Leica Cameras

Leica Q Hands on Review (Video + Sample Images)

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The Leica Q is an awesome new compact camera from Leica. I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on it for a little while yesterday and was not only able to make the hands on review (above) but also a number of sample images from a walk around with this camera. This is all thanks to the Leica Store Soho, in NYC, as of yesterday (June 12, 2015) they still had these bad boys in stock, so look them up if you want one.

Anyway, as you will notice from the video I use the words “nice” and “cool” about a million times. Honestly, its just the words that kept springing to mind when I was holding this camera. I’m a Leica M shooter, I have been for many year now, and nothing will replace my digital Leica M’s (Leica M9, and Leica M9 Monochrome) or my 35mm film Leica M7. However, you don’t always want to take 1 to 3 expensive, manual focus cameras and multiple lenses on every trip or excursion you take. It was for this reason that I bought the Sony RX1r with its 36mp full-frame sensor and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Zeiss lens. When I bought this camera last year I liked its straight forward ness, and its lack of an EVF (and optional Optical viewfinder, which I always use). I don’t like EVF’s, I’m just going to say that upfront, and I think you already knew that about me. When I’m taking pictures, I want to see the scene with nothing in the way, and EVF’s don’t do that for me. That being said, the new Leica Q has the best EVF I have seen to date on any camera clocking in at 3.68mp with a high refresh rate. The new sensor on this camera is also very nice and provides shocking ISO performance for a Leica, and for cameras in general. The sensor, combined with the sharp new 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens and its fast and accurate autofocus makes this camera a really nice walking around camera.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q ~ 1/640 – f/5.6 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Size and Build Quality: As you can see in the video above, the Leica Q is a relatively substantial size for a compact camera, being very similar in dimensions to the Leica M240 (excluding thickness and weight of course). However, thanks to its magnesium alloy body, it is extremely light, in fact it is lighter then the smaller Leica X and Leica Q cameras which feature aluminum bodies. This make the camera really nice to hold and carry around. The thumb detent on the back of the camera fell right into place for my hand and added a nice bit of grip. Without this, I think the camera would have been a bit slippery. The addition of the optional hand grip made this camera feel really nice in the hand, and helped make it a really nice package to carry around.

Despite its light weight the camera feels very substantial and solid. Generally, when you think of a light weight camera you think of something flimsy (I know I do) however with this Made in German camera you will not only be marveling at its weight, but also its sturdiness and build quality.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/100 – f/1.7 – ISO 800 @ 28mm

Menus / Dials / Buttons / Controls: The majority of the controls on this camera are pretty darn good, as you would expect. Everything on the top plate of the camera functions exactly the way that it should from a Leica. Personally, I think I would have liked to have seen a traditional threaded cable release on the top of this camera. I like how threaded cable release look and feel and think this is a classic design element that they should have stuck with.

As you can see in the video, the various controls on the lens itself function very well as well and they are all built the way that they should be. I can’t see anyone having a problem with any of these controls on this camera.

On the rear of the camera, I have one slight complaint. This is the “Tri-Elmar” button which engages the crop modes on the rear of the camera. I get the reasons to offer these crop mode features (for idiots), but having their own dedicated button seems a bit strange to me. I suspect (and hope) that in the first firmware update for this camera they decide to make this button into a programmable function button so that you can map some other function to this button. The button is well placed and not likely to be hit while operating the camera, my concern with this button is that it is unnecessary to have a dedicated button for this Tri-Elmar mode when it offers nothing that you couldn’t do with a crop in post. Maybe there is more to the Tri-Elmar mode that I missed, but all I can say is a real Tri-Elmar lens on the camera would have been far more preferable to this feature.

The menu system is very simple and straight forward, but I think that there are a few things which will need to be improved in firmware updates (easy fixes). First is the submenu architecture. When you go into the submenu’s of this camera its possible to get a bit lost, so some sort of directory at the top letting you know where you are would be nice. Another thing is that the menu is basically just one long list that you scroll down. This should be broken up into pages or sections or something. I think the easiest implementation for this camera would be a Canon style menu system where going left/right on the directional pad lets you get to the different pages.

Sample Image from the New Leica Q showing its wide dynamic range in Soho, NYC

RAW DNG (Left) – Edited ACR (Right)

Leica Q – 1/3200 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Image Quality: The new sensor in the Leica Q is really nice, and certainly outclassed the (older) Leica M240 in my testing. Images a vibrant and crisp thanks to the pairing of this sensor and the ultra-sharp 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens on this camera. As you can see in the above example, the camera packs in a lot of dynamic range which can easily be brought out with little effort in editing to make some really nice images.

The real start of the show for this sensor though is its ISO performance. This camera has some one of the nicest ISO ranges that I have seen on a camera to date, and certainly the  best ISO range to date in a full-frame Leica camera. Leica has done away with some of their weird half-stop ISO’s and this camera now offers an ISO range from 100-50,000 (100 – 200 – 400 – 800 – 1600 – 3200 – 6400 – 12,500 – 25,000 – 50,000. ISO’s from 100-6400 are impressively clean and very usable, for me even ISO 12,500 would be usable if I didn’t plan to crop the image significantly. ISO 25,000 could due in a pinch, but is starting to push it. ISO 50,000 isn’t as terrible as you might expect, and could also do if you were really pressed for some reason. With a 28mm f/1.7 lens, and a lot of dynamic range you shouldn’t ever really have to go up this high anyway.

The most impressive thing for me in the ISO range is the reduction of blotchy color noise which plagues most ultra-high ISO’s. For me with this camera, the noise produced from the entire ISO range (up to ISO 25,000)  is relatively pleasing and not too distracting. It does this by being pretty uniform and retaining a lot of nice detail (relatively speaking of course). At ISO 50,000 some banding starts to show making it much more distracting, and not pleasing; it is also accompanied by enough loss of detail to be bothersome if you are planning to print big. You can see 100% crops of the entire ISO range at the bottom of this post. You can also head over to my Flickr page for a full-resolution ISO series (as well as 100% crops). This ISO series was done hand held, but thanks to the lightweight of the camera and dedicated ISO button, I think it came out reasonably well. 

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/800 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Lens / Optical Performance: The lens on the Leica Q is top notch. It is very sharp at all apertures with minimal vignetting wide open, particularly impressive for a large aperture wide angle lens. You certainly won’t be complaining about the sharpness coming out of this lens. I think it has been really nicely paired with the sensor to bring out the best of both, which is one of the great things about cameras like the this Leica Q, the Sony RX1 (and RX1R), and the Fuji X100s.

The 28mm focal length is a very mature focal length and it is interesting that Leica is putting it into a fixed lens camera. I happen to like 28mm (I think I generally prefer 35mm of all focal lengths) and find that it can create some really nice images. To me, 28mm lives in a strange world between 24mm (wide angle) and 35mm (wide standard). It, in theory, has minimal distortion and can be used for many different types of photography. In most shooting you won’t notice the minimal distortion that the lens on the Leica Q has, However, in the image above it is relatively obvious. I suspect that once Adobe puts a lens corrections profile in for this lens that it will become very flat which will be excellent.

