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Posts tagged ‘Leica Noctilux lens’

LEICA M MONOCHROM – Reality Check

L1000769-2-Edit

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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Steve Huff’s Los Angeles Workshop 2012; SLR Magic Hyperprime 50mm F 0.95 Noktor Lens

Back in January, I had the chance to attend Steve Huff’s Workshop in Los Angeles. I also had a chance to play with the SLR Magic’s Hyperprime 50mm F0.95 Noktor Lens for a couple hours. So this post will be a double fisted review of both!

I’m a fan of Steve Huff’s blog so it was exciting to hear from my friend Todd Hatakeyama, owner of Hatakeyama Gallery, that he was working on getting Steve to come to Los Angeles, to do a workshop. Then Steve actually announced it on his site and followed it up with another announcement that he needed ‘teachers’ or ‘presenters’. I quickly jumped at the chance and offered to present a short history, masters and basics to street photography. Much to my luck and surprise, Steve thought it was a great idea. It secured my spot.

Steve is as affable in person as he is on his blog. He and Todd put together a fun filled weekend of pure photography that involved presentations, hands on learning, shooting and sharing. It’s very different from the last post I made regarding Frank Jackson’s B & W class. There,  it was more the teacher – student relationship. Here, it was like going to photography camp.

To give you an idea, I thought I would just tell you what we did. So here goes:

DAY ONE  started Friday, late afternoon with a meet and greet at Hatakeyama Gallery. Todd created a kind of “hot spot” or “home base” where photographers can gather and hang (there’s couches, TV and refrigerator :-)).  His gallery doubles as workshop space in the basement which is adjacent to studio shooting space. He’s working on expanding it to include a permanent workshop/classroom and dark room lab. You can also buy  basic lighting and camera equipment through his store,  Simple Studio Lighting, which occupies the main street level storefront. So basically a one stop photography environment.

30 attendees from around the country and Australia attended. Half of us had Leicas (film and digital) while the others had a variety ranging from Canons, NEX-7 to Fuji x100. It was also great to meet Ashwin Rao after reading his many posts.

The first presenter was Andrew Chan of SLR Magic, who introduced his new Hyperprime 50mm F 0.95 Noktor lens, the challenger to Leica’s Noctilux 50mm F 0.95. He brought 4 prototypes for the attendees to play with to get some feedback. And there were several points Andrew needed to fix which he said he would.

We took the lenses out for a spin around the neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. Since it was night time, I decided to use the Ricoh GXR with the M-Mount to test out the Hyperprime.The results were pretty impressive.

Hyperprime on Steve’s M9-P

I shot the following two pictures just before we left for the walk to test the Hyperprime against the Noctilux. I did not edit the pictures. It’s just a jpeg of the raw images as is.

SLR Magic Hyperprime

Leica Noctilux

You can see, sharpness is pretty much on par between the two.  The colors of the Hyperprime are a touch on the blue and cool side. While the Noctilux has warmer tones. There is more contrast in the Hyperprime image than the Noctilux. Rendering for both look great.  The bokeh is lovely and smooth on both.

Photo by Ashwin Rao (See the Hyperprime on my Ricoh and on Steve’s Leica. Andrew is in the middle.)

I did notice that the Hyperprime lens was a touch loose on the M-mounting ring of my Ricoh. Andrew told me that it was quite normal. It did not affect the images. Although, I’m not sure if I felt better hearing that.

Physically, the Hyperprime is longer and heavier at 975 grams, than the Noctilux which weighs 700 grams. And I can personally attest to its ruggedness. While we were walking the streets the weight of the Hyperprime caused the standard issue Ricoh strap to loosen and the whole camera fell on the concrete pavement.  (Ouch!) When I heard the THUD, my heart stopped. I was horrified to say the least. It was loud enough that everyone came over to see that the thick lens hood took a small dent but the lens and camera was in perfect condition. Thank goodness, Andrew was all gracious and that it was a prototype and not a final production model. Luckily I didn’t have to pay for its replacement. 🙂

The Leica Noctilux Aspherical has 8 elements, 9 aperture blades and focuses to 1.0 meter.The

Hyperprime has 12 lens elements, 12 aperture blades and focuses to 0.7 meters ( equivalent of an f/0.92 aperture at f/0.95).

Andrew told me the Hyperprime glass comes from China as well as Schott in Germany because not all Chinese glass can perform at the their high quality expectations. However, the housing and all other materials come from China. They assemble in China and Hong Kong. To maintain quality control, the calibration is done entirely in Hong Kong. The combination helps keep the cost down and the quality up.

SLR Magic is committed to making this lens to work for many cameras other than Leica. So you can also get it with a Canon EF Mount, Nikon F Mount or Four Thirds Mount. But the coolest of all, the PL Cinema Mount. You can shoot this with movie cameras too!

