WHY SHOOT FILM? – part 1

 

Leica IIIc - 8th Grade RHS Painting Woolworths Facade

Img 1 – High School Students Painting a Construction Wall on Main Street.

By David Matthew Knoble

The young 9th grade boy was one of three onlookers as I showed my camera to his teacher. It was 11am and I stumbled on a high school art class painting a construction wall on Main Street. After taking about three frames I struck up conversations. I had just explained what camera I was using after the teacher remarked, ‘That’s a Leica!’

The young boy casually asked, “can I see the pictures you just took?” Replying with a grin I told him, “No, this is a 1949 film camera, I have to develop the pictures first”. His volley continued, “so is their a display on the back where I can see the pictures?” I turned around my Leica IIIc with a 35mm Summaron attached so he could see the shark skin leather back. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to painting.

It was easy for me to understand where this lad was coming from. Technology has changed considerably since my first box camera and no high school student knows what a rotary dial phone is anymore. What amazes me more is the number of adults that might have the same conversation with me. So why would I shoot film with a dinosaur? I’m not going to pontificate on the resolution of film versus digital or the exposure latitude. The reason is much less complex. But, to test your skills, see if you can tell which of the images here are from film and which are pure digital.

Camp Daniel Boone

Img 2 – Sword Fighting at Summer Camp

The art of shooting film has enhanced my photography skills every year. I spend almost equal time shooting film as I do digital. The pure-bred digital cult is quick to ask me why I would spend so much time bulk loading film cartridges, winding exposed film around reels inside a black bag, checking the temperature of freshly mixed chemicals against tables and charts while piling up beakers like an Iron Chef cook off. My answer starts out simple – it’s because all that work forces me to slow down and think and I get better photographs as a result.

 

Computer Chip = My Brain

My film cameras have no computer chips and no batteries. My brain does the work. Bright sunny day? No trouble! ISO 125 means 1/1000 second at f/5.6. Start shooting! Yellow filter? Take it down to f/4.0.

Phtographing Dads

Img 3 – Dad’s Taking Prom Pictures

Even if using a light meter sometimes or all the time, converting film speed and light to the proper manual exposure exercises your thinking muscles. After a time, it gets really easy. More importantly, it carries over to my M240 and Monochrom.

Too often in today’s technology I believe we rely on a computer to think for us. It would be easy to let the M240 set a shutter speed for me. But it is a reflective meter and that backlit subject just came out too dark. Ok, open up a stop and shoot again. Still too dark? Try one more stop. Peeking at the LCD in between exposures and shielding the sun with my hand it looks like I finally got a good one.   It’s a shame it took so long that I missed the shot I originally wanted. Working with film can help alleviate some of that trial and error when a reflective meter doesn’t work.

 

Film Breeds Confidence

Someone wrote recently about One Shot Harris.   What a great name! Harris was known for only taking one shot because it was all he needed. The Pittsburgh newspaper frequently published several of his images each issue. If you work with film long enough to get the right exposure you have developed confidence – the same confidence needed to use something like the M60 with no LCD.

Without confidence, I might shoot 8 exposures of one scene varying f/stop and shutter speed just to make sure I got one image that comes out properly. Almost sounds like running a digital camera at 3 frames per second for a few seconds to get just the right shot. Checking the LCD let’s me make sure I captured one I like and re-shoot if necessary. Film, on the other hand, makes me wait until development to see if I made the right choice for exposure.

Image4

Img 4 – Water Hats to Cool Off at Summer Camp

See the image below. It’s from Summer Camp and the boys were really hot, so it was time for water filled hats to cool them off. I was using an M-4 with a Summicron 35 attached. I set the exposure, focused and waited. When they put on their hats, I snapped the shutter. It was two weeks later until I found out I got the shot. I only had one chance and I only took one image. That’s confidence.

This same confidence spills over to a camera like a digital M, adjusting when necessary. Yes I chimp some like the best of them.   But I don’t need to and that’s key.

