Category Archives: Teaching point

Giving Leica Credit.

Leica.

Last week’s experience with new gear made me appreciate something all over again:  the joy of shooting with a rangefinder.

I’ve written about this previously, but it doesn’t hurt to be taught old lessons again.

Many people view the Leica rangefinder and its mechanical coincident focusing mechanism as antiquated.  Yet, I’ve chosen this type of camera (starting with the M8) for almost 100% of my photography for the last 7 years.  For me, and many others, there is no better example of an unobtrusive and high quality image-capable camera.

Recently, another camera company has been celebrated for manufacturing smaller-than-DSLR “full frame” bodies, yet it is noteworthy that Leica accomplished this back 2009 with the M9.  Moreover, to this day, Leica is the only company that (mostly) understands the ergonomics of a proper camera and the importance of an optical viewfinder.

The modern Leica M camera carries forward design principles that have been retained, honed, and perfected over many decades.  Quite literally, there is no competition in the current camera landscape.

On a final note…

Although I have been famously critical of a sensor decision Leica made with the M240 (though I’m learning to live with it), I have no problem giving credit where credit is due, so:

Thank you Leica, for the M.

—Peter.

Portrait.

This is an image, of course, but it’s also a test shot.  I’m trying to tackle and tame the shortcomings of the CMOS sensor.

My brief experience with the D800E confirmed for me that “CMOS is CMOS” when it comes to trying to pull out shadow detail (or getting micro-contrast, or getting good skin tones)… i.e., as of April 2014, it’s not as good as CCD, whether we’re talking Nikon or Leica.

Surprisingly, the D800E also made me appreciate the M240 more.

However, going forward I’m going to give the technical stuff a rest and start concentrating on photography again.

And as I go along I hopefully will be able to reduce the time it took to get this image to where I wanted it to be.

—Peter.

Portrait

↑Leica M240 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4.

Light Reading, Part 2 (different processing, different image).

Here’s a second image, taken a little earlier from the first (and cropped).

The lighting is different, and I’ve processed it differently too.

I realize I’m comparing apples to oranges, but I’m curious on your thoughts as I work through these D800E/Otus files.

—Peter.

Light Reading, Part 2 (different processing)

↑Nikon D800E and Zeiss Otus 55mm @ f/1.4.

Upside-Down-Side.

The art and science of composition.

Or, synchronicity.

Upside-Down-Side

↑Nikon D800E and Zeiss Otus 55mm @ f/1.4.

Glenfiddich Window Portrait (Tilt-Shift test shot).

This is a test shot using my recently acquired used Mamiya tilt/shift accessory on Fuji instant (“Polaroid”) film.

No alcohol was harmed during the testing process.

Glenfiddich Window Portrait - Mamiya RZ Tilt-Shift Fuji Instant

↑Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya 180mm @ f/4.5, tilt/shift accessory, and Fuji FB-3000.

One more thing… for the Mamiya RZ67.

Ever since I acquired the Mamiya RZ67, I have been searching for a specific accessory item for it.

The trouble is, it is difficult to find a used example of this piece.  And brand new, it sells for more than what I paid for my entire (used) Mamiya kit.

However, last week I found a mint copy of what I was looking for, at an exceptionally low price.  I thought it was too good to be true, until it arrived this week.

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Pop Quiz:  Can you identify the accessory in the image below?

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Mamiya RZ67 Tilt-Shift Accessory - Photographs by Peter

(the above image was taken with my new digital set-up: the Nikon D800E and Zeiss Otus 55mm @ f/1.4)

My new gear – Nikon D800E and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon.

Nikon D800E - Photographs by Peter

Zeiss Otus 55mm f_1.4 APO-Distagon - Photographs by Peter

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I am amazed at how many of you correctly deduced either the lens or camera, based on the two “test images” I posted over the last 24 hours.  A few of you even employed a psychological analysis of me to come up with your answer.

The first person to correctly guess both camera and lens, even before the first test shot, was Johannes.  Impressive predictive prowess, my friend.

Honourable mention goes to Andrew, who correctly guessed the lens and steadfastly held on to his prediction.

So here I go…  on to a new adventure.

Please be patient with the images.  The M9 + 50 Summilux ASPH pairing produces a different look, there is no doubt.  In many ways I prefer its rendering to my new gear (the M9 has a CCD sensor that is superior — at base ISO — to any of the current CMOS offerings, and Leica lenses are of course legendary).