Now, it’s hard for me to give a true verdict for the Hyperprime because I only had it for a couple hours. And from other people’s reviews of this lens, I can see the day time shots look pretty good. But at this point, I really still prefer the Noctilux. I hate to carry heavy elements, so the added weight and size of the Hyperprime is already a deterrent (every gram counts with me). However, I can say that if you can’t afford the Noctilux, the Hyperprime is an excellent alternative at half the price.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 8, 2012

Since my last update and updates by other blogs and websites, there has been quite a lot of commotion and out-of-context accusations in forums and Facebook regarding the causes, claims and remedies of SLR Magic’s 50mm F0.95 Hyperprime lens, which I gave a first impression review here. As a result, lots of finger pointing and heated exchanges have taken place between SLR Magic and some disgruntled test users regarding the pre-production models. So it’s time to update and hopefully put all issues to rest.

To provide an equal forum, I asked Andrew Chan at SLR Magic some pointed questions. He wrote back at length giving me detailed explanations. Here is Andrew’s response to my questions. I have only replaced names with initials:

1) So it is not clear to me, as there are different claims. Were the lenses that everyone in the tester program got, a pre-production model or a first short run production model?

Check the email you received before for the lens. All LA workshop lenses were pre-production lenses. Only D’s lens had a loose ring and only S’s lens had a mount that need to be replaced. Ever since their lenses the other customers have no loose ring issues or frame line issue. There was never a sho[r]t run production. It was just pre-production that had a stealth version then the production version that is either in green or in black.

2) You claim that some of the performance issues of the pre-production models were caused by poor packaging, which you have since changed- So, with the new packaging, do you have any more issues with loose rings and not focusing at infinity or any other problems?

The new packaging resolved all the issues. Only two people had issues with shipping. M’s was the first person who received the lens and we noticed the issue. We told D to wait since we need to improve the shipping materials but he said he will take a risk since he wants to use it to shoot a wedding that cannot wait. If we did not ship to him by his request there would have been no issues. T sent his lens to his buyer with no issues in our new packaging. We sent M his serviced lens that took one day turnaround time in the new packaging and he had no issues either.

3) So after the ‘testing’ period, have you resolved all of the lens problems? Can you say that your lens performs exactly how you and your team have envisioned it now?

The lens is performing fine. No one at Photokina had issues apart from three people. Two of them was due to human error as they cannot even constantly take accurate photos against a focus chart with Leica camera and Leica lens. The last person had a back focusing camera. He tested his own Voigtlander lens and Leica Camera. His lens is a 1.2 and a 35mm so there was more DOF and backfocus did not matter to him before. Someone did come with a Noctilux 0.95. His lens has very slight back focus that is within tolerance but he cannot constantly take photos on the spot with our chart. He was also comparing the Noct at 1m with the HyperPrime at 0.7m with different DOF properties.

The lens had always perform as we envisioned but what we did not expect was the amou[n]t of camera error and human error involved on the consumers end. When face to face we can test right on the spot. When by mail order it is difficult and with what everyone has read on the internet they automatically feel it is the lens that has issues.

Every lens returned has no focus issues. We have customers not using magnifiers for assist or needing to use diopters that may not be 100% perfect for their eyes and it is a difficult situation for us. To see clearly we need to stack two multipliers so it is impossible to shoot 100% accurate with no assistance. Erwin Putts also said to see 0.95 accurately it helps to have more than one magnifier.

4) When the customer wants a refund within a customary period, are you willing to refund?

Discounted Pre-production lenses had no refund policy as stated in the email. Regular customers may refund in one month only if there is a serious issue with the lens that cannot be repaired or exchanged. Reasons we received was I want to save up for the new Leica M instead, or bought three other Leica lenses this month, or my dealer called me and my Noctilux is in and I want to return, or I found a 50mm Summilux and I need money now. Those are NOT valid return reasons. The only one we felt was decent was he had an unexpected child and cannot afford to commit to the lens at this time. Strictly speaking that is not a valid reason but from the heart that is ok as it is a real financial situation. DA originally cancelled because all his gear was stolen and he need to use his money to get a new camera but he kept his order at the end by changing the LM order to CINE order. We tend to only accept cancellations or refund due to real urgency and not because of another Leica lens purchase. They can refund the Leica gear instead as it was the more recent purchase.

5) What is the expected turnaround in email correspondence between a customer and SLR Magic?

As F said, sometimes you cannot respond to everyone at once. That is totally true. We are a small company and apart from dealing with extremely complicated technical questions I also have to be in charge of the production line. Some on the internet complained we do not respond to emails. Many listed to him. Did he mention he emailed us at 11pm Hong Kong time on Sat and filed a complaint to us on Sunday afternoon? Those are not even our work hours. Leica in Hong Kong are closed on Sat and Sun as well. No one can respond so quickly. I have emailed S. K. from Leica before that is in charge of Leica Asia region. 4 months ago I emailed him and he said he is on business trip and till now there is no reply. The second time I emailed him was a week ago to order the Leica M and he did not respond to me ever and got another customer rep to reply to me a week afterwards. Even Leica company cannot reply immediately and they are a lot larger than us.

We usually respond in 1-5 business days depending on the difficulty of the question. If it is about Toy Lenses we respond in 1 day. if it is about RF lens then usually only I respond and it takes 5 business days. As you can see I typed a lot on facebook on this issue. I have over 28 emails with each Leica lens customer ever since the rumour mill.

6) Are you now selling the full production model?

