Category Archives: Teaching point

The Leica M9 continues to be the benchmark.

There’s a follow-up article by my friend Ashwin Rao on Steve Huff’s site today discussing his long term experience using the Leica M10.   As would be expected from Mr. Rao, it’s an interesting read but what caught my attention is how much of the article is devoted to comparing the M10 to the M9.

That’s pretty remarkable considering the M9 is now two generations behind… but it’s also something that doesn’t surprise those of us who still appreciate M9 cameras.

On a related note, there’s even an entire thread on the Leica User’s Forum titled What I miss from my M9 in my M10.

(By the way Ashwin, I agree with you that the M10 has regained some of that image quality “pop” that went missing from the M240).

Related reading (particularly the discussion in the comments) from 2013:

The M240 image quality is a step down from the M9.

—Peter.

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Bokeh of the Leica 50mm Summicron APO.

Interestingly, I don’t like the bokeh from the Leica 50mm Summicron APO.

I mean, everybody raves about it.  And admittedly when I examine it in photographs (magnified to reveal detail) it looks quite neutral and uniform.  So it should look good overall.  But when I view the image in its entirety, I intensely dislike the out of focus portions.  The elements within the bokeh are too “structured”.  Perhaps the out-of-focus areas — similar to the in-focus areas — are somehow “sharper”.  Though neutral, the net effect is more… visible.

(Perhaps, though, people have applied too much structure during post-processing.  That’s the only variable I can’t tease apart when viewing others’ images.)

My preferred 50?

Still the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH.   I continue to believe that it achieves the best balance between size and performance vs. any other 50 in the full frame format.  There are sharper 50mm lenses, there are more corrected 50mm lenses, and there are faster 50mm lenses, but none of them achieve the over-all balance of the Summilux.

—Peter.

Features desirable in a new generation digital M rangefinder.

  1. Minimal shutter lag.

This is essential for capturing the decisive moment.

The classic (film) rangefinders have extremely brief shutter lag times (msec):

Leica M3         16

Leica M7         12

Compare this to the following digital rangefinders, which have much longer shutter lags (msec):

Leica M8         80

Leica M9         80

(source: Wikipedia)

 

  1. Optical vs. Electronic Viewfinder (OVF vs. EVF).

My preference would be to have the OVF retained.

If the decision is made to move to an EVF (to improve focusing accuracy, avoid the rangefinder drift that plagues current rangefinders, etc.) the following criteria should be met:

  • The view should consist of a simple outlay free of visual clutter, distracting blinking lights, etc. Ideally, only the framelines should appear (or, at least, the option should exist to turn off all displays so that only the framelines appear).
  • No perceptible EVF lag through a wide range of light (bright to dim).  I don’t believe current technology is able to address this satisfactorily yet, hence one of the several reasons the OVF is still favoured by many.

 

  1. Robust build.

Reliability is a priority.  This should be the minimum expectation for a luxury/professional camera.

Moisture sealing.  The expectation is not that it should be as impervious to the elements as a professional DSLR, because that would add too much bulk/weight, but that it should be able to withstand water spills, light rain, etc.).

Excellent battery life.  With current technology, this may necessitate a slight increase in the size of the camera thickness (for example thicker than the Leica M10) to accommodate a larger battery.  However, this is an acceptable trade-off given the benefit of longer battery life.  Also it is unrealistic to expect film-era camera body thickness in a digital M when modern lenses themselves have also grown in size and weight as compared to their film era progenitors.  The camera body-lens pairing should balance nicely to avoid grip fatigue, etc.

 

  1. Quick operation.

Current frame rates are acceptable for a rangefinder.

However, shorter card-writing times and larger buffers are always welcomed.  This too may require a slightly thicker M to enable adequate heat dissipation.

The ability to review photos quickly, at 100% magnification (with the touch of one button) to be able to quickly verify focus, and to maintain 100% view while scrolling through a sequence of images, etc would be desirable.

 

  1. (Bonus)… this is unrelated to the M line of cameras but will be arbitrarily included in this list:

A large (medium format) digital sensor rangefinder would be desired by many current M photographers.

This is best envisioned as a modern day Mamiya 7 but with a digital sensor.

The rangefinder format would allow for minimal camera size (width).

Together with manual focusing lenses built to the same quality/performance as M lenses this would offer an extremely desirable level of image quality.

However, it must be conceded that pricing for such a system would potentially place it out of the financial reach of a significant proportion of photographers/consumers.

In that case, a fixed-lens version (along the lines of the Leica Q but with the aforementioned medium format sensor) may be a more viable (attractively-priced) option.  A design of this type (fixed lens matched to the sensor) would also potentially allow for a smaller lens size, since custom software corrections for lens design compromises would be possible (again, akin to the Leica Q).

 

—Peter.

One hour with the Leica 28mm Summilux ASPH (Micro Review).

I had the pleasure of using the Leica 28mm Summilux ASPH today, thanks to Alex of Setadel Studios here in Toronto who graciously lent me his personal copy.

