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Posts from the ‘Leica Everything’ Category

Leica Akademie Street Photography Master Weekend Classes

Peter Turnley kids in boot© Peter Turnley

I love to learn and share. It’s the reason I have this blog. But this time, instead of just reviewing after the fact, I’ve decided to tell you about it before hand so you have a chance to join in the experience and give some feedback.

For those of you who have read my review of Leica’s Los Angeles Leica Gallery Opening (you can read it here), you will know that Leica wants to create a cultural Center for Photography. They envision a place where photographers, local and internationally can gather, hang out, share ideas, images, and experience.

This year Leica Akademie and it’s North American Manager, Tom A. Smith, the engine behind this grand plan, has put together a few street and photojournalism lecture/hands-on classes taught by photographers whom I’ve either taken a course or want to take a course from.

Now, I’ve taken a couple of Leica Akademie Master Class Weekends and they are really enlightening and raise your photography skills to a new level with the help of a guest Lecturer/Photographer. Last time I took one with Craig Semetko (you can read my review from my old blog here), I walked away taking better photos than I ever did before I walked in. And that’s because I had a greater understanding on what to look for and how to compose.

Leica Akademie Master Class Weekends

May 16th -17th – Los Angeles – Craig Semetko http://www.cvent.com/d/d4q2yr

Craig Semetko Monroe© Craig Semetko

Craig Semetko Who AM I© Craig Semetko

May 30th – June 1st – Los Angeles – Peter Turnley http://www.cvent.com/d/d4qsmg

Peter Turnley Kiss© Peter Turnley

Peter Turnley Eiffel© Peter Turnley

June 6th-8th – Washington, D.C. – Richard Bram http://www.cvent.com/d/x4qsmr

bram_FoggyWindowSoho© Richard Bram

Richard Bram Cones© Richard Bram

And what’s really great is that you don’t have to own a Leica camera. They’ll have a bunch of various Leica camera bodies like the M (240) or the M Monochrom and a huge array of amazing lenses you can borrow for each day you’re out shooting. It’s a great way to test and learn at the same time.

I’ve never tried it before but for those wanting a longer workshop experience, where you can bring your entire family or a group of friends, Leica Akademie’s  Tom A. Smith has organized three different destination locations. You can check them out at http://www.exclusiveresorts.com/Landing-Pages/Leica.

Please share! I’d appreciate if you could leave your opinion on any of these courses as well as the week long workshops by leaving a comment below.

Leica Store Los Angeles Grand Opening

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I had the honor to attend the grand opening of the new Super-Sized LEICA store located at 8783 Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood last Friday night. It’s the only one of it’s kind in the world, for now.

If you want to make an international destination and push a global brand, you have to think big. Leica made sure they did just that and spared no expense. They opened with a big splash – and apropo to this town, Hollywood style. All the managing directors around the world and key players in their company flew in to help get the new store and the party up and running. Of course, Leica’s very own celebrity entourage was on hand to help bring attention to their new space.

You knew the party was super-sized when you drove up, and 30-40 valets stood in line ready to take your car. Then a throng of greeters tapping iPads to “log you in” descended upon you, not to mention the countless security personnel. But the best part was, Eberhard Kuehne, Leica’s West coast regional manager who invited me (Thanks Ebbi!), was standing to give me a big hug. I couldn’t wish a warmer welcome. How I wanted O to be with me but when you’re married, one has to work and, well…O was in Budapest….So I had to endure the event all by my lonesome…sort of.

L1022300Ebehard Kuehne (center)

There were no name tags, or rubber stamping on the back of the hand here. No- I had to wear the ubiquitous chic black rubber wristband with the Leica dot. Then I had to run down the red carpet and be confronted by a battery of press photographers and papparrazzi. But, as a kind greeter told me, if I’m not comfortable, I could walk behind the cameras. Ahem, is that a subtle hint that I’m not a celebrity? Okay, my street shooting buddy, Rinzi Ruiz, did recognized me at the time. He was working as a second press photographer for Chris Weeks who was shooting for G-Star Raw, the co-host of the event. I turned to the kindly greeter, nodded and walked down the red carpet anyway – you know, to feel the love. I did notice from the corner of my eye, photographers were changing SD cards, chimping through their screens to see if their last shot looked good, comparing notes and cameras, anything but snapping a picture of me. Then I realized, I had survived the red carpet horror. :-)

The building is great. The new General Manager of the Leica store, James Agnew, told me it was a last minute convergence of all the elements of the universe. Leica had been looking and looking for a place to call home but found nothing that fit their criteria. A leaser of the space dropped out and Leica nabbed it right away – just a few months before they opened. It was meant to be.