As I mention in the video, the Leica Q does have a dedicated macro mode. It is true that the Macro mode lets the camera focus closer, however “macro” has to be taken with a grain of salt because this is a 28mm lens. Rather then macro, lets just call it close focus. It’s well integrated and like many of the controls on the Leica Q requires deliberate action to engage, meaning that it cannot be accidentally engaged. The changing focus scales are also pretty cool.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q – 1/80 – f/4.0 – ISO 800 @ 28mm

Manual focus functions well on the Leica Q, feeling pretty similar to manual focusing a real Leica lens. Focus peaking is also offered if you need it, which you probably well. Personally I think manual focus on a camera like this is a bit of a gimmick, because even with the excellent EVF on this camera it is still very difficult to be able to accurately focus on this thing (if you ask me). Really the only part of this camera that feels kitschy to me is the focusing tab. It feels like a bad imitation of the focusing tab on a 50mm Summilux (or other) Leica lens. Its the only noticeably plastic-y feeling part which is disappointing. The small control button on it however is very well implemented. Again it has to be deliberately pressed and effort applied to switch between manual focus and autofocus. I can’t believe that anyone will ever have a problem because of how robust a control this is.

The Leaf shutter in this lens is also great, allowing the camera to go all the way up to 1/16000 of a second which is pretty cool. It means that whatever bokeh / shallow DoF you can get out of this lens will be available to you in most lighting conditions. Being a leaf shutter it also reduces vibrations which is also nice, though you probably won’t ever notice whilst shooting this camera handheld with a 28mm lens (your only option ;) ). Of course another nice thing about this leaf shutter is that it is virtually silent, meaning you can use this camera just about anywhere.

Sample image from the new Leica Q taken in Soho, NYC.

Leica Q ~  1/125 – f/4.0 – ISO 200 @ 28mm

Things I Don’t Like: Both surprisingly and unsurprisingly when it comes down to it there is really only one thing about this camera that I don’t like (take a wild guess), the electronic viewfinder (EVF). What is surprising about this is that this is really the only major complaint that I have with this camera, and taking this complaint into account, I still kind of want this camera. EVFs do nothing for me, I have already discussed this in this review and elsewhere. I just want to say it one more time though, this is a really good EVF! That being said, I don’t really know why it is on this camera. I think that this camera should have had a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system like on the Fujiflim X100. I think Leica could have sprinkled some of their magic on a feature like this and made it even better then Fuji’s. Personally this being an EVF only camera doesn’t make sense to me in the realm of Leica and it is pretty surprising that this is something that they would chose to do. Hopefully its not a sign of future things to come, maybe version 2.0 will have a hybrid viewfinder, which would be pretty cool, and make this a really powerful camera if you ask me.

I have one other slight complaint about this camera. The Leica Q can only record images in two modes 1. JPEG 2. JPEG + DNG. On the surface this doesn’t make much sense, why can’t they just have a third DNG only option? Well, the answer is pretty pathetic. The answer is the preview system that Leica uses needs JPEG’s to generate the previews. This may sound like an alien concept to most, given that every other camera on the planet manages to be able to shoot in DNG (RAW) only and still generate previews. This is a bit of laziness on the part of Leica which is more of a nuisance then anything else. I think it would take a pretty extensive firmware fix to change this, but maybe not. However, if this is my second biggest complaint about this camera, then by my own estimation this must mean that it is a pretty solid camera (which I think it is).

Sample Image of the high ISO performance of the Leica Q at ISO 12,500

How do you like them apples?

Leica Q – 1/800 – f/8.0 – ISO 12,500 @ 28mm

Conclusion: As you have seen I was really taken with this camera. I’m not sure that it would make me switch from my Sony RX1, but it is certainly something wroth giving some more consideration considering the awesome ergonomics and the great image quality that the Leica Q delivers. It would be nice if it had some high-quality add-on lenses like the Fujifilm X100 which let it optically go wider as well as more telephoto (18mm, 35mm, 50mm, and maybe longer)

Priced at $4250 this isn’t the “affordable” Leica M that people want, but its not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a high-end compact camera, and it more then delivers 0n that promise. Given that this camera has a better sensor then a Leica M240, I think its the best comparison when considering price. This would be an $11-13k system on a Leica M, and that wouldn’t have autofocus or automated features for easy shooting (yes Leica M users don’t want this, but Leica Q users probably do). The camera is also competitively priced when compared to my Sony RX1R. The RX1R body alone is $2800, the Lens hood is $175, the thumbs-up grip is $250, and then the optical viewfinder is $600 (EVF is $450). If you total up this my Sony package it comes to $3825, which makes the Leica Q sound pretty reasonable, and not outlandish. Given the image quality you get form this camera I think that it is well priced and should sell very well (possibly to me).

Leica T-Type – First Look and Overview

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Above you can view my video overview of the new Leica T-Type camera where I go over the camera, accessories, and features as well as an in-depth look at how the new touchscreen works on this camera. Below you can read some more of my thoughts on this camera and view sample images as well as download full-resolution sample images from this camera to further scrutinize.

Full-resolution sample images can be viewed and downloaded via my Flickr page here and RAW sample images will be available by Dropbox tomorrow.

General Thoughts

On the whole when rumors of this camera started surfacing, I was disappointed, though it was not un-expected. As leaked product images came to light I became even more concerned. As a purist, this camera is in no way similar to Leica’s heritage, and I don’t like this camera. With that out of the way, I will say that this is a great interchangeable lens compact system camera which is over-engineered in a number of respects. The Body feels extremely good in the hand and the 45 minutes of post CNC finishing are much appreciated especially with the hand grip. One other small critique is of the two multifunction dials on the top of the camera, they don’t have hard stops which makes it difficult to know when you are really changing things with them, not a big issue but something to take note of and something that you have to focus on when you are in the field. Unlike many Leica cameras, the rear screen on this camera is excellent (we will get to it as a touch screen later), images are displayed crisply and when zoomed in focus and camera shake are easily diagnosable. The screen is also highly visible moderately harsh daylight (conditions tested in).

This is good since the EVF isn’t great, at 2.4 million (I believe) it’s relatively up to date, however (and this may be personal prejudice against EVF’s but) the EVF still isn’t great in terms of responsiveness or detail though it is usable. While some may think that I am holding EVF’s to too high of a standard, I don’t believe I am. Maybe we have been spoiled by the responsiveness and clarity of optical viewfinders…(withering sarcasm)…but I will not accept EVF’s until they are as responsive and detailed as my eyes are physically capable of perceiving, and I have no doubt that in my life time we will get to this point…and I will still prefer optical viewfinders. There is just a difference between looking at a little TV screen and looking at the real world through either an SLR or a Rangefinder which physically connects and grounds you as the photographer in reality in a way that EVF’s will never be able to do. Diopter adjustments and GPS bring included in the articulating $595 Leica Visoflex EVF are nice touches which can help to justify the high price of this particular viewfinder over some viewfinders, like say for the Sony RX1r (which I am considering purchasing) that offer very basic features at a premium; but here you get some nice features along with basic EVF functionality which is sometimes required when the screen could potentially fail in harsh sunlight.

Image quality is pretty great out of this camera as you can see below, it is certainly a step up from the X2 and Leica X Vario (which I review here) and you can see my thoughts on the ISO range as well. I didn’t really futz around with the settings too much on the camera however there are two functionality based critiques I will offer. Firstly, there is the fact that (like the Leica X-Vario) you cannot just shoot RAW images on this camera and you are forced to choose between RAW + Fine or RAW + Super Fine (or whatever it says) which is annoying since this takes up extra-card space. The reason Leica has chosen to do this is because it is much easier to convert a JPEG to be viewable in playback on the back of the camera then it is to convert a RAW file to be viewable in playback. However, this is simply an issue of firmware and processing capability, with a nice 16GB of internal memory there is certainly space to temporarily store these files and I am sure the camera has the requisite processing capability. Consequently this is unacceptable laziness that I would have never expected from a Leica product. I know I am making a big deal out of a small thing, but again when you are paying top dollar you shouldn’t accept anything less then perfection. This issue could easily be fixed in firmware. Second, now let’s talk about the touchscreen.

