Monthly Archives: December 2011

Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron, initial thoughts

Sample image from the Leica 90mm f/2.0 Summicron on the full frame Leica M9

Firstly, I would like to clarify, the lens in this review is the Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron-M. This lens was produced between 1980-1998 until it was replaced with the current Leica 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH. While I have had had very little exposure to the latter, the former is what I have and what is the subject of this initial experience review.

And now the review ~

My Grandfather always used to tell me this story when I was younger; Around 1959, at the height of American Automakers, the Lincoln Town Car was released. My Grandfather was one of the first to have this car, and it attracted attention and what not because it was the “new thing”. One day, he drove it into the city and parked it in a garage and went about his business. When he retuned to pick up his car, it had been severely scraped along the side accidentally by the employees of the garage. Being a man of good humor, he berated them saying that “It’s my new car, I should at least be the one who has all the fun destroying it!”. And that is my way of saying I bought a used lens.

Photography forums, and Ebay to an extent are great places to find photo gear. A lot of the times things will be overpriced (Ebay) or their equality will not be easily discernible even when aided by pictures. But when all the stars align, and something is what you are looking for, in the condition you are looking for, you can get some great deals.

Sample image from the Leica 90mm f/2.0 Summicron on the full frame Leica M9

Leica is a strange beast. They make almost unquestionably the best optics in the world, which are very difficult to make and consequently demand a high price. You would think that there really aren’t that many people who would pay the “premium” for Leica products. However this is not true, and many photographers swear by them, and others uses them as style pieces but I digress. The Current state of Leica lens availability is STRONG (oh wait sorry thats the union), the states of Leica lens availability as actually quite weak. In fact there are very few lenses widely available in stock-new in retail stores. The most common to find are the Summarit range (f/2.5 lenses, which are some of the cheapest Leica lenses, but often highly underrated, I own the 35mm and 50mm and love them) and some of those strange slow wide angle lenses. You can find some 35mm/50mm Summicrons or the occasional random piece but the hot ticket items, the Summilux’s and telephoto Summicron’s (75mm and 90mm) are all but impossible to get with customers waiting upwards of two years for their lenses (I have been waiting this long for a 50mm Summilux and know people who have been waiting just as long for 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH lenses). Aside from modern Leica cameras ability to use Legacy lenses dating back to the 1950′s, this lack of new stock has lead to a lively used equipment market in Leica lenses. It has even kept prices high on older models of lenses because of their focal lengths and apertures.

I decided I wanted a 90mm lens, and found this 90mm Summicron on Luminous Landscape and bought it. The experiences I had had with the current 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH had confirmed for me first hand that this was a superior lens optically. After some research online, I rightly concluded that, while there are changes int he APO-ASPH version of this lens they were not significant to warrant paying $6,000.00 premium prices for this lens. Apochromatic lenses allow for focusing of multiple wavelengths of the color spectrum, when you use a lens which is not apochromatic you run the chance of getting chromatic aberration. This most often occurs when there are harsh edges with great contrasts in white/black or light/dark. This is truly the only noticeable difference between the non APO-ASPH version and the APO-ASPH version. Other then this, they look identical except for the fact that apparently the numbers and letters on the non APO-ASPH are more rounded then those on the newer version. Through my initial experiences with this lens, it does exhibit some slight chromatic aberration, however this is in very extreme examples, where you are almost asking for there to be CA in the image. In other images however, CA is sometimes present however it is not significant or noticeable without zooming in in photoshop 200-300%.

Leica’s M system has been built on a legacy of many things, one of them has always been compactness. And while any M lens is considerably smaller then other lenses covering the full 35mm format (full frame) some are large then others. Inherently to their design telephoto lenses must be longer then most standard wider lenses. There are some extreme examples of this like my 24mm f/1.4 Summilux or the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux or the Legendary Noctilux f/0.95 however as a general rule the telephoto’s will be larger, or at least longer (think 135mm vs 35mm). I have grown accustomed to having the added weight and size on the front of the camera and the lower right hand corner of the viewfinder being blocked from my experiences with the 24mm Summilux and consequently this wasn’t an issue for me when I started using this lens. When holding the camera in your hand, this lens is nice, since because of its size, it allows you to hold the camera in a different way which I find quite comfortable.

The aperture ring is of course, very nice and firm in typical Leica style. It has buttery smooth long focus throw which allows for very precise focusing. This is of course something you will want with a lens like this. When using a wide or even normal angle lens, because of the relative size of things you are given some allowances for focusing inaccuracies as regards focusing and DOF’s at various apertures. However the longer side, telephotos are much less forgiving interns of focusing at small apertures (and making pictures at slower shutter speeds but thats kind of a given right?). This is why it is very important to have a long focus throw which means you have to turn the lens barrel multiple times to go from minimum focus to infinity, there by allowing you to make minor adjustments because of its rigidity.

Wide Open, this lens is sharp, Painfully sharp. The main issues I have experienced with this lens have been chromatic aberrations (mentioned above in depth, but again they are very minimal and even a real issue) and focusing inaccuracies because of user error. There are sometimes when a Lens and Digital cameras are not properly aligned, and you must send it back to Leica to have it re-calibrated so everything works perfectly in this system. However I have not had this issue yet. Rather most of the times my focusing issues come from lack of experience with the lens. I.e understanding how shallow the DOF really is with a 90mm lens wide open at f/2, that is to say really shallow. Of course this is part of what you pay for, being able to blow the out of focus elements to oblivion, but it simply creates a challenge which must be mastered when using this lens.

I’m sure I will have more thoughts when I have used this lens for a longer period of time (again, I only got it today), but this is all I have for right now. I am leaving tomorrow morning for a trip to London, where I will be taking my Leica’s and using them with this lens as well as some others and will report back on them later.

If you would like to see a few more or bigger versions of theses images or the EXIF data or whatever, head over to my flickr page for details: http://www.brianhirschfeldphotography.com

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All of the images in this review, were processed through JPEGmini, which is a free online service which allows you to convert your JPEG’s into a JPEGmini, which functions exactly like the JPEG you put into it, but is magically significantly smaller. I find this is great for web-imaging because it allows for faster load times and helps when there are file size limits. While I wouldn’t suggest printing any files you process through JPEGmini right now (although they maintain the original dimensions and resolution) they are sufficient for web purposes and there is virtually no difference between the files except their file size (i.e Kb and Mb). The 10 files in this review were RAW files from my Leica M9 at native size and resolution, combined they were 175.5 Mb (Averaging ~18 Mb a piece) and once uploaded and converted, they are now 41.4 Mb in total (Averaging ~4 Mb a piece) overall they shaved off roughly 75% of their file size with no loss in detail, file dimensions or resolution; pretty damn impressive.  I am not affiliated with or frankly even in contact with anyone who works at JPEGmini, I just think it is something great which is not widely known about.

New website design and Articles re-published

New website design published

also because the comments had been hacked and some articles had over 5000 comments (sorry I’m not that popular) and this had been bothering me for some time. So I saved all articles and images to my computer, and then reposted them, along with their original publish dates.

PDN Photoplus 2011

Originally published: November 2, 2011

Featured on Photorumors: http://photorumors.com/2011/11/01/pdn-photoplus-show-2011-report/

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Left: Inside the Javits Center. Right: A poor representation of the scene outside the Javits center since the image fails to capture the blizzard of snow and ice whipping by every second with the wind.

Saturday October 29, 2011 was a day to remember. Leaving my house in Connecticut at around 11:30 with flurries falling I wasn’t to concerned about the weather; I was going to PDN Photoplus after all. Around Greenwich when the snow intensified I continued on but started to question my resolve. Nonetheless I made it into the city and to the Javits Center. Usually when I attend these sort of shows, I take with me some significant camera either my D3s or my M9 because I like to have a nice camera for me for the rest of my time wherever I am. Of course they don’t hurt your credibility when asking to see expensive gear. This year however I only took my D-Lux 4 point and shoot tucked away in my pocket. As a whole I was pleased with the way I was treated and glad to confirm my suspicions that it wouldn’t affect my credibility if I was clearly knowledgeable about different products. I didn’t address Leica in this review because, as always they are amazing, they let you play with everything, and love talking about it. And of course again much to my torment, they have all of their glass their, all of that rare glass that is impossible to get new from a dealer. They had M9P’s which look great. I will have mine converted when the demand or the conversion is lower and the back order isn’t at January for the conversion. It looks good and adds to the camera’s aesthetic and functionality by making it that much more subtle. The only new thing with the S system was the 30mm Lens which no one really cared about anyway. They need more lenses there is no denying that, and I harp on that many times in the reviews below. But they are a great company with great service and that’s undeniable, even more importantly they make the best optics in the world (if you ask me, which you did since you are reading this). There are pictures of some lenses and the M9P and S2 on my Flickr page. I should add that these are as much my opinions as well as coverage of the show since I really only talks about things that I found interesting and because I’m a narcissist how they relate to me. This should be noted before giving me too much grief in the comments section although I welcome corrections and criticism in a friendly and proper manor icon wink 2011 PDN Photoplus show report For more pictures see http://www.flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography.