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They did a nice job of converting a furniture store into something very special. Thanks to Roland Wolff, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Steffen Keil and Kathy Goldman, it has its own brand identity in the well known design center of West Hollywood near Robertson Boulevard. Taking cues from the images its cameras make, the black part of the facade frame the activities inside like a big picture frame. The modern, clean and sleek store reassures you that design and aesthetics are mantras and a way of life for Leica. Nearly 8,000 sqft/900 sqm of open space. There is a VIP lounge in the back. But frankly, being in an, albeit cushy room without windows, may sound cool and exclusive, but you’ll miss out on everything. If you want the Leica experience, the real view is looking through the store and out to the front of the street. There is an outdoor lounge upstairs that also overlooks the street and entrance, making it a very L.A. kind of place. And it goes without saying, they have an espresso machine. Hanging out has never been made more enjoyable. They even have their own valet parking lot in an area where parking doesn’t come cheap. So there’s no excuse not to check it out .

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One of the first people I met was Dr. Andreas Kaufmann. Like a good host, he was out by the front door greeting guests. You could see he was proud of the realization of one of his long time dream.

L1022310Dr. Andreas Kaufmann

When you walk into the store you immediately come upon Liao Yibai’s giant FAKE LEICA sculpture. It’s a a fun piece of glossy objet d’art and appropriately named. It reminds me of Claes Oldenberg’s classic giant sized replicas of every day objects such as binoculars, rubber stamp, bowling pins. But this one is made of stainless steel and is imbued with lots of detail from the Leica MP #253. I love the story behind Liao’s inspiration for the name. He grew up in a military factory in China. The cameraman in the factory used a ‘fake Leica’ to record the factory’s missile tests – the successful ones. As a child, he was allowed to press the shutter and was fascinated with cameras ever since. He can’t remember which Chinese make of camera it was- could have been the Seagull or Hua Ying, but he remembered the reference to Leica. China also made the Shanghai, another ‘fake Leica’. This is like Russia’s Fed, Zorki. Japan’s Cannon III, Minolta 35, Nicca, Yashica YE, Tanaka IIC. England’s Periflex and America’s Kardon. All Leica copies of their time. But the Chinese don’t mince words. It’s called a fake Leica because even then, the camera was exclusive and legendary and those who couldn’t afford it, bought the look-alikes. As you can see here, the Leica camera in any form, is still sexy and seductive.

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Beyond the sculpture is the main floor split into two by the glass staircase. On the left is a library of books curated by Martin Parr. What a treat. Lots of interesting and unusual photography books. Finally, books that are worth discovering. They also sell accessories and gifts like specially designed Leica T-shirts. On the right side are glass cabinets filled with Leica cameras and Leica optics. It’s like opening one treasure chest after another.

L1022352 Seal standing with hard core Leica fan

The party drew all kinds of people from the movie, fashion, music and photography world. In front of the camera like actors, and singers and rockers.

L1022320Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe) with a photographer

Behind the camera like journalists, photographers, cinematographers and supplier/vendors of cameras, movie cameras and equipment. There were gallery owners, collectors and photography enthusiasts.

L1022342Award winning photographers Nick Ut and Mary Ellen Mark (behind is her exhibit)

Photography was at the heart of this opening with the whole upper floor dedicated to the display of images. The opening exhibit featured amazing and prolific images from Mary Ellen Mark, graceful ones by Yariv Milchan, and even Seal’s capture of an intimate moment. You have to see the images up front and personal. They are truly inspirational.

In Hollywood fashion, loud music pounded while beautiful people adorned modern furniture next to the suits.