I’m the kind of person that likes dials and buttons for everything, be it in my car or on my camera. I don’t like digital displays and touch screens, because, well … they will all eventually fail either the physical component or the computer driving it. This is why I prefer the manual nature of say a Hasselblad 503CW, or a Land Rover Defender 90. But I know that that is not the reality we live in and for things like this, it really doesn’t matter, since the components put into this camera are great and there will be absolutely no issues 99.999% of the time. Beyond that the touchscreen is very responsive and easy to use. Once you learn the menu system and how to set up and customize your camera home screen it is very enjoyable to use this feature in the field. I found that most of the time while I was shooting this camera, I could use my right hand thumb to access all of the rear menu’s and change settings while comfortably still holding the camera at shooting distance in front of me (when shooting it like a point and shoot). The novelty value of the touchscreen is high, and I really don’t think that it will wear off (especially not for anyone who is buying this camera). The touchscreen on this camera, along with the menu system design is the best touchscreen implementation in a high-end digital camera yet. It is daring and respectable that Leica chose to fully commit to this strategy, since there are no buttons on the camera. My PhaseOne IQ180 is a “touchscreen” camera but it still has 4 buttons which are used to navigate some parts of the camera. These buttons are very helpful, but dictate the way that the camera is set-up. It is very well implemented on the Leica T-Type. The only issue lies when browsing through the images on playback you have to be a bit careful with the way that you scroll through the images but this is something which can easily be fixed in future firmware since we can see that the touchscreen is pleasantly responsive when panning and zooming on an image.

Now onto the lenses. Focusing is improved on this camera over the Leica X-Vario, but it still isn’t insanely fast, but it is very usable. My biggest complaint about these lenses is the fact that they do not have aperture rings. Leica lenses are supposed to have aperture rings. plain and simple. This is one of the unique features which helps to make the user feel that they are part of the camera when shooting the Leica M system, there is just something about it and it’s an iconic feature that I think that Leica should be following through with in all of their cameras. The 18-56mm lens is basically the lens straight off of the Leica X-Vario which as I observe in the video is fine since this is an ILC camera, and if you need something faster you can swap it out for the prime if you choose to buy both lenses. The zoom ring still goes in the opposite direction to what most people are used to, like on my Nikon zoom lenses. Curiously, the 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T has a butterfly lens hood unlike the hood available for the Leica X-Vario, don’t read into that too much I guess, because as I said in my X-Vario review, flaring was never an issue when reviewing the lens sans lenshood. Using M-lenses is a bit of a moot point in my opinion because of the crop factor. However, if you want to use them the functionality is there, personally I think this is the wrong way to make an argument that you are linked to your heritage since most M-users won’t want to use this camera, and most users of this camera (myself included) would only want to shoot it with autofocus lenses anyway. I look forward to seeing what optics Leica comes up with in the future for the Leica T-Type.

The new strap system is actually very nice and very sturdy, personally I would wait for a leather strap for the camera but the included rubber strap is pretty good on it’s own. Note, there is nothing proprietary about the Leica-provided tool for releasing the strap and a paperclip or really anything will do as long as you can put it in the hole and apply pressure.

On the whole the Leica T-Type is a very pleasing camera, and if you want an interchangeable lens system camera from Leica with automated features and good optics then this is the way for you to go.

 Leica 23mm f/2.0 Summicron-T

Sample image taken with the Leica 23mm Summicron-T on the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera

Close Focus Distance

Leica T-Type with 23mm Summicron-T – 1/320 – f/2.8 – ISO 400

The Leica 23mm f/2.0 Summicron-T is a welcome addition to this system. The lenses Launched with the Leica T-Type mirror the focal lengths available on the Leica X2 and Leica X-Vario. However, with the case of the 23mm lens (a 35mm equivalent on full-frame) the lens has received an ASPH make-over while also becoming an f/2.0 versus the relatively slow (only in the world of Leica) f/2.8 Elmarit lens on Leica X2. This lens performs very well, however in harsh sunlight you will see some chromatic aberrations. Also, there will be green / cyan halo’s in some situations (particularly with strong highlights) in the bokeh of images. All of these issues are correctable with the chromatic aberration correction tools in either Photoshop ACR or Lightroom 5 (included with this camera).

There is one curious thing to note about this 23mm lens. While the lens is rated at f/2.0, when it is at its minimum focusing distance (~0.3m) the lens is an f/2.8 lens, backing up a little bit, the lens will become an f/2.5 and then an f/2.2 lens and then finally an f/2.0 lens. This is a little bit deceptive and something that users should take note of. This is not anything particularly unique to this lens, other lenses like the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G macro lens suffers from a similar difficulty which is something that you must be aware of when shooting. Now, with this particular lens, this is not an issue since its already an ultra-fast f/2.0 lens but it is something that you should be aware of.

This lens is being lauded as being a competitor with Leica’s 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron lens, without performing any scientific tests, I can say that this lens is very sharp, with nice detail resolution and a fast aperture. However, I will leave it to the experts to conclude whether this lens is in the same class as the Leica M lens.

ISO Series

The Leica T-Type offers an improved ISO range over earlier German made Leica CMOS APS-C offerings with results being very good up to ISO 3200. ISO 3200 in some situations can be better or worse then in others, but is generally pretty good. ISO 6400 will only due in a pinch and you won’t be getting the best results from this camera, however for a social situation they are more then adequate, they would improve with a black and white conversion.  at ISO 12800, vertical banding is very obvious and generally speaking images are unusable and very blotchy and soft with high amounts of color and pattern noise. These 12800 results are what you can expect from any camera when its sensor sensitivity is maxed out, however I will say that we have come a long way in terms of ISO performance and if your documenting a Cloverfield monster, or like trying to record someone committing a murder (Rear Window or Blowup, take your pick), or photographing the toppling of the Berlin Wall or something else momentous these 12800 results will be usable, but certainly not for any fine art print purposes.

Over on my Flickr page, there are a couple of other high ISO comparisons.

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 100

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/40 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 200

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/80 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 400

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/200 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

 ISO 800

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/400 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 1600

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/800 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 3200

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/1250 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 6400 

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/3200 – f/3.5

ISO Sample images taken with the Leica T-Type at the Leica Store Soho NYC

ISO 12800

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/4000 – f/3.5

 

Dynamic Range  

Sample Image from the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera from the Leica Store SoHo in NYC

Leica T-Type with 18-56mm Vario-Elmar-T @ 18mm ~ 1/1250 – f/3.5 – ISO 100 

The Leica T-Type’s new 16mp APS-C CMOS sensor is a clear improvement over the Leica X-Vario’s sensor, as you can see from the very nice dynamic range available in the Leica T-Type’s RAW files, in this file you can see that I brought back both the shadows and highlight’s using the recovery sliders in Adobe Photoshop CC Camera Raw to yield an image with very nice tonal qualities. The sky was seemingly blown out and highlight recovery was fully applied, and after a vibrance adjustment color was restored. 

