cosina’s Bessa. Later (in 2007) it was succeeded by R-D1s, a slightly improved version which I have and then, in 2009, by R-D1x. The sensor and all the basic features in all three models stay the same. It’s a 6MP Sony CCD sensor, pretty ancient by today’s standards. But I am very happy with it. Epson has done a wonderful job on the in-camera image processing side. The images look very film-like, especially in high ISO (1600 max). The digital “grain” looks very close to film, unlike any other digital camera I’ve seen, including Leicas. I think that was done on purpose by the Epson engineers. This camera is a pet-project of Epson’s CEO and he is a big Bessa enthusiast, so he wanted to create a digital equivalent of a film camera. Not only in the look of the images but, no less importantly, in the shooting experience. All its controls look, feel and operate in the same way as if it were a film rangefinder camera. This is the only digital camera in the world that features a mechanical shutter cocking lever! I just love it! It slows me down and makes me think about my images instead of nervously pushing the knob in hope of some accidental luck. Besides, nobody even knows that I’m shooting a digital camera! All its digital features are ingeniously hidden, including the pivoting display which is another great shooting advantage — a chimping prevention. Turn it away and the film-shooting experience is complete. The only thing that reminds you of your camera’s digital nature is a dead battery every now and then. Anyway, you can Google this camera and get much more info than I could provide here.

    Focusing is no issue once you get used to this particular rangefinder and this particular lens. It’s no more difficult than any other good quality rangefinder. 1.0x viewfinder is a great help! I enjoy it very much. It just sort of disappears and you can see the world around you the way it really is, with focusing patch (surprisingly but very helpfully!) hanging in the air…

    The Nokton 50/1.1 is a gem of a lens! It’s performance is very impressive even wide open. Focusing is quite easy. Again, it takes a bit of practice at first but it’s no big deal. My OOF rate with it is less than 25% now. The lens is very obedient, as I like to say about it.

    I prefer using this lens wide open most of the time — in order to unleash its unique character. I even put a soft filter on it sometimes and shoot wide open. It doesn’t affect the sharpness much but the additional softness is a great advantage for portraiture. Here’s an example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42894929@N03/4664309782/sizes/l/


  16. @Jeff – Thank you!

    @Simon – Thanks! I totally agree that having choices from VC, CZ and Leica is great. Too often, camera systems (whether SLR or RF or otherwise) limit the end user to a proprietary set of lenses. Irks me. I think that’s one of the reasons why M4/3 cameras are gaining popularity, because those cameras can work with just about any lens out in the market.

    @Greg – Thank you! The 50/1.1 sure is a great deal for you get. Nice photo there! The focus was spot on!

    @Stephen B – Are they still making the Reala?

    @Colin – LOL! I had such a great time just standing a few feet away with my camera ready. The bushman got quite a few people, but the expression from the guy was priceless!! There was one big guy that squealed like a girl when the bushman startled him! BTW, not being sexist there!! 🙂

    @Will – Thank you and you are welcome! I just picked up an used 35 Cron pre-asph at a “bargain” price (relatively speaking). I like it so far, but I am not sure if it’s much better than the VC 35/1.4. Never used the current 35 Cron, but Steve has some great samples of it on this site.

    @Marcus – Yeah, they really need to come up w/ a FF digital RF for no more than $2K. I do wonder what the “real” cost is for Leica to make a M9.

    @Andy – Thank you very much. I really have enjoyed taking photos, particularly this year. I started around Christmas 08 with a Pany TZ5. It’s been getting more and more fun.

    @Marvin – Sorry you don’t like the colors. But, I’d place the blame on the photographer rather than the equipment. Glad you enjoy your M8.2 and D3. At the end of the day, that’s what matters the most. 🙂

  17. This page confirms my finding that M9’s color is just Waaaay off.
    I tried a M9 for a week from a equipment loan site and returned it in disgust. Really. There is just no comparison with even the M8.2 which i own. My D3 just blows them all out of water.

  18. @Greg: yeah, that’s the Nokton allright! Beautiful shot.

    And you got the focus spot on. I’m not familiar with the RD-1 it was taken with. Was it a bother to focus it correctly?

  19. Hi Armando, enjoyed your article and pics very much, I can feel your enthusiasm and enjoyment of photography!

    @ Stepehen B: Great tip about the Reala, I had no idea! I’ve started shooting film again and will definitely check it out, thanks!