COOL THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED – SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH PC TS SUPER ANGULON’S

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It would’ve been very easy to walk by the Schneider booth at PDN Photoplus simply because its kind of intimidating. Its German, and its not Leica. They make great optics, most of which you’ll never use because they are large format. And they are pretty damn expensive since they are pretty damn good. Not to mention there are D3’s, 1D’s and Leaf Backs being shown with GIANT TILT SHIFT LENSES on them. Since most people (myself included to a slight extent, although I’m getting better) don’t entirely grasp the concept of tilt shift lenses. All of this leads to a pretty quite, although quite large booth.   First off, these lenses are amazing, they really are. They are built so well they almost defy explanation. They can’t be compared to Leica’s because they are not. They are Schneider’s. Leica’s lenses are very simply; straightforward and streamlined like the brand. This lens is big, bulky and high in functionality and all metal. It has so many moving parts it defies description and I won’t even endeavor to explain all of them. It’s a fully manual lens, no communication with the camera, you set your aperture and everything on the lens and set your exposure on camera and bam there you go. It’s a perspective control, tilt shift lens on steroids. Its mostly similar to Nikon and Canon’s tilt shift lenses in that they tilt and shit. Schneider’s is inherently bettered designed because of the optics house it hails from. This goes without saying. What doesn’t go without saying are the different an amazing ways this camera interacts with cameras. Most interestingly to me is the mount to the camera. It is possibly by turning a nob at the back to have 360 degree rotation of the camera, but not the lens. The lens will stay in a fixed position but the camera can be repositioned. This is an amazing feature for stitching. Although I don’t remember the dimensions exactly, its possible to take an image, flip the camera mount upside down, so the camera is upside down, take another exposure, merge them together and have it was either a 6x17or a 6×24 image. I thought this was great. Combined with many other perspective modifying features of this lens its really amazing for architecture and landscape work. While less relevant to me in the Nikon and Canon mounts because these are quite small and don’t benefit a huge amount from lens/camera movements, I was more interested in the PhaseOne mount version which has all of the same features of the Nikon Canon models which apparently also have interchangeable mounts according to the sprite and chipper German Schneider rep who clearly knew what he was talking about. I was really pleased with this lens as well as the service delivered by the Schneider rep by his in-depth knowledge and eagerness to talk about the product to someone. I will definitely try and find an excuse to buy this lens.

IOSHUTTER

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Despite appearances, ioShutter had a rather prime location at the end of an isle and right next to borrow lenses; this product may have been overlooked by some. It is a fairly simple idea that you would’ve expected to come about by now. The App is currently available for download in the app store but it won’t really do you much good without the cable which will be available in December according to their website. Also I THINK NOT SURE it might just be for Canon at the moment and will be available for Nikon and I think Hasselblad was mentioned and PhaseOne in the pipeline. Anyway it’s a shutter release cable driven by your iOS device. It has time functions as well as interval release functions useful for time-lapse photograph. While I don’t know if only as a shutter it is that useful since how much room does a cable release really take up anyway? But with the added time-lapse and easy locking features combined with the fact that almost every person on the planet has an iOS device, and the ones that don’t are currently in-line to get one, and so many people have DSLR’s and pro-sumer models that might benefit from this feature, I really hope this concept succeeds.

GIGAPAN SYSTEMS GIGAPAN EPIC SMALL UPDATE

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First of all, my first victory in my crusade for the underrated 300mm f/4 lenses! There’s one mounted on a canon on a Gigapan Epic. Second since my primary interest is in medium format photography, anytime I see anything cool and techno-gadgetry as relates to camera’s I ask, does it work with PhaseOne 645DF? What about a Hasselblad H? So often the answer is no, but here the answer was YES! Kind of. Works with Hasselblad which is great, except I’m trading that in for a PhaseOne. The rep pictured left, explained that they are currently working with PhaseOne to get the cable right to communicate properly between the Gigapan Epic and the Phase 645DF body, just an interesting note, no real thoughts on it one way or another.

FUJI

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Fuji has come a long way in the last year, and I am very impressed with them. They released the X100 and its ridden a wave of hype to almost being widely available a year later. It’s a great little camera, really vintage looking, and kinda sorta opening up peoples mind to the arcane but magical world of rangefinders once again. After holding the X10 and being able to directly compare it to the X100, I have to say I walked a way with a very favorable impression of the X10. That is not to say the X100 isn’t a pretty cool camera but it isn’t that valuable of a tool to me as an M9 shooter. It is a very fun camera and certainly has some novelty value masking its true potential as a camera. But anyway back to the X10 I thought it took everything that was good about the X100 and added in some useful point and shoot features like, smaller size and zoom lenses. Again being an M shooter as well as a fan of prime lenses the X100’s lack of a zoom lens was by no means a deterrent from it in my mind. All that said about Prime lenses, the lens most often on my D3s is my 24-70mm 2.8 because it is the most convenient for general and most travel photography for me. The X10 adds a nice little zoom lens into the equation and it preforms admirably. The X100 had a pretty fast autofocus speed and the X10 seemed to be faster to me. In terms of functionality the X10 seemed on par if not better then the X100. The X10 however, excelled in the size war. I felt that it really did take the good things about the X100 and put them in a smaller, more point and shoot, sized body. It clearly can compete with the big pro-sumer model’s from Canon and Nikon The G12 and P7000 respectively. It does beat them if you ask me, it looks better, it is faster, it has better controls and its manual zoom lens is nicer if you ask me. It gets you more involved in the photography. While you loose the fun and total involvement of an aperture ring it does get both of your hands on the camera and gets you more into being a photographer which I like and think will do wonders for those who use it and photography as a whole if more cameras follow this trend of reverting to the basics (so well exemplified in the M series) and bringing thought and understanding back into mass photography. Again, that said it’s a double edged sword you get all these really cool, back to basic features, but you still wind up paying a premium, not Leica insane but its still kinda like buying a Porsche GT3 where you pay more to have them take stuff out of the car. A note about the upcoming Fuji interchangeable lens camera system. I after fondling the X100 and X10 in silence and not acknowledging the presence of their rep since there really wasn’t any need to talk to him, surreptitiously snuck in an out of no where question, catching him completely off guard, which I hoped would lead to him slipping up and revealing something. “So when will this new interchangeable model with an M mount be announced?” rep “Uh Hi, well it will be out in the spring [I already knew that part] and I should add no one said anything about it being an M-mount system.”. And this guy was really no fun at all so I didn’t bother mentioning about the m-mount patent being up and all that stuff. At the same time I would and wouldn’t be surprised if this new system was a modified m mount to allow for autofocus and a like while accepting all Legacy M lenses. But that’s not a prediction, that’s a hope.

NIKON

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Left: Red Rock Mirco with an appropriately blue styled DSLR rig with large LCD finder and Nikon’s Microphone Right: Zacuto HDSLR rig with their new-ish electronic viewfinder solution which I thought was really great. It can be used with or without the hood and give a really nice BIG electronic viewfinder for precise focus control with the attached follow focus.

Oh Nikon you wonderful behemoth the things you give us are so great. You even Dane to support other brands that compliment your system, how wonderful! I was really intrigued to see that Nikon had a Zacuto and Red Rock Micro DSLR video kit available to be fondled to advertise not only their cameras and lenses but the viability of their cameras as a HDSLR solution. I had never held one of these contraptions before and as the eager sales rep pointed out “they take a little while to get used to” but once you have figured it out they become fairly natural and easy to use. Both setups are pictured with a Nikon D7000, 85mm 1.4G and Nikon Microphone attached.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York7 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Nikon had a really great display of a lot of their future concepts for the mirrorless system including of course lenses as well as some very nice viewfinders and LED lighting setups for photography and video; not to mention a almost tasteful myriad of color options that totally blew Pentax’s mind since some of theme even seemed tasteful. Pictures of these can be seen with many others on my flickr page. I thought the Camcorder design pictured above was one of the best. It adds a side handle, which has a built in continuous light source for easy video recording. It also featured a hot shoe mounted large viewing screen for control over the various options while recording video. Not to mention it does this all off of one body and with interchangeable lenses. I wouldn’t ever really consider it since it isn’t my thing but I can really see this catching on if they can implement enough different accessories that it lens itself to creativity as well as convenience for the less creative consumer segment. Also its really great that they feature all of these different lenses as future concepts and describe who they will be useful for on the description cards for each but they decidedly aren’t working prototypes since they aren’t touchable or even if they are working no one would know it since you cant touch them. I understand Nikon is having a tough time at the moment but wouldn’t have been better to wait and have a fully developed lenses line when the camera launched? For the moment Canon is still without a mirror less system and there haven’t been any leaks of a Canon mirror less prototype, which suggests they, are either holding the designer’s and production staff’s families hostage or it doesn’t exist. Nikon probably could’ve waited, designed, and produced a few more lenses and released them with it, but then again that’s kind of like back seat driving since I’m sitting on my bed and not in the Nikon boardroom. But seriously if Pentax could do it, couldn’t Nikon? (and I know the Pentax lenses feel like you got them out of one of those gumball machines with the prizes but still you get the point.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York81 2011 PDN Photoplus show report 1

