photography

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I finally got to finish the book with the Big-Es coffee shop regulars and sunset at Indian Beach in Sarasota Florida. Film photos were taken with Leicas (M2, M4-P, IIIc) and a Pentax 6×7. Digital shots are from a Fuji X100S and Olympus OM-D E-M5. The project lasted two years.

I will miss Sarasota and my friends dearly, until I come back, soon or later. Everyone seems to come back to Sarasota.

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.

X100S
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…

There is a new trend in photography today to use HDR (High Dynamic Range) where three photographs are taken at different exposures and combined into a single image. The result is a horrible, unnatural image that looks more like an oil painting. I understand some might like it. Just don’t call it photography. Over-post-processed images seem to be the norm these days. Because you can use a computer or new wiz-bang camera to modify an image at will doesn’t mean you should. I am horrified at most images posted on 500px.com, especially in the Landscapes and Nature categories. It doesn’t stop there; even portraits are done in HDR.

Your clients want it? Sure, but you might want to educate them on what constitutes a good photograph. Too much post processing does not make a better image; it certainly won’t save a bad one. Maybe that is where the problem lies. Anyone can buy a Nikon D4 with a good lens and call themselves a photographer. Add a bit of special effects to make things pop like a christmas tree and WOW! Instant success… You can always sell a turd if you gift-wrap it well. When the wrapping wears off, you wonder where the bad smell comes from. I have seen “professional photographers” who’s images I would not even glance at, much less pay for. You will find their Facebook pages* under “So-and-so Photography.” If someone shot my Wedding like they do they wouldn’t get a penny from me and I would be pissed. their expositions and focus is good, colors are nice, but those are camera automated features. There is no effort placed on composition or capturing the moment. Like the movies Hollywood produces today: All special effects, no story. Here, no talent.

I am not calling myself a good photographer because I am far from attaining the level I want to reach and so many produce much better work. I do know crap when I see it though. Composition and capturing the moment are my primary concerns. I control my cameras in manual mode and would never add effects to an image. I very rarely crop images. Photographs should reflect reality, not look like a Disney cartoon, as nice as that might look to an uneducated public or wannabe real-photographer. The notable exception of course is B&W photography. We do not see in black-and-white. The lack of color however brings the emphasis on composition. Color is distracting. You can’t make a bad photograph look good in B&W.

When I worked for a newspaper, I was a professional photographer. It was my occupation and I got a paycheck every month for it. I was more paid for my inclination to be on time at different locations following a crazy schedule than for the quality of my images. Sure, it mattered, but not as much as being able to be there at the right time and get images no matter what, being it an overzealous security staff member or a blizzard. Picture quality was secondary to actually getting a picture. I did learn composition by looking at thousands of photographs and their critiques by professionals when available.

If you are tempted to use HDR and other gimmicks to save a photograph, wonder instead about what you could have done to make it better in the first place. Do you want to be a photographer or a graphics artist? If you answer the former, than learn to be one first.

* I have seen great work posted on Facebook under such pages, so by no means do I place everyone in the same basket…

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.