 

Handling the Unexpected

I spent early July in France alternating each day between film and Digital. The day we walked through Montemarte I was using my Leica MP to keep weight down. I would use the built in meter to check the grass or dark blue sky for middle grey. Half way through our walk, my battery died. I kept shooting using the Sunny 16 rule and got about an 80% keep rate on exposure. That gives me confidence. Here’s a shot below from that walk.

Image5

Img 5 – Montemarte

A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought of wasting film by guessing. Today, my guesses are much more educated and while I stop and think, I don’t mind trying. There are some great sunny 16 charts on the web that provide guidance down to candlelight, or a dimly lit room inside a house. The only way to master this type of shooting is to try it and then develop the roll quickly while everything is fresh. Adjust your thinking and shoot another roll.

 

Film Gear

I still carry an incident light meter with me set to ISO 125. I’ll be randomly walking and guess at the light level checking it with my meter. I use a Sekonic Studio Deluxe II which has no need of a battery. It’s the old dial and needle concept, but I find it easier to read and you can read EV directly off the dial. This is an easy practice method with instant feedback and no waste of film. I also love the Sekonic L458dr because of the spot meter built in and the Gossen Starlight which has a zone measuring mode.

Group Study

Img 6 – Coffee Shop Study Group

While I use Sunny 16 for most shooting around town, landscape work is different. The zone method is impeccable for still life. The point is the subject is still so you have time to think. Zone work with rolls of film is challenging. So, I modified my approach for bulk work. Instead I just spend much more time setting an exposure.

I measure the dynamic range of the scene and set middle grey. When I use the Gossen, I meter a tone and set it to a zone on the display. Each other area can then be measured and the zone it will fall under will be displayed. It’s an easier dynamic range exercise. I cannot over emphasize the value of colored filters. I use yellow and green colored filters. These improve contrasts and overall quality of the negative. You can experiment here with digital RAW images and Lightroom. The same concept applies!

St Johns USVI

Img 7 – Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Image8

Img 8 – Playing at the Pirate Ship

I have used a variety of manual film cameras over the years and some have stuck with me. I started with an M-4 and then added an M-6 ttl. As digital took hold, I sold some older cameras. I bought an MP which I have taken backpacking and love the mechanical nature with a light meter built in. Then I added an M-2R which I loved but eventually sold because my aging eyes didn’t like the yellowing of the rangefinder. I also started using a IIIC which has two windows, one that is zoomed in, making focusing easier. But I have to say my favorite is a chrome black M-A with the black chrome 35 summicron and 50 summilux. The clarity of the finder and heft of the body is great!

Conclusion

I really enjoy using film, but I also grew up using film. In fact, most people that did start with film still use it occasionally. My hope is that some digital-only folks will give film a try. Even if the film is commercially developed and scanned, you learn the skill and patience.

For those that think film is dead, ask the product development team at Leica. They saw fit to give us two models of strictly mechanical film cameras – one in chrome and one in black. Leica also still offers the MP and M7, so four bodies are available. Film is not even close to being dead.

Slow down. Treat an SD card as a limited resource and the shutter as a one-shot device. Concentrate on getting the right exposure and timing the shutter release just right. That is the skill of a great photographer! Now go shoot a frame or two. In Part II I’ll talk a little about my development and scanning techniques.

David Matthew Knoble

Ok, did you decide which images were from a film camera? All are from a Leica of course and the list of cameras and lenses is below.