The verdict:  I like this lens.

Technical notes:

  • Purple fringing.  Like most fast lenses shot wide open against objects with high contrast edges, undesirable purple fringing is elicited.  This was present in the first image below but was removed during post-processing.
  • Distortion.  There’s very little.  I assume that in a wide-ish f/1.4 lens like this it exists but I didn’t see any obvious sign of it.  In fact, all of the photographs below are uncorrected.
  • Size.  Bigger and heavier than the the 35mm Summilux FLE, as expected.  However, some of the reviews I read about the 28 ‘Lux led me to believe the additional weight was negligible but I was definitely conscious of it while photographing.
  • Sharpness.  Excellent, starting at f/1.4 …and it only gets better from there.
  • Bokeh.  I didn’t have enough time for rigorous evaluation of out-of-focus rendering; having said that, I didn’t see any objectionable qualities in this respect.
  • Usability/Miscellaneous.  The lens barrel has a focus tab, which I like.    The hood is the same screw-it-on-and-it-stops-just-where-it-should type found on the 35mm Summilux FLE and 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar, which I also like.

—Peter.

Leica M9 (CCD Lives!Prosophos Open Letter to Leica) + Leica 28mm Summilux ASPH.

Harry Benz Hand-Crafted Straps.

As I have been waiting for my Leica M3 to return from its total tear-down and subsequent re-build, I’ve been thinking that perhaps a new neck strap for it would be in order; something more befitting a 60 year old camera than the stock Leica nylon/rubber strap that I have been using for all of my rangefinders over the last few years.

(In the past, I’ve tried products from all over the world from all the various well-known strap manufacturers — and I mean all of the well-known ones — and for one reason or other I have always found them lacking.)

Recently, however, I stumbled upon the website of Mr. Harry Benz.

Yet another hand-made strap purporting to be different than the competition“, I thought.

I was prepared to discard Mr. Benz completely because, frankly, I had never heard of him before.  Yet as I read through the description of how Harry makes his straps, I realized that he was indeed creating something unique.  He even uses a different leather — not cowhide (I’ll let you discover for yourself on his site what it is).

Given the level of craftsmanship and passion for detail, I expected to find Harry located in some venerable city known for its artisanal leather industry.  Imagine my surprise when I instead discovered he was living in my very own city of Toronto, Canada.

After a few emails back and forth I had placed a custom order specifying the colour, design, and length of my strap.  We also arranged to meet in person for pick-up and payment once the strap was ready.

Well today I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Benz, and I wasn’t disappointed in either the man or his product.  Although I don’t yet know how well my new neck strap will endure over time, I have a sense it will outlast me.

In the meantime, I can marvel at the beauty of it.

—Peter.

All photos above taken with an iPhone and © Prosophos.

Breakfast over.

I violated one of the photography rules here by having a blurry foreground element (the cup) as I instead chose to focus on the plate (specifically the De Mello “faces”).

I think it works, hopefully you do too.

—Peter.

Leica M9 (CCD Lives!Prosophos Open Letter to Leica) + Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH.

Time to post this again.

(The original post is here:  Photography truths/rules I’ve learned over the years.)

Photography truths/rules I’ve learned over the years.

  1. The 35mm format is the ideal format for recording Life’s Little Moments.
  2. Rangefinders are the ideal camera platform for recording Life’s Little Moments.
  3. Photography is the art of exclusion (painting is the art of inclusion).
  4. Newer generation lenses perform better optically than old classics.
  5. Buy the gear you really want.  Do that once.
  6. The bond between you and your camera is more important than what the spec sheet suggests.
  7. When it comes to cameras and lenses, less is more.
  8. Internet photography fora, beyond the first year of participation, are generally a waste of time.
  9. You only get better with practice.
  10. CCD rules; Film rules CCD…  both are dying.
  11. Use prime lenses.  They lead to better photographs.
  12. Robert Capa was correct: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
  13. To increase your chances of success, shoot in Manual mode.
  14. Focus with manual lenses.  This too will increase your chances of success.
  15. The Rule of Thirds is a pretty good rule.
  16. One good idea is better than 100 frames per second.
  17. Have a healthy respect for those making a living via photography.  It’s difficult to do.
  18. Record video of your loved ones as well… you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  19. Photography is the most democratic form of art… all of us are capable of creating a masterpiece.
  20. Never bet against Leica.

—Peter.

D500 battery drain problem solved with firmware version 1.13.

Nikon quietly released a firmware update for their D500 camera on July 11th that officially was supposed to fix only one issue:

“Fixed an issue that resulted in unreliable connections between the camera and the iOS 10.2 version of the SnapBridge app.”

Despite the fact that I don’t use the “SnapBridge” app, last week I went ahead and downloaded and installed the new firmware.

The result?