Sample Image from the new Leica T-Type APS-C Camera from the Leica Store SoHo in NYC

Leica T-Type with 23mm Summicron-T ~ 1/3200 – f/2.0 – ISO 100

In this next image, taken with the 23mm Summicron-T, we have a much harsher contrast between the dark and light areas being both almost completely black and blown out respectively. However, we can see that there is a large amount of recovery possible in the highlights, and while the shadows had less able to be recovered we were able to do a very decent job and be able to use a lot of this image without any imperfections.

 

Leica X-Vario Review

First of all, before we get started, I would just like to extend a big thank you to the folks at the Leica Store SoHo (and especially my friend Ulas) who helped arrange for me to be able to have access to this camera for my latest trip to Oregon to put it through its paces. I look forward to working on more reviews in the very near future.

The Leica Store SoHo is located at 460 West Broadway, New York, New York 10012 and is open Monday through Friday 10:00 am to 7:00 pm as well as Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm

~

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Leica X-Vario @ 70mm – 1/250 – f/8.0 – ISO 100

The Leica X-Vario is a very difficult lens to review. It has a number of good things about it while simultaneously having a number of less good things about it. First, I am going to explain an idea which I have had in my head for a very long time, and which has really been hammered home to me on my latest trip to Oregon. For this trip I left my PhaseOne IQ180 home, and brought a Nikon D800e along with the Nikon PC-E lenses along with the Leica X-Vario;

(Note, if you are only here for the Leica X-Vario review you can skip the next two paragraphs, fair warning.) 

Before the rise of digital, there was a higher degree of delineation between cameras (and when I say camera’s I’m really referring to formats) they all had different attributes, strengths and most importantly limitations. Thought went into equipment choice, because there were advantages to say using 35mm over medium format (or visa versa) or a 6×7 vs a 6×9 and so on. Because the film you were putting through these cameras (especially in the case of medium format) was the same, or at least could be held as a constant, cameras and lenses were chosen for their qualities which helped to create the image a photographer wanted and image quality was a known and relatively constant quality. With the rise of digital, we have lost specialization in cameras. Due to the way that the market has developed cameras are (in the eyes of the majority) meant to do as many things as possible, with less mind paid to their ability to execute a specific task. Convergence between still photography and video as well as consumer and professional models has not helped this yet. At face value, specialization is lost beyond the portability of point and shoots (<35mm full-frame), DSLR’s which offer increased versatility and image quality (~35mm full-frame) and the ultimate quality of medium format. Note, I exclude mirrorless cameras from this evaluation because they straddle the line between point and shoot and DSLR and can fit into either category depending on the situation. From the perspective of a lover of cameras and different formats, this paints a very bleak picture of the camera landscape; personally I would love to see more specialized consumer / professional cameras which are good at one thing and focused on a specific task (it was admirable of Nikon to drop video from the Nikon Df no matter what you think of the rest of the camera). However, lately, especially with some newer camera releases, I have come to a nuanced view of different photographic tools (cameras) across different formats which paints a similar picture to the landscape I have just described in detail of film cameras in a bygone era. Starting from the top down, when you look at the majority of medium format, it’s just CCD’s of various sizes ranging from less then full-frame to full-frame 645. Looking a bit closer at something I have expounded on earlier (see my article from the launch of the PhaseOne IQ250) you can see some very nice specialization in the latest line-up provided by PhaseOne. Across the IQ2 series range they now have the 80mp giant (IQ280), the long-exposure king (IQ260), a black and white masterpiece (IQ260 Achromatic) and now the IQ250 a CMOS MFDB which offers a greater ISO range to MFD shooters, MFD is helped by PhaseOne’s open system adding greater versatility and specialization with the ability to use MFDB’s with Tech Cam’s like those from Cambo, Alpa and Arca-Swiss. Within 35mm your basically stuck to DSLR’s and Leica, but thats okay, and it is great that Leica presents an (in my opinion good) alternative to DSLR’s. The only obvious specialization comes in the form of top of the line models like Nikon’s D4s and Canon’s 1Dx which are differentiated from “lower end” models by their speed and ISO qualities. The Nikon D800(e) shakes this up a bit, ostensibly it is a lower end model to the nikon D4s since it costs less, and on some levels can do less. This last point is where the boundaries get blurry, the Nikon D800 is better then the Nikon D4s…if you need resolution. The Nikon D800 is a bit of a problem child in this model since it can also blur the lines between 35mm and medium format. This is a hot topic, in the past I have been adamantly pro-medium format, however I have recently come to fully appreciate what the Nikon D800 is. To some (I’ll call them “simple folk” or if you prefer you can call them “touched”) the Nikon D800 is as good as a medium format camera, because the Nikon D800 has a 36mp sensor and some medium format cameras have comparable megapixel counts on their sensor. Of course we know that the size of a medium format sensor provides intangible attributes which we will never be able to convince the simple folk of. BUT that is really not the point of the Nikon D800. The point of the Nikon D800 is that you can take a 36mp image with an 800mm lens, or a f/1.4 lens, that you can capture fast moving subjects, and use high-ISO’s. These are things which you cannot do (in the same way) in medium format. THAT is why these cameras are not competing and co-exist within my dystopian (and possibly imaginary) realm of camera specialization.

But where do point and shoots and mirrorless cameras fit into this you ask? Mirrorless cameras are, as I have said, a bit difficult, but lets just say that they have benefits like portability and the advantage of limitless lens choices at the cost of features and image quality (in some cases). Point-and-shoots are currently an interesting market because, well, they are struggling. Point and shoots are for many people difficult for many people to justify now since they have smartphones which have increasingly great cameras in them. Consequently the sector has languished on the low end. Interestingly it has flourished on the high-end. Camera’s like Fujifilm’s robust X100 which offers a hybrid viewfinder/rangefinder like shooting experience or Sony’s RX1r offer different shooting experiences only possible in their formats which make them specialized. These cameras are particular standouts. This is also where the Leica X-Vario fits into the equation offering strengths and limitations which will make it ideal for some applications while not a good option for others, namely it is a specialized camera.

(Note, if your here for the Leica X-Vario review, you’re now in the correct place.)

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Leica X-Vario @ 22.6mm – 1/500 – f/4.3 – ISO 100

Okay, anyway, back to the camera at hand the Leica X-Vario a $2,800.00 non-interchangable lens camera with a 16.1mp APS-C sensor and Leica Vario-Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 Lens (equivalent to a 28-70mm lens on 35mm full-frame). Now, lets be honest, at first glance that does not sound very good…well, thats okay, it does in fact get better as you delve deeper (that’s not withering sarcasm, its true it has some good qualities to it).

..

Let’s get the general aesthetics out of the way first, this is a very very well made camera. It is on par with Leica’s other German bred offering in most regards. It is in no way compact, but it is a very light package which you would have no problems toting around with you all day on your adventures, its high-quality metal body is a joy to hold and and largely to use. My sample was provided with the extra-grip option which vastly increases shooting comfort on this camera, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this camera. From a tactile perspective this camera offers nothing but delight, the buttons on the rear can be a little bit finicky but this is not a major issue and doesn’t detract from the camera.

