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Posts tagged ‘Ebehard Kuehne’

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

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First Impression of the LEICA M MONOCHROM (Pre-production Model) PART 1

O was able to get the Leica M Monochrom preproduction model loaner for a couple of days, thanks to Ebehard “Ebby” Kuehne (Leica District Manager) and the notorious Tibor Szilagyi (Samy’s Camera, Los Angeles). The minute we got it, we went out to play. And wow, did we have fun.

We have many images to show with varying degrees of success (It’s not all art.), so I have decided to do a two-part post. The second part will be primarily images while this first part will be my ‘report’.

ISO 400, F16, 1/350 sec, 35mm Summilux

DISCLAIMER!!!: My review is only based on the images I take and how user friendly the camera is. Some images will be post processed with slight crops (to straighten the shot) and pushing or pulling on the contrast, darks, and brightness. 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.

ISO 400, F16, 1/250 sec, 35mm Summilux

“The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking. – Brooks Atkinson (Pulitzer Prize Theater Critic for New York Times) – 1951, from his book- Once Around the Sun

ISO 400, F 16, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

One of the greatest feeling one can ever experience when you have a new camera in your hand, is the intense desire to be a great artist or photographer or both.  Somehow, the camera will give you the power to create amazing photographs. Why buy a new camera if it can’t empower you, right? Well, the Monochrom didn’t disappoint. Not that our photos are amazing, but it gave both O and I that warm and fuzzy feeling we wanted.

Monochrom ISO 400, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

M9 Converted ISO 400, F6.7, 1/750 Sec, 50mm Summilux

The last four times I went out shooting, I came back with nothing worth looking at. O and my fellow street photographers had better luck than me. I was rather depressed, wondering when was I going to get out of this horrible slump? Then O told me about getting a Monochrome loaner. You can imagine how ecstatic I was. This was the camera that could take me out of the slump.

ISO 400, F16, 1/250 sec, 35mm Summilux

Once we had the camera in our hands, all we could think of was making the shot. But the pressure was huge to get something worth the privilege. We had limited time – two half days (we still had our day jobs to contend with and the availability of the camera was spur of the moment). So don’t expect major testing in this post although we did do a few.

ISO 400, F16, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux

O and I both shot with aperture priority ranging from F8 to F16 for exteriors and F1.4 to 5.6 for interiors. Unfortunately, when I loaded the images into Lightroom 4, the exposure information only registered the shutter speed but not the aperture (darn!). I hope this will be fixed with the updated firmware when the production models come out. I noted the F-stop when ever we were able to recall. The ISO’s vary and is noted with each photo. And generally, we zone focused every time.

ISO 160, F 8, 1/60 sec, 18 mm Super Elmar M

THE BASIC PHYSICAL

Let’s start with the physical characteristics: It’s effectively the M9-P. But the finish is a little different. The vulcanite on the M9 is replaced with a finer textured leather that’s nice to the touch. The metal is matte. There’s no logo or dot except for the tiny “Leica Camera Made in Germany” engraving on the back.
 The weight with battery is 600g (21 oz).
 The same as the  M9-P. I will talk about LCD screen, Menu, Frame Buffer, etc. as separate items below.

ISO 5000, F 5.6, 1/250 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO BUMP

One of the newest and much awaited attributes of the Monochrome is the increase of the ISO range from M9’s highest of 2500 to Monochrom’s highest of 10,000. Leica didn’t change the 18 Megapixel M9 sensor made by Truesense (ex-Kodak), but it did change the parameters on what the sensor senses. Since color is no longer a concern, there is no need for the color filters that was added in front of the M9 sensor to help it recognize and record the color in light. I understand that other things like color value interpolators and artifacts no longer are of concern to black and white images. It’s really like taking away all the various layers from the sensor, allowing it to be its original naked self. So it shines when it is able to deliver full and high resolution without compromising for color.

ISO 10,000, F5.6, 1/2000 sec, 18mm Super Elmar M

It was a pleasure to take this camera around at night or in low light situations and be confident that we could shoot some photographs without bringing a flash or having to switch to our Ricoh GXR or Fuji X100. We had so much fun with the Monochrom, including having a few drinks so we could admire the design stripped of the decorations that the M9 or M9-P has. 🙂

ISO 10,000, F 5.6, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

THE BEAUTY OF GRAIN

The most unique thing about this camera is the grain. The grain 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. I noticed noise starts to creep in after around 7-8000 ISO. Some reviews mention the optimal ISO is 5000. You can see below, at ISO 10,000, the grain does get a little muddy but I think still acceptable. I think the grain rendition alone is a reason for the Monochrome camera to exist.

ISO 10,000, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

TONES

The other most unique thing is the tonal value of the images. The blacks and grays are complex in range compared to the more contrasty M9. With the help of the new raw image data histogram, you can fine tune your exposure. The tones remind me of the way film responds.

ISO 5000, 1/180 sec, 50mm Summilux

FRAME BUFFER

At the beginning, Ebby warned us that the firmware was not ready so the preproduction model would be a little slow. He was right. The frame buffer still filled fast, slowing the computer down. After shooting continuous for 3 frames, the red light at the bottom of the LCD screen flashed for several seconds.

