All posts tagged Leica

My X100S crapped out! What a disappointment. I bought it in May of last year from B&H. Of course it’s out of warranty. Every few frames the camera crashes with a white screen of death. The only way to get it to work or turn off is to remove the battery. I spent $1300 for about 5000 shots taken; that’s $0.26 per shot. I really can’t afford it. To make things worse, B&H is closed until the 7th. I was really stupid not to buy an extended warranty on something that expensive.

I hope it can be fixed because the image quality is exceptional. The only thing I can do is call Fuji in New Jersey and hope they can help me. I heard on the Range Finder Forum that they are nice people. Let’s hope. I will need this camera very soon on my sailing adventure for documentary photography. I wish it was a bit more rugged. I know, they don’t all do this, though reliability problems are known.. It is a camera you want to take everywhere, and it just doesn’t seem to be strong enough.

I am now selling my Nikon D2X. It is an excellent camera, but too big and heavy to carry around for candid shots. If I still worked for a newspaper I’d keep it. My style of photography requires small, discreet and quiet cameras. So I am now looking at the Olympus OM-D E-M5. It isn’t the latest and that’s fine with me, I like the discounted price. I hope the X100S remains my main camera. You just can’t beat the quality of the images. The E-M5 however is weather-sealed, which can really be an asset on a sailboat! Its sensor is a micro-4/3 format, smaller than the Fuji’s APS-C. I have browsed Flickr looking for images taken with the OM-D… They are really good. Not quite as good as what I get with my X100S, but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. For my type of photography, it doesn’t matter much. I focus on composition and emotions, not pixel-peeping.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

Olympus OM-D EM-5

The kit lens sold with the Olympus is the M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R, way too dark for me, but beggers can’t be choosers. It is also not weather-sealed, but if I lost it, oh well.. I would like to get the 17mm/f1.8 or even the Panasonic made Leica 15mm/f1.7. Remember, you have to double the focal length to get the equivalent in 35mm; so, the Leica 15mm has the field of view of a 30mm. The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is supposedly excellent, but at $1K, it might have to wait. Bottom line is, I need a camera that can survive salt water spray, with interchangeable lenses. For twice the money I could buy an OM-D E-M1 or a Fuji X-T1. I just can’t justify spending more than what I get for my D2X and Tokina 28-70/f2.8 though. The lens just sold tonight.

The X100S and the OM-D E-M5 are the only two cameras I would need. Well, aside from my cheap GoPro. Let’s hope I get the former back in good shape, otherwise I’ll just have to do with one. This time I will get an extended warranty for the Olympus. The other contender by the way is the Panasonic LX-100, which does 4K video and has a bright 24-75 equivalent fixed lens. It isn’t weather sealed and more expensive.

I shouldn’t have sold my Leica M2!

Update, Oct. 6: My X100S is on its way to Fuji NJ. I ordered the E-M5 tonight from B&H. They have the camera with the 14-42 kit lens for $499. I suspect not many are left.. The kit lens, well, I don’t expect much from it, but it will get me started with M4/3. They sell for $299 new but only got for $55 on Ebay. I will post my inpressions after I get to play with it a bit. My next lens might be the Mitakon 35mm f0.95, the Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7 or the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO zoom, depending on if i get my X100S back or not, and of course my finances…

Update, Oct. 19: Fuji wants $385.20!!! I will never buy a Fuji camera ever again in my life.

Some lenses have a cult status, not always based on performance alone. The Leica Summilux 35mm is one of the most revered and hated lens from Leica. I decided to buy one. There are modern sharper lenses available new for a third of the Summilux used price. The Zeiss Biogon lenses and Voightlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 are prime examples. I almost decided on the Nokton, but didn’t like the distortion. The Nokton is however said to be sharper at f1.4 than the Lux. So, why pay more for an “inferior” older lens?