  20. An M9 on a budget?

    Yeah, right! A really big budget! An M9 body costs 25% of the average annual salary here in NZ…….

  21. Hi Armando, nice set of images, thank you for sharing, I’ve had a few CV lenses with the 35mm f1.7 being the best, I found it so much better than the f1.4 version, not just sharper but also better colours, I sold mine and bought a 35mm Cron (which I never liked) but in the end I settled on the 35mm Zeiss f2, looking back over my photo’s I still feel that the CV 35 f1.7 may be the best out of the three 35mm lenses I’ve used.


  22. I love the bushman they way that women lept into the air… priceless.

    and the guys reaction, I bet that made a lovely story.

  23. @Tim A

    Have you tried using Fuji Reala 100? You can change the ISO with that film as if it was digital (within reason). I have shot it between iso 25 and 200 with beautiful results. Just put in the roll and change the iso as you shoot. You do not need to shoot the whole roll at the same iso. You can shoot some of it pulled and some of it pushed (about 2 or 3 stops either way) and then just have it developed normally at the drug store. No need to tell them that you have been pushing or pulling. The C41 film development process is so standardised that it is the same pretty much whatever iso you shoot at. Try it, you will be amazed. It is like having a digital iso button!

  24. Great pictures, Armando! I especially liked the first one with a couple sitting on a bench against the GGB in the background and the one with the Lighthouse and a guy climbing the stairs. Boy, I miss SF! Thank you for refreshing my memories!

    Just to throw my two cents on the CV lens choice, I can say that I love my Nokton 50/1.1 and Epson R-D1s combination. I can’t afford an M9 or any top Leica glass, so I stick with Cosina setup which gives me very satisfactory results. I wouldn’t mind shooting all Leica and I guess I’d probably be happier that way. Or not… you never know until you try. Anyway, for now R-D1s is my only camera (I betrayed and sold my D700 with all my Nikkors for it) and Cosina glass is all I have on the optical side (apart from the Russian made Jupiter-11 135/4 which I love for its true Sonnar signature and hate for its lousy soviet-style mechanics). This combination keeps me very happy. So happy, in fact, that my occasional Gear Acquisition Syndrome-inflicted dreams of the perfect Leica setup come to trouble me less and less frequently. Cosina is my friend! I hope they will come up with a FF solution some day.

    Here’s an example of a Nokton 50/1.1 shot wide open with strong continuous light and 8X Gray ND filter. You can see more R-D1s+CV shots on my Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42894929@N03.



  25. Hey Simon, I 2nd your thoughts on a cheaper FF body that can take all of these great lenses. Also, no worries on typos. I make them all the time! Thanks!


  26. Everyone,

    Sorry for the typos and mistakes, I should have looked over it before posting.

    My apologies Steve


  27. Thanks Armando and Steve,

    What a great article with some wonderful images of a fantastic part of the world. I am envious. The discussion about the qualities and practicality of alternative M lenses has been a great read. Over the years I myself have used lenses from all 3 companies and my current kit still comprises a mix of them. The important aspect for me is having a choice, and what an important and valuable thing it is.

    While young and studying, I was very grateful for Voigtlander as a cheaper alternative, I had no way of affording Leica exclusively, the combination of an inherited M5 and affordable VC lenses, allowed me to begin my a journey. It opened my world to an enjoyable past time which is such a integral part of my life. I may be overstepping the mark if I was to say that Voigtlander cameras and lenses has provided this link for other people as well.

    I only hope that the popularity of the M9 brings about such a choice in the form of a competing digital rangefinder body. If only Voigtlander would bring out a “Bessa R5” full frame camera …what a difference such a choice could make. I am sure there would be as equally enthusiastic buyers for their bodies as there is for their lenses.

    How many Leica M9 users would consider the purchase of such a camera as a 2nd body? At an affordable $3000-$4000 price tag it would be a wonderful consideration. If you let dream further, a full framed digital Contax G3 body, ready and willing to take the superbly crafted Carl Zeiss G lenses ….with the capability to choose either Auto or manual focus. I think I just died and went to Heaven.

    I can only dream of such an occurrence, but having the choice opens up so many possibilities and provides an alternative platform for people to create and take pictures. The enjoyment and practice of picture taking with a Rangefinder is precious and having alternatives can only make all the more obtainable for many of us.