Continuing my purely scientific interest in Nikon and Canon’s 300mm f/4 telephoto lens offers, and confirming that no one has every actually used one by talking to multiple Nikon reps, I investigated the Nikon Offering. It is certainly better built then the Canon equivalent in terms of weather sealing and overall build. It’s a true Nikon lens through and through. That said I liked the way the Canon version felt more, honestly. They both autofocused about the same speed (very unscientific test) with a slight favor towards the Nikon in this respect. They both seem to be really nice compact lenses and I don’t know if people buy them but are ashamed of it or if they haven’t been deemed to be worth anyone’s time to review? But I’ve decided to make it my personal crusade to do these lenses justice!

PENTAX

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After being acquired by Ricoh I was curious to see what Pentax would bring to the table. See that was funny to me since all Pentax really had were to tables, albeit very nice open wooden ones with a nice aesthetic. I was expecting a heavier focus on the Ricoh product line, but there was only one camera present. One that frankly I was a bit remiss in not investigating further, the A12 M mount cartridge for the Ricoh GXR. The rest of the combined Ricoh/Pentax space other then the limited corner of the table the Ricoh GXR M mount was on (it had its own sales rep though) was taken up with Pentax Products. Essentially one of the whole tables was devoted to the new and amazing Pentax Q the cutest damn little camera I’ve ever see. From what I’ve seen its images haven’t been that impressive, but look at it! Its so Tiny and cute and you can fit all the lenses (including the zoom), and optical viewfinder in a small-medium sized pocket! And don’t even get me started on that cute little faux leather case, it just makes it look so quant and old fashioned!PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York10 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

All joking aside though, it is tiny. I mean tiny. I mean I’m pretty sure a PhaseOne battery weighs more. And better yet (all other manufacturers should note this) IT WAS ANNOUNCED WITH A FULL RANGE OF LENSES granted collectively I’m pretty sure they use as much glass as a 20 fl oz plastic coke bottle but they are all there, in the flesh, and touchable. They aren’t carefully protected from the public behind glass like the Nikon V1 / J1 concept lenses, or promised like Leica S lenses, they exist. They are there, and they are damn cute. The Jury is still out on this camera, I don’t expect it to be that great image quality wise, but hey its tiny, its complete, and its got all the buttons, who am I to badmouth it. Did I mention its absolutely adorable?PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York11 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Pentax 645D – I’ve always had a bit of interest in this camera. It’s the closest I can come to saying that a reasonably priced new medium format system exists. Of course like the S system from Leica, it is a closed system, the back cannot be removed. But especially for Pentax this is less of an issue since they have all of the legacy 645 lenses a large number of which have autofocus. It can also use Pentax 67 lenses with an adapter that expands the lens range even wider. It seems like a nice entry point considering its cool 40mp and weather sealed body for more then half the price of a Leica S2 (don’t give me crap I’m being a jerk, of course the S is superiorly designed, built, and has better although limited optics.) At Photoplus, the camera wasn’t on display. I asked the sales rep who had shown me the Q about this and he said that it was because the 645D rep had left the day before, awkward. Anyway the Pentax sales rep did give me an interesting line which I thought may be obvious but anyway….He said that Pentax is treating the 645D as a response to Pentax users who want a step up from the K-7. This make sense although I did want to point out that there is a major gap in their pricing structure between the price of a K-7 and the 645D. But I guess if you can afford a D3x category camera you can afford a ~10k medium format system alternatively. I think the 645D does a lot of what the S2 doesn’t that is to say, be affordable. It really does a good job of this. It has all the buttons of, controls, and functionality you want in medium format, it has nice (not superior) build quality, a developed system of lenses and some cool features like the tripod mount hidden by my thumb in the below picture. Pleasing entry-level system (although this has an awful awful stigma [stigma not sigma, sigma does have a stigma attached to it] it shouldn’t) or an amazing go anywhere backup to a large mp sized medium format system. Honestly, I think the S should be more in the 15k range and that would convert more people to Leica and competitively compete with a system like this.

CANON

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Frankly in stark contrast to the jumpy and excited Nikon floor staff the Canon staff were all seated in chairs and look unenthusiastic. This doesn’t lend itself to inspire you to engage these people. But being the brave soul that I am I dared to disturb them and once you broke the ice they were more then happy to talk with you about any aspect of the camera and eager to let you put different lenses on it. OMG OMG it’s the Canon 1Dx have you seen those videos of the 12 FPS!!! CRAZY!!! And the 14 FPS in mirror lock-up WOWZERS. Pretty cool stuff but its hard to get to excited about it. It’s pretty amazing to operate the camera in motor drive at 12 fps but not life changing. I liked the 1984 F-1 Canon High Speed Motor Drive which had 14 fps a long time ago. Anyway the most important development I noted was in talking with a Canon rep. That is, that the limit on video length has been raised and will not be limited like on the IDs Mrk IV. This is important since more and more these cameras are being used on film sets. One thing I made a point of looking at at the show were the Canon 300mm f/4L and Nikon 300mm f/4 because I had never had any experience with them or read anything coherent about them. I found the Canon version to be nicer actually, pretty nice and an interesting, compact fairly fast telephoto lens. Overall this was really all that Canon had to offer, frankly the show as a whole didn’t present that many new products, but it did showcase some of the latest and greatest which have been announced over the past few months. A little disappointing but I’m not one to complain.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York13 2011 PDN Photoplus show report

A BRIEF VISIT TO POLAROID

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Frankly one of the stranger booths in the room was Polaroid’s. It kinda sorta seemed like they pulled some stuff from storage, threw in some of their new products and put some poor sales reps in for good measure. They had some strange things there, like legacy polaroid land cameras and other peculiar eclectic treasures. They also had some I assume new to them reflex-mirror lenses which I don’t understand since these are typically now a days made by second-rate manufacturers and I think that these may mean that Polaroid has gone off the deep end. They had there new little pocket printer thing in a case with some sample images printed from it which weren’t very impressive. I don’t really see the point to this item, I guess its supposed to make it like a polaroid addition to digital since it prints it on the scene? I don’t know or really care. The most interestingly strange part of the already peculiar Polaroid booth was the new camera flashes and LED hybrid. I guess its cool and a good concept. Why carry around an LED continuous light for when your doing video and a strobe with your HDSLR. It works as a concept. But I question whether anyone can feasibly put all this into a cohesive package that works, especially Polaroid. But who knows brands like quantum exist so go figure. Maybe Polaroid will be the next great camera peripheral maker, who knows, with Lady Gaga on the team (she still is right?) the sky is the limit and nothing can go wrong.

DIGITAL TRANSITIONS ~ PHASEONE AND ARCA SWISS

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Arca Swiss RM3Di Technical Camera

Tucked away in the far corner of the convention area was the Digital Transitions booth. They are PhaseOne, Arca Swiss, and Schneider dealers among others. After finishing up a deal to trade in my H3Dii-39ms for a IQ180 I explored some of the other wares they had there. They had the other IQ series backs there (IQ140 and IQ160) and they preformed just as nicely as the IQ180, no complaints about any of them.

PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air – Of course they had the PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air which are a wonderful combination that I think is one of the most comfortable out there for medium format.

Lenses – They also had some of the newer PhaseOne (some Mamiya and some Schneider lenses). The Schneider LS lenses are beautifully made and are definitely a step above the focal plane shutter Mamiya rebranded lenses. Now, don’t get me wrong a good sample of a Mamiya or PhaseOne 645 lens preforms very nicely, I don’t mean to cast them in a bad light by saying that they are Mamiya lenses rebranded. The Schneider lenses other then being built like tanks are of course optically better. This is a fact that may be overlooked when seeing their headings as “Leaf Shutter” lenses.