Yes and we make the lens as a concept lens. We planned to have 10 lenses a month but ever since the rumor mill I was stuck with many emails to attend to and out lens makers were stuck with many people returning lenses for check up and re check up again that would not solve any issue as focus issues were due to human error and not lens error. The rumor mill caused a delay dropping production speed to 2-3 lenses per month only. Thus, S’ claim for dozens of people having issues is not possible as we don’t make so many lenses.

END UPDATE

UPDATE: July 14, 2012

Since my brief review of the prototype here, a series of first production models were bought by “testers” for around 60% of the retail price in exchange for feedback. And apparently, the lens has failed in its performance. I saw first hand a loose ring on a friend’s lens. And Facebook is now seeing many complaints regarding the len’s inability to focus at infinity in addition to loose rings.SLR MAGic has been blaming it on packaging in shipping, even when there was no shipping involved. Because of the commotion, Steve Huff, who raved unusually much about the lens and pushed for people to buy and check it out quite heavily on his site,  placed an update asking people to hold off on buying. Although, he says his lens is still okay. You can read his post here.

To add salt to the wound, the complaints don’t end with lens performance. It continues with bad or near non-existent customer service and rather nasty return policy for those who have cancelled pre-orders that have not shipped.

What a shame. SLR Magic is just ruining it’s potential as legitimate brand when it shuns its first most devoted and even forgiving customers. If SLR Magic wants to stay in business, it needs to do major damage control by  immediately offering full refunds to all those who cancelled pre-orders and provide a prompt and complete warranty service  or full refund option for those who already have it. In other words, SLR Magic needs to own up and suck it up.

END UPDATE


DAY TWO started off with a presentation by Jay Bartlett, a commercial portrait and fashion photographer here in Los Angeles. He gave us some basic tips on how to shoot portraits, followed by a hands-on studio model shoot. He brought in a professional model Jade Corinne, and professional make-up artist Marjorie Bartlett, who is also his wife (very handy). Jay was very cool. He explained to us why he set up the lighting the way he did and helped us to adjust our cameras to achieve the look we wanted. I had a ball shooting with strobes and a model. Everyone else did too.

I found out how difficult it is to shoot fashion  and models. The pose, facial expression and emotion is everything. But to get the model to look natural is really hard. So many of the shots I did made the model look like a manquin. The ones here are the best from a ton of shots.

Oh, and I finally learnt how to use my Sekonic light meter.  Thanks to Jay’s tutelage.

After the model shoot, we all walked a couple miles to Little Tokyo where we had a buffet lunch. Steve was a good host. You can ask about all sorts of photography questions and Steve gives you his opinion. We all sat together and talked ‘shop” and got to know the attendees as well. On the way there and back we got some street shooting in. This time I did not have the Hyperprime so others could try it out too.

We returned to the gallery to see a presentation of impressive work by Sean Armenta, another fashion photography based here in Los Angeles. It was followed by Ashwin Rao, who gave a talk about  how he built his on-line presence with examples of his photos. Afterwards, some of the attendees had dinner with Steve, but I had to take off. I heard they had a great time.

DAY THREE started with my presentation of the history of street photography, the masters, contemporary and the basics of street photography. And yes, I squeezed in a little shameless self promotion. 🙂 Jeff Garlin, the comedian/actor of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, popped in early to listen to my presentation. Which he told me he liked by the way. 🙂  After my schtick, the true highlight of the day was when he did a “street photographer’s” stand-up routine for about 30 minutes. Everyone laughed their heads off. To all those who don’t know, Jeff is a huge street photography and a Leica fanatic. He is also a street photographer himself but is too shy to show his work. Hopefully he’ll reveal his art one day.  But for now, he is the producer of the Vivian Maier documentary which John Maloof will direct.

Jeff Garlin

After the laughs, we went to a Mexican restaurant nearby for lunch.  We shot some more on the streets and came back to the gallery to edit our photos. Then we presented our best 3 street images from the weekend. There was a lot of talent amongst the attendees, including first timers. Afterwards, some of the attendees went to dinner again with Steve. Looks like they had a good time.

The only complaint I have is that there was no water left after the first half of the second day and the third day. I know it’s a small, even petty thing but I had to run out and get water from the corner store up the street. I think it was because everyone got so involved into the workshop that it was simply forgotten.

Otherwise, I recommend this workshop to anyone who wants to get in on the know of new equipment, learn new techniques and be part of a street photography community.  I mentioned at the start of this post, it’s like going to photography camp. Like one big hangout. The only thing with this camp, there’s no sleep over. However, you make friends with a lot of like-minded people, who are all interested in the same thing as you. Community is really the most valuable thing you walk away with more than anything else. It’s like being a part of a club. In our case, we are now on Facebook as a group, constantly sharing and critiquing each other. Whenever there’s a question or some cool thing to share, we all get to see and talk about it. Steve is part of the group as well and puts in his two cents all the time. Even Andrew at SLR Magic is in the group. And whenever anyone wants to go shooting, we just post in FB that we’re in town and we meet up at Hatakeyama Gallery.

I’ve linked very one’s websites with their name if you wish to find out more info on them.

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