  28. Wow, lots of comments. Thank you for all of them. Let me see if I can respond …

    @Richard – I don’t think M9 + VC is better or worse than M7 or ___ + Leica. It’s a matter of preference and what one can afford or want to spend at a point in time. I tried out a M6 and a Zeiss Ikon in the past month, but had a hard time getting the same “clean” files from film. I haven’t given up on film yet though! Still perusing for a film M camera.

    @Chris – Sorry your VC 40/1.4 turned out badly. I did read that VC has quality control issues. So it’s sometimes hit or miss with the exact same lens. Glad your 28 Cron is working quite well for you! And the 35 and 50 Lux too!!

    @Kalye – Thank you! How do you like the VC 35/1.2 in terms of IQ and handling? It looks bigger than the 50/1.1.

    @Thorsten – Thanks!! I shoot DNG compressed with AWB and then use Lightroom 3 beta 2. If necessary, I typically crop first. Then tweak the WB (when the M9 gets it wrong) and exposure (this one is my fault most of the time). Then I typically add contrast. I like more blacks, so I’ll pull the slider to the right a little bit too. I haven’t developed a consistent workflow yet. I think I read on your site about workflow, and I definitely need to follow your advice on it. I often end up kind of confused as to how I got to where I am.

    @Stephen – Thank you so much! Your technical analysis on the lighthouse gives way too much credit. I can tell you that the shot was a spur of the moment shot. I did retake that same shot w/o people a few seconds later. And it didn’t look as interesting.

    @Byrd_TT – Thank you! I’ve also considered CZ lenses. Steve has so many great samples. But with new CZ lens prices, I can start getting some used Leicas, which is what I have done lately.

    @Ashwin – Thank you!! I gotta say that your articles offered a lot of inspiration to me. Kudos to you!

    @David – I liked my brief affair with the 50/1.1 too. It was a bit chunky for me, and it’s definitely tough to focus wide open w/ the paper thin DOF. I’m amazed at how some people get the focus on a Noctilux right on!

    @Michiel – Depending on which LCD I am looking at, the colours look good or sometimes look too “vibrant.” I haven’t calibrated my LCD at home for a while. It might be time to do it again.

    @Christian – Thank you very much. Glad you enjoyed it. I am glad that you are having fun. Me too!

    @Tim – Thank you. I love SF and wish I could live there. I’d have to sell the M9 though. And then get a second job. And probably a third job too! I like the look of film too. It’s so much work to get to the final step though. And more often than not, I spend way too much time getting rid of the dust and scratch marks!

    @Steve – Thanks for publishing this! And for a great site!

  29. Great piece and some great street shots! SF is certainly a fun place to go for photography!

    As for the whole “Leica is for glass” thing, there are always 2 sides to this. I went for the lenses as opposed to the camera. I got myself a relatively cheaper Voigtlander Bessa R2M and attached the (again cheaper) Leica 50mm Elmar-M and just a few days ago in Tokyo I picked up the 35mm Lux pre-ASPH (amazing “glow”). However, there has been times where I miss the convenience of digital as opposed to film! There are some shots where I wish I was shooting B&W as opposed to color or vice versa. I can’t change the ISO. And when traveling I end up taking my GF1 with me too so I can post photos up on my blog until I get the film developed (another great camera).

    So to be honest, if I found a decent deal on a used M9, I may have gone this route myself too and then worked myself back up to picking up a Leica lens. It’s the difference between instant gratification and versatility vs Leica glass look but with film. Love them both.

  30. Armando,
    thanks so much for your article and your wonderful pictures. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

    Dear friends,
    what I am missing in some of your comments is….. fun! I love my M8 and I have some very nice Leica lenses to go with it….. I could stop here…. but I also have some Voigtlander lenses, and they give me a lot of joy and fun when I use them and when I look at the resulting pictures. Yes, the CV lenses have a different signature than Leica lenses, but “different” does not mean “bad”, imho. For my part, I enjoy the Voigtlander lenses just as much as the Leica lenses…. and that I have the choice.

    please keep up the good work and continue to feature guest articles.

  31. Armando, as much as I like the pics, I find the colours quite hard. Is that your pp, or is it something else?

  32. @David, I know it’s a figure of speech, but the sense in comparing things is in finding the differences.