ISO 3200, 1/45 sec, 50mm Summilux 

While I could shoot a few additional frames, after about 6 to 8 shots the camera would not shoot anymore and I had to wait before I could resume. I am assuming Leica will have this part resolved by the time they deliver the production model.

ISO 3200, 1/60 sec, 50mm Summilux

ISO 3200, F 1.4, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

EXPOSURE

If you like to shoot with perfect exposure on the subject and allow the brights to blow out and over expose, then you’ll have to adjust the way you shoot. In the photo above, I center metered on Caitlin, the bartender and thought the shiny object on the left would not blow out. And the photo below, I center metered on the bread and not the light in this photo and both were mistakes.

ISO 3200, F 1.4, 1/180sec, 50mm Summilux

Had I anticipated this problem, I would have brought along my M9 or any color camera, film or digital. But, one always learn from hindsight. 🙂

This camera is best used with exact or under exposed shots. Over exposed shots do not have enough information for recovery in Lightroom. Believe me, I pushed every lever in Lightroom hoping to dig some detail out of the blown out areas and never found any, unlike images shot with the M9.

ISO 10,000, F 8, 1/1000, 18mm Super Elmar M

LCD SCREEN

The 2.5″ TFT LCD with sapphire-crystal Display screen is still the same ridiculously cheap one as the M9-P. I always struggle with focus in low lighting as you can see here despite the ‘bright-line frame viewfinder. I had hoped that since there is more data information from the Monochrom sensor, the screen would also show more detail for when I proof my focus. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Monochrom ISO 400, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux

M9 Converted ISO 400, F 2.4, 1/60 sec, 50mm Summilux (see how the sensor is struggling with low light at the same ISO)

THE MENU
The Menu is basically the same as the M9 and M9-P except for:
1) The added the high ISO range.
2) The elimination of white balance used only with color.
3) A new histogram display to show the raw data combined with a clipping display. You can fine tune and optimize your exposures.  I really didn’t have time to play with this feature.

ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux

RETHINK HOW YOU ‘SEE’ 

What I realize about this camera is that you have to think differently. You have to think black and white. I was frustrated several times because I saw a scene in color and when I shot it, the image did not have the meaning or punch that color would have given me. And I didn’t always have O beside me to shoot the color version. And nor did he have me all the time to shoot the color version when he was shooting the Monochrom.

Monochrom ISO 2500, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux (I didn’t meter this properly so you can see, the horizon is blown out and details of the distant mountain seen in the color is lost)

Since we see in color, you have to train yourself to see in black and white.  And when I use my M9, I never shoot in monochrome or view the jpeg in monochrome. I always view in color first.

M9 ISO 1250, F13 , 1/125 sec 50mm Summilux

The other thing is you have to know the camera inside and out. You can’t be cavalier about your exposure like you would with normal color digital cameras, M9 included. The camera demands you to be more precise about what you capture in-camera as that is how it appears to be designed. Treat it like a film camera where post options are limited compared to the typical color digital camera. But you have the luxury of not having to wait for the development time of film.

ISO 400, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

Professionals and amateur who normally shoot in black and white will find it easy to use. However for us, the two days O and I had the camera was not enough to wrap our heads around it. So please excuse the quality of the photography.

ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux (This image is completely unprocessed-raw except that it’s a jpeg-raw)

THE PRICE TAG

At a cool US$7,970 +/- for just the body, not including taxes, the price hits you where it hurts. That’s US$1,000 more than the M9 or the same as the M9-P and you don’t have the flexibility of shooting both color and black & white. If you want the option, you’ll have to bring another camera, defeating the concept of traveling light. I wish it was at least the same cost as the M9 and not the M9-P.

ISO 400, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux

CONCLUSION

So what do I think about this camera? It’s funny how things take left turns in life. When Leica announced the Monochrom back in May, I was very skeptical. I thought: who would want to shoot with a dedicated camera when you have the ability to shoot color and then convert it? I also thought: who would spend so much money on a dedicated camera?

Monochrom ISO 400, F11, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux

The more I read about it, the more interested I became in this camera. Now that I have played with it, I can honestly say, I want to spend more quality time with it because I love it. I agree with the concept that it is the photographer’s eye and not the camera that makes the images. But we all pore over countless photobooks for inspiration, right? And now, the images that the great masters shot on black and white  film no longer seem so unattainable. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but the desire to try to shoot amazing photos using the masters as a standard to aim for, is exponentially intensified when I use the Monochrom.

M9 Converted ISO 400, F8, 1/750 sec, 50mm Summilux

O is completely sold on this camera. He says he is already imagining the cool shots he can make with it. While we shoot with our M9 or Ricoh or whatever, O and I talk about shots that we could make with the Monochrom. Isn’t that the beginning of aiming to shoot better photography?

ISO 400, F16, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux

As the Monochrom is pricey, we have already sold various things,  just to make room for this little baby. And we can’t wait to get it and go out shooting with it. 🙂

I like to think that the Monochrom is much like the Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer  you see below. It’s something bold and ‘out-of-the-box’ to look at in wonderment. In the case of the Monochrom, you’re in luck. You can also use it with wonderment. 🙂

ISO 160, 1/125 sec 18mm Super Elmar M

I’ll be posting part two with a variety of images- architecture, landscape, and of course, street within the next two weeks. So keep a look out for it!!

UPDATE: AUGUST 17, 2012, I posted Part 2 here.

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