Summilux 35mm

Summilux 35mm

My experience with the Fuji X100S has produced some very sharp images. In low light, skin tones look like plastic. I need to add grain in post-processing to make photographs look natural. That is the problem with digital cameras. When does perfection become undesirable? Look at runway models… They are all the same height, shape, with perfect features and faces… Boring. I was also looking at the Summicron aspherical photographs and they look like digital images. I have my X100S for that. Why try to make film look more like digital? Though I agree that the Summilux “Leica glow” is indeed a flaw, it does make one’s photographs look like they came right out of the fifties. I see the same look in images taken with my Summitar 50mm f/2. Sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I love it. The good part about the Lux is that it is sort of two different lenses: At f1.4/2 it is soft and dreamy. At f2.8 and above it becomes tack sharp. I like to take pictures in the evening, and f1.4 is important to me. Interesting things tend to happen in semi darkness. Imperfection can be more desirable than perfection.

The Summilux was manufactured for thirty five years! When you buy one, you buy a legend, not just a lens. Yes, there is a small amount of pride in owning one. Not because you paid a lot of money for it, but because you chose it. As much as I like my CV Color Skopar, it seems out of place on a Leica body. A leica camera looks better with a Leica lens. I would imagine that more famous photographs have been taken with a Summilux than most other lenses. There is a history behind it, one fraught with adventure. Although subjective, it does generate a warm feeling to know you have something that has survived the test of time and been the choice of many great photographers.

Speaking about money… The undoubtedly unreasonable price of this lens isn’t necessarily bad. It means people are willing to pay a premium to get one. I could easily sell it in a few years for more money than I paid for it. I think of it as an investment more than an expenditure. I will always have that amount available in case of emergency, and it would take a big one I suspect to make me sell it. If I had the same amount in cash, I would be too tempted to spend it. It will also not devaluate like the dollar… Keep in mind that it can be used on many modern digital cameras, not just Leicas. There will never be a lack of buyers for this highly desirable item. Try to sell an old worn out Nokton, see what happens…

The lens is well known for its flaws, coma, softness wide open and flare. Anything above f2 looks pretty sharp. See the related Flickr group. It does open at 1.4 however, and that can mean the difference between a soft image and nothing. I also like the fact that it has no visible distortion. Bright 35s are notoriously hard to make and I do not know of any model that doesn’t have one or more flaws, being it softness wide open, weight, coma, distortion, flare or size. Pick your poison… The latest aspherical version, aside from costing more than $5K, is noticeably bigger than the Pre-ASPH. My lens is serial number 3394739, built by Leitz Canada in 1986. It is a later pre-aspherical model rumored to have better coating. We’ll see… I will update this page with images later.

I also got the original metal hood #12504 and a series VII UV filter #13009. The hood is a must-have to avoid flare with this lens.

Let’s face it, getting a new lens won’t make your photography any better. If you can’t compose, expose and catch the moment, nothing but practice and study can help you. It will give your photographs, good or bad, a certain look. Call it “retro” if you may. I like to think of it as more natural. Film grain renders skin tones beautifully. The Summilux’s softness wide open can be great for portraits. Stopped down to 2.8 it should be as good as any other lens.

I do not think the Summilux is an unresonable choice. If I don’t like it, I can sell it and make a few dollars in the process. The lack of distortion was a major contributing factor in choosing it. If the Nokton had not distorded, I might have gone for it. The Nokton f1.2 is just too big. The Biogons and Summitar aren’t bright enough. A Leica lens will last a lifetime when well taken care of. I have no doubt I will enjoy it (I hope) for many years, hopefully decades to come. If you are thinking about getting one, you don’t have much to loose. It won’t devaluate, assuming you got a good deal. Sure, it might be a love/hate relationship, but as often is in these, the love parts can be great.

Update, July 18th: The lens arrived todat at noon, only sixty hours after ordering, from Hong-Kong! Unbelievable. I feel compelled to mention the seller, Breguet Camera on Ebay. The lens looks like new, with seemingly pristine glass. I am trying to finish my film with it today so I can develop it tonight and have a first look. I will also post some comparative shots with the CV Color Skopar at different apertures.