Yet, I’m back to Nikon, where my digital experience was first forged.

In a sense, I’m home again.

—Peter.

Test Shot 2.

Orchids in the evening.

Considering the camera was handheld at a shutter speed of only 1/125 sec, the sharpness is excellent.  The shutter vibration is better than what I expected.  I’m pleasantly surprised.

The lighting was mixed (natural twilight and nearby incandescent) and the colour is true to what I saw.

Tonality is really nice too.

 

test-shot-2-orchids

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Aperture:  Undisclosed

Shutter Speed:  1/125 sec

ISO:  400

Camera:  Undisclosed

Lens:  Undisclosed

Test Shot (with 100% crop).

As promised, here is the 100% crop from the image posted earlier today:

Honey - Test Shot

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Aperture:  Undisclosed

Shutter Speed:  1/200 sec

ISO:  500

Camera:  Undisclosed

Lens:  Undisclosed

Transition Period.

For the first time in five years, I am without a digital Leica M (my Leica M9 is gone, and so are my Leica lenses).

I don’t see myself purchasing another digital Leica M again, unless:

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  • The sensor is state of the art.  Leica seems intent on never going back to CCD (despite my best efforts), but the CMOS sensor in the M240 was a disappointment.  There are better CMOS sensors out there.
  • Leica regains its focus on still image photography.   With the M240 and its already-obsolete-at-launch EVF, they produced a product with “me too” add-on gimmickry at a premium price.  Thank goodness they weren’t silly enough to drop the rangefinder focusing mechanism, or else all would have been lost.
  • Leica improves its quality control, and the reliability of its products.

 

The Leica M3 and Voigtländer Nokton 40mm are still with me.

The Mamiya RZ67 is with me.

My deep connection to rangefinders will remain with my M3, and I will continue to develop my portrait photography with the formidable RZ67.  Both of these are, of course, film cameras.

I’ll therefore be exploring another digital system.

In fact, it’s already in my hands.

—Peter.

Brushing Honey.

This was shot wide open @ f/2.8, but required a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/30 sec to expose the foreground figures correctly.  The camera was braced on the floor to reduce vibration and also to obtain the perspective I was seeking.

I was lucky to hit the shutter at just the right moment — the eye contact was brief.

I wasn’t sure how the 110/2.8 would deal with shooting into the light, but the lens has once again impressed me.

And, I am really enjoying the Mamiya RZ67… more so than I thought I would.  Yes, it’s a large and heavy camera, but the system is so well thought out that it prevents you from “screwing up” while delivering exceptional results.

When I purchased my Mamiya equipment, the 180/4.5 lens was also included, but I haven’t yet photographed with it.

—Peter.

Brushing Honey

↑Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya 110mm @ f/2.8, and Kodak Tri-X 400.

C and H.

(About a girl and her dog)

This was taken at bedtime, under very dim light.  The film was therefore pushed quite a bit during post processing to lighten things (I should have instead “pushed” it during development).

I’m actually amazed that I ended up with an image that I like, given my previous attempts to capture such scenes in my kitchen without the aid of daylight have never produced satisfactory results, with digital cameras (M9, M8, D3S, D3, D700, etc.) anyway.  Although film doesn’t make up for poor lighting, it certainly is more forgiving.

—Peter.

C and H

↑Leica M3, Voigtländer Nokton 40mm @ f/1.4, and Kodak Tri-X 400.

Work Station.

1/25 sec, ISO 640, f/1.4.

Despite this being a hand-held image at a reasonably slow shutter speed, the in-focus areas readily display the “crisp” rendering we get from CCD sensors.

The colours are remarkable too, considering this was photographed under incandescent light.

(DNG file converted to JPG with no post-processing)

—Peter.

Work Station

↑Leica M9 and Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH @ f/1.4.

The Ship of Theseus, and my Leica M3.

Theseus' Ship

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In Greek mythology, Theseus was the the hero who slayed the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Knossos.

He then sailed home, on a ship that — having long been in service — was in obvious need of repair.  Wooden planks were therefore removed and replaced.

Theseus’ Paradox arises from the following thought experiment:  suppose, over time, more and more aging planks were removed and then replaced with new pieces of wood until — eventually — no original plank remained.

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Would the ship still be the same ship?

