I was in a small used camera shop in Shinjuku a few weeks ago week when I noticed an odd looking little lens for sale. It was a 40mm f2.3 lens from a Rollei 35XF that had been modified for use on a Leica l39 screw mount camera. The modification was done by MS OPtical, the same maker of the famous Perar Super Triplet 35mm f3.5. Having the necessary adapter ring with me that would allow me to mount it to my Leica M9 I decided to spring for it and pay the 50,000 Yen to see what kind of images it would produce.
Here are some images both of the lens, as wella s taken with it on an M9:
From what I can see, this lens is a rather decent performer. Compact, very well made, and since it is so rare, pretty fun to shoot with. The 40mm focal length means that accurate framing will take some practice since I don’t have a 40mm viewfinder, but I can live with that. Quite worth the price of entry.
Modern lens designs such as Lecia’s Aspherical Summilux series are as optically perfect as has ever been achieved. The images they produce have a richness and pop that is hard to explain, it really must be seen to be understood. But for all that perfection, there are more than just a few photographers out there that prefer a somewhat more organic experience. I liken it to those that prefer the crackle, hiss, and pop of vinyl to the crystal clear digital perfection of a compact disk or MP3.
One of the more famous of character lenses is the Summitar 50mm f2. It is a L39 screw mount collapsable lens design, which is great for saving space in a camera bag. To use it on the M9 one must get an L to M mount adapter, and for those of you that were wondering, it does safely collapse on the M9.
The basic design dates back to 1939 and it was produced until 1953. Lenses manufactured after WWII were coated, and the original 10-bladed diaphragm was changed to a 6-bladeed version in 1950. The version I own is from 1949, which places it right in the sweet spot so it retains the 10-bladed aperture, yet is coated. The aperture control does not have any click-stops, and the focusing tab has an infinity lock.
Most of the images I will show here weer taken wide open, but I have included one sample image taken wide open and f2, as well as f8, just to give you an idea of how the performance of this lenses changes as you stop it down. Please note: most of these images have at least a little adjustment to them in LightRoom 3, normally just a quick “Direct Positive” filter application.
The two photos above show just how easy it use to use this lens as a character lens one minute, then as a very respectably sharp normal lems the next. I apologize for the slight difference in framing, these were all shot hand held.
The lower overall contrast of the Summitar compliments the relatively high dynamic range of the M9 sensor to allow one to shoot in challenging light conditions with relative impunity. Shadow detail is retained, and highlights are well under control. Note: I did apply some in-camera exposure compensation on this image, but even so, the range of lighting would have sent one of my Cosina Voigtlander lenses to its knees with its high contrast imaging.
Stopping this down to f2.8 all but eliminates the characteristic swirley bokeh, but it still retains a pleasing 3D rendering.
So there you have it.
I do have to say that this lens has exceeded my expectations, particularly since I was able to find one in near pristine condition for less than $400. It is nowhere near as sharp as most modern lenses. The Cosina Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 Nokton and 50mm f2.5 color skopar blow it out of the water in the sharpness department. But what it lacks in edge to edge sharpness, it mor than makes up for in character.
I like it so much in fact that on my upcoming trip to Kyoto, the Summitar will be the only 50mm lens that I will take with me. I’ll be leave the 50mm Summilux pre-Asph at home in favor of it’s much older and slightly slower sibling. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the sharp center and swirley edge bokeh for some fall color shots.
I’ve been to Kyoto more times than I can count, but each time I go I bring a different set of gear to shoot with, and I think the Summitar/M9 combo will fit the bill nicely. To round out my M9 kit I will likely be taking a CV 28mm f1.9 and Leica 90mm f4. For extreme low-light work I will bring along the the FUJI X100 as it very decidedly blows thew doors off the M9 in the high ISO department. It also takes care of the 35mm field of view if I happen to need it.
So if you are in Kyoto between 23-28 August, you just may run into me there. I’ll be easy to find, just look for the guy with the smile on his face.
Todays photo don’t really have any cohesive theme to them, rather they are just a small set of images I happen to like, and I hope you feel the same.
I’ve started to recently think about doing some drastic downsizing of my camera gear. I’ve accumulated quite a bit of it over the years, and as time goes by I find myself shooting with a smaller and smaller set of gear. For the photos I posted topday, the cameras used were: Sigma DP2, Leica M9, and Nikon D700.
A camera that has recently become my default carry-with-me-everywhere-I-go camera is the Fuji X100. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it is pretty darn close for what I like to shoot.
