Photographs by Kang

Food Photographer living in London producing delicious material, and other related documents.

Posts Tagged ‘summicron’

My Leicas.

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

So what the hell has been going on in my life so far? Well, I have only just finished a food related commission and I think the client was quite happy with the results. I am anxious to see what they will use my photography for, in the mean time it’s all still underwraps. At the moment, I am switching focus to my next photo assignment, it’s something I don’t quite have much experience in since I mainly produce for web. I have been commissioned create a set of prints to fill a restaurant wall. It should prove to be an interesting challenge. I’m going to use Metro Imaging for the printing.

Anyway, aside from work, I have actually been gearing up (quite literally) for a coming vacation to Asia. I expect to travel light, and so the bulk of my D700 will not be welcomed. So in my never ending quest for imaging perfection versus compactability, I have finally decided to sink my (now non-existent) savings into a Leica system. Leica M8 Chrome and a Leica M6 Classic Black for bodies. Lenses include a Leica 35mm f2.0 summicron ASPH (coded) and a Leica 90mm f2.0 summicron Type II. Both cameras were bought second hand from two of the best Leica dealers in London, namely R.G. Lewis and Aperture Photographic. If you are interested in used kit, I personally recommend these guys as I trust them, great service too. Ok, first of all, Leicas are the legendary cameras which street photography heroes including Frank, Cartier-Bresson and Winogrand had used to create their classic prints, so the reputation of this relatively small German company definitely precedes itself. Mainly it is down to the lenses, as many claim that Leica glass have a signature ‘glow’ which other brands do not seem to exhibit. Leicas are fascinating cameras and are unique in that they are one of the last bastions of rangefinder photography. Yes, that’s right, Leicas are not Single Lens Reflex cameras, they are rangefinders. The salient differences being that the photographer frames and focuses via a separate view/rangefinder (ie: you do not see through the lens) ; while in SLRs, the photographer frames through the lens (Ie: you see what the lens sees). And because the viewfinder is separate to the lens, rangefinder cameras are much smaller in size, since there is no need for a prism and a mirror to deflect light from the lens to the viewfinder….. I realise I’m bad at explaining this, do google it. With a smaller body and a lens element much closer to the film/sensor, lenses can then be designed much smaller. No mirror also means less noise (no mirror slap) and this makes the entire package a stealth machine fit for the streets (well..). With Leicas, the mystique that surrounds this brand makes it a little special for gearheads such as myself – the cameras are also sculpted with clean, sleek lines and are simply exceptional sex machines.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the digital M8 first… I don’t fetch enough commission work to afford the M9, if I could, ohh….

So here we have Leica’s first digital rangefinder, which was released in 2006 – the M8. It has a 1.33x 10MP Kodak CCD sensor and very crucially, it does not have an Anti-Aliasing filter in front of the sensor, giving rise to much clearer and sharper RAW files.

Couple the AA-less sensor with a Leica lens, and you have an extreme compact digital imaging system. I’ve been shooting with it for a week now and at base ISO160, the M8 really sings. As amazing as my D700/35f1.4AIS is, the Leica outfit beats it outright, right from the sharpness wide open to the smooth bokeh. Leica glass is just in a different league to the Nikkors. Not to say that the Nikkors are bad, its just that Leicas are that much better.

The Leica M8, unfortunately is not perfect. It has a weak IR filter in front of the sensor, so that means that sometimes, blacks look purple. Its a problem easily rectified by using a UV/IR filter, though for everyday shooting without the filter, you’ll hardly see the difference. Another issue – it’s bad at high ISO. You can go to ISO640 and that’s about it. Anything above that is frankly laughable, especially in 2010 photography when you have digitals such as the D3s producing clean prints at up to ISO102,400. The centre weighted metering is overly enthusiastic and in my experience, it approximately overexposes between 0.3 and one stop. You cannot shoot strong light sources in a darkish surrounding because you’ll get weird streaky lines, and at ISO 640 and above, you can throw the image away. And the shutter is really, really loud. I am tempted to send it to Solms to get the shutter upgraded to the quieter M8.2 shutter, but which will rob it of it’s super fast 1/8000th speed. However, in spite of all these niggling issues, when exploited correctly, it really delivers true Leica quality.

The M8 is not very ergonomic in that you will miss the film rewind lever from the film Ms. Luckily, there are accessories which emulate the film rewind lever feel to improve handling and balance. I am of course referring to the Thumbs Up grip, designed by Tim Isaac, and clips on to the back of the top plate. The jutting hilt allows you to rest your thumb on it and this really improves overall handling as you could ‘hang on’ to the camera with your thumb, whereas without it, it would simply slip out of your hands. Now since I cannot really use this camera at High ISO, I’ll have to depend on fast lenses and steady hands to nail sharp images without camera shake. Enter the soft release button that screws onto the shutter release and when mastered it should allow handholding to about 1/8s… I suspect only really applies to wide angles up to say 35mm; anything longer, I still think one needs higher shutter speeds. In my case, my 90mm certainly needs at least 1/60s – anything slower is blurry.

Ok, so that’s the Leica M8, so far I love it. I agree with many things that Steve Huff has written about in his review, so I’m not really going in any more detail. I buy cameras to make photographs, if the photographs come out looking great, then the camera is a useful tool. If it cannot create images to my needs, then its just useless. Thankfully, the Leica M8 gives me the images I need, and more importantly, gives me the portability and discreetness to shoot the type of photography I do. Plus it’s a sexy beast, what’s not to love?

Ok let’s now move on to the film Leica M6 Classic…. oh if the M8 is Jennifer, this is Angelina.

A true Leica M. Shutter speeds from 1s to 1/1000th , 0.72x viewfinder, machined zinc/chrome alloy, black, cloth shutter and a Tom Abrahamsson soft release … this is a real camera. The operation is simple and elegant, the sound of the tripped shutter with the melodic gears in motion are as smooth as a Debussy composition. It is just so romantic in the way it captures images, and I have never used a camera in which the act of making a photograph is so pleasurable.

I am in the process of acquiring a changing bag and a paterson film spool so I can develop some tri-x at home, at the moment, I’ve loaded Portra 400NC film in it. I am going to use this camera to create a 365 flickr project, should prove to be quite a fun exercise, well, it already is.

Anyway, I think I’ve blabbered on long enough, I love my leicas and will post some photographs I have taken with them, particularly a street photography project of some sort… but in the meantime, the obligatory self portrait with the Leica..

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