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Sahalie Falls, Oregon

Leica X-Vario on tripod @ 25.3mm – 1/25 – f/16.0 – ISO 100

A number of this camera’s problems stem from it’s lens. First of all, let’s all agree that this camera is just begging to be mirrorless and judging by what we have seen leaked of the upcoming Leica Type-T, it is rather perplexing why it isn’t. Leica’s claim is that they chose to pair this lens and sensor together because they are optimized to be together (similar to the tune they sung with the Leica X2′s fixed prime lens, and similar to arguments made more compellingly by Fujifilm) and that is actually okay. I accept this in theory and understand the merits of a fixed lens which is designed to match a specific sensor. Leica is world renowned for their optical prowess and high-quality lenses are their thing. Optically the Leica Vario-Elmar 18-46mm f/3.5-6.4 preforms very nicely resolving details nicely, and displaying what I believe to be some nice micro-contrast which helps to bolster the performance of the sensor. Of course optical performance must come at the sacrifice of something, here it is aperture in a big way. Leica said that they chose the aperture of this lens because they believe that it allowed them to design a lens with the best image quality possible. Off the record, I have also been told (a la PDN 2014) by a Leica rep that if they had chosen to make this lens a constant aperture, or even a wider aperture at the long end that “it would have become to large”. Well lets be real about this, it’s already very large, so I question how much larger it would’ve had to have been to either let it be f/2.8 on the wide end or a constant say f/4 aperture throughout the zoom range. If you are shooting in any sort of challenging light, well then you better have a tripod with you and hope that you can shoot it since you don’t have a very large usable ISO range, though for most users this probably will not be an option since you won’t think to, or want to carry a tripod with you to the places you would be taking this camera generally. Also, focal length range provided by this camera is not very long, I always found myself wishing that it could go wider and longer in almost every situation where I was using it at one of it’s extremes. In fact, I put the camera down and didn’t take many pictures because of this. 28-70 is very similar to the 24-70 I usually keep on my Nikon’s so this wasn’t a major let down for me, the most limiting factor of this lens is its aperture which I believe Leica could have done a better job with. Personally I would have accepted larger aperture and slightly less sharpness from this lens.

Staying with the lens and moving to functionality there are a couple of big problems with this lens. Firstly, for anyone shooting most normal cameras (for me Nikon’s) we are used to our zoom lenses offering a zoom ring closest to the body and then manual focus as the next option down the lens barrel. On the Leica X-Vario this is not the case and is very confusing to get used to (I’m not sure I ever really did in my short time with the camera), if nothing else it is jarring. If you want to make the argument that Leica has established the focus in rear, zoom in front functionality from Leica M Vario-Elmar lenses thats fine, until I offer my next point. This lens has no hard stops on different focal lengths. Personally, I would have preferred to have hard stops at the different focal lengths instead of the smooth zoom range. This would have lead to much more thoughtful choice of focal length when composing and been a very “Leica” quality to the design of the function of this lens. Since your really not going to be catching any action with this lens where a smooth zoom range might have been helpful, even soft stops would have been appreciated. A third and bridge issue between lens design and camera design here is the aperture dial. The aperture dial of the Leica X-Vario is the furthest dial to the right on the top plate of the camera. Okay, this is strange. It is a physical dial, on the top of the camera, that selects the aperture for the lens. As a Leica M user and someone who appreciates the tactile nature of manually setting things on cameras, I would have loved to see an aperture dial on the lens itself. I assume Leica chose the easy route of putting it on the top of the camera because an aperture ring on a zoom lens with a variable aperture could have been a bit difficult to pull of (maybe as you zoomed out and were forced to stop down the mechanics of the lens could have moved and limited the aperture ring to the widest possible aperture for the focal length, this could have been even easier if the lens had hard stops). Frankly, the dial is weird and it would have been a lot nicer to have a multi-function dial like on DSLR’s and selected the aperture via this in conjunction with the rear screen of the camera. In the pro column, I will say that the manual focus feel of this lens is very nice and completely in line with the pleasures of using manual focus on Leica M lenses (though less comparable for many other reasons).

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in Bend, Oregon

Perspective digitally corrected

Leica X-Vario @ 18mm – 1/400 – f/5.6 – ISO 100

 Okay, lets look at some other things about this camera. Battery life on this camera if fine, I used it fairly intensively and left the camera running a lot and was never left wanting for battery, that said if I bought this camera I would carry a spare battery just in case. While I was shooting the camera (at Sahalie Falls) I wanted to shoot at a small aperture and a long exposure to get the waterfall to become silky smooth. While out in the field with the camera however, I could not find any way to make the camera shoot longer then 1 second, though apparently it can shoot up to 30 seconds long exposure, this would have been nice, but oh well apparently it does it, it must have been hidden in the menu’s. The menu’s are, well, very…Leica…which means simple and dated. On a model like the Leica M where there are not that many extra-features and most things have buttons assigned to them anyway this is not a problem. It gets a bit more annoying here but it is not a major issue. What is a majorly ANNOYING issue is that you cannot just shoot this camera in RAW mode, you can only shoot it in RAW + JPEG mode which eats up memory card space and is just annoying, theres no reason why you shouldn’t be able to shoot just RAW, and I couldn’t find any way not to. Because I wound up using this camera on a tripod a lot, it would have been nice to have the option to add a cable release (which would’ve helped with that whole long exposure thing). It certainly couldn’t have been too much to put a threaded cable release into the shutter of this camera, like Leica does on the M, and Fuji as well as Sony have done on their cameras which are equivalently or even lower priced. There are a number of areas (I won’t overtly name them, but I have mentioned them) where Leica seems to have skimped, which is not something you want when your spending almost $3,000.00 USD on a point and shoot camera. And don’t get me wrong this is a point and shoot, its gussied up and has a number of nice qualities which make it better then many point and shoots but where it counts, this is a point and shoot camera. One area where this is shown is in the cameras AF which is actually just fine, I’m not going to knock it, its not the fastest but its not the slowest, it works and generally finds its target. BUT it does behave in a very point and shoot manor and clearly there wasn’t much time spent on it as a feature, which is kind of a big deal in a point and shoot.

 Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in SoHo, NYC.

28mm is a great focal length for stuff like this, faster aperture would’ve been nice. 

Leica X-Vario @ 18mm (28mm equiv.) – 1/50 – f/3.5 – ISO 800

Image quality with this camera is very strange. It has some very strong attributes and some very weak ones. Starting off simple, the ISO range is fine, its very usable up to ISO 800 and for certain applications it can be used above this. Of course because of the slow lens your going to be leaning on the ISO a lot and the 16.1mp APS-C sensor just doesn’t deliver the goods to back up the slow lens. If you can keep it under 800 the files are very clean and very usable, not something to be discounted thats for sure. Resolution is good at 16.1mp and the sharpness from these files is also very good. Unfortunately this APS-C exhibits very “point-and-shoot-like” characteristics, it’s sort of difficult to describe really, but in my experience point and shoot files have this magenta hue to them which comes through in the mid-to darker tones of the image which you can see exhibited in the lead in image for this article which I don’t think there is any way to fix. Maybe spending a bunch of time in photoshop with the color replacement tool you could find a way to reduce this, but thats a lot of work and I would expect more from a camera in this price range. Also, sometimes at edges, especially in things like tree branches, things get sort of muddled and edges go kinda weird. I really don’t have a better way to describe this, but you can look at the image above for reference. There might be some CA, but I don’t really think that is it because the lens does do a very good job of reducing CA (Oh, side note, I didn’t have the lens hood for this lens and never needed it in my testing, the lens is well coated to reduce flare), but it is something that I have noticed in point and shoots before. When all the stars align however you can take some very nice images and when you process your RAW’s you will be pleased by the dynamic range provided by this camera which can yield some files with nice tonality if well exposed (even if there is high contrast in a scene). So, in some ways the image quality of this sensor is good, and in other ways it’s lacking. Its difficult to draw a firm conclusion on the image quality because the “bad” elements are only present some of the time, and sometimes the image quality can be really quite good. As we head towards the conclusion though, I would expect more out of the sensor of this camera based on it’s priced and given the limitations of it’s lens….but considering the fact that it is the same somewhat old sensor as in the Leica X2 it still holds it’s own and is relatively robust, you won’t be disappointed when you use this camera correctly.