Summilux 35mm f/1.4

Summilux 35mm f/1.4

I was at Indian Beach tonight and took a few shots as the sun went down. I was able to take photographs much longer than I usually did with my f/2.5 Color Skopar. It doesn’t seem like a big difference in theory, but practice proves otherwise. I didn’t even take out my X100S, which is my low-light camera. The 1m minimum focusing distance annoyed me on one occasion trying to photograph a small dog.

Build quality feels better than the CV. You can tell that tolerances are closer, which is amazing for a 1986 lens compared to a much more recent one. The focusing is a bit stiffer, but not enough to be a bother. The aperture ring moves easily with solid clicks. The absense of threads for a filter is rather stupid coming from Leica. What the hell were they thinking? Overall I am very please with the lens though. It does not need a CLA at this time, which is good because I couldn’t afford one now! One advantage I noticed is that with the focusing tab at six-o-clock, the distance is 2m, perfect for street photography, in many cases. The aperture ring, or rather tabs, take a little time to get used to.

Now I need to develop my film and post a couple shots here. The Summilux/Color-Skopar duel might have to wait, we’ll see. I do have a few frames left on the film, so if I think of something interesting to do, I will post the images.

Update, July 19th: The lens appears to ve very sharp at f3.4. Here is my friend Erin at the coffee shop:

Erin, Summilux 35 at f3.4

Erin, Summilux 35 at f3.4

Film is HP5+ at 400ISO, developed in HC-110 dissolution B, six minutes at 68F. I have not taken any good shots wide open yet. I can tell already from a few other shots that performance at f1.4 or in any contre-jour situation is not going to be good. Oh well, I knew that before I decided to buy it. F1.4 would be an emergency-only aperture. So, maybe think of the Summilux as a Summicron with a last-ditch-resort f1.4 aperture… If you need sharpness full open, you will be better off with a Nokton, and so will your wallet. The Lux though definitely renders images with a certain look. It remains for you to decide if that, and the mystique, justifies the expense. I really like its small size.

Shots wide open coming soon.

Stay tuned…

Let’s face it, not everyone has $7000 plus $3200 to spend on a camera and a lens. Fortunately Leica has been in business since 1849 and has been producing cameras since 1923, so there are a lot of them out there. I have a Leica IIIc (1946) that cost me only $225. The Summitar 50mm f2 lens (1949) was $350. Add a CLA (Cleaning, Lubrication, Adjustment) for $160 and you get a reasonably priced kit. The problem however is that these cameras are very old and start having problems. Fortunately, they can still be repaired, but there are better choices in my opinion to start with Leica.

First, I do not think that a digital Leica is the way to go. Though newer Leica products are very well built, you are still dealing with electronics and a lot can go wrong. Digital photography is still a new market for Leica, one they have not mastered. Besides, there is the cost. An older film Leica is a better choice. Film photography will make you a better photographer. How old is too old? Well, the M2 and M3 are awesome, but they were made in the fifties and sixties. I could see myself eventually buying an M2, but not as a first camera.

Update, July 23rd: Waoh, it didn’t take me long, did it? I couldn’t pass this one up, a nice beater M2 for $435. It is full or scratches and a few dings, even has a name roughly engraved on the base plate, but it works just fine. The film advance system might need to be looked at (got $50 discount bringing price to $385!), but shutter speeds sound good and the viewfinder is perfect. I actually like the viewfinder better than my M4-P’s. So, if you keep your eyes open, and are not after a collector’s item, you can find good deals online.

Leica M2 & Summilux 35mm

Leica M2 & Summilux 35mm

Here is an excellent guide to Leica M cameras.

Some people absolutely want a camera with a meter… You do not need a meter! Chances are that you carry a smart phone, and there are plenty of meter apps available for free. You can also use the Sunny-16 rule, which works very well. Being a stop off is no big deal. As you get used to measure the light, guess the exposure and verify it with your meter. Before long you won’t need the meter anymore. A quick look around will tell you exactly what settings to use. It is liberating not to have to think about exposure all the time. Natural light does not change constantly. Once you have measured or guessed shadows and light exposures, you are good to go. Only at dawn or dusk do you need to change your settings often.