Probably the two biggest gripes I have with it are the parallax error when using the optical viewfinder and the placement of the exposure compensation dial. The placement of the exposure compensation dial is a problem because it is too easy to accidentally turn it when holding the camera or taking it out of a bag, resulting in unintentionally over or under exposed shots. Although I have started to fall into the habit of checking the position of the dial, so this is turning into just a minor nuisance instead of a show stopper.
The bigger problem by far is the parallax error as it results in a rather high percentage of mis-focused images at closer distances when using the center focus point while using the optical viewfinder. It really is a shame too since otherwise the optical viewfinder is a pure joy to use. It seems to me that Fuji could rather easily fix his problem in firmware by biassing the focus point down and to the right as you focus closer. I guess I could also try using the multi-point focus mode, but I’d rather not trust the camera to guess what the subject of my images are. As a side note, I was really excited about the manual focus capability of the X100, but Fuji really dropped the ball in this department as it is glacially slow, and down right unusable.
If I want to shoot manual focus glass on something other than the M9, the Sony NEX-5 fits the bill nicely since its focus peaking feature is so simple and intuitive to use. And seeing as I have not even touched the M9 in the past couple of month, it very well may be the first of my cameras that gets put up on the auction block. It is a superb image making tool, and a real joy to use, but as I was shooting with it I found myself gravitating to shooting with just a 35mm lens. Weighing the M9 cost and image quality against the Fuji X100, I think I may have to let the M9 go and use the generated funds to take the X100 on a trip or two to Europe. :)
All but one of todays photos were taken with the venerable Kodak DCS Pro Back 645M. It’s a discontinued image making monster capable of producing some of the most film-like files I have ever seen come out of a digital camera. It’s not the fastest camera out there. In fact, it’s downright glacial in its pace of taking photographs. But this causes me to also slow down in my image taking, and gives me pause to think about what it is I am trying to capture. I’m sure the great medium format Mamiya glass adds a lot to the image quality, but the sensor of the Kodak back itself must be given due credit.
For those of you in the local Yokosuka/Yokohama area, you may be interested in a photo club I recently started. You can check it out here: www.meetup.com/YokoYoko/
This new photo club will not be taking the place of the Tokyo Camera photo club I have belonged to for years. Rather, it is a way to get people on the Miura Peninsula/Yokohama area who are interested in photography together without having to make the trek up to Tokyo.
We have had two meetup events so far, and any member of the club can organize a gathering. So if you are interested, then sign up and plan a day pf photo shooting.
About a week and a half ago, I was in Kyoto to do some location shooting for Cool Japan. It was a quick one-day trip, so there was not really any time for me to enjoy the sights, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying to capture some light while I was there.
The camera dejure was the Leica M9 with a Hexanon 35mm f2 UC lens. Now that I am shooting with a full frame rangefinder, I am starting to really understand why when people talk about getting by with just one lens the 35mm focal length gets so many votes. It’s a very versatile angle of view, and even with a largish aperture of 2.0, the lens itself remains quite compact.
That’s not to say I would not have taken a 50mm and 28mm with me if I had been there for a couple of days, but after shooting with the 35mm and only the 35mm I can see how it could become my default go-to lens when travelling. Particularly when you factor in the amount of cropping that is possible with the super sharp 18 megapixels that the Leica M9 generates.
It was strange to be in Kyoto for such a short period of time, but I didn’t feel too bad about it since the fall leaf color had just started to give a hint of the explosion of color that is to come in the next couple of weeks.
To catch this veritable riot fo color, I’m planning on spending a good three or four days there at the start of December.
Anyone interested in having a couple of beers with me in Kyoto in early December? Drop me a line and we’ll sort something out.
Yesterday I decided to do a photo-walk around Yokosuka. Partially to enjoy the out-of-doors after being kept in from the previous days typhoon, and also to put some of my older rangefinder lenses through their paces with the M9. I was also inspired by some vintage images of Yokosuka that I was recently browsing on Flickr. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if I could reproduce something with a similar look.
My two lenses for the day were the Canon ltm 28mm f2.8, and Canon ltm 50mm f1.2. And as you can see, they are not the most technically perfect of lenses out there. They are soft in the corners, and color fringing is readily apparent. But I imaged that they would fit the bill for the type of images I was trying to create.
I’ve yet to devote the resources to buy a stable full of Leica lenses, but of the more modern glass that I do have (Konica, and Voigtlander) all perform to a much higher technical standard than the older Canon Leica thread mount lenses that I used for this exercise.
But sometimes the best tool for the job is not the best tool that you have, but rather the best tool for THAT SPECIFIC job. So what lenses would be better to reproduce the look from 40 years ago than some lenses that were 40+ years old? And truth be told, they did perform admirably, with regards to both sharpness and resolution when stopped down.
