May 172012
 

Last week’s announcement of the Leica M9- Monochrom camera sparked off the Leica bug in me again. Whereas the new camera with its dedicated B&W sensor does not hold all that much appeal, despite my love of B&W photography and the great many images that I convert to B&W, I would still want the colour option in any camera that I might own.

Award winning photographer Edmond Terakopian has had the chance to put the Leica M9-M through its paces and without a doubt the results are mightily impressive.

I have seen some people say that they will now carry two Leicas, the M9 and the M9-M, citing the days of film when they carried two cameras – one loaded with colour film and one with black & white film. In those days, there was little option but to carry two cameras if you wished to shoot both colour and b&w shots but digital photography has freed photographers from that constraint or should I say burden. People are strange.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Leica M9 prompts the old head versus heart dilemma in me. The head tells me that in terms of value for money far better cameras than the M9 are to be had. Who in their right mind would pay nearly $7,000 for a camera that boasts a 230,000 dot LCD screen, no AF capability, no live view and a top ISO of 2500?

The heart tells me that the Leica M9 offers unsurpassed full-frame image quality and one only has to look at images shot by skilled photographers to see that they have an image quality often referred to as the “Leica look”.

Factor in the weight of the M9, a mere 585g or 20.64oz, and its size — 139 x 80 x 37 mm or 5.47 x 3.15 x 1.46 ins – and suddenly the heart appears to be winning the argument.

The Canon and Nikon fanboys on DPReview take great delight in slagging off the Leica M9 as an overpriced under-featured camera, the plaything of doctors, dentists and lawyers who can afford the Leica price tag.

I would hazard a guess that many of those same fanboys have no direct experience of film SLR photography and are digital through and through. When they rant and rail against the Leica M9, as they often do, they are missing the point and one that came to me in a moment of epiphany after reading Thorsten Overgaard’s treatise on the Leica M9.

Leica is the only camera manufacturer that made a seamless transition from film cameras to digital ones. It kept the size, shape and form of the Leica M film cameras but gave them a digital heart. Thus those shooting film with a Leica M could switch to a Leica M8 and later M9 with a relatively shallow learning curve and without having an extra pound or two added to the weight of the camera.

For more than 25 years I shot with a Minolta XD-7 SLR camera, known as the Minolta XD-11 in the United States, which weighed 560 g or 19.75 oz and measured 136mm x 86 x 51mm or 5.35 x 3.38 x 2.01ins. My Canon 40D weighs in at 822 g or 29.0 oz and measures 146 x 108 x 74mm or 5.75 x 4.25 x 2.91ins and without the luxury of a being full frame. To achieve comparable performance with the Minolta, I would have to look at the Canon 5D Mark III, all 33.51 oz of it, or the 48.85-oz Canon 1Ds Mark III.

It is easy to see why so many photographers of my generation would love their Minolta XD-7, Nikon FE or Canon AE-1 fitted with a digital sensor. Those people who used to shoot with a Lecia M3, M4, M5 or M6 got exactly that with a Leica M9.

We can also cope with manual focus lenses and centre-weighted metering because that is how we learned our craft. AF is a convenient option but not an essential one if a camera has focusing aids in the viewfinder, which the Leica M9 has unlike the Canon models mentioned above. That being said, I still manage to focus manual Zeiss ZE lenses on my Canon 40D. Admittedly , it is a lot harder than focusing with the Minolta but it is still achievable.

Back in my film days, I kind of negated the weight benefits of the Minolta XD-7 by shooting with a 70-210 mm zoom lense. With age has come wisdom and the decision to only shoot with prime lenses. My days of lugging heavy camera equipment are long gone. If I miss a photo opportunity because of the focal length of the lens on the camera, so be it. I am no longer answerable to the demands of a picture editor. I shoot what I want to shoot.

Leafing through Thorsten Overgaard’s guide to the Leica M9 and reading how he shoots with it – set aperture priority, ISO at 200, manually focus on the subject and fire the shutter – reminded me of shooting with the Minolta XD-7, even down to the centre-weighted metering. And in a Road-to-Damascus moment, I could see the obvious appeal of the Leica M9 and why so many photographers value it so highly.

I think with a Leica M9, two or three Zeiss ZM lenses and possibly the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens, I would be set up for life. With my Minolta XD-7, I never experienced a moment of camera lust because I had what I considered to be the best camera for my photographic needs. I think the same would hold true for the Leica M9.

The only problem with using Zeiss ZM lenses is that they are not 6-bit coded. I am not sure how much of a disadvantage that would be, especially since I would shoot RAW rather than JPEG. And by not using Leica lenses, I probably wouldn’t achieve that 100 per cent Leica look but I think I would get close enough for my tastes.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

All that remains is to find the several thousand dollars it will take to make a photographic dream come true. I have already checked out a couple of secondhand Leica M9s to reduce the potential outlay, one of them being the M9-P, which appeals because of its understated appearance – it doesn’t carry the red dot or M9 motif – but, more importantly, because of the virtually unbreakable sapphire crystal covering on the LCD screen. This camera would be the last one that I would ever buy, so I would want it to last in good condition for as long as possible.