So we move to the M4. Here is a perfect camera! Easier to load, and with a frameline for 35mm lenses. They are made of brass and have a very good viewfinder. On hickup is, they are expensive and very thought after. Expect dropping $1200. Isn’t there an alternative? The M4-2 came out in 1971 and was made in Canada. The Canadian team had to learn the ropes and the M4-2 had some flaws. You can be lucky and find a very good one, or not… Nothing that can’t be fixed probalby, but why risk it? Leica then released the M4-P in 1981, correcting the mistakes of the previous model.

Here is mine:

Leica M4-P

Leica M4-P

This in my opinion is the best Leica to get. At some point Leica switched to zinc-alloy top and bottom plates instead of brass. You want brass… You can tell by looking at the viewfinder window. If the window is recessed, chances are you have a brass M4-P. If it is flush, expect zinc. The M4-P can be found for about $800, which for a camera of such quality is a real bargain. You won’t find a better bang for the buck. It is often said that the M4, including the early M4-Ps were the last exceptionally well made Leicas. Some will argue that was the M3. I still think after much use that I made the best choice in getting an M4-P!

Now that you got your M4-P and you are broke, you need a lens. Actually, I always suggest to get a lens first, then buy the camera that goes with it. We are making an exception here, since we focus on one brand. the best focal length for a first lens is probably 35mm. If you have $3200, get a Summicron aspherical! $2000? Get a Summarit. Getting down to $1000, you might want to look at Zeiss. Me, I bought a Voightlander Color Skopar at $409. It is a very good little lens, sharp and contrasty, which I really like for B&W. It’s no Summicron but it does pretty well compared to the $2000 Leica Summarit. Not in build quality but image quality. Sure the Leica is said to be better, but $1600 better? I doubt it.

M4-P with Color Skopar 35mm

M4-P with Color Skopar 35mm

Here it is with the CV Color Skopar, which is a very small lens. Oops, looks like the camera needs a cleaning! The is a bit of vulcanite missing near the Leitz red dot as well.

There you have it, the Leica M4-P with the Voightlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 for a whooping $1200 total. Now hopefully you have enough money left to buy a few rolls of film. There is nothing else like shooting a Leica though. It is truly an exceptional camera, well worth having to eat rice noodles for a few weeks!

I am not giving up film! Film does look better in my opinion. It has a certain charm, an analog feel that digital can only approach with a lot of computer work. It might be a bit similar to listening to vinyls as opposed to compact discs. Theoretically you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but it seems that some people can. Our brains are not made for digital perception. So, why am I getting a digital camera? Albeit not any digital camera…

Rangefinder Cameras

Rangefinder Cameras

Image quality? Film can hold far more details than digital images. The problem is how to retrieve that information. These days images invariably end-up on a computer screen. In that regard, digital or film makes no difference as the image on a screen is limited to 72dpi (dots per inch). Expose your photographs blown-up on a gallery wall however and your results may vary depending on a flurry of variables such as your type of film, processing, paper, etc. It is generally said that your classic 35mm film is roughly equivalent to 16mp, though it is comparing apples and oranges. The advantage of digital is that it eliminates the multitude of small accidents that can happen during film processing, like scratches, stains, kinks, etc. You also skip processing and scanning. Though results can be similar, digital wins hands down on convenience.

I recently got back into photography with Leica cameras and love the simplicity and handling of rangefinders. These cameras are small and discreet, unlike the large DSLRs you see today. For street work it is a big plus. I would have loved a digital Leica M-E, but at $5500 it was out of the question. The closest was the Fuji X100S with a fixed 35mm equivalent lens and a 16mp APSC sensor. The combination makes very high quality images. The fixed lens bothers me a bit, but I take most of my photographs with a 35mm lens anyway.. Alternatives were the Fuji X-E2 or X-T1, and the Olympus E-M1. The X100S with his silent leaf shutter won. I love the fact that you can take absolutely silent photographs; so silent in fact that you don’t hear yourself take a photo.