1. PhaseOne 120mm AF Macro Another highlight of the PhaseOne lens lineup present was the new 120mm AF Macro. I am sure there are some macro diehards and persnickety people who will suggest you don’t need autofocus on a macro lens. To which I will present the following. I own a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro; I don’t do that much macro photography. Since it is not my main area of interest I don’t use for its intended purpose that often, and when I do it is more as a novelty. But rather it is a close focusing short telephoto portrait lens (its also weather sealed and the 105mm f/2 DC is not). And this IS something that needs autofocus for convenience. This is where the 120mm AF Macro will really shine. As a fashion and portrait lens allowing the photographer different working distances with the subject. Also like the new Schneider 110mm and 150mm LS lenses, the 120mm AF Macro has a really nice new non-fluted bayonet hood. It is made of metal I believe and very solid and capable of protecting the lens. This is a feature I have disliked on many of the Mamiya designed lenses, their lens hoods are too plasticky. The 120mm AF Macro will definitely be a lens that I will be adding to my lineup in the near future.

2. Schneider 110mm f/2.8 LS lens Unfortunately as my time with Hasselblad winds down, I have come to appreciate one of its lenses in a new light. The 100mm f/2.2 has become one of my favorite lenses recently preforming admirably wide open and stopped down. Aside from its optical performance, I have found, the focal length (which is exactly 78mm in 35mm format but effectively 85mm) is my favorite focal length. I don’t leave for any shoot without either my 85mm 1.4D or 85mm 1.4G, more recently the 85mm 1.4G because of its G series weather sealing. Anyway I digress. The 100mm f/2.2 has been great and yielded some of my favorite images of all time in the past few months. The Schneider 110mm f/2.8 while lacking the widest aperture of the Hasselblad 100mm f/2 retains the focal length that I enjoy and will also be coming home with me in the near future if I have my way. It is a superiorly built lens and a real stunner optically.

Arca Swiss RM3Di – While not my main area of expertise by any means and I know there are certainly others better versed in this field, I was interested in this technical camera. It is a competitor to the Alpa series of cameras and is also in a category of non-bellows technical cameras. I like the way Micheal Reichman called it this subset of technical cameras “The Worlds Most Expensive Point and Shoot” specifically referring to a Cambo in this case. Again, anyway I digress. Having handled Alpa’s in the past (actually at PDN Photoplus 2010), I would say the Alpa’s have an edge on build quality. However I have heard from a dealer that they are rather slow in sending out simple part requests for replacements and orders. Apparently Arca Swiss is better and this should be a noted consideration. Also because of its modular nature, I understand that a lot of other Arca accessories can be used in Tandem with it. System development should be noted and is important when considering a camera, one of the clear advantages when choosing a PhaseOne over something like the Leica S2. The Arca Swiss uses a different focus system then these other technical cameras which usually use a focusing system that is on the lens which is arguable more imprecise. The Arca uses the silver knob on the front, which is more precise and takes many turns to rack the focus from minimum to infinity or visa versa which is beneficially to typically OCD landscape photographers (the OCD is one of the reason they are so good, not an insult). The RM3Di also has a full line of its own accessories like viewfinders, reflex hoods and so on and uses many large format lenses (pictured with a Schneider). The RM3Di also accepts either film backs or digital backs like those from PhaseOne. Something interesting that should be noted about the

IQ Series backs is that they have a special mode, which allows them to detect when the shutter on a view camera has been released, and an exposure made. This means that you can use view cameras without a sync cable, which is very nice, if you work outdoors or in conditions where a sync cable would get in the way (or you just hate wires like me.) For the most precise work and long exposures, I understand that it is better still to use a camera-lens sync cable anyway though. The RM3Di is a very nice camera and through my limited knowledge of the niche, I see no major complaints with it other then size issues and some lackluster build quality (everyone else uses wood why did you choose resin grips Arca?). I personally would lean towards Alpa in these matters because of finish and build quality. But in the end these systems are all about facilitating the use of typically ultra-wide but also regular large format lenses on medium format sensors with the theory that they large image circle will yield a sweeter sweet spot on the smaller medium format sensor. It should also be noted that they allow you to shit and tilt the lens and back for stitching possibilities.

 

Leica Store Mayfair and Leica S2 In-Depth Review

Originally published: September 23, 2011 and featured on Leicarumors.com

Leica has stores? yup. They have all of their products in them? yup. And they actually sell them? yup*. That last yup* indicates a slight caveat to this answer. While they have every lens on display, they don’t have every lens in stock. In fact they are severely lacking in stock, just like every other place on the planet. They can’t be faulted by this and it is the worst thing I have to say about them .

Granted, store is a bit of a tease because you enter and are immediately awed by the fact that they have EVERY LEICA LENS (on display). You can see, you can touch, but you can’t buy. Everything you dream of from a 50 Summilux to a 90 Summicron. but you can’t buy them. The staff is very good as well as knowledgable about their products (as they should be). Not only do these people work in the store but they are also photographers in their own right who have actual practical experience with the products. Since Leica is rather expensive the fact that some of the employee’s own multiple M9′s with assortments of exotic (even for Leica) glass, astounds me. If you walk into the store with one of their products, they love you that much more. This is not to say they will not help you if you don’t own a Leica, but having one certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of overall hospitality. I didn’t have anything to do for the afternoon so I decided to walk over and check out the place.

90mm Summicron mounted on my M9. (Left to right) 75mm Summicron, 50mm Summilux, 35mm Summicron, then my humble 35mm Summarit

They are very happy to let you mount any lens on your camera as well as let you take demo shots with it. This is one of their key purposes. The Leica stores are there to provide access to their products and get the word out about them. Granted this is undermined by the fact that they are tucked away in an alley in one of the most exclusive areas of London (Holland and Holland is also on this Alley/Street though).

Having the Leica 50mm Summilux (a lens I have had on order from my camera store Camera Wholesalers of Stamford, CT since I purchased the Leica M8 when it was new) was an ethereal experience. In my opinion there is absolutely nothing like shooting with this lens. The Leica store employee who was helping me strongly agreed with me furthering my point by saying that the full-frame Leica M9 was made for this lens and that this lens was made for the M9. The 35mm Summicron was also another interesting experience. I had almost exclusively used my 35mm Summarit on my M8 and M9 and had an intimate knowledge of it. The 35 Summicron is as well built and smaller but not too much so that it causes a problem. It is unobtrusive in every way. Wide open it does have better performance then the 35mm Summilux to some. I am not sure, but I might be slightly more in the 35mm Summicron’s camp. Both lenses are superior and if you use them stopped down the way you will normally use any lens the difference would be negligible.

The Leica 75mm and 90mm Summicron’s were more interesting to me though. I had never used a telephoto lens on the M9 (other then a brief encounter with the 135mm). There is no legitimate reason to own both of these lenses. Either way it is most likely going to be the longest lens you will own. That is unless your Audrey Toutou and this is a Chanel No.5 Commercial. Or if you are an Asian business man who insist on having every current Leica lens even the useless 90mm Macro (read on for more about this lens). Both of these lenses are exceptional but the 90mm Summicron is the standout. It is as sharp as you can get without cutting something when you get it in perfect focus wide open. Stopped down it is unbelievable. The 75mm Summicron is as good as any other lens, it is sharp, superiorly built, and performs like a champ. However the 75mm focal length is a little to close to the 50mm focal length for me to see any practical use for the focal length. I don’t know if I will go out of my way to purchase a 90mm Summicron since the Leica M system really isn’t about the telephoto end focal lengths. They are there, you can do great things with them, but as the focal lengths increase they become increasingly inconvenient to use because of their size blocking the viewfinder.

The only Leica macro lens for the M system, here mounted on my M9 with the viewfinder adaptersThe 90mm Macro-Elmar f/4 is one strange lens. In fact it may be the strangest lens I have ever seen, particularly from a company, rather the photography company. There is nothing to say that this lens is not a legitimate “Leica” lens, it is. Its just as Marty Feldman while playing Igor would say “Abbynormal”. Now on Earlier Leica cameras there were fewer frame lines and viewfinder magnification was a problem for certain lenses. This is why earlier lenses like the 35mm for the M3 camera had pieces that were put in front of the camera’s viewfinder and its coupled rangefinder.

The Assembly is the first place where this lens gets weird. The fact that the word assembly can be justly applied to this lens should be noted. When I say assembly I am not referring to the painstakingly detailed process of creating the elements and fitting them all together to create a masterfully constructed optical instrument….In effect I am only talking about mounting the lens on the camera. However this is not a simple on-the-fly process like it is with almost any other lens on almost any other camera. First off you remove whatever normal lens you have been using. Then you swallow your pride and mount the viewfinder modification piece (I’m sure there is a more technical name for it). Then you mount the lens. Then you reposition the lens. This is because you have to extend the front part of the barrel to be able to use it as a macro lens. Now is when it really gets weird. So you have mounted the adapter on the camera, you have mounted and position the lens., but your not done. To use this lens in any useful way you have to use the vertical viewfinder adapter for the M9. Now this isn’t a Hasselblad V series camera, or a Rollei TLR, its a Leica M; a rangefinder. You take this weird little piece of metal and glass and you look at it. You see there is a wheel that you can spin and figure out it must be screwed onto something. However you can’t really figure out how to put it on the viewfinder. You then think that somehow you need to take off the rubber piece over the viewfinder. BUT NO! it goes on over it. Getting even stranger after you have screwed this onto your camera, look through it and its everything you don’t want. Confusing and disorienting. However after a little time you get used to it. You get used to it just in time for the novelty value of it to wear off and you to realize there are better ways to spend $5,000.00 in the world of Leica.

now on to the most interesting aspect of the Leica store as well as this article….The Leica S2 review.