    I found the image quality of the Nokton classically good, but for street photography wide open is a bit too challenging, unless you go for the unsharp everywhere look. Which I don’t.

    For b&w/Tri-X, developed (he won’t tell me the soup he uses… 🙂 ) and hi res scanned in a good lab than pulled through Lightroom grab shots, I think the FM2 35/2.0 combo works admirably. M-series and Summicron will undoubtedly be better, but decisively better? No.

    It’s all in the eye and the image!

  33. Michiel,

    You can’t really compare a 1.1 lens to a 2.0 lens. The Nokton is a superfast lens, so it’s going to be much bulkier and somewhat less sharp and contrasty than just about any “normal”-speed lens. And obviously, since you have almost no depth-of-field at 1.1, it’s going to be hell to focus. That just goes with the territory. It’s a “niche” lens. I personally wouldn’t bother owning one.

    It’s certainly unfair to judge the M5 by how bulky the Nokton is. Better to use a 35mm summicron of any vintage, which is MUCH smaller than any Nikon lens. If you compare a 35mm summicron image next to a 35mm Nikkor image, there will simply be no contest. I have both lenses, and there’s just no comparison.

    However, it’s all about what works for you. If you prefer shooting with the FM2, that’s what you should use. I just finished looking at some great images shot by Steve McCurry on Kodachrome, and he used Nikon primes exclusively. Believe me, those Nikkors never let him down.

  34. David, Steve, I had the Nokton 1.1 for a while on an M5, b&w (Tri-X) only. Beautiful signature, finicky focusing wide open.

    In the end, I couldn’t see the advantage over an FM2 with a 35/2.0 Nikkor Ai-S (focal length aside aside) or the rather bulky Zeiss Makro-Planar 50/2.0 on the FM2. The FM2 and 35mm combo certainly make for a more compact street photography package than the M5 and Nokton.

    So the M5 and the Nokton are leaving.

    Richard, I’ve also always placed a large emphasis on glass, certainly with film. Sensors, as mentioned above, however play a different role from a roll of film. Then there’s the ergonomics of a camera body…

  35. Steve,

    I was referring to the 50mm f1.1 Nokton, which I have seen in side-by-side comparisons to the f1 Noctilux. One of these comparisons was here on your site. The other was in that infamous comparson of 50 50mm m-mount lenses. I know you saw that one too. The f1.1 nokton was on par for sharpness wide open with the f1 notctilux. In your comparison you said you felt that the noctilux had more character, but that’s pretty subjective. I know I couldn’t pass a blind taste test between them, and I’m a geek like you 😉

    As a matter of fact it might be fun someday for you to do a blind test (on images shot by your son, or a regular reader, perhaps) of a leica vs zeiss 35mm 2.0, etc. I’m sure you’d get some of them easily, but some would be a challenge. I know I am often surprised when I try to tell the difference.

  36. Stellar work, my friend. The pics really bring me to San Fran. You have captured it’s spirit and have shown that it’s not the gear, but rather the photographer, that matters most!

  37. Hey David S,

    I 100% agree that the Nokton 1.5 is a superb lens. A great alternative to the expensive Leica counterpart (50 Lux) but saying it is as good as the 0.95 Noct? For one part, the Voigtlander can’t do 0.95 which is the selling point of the lens. If I bought a Noct, I would not be shooting it at 1.5. If I wanted 1.5, I would buy the Lux or the Nokton. But if you showed me an image with each lens shot at 1.5, I bet I could tell you which was which…or maybe I couldn’t? Would be interesting huh?

    As for Zeiss, they have a totally different look and many prefer it. The warm 3D pop you get with Zeiss is different than the neutral look of Leica glass. As for the M9 sensor, let’s just say I am thrilled that Leica stuck with Kodak, and hopefully they will continue to use Kodak for the M10 which I will predict for 12/12/12, ha ha.

    But yea, lots of great lenses in the “budget” arena with Voigtlander. Lenses like the 35 PII, 50 1.5, and 75 2.5 are superb pieces of glass. Mostly all Zeiss ZM’s are great as well.

    Thanks for the comments!


  38. Richard,

    You have a point. The real reason to use an m9 is the glass, because the m9 sensor is not that great according to dxo mark.