Img 1 – 2015, Leica IIIC, Summaron 35, Ilford FP4

Img 2 – 2014, Leica MP, Noctilux f/1.0, Ilford FP4

Img 3 – 2015, Leica M2-R, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 4 – 2007, Leica M-4, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 5 – 2015, Leica MP, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 6 – 2015, Leica MP, Summilux 50 ASPH, Ilford FP4

Img 7 – 2013, Leica MP, Summicron 28 ASPH, Ilford Delta 400

Img 8 – 2007, Leica M4, Summicron 35 ASPH, Ilford FP4

 

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Street Photography, it’s about mood and moment not minutiae

What is Street Photography? I believe it’s about capturing life in the street, revealing the drama in the everyday. That’s it. Like any good photograph it needs to exude an energy which resonates with the viewer. It may capture a decisive moment, highlight drama and tension or just pose a question. Daido Moriyama calls this ‘friction’.

selfie with rum

Selfie with bottle of Courvoisier

Many of the acknowledged masters of Street Photography were actually documenting their times and it’s only later their work came to be included within the genre. Atget, considered by many sources the Father of the Street, recorded statues, churches and street scenes he knew would soon pass into history. Walker Evans chronicled the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. Lewis Hine concentrated on the Human Document,  photographing immigrant communities in the early 1900’s.

And how Street sits alongside the accepted genres of photography is still an (18%) grey area. One of the classic reference works, ‘The History of Photography’ by Beaumont Newhall doesn’t even have an index entry for Street Photography. My personal point of view is that when the street becomes a road it overlaps with Travel Photography. When it involves a journalistic approach or street portraiture it starts to blend back into Documentary. And that’s fine. I’m happy with blur. Personally I don’t feel the need to box everything into some kind of giant art infographic and get precious about definitions.

man

Man in the machine

However there are some well known and talented photographers who see it very differently. I’ve just finished a book, published in 2014 so presumably reflecting current practice, written by one such traditionalist. He argues that Street Photography must be candid.  This is non negotiable. Anything involving interaction with the subject, changes the dynamics, involves some kind of conscious or unconscious ‘posing’ and therefore isn’t true street shooting. Instead it is Street Portaiture. I understand the sentiment, although images involving eye contact are a grey area and highlight how difficult it can be when we let the urge to control and box everything take charge.

OK the first click was candid. What about the second or third? The subject knew they were being photographed. Did they subtly change their demeanour in some way? So the first is ‘proper’ Street but the second two exposures are Street Portraiture? Yes I’m being picky but if you want to set up ‘rules’ then they have to work.

is it street

This is the second exposure but it’s not a portrait.

Is it Street? Is it Travel? Does it matter? 

How about Margaret Bourke White? She was the first female photo-journalist and the first female photographer to shoot for Life magazine. In 1939, in ‘Changing New York’ she wrote, ‘To make a portrait of a city is a life work and no-one portrait suffices, because the city is always changing, everything is properly part of its story….’ So in her terminology, a whole portfolio of diverse street images came together as a portrait of a city.

I’m sure we could all cope with that ambiguity but unfortunately the rules don’t stop there. The author goes on to state that shooting from the hip is also dubious, too much chance involved. (Walker Evans, please take note, you’ve been doing it all wrong). Cropping the image in post processing is wrong as it should be right first time in the camera. Using a telephoto lens is discouraged as it’s lazy. We shouldn’t even pre-visualise a theme. Instead we should walk in a trance like state responding to our surroundings. For these purists, Street is the almost spiritual hub of all photography.

goodbye

Goodbye

Goodbye. This where I part company. It seems that rigor mortis has set in. Where do these these beliefs come from? Is it Henri Cartier-Bresson?

Certainly he developed an affinity for Zen in his later years after reading ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’ by Eugene Herrigel and spoke of the need to ‘forget you are carrying a camera’. He also famously disliked cropping. Which is fine when reputedly, only one in a hundred negatives make it to the enlarger. Then that one isn’t going to need cropping. As the contact sheets of the great man have never been published, we’ll never know. 

Let’s also remember he didn’t use a light meter, distrusted colour as producing empty effects, never printed his own work and often signed into hotels as ‘Hank Carter’. Should we all do that too?