Image taken with the Leica X-Vario in ESB, NYC.

 Leica X-Vario @ 46mm – 1/250 – f/6.4 – ISO 100

With a camera like the Leica X-Vario it is very important to understand it’s limitations going in if you are going to use it to get the best images possible from it. When you do, it can produce some great image quality. However, there is a long list of things that you cannot shoot with this camera which might leave you asking “well then what CAN you do with it?”. The answer to this question is a bit difficult, but when given the correct lighting conditions and good shooting practices, images from this camera can be very nice. You won’t be shooting anything thats fast moving, you won’t be using it for bokeh, what you will be using it for is extremely-high image quality in well lit situations. While this might sound a bit limiting, and it is, there are still many situations where you can use this camera. The best way that I can come up with to think about this cameras is as “a thinking mans point and shoot”. I think this accurately describes this camera within the Leica universe and within the context of cameras as a whole.

Now, the biggest hang up is the price. At $2,800.00 I want more from this camera and it does not deliver. It has a number of very nice qualities to it, but it does not live up to it’s price which is a major issue. It is a very good camera which can make some nice images, but when you consider comparably priced cameras, you can get the Sony RX1r a 36mp full-frame fixed 35mm Ziess lens, or for the same amount you could get a number of different mirrorless camera’s with premium lenses that will most likely out class this camera. The Leica X2, which features the same sensor and comes in at around $2,000.00 presents a better value proposition to me sporting an equivalent  24mm f/2.8 lens with the same lens this could be a very nice walk around / travel point and shoot package if that is what you are looking for from a Leica. This camera is a bit of a strange decision for Leica, and I am not really sure where they plan to go with it; but if you are looking for a camera which can make some great images in good lighting in a compact package, this could be your camera.

Leica M for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson (Update: Sold for $1.8M)

The unique Leica M Camera for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson which will be auctioned off at Sotheby's next week at the Leica Store in Soho, NYC

The unique Leica M Camera (RED) on display at Leica Store Soho, NYC

Update November 23, 2013Sotheby’s (RED) Auction website confirms that the Leica M240 (RED) edition designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson has sold for $1,805,000 USD (including the buyers premium approx. 20%) so thats a wrap. I assume they are donating the buyers premium….

A digital camera that aspires to be a “collectors camera” is at least in my mind still somewhat of a peculiar thing. We live with digital cameras use them every day and rapidly, seemingly with every second they become fractionally more obsolete as new cameras are announced and old cameras (generally speaking) tossed aside. However, following in Leica’s tradition of film and digital limited edition cameras, they have now banded together with Apple exec Jony Ive and designer Marc Newson to create a piece unique for Bono’s (RED) charity which will be auctioned at Sotheby’s next week. Currently it is on display at the Leica Store in Soho.

I cannot say I am appreciator of industrial design as an art (a blanker stare then the one normally occupying my face when visiting MoMa forms on my face when there is an industrial design exhibit) but a pretty thing is a pretty thing and while there are many different opinions about this particular item I happen to think it is a pretty thing. That being said, I don’t think its a practical thing, and lets face it is not meant to be. However this is somewhat ironically contrasted with Leica’s minimalist, function first aesthetic defined by the Leica M system, but again it’s hard to critique something that there is only one of….and further a “camera” which I highly doubt will have its shutter fired or a battery put in it. Let’s not forget that this is something for charity, and when you bid on something for charity you are not bidding on the item but choosing the amount of your donation to the charity.

The camera has a pre-auction estimate of $500,000.00 to $750,000.00 USD but seemingly (or as much as I could gather) no asking price. However, I suspect that with the popularity of Leica at the moment and the seemingly bottomless pockets of certain groups of collectors this camera will go for much more then that to someone who is a collector rather then a charitable person, but again, it really doesn’t matter since the money will go to the charity regardless.

This is the only camera I have ever seen which has its own bodyguard, yes Sotheby’s has provided a private security professional for the security of this camera. While if this were an object which had an intrinsic value of $500k-$750k I would certainly understand that it sort of seems like overkill to feel you need to protect this camera that much. I mean think about it, its not a piece of jewelry where the component (jewels and precious metals) are intrinsically valuable outside of the piece itself….this is yes, a uniquely designed camera and produced as a unique piece, but still simply a Leica M camera at heart. Consequently why would anyone bother to steal it? Of all of the valuable things you could possibly steal this would certainly rank amongst the most stupid. You can’t melt it down and you basically cannot resell it. Consider that yes, there is a certain group of people who might pay to have something stolen so they could have it in their personal collection for far below the value of an item….however you could not display this particular item because well theres only one of it, its highly documented and all you need is to show it to one wrong person and the jig is up. You only steal the item to show it off, and unlike a painting or similar work where provenance can become opaque, that would not be the case with this particular item. So really its a bit silly to have someone specifically protecting a $7k camera in a pretty housing. Still a fun camera to see in person after all the “hype” about it.

But if you care, its a Leica M240 with a Leica 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron lens and thats pretty much all she wrote.

Top view of The unique Leica M Camera for (RED) by Jony Ive and Marc Newson which will be auctioned off at Sotheby's next week at the Leica Store in Soho, NYC

Top view showing the Leica M Camera for (RED) showing the 50mm f/2.0 APO-Summicron Lens

Information-Sotheby's-Leica-M-Camera-(RED)-by-Jony-Ive-Marc-Newson

Sotheby’s listing for the Leica M Camera (RED) piece unique

Information-Sotheby's-Leica-M-Camera-(RED)-by-Jony-Ive-Marc-Newson-2

Some information about (RED)

Guest Post: Evolution is Revolution (Leica M240 Review)

Leica M240 Sample Image

Evolution is Revolution
And yes: Things they are changing!

Note from BH: Stefan Steib is an avid photographer and the owner of Hartblei.de (and on Facebook here) which produces the Hcam B-1 (reviewed on this site here), and a series of three unique Zeiss manufactured tilt-shift lenses, which are by all accounts excellent. He enjoys using legacy lenses on new bodies, and this is shown in some of his products as well, like a unique adapter for Mamiya RB67 / RZ67 lenses on the Mamiya M645 Mount (I.e PhaseOne 645DF or Mamiya AFD  camera bodies) and a special adapter for stitching with the Canon TSE lenses. Since my initial review of the Hcam B-1 I have become good friends with Stefan and now he joins us for a guest post on the new Leica M 240 which he had the opportunity to shoot for an extended period of time. 