    However, rangefinder lenses tend to be better because of their optics vis a vis sensor/film plane, not because of their manufacturer. C/V and Zeiss glass compares very well to Leica glass — in fact, I prefer many Zeiss lenses to Leica counterparts. For instance, the $1100 50mm nokton compares very favorably to the $10,000 noctilux. Having seen them tested side by side several times, I doubt anyone be able to pass a blind taste test between them, including Steve Huff.

    In short, you buy an m9 to use m-mount glass, not just Leica glass. If it had been me, I would have bought a used 35mm summicron asph and built a collection slowly, but the writer will probably find his own preferences over time.

  39. @Armando : Many of your shots look great, I like the way your process your files… a lot. However, I’m on my way to get M8 + CZ lens… as I find the quality is a notch better than CV. But I’m planning to buy the Heliar 15mm to add to the wide end anyway.

    @Richard : I would partially agreed with your claims on the Leica glass. I used to live in the age of film, the elements I found needed are the glass, and the film, but “not much” relied on the camera. In the digital era, sensor resembles film, and that’s where the M9 plays its part. It’s like buying the best film you can buy, though justifiable or not depends on your perspectives. Moreover, if you ever see the color space of the M8 (I didn’t yet found the M9 one), you will understand that both the sensor + lens are both essential components. It’s not just the light-gathering box comme l’era of film.

    And last, Voigtlander is a company with traditions, they’re here long before our times… They made some outstanding lens before (Ultron 28/1.9 for one)… It might not be in the same league with Zeiss -> Leica but at least the quality is superb in its own rights.

    Just my 2 cents…

  40. Well, I don’t think this is a fair comparison. Armanius, how can you expect me to look at the quality of the VC glass when I can’t stop looking at the excellent pictures! Great shots! But surely you know that people who like to compare lenses prefer photos of brick walls? Wait, Steve’s site is about real world photography…hmmm. Lol… ok, just teasing the pixel peepers who are no doubt looking at this with relish.

    Really great shots and I mean it. To my perhaps untrained eye, they look superb but I suspect you could have taken as great shots with your old 4/3 as with the right composition, light and timing (something in abundance in these photographs) photographs look good with any camera.

    Point Reyes Lighthouse just really did it for me. Man in the foreground smack on bottom right third intersect, the actual lighthouse nailing the top left third intersect, the walkway pulling me into the scene and to your main subject. In addition to this the striking sea that was not blown out despite being heavy bathed with sunlight and somehow getting the detail in the cliff as well. Not to mention the way you have used the cliff outline to split the frame diagonally from bottom left to top right adding more balance (if there was not enough already). You are also right about the sensor giving good dynamic range. It has it in spades here and no sign of noise (that I can see anyway) showing not that much fill-in after the fact.

    Ok, enough. I am off to see your other images on Flickr.

  41. Great captures Armando! I guess I am not alone using Voigtlander glass on my M9. The M9 really drained my wallet so I’m using VC glass for now. My VC 35/1.2, 50/1.1, 28/2 are great performers. I’m hunting for the older Summilux glass to get the full Leica experience at a reasonable price.

  42. i am sure that some voigtlander’s are worthwhile. they sure look attractive on paper. but, as i was unable initially to get one of the lenses i wanted (50 lux) for the m9, i thought i would start off with a 40/1.4 to pair with my 28 cron. i figured it would make a decent standard, give me an f/1.4 option, and still have a unique angle of view to offer once i managed to get the 50.

    boy was that dreadful. the cv40 is small, i grant you. but the aperture ring spun rather freely, ruining many, many shots when it wasn’t where i’d left it moments before. the focus was balky, making it difficult to fine-tune–even after i’d racked it back and fourth a dozen times to loosen it up, which i needed to do every time i went out the door. it flared like… well, it flared a lot (mc version, too). but the kicker was that it was so very unsharp that even at f/5.6, the edges–not corners, edges–are noticeably a different texture than the center, even at web resolutions.

    meanwhile, the 28 was a fantastic lens–helped me get shots i would have missed any other way. i have to carry a screwdriver on long trips to keep it cinched down, but otherwise it is a model of what a lens should be. basically, the experience convinced me that i really did not want to waste my time (and money, too) on anything that wasn’t as good as it could be. two weeks before an important 30month trip, i gave up hoping to find a 50 and bought the 35 lux, even though i knew it was about to be replaced, to use as my principle lens. then, literally 3 days before i left, i stumbled into a mintish used 50. i thought i was unlucky to have spent the money on three lenses, rather than the set of two (28, 50) i had planned as my full kit, but as it turns out, i have been finding that all three have very distinct uses, and i wouldn’t want to have to do without any of them.

    but i agree with the article above in at least one respect: if i absolutely, positively, had to settle on just one lens, with the m9 it would certainly be the 35. i never thought that would be the case for me, but it is a great balance, versatile, and the best low-light lens of the three.

    i’ll be the new 35 is even better….