The X100S does cost about the same as my Leica M4-P and it’s Color Skopar lens. Of course I never have to buy film or chemicals. Quality is excellent, though the B&W files lack a bit of contrast, which can be fixed easily in Lightroom (software). I could take hundreds of photographs a day with the Fuji, but my old film habits limit me to a few shots a day, as if I still had to worry about the cost of film processing.

Another advantage is the light weight of the camera. I take it everywhere I go. My Leicas are about the same size but heavier. I would however hesitate to take the Fuji for hiking and camping. It just doesn’t feel as sturdy as the Leicas.

I think my favorite is still the M4-P, but the Fuji allows me to share images much faster. It would be an advantage also if I was ever hired again as a photographer, which is not something I am trying to do, but you never know. Documentary photography is my forte. So I carry two cameras when I can, the X100S and the M4-P. I bought a little Domke F-8 bag that is just large enough for both. I use the M4-P during the day and switch to the X100S when the sun goes down, which is when the Fuji really shines. Film and digital complement each-other nicely. I would not be without a film camera, but I could live without digital. No regrets about the Fuji though, I love the camera. It looks great and takes very high quality images. Fujifilm is definitely the company to watch these days for anyone wanting to buy a digital camera. I highly recommend the X100S or X-E2. For a lower price, see the new X30, rumored to be announced on July 3rd.

It has been three months since my return to photography, film photography to be exact. I already have two Leica bodies (M4-P & IIIc) and one lens (Summitar 50mm f2). I was fortunate to get those three items for very good prices. Still, I need a lens for the M4-P. I can afford only one. 35mm seems to be the best for street photography. I have thought long and hard about which one to get. New leica lenses are out of my financial reach, even the cheaper ones. One used option is the Summicron 40mm. They sell for $600 to $800. 40mm is close enough to the 35mm framelines of the M4-P, which I have read covers more like 38mm.. Then there are the Voightlander lenses, Color Skopar f2.5 and Nokton f1.4. The f1.2 Nokton is just too big.. I do not like the distortion and focus shift of the f1.4. Sure, it’s bright, but I know I will look for it’s imperfections on every image I produce. The Zeiss Biogon f2.8 is my favorite, though not a bright lens. Image quality however is said to be outstanding. The Biogon f2 model is a bit too expensive. I know there are other 35mm lenses out there, but I need to limit my selection. So, it will be the Color Skopar, incidentally the cheapest, or if by some miracle a wad of money falls on my lap, the Biogon f2.8. I can carry both my M4-P and IIIc around with their 35 and 50mm lenses, a good combo. The M4-P will probably see more use, as the Summitar is really for the IIIc and is a bit soft for my tastes. The so called “classic look” for me means old and of dubious optical quality. I like sharp and contrasty glass.

Not having a meter built into the cameras hasn’t bothered me much at all. I use my iPod with an app called “Pocket Light Meter.” I measure the light on the back of my hand stretched in front of me, making sure I am not shading it. It looks like I am taking a photo of my nails! I’ve had friends ask me what the hell I was doing! It looks a little gay but works really well.

I’ve tried a few films, Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford FP4+ 125 and HP5+ 400. I like them all. The Ilford films dry a bit flatter which makes them easier to scan. I am borrowing an Epson V500 but it isn’t quite good enough. I plan on getting a Plustek, not sure which model. My first negatives came out grossly over-developped. I wasn’t sure if it was my meter or technique but it turns out that I had used 4oz of Kodak HC-110 to make a gallon (dissolution B) when what I wanted was dissolution H, 2oz of concentrate to make a gallon. With the correct 1+63 dissolution H both Kodak Tri-X and ilford HP5+ take eleven minutes to develop at 20°C/68°F when exposed at 400 ISO. I invert the tank twice every minute. FP4+ at 100 ISO takes fifteen minutes.