The shots themselves are nothing special. In most cases I tried to keep to subjects that were independent of time. And in honor of the old glass I was using (1950′s to 1960′s vintage) I decided to process them using a “yesteryear” type of filter in Lightroom. This gave them a yellow’ish washed-out look, common to old film images. Right out of the camera the images have a much more natural look, as would be expected from the M9. But I thought this treatment would better convey my idea.
Was it a success? I have no idea.
I like the effect, but I have no idea what others may think about it.
If you do have some thoughts about it, please take a minute and jot down your thoughts in a comment.
I finally went and got myself a Leica M9.
And ironically enough, I took delivery of it on 9-9-10, (at just after 09:00 in the morning!) one year to the day after it was announced.
No, it was not on back-order that long! :) I just noticed about a week before that B&H had an M9 in stock, so I made the order.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading through all the M9 reviews I could find, and after an exhaustive amount of pondering I finally decided that it was time for me to give it a try.
Having previously owned an M8 on two separate occasions, it was with a bit of trepidation that I ordered the M9. On both previous experiences with the M8, I was always put off by its inadequate image quality at higher ISOs, as well as the IR sensitivity issue. The crop factor never really gave me problems since the Epson R-D1 has an even higher crop facor, and the fact that I had shot with cropped sensor DSLRs for years prior to moving up to full frame. But after 6-10 months of shooting with the M8, on both occasions I found myself going back and shooting the R-D1 more frequently than the M8, so both times the M8 had to go.
Don’t get me wrong. The M8 is a good camera, and a joy to use. But I was just bothered by the fact that I had to use IR cut filters, and limit my available-light photography to cases where I could keep the ISO down below 640. Compared to the R-D1 this was as serious step backward in functionality since the R-D1 is not plagued by any IR sensitivity issues (at least as far as I could tell), and the fact that the R-D1 absolutely sings at higher ISO with the most film-like grain (noise) I have ever seen a digital camera produce.
Having the M9 for less than a week now, I guess this post will be my first impressions of the camera.
First off is the color. Not the color quality of the photos, but rather the color of the camera body.
I got the steel grey version. I also like the black, but I don’t really like the vulcanite covering being offered on the black paint version, so my choice was steel grey. (Grey was also the one that B&H had in stock at the time) What I really wanted was a silver chrome version of the M9 with the same finish as the M8. But for whatever reason, Leica decided not to offer the M9 in silver chrome. Some think of this as a poor decision on Leica’s part to not offer their flagship rangefinder in the classic silver chrome finish. But me, I think this is all part of their master marketing strategy. I would not be at all surprised if a silver chrome version of the M9 were to be made available in the future. They may also make the much coveted sapphire crystal lcd screen an available option, at the right price of course. Right now, a full year after the M9 was launched, they are still having trouble producing them fast enough to satisfy the demand. This is saying a lot in the world of digital camera where a camera is a good third of its way towards becoming obsolete in that span of time. It is saying even more when you realize they are charging $7,000 for it!
I’m not sure how the steel grey will look as it wears. The black seems to brass pretty quickly, from the photos I have seen floating around the web. The steel grey seems to have a silver coating between the grey paint and brass core, so it may brass a bit less cleanly than the black paint version. Time will tell.
Second is the body. Rock solid, just like the M8.
Third is the shutter. I am liking the more quiet shutter on the M9. I guess I can live with the tradeoff of not having the 1/8000 sec shutter speed of the M8. If I really need to shoot wide open in bright light then some ND filters will fit the bill.
Luckily, I didn’t have to buy any lenses, since I already had a bunch of L and M mount lenses that I have been using on the R-D1, and M8 when I had one. Although I did say that working with the M8′s cropped sensor did not bother me, it sure is nice to have my 50mm lens act like a 50mm lens again. I’ve been shooting full frame DSLRs for years now, but this is my first (actually THE first) full frame rangefinder, and it is nice to have 35mm be a decent wide angle again.
So far I’ve been shooting mainly with a trio of older Canon screw mount lenses: 28mm f2.8, 35mm f1.5, and 50mm f1.2. They are not the sharpest lenses out there, particularly wide open but then again, what lens is tack sharp wide open?) but I like the way they draw, and they are very compact for their given apertures and focal lengths. The 50/1.2 in particular is a bokeh-making machine, and is my go-to lens once the sun goes down.