No, of course not. The fact is that he was one of (if not the) greatest photographic artists of the twentieth century and like many people of genius he had his beliefs and foibles. My feeling is that common practice from the film era, anecdotes and occasional verbatims from the great photographic masters, hearsay and wishful thinking have congealed into a ‘code of conduct’ appropriate to the 1970’s. 

opposite view

Far enough

I take the opposite point of view. There is nothing sacred about Street Photography. Being creative in any genre is hard. Good street imagery is about mood and moment not minutiae.

Get the shot. Use the camera you love, the shooting style which suits you and if you want to, feel free manipulate and share the image with the world. This is not an excuse for sloppy discipline but I am encouraging plenty of creative play in the camera and in the computer.

This may come as heresy to some but photographers have been manipulating images forever. Early landscape photographers joined together separate exposures of the land and sky because the glass plates lacked the dynamic range to imitate painting and hold detail in both. In 1876 Doctor Barnado was sued for fraud because he made up studio sets of life on the street for promotional material. The history books are full of similar examples.

Fast forward to today. Most major camera manufacturers apply lens corrections in their software, it is commonplace to convert colour images to black and white and the widespread use of apps shows that retouching is now part of everyday image making.

Think about it. The whole notion of applying rules to an art form which is frequently about impromptu ‘decisive moments’ is bizarre. 

improvements underway

Improvements under way…

So, hopefully liberated from half a century old ideas, safe in the knowledge that there is no absolutely right way to create a photograph let’s take that first single step out into the street and hope that ‘improvements are under way’……

In part 2 of this series I’ll be looking at what I believe makes a good street shot and beyond that at different shooting styles.

PS: Street can be a divisive and emotional subject. There are no eternal rules of right and wrong. All artists and genres of art shapeshift through time and this article simply represents my opinion at this moment. I appreciate that your views may vary and that’s fine.

Tech note: all images with Leica M series cameras.

Olaf Willoughby

Olaf and Eileen McCarney Muldoon are co-teaching a Street Photography workshop, “Destination Brooklyn, Unlocking Mysteries”, Sep 21 – 24th.

email me at: olaffwilloughby@gmail.com or more information: https://slate.adobe.com/a/z6nZD

WHAT TO PACK

by Tina Manley

When you are planning a photography trip, how do you decide what to pack? There are several things to consider before you decide what to put in your camera bag. What kind of photos do you plan to take? What equipment do you have available? How long will you be gone? How much weight can you carry? Will you have to carry your equipment long distances?   How will you protect everything from loss, theft, and weather?

HONDURAS, EL LIMON:  Martir Lopez fans himself with his hat on a hot day in the mountains of Honduras.  The women of El Limon make pottery and are involved in HPI's Women in Livestock Development projects.

HONDURAS, EL LIMON: Martir Lopez fans himself with his hat on a hot day in the mountains of Honduras. The women of El Limon make pottery and are involved in HPI’s Women in Livestock Development projects.

For over 30 years I worked as a documentary photography for non-governmental organizations in developing countries. I traveled to 67 countries photographing people. The photographs were used by agencies to raise money for self-development projects.

My cameras have always been Leica rangefinders. The cameras are unobtrusive, quiet, durable, and wonderful for low light photography. Since I carried all of my own equipment and stayed with local families, often without electricity, the rangefinders and their fast lenses were perfect.

For most of those years, I would also carry about 300 rolls of film for a two week trip. Now I carry computer equipment, battery chargers, cables, memory cards and hard drives.