THE LEICA S2

At the time that I was in London in Mid-July, I had still not decided what new medium format digital capture system I wanted to upgrade to. It was up in the air between the Leica S2 and the PhaseOne 645DF and IQ180 back. Since then I decided to purchase the IQ180 and it is currently as of 8/3/2011 on order. I mad this decision because for effectively the same price (with the trade in value of my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms). The S2 is a great camera with a superior sensor to any 35mm Camera and standard sized medium format megapixel count. Anyway back to the point right now, I was at the Leica store admiring all of the lovely Leica M products that I wouldn’t be able to get for the next 100 years because of backorders when I brought up the Leica S2, which I had seen they had multiple examples of on display. The employees were just as eager to show off this system to me, especially after I had expressed interest in it as an upgrade (really more of a sidegrade sensor wise) to my Hasselblad system. Then I was able to play with the Leica S2 and all of its current lenses as if I was in a camera store. I say as if I was in a camera store for a specific reason.

When I say “as if I was in a camera store” because there is a specific way that you look at a camera in a camera store. You are able to touch, hold and use it. Sometimes you may even be able to take it outside, but overall you take some snap shots and then you hold it a while longer while talking to the salesperson and then you either buy it, decide to go home and look at the files, or you don’t buy it. This process is curt and can rarely give you the depth needed to understand the camera and its capabilities and shortcomings. The Leica store employee I was talking to told me that the store also had a professional services division. This means that they had a service center, as well as an office where they had classes and other events for professionals. The employee told me that I could contact someone in their office and would be able to have a studio session with the camera (Leica S2) where I could get a bunch of sample images that I could look at and help to make a decision about the camera. I just want to say one note about this. At no point while I had my demo-session with the camera was there any pressure to buy the camera or any mention at all. I found this particularly interesting and relaxing especially since it is a significant investment and they did go to some trouble to give me the opportunity to have the demo session. At one point I was asked more out of curiosity by the man giving me the demo session where I thought I would buy the camera if I chose it, I told him I would probably by it in New York since thats the closest place to me, and that was the end of that topic it was not mentioned again.

Now onto the Demo session, I contact the man I was told to contact about setting up the demo session and left a voicemail. It turned out he was on vacation with his family however he still contacted me later that day and said that he would not be able to conduct the private demo session himself, but he would find someone else who had extensive knowledge with the camera system who could conduct the demo. He was able to get photographer Ian Farrell to conduct the demo session. He is the man in the picture above. There are other images that can be seen on my flickr through this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brianhirschfeldphotography/sets/72157627068534709/ . He was great and was able to talk about the system in detail because he uses it and was able to show off all of the different features that it had available. He also brought some of his Elinchrom quadra lights with him (since the Leica store had sent their lights out for repair) which of course made it a studio and a place where I could get images under controlled lighting to understand the camera better. Then we walked around outside and I was able to get some natural light images as well. Outside we got some looks because it was  a big camera in a young guy/kid’s hands with a grown man behind him carrying the bag. Overall it was a very good experience.

Now onto some thoughts about the camera. In the past I have had the opportunity to hold the Leica S2 in the traditional “camera store” way at Camera Wholesalers in Stamford on a Leica day as well as at PDN PhotoPlus in NYC. These had given me an idea what the camera felt like and how it was built. As is to be expected with any Leica product it was really, really well built. Every part of it felt solid and it is heavy but not too heavy. It is lighter and smaller then any other medium format system as well. In London I had the opportunity to use this camera with the vertical grip. A vertical grip is something that I really like about professional DSLR’s like the D3 and the Ids series of cameras. The Leica S2 and the PhaseOne 645DF are the only current production medium format cameras that have the option available (the older and possibly superior Contax 645AF system had a vertical grip as well). Holding the Leica Vertical grip on its own it felt a bit flimsy however when it was on the camera it felt just right. When I mentioned this to Ian Farrell he agreed with me. He also added that if they created the grip out of metal like the rest of the body of the camera, it would have greatly increased the weight. While it is made of plastic it is still fully weather sealed like the rest of the camera and attaches sturdily to the base of the camera. In pictures it makes the camera look significantly larger however in reality it is less pronounced then it appears in photographs. It works perfectly for what it is. The built quality, ergonomics and basic functionality of this camera are superior in every way to every other system currently available. But it is still not the best camera on the market.

The Image quality is good on this camera. It is not the biggest and best that they have now that there are 60-80mp sensors on the market. When the camera was announced it had a standard sensor for medium format with the highest resolution the 60mp category being lead by PhaseOne’s landmark P65+ (and some impossibly named Leaf equivalent). The camera preforms admirably at all ISO’s. This is something that cannot be said of most medium format DSLR’s which top out their total ISO’s at 800 and their usable ISO’s at 400 typically. The Leica S2 though tops out at 1250 and produces highly usable results at this ISO (see my flickr page for comparison shots of all of the S2′s ISO’s). Here it definitely gets major points. However the complaint I have with it especially after using even higher mega-pixel backs like the PhaseOne P65+ and Hasselblad H4D-50 is that it doesn’t have the same ability to crop the way a 60-80mp sensor would. I found that this can also be said for the 50mp Hasselbald which I will have a review of up soon. The image quality is far better then that of any 35mm DSLR and is on par to better then most medium format sensor’s. The area that differentiates the S2 most from all other cameras is its lenses which effect the image resolution greatly.

In the Leica S2 particularly the lenses are the real show stopper for many reasons; I will focus on a few of the key ones. First off is the fact that is has AUTOFOCUS! This is a first for a Leica Camera. For years the CEO’s and designers had clung to the manual focus mantra. With the Leica R series, a highly underrated system technically speaking (in terms of lenses) however the system largely flopped due to a lack of features. Particularly autofocus which was already standard on the Asian imports. Leica knew that they couldn’t market a Medium format DSLR camera that did not have autofocus to the professional market.  Well they did this and the autofocus system is as good as any other medium format system; which is to say crappy. But if everyone else is crappy and your slightly better then crappy you get points, and they did. The autofocus works just fine, just know its limits and timing. The Leica S-Line of lenses preform better then any other lenses I have ever used. They add so much to the camera it is almost impossible to describe their impact. They make the system and they are the main selling point. Aside from being distortion free (on the wider end) and free of vignetting at all apertures they handle ghosting and flaring amazingly well. The image I show at the beginning of my Leica S2 review section is the perfect example of this. The image was taken with the 35mm Summarit S lens. The composition includes the subject as well as the backlight (there were two lights the key light with umbrella was in front) With other lenses in other systems there would be ghosting and flaring issues from the light (aberrations caused by the light intense light interacting with the lens elements that are recorded with the image). As you can see from this image there is absolutely none. You have to zoom in on the larger quality image (which can be accessed by clicking on the image) where you can zoom in on the light and see how clearly defined the edges of it are. This is truly the magic of the lens design. They are perfectly designed and absolutely perfect, if only they could be used on a PhaseOne 645DF. The only true problem with these lenses is the fact that there are so few of them. Since the Leica S2 is the newest medium format system which was created from scratch. Yes there are a few adapters which can be purchased that allow you to use other lenses like Hasselblad V series lenses on the S2 body. However they are manual focus and there is obviously no communication between the lens and camera. Leica has recently released their own adapters which allow you to use other companies lenses (Mamiya 645, Hasselblad and Pentax). These adapters are decidedly better built and definitely help to expand the system to users of other lenses from their Film cameras. However the system does not have enough lenses at the moment. Hasselblad and Mamiya currently have around 20 lenses available for their cameras respectably. All of these autofocus lenses cover focal lengths from ultra-wide (28mm remember this is medium format) to telephoto (300mm which is equivalent to around 180mm’s in 35mm language). The S2 only has a 35mm, 70mm, 120mm and 180mm lens. Three of these are at the aperture of f/2.5 which is at least a stop faster then many of their counterparts. There are other lenses in the roadmap. From conversation I understand that next will likely be a 28mm ultra-wide, a tilt-shit, and a zoom lens. The system will develop, but that takes time. TIme which is recorded all the time by cameras in split-second increments and if you don’t the capability to do what you want when you want to it is meaningless whether they will be announcing a new lens in the future.