By the way do not buy the “Arista Classic Plastic Developing Tank.” It leaks.. I always end-up with liquid spilling out from the lid. The Paterson is better. I might also try the Arista stainless model because the plastic spools cause trouble sometimes and I have damaged two films that resisted spooling all the way. I probably should just get the Paterson though. I was using them while developing for the local paper and never had a problem with them. I am curious however about those stainless spools. Anyone reading this has used them?

Processing your own films saves a lot of money but there is still the cost of film. What about buying in bulk? You can actually buy rolls of 100ft of film! A film loader is necessary but should pay for itself fairly quickly. I will get the Arista 35mm Bulk Film Loader Bobinquick Junior. That site has all the film processing gear you will ever need! Film is cheaper at B&H though, a 100ft. roll of HP5+ costs $50. At maybe 20 rolls of 36exp per 100ft. roll, that comes to about $2.50 per roll instead of $4.75. It takes 31 rolls to pay off the Arista loader ($70), 14 rolls for a cheaper loader ($30). The empty cartridges are cheap at about $1, and reusable. You can also use spent cartridges if the leader is still sticking out.

Film photography is my hobby. I used to make a living with it when digital didn’t exist. I don’t plan on being a professional again, but if my skills improve I might want to be ready if an opportunity presents itself, say an assignment overseas for instance. That means digital, and probably a DSLR. Being used to professional cameras that can be banged around and abused (F3 & F4) I wouldn’t go for any less. Problem is, new ones cost a fortune, from $5K to $7K, not to mention lenses. Fortunately there are awesome professional cameras on Ebay that used to cost as much but can be found now for around $500! The best example would be the Nikon D2X or the Canon 1Ds Mk1. I am a Nikon kind of guy.. The D2X actually goes for around $450. It’s built like a tank, pretty much waterproof, shock proof, freeze proof, etc. I don’t think you could break one by accident, short of dropping it from an airplane on concrete. 12mp is quite enough. More than that and files get way too big. Image quality is outstanding. Add a 35mm f2 (52.5mm equivalent) for $330, and you have a professional combo for $800 (including a filter). There is nothing else out there that can beat that.

Speaking about lenses… The best advise I can give to beginners is to avoid zooms, especially “kit zooms.” prime lenses, or fixed-focal lenses are leaps-and-bounds better than zooms. Kit zooms will turn a great camera body into a piece of crap.. Spend more money on a lens than you did on the camera body. I would suggest starting with a 50mm full frame equivalent. What does that mean? Well, some cameras have a smaller sensor than the 36x24mm film size. The D2X for example has a 1.5x crop factor. That means that if you want a 50mm equivalent you would need to buy a 33.3mm lens. 35mm is the closest you will find. Later you can get a 28mm, and maybe a 135mm.. NO ZOOMS! With a zoom you become lazy and composition takes a backstage. You don’t want that. How hard a picture is to take is often directly proportional to it’s quality. Zooms have more elements and more of them need to move for zooming. That creates problems and eats light. Prime lenses are better optically, brighter and cheaper! How do you recognize and amateur from a professional? The amateur uses long skinny lenses, often zooms. The professional uses wide prime lenses that let in a lot of light.

I still want a Fuji X100S for street photography of course, but unfortunately I think the money will go to my dentist.. Sorry B&H.. Tooth problems can cause so many health problems, I need to take care of myself first before thinking of buying more cameras. Even if I get to buy a D2X, X100S and say three Nikon lenses, I can’t imagine needing anything else as a hobbyist, even semi-pro. It’s about the images, not the gear.

This year I also want to start on my new boat construction. Unfortunately the economy has finally caught up with me. I might just have to get that Voightlander 35mm, forget all the rest and make sure I am healthy with no late bills to pay. I have a wide array of marketable skills but no field is being spared, except maybe medical professionals, and I am not even sure about them.. I know my dentist will get my money.. It might be time to learn some new tricks..