~

The day I got my test set of the new Leica M 240, I was kind of astonished first, although I have used some M’s over the last 35 years, I had forgotten how small it really was. Even smaller: the lenses accompanying my demo – a Leica M 35mm f/2.5 Summarit, and a Leica 90mm f/2.5 Summarit. Previously, I have to admit, I had never been a real fan of the Leica M. The form factor was just not for me, and my work as an advertising photographer took other gear to get the work done. When the Leica M’s were still analogue I had checked out the rangefinder, I never grew fond of it. So I was curious, would the addition of the LV (Live view) function really change my perception of the Leica M series?

I was skeptical.

Leica M240 Sample Image
Leica has done some more tweaks and improvements since the original first digital M, the Leica M8 and later the Leica M9. Resolution may be the most obvious thing, but for me as a non-permanent user the different iterations of the digital M look pretty much the same.  The Leica lenses have always been on high praise, but until the arrival of the Leica M240 nobody could really test their full range on a high-res 24x36mm digital sensor. Yes there were adapters to the Sony NEX 7 where the Leica glass performed beautifully, but the smaller NEX chip only uses the center of the lenses image circle, limiting to some extent a full proof of their superiority.

And the Leica M Monochrome, albeit showing the highest net-res of all Leica M´s to date is  – well – monochrome – not showing the possible chroma or other negative color effects that may influence color quality of the digital Leica M’s output.

So I decided to push the little Leica M as far as I could and eliminate all possible quality degradations that I could – means working from a stable tripod, using a cable release and further testing the sensor with well known and proven lenses of mine with adapters aswell. I also wanted to look into Macro photography down to 1:1 with the Leica M system.

This approach is actually against the generally proposed usage of Leica M’s, their “Rangefinder Heritage“ and the light and easygoing idea of a small camera with great results.

So I went out for my first shooting at Friedrichshafen Klassikwelt- one oft he largest vintage shows for cars and planes in Europe.

Leica M240 Sample Image

After some shots it was pretty obvious that the new CMOS chip of the Leica had changed the camera into something remarkable, in a quite unexpected way. This Live view is Perfect! In accordance with the Focus peaking you can stop down to a working aperture and shift the indicating red edge markings as a cloud (focus peaking) right through the image, showing EXACTLY where the focus range will be at a given aperture and focus point. The Live view provides an image that is constantly bright and colors are shown on the display somewhat decently allowing a pretty good idea of what you will capture.  The new C-MAX sensor´s DR is big enough to allow live view under nearly all lighting circumstances, even when there is not so much light. This is probably also a result of the new, flatter circuitry architecture that is introduced with this chip made by Belgium fab CMOSIS.

This technique is not superfast and also not something that you may do with the camera handheld (though you can), but what is most important, for me is that it changes the character of this camera completely. Working with this M, is like using a medium or even large format device, a very calming and comfortable “slow motion“ but “deep thought“ photography that enhances my awareness of the motive and centers around a very well known solid mechanical touch and calming workflow.

As all things in life, there is always a little bitter in the sweet. Why Leica has decided to center the zoom in of the live preview and not allow shifting it around will be a well-kept secret of its firmware developers. I can only hope they fix this soon as this is around the only negative point throwing a light shadow on an otherwise sparkling performance.

Leica M240 Sample Image

History is obviously an important thing for Leica (and for their fans), the body still looks pretty much like any Leica of the last 50 years since the M4 (though it is actually a few millimeters thicker then the M9). This has some not so fun side effects, e.g. the base body plate is still working exactly like with analogue Leica M’s, mimicking the film compartment where there is none, but this results in really bad accessibility of the battery and SD Card slot, especially when you use a tripod/quick-release adapter plate you have to unscrew the whole setup to even change the SD card (???).

Also that aesthetically nice historical look takes another victim: the poor grip (in my opinion). Of course you may answer, there are plenty of 3rd party makers of grips, thumb rests, and camera cases, which improve the grip of the camera. Good. Even Leica offers 2 grips, and one of them features GPS.  But couldn´t they just throw this into a full package, I mean the price is high and this wouldn’t it really make sense for ANYONE using the camera?

It is a bumpy ride to get ready to love this Leica, but always when you doubt, there is a light guiding you…. I was able to use the final version of Lightroom 5 with it. I am pleased to say that the decision of Leica to bundle it with the Camera is an outstandingly good one! As Leica even says on their website, they have been cooperating with Adobe to get the best results for this Camera, Lens, Chip and Software combination. I will not talk about the lenses, this means carry owls to Athens, nor much about the digital features of the camera menus, Lightroom is also probably very well known. I would like to talk about the CMOSIS Chip. If you dig a little into the web you will find that there is a close connection to Fill factory, the company that did the chips for Kodak DSLRs and indeed the chips seem to show similarities to the CCD designs of the Kodak 14n. Lets take a look at some of the tech specs for the Leica M240’s chip.

Leica M240 Sensor

 

The chip is manufactured at STMicroelectronics (STM) in Grenoble/France for CMOSIS:

It is a fully European product. It´s 6×6 µm² Matrix reaches linear Full-Well-Capacity of ≥40.000 electrons and a linear Dynamic Range of 76dB. Pixeldata is digitized in patented Low-power/High-speed 14-bit Column AD-converters. This sensor uses a digital electronic Bladeshutter with global reset and noise suppression by analogue and digital

Correlated Double Sampling. CDS is a reason for the very low temporary and spatial noise and very good uniformity.
(For those who want to read more here is the source in German-sorry : http://www.elektronikpraxis.vogel.de/themen/hardwareentwicklung/bildverarbeitung/articles/378725/ ) In short- the new lower profile stack and the strongly curved Micro-lenses of the chip are resulting in a very low usable angle of incoming light, allowing the use of the full range of Leia M lenses from telephoto to the widest wide angle lenses. It even further dismisses an antialiasing filter, improving the usable resolution of the system even further. So in a sentence: Leica had them make a special chip for usage in an M style camera with short flange focal distance.

Leica M240 Sample Image

Sorry for that much tech speak, but that is no less than groundbreaking and it shows in the files. I have rarely seen such files from a 24x36mm chip. The Nikon D800/E may reach the resolution, but misses on the enormous smoothness of even the darkest shadows the Leica M240 resolves. Overall I would say the files look and feel like CCD medium format, I have uploaded a full Leica DNG file of my shooting to give you an impression which you can find here  http://www.hcam.de/upload/L1001064.DNG
In this article here on Brian’s page I show some images and from them the message is clear: Leica has crossed a bridge with the Leica M system in the M240. By the immense quality they pull from that combo, the meaning of a classic light M system camera has changed. It still can do what it has become known for, no doubt and watching the forums around the long term M users who are doing this (with a growing interest on the electronic finder, mainly because it opens up a chance to finally get longer lenses and also allow users with glasses (e.g. myself !) to get the full sharpness monty from a once harder to use “specialty“ camera.
There is a heritage of Leica M’s for Medical, Repro or Aerial Photography (+ some more).
Now the time has come that Leica can revive this heritage and sell plenty (at least when their new fab is finished and production ramped up) of M240’s for exactly this stuff.
Good news, the old fans will still love them as always and now they get back another piece of the cake to produce volume.

Congrats Leica, You won my heart with this little black camera. Probably not as I expected it or maybe not even as you may have hoped it, but you did!

I wish you many years of success to come with this spirit, you deserve it!

Greetings from a fellow German

Stefan Steib

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BH: You can check out more images that Stefan took with the Leica M240 in full-resolution on his Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hartblei/sets/72157634182792842/

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.