The Leica S2 is a great camera. It is not the best but it serves a specific function which it does better then any other can. The only other camera that defied the traditional medium format form factor that had the sensor built into the body of the camera and they were inseparable was the Mamiya ZD DSLR (google it this way and you will find what I am talking about which isn’t the digital back version). I don’t include the Pentax 645D in this statement because it still has the basic form factor of a medium format DSLR even though it is still self contained. The Mamiya ZD was clunky and difficult to use and consequently did not catch on and that is why you never saw an updated version of it in this form factor. I think the Mamiya ZD was an admirably first effort. It established that this kind of camera could be made and could generate some interest. Leica was able to truly take a risk (particularly financially especially after the disastrous R8/R9) and Leica’s financials since the release of the S2 speak for themselves. While during this time the M9 was also released. The great successes can be seen by the Leica S2′s success. The Leica S2′s success helped to create even more hype around the brand which certainly did not hurt the M system and other optical divisions that share the Leica brand name.

 

Understanding the Differences between the 35mm DSLR and Medium Format

Originally published: July 17, 2011

In my last post, I started to divulge into a deeper understanding over the differences and advantages between 35mm and Medium format cameras. My following comments apply for film and digital cameras. However it should be noted that the images above for comparison of quality were taken on film cameras. Specifically the Leica M7 and 24mm Summilux with Kodak Ektar 100 (Left) and the Mamiya 645AFDiii and 45mm Sekkor f/2.8 with Kodak Ektar 100 (right).

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Advantages

Medium format has the distinct advantage of being significantly larger and consequently more detailed then 35mm, which is smaller. As you can see by comparing the two test images above the medium format option clearly shows that I has superior detail and color rendition when compared with the 35mm photo. Medium format cameras have considerably more technical capabilities then 35mm cameras. Medium format cameras include panoramic cameras like the Linhof 617 panoramic camera and the ALPA SWA, which uses large format lenses and can be used for very technically difficult images. Also in my opinion 120mm film is considerably easier to handle then 35mm film is. This is because it is significantly less technical in the way it is created. 120mm (Medium Format) film is essentially film (paper backed) spun around a spool. Consequently for me it is much easier to handle. The type of camera I will refer to for the rest of this review, as medium format is the 645 formats since this is the most common format. This is also one of the most interesting components of the medium format offering. There are different cameras that capture different format images. The most common format is 645, which is similar in aspect ratio the common 35mm format. Then there is the 6×6 format, which is of course square as its dimensions denote, this format is also very popular and is the standard in the Hasselblad line-up of V series cameras. Cameras like the 503CW and 905SWC use this 6×6 format. Then there are other cameras like the Mamiya 7 and Fuji GF670 which use the slightly wider format of 6×7 and other cameras which use 6×8 and 6×9 formats. Each of these offers a slightly different perspective, which allows you to get more in the frame and consequently achieve different effects. This is one of the best things about medium format versatility. Digital Medium Format Cameras typically cover the 6×45 and 6×6 offer considerably more then there smaller 35mm brethren. Medium format digital just like medium format film uses a larger sensor and consequently has more megapixels. The standard right now is 40mp with some backs offering more and less then this. PhaseOne currently offers a 80mp version of their latest IQ series lineup. Of course with greater megapixels comes greater cost. However what you get with this cost is of course more pixels. More pixels mean many things. First it means you have the ability to crop the image meaning you if you were further away then you wanted to be you can easily correct your vantage point without sacrificing in final quality. Because of their larger size they also have a higher dynamic range, which is also another attractive quality. Of course all of these advantages come at a cost, which I will outline below.

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Disadvantages

Yeah so there are also a few disadvantages that might deter some people from entering into medium format. The biggest limiting factor is the price. Making a piece of silicon that is 6×45 (please note all but a few backs are not full frame so they are not all this size) is quite difficult especially when the margin for error is something crazy like .001% or something. If any more imperfection then this exists typically the chip is useless. There are a few medium format digital options that are less then this of course. Typically (sans Leica S2 and Pentax 645D) medium format digital cameras are digital backs. These can be attached to multiple cameras, in exactly the same way film backs could be. This gives greater versatility to the user theoretically being able to use film and digital on the same camera as well as mounting their back on other cameras. I however would be hesitant to do this because doing this means exposing your sensor to the environment where it can get dust on it, which is very hard to remove. So while this is a great selling point for the camera that “you can use film and digital on the same body” in practice its not that particle.  The cheapest digital back on the market right now is the Mamiya DM22 digital back. This is simply a rebranded Leaf back so there is an equivalent Leaf digital back for the same price and so on.  In this price range however, I would ask myself if I really needed medium format because the Nikon D3x or the Canon equivalent (1Ds Mrk III?) are formidable and are around the 8k range for the body only. It should be noted that almost every medium format system particularly when quoted at a price is without a lens. Although Pentax’s beleaguered DSLR and Point and Shoot lines are the butt of many jokes, their medium format offering should not be scoffed at. Many forget that Pentax was a venerable contender if not market leader for the past 30 years. They created the very successful 645 lines culminating in the 645n, which is the closest film substitute to the 645D as well as widely popular Pentax 67 camera.  I mention these cameras because it should also be noted that all of the Autofocus (late 645 line lenses) and manual focus (many 645 series lenses as well as all of the 67 lenses) could be used on the 645D, so if you have these lenses already this option is attractive. Although the 645D does not offer the changeable back option, but if you already have all of these lenses, that’s probably a non-issue for you.

Some other considerations involve functionality (I know right? I thought it was all about the price man).  Namely 645 medium format cameras lack the fast autofocus capabilities of the 35mm cameras. This is why 35mm has been the preferred choice of the sports shooter for decades. Autofocus is important for some photographic applications however these are times when 35mm is the most important. Medium format has select applications. It can sometimes be pushed to the limits, most of the time its applications are not situations where fast function is the most important function. Another issue is their limited ISO range. This is an issue that is that is delegated to the digital side of medium format photography. 35mm and medium format are on equal footing in the film market. However because of the limitations these digital backs have limited ISO ranges typically going up to 1600. PhaseOne has a function called capture plus where the sensor is scaled down and the ISO range is extended to 3200. However for most backs the ISO range is limited. This is because they are typically used at the lowest native ISO setting because this is where the quality should theoretically be the best. Also they are typically used in situations where studio lighting or strobes are accessible if extra light is needed. These are probably the two largest disadvantages. Another slight disadvantage is that they are typically larger and bulkier and heavier then 35mm cameras. This is simply a consideration when deciding which camera to get or when to take it out into the field. Also they are usually less ergonomic then 35mm cameras. This is largely subjective and a matter of personal taste. That said 35mm DSLR’s typically have the same form and ergonomics, medium format cameras are generally much more creative in their design and have significantly different grips and feels which might be more attractive to some users.

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Medium format like other formats (ok fine threes really only 35mm and large format) has its advantages and disadvantages. These are often defined by limitations. Limitations define what item you invest in. However before the investment is made, it is important that they understand what they want and what the camera they are looking at can do. I hope this article has helped to clarify the advantages/disadvantages and abilities/limitations of medium format.

 

Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC Lens Review

Originally published: July 3, 2011

Review of the Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC lens with the PhaseOne P65+ mounted on a Hasselblad H1 and Haselblad H3Dii-39ms

The 300mm focal length is common place in 35mm DSLR’s however it is an atypical and unique lens in Medium Format Photography. 35mm DSLR’s have come to have super telephoto lenses with focal lengths of production lenses commonly reaching 800mm with a few rarities like the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 which using the coupled teleconverter becomes a 400-1000mm f/5.6 lens which is the same speed (aperture) as Canon’s super telephoto 800mm f/5.6. Medium format on the other hand is typically used for different kinds of work where telephoto capabilities are not often needed. There are rare examples of lenses exceeding the 300mm standard for medium format camera systems. Notable examples of these are the Mamiya 500mm f/4.5 C (Manual Focus0 the Hasselblad / Ziess 300mm  f/2.8 Tele-Superachromat TPP (Tele Power Pack) and Pentax FA SMC 400mm 5.6 ED. The current surviving medium format leaders (Hasseblad and Mamiya/Leaf/PhaseOne) each have their own 300mm f/4.5 autofocus lens in the Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC and Mamiya 300mm f/4.5 IF APO lenses. I have not had any experience with the Mamiya version of this focal length however I have heard that it is a very good lens. -
The Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC Lens was one of the lenses that I rented along with the PhaseOne P65+ (mounted on Hasselblad H2 Body) for my spring break trip to Costa Rica from K&M Camera in NYC. This lens was the stand out for me because I found it very useful and the lens that allowed me to take the best images. The Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC lens has an equivalent focal length of 182mm on a 35mm format camera. This means it is a short to medium telephoto lens by 35mm format standards however it is quite long for medium format. -
This lens is superb in every way. Contrary to my comments on about the Hasselblad H system bodies the lenses are built like tanks. They are not built on the same optical level as a Leica lens, however they are superb and built to last. They are all metal and very heavy. You know that your holding a serious lens when you hold it. When I used the 300mm lens I had absolutely no complaints about it. For the shots I will showcase below they were all taken on a tripod. It is possible to utilize this lens off of a tripod, it will have to be done at fast shutter speeds. However as with any lens in the telephoto category it can be better utilized from a stabilization device like a tripod or monopod. This lens is sturdy and it is absolutely everything that you expect from a lens of this calibre.
The following are two of my favorite pictures from this trip and they were both taken with this lens. They were both taken on the Hasselbald H2 with a PhaseOne P65+ digital back which was rented from K&M Camera in NYC for the time that I was away. I used this lens mounted to my Gitzo Series 5 carbon fiber tripod.