I’m happy to report that the well known D500 battery drain (where an unused battery will lose a significant amount of its charge with each passing day while sitting idle in the camera) is now fixed!  Every day since the update I’ve checked the battery status and the charge continues to read “100%”.  This applies equally to the battery in my accessory grip.

Prior to this firmware update I was losing 5 – 7% of battery charge per day.

Bravo Nikon!

(Please pass this information on to anyone you know who owns a Nikon D500.)

—Peter.

 

The difference between digital and film photography.

Digital photography records how things looked,

film photography records how things will be remembered.

—Peter.

Nikon D500.

This is the best Nikon DSLR camera I’ve ever used.

(I’ve previously owned and extensively used the Nikon D70, D200, D40, D3, D3S, D800E, Df, and D810.)

I never thought I’d go back to a crop sensor camera, but there you go.

—Peter.

Nikon updates the 28/1.4.

Nikon has just announced the Nikon 28mm f/1.4E ED lens.

—Peter.

Film users deserve a new mid-range scanner.

Years ago, Nikon discontinued the Super Coolscan 9000 ED.

As of 2017, no one else has managed to produce a comparable product (the Hasselblad Flextight scanners don’t really count because they play in another league with respect to price).

In the past, I’ve been reasonably satisfied with the Plustek 120, but I know its performance lags behind the old Nikon and something about its operation screams “beta product”.

Perhaps Plustek, you can step in and help, please?  I really want to support you for continuing to make film scanners, but I’m looking for something a notch above your current line-up.

—Peter.

Pensive.

Test shot #9 from my 1957 Leica M3 DS.

Along with my subject, I’m pensive too, because I’m sending this camera for a CLA (the shutter speeds are clearly off… this image was underexposed by two stops and I had to “push” it in LR — hence the heavy grain).

And so now I’m back to contemplating the Ship of Theseus because I wonder:

Will my M3 be the same camera when it returns?  Will it continue to give me the sort of images I’ve seen from this first roll of film?

I don’t know, of course.  But I’ll keep you posted.

—Peter.

Leica M3, 50mm Summilux ASPH @ f/1.4, and Kodak Portra 800.

Real.

Test shot #1 from my 1957 Leica M3 DS.

I think the shutter speeds are off as most of the images in this first roll of film appear underexposed. Yet some look fine, so I’m at a loss.

I’m using Kodak Portra 800 here, which is more grainy than Portra 400, but I have a nagging feeling…

Anyway, I’ll take a grainy film image like this over the most polished digital equivalent any day.

Something more real about it.

—Peter.

Leica M3, 50mm Summilux ASPH @ f/1.4, and Kodak Portra 800.

1957 Leica M3.

The 1957 Leica M3 blends the best features from early and late Leica M3 cameras:

  • Double stroke film advance lever with shorter arm (allows you to advance the film and simultaneously hold the camera with one hand).
  • Silent return on the film advance (later models produce a ratcheting sound when returning).
  • Modern shutter speeds (earlier models have the older speeds: 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200…).
  • “Buddha” (aka “Rabbit Ear”) lugs riveted (not screwed) to camera — no loosening or spinning of lugs.
  • Film back door protrusions/pins to prevent door from flapping open when changing film (only available in cameras with serial numbers 854000-858000).
  • Double glass eyepiece with inner seal (later models have single glass with no seal).

It’s now 60 years old and still working like new.

(for more information see here)

—Peter.

You can never go back: De Mello and the D70.

↑Nikon D70 + Nikkor 50mm 1.8G.

“You can never go back.”  So the saying goes.

Today I dusted off an old camera I haven’t used in years — the Nikon D70.

The D70 was the first DSLR I ever owned, and it’s the only camera I never subsequently sold.

I’ve carried it through the streets of Toronto, in all sorts of weather.

We’ve also traveled together to New York City, Paris, and Athens.

A few of the people I’ve photographed with it are no longer with us.

But I was reminded today that, indeed, you can never go back.

—Peter.

Cafe Reading, revisited.

This is a candid shot, taken just moments after the original Cafe Reading photograph (which, in contrast to this one, was posed).  I had just informed V  that “I got the shot”, and she immediately relaxed and started to flip through the pages of a book.

So I photographed her, because I knew that this was the better image.

I don’t often set up photographs, but when I do I will wait (with camera in hand) for the moment that follows, because what follows is usually better than any idea I can dream up.

(Technical:  Taken on a rainy morning, with the soft light working its magic.)

—Peter.

Leica M9 (CCD Lives!Prosophos Open Letter to Leica) + Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE.

Kata’s Chocolates (De Mello).

Kata dreams up the yummiest things 🙂 .

As an aside, I want to thank my lovely wife R who was the stylist for this shoot, and my good friend Mark for introducing me to the Foldio mini studio (this nifty portable contraption has been quite useful for product shots like this).

(Technical:  M9 + 90mm Summicron APO + Foldio2)

—Peter.

↑Leica M9 (CCD Lives!Prosophos Open Letter to Leica) + Leica 90mm Summicron APO.