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!

Please help support this site by clicking on the Amazon link on this page if you are shopping for an item.

Dec 302011
 

I have spent quite a bit of this week researching lenses for possible use with the Ricoh A12 M-mount. With my penchant for Zeiss lenses, and the qualities they bring to photographic images, those were an obvious target.

With the A12 M-mount one has to remember that there is a 1.5 crop factor, which means a really wide-angle lens is needed to achieve the 35mm equivalent of a moderate 28mm wide-angle lense.

With Zeiss, the choice is the Distagon T* 18mm f/4, not the fastest of lenses but its rendition is quite wonderful and it would certainly enhance any landscape shots. The only drawback is that it is somewhat pricey.

I also looked at the Biogon T* 35mm f/2, a lens famed for its sharpness at the corners. While looking at the 35mm focal length I came across the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2. A second version of this lens is due in the stores in January. It is slightly lighter than the original version, which is highly sought after in the second-hand market for the qualities so eloquently admired by a Canadian photographer, known to the world only as Peter, who posts under the nom de plume of Prosophos and has a web site of the same name.

Peter aka Prosophos is a talented photographer. His people shots are something quite special. He has the knack of capturing the perfect expression in his subjects.

His field report on the original version of the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2  is well worth checking out.

A third focal length I have been looking at is 50mm, which would translate into a 35mm equivalent of 75mm on the GXR A12 M-mount and ideally suited to portraits. Zeiss offers two 50mm ZM lenses – the C Sonnar T* 50mm f/1.5, the ‘C’ denotes compact and classic, and the Planar T* 50mm f/2 .

The C Sonnar T* does have issues with focus shift, which Zeiss acknowledges, and involves a little more care and attention when focusing but the results can be quite sublime, as Mikael Törnwall attests on Luminous Landscape.

Törnwall reports that Zeiss recommends the C Sonnar T* is best used for “emotional, artistic, narrative images, portraits or atmospheric landscapes. For documentation or technical subjects, Zeiss recommends to stop down the lens at least to f/5.6 or to use the Planar T* 2/50 ZM lens”.

Those three focal lengths – 15mm; 35mm and 50mm – would make for an ideal three-lens outfit for the GXR A12 Mount. If I were to add one more it would be the Biogon T* 28mm f/2.8 to give me the 35mm equivalent of a 40mm lens. Remember the classic Minolta CLE film camera had a three-lens kit comprising 28mm, 40mm and 90mm lenses. The Biogon T* 28mm would help fit in with that tradition.

In doing my research, I was thankful that I am not in a position to buy at the moment. Why? None of the above mentioned lenses are in stock anywhere. They seemingly cannot be had for love nor money. The same goes for Leica M-mount lenses. With the advent of the Sony NEX cameras and the A12 M-mount is it a case of the demand for these lenses has grown to where it outstrips supply? Previously the only market for these lenses was people owning Leica, Zeiss or Voigtlander rangefinder cameras and out of those three brands, only Leica offers a digital version.

As much as the Ricoh GXR camera with the A12 M-mount holds considerable appeal in terms of size and weight — the three Zeiss lenses in my proposed three-lens kit have a combined weight just 18g heavier than my Canon 40D body – I still have reservations about using an electronic viewfinder.

I am old school and for me a camera is all about lining up a shot staring through an optical viewfinder. It is what I have been used to for more than 30 years and old habits die hard.

It may be that I am worrying unnecessarily about the EVF. If people would like to share their experiences of using a camera that relies on an EVF, I would be most grateful.

It just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2012.

Happy trails!

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

 Please help support this site by clicking on the Amazon link on this page if you are shopping for an item.

Dec 232011
 

One of the photography blogs I visit regularly is One Day, One Picture run by Cristian Sorega.

Cristian is a fabulous photographer, especially his street photography work, and is also knowledgeable about Ricoh cameras. What Cristian doesn’t know about a Ricoh camera both from the technical and hands-on perspectives is probably not worth knowing.

It has been my good fortune to have made his acquaintance in terms of his technical expertise and the wonderful images he creates.

Cristian has been shooting exclusively with the Ricoh GXR and A12 M-mount of late, to which he attaches a variety of legacy lenses and rangefinder lenses.

Rangefinder lenses usually mean either outrageously expensive Leica lenses or the more moderately-priced, but still quite expensive, Zeiss lenses. The quality of both goes without saying.

Recent shots by Cristian with the GXR A12 M-mount have featured Voigtlander lenses and I was impressed by the results so much that I did some research into them. The quality across the range may not match that of Leica and Zeiss lenses but it is certainly good enough for any serious photographer. The great advantage is their price.

Out of the extensive Voigtlander M-mount range, from a focal length of 12mm up to 75mm, only two lenses are priced at above $1,000 – the Nokton 50mm f/1.1 and the soon-to-be-released Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2. The other lenses are within a $409 to $849 range.

Sean Reid on the Luminous Landscape Web site compared several of the Voigtlander lenses with their Zeiss, Leica and Canon FD counterparts and his analysis is both comprehensive and thorough. We would expect nothing less from Sean. One of the Voigtlander lenses impressed him so much that he ended up buying it. The others he reviewed also received favourable comments.

I have to say that through Cristian Sorega’s images, the favourable reviews of Voiglander lenses and their affordability, I am being tempted more and more by the GXR with the A12 M-mount.

I would still prefer an in-built EVF, such as the one featured on the Sony NEX-7, but I like Ricoh cameras and am familiar with their UIF, probably the best of any camera produced.

I will certainly be looking at the GXR with serious intent in the New Year and with a view to acquiring probably a mix of Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses, depending on the availability of funds.

The GXR with the A12 M-mount appears to be the nearest thing in this digital age to the legendary Minolta CLE. Many’s the time I rue not buying the Minolta camera with its three Rokkor lenses — 28mm, 40mm and 90mm — to complement my Minolta XD-7 SLR back in the days of film. For one thing, I would not have to go out and buy lenses for the GXR and in the Rokkor 40mm f/2 I would have a gem of a lens. But there is no use dwelling on what might have been.

In the meantime, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will leave you with a picture of Christmas lights adorning houses in my neighbourhood.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

 Please help support this site by clicking on the Amazon link on this page if you are shopping for an item.