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I had the chance to feel the 50mm Summicron-C cine lens. Wow, what a hefty piece of glass. It’s the same elements as the regular Summicron but the gears to support flawless and silent follow focus is more demanding than the ones still photography requires. It’s incredibly smooth. Also the housing needs to withstand the weather elements in a more robust way. I can’t wait to be able to spend some time with it and the Summilux-C lenses. I was talking to Leica’s CW Sonderoptic’s Managing Director, Gerhard Baier and he’s extremely proud of the work they accomplished with the entire prime lens series of both the Summilux C and the Summicron C. They had one mounted on an M240 and another on Arri’s Alexa (movie camera) and both were sweet.

L1022312-EditLeica M240 with 50mm 2.0 Summicron-C

I also met several Leica store managers whom I talked about the pros and cons of Leica cameras. What I especially noticed is that they still have very strong opinions about Leica products good and bad which give them the independence I feel help Leica in a positive way. What I mean is, they aren’t just ‘yes’ people. Thank goodness.

Then came the Leica X Vario, which David Farkas (Red Dot Forum), let me play with. Some of you may know, I poo poo-ed the X Vario when it first came out as it wasn’t meeting my expectation of a mini camera with an M- mount. But when I laid my hands on it, my opinion started to change. Contrary to textbook opinion of slow aperture equals difficult to use in low light, the camera surprised me on how it captured details in just such a situation. And in a cinematic way, when the zoom lens follows focus, the bokeh transitions soft and smooth, unlike many zoom lenses where the transition is clunkier. I have yet to render my full judgement until I really review it, but my mind is open for more surprises.

L1022382Leica X Vario with Leica M240 in background

As I mentioned, G-Star Raw co-sponsored the opening. They worked together with Leica to create the Leica D Lux 6- Edition G-Star Raw. It has a cool rough and tumble look about it. I like the muted grey tones mixed with the dark brown leather case. It also has a military feel to it.

gstar leicaLeica D Lux 6 – Edition G-Star Raw

Tom Smith and Justin Stailey of Leica Akademie USA told me the idea behind the opening of this store is to create a ‘center’ for Leica and photography. Of course they will sell, but they want a cultural center. A place where local and international photographers can come together and share their work with others. They want to emphasize the final product of the print. Leica Akademie will play a bigger role in our Leica future. They don’t just want to educate us on how their camera works but on the whole process of photography and resulting ideas. So there will be lectures, workshops, as well plain and simple hangouts for amateurs to learn from professionals. It’s what Leica should be about. A true corporate sponsoring of the arts. I love it. The camera will sell if the images inspire. I only wish they did this sooner.

L1022380David Farkas (Red Dot Forum and Leica Miami) & Chris Moore (Leica marketing)

I also had the chance to meet one of my Twitter followers, Chris Moore. He’s a Leica marketing specialist focusing on social media and all things media from analogue books to anything digital. His first advice to me was to get my photography business card straightened out. I was walking around with my day job business card, writing on the back my Leica Liker info. Was I a doofus or what?

The neat thing about the opening party is the mixture of all kinds of people. It’s like going to the candy store and meeting Willy Wonka and his entire crew and all their customers from different walks of life.

L1022387Street photographers Chris Weeks, Rinzi Ruiz, Frank Jackson

People had fun at the party.

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What’s a grand opening without a ribbon cutting?

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Out came the giant scissors.

L1022354Leica Brass (L to R): Steffen Keil, Alfred Schopf, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Roger Horn

Annie Seaton, the Gallery director told me the next day that nobody wanted to leave the party. They had to kick people out. The ‘stammplatz’ (the usual hangout place) is already happening. ;-)

Leica has come a long way in a relatively short period. When you think about it, they were about to go bankrupt in 2006 because they didn’t know how to survive in the digital age. Stubborn people within Leica didn’t want to change back then. They could have gone down the same path as Kodak: A distant memory of the past and no one would have new Leica products to play with today. Now, they’re building factories, opening stores and generally implementing a grander, albeit, glitzier vision of Leica. Some die hard Leica fans think it’s too much about bling and not about the good old fashioned Leica camera. But in today’s social media and brand-centric society, they are simply cultivating the same reputation they had before World War II: exclusive, high quality and expensive. They’re just now using what was once more word of mouth as a direct marketing tool to build their brand on. If they need celebrities to help market their products, then they should get all the help they can. Look- they are not just surviving, they are leading and forging their own future, thank you very much. We’ll always gripe about whether one Leica camera or lens is better or not than another. But I for one am glad Leica is doing what they are doing so we can have something to talk about and most importantly, cameras that inspire our creative selves.