1. THE LIZARD

While not a particularly dangerous journey to get to Gaunacaste National Park, it did take a lot of time and multiple forms of transportation. First we woke up early and left the hotel with a driver for a multiple hour journey to the national park. Then to get to where this particular picture was taken involved a riverboat. Now the boat and driver were both private so it wasn’t an uncomfortable journey by any sense of the imagination but it was a long one. This picture was taken from the boat. I had set up my Gitzo 5 series tripod on the deck of the boat and left the 300mm lens attached. At certain times I took the Hasselblad H2 and PhaseOne off of of the lens (which was still mounted to the tripod) to use it with other lenses like the Hasselblad HC 120mm f/4  macro lens. I had the Luxury of also having my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms which worked with the Hasselblad HCD 35-90 f/4.0-5.6 zoom lens allowing me to use the PhaseOne P65+ digital back with the 300mm telephoto lens. When I saw this shot, I knew it would be good, or at least I hopped it would. The original picture looked like this:

Black Spiny Tail Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) taken with the PhaseOne P65+ and Hasselblad H1 with Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC lens Original un-cropped image

Here is where the magic of the PhaseOne P65+ comes into play. This digital back of course has a 60mp sensor which up until very recently was the largest in the world (Leaf and

PhaseOne have recently started producing 80mp digital backs). It’s versatility can be greatly appreciated with this photograph. The 300mm lens first allowed me to get this close to the Iguana. However it was not nearly close enough to make a powerful image. If I had been using a lesser camera this would not have been possible. By lesser camera I mean one with a lower mega-pixel count. Even if I had used my Hasselblad H3dii-39ms digital back I would not have been able to create the crop required to make this a powerful image. I had to create approximately a 275% crop to make the final image that you see above. The end result yielded me an image with roughly 15mp theoretically. However since this was taken with an almost full frame medium format camera the detail and color renditions far exceed that of a simple 15mp 35mm DSLR. Initially when I had sat down to edit these images I was disappointed by the lackluster appearance, however I soon realized the versatility that a 60mp file gives you. Of course, Ideally it would’ve been ideal to frame the image the way i had wanted it without a crop, but this wasn’t an option. This is where the versatility of the PhaseOne can be appreciated. If the final image had been framed and taken sans cropping in post it would have yielded an unbelievably detailed result. That said the end result that was created is still very sharp and with great detail. When i had this image printed at 40×24 inches I was amazed at how great it still was even though it was a very heavily cropped image. I should also mention that I used Perfect Resize 7 (formerly genuine fractals) to increase the size of the image to allow me to be able to print it at 40×24 inches. I was also very impressed by this softwares ability to do this. I had heart great things about its abilities however I had never experienced them mostly because I had never really had a reason to use it for anything. Once I was home and I was looking at this image I knew I would finally have an opportunity to justify purchasing this software. Thanks to the wonders of the internet this process was completed in under 30 minutes and I had the full capability of this software at my disposal. Anyway the software worked perfectly and allowed me to resize the image so that I could have it printed large. This was the way that I knew I wanted to showcase this image. All of the stars were in alignment technologically in this image. I had the right camera equipment and and the right post processing abilities to yield a very good result. It all started with the Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC lens. Everything else would not have been possible if I had not had the longer telephoto length of this lens. Using any of the other lenses that I had had with me in Costa Rica whether it was my 80mm f/2.8 lens or the rented 120mm f/4 macro or the 35-90mm f/4.0-5.6  this shot would not have been possible. Even with the amazing versatility that the PhaseOne P65+ allows and the wonders of modern digital imaging processing any of these other tools would not have allowed me to be able yield a result anything near what this lens let me. This is the final printed image:

40x24" Print of the crop of the Spiny Tail Iguana from Miller Photographic taken using the Hasselblad H1 camera body with the PhaseOne P65+ and Hasselblad 300mm f/4.5 HC

The final print of this image was done by Miller Photographic. I have used them for a couple of years now and they have been very good and consistent in their results. When they have made mistakes they have quickly fixed them. Although this may be something peculiar to me, It is very difficult for me to have a print on regular paper and not bend or dent it in some way. For this reason the finishing options that Miller’s offers have given me the ability to make this a non issues. They offer a number of different finishing options ranging from foam to harder materials like styrene. The latter is the option that I choose for most of my images. It is strong and firm and easy to carry without the risk of bending or ripping in any way. First I ordered  two prints one from Photoshop’s internal resizing software and one from Perfect Resize 7′s processing of the enlargement. I had ordered them as simple paper prints figuring that the one I didn’t like I could throw away while I would still have one I liked to keep and then order a final one that I would mount on styrene. However when they came they were both oddly bent and one of them had a rather significant tear in the upper right hand corner of it. I called Millers Photographic and they were very helpful and gave me a refund no questions asked and I was able to re-order the print that I liked which was the styrene version mounted. This shows that you get what you pay for from a professional photographic printing service. This print is perfect in every way and I could not be happier with it. After minimal other post processing like simple sharpening and levels work this image was ready to print. It again shows that you get what you pay for in terms of a digital back. The dynamic range and other technical attributes of the large medium format digital sensor are astounding and the advantages are clearly visible in this image.

2. WAVES

This image was something completely different for me because I usually do not do long exposure photography. That said this image was only 4 seconds, but it is significantly longer then any other image that I have taken and have liked. This image was also taken at a smaller aperture then any other image I have produced. All and all it came out very well and better then I thought it would. Long exposures are not the PhaseOne P65+’s forte, however it was fully capable of producing low noise results for this long exposure. This image is another one of my favorites form this trip.

This picture is opposite to the lizard picture in almost every way. Opposite to the Lizard picture (shown above) this is a full quality image with no cropping in post. Also opposite to the Lizard image, this image was shot at f/45.0 instead of f/4.5. Here you can appreciate the optical quality of this lens. Although not apparent in the Lizard picture since it is cropped, even though it was shot wide open there was no vignetting and here at the smallest aperture there is no vignetting. I cannot comment on lens diffraction at this small aperture because this image was designed to inherently be blurry although I’m sure it would’ve preformed admirably. This image looks even better in person. Once it was printed by Miller Photographic, the colors of it can be really appreciated. This image was printed very large as a 30×40 print and it looks absolutely amazing. The thing to take away from this image about the PhaseOne P65+ digital back is that is dynamic range exceeds comprehension, just like its megapixel count.

~

The 300mm focal length has become one of my favorites for medium format. I am not completely able to articulate why I think this focal length and this lens are especially good. Some of it comes from intimately using the lens and understanding what it can do in certain situations. This lens handles well and does everything that I would expect it to and more. I preforms well in many conditions. The Hasselblad website says that his lens is applicable for certain Nature and Sports applications. As the Lizard image illustrates in sufficient lighting conditions this lens can preform very well. The autofocus is as fast as you can expect for medium format. Especially in bright lighting conditions it is capable of locking focus very quickly and getting razor sharp results. Certain sports applications might be a stretch because it can’t be used for any of the most popular televised sports because they move to quickly. Something like tennis or golf where there are times that the players are posed might be a time it could be used however why wouldn’t you just use a 35mm system that has a higher FPS then the approximate 1fps that the PhaseOne P65+ has. Despite its obvious inadequacies for fast paced sports it is a very capable lens for its intended applications. Overall I am very pleased with this lens and although I do not plan on continuing with the Hasselblad H system, I do plan on continuing with the 300mm focal length for medium format photography.