  43. @ Armanius

    So M9 + Voigt is preferable to M7,6,5,4,3,2. RD1, IKON, 8.2/8 + Best Leica glass?

    I’m not arguing – just that my logic would go the other way. Buy the good glass and stick it on whatever would take it. A camera after all is just a light tight box…..

  44. @Richard – Like Renzsu said, M9 is indeed the only full frame digital RF on the market now. Hopefully, someone else will make one to give us more options. Hopefully a cheaper one! I wish I could have the latest Leica lenses, but alas, can’t have it all. I picked up a couple of old more budget friendly Leicas recentely (90 Cron pre-asph and 35 Cron pre-asph, aka “bokeh king”), but haven’t used them all that much yet.

    @Pixelmixture – If you click on the eagle photo, you will see a 100% crop of the photo. Even with the 75, the eagle was still pretty high up in the tree. Thanks to the 18 megapixel file, he (or she) still came out in the photo with decent detail.

    @Efix – Although I haven’t really “tested” it for the focus shift, there seems to be a focus shift when the lens is stopped down from maybe 2.8 – 4. I noticed what appears to be focus shift in the center when I was comparing photos taken with the VC 35 vs. 35 Cron pre-asph at minimum distance focus. Most of the shots that I took with the VC 35 stopped down in real life situations were at or close to infinity focus. So it hasn’t been an issue for me yet.

    @Therefromhere – Thanks! The VC 75 was such a bargain. I picked up an used one that came with the screwmount to M adapter for peanuts (compared to Leica that is). I’d surmise that the 75 Summarit, Elmarit, and etc. are probably all better. But like you said, being able to get the photo is better than no photo at all! Beware of the red edges when using the VC wide lenses with the M9 though.

    @Zlatko and Ray – Thank you for the kind words!

  45. Very nice article. Leica lenses are great, but they are very expensive. It’s good to know that these budget lenses can do a fine job too.

  46. ARMANDO! You just sold me the Heliar 75/2.5! Your eagle is a great one!! For quite a while I’ve been feeling that for some shots and places, I need to be “closer” than my 35 and 50 get me. I’m saving up to go from the M8.2 to the M9 and am not keen on the spending the big Leica bucks at the moment. I was comparing the Heliar with the Leica 75/2.5 today and was thinking the price was too good to be true! The Leica has better “pop” and IQ (of course!), but at the price listed, who cares?!?! If it’s the difference between a shot and no shot, why worry? I’m running back to pick it up! (may even pick up the 15/4.5 too!) THANKS! Great photos, great comments, great tips!

  47. Armando, did you experience any focus shift with your Nokton 35? I traded mine in for a 35/2 Biogon due to heavily shifting (it was really unacceptable), but seeing your shots I remember how I loved its classic signature!

  48. Hmm…. Nikon EM…Olympus E420, etc…. Also, 135 is NOT full frame – never has been until 2008 or so. It was always the “Crop Format” for consumers. The title of full frame has always belonged to the 120 formats.

    In any case – not to get off topic. I thought that Leica raison d’etre was the glass? So it would be last thing to be ditched……. ?

  49. Richard.. if you want a compact full frame camera.. there is no other option than the M9 🙂

  50. Correct me if I am wrong. But isn’t the whole concept of Leica the glass itself?

    Wouldn’t a better budget approach me an M7,6,5,4,3 with Leica glass? Or an M9 with older – but still great Leica glass that is the same price as new Voigt stuff?

    Of maybe an Epson RD-1 or CLE with Leica glass….. the M9 does nothing different to any other digital camera once you remove the film (yup) and the leica lenses.

    Then again I don’t own any of the stuff. Nikon works fine for me. But I am utterly confused though by this piece.


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