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Most people would still consider it Theseus‘ ship, but… Would it still be the same ship that served him so well?

There are several potential answers to this question, and one further wrinkle that involves taking all of the old discarded planks and re-fashioning another ship, thus creating two Theseus ships (the one with all of the replaced parts, and a new-old one with the old parts).  It’s very mind-bending.

So…what’s this have to do with photography?

Nothing.  But…

I recently purchased a 1963 Leica M3 in completely original condition, and sent it in for servicing.  Even though it was working well enough in most situations, several of its optical and mechanical parts were in poor condition and needed to be replaced.  The exterior covering was replaced too.

I’m currently waiting for its return.

While I’m waiting, the question I keep asking myself, after all of these changes is:

Is this the same M3 that allowed me take this image?

Or has my ship sailed?

—Peter.

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Top 5 Images that I liked – but you didn’t :)

When you create things (like photographs) you become emotionally attached to them.  Consequently, you are often not in the best position to judge whether your creations are any good.

Having said that, I’m normally pretty accurate at predicting which of my images will be favourably received.

However, I still get fooled.  Sometimes, what I thought was good, you think is, well…

Here are 5 images I posted over the last few years that received minimal or no comments.  They were figuratively sucked into a vacuum and left for dead.

I realize that perhaps you may have been away when I first posted them.  Or, perhaps you were too pressed for time, and couldn’t leave a friendly comment.

But I am instead going to assume that you disliked these images.

How could you? :)

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Top 5 Images that I liked — but you didn’t.

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1. Bajan Tapestry.

This was photographed last month, so I admit I may be biased by the recency of my creation.  Yet, I believe this may be one of the best images I’ve ever created.

bajan-tapestry

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2. The Kick.

The proverbial decisive moment.  Caught on film, no less.  Whimsical, and perfectly composed with a dash of symmetry.  Tell me otherwise.

The Kick (film)

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3. The Kiss.

It’s all about Love.  You would have to be heartless to ignore this one.  And you did.

The Kiss

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4. The Window, Part 2.

Reflections, connections, and longing gazes.  Life as a dream.  Works for me.

The window, Part 2.

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5. Portrait of an enigmatic young man.

So enigmatic, it confused you.  I guess.

portrait-of-an-enigmatic-young-man

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There are other examples, but I won’t berate you any more.

Thanks,

—Peter.

Plustek 120 and Silverfast: Mark’s settings for dust removal.

I recently reported on the Plustek 120 scanner for scanning B&W film.

After reading about my positive experience with the Plustek 120, my friend Mark purchased one.  Mark, being a Master in film processing, develops both B&W and colour film.  While using the colour film dust removal feature of the Silverfast sofware, he initially found things weren’t working.   However, a few quick changes in Silverfast solved the problem.

Mark writes:

“I appear to have a fix for the problem… It seems that there is a setting under [Silverfast's] “Preferences > Special > Maximum Offset for iSRD alignment” that is “Maxed Out” by default. I have decreased my value to 50 (from a default of 70) and decreased the detection threshold to 2 (in the iSRD Dialogue) and the resulting correction is PERFECT, with no alterations in the underlying grain structure of the resulting scan…I hereby declare this to be a FINE scanner

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Thank you for this information Mark.

—Peter.

Keeping it real.

I thought it might be a good time to link to an old post of mine, from over two years ago.

What prompted this?

Looking at some images from a popular website, where a guest photographer was sharing his experience with one of the latest cameras.  The images were beautiful, but the processing was over the top.  Too plastic.

When processing, my friends, you have to keep it real.

–Peter.

1963 M3 – Test Shot.

Completing my move back into shooting film is my acquisition of a Leica M3.

I’m revisiting an old friend, in that I’ve owned two of these previously (a couple of examples of my previous output with the M3 can be seen here and here) .

This one is from 1963, and it still has the “L” seal intact — which means it has never been opened to be serviced since leaving the factory in 1963.

How well does this 50+ year old camera fare?

Here is a test shot from today (focus is on the angels):

1963 M3 Test Shot

↑Leica M3, Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH @ f/1.4, and Kodak Tri-X 400.

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The focus is spot-on, and most of the shutter speeds are working perfectly.

Now, do I get it serviced to get the last ounce of performance out of it, or do I leave it untouched (with the L seal intact)?

Hmmm…

—Peter.

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