Sigma SD-1

Originally published: May 27, 2011

Now, the Hasselblad H4D-200ms is based in some technology and makes some sense in certain situations but still as a whole is useless. However just like books of Enron, Sigma’s just made it all up. For Hype? maybe. Because they actually believe it? I hope not. Hype makes considerably more sense especially when considering it was first announced at $9,000 dollars but has since been revealed to only be about $6,700 when bundled with some silly Sigma lens. Sigma lenses are sort of a joke because they can never be as good as those made by the manufacturer of a camera system. That said there are people who swear by them and they are considerably better then any lens made by any Japanese company who’s name starts with a “T”. Sigma believes that since they put color filters in front of their sensor (like you have to do with every DSLR to get color images) they think they can say that each layer gives them a boost to their mp count. Sooo a 13mp black and white sensor (all sensors are black and white without filters in front of them) with the required RGB (red green blue) filters in front of it becomes a 46mp sensor…..yeah that makes sense. If you know nothing about cameras you can still grasp the concept that the sensor has a resolving power of 13mp then essentially a bunch of pieces of glass are put in front of it (fine they are colored and probably not glass but it gets the point across) this doesn’t change mp count. Mark to market accounting can’t even justify this (Enron joke). Not to mention the sensor isn’t even full frame, and for $6,000 it better be. It’s even more of a stupid marketing gimmick then the Hasselblad H4D-200ms.

Hasselblad H4D-200MS Farce

Originally published: May 27, 2011
 

Wow! this week Hasselblad announced the H4D-200ms it has a 200mp sensor, it must be 2.5x as good as the IQ1800……NOT. This is not a 200mp sensor. It is a 50mp sensor that can take 6 images (shouldn’t that be 300mp?I think I know that basic math). Well actually it scales down the megapixel count to 33.3mp and takes 6 images. Already there is the flaw in the argument. The concept of multishot technology is that it moves or shifts the sensor slightly allowing for exposures that are then merged together for a theoretical megapixel count of 200mp. In reality its a gimmick and hype. That is not to say that it is not an excellent camera and that it doesn’t have useful applications. Unfortunately you wont be able to take a 200mp picture of a person because they move, and 6 pictures takes a while at roughly 1 fps. Now the images that Hasselblad published with their media release are perfect examples of useful applications that this camera can have. In a studio in controlled conditions, and on a tripod, it can yield amazing results of subjects who can stand still, E.g a  Merc SLS AMG or Omega watch.
Of course this is just a marketing gimmick. to fight back against PhaseOne and Leaf’s 80mp digital backs. This announcement shows that Hasselblad is taking their time or incapable of releasing an 80mp digital back at the moment. And since we all know if you sneeze on a leaf the moisture will fry the exposed insides as its plummeting towards the ground where it will soon shatter, it seems that PhaseOne is the dominant medium format digital back company at the moment. For give or take a few thousand 45,000 dollars the Hasselblad and Leaf significantly let down the user in terms of ergonomics, usability, and basically everything else that is important to a camera. This is unacceptable especially in cameras of this caliber.

Alpa eFinder iOS App Review

Originally published: April 9, 2011

Alpa eFinder iOS App review, electronic viewfinder iPhone 3Gs and 4G

Alpa creates some of the highest quality technical cameras out there today. Their designs (viewable at alpa.ch) combine medium format film or digital backs with large format lenses placed within their own coupling lens boards similar to any large format or panoramic camera. They are also known for their forays into software that applies directly to their products. One of Alpa’s claims to fame are its adaption of wide angle lenses and camera movements (tilt/shift etc). Consequently they attract mostly a landscape and architectural crowd who demand technical quality. They created distortion reduction software specifically for their camera and lens designs.

The Alpa eFinder app however is misnamed. It is a digital viewfinder that works with Alpa cameras, however it also functions (view in app purchases) with any still or motion picture (cine/cinema) camera. Alpa actually has a accessory to mount an iPod Touch / iPhone 3gs/4 adapter to place the device on top of the camera to utilize it as the viewfinder. The app is very useful for visualization especially when using film where there is obviously no instant image preview (alright polaroid backs but who uses those anymore?). Here are some examples:

a

GENERIC 617 (MEDIUM FORMAT FILM) PANORAMIC CAMERA

Alpa eFinder iOS App review, generic 617 6x17 format viewfinder with mask

This example is set up with a Schneider 150mm XL lens which will cover everything up to an 8×10 which means it would work perfectly with a 6x17cm film panoramic camera. As you can see here it crops the the viewfinder to show the angle of view applicable to that lens and film combination. It is fairly simple to know that this is correct since the information about the AOV (Angle of View) and other camera information for the iPhone 4 is available from which you can interpolate the correct information for different sensor and lens combinations.

NIKON D3S FX (NIKON FULL FRAME) CAMERA

Nikon D3s D3x D3 viewfinder with masks in the Alpa eFinder iOS App

This example shows the frame lines for multiple lenses on the same camera similar to the way you would see them on a rangefinder camera like a Leica M camera.

As you can see this app is very useful and you are capable of creating any lens and camera combination. The app has a large database of cameras and lenses for you to choose from. You can also select items entitled “generic” for instance rather then selecting a Mamiya 645AFDiii with a Mamiya Sekor 55mm f/2.8 lens you could select a “Generic 6x45cm Film” and a 55mm lens which is the thing however the specific cameras options will give you extra control to confirm that you are composing as accurately as possible. This app is very good and can restore your faith in Humanity and apps. Although other camera aid apps like Light meters are are less then accurate this one is in another caliber of application.

 

 

Autochrome History

Originally published: April 9, 2011

The Autochrome process was the first color photographic process. It was created by the Lumiere brothers who were well known for their filmography. The plate utilized died starch grains (Red, Green, Blue) to create a color filter infront of a black and white (silver nitrate) emulsion. This process is very similar to the way that a modern digital camera interprets colors. There are filters (starch grains in Autochrome) positioned in front of the digital sensor (silver nitrate film emulsion) that allow different wavelengths of light (different colors) to pass and create the end image with multiple colors and varying tones. The autochrome process produces a particular aesthetic because of the way that it is created and consequently is of interest.

This is what I have been able to piece together through varying online and physical books and essay of the original makeup of an autochrome plate. Since the technology has long since been extinct it has been difficult to discover the truth about production and physical and chemical make up of the plate. This also creates great difficulty in reference to finding an expert who can aid me in my attempts to improve and modify the process.

An autochrome plate was used in a large format camera to create a picture. The plate itself was glass. The next layer would be the black and white emulsion, typical to any large format glass plate. The black and white emulsion was typically made of silver nitrate or some similar photosensitive compound. The next layer was a non-water soluble layer (required for development) that encased the black and white emulsion layer. From what I have been able to gather this was done via some sort of varnish, it is believed that this was accomplished with dammar resin. Then a layer of some adhesive material was added to prepare the plate for the addition of the colored starch grain color filter. The color filter was made up of deep red, green and blue died starch grains (more so then in the graphic which is for illustrative xpurposes only.) Then a final layer of varnish or other material was used to encapsulate the entire plate, which again was required for the development process. The whole plate was the placed in the camera with the starch grain filter being the first area that light would pass through. The varnishes were as clear as possible so that they would not significantly affect the image. However if you look at an autochrome plate it has the photographic attribute of being “warm” that is to say having more brown and orange overtones, which could have been an impact of the traditional color of varnish.

Layer A is the glass plate. This was simply a piece of clear glass that provides the rigid backbone that they entire structure of the autochrome plate is attached to. Typically the glass plate was in the 4×5 inch category however theoretically it is possible to use the autochrome plate with any sized piece of glass and a large format camera assuming that you can fabricate the required holder for the glass plate.

Layer D is the black and white silver nitrate emulsion. This emulsion is a light sensitive compound like you would find in any other black and white glass plate or piece of film. One of the problems that this original method encountered was that it was, in photographic terms, a slow emulsion. This means that it does not have a high sensitivity to light. In photography light sensitivity is denoted in ISO (previously ASA), which is a numerical value that denotes the sensitivity to light of an emulsion or film. The general standard used in both digital and analog cameras as ISO 400, which has a resolving, power capable of fast shutter speeds and clear (non motion blurred) Images. The resolving power of the emulsion used in an autochrome plate was roughly ISO 1 or ISO .5 which is to say extremely slow. Consequently it was as it was with other photographic processes at the time difficult to take photos because of movement of the subject as well as the camera while the film or glass plate was being exposed to the light.

Layer E is the first layer of varnish that was used. This layer was utilized to encapsulate the silver nitrate photographic emulsion layer. This is required for the development process of the autochrome plate.

Layer F was some form of non-water soluble adhesive that allowed the starch grains to remain on the plate. It is necessary that the adhesive and encapsulating layers be polar because water is one of the items used in the development process of this plate.

Layer B is the most important layer of the autochrome process. This is the layer that is formed by the different colored starch grains as well as the lampblack (commonly known as charcoal to fill the spaces.) The colors used to die the starch grains were Rose Bengal, Malachite Green, Tarrazine, Crystal Violet,  Erythrosin B (Acid Red 51), and Methylene blue. All of these dies used are characterized as triphenlmethane dies because of their chemical structure. They are deep colors that translate into the different tones when the photograph is exposed. Because of their high density and small particle size approximately 10-15 microns.

Layer C is simply another layer of the varnish. This final layer is used to encapsulate the entire plate and make it water resistant for the development process.