With that all settled, I am off to buy a lottery ticket or two. Wish me luck!

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Jan 302012
 

In the days of film photography, I was always more circumspect when it came to deciding when to press the shutter and capture an image.  With the film and developing costing money, I was always strived to try and get value for my money. I didn’t always succeed.

With the advent of digital photography, once a memory card has been bought, whether you shoot 10 frames or 1,000, the operating cost is the same. I am not factoring in the cost of a camera, computer and the software needed to process the images. On a day-to-day basis of shooting photographs, digital photography is essentially free.

The downside to that situation is the tendency to shoot a lot more images, followed by a much longer process of deciding which are keepers and which can be deleted.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Nikon guru and photography sage Thom Hogan, what Thom doesn’t know about Nikon cameras isn’t worth knowing, advocates limiting the number of images shot in an attempt to reduce the processing workflow.

In article about dealing with lots of digital images, Thom even harks back to the days of film and advises photographers to wrap each memory card in a 20-dollar bill to remind themselves that images cost money. He recommends “chimping”, looking at the images just after they have been shot and deleting the failures.

On the computer, Thom advises classifying the images into three categories — winners; keepers; and delete. He then further classifies the first two categories into winners, stock and keepers. Thom rates the winners with five stars; stock images with three stars; and keepers with one star. The three rankings correspond to Galen Rowell’s ABC system of classification: A for winners; B for stock; C for keepers.

Winners — five-stars or A —  are few and far between. Thom writes:

You don’t have very many. Ansel Adams once said that if you shoot a dozen great images a year, you’re doing well. If your A category gets much higher than a 100 images over a few years of shooting, you’re probably not being critical enough.

Three-star or B images are those sold for stock. Thom defines images in this category as “a very publishable and it’s an image that I’m proud to have my name associated with”.

One-star or C images are basically reference photographs. Thom defines them as “images that someone would find publishable, but you wouldn’t care if your name was or wasn’t associated with them.”

Renowned Danish photographer Thorsten Overgaard, a man whose photographs regularly grace some of the most presitigious publications in the world, takes a  somewhat different approach. Thorsten advises never to delete anything and certainly not on the basis of reviewing the image on the camera’s LCD screen. For Thorsten time is more costly than hard drive space.

At the computer, Thorsten recommends reviewing a shoot backwards when trying to determine the merits of the various images shot. By the end of a shoot the creative process is likely in full flow and better images will result than at the beginning. In Thorsten’s words you are “warmed up”. He adopts a binary system of classification. Either an image is one worthy of saving or it is not and even the latter are not deleted, they just become images that he does not spend time on.

Thorsten writes:

Hence you only have yes and no images. You don’t rate images with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. You either select it as an image or disregard it. You harvest images.

He marks his yes images with three stars. Those are the images he works on and eventually exports as high resolution JPEGs. His “harvest” will consist of “two, five, 10 or 14 images that are in fact professional”.

Thorsten concludes:

You may show your two, five, ten or fourteen images to people. And they will recognize that you have talent, because they have never met anyone who could make ten pictures that were all that perfect!

The emphasis must always be on quality when it comes to selecting images. I know at times that my quality control regarding what I post on various blog sites is not all that it should be. I kind of made a rod for my own back by starting a blog site called Tägliches Foto, which requires me to post a photograph every single day.

My method of sorting and selecting images consists of several stages. When shooting with the Canon 40D and the manual focus Zeiss lens, my initial selection is based on the image with the sharpest focus. This step involves using the loupe in Adobe Bridge and comparing several images of the same subject.  The image with the sharpest focus is marked with one star.

I then review all the one-star images and more in keeping with Thorsten’s approach make a selection on yes and no. The former are marked with two stars and these are the images I will spend time working on. During the course of processing the RAW images in Photoshop CS5 and Silver Efex Pro 2, I usually come to the conclusion that some of the two-star images are not really worth spending time on. They remain as two-star images while the processed ones become three-star JPEGs.

With the Ricoh GRD III, I mark all the RAW files with one star. I do wish Ricoh would facilitate the ability to just shoot in RAW rather than providing RAW plus a JPEG image. I then choose those that are worth working on and mark them with two-stars. As with the Canon, the two-star list is not definitive at this stage and some two-star images fail to make it as three-star JPEGs.

When it comes to deleting. When I have processed all the images from a shoot with the Canon, I delete those RAW files that were not quite in focus but i retain all the rest. With the Ricoh GRD III, I eventually delete the in-camera JPEG images.

When it comes to deciding which photographs will eventually appear on Calvin Palmer Photography, the choice is made from the three-star JPEGs and those selected are designated with four-stars.

The important thing to remember is succintly put by Thorsten: “No photographer has a hit rate of 100 per cent.”

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