I want to thank Tom Smith for introducing me to everyone.

I wish the new Leica Store LA and Leica Gallery all the best of luck.

Here are all their links.

http://leicagalleryla.com
http://leicastorela.com
https://www.facebook.com/LeicaGalleryLA?fref=ts
https://www.facebook.com/LeicaStoreLA?fref=ts

L1022368-2The L-word

LEICA M MONOCHROM – Reality Check

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ISO 320, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

Since my “first impression” post back in September last year, O and I sold a few lenses and an old Nikon, just so proceeds could go towards a Leica M Monochrom and we haven’t looked back.

When the camera was first announced in May 2012, O was immediately sold on the idea. Me? I needed a lot of convincing because the price point was high, and it was limited to black and white. But then we were able to test the pre-production model and both of us fell in love with it.

In my previous post, I talked about the most important value any camera can give, whether it be a $1.00 toy camera or a Leica, is the ability to inspire you to grab the camera and shoot amazing or near amazing photographs. Well, it hasn’t changed at all. Actually, I lie. The desire to shoot beautiful photographs is stronger than before.

Leica Liker Martin Cello

ISO 5000, 1/1000 sec, 50mm Noctilux – by O

O sums it up the best. He says there is no excuse to not shoot good photographs anymore. Unlike color, where you can be lazy and decide if the shot could be presented in black and white or not, or slack off on the framing or composition (don’t tell me you don’t do this sometime), the Monochrom only works well when you understand the demands it has of you, the user/photographer. You have to rethink how you ‘see’. You are forced to think in black and white in order to capture the images you want.

This is because the image is recorded in shades of grey and tones and not the colors which our eye is accustomed to seeing in real life. Understanding this is the first step towards a creative process. You have to think about how you want the sensor to record the image. You have to consider many aspects of the photograph in order to capture what you want. This creative process is essential to the Monochrom, otherwise, it would be a waste of money. However little or strong it may be, you can’t run away from it.

M Tillmann 1.A Ewanglee

ISO 400, 1/45, 35mm Summilux

So if you think you are not creative, you actually are because of all the different aspects you must consider and answer before you press the shutter. For instance, the choice of more or less contrast will either harshen or soften the image, therefore changing the way you present the subject. The tones help define whether the image is more realistic or impressionistic. You can emphasize forms and shapes, thereby focussing the eye towards the subject with less distractions.

O believes that black and white has an inherently more impressionistic quality whereas color requires a great deal of thought and planning in order to give off the same level of impressionism.

So without further ado, let’s dive straight into the photographs and details of the performance of the Monochrom.

M Tillmann 12 Ewanglee

ISO 1250, 1/45sec, 35mm Summilux

DISCLAIMER!!!: My review is only based on the images I take and how user friendly the camera is. Some images have been post processed with slight crops (to straighten the shot) and pushing or pulling on the contrast, darks, and brightness in Lightroom 4. A few have been processed with Nik Silver Efex 2. That is about the only post work I do. And, my bias is based on if the camera helps me capture the image I envisioned. I am not knowledgeable about equipment from any technical point of view. So if any one expects to read detailed specifications or any tech reviews, there are other sites that have the expertise. You can go to L-Camera Forum here to find out a list of all the reviews of the Monochrom. You can check out all the specifications at the Leica site here.

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ISO 800, 1/2000 sec, 35mm Summilux

THE BASIC PHYSICAL

I love, love, love the stealth look of the Monochrom. No Leica red dot, no Leica name logo on top, just matte black metal with a fine textured leather finish. Simple and understated. In my mind, it’s the most elegant Leica in the M series. The clean lines are classic.