I have learned through the years what is essential and what can be left at home. I just returned from a month in Cuba where I took 16,000 photos that I am still editing. All of my equipment fit in a Tamrac backpack and a Travelon purse (guys might want to carry a waist belt or vest). Cuba_3 Here is my packing list:

Here is my packing list:

  • Leica M240
  • Leica Monochrom
  • Leica M9
  • 21 Elmarit
  • 24 Summicron
  • 35 Summilux
  • 35 Summicron
  • 50 Summilux
  • 50 Noctilux
  • 75 Summilux
  • 90 Summicron
  • 2 Leica battery chargers
  • 10 M9/MM batteries
  • 4 M240 batteries
  • Acer Netbook with Lightroom
  • 2 2TB Seagate hard drives (one to store photos, one backup)
  • 10 SD cards – 16, 32, 64 GB

Visible Dust’s Artic Butterfly sensor cleaner 700101_02443-Edit I carried one camera on my shoulder, one in my purse, and one in the backpack. The purse has a steel cable strap and I carried steel retractable cables to secure my backpack.

I’ve never had anything stolen in all of my travels. A rain poncho covered everything, including the backpack, in bad weather. I kept the same lenses on my 3 cameras most of the time. The 35 Summicron was on my M240, the 50 Summilux on my MM, and the 24 Summicron on my M9. For low light conditions I would switch to the Summilux and Noctilux versions.

150208_6659-Edit-2 I love to photograph people and try to hang around long enough that they forget I’m taking photos. I’m very good at disappearing into the background! If I were planning to shoot sports or landscapes, my lens and camera list would be totally different, but for people, the list is perfect for me.

HONDURAS, EL LIMON:  Martir, Kevin Jose and Raquel Lopez in their rural home in the mountains of Honduras.  The women of El Limon make pottery and are involved in HPI's Women in Livestock Development projects.

HONDURAS, EL LIMON: Martir, Kevin Jose and Raquel Lopez in their rural home in the mountains of Honduras. The women of El Limon make pottery and are involved in HPI’s Women in Livestock Development projects.

HONDURAS, GRACIAS A DIOS:  Dr. Frank Strait examines a baby as the community looks on in a remote, rural village in Honduras.   Providence Presbytery and HPI provide health promoter training and medicines for clinics in Honduras.

HONDURAS, GRACIAS A DIOS: Dr. Frank Strait examines a baby as the community looks on in a remote, rural village in Honduras. Providence Presbytery and HPI provide health promoter training and medicines for clinics in Honduras.

 

HONDURAS, OLOAS:  Tiburcio Monueles blesses a breakfast of tortillas and beans with his two youngest children.   Erlinda and Tiburcio Monueles are community leaders who participate in Heifer Project International workshops in their rural farming community in the mountains of Honduras.  The Monueles had 18 children but only 9 are living.

HONDURAS, OLOAS: Tiburcio Monueles blesses a breakfast of tortillas and beans with his two youngest children. Erlinda and Tiburcio Monueles are community leaders who participate in Heifer Project International workshops in their rural farming community in the mountains of Honduras. The Monueles had 18 children but only 9 are living.

 

For those who will be in NYC for the Leica Meet on June 11, I hope you will be able to stick around for my lecture at the International Center for Photography on June 12. I’ll be showing photos from Cuba and talking more about how to pack. NYLUG’15: PHOTOGRAPHY COLLOQUIUM – information here: http://www.pbase.com/image/160198369 To see my documentary photos: http://tinamanley.smugmug.com/Tina-Manley-Portfolio/ http://tinamanley.smugmug.com/Documentary/Black-and-White/ Photos from Cuba: http://www.pbase.com/tinamanley/cuba&page=all 150214_10655-Edit

Elliott (New Leica Monochrom M246) High ISO Test by Jono Slack

Introduction

Well, I don’t do this sort of thing, but I have been asked, so I thought I’d do a simple (hah!) comparison between different Leica cameras at different ISO values in black and white. I’ve included:

  • Leica M9
  • Leica M Monochrome
  • Leica M-P (typ 240)
  • Leica Monochrom (typ 246)
  • Leica X (typ 113)

I’ve made a real attempt to keep everything as equal as possible. It seemed to be worth including the X, although it’s an APS-C camera, the 16mp at 23mm is very roughly equivalent to the 24mp at 28 mm full frame.