My first impression of the image quality of the M9 is good. Very good. Other than medium format, I have not seen a digital camera with as much dynamic range as the M9. The only other camera that comes close was the R-D1 (oddly enough, another rangefinder). This may be in part due to the lenses I have been using as the older Canon glass is known to be lower in contrast. But even the few shots I have taken with more modern lenses such as the Konica Hexanon UC 35/2 still show the Leica M9 having very impressive dynamic range, even in challenging conditions.
It appears that Leica hass addressed at least some of the issues I had with the M8. So far, I am very happy.
Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.
The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.
I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.
And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?) as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma. The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.
While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality. But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.
I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s. The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face. I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.
Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera. It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses. Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.
But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5′s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.
This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp. But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.
The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.
The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem. (THANK YOU SIGMA!) And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.
So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.
Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card. This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution. But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer. The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.
It is just after midnight.
Saori is sacked out after taking a shower, and I did a little wandering after we checked in to the hotel. The Old Town area of Tallinn looks to be beautiful. I took some photos, and now I’ll take a shower and hit the hay myself. No alarm being set for tomorrow, this is a vacation.
07:43 – Woke up about an hour ago after a very solid nights sleep.
Spent a glorious hour just lying in bed enjoying the feeling of having no schedules and no deadlnes. Saori is in the bathroom getting ready to go while I am lying on the bed typing this out. The weather looks to be really good again, light high clouds with quite a few patches of blue sky poking through even at this early hour.
No real plan for today other than to wander the streets throughout old town and soak up the traditional architecture, local food, and of course local beer. Saori is just about ready now (07:46) so I will sign off for now.
11:46 pm – What a day! Had a great breakfast at the hotel at 08:00, from there we started wandering though Old Town Tallinn. Made a circuit of pretty much the entire place by 2 pm, even with stopping off at a coffee shop for cappuchina, cake, and a beer. The part I enjoyed the most was being able to get up close and experience the medieval architecture. There is a certain “authenticity” to some of the structures I saw today that made them feel more directly connected to history that what I saw when I was in London a few years back.
Took a lot of pictures, and generally just enjoyed the perfect weather. We went back to the hotel at 2 pm, planning to take an hours nap. That hour turned into six hours, and we then caught a late dinner near the hotel. I had a Cinnamon beer (sounds bad but was delicious) with salmon, barley, and beans. Saori had stewed lamb with barley and beans.
We’re thinking abou going to Club Hollywood since it is located right ocross the square from our hotel, but then again we may give it a miss and just get some rest. It’s supposed to be a very cool place, but I’m not that interested in waking up with a hangov er tomorrow morning. Instead, I’ll liky go to sleep soon, wake up extra early due to jet-lag and then go take some more early moring photos prior to checking out from the hotel and catching the ferry to Hellsinki to see what Finland has to offer.
Estonia has been great though. Beautiful weather, more hsitorical buildings that you can shake a stick at, and extremely friendly people. This is a place I would not mind coming back to in the future. The guy at the coffee shop said that Old Town Tallinn is like a mini version of Praha. If that really is the case then I guess I will really love Praha!
OK, off to bed with me so I can get an early start tomorrow and capture more Estonian light befor catching the ferry back to Helsinki.
ps: The Sony NEX-5 has performed brilliantly so far. As I had guessed, the 16mm prime has been pretty much glued on to date, and when i need a tighter shot I pull out the Sigma DP2 with it;s 41mm perspective. I am very happy to have chosen to travel light versus going for the absolute maximum in image quality that a more bulky camera would have provided.
At the end of May Saori and I took advantage of a beautiful day and spent a few hours exploring Sarushima, or “Monkey Island” which is about a mile off shore from my apartment in Yokosuka.
If you want to learn about Sarushima, just open up the first photo for today and you will be able to read the information sign that is on the island.
The week previous we had spent a Saturday on the island for a barbecue party with a group from the photo club. But at that time there was no chance to do any exploring, as we were busy cooking, eating, and drinking. So on this day we made a point to walk the entire island. It’s not too hard to do and you can see thee entire place in a couple of hours, and that’s if you go really slow and check out all the interesting corners and ruins.
My camera for the day was my trusty Epson R-D1 with a 28mm f2 CV Ultron, 15mm f4.5 SWH, and 50mm f1.5 Nokton. The 28mm was used for most of the shots. Saori was using a Sigma DP2, which after its most recent firmware update has turned into quite the usable little tool. Sigma really did their customers a service by improving the speed and accuracy of the auto focus system in their recent firmware update. The DP2 is no longer a great image maker thats a pain in the ass to use. Now its a great image maker thats usage is very transparent to the image making process. This still does not keep me from lusting after a Leica X1 though… :)