 

Leica M7

Originally published: April 3, 2011

In my opinion this is the best rangefinder film camera still in production. It is everything you would expect from a Leica. It was the first real Leica film camera I have ever used. It is everything I thought it would be. My first Leica was the Leica M8 so I got used to a fair amount of automated features. I like some auto features because they let me focus on composition and my photography and not technical stuff. That said, I don’t shoot in auto all the time. I just use it as a benchmark to judge my settings. Usually I agree with them but sometimes I don’t and I change things. Shooting the M7 and a Leica M8 is a dream. This camera lives up to its name and legacy in every way.

In my opinion this is the best rangefinder film camera still in production. It is everything you would expect from a Leica. It was the first real Leica film camera I have ever used. It is everything I thought it would be. My first Leica was the Leica M8 so I got used to a fair amount of automated features. I like some auto features because they let me focus on composition and my photography and not technical stuff. That said, I don’t shoot in auto all the time. I just use it as a benchmark to judge my settings. Usually I agree with them but sometimes I don’t and I change things. Shooting the M7 and a M8 is a dream. This camera lives up to its name and legacy in every way.

Leica’s are world renowned for two things. Their built quality and their optics. Optics are a function of lens so we won’t talk about that here, see my Leica Lens reviews for more on this. Leica’s built quality is second to nothing. Their MADE IN GERMANY cameras are the best constructed in the world. I say this because their point and shoot camera’s (excluding the X1 which is made in Germany) are rebranded and improved Panasonic digital cameras. Leica prides them selves on their all metal construction. This is one of their defining features and something that I truly enjoy.

Leica’s rangefinder cameras are inherently smaller and more discreet then DSLR’s. It feels weird holding my Nikon D3s or Nikon D700 after using a Leica for a while. It is something truly pleasurable. I am able to carry around an M7 with lens and an Leica M8 with lens and feel like I’m carrying less then when I am carrying my Nikon D3s and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. It also allows you to take pictures in situations that you might be noticed if you are using a DSLR. An example of this would be  Kuwait where the use of DSLR cameras for non-press use was banned. The reason for this was their were big and intimidating. I paraphrased that one but you get the idea. If you were shooting with a Leica no one would notice you. Which is great.

Leica’s optics are another draw to this camera, they are the best in the world bar none. People will argue that point but there is something unique about them. Something special that you need to experience for yourself. Their entry point makes them unreachable for some however, if you look around you will be able to get very good deals on older equipment.  By no means does this mean that this equipment is bad or tainted. Leica’s current M series cameras can use every lens made since 1950. And there are cameras around from that time as well that are still perfectly functional.

Shooting Leica is a pleasure and something every photographer should aspire to do at some point. Leica’s are not suited for sports photography but you can use them for just about everything else….and if you get one you will. they are a joy to shoot because of their size, built quality, optics and german functionality. Their reduce the camera to the basics there are very few buttons on this camera or any Leica, they are spartan and ready to shoot where ever whenever for as long as you need them to.

 

Leica M9

Originally published: April 3, 2011

just got this camera yesterday and haven’t had a chance to shoot a lot with it yet. I will post a full review when I have had some more time with the camera. For now I will do a little bit of compare and contrast with the Leica M8 (Digital) and the Leica M7 (35mm film). The M9 is a superior camera in every way, It is certainly better then the M8 because it is full frame, upgrades the megapixels a bit, and also has an increased ISO range. Opening the box is a moment of pure ecstasy. After ripping through everything to get to the camera, I looked around and found out they put a bunch of other stuff in there other then the camera…who knew?

One cool improvement is in the battery charger. Of course this doesn’t change the function of the camera at all, but it sure makes it easier to travel with. For starters the charger is about 1/3 of the size of the previous charger which was quite large and bulky. But thats not all! It also has interchangeable cables, I didn’t look at them all yet but the coolest by far is the car charger cable. This means you can charge your Leica M9 (or Leica M8 since they use the same battery) anywhere! muahaha. Also I assume there is an adapter for European voltages either included or available for purchase which is convenient for my frequent jaunts to that particular continent.

Something that was probably there with the Leica M7, and Leica M8 that I didn’t notice is there is a signed card by someone who inspected the camera to make sure that it was in perfect condition.

Compared to the Leica M7: The M9 is slightly thicker then the M7. You only notice this when you put them in your hand. You can feel the difference. In that respect the M7 feels better, frankly then either digital M. However It is in no way a deterrent to using the camera. It just is and thats fine. This is probably the only advantage that the M7 markedly has. The Viewfinder on my M7 is a 0.58 viewfinder which is better when using wide angle lenses since it has some wider frame lines built in. The M9 is a hybrid viewfinder (0.66 I believe) and  doesn’t have some of the wide angle frame lines. This doesn’t affect the picture taken, however it does make framing a little easier with wider lenses. Of course the M9 is more versatile then the M7 since you don’t have to carry around any film, or ever have to change film. When you decide to switch ISO’s a quick visit to the back of the camera and the dedicated ISO button changes that in seconds. Also in my opinion, I think that the M9 is easier to use with gloves on then the M7. I used the M9 in the city after I bought it yesterday, and it was in the 30’s so I had gloves on and everything was very easy to use from the aperture ring of the lens, to the shutter speed dial as well as the back of the camera. All very impressive.

Compared to the M8: For starters, aesthetically speaking the black M8 has a Leica MP style leatherette grip, while the Black M9 has a more classic Vulkanit grip. If you were so enamored with the M8’s leatherette then you can opt for the Grey/Steel Grey version of the M9. It has this grip. I think this was a better choice for Leica because it can appeal to more people. It would be even better if you could have the choice of the M8/MP leatherette on either a Black or Steel Grey M9, options are good. Alas the world is not perfect and the M9 is not part of Leica a la carte. Otherwise the M9 comes out on top, it has a full frame sensor, which people said was impossible, It has a better ISO range and improved firmware. All leading to the conclusion that the M9 is a superior camera to its predecessor.While there is still debate about Leica M6 vs Leica M7, I don’t believe that there is any debate about the superiority of the M9.

 

UPDATE DECEMBER 24, 2010 AT 1:01 PM -

One thing I noticed is that the Leica M8 had a dedicated top LCD screen for battery and picture count, the M9 doesn’t have that you have to press the info button on the back of the camera and then the battery and picture count comes up on the back LCD.

 

Leica M8

Originally published: April 3, 2011

The Leica M8 was the first real digital rangefinder camera. There was the Epson RD-1 or something but it never caught on and wasn’t that good. The M8 will join such cameras as the D3 in the halls of camera history. It was a landmark. Something that was said to be impossible. And alas here we are in 2010 where there is a full frame sensor in a rangefinder! something that was said to be impossible again. Leica defies the odds and takes it in stride they continue to innovate on their products and make them even better. There are always cynics and pixel peepers who will say that their are things wrong with this camera. In the end its a digital Leica…how amazing is that? pretty amazing.

This camera changed my photography career. It always sounds like a joke when people say that it helps you focus on what is important in a picture. But it it really does. You become part of the camera in a way that you never can with a Canon or Nikon. It lets you focus on composition rather then messing around with settings. I believe it is the ultimate photography experience.

I really don’t have that much I can say about this camera that hasn’t been said very eloquently by Ken Rockwell and Steve Huff. This camera is really amazing, I am at a loss for words right now, that may be because I’m tired but read my Leica M7 article because I wrote that first if you want more on the build quality and functionality of this camera. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Leica M8 and 24mm Summilux f/1.4 @ f/.40