FRAME BUFFER

In Japan, there is an aesthetic called Wabi-Sabi, that is sometimes described as beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), the other two being suffering (苦 ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).” (Taken from Wikipedia)

You’re probably wondering, “what in the world is she talking about?”… I’m just coming to it, so please indulge me a little more.

Leica Liker Hitchcock church

ISO 640, 1/500, 35mm Summilux – by O

From an engineering or design point of view, wabi may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then sabi could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the phonological and etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust.(Also taken from Wikipedia)

Now to the point. On the pre-production model, we noted the Frame Buffer was slow. Well….it hasn’t changed. When you shoot over 4-5 single frames continuously, the frame buffer fills up and you’re forced to wait between 15- 30 seconds before it frees up. It’s a flaw that happens to me very often. That’s why I have had to reach into my Zen drawer and find a way to explain to myself why I must remain patient as little grasshopper should. :-)

I hope Leica fixes this soon!

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ISO 320, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

ISO BUMP

The increase in ISO to 10000 make this camera low light friendly. It’s my go-to camera in the evenings. Stripped of the RGB filters, Kodak’s Truesense presents as pure an image as you can possibly get. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing out there that comes close to purity than this one.

THE BEAUTY OF GRAIN

As I said in my last post, the most unique thing about this camera is the noise grain. It is just simply exquisite. The grain is not the digital hard edged type you get with the M9. It’s a soft film-like grain.

However, at 10,000 ISO, the Truesense sensor is pushed to its limit. The noise is extremely noticeable with a slight muddy nature (for my taste), although professional photographers like Jacob Aue Sobol has been able to turn it into an aesthetic. The highest I use is 6400, where the noise is acceptable and part of the aesthetic of the shot. But at 5000 you can get a near noiseless shot. My ideal range for night shots is 3200 -6400. During the day, I play between 640 and 3200.

TONES

I love the complex and refined tonal range of this camera. When you look at the images, the details are part of the lure. Hence, the grey nature of the RAW files. But that’s what is so great about the camera. You capture more detail than some negative films. Your RAW files let you make ‘informed’ choices on how to process the shot. You have more options to post the image than ever before.

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ISO 320, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

EXPOSURE
As mentioned in my last post, you need to underexpose the shot so don’t blow out your highlights. Unless you want to of course.

LCD SCREEN

I really hope Leica will replace the 2.5″ TFT LCD sapphire-crystal display screen with something comparable to any SLR camera out there. What they have on there is just subpar.

THE MENU

I was able to play with the new histogram that shows the raw data combined with a clipping display. I try to practice with it to see how my estimate of exposure is compared to the actual. It’s still a work in progress for me. A wonderful tool for those who are still learning.

Leica Liker Back

ISO 320, 1/4000, 50mm Summicron – by O

LENSES

The Monochrom makes every lens shine because the image is as pure as the lens. But O and I are of the opinion that the Monochrom is really made for sharp lenses like the APOs. The sensor captures every nuance of the image.

THE PRICE TAG

What can I say? I hate it because it hurts the pocket for those of us who have to count our pennies. But I understand it and am in support of the decision. It’s the only camera that is hand made. Regardless of the technology (good or bad), I love the fact that I am paying for some one’s livelihood. Someone who has pride in their work. Some one who gets excited when they can invent, to preserve and expand a legend, or bridge a gap between old and new, paint the logo on, put on the screw… well you get the idea.

In our society, we don’t seem to value individual input anymore. The bottom-line rules everything at the expense of people. You can’t compare products that are made from robotic assembly lines with ones put together by humans.

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ISO 2000, 1/60 sec, 21mm Super Elmar

CONCLUSION

The Leica M Monochrom is a milestone in camera inventions, just like when the ‘Barnack’ was invented to make cameras portable, or the first M(3) Leica was invented with bayonet interchangeable lenses, or when the M9 was born with its full frame sensor. This camera is a game changer in the world of full frame digital cameras. It is also the perfect evolution from negative film to digital without leaving the achievements of film in the trash. It tries to emulate the beautiful quality of film, yet still have its own unique quality. That’s a good thing.

You can read:

First Impressions of Leica M Monochrom (Pre-production model) Part 1 here.

First Impressions of Leica M Monochrom (Pre-production model) Part 2 here.

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