Methodology

All pictures were taken at f8 (except the Leica X which was at f5.6), and with the Leica 28mm Summilux on the M cameras, and with the 23mm lens on the Leica X. The tripod wasn’t moved between shots, and the camera’s white balance was set to daylight.

The DNG files were imported into Lightroom and cropped – there was no revolving of the files to straighten lines, and no adjustments to noise reduction, colour, white balance, exposure or anything else. The X files were cropped to the same area – which gives about the same amount of pixels – the M9 files are slightly smaller because of the lower resolution of the sensor.

Colour files were converted to black and white in Lightroom with no changes to the channel mixer.

The cropped images were exported to Photoshop CC in groups (as 16 bit tiff files) and combined into one file and saved as a jpg with maximum quality.

Of course, there are lots of different ways one could approach this, but this way seemed to give as level a playing field as I could imagine.

I felt that using a 28mm lens at f8 reduced problems with focusing, and I’ve only used the middle of the frame. It has been suggested that diffraction has set in by f8 (thank you Sean). In fact I used f5.6 on the X for this reason, I also realise that the camera is not perfectly straight on to the dresser – however, as I have used the middle of the frame, and the situation was the same for each camera I feel that it’s good enough to give one a pretty good feel for the high ISO characteristics of each camera.

The image used is shown below (sorry it’s a bit untidy). Below that you can see the combined cameras at each ISO value. NB – the image strips are fewer as the cameras run out of available ISO – for the last image there are two MM 246 images.

 

ISO 200……………………………………………….ISO 400

200-400_ISO_Monochrome

ISO 800………………………………………………ISO 1600

800-1600_ISO_Monochrome

ISO 3200………………………………………………ISO 6400

3200-6400_ISO_Monochrome

ISO 10,000………………………………………………ISO 12,500 – 25,000

10000-25000_ISO_Monochrome

Conclusion

Sean Reid at ReidReviews.com and grEGORy Simpson at ultrasomething.com have done lots more thorough comparisons.

On the other hand I do feel that the images here show a pretty clear distinction between the cameras. The new camera seems pretty good at 12,500 ISO and useable in most cases at 25,000.

Just a final note – these pictures were taken in low natural light – I’m never very happy with high ISO tests taken in good lighting. The exposure at f8 at 200 ISO was about 2 seconds.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to make a donation to Cancer Research

My wife, Emma Slack, Is doing the 12th Annual Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run in aid of Cancer Research

It’s worth mentioning that Jonathan Slack does not get paid by anyone for writing these articles, which is great for everyone, and fine by him, however, once in a while he adds a link to a favourite charity.

People have been extraordinarily generous in the past, and this year Emma (my wife) is fund raising again. It would be lovely if you could see your way to making a small donation to what is a wonderful cause.

Here is the link to Emma’s Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/Emma-Slack5/

and here’s the link to the Ladies Tractor Road Run Page

http://www.ladiestractorroadrun.co.uk/ladiestractorrun/Home.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elliott: The Leica Monochrom (Typ 246)

Introduction

When Leica announced the Leica Monochrom in May 2012 it was a real game changer. A very bold move which turned out to be an outstanding success. I was lucky enough to take a prototype to China before the launch (http://www.slack.co.uk/slack/Monochrom.html). The code name for the older model was Henri – and so it’s completely logical that the new model has been codenamed Elliott.

The new Monochrom (Typ 246) is based around the Leica M-P(240) with a 24mp CMOS sensor made by CMOSIS rather than the CCD of the old camera. It has a similar stealth livery to the previous model with the sapphire crystal back and no red dot.

01Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 at f16 1/2000 sec ISO 320

It’s worth briefly revisiting the reason for a Monochrome camera before discussing Elliott in detail: Current sensors only detect the intensity of light, not the colour. A Bayer filter is placed over the sensor with a different colour filter over each photo-site. When the image is processed (demosaicing) groups of 4 pixels are examined together and in the context of surrounding groups and the colour is calculated. The filter itself imposes a 1 to 2 stop reduction in the light reaching the sensor, and the demosaicing process reduces the resolution. With a monochrome sensor there is no need for a Bayer filter or for the demosaicing process – in theory one might expect a 4x improvement in resolution, but in practical terms it works out more like a two times improvement.

02

Apo Summicron-M 75mm f2 at f2.8 1/125 sec ISO 6400

03Macro Elmarit R 60mm f4 at f2.8 1/125 sec ISO 500

This article is not meant to be a critical review. My loyalty as a camera tester is to Leica. On the other hand I hope that I’m an honest correspondent, and I won’t say anything that I don’t really believe to be the case or leave out anything which I consider to be important. Of course I do carry out some detailed tests, but I generally keep these to myself. However I spend a lot of time with the camera (in this case around 5,000 images). I try and shoot in as many different circumstances as possible which which I hope to have represented well with the images in this report.

It’s also worth mentioning that many of these pictures were taken with an early prototype camera, and the performance, especially at higher ISO, has improved in the production camera.

04 Macro-Adapter-M with the 90mm Macro-Elmar-M at f4 1/125 sec ISO 320

Improvements over the old Monochrom

So, if the older Monochrom is still popular and produces fantastic results, why do we need a new one? The answer is the same as the reason for the M(240), and it’s worth revisiting the differences between the old and new cameras. First of all I’ll look at it in practical terms – and later on in terms of image quality.

Improvements

  • Faster processor
  • Larger buffer
  • Longer battery life
  • Higher resolution LCD
  • Quieter shutter (without re-cock pause)
  • Less shutter lag
  • Better high ISO
  • Higher Resolution
  • Integrated thumb grip
  • Thumb wheel
  • Improved ergonomics
  • Improved Rangefinder design
  • Focus assist / exposure compensation button

It’s easy to forget the huge practical leap forward from the M9 to the M(240). Leica really listened to their customers and addressed almost every criticism of the older camera. These improvements are all reflected in the new Monochrom, better than that, as there have been a number of excellent firmware updates since the launch of the M(240) and all of these are reflected in the firmware of the new Monochrom. The only disadvantage is that the new camera is about 100gm heavier and 0.6mm thicker.

05

Macro-Adapter-M with the 50mm Noctilux f0.95 at f0.95 1/1500 sec ISO 320

New Features

  • Live View
  • Optional Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
  • Focus Peaking
  • Focus Assist (zoom focus)
  • Video
  • Matrix/centre weighted/spot metering modes
  • Weather sealing

I’m not a video shooter myself, but I very much like shooting close ups and also using my collection of R lenses (and some other old favourites).

06Summilux-M f1.4 28mm Asph at f8 1/3000 sec ISO 320

Shooting with Elliott

The new Monochrom is a beautiful thing – with the black chrome body and the sapphire crystal screen, with only minimal writing on the body, and much of it engraved but not painted; it’s the epitome of stealth!

This is a wonderfully finished camera – shooting it as a rangefinder, it behaves like all M cameras, but the digital features are unobtrusive and very easy to use.

You can choose whether to have Exposure Compensation directly on the rear thumb dial, or whether to press the button on the front of the camera whilst turning the dial. Either way it shows briefly in the rangefinder.

The Auto ISO is the best implementation I’ve come across in any camera. You can choose the highest ISO, and then either a minimum shutter speed (from 1/2 second to 1/500th), or a factor of the lens’s focal length (4x, 2x and 1x focal length). In Manual mode (where you set both the aperture and focal length) you can choose to have Auto ISO or to default to the last used fixed ISO.

For recognised lenses (either selected manually or via the 6 bit code) the recent M cameras have applied corner shading correction – in the Monochrom there is no colour shift, but it is still used to correct vignetting – of course, any such feature is likely to have some impact on the resolution at the corners. Now there is a new option to switch it off.

07Macro-Adapter-M with the 50mm Noctilux f0.95 at f1.8 1/3000 sec ISO 320

 

Just like the M(240) the new shutter on the Monochrom is both much quieter and with less lag than that of it’s predecessor, without the twangy re-cocking sound of the older camera.

One of the criticisms of the previous monochrom was that, despite the magnificent resolution, it was very hard to estimate the actual sharpness of an image on the rear LCD because of it’s low resolution – the new LCD, just like that of the M(240) allows accurate assessment of the sharpness of your image before downloading to the computer.

I’m not a video shooter, so I’m not in a position to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of shooting monochrome for video, or to assess the video quality of the Monochrom.

The rangefinder itself has been much improved for the M(240), and of course these improvements have come to the new Monochrom. Much tighter manufacturing tolerances combined with automatic rangefinder calibration (rather than hand done calibration) means much improved focusing.

08

Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 at f2 1/125 sec ISO 400

For most purposes I’d prefer to shoot an M camera using the rangefinder, but there are circumstances when it’s great to be able to frame an image on the rear LCD (for instance with a lens wider than 28mm) or to use focus peaking or focus assist. For me the real advantage of the live view features on the new camera is the ability to use wide and long focal lengths, Leica R and third party lenses, and most of all the ability to shoot close up, which is something which was not really possible with the previous Monochrom.

I’ve spent a lot of time using the Macro-adapter-M – both with the dedicated Leica 90mm macro-elmar, and also with other M lenses (there’s something very special about shooting the Noctilux with the macro adapter!). It would be nice if the new camera used the Visoflex EVF found on the new Leica X and the Leica T, but the older EVF works perfectly well for most purposes

09 Macro-Adapter-M with the 50mm Noctilux f0.95 at f0.95 1/90 sec ISO 2000

Image Quality

Comparisons with the previous Monochrom and the Sony A7r (36mp) by Tom Stanworth (http://thephotofundamentalist.com/?p=1938) and with the the Nikon D800e by Ming Thein (http://blog.mingthein.com/2012/05/27/leica-m-monochrom-vs-d800e/) suggest that the original Monochrom was still the reference for high resolution black and white photography.

I’ve done some careful and detailed comparisons of high ISO and resolution with the previous Leica Monochrom and also with the Leica M(240). There are several other reviewers who will be providing detailed image comparisons (see the links at the bottom of this page), so I’m just going to give a generalised idea of my feelings.

10Apo Summicron-M 75mm f2 at f2 1/125 sec ISO 6400

As you would expect, at base ISO the resolution improvement over the older camera simply respects the difference between the 18mp of the old CCD sensor and the 24mp of the new CMOS sensor. However, the higher ISO is a definite improvement. The new Monochrom offers a ‘pushed’ ISO of 25,000 ISO whereas the previous camera was 10,000 ISO, my feeling is that these values are pretty much the same in quality. At lower ISO values the new Monochrom seems to offer a one stop advantage over the original camera, and a two stop advantage over the Leica M(240). Banding is still a possibility at very high ISO, but Leica have been working hard on this, and it has definitely improved considerably over the M(240). 25,000 ISO is certainly useable in lots of situations). What’s more, the lovely tonality is retained at these very high ISO values.

Resolution is stunning, but of course it depends on using the very best lenses, but for me, the real bonus of the Monochrom is the lovely subtle tonality, it’s impossible to quantify, but the images just LOOK lovely. I imagine that there will be a new internet firestorm over the difference between CCD and CMOS sensors (which was previously concentrated around colour response). My personal opinion is that the files from the older monochrom and the newer one look very similar, but the new camera has better ISO and slightly more resolution.

11 Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 at f4 1/2000 sec ISO 25000

DNG File Compatibility

Of course, the excellent JPG files from the Monochrom are supported by all relevant photographic programs, and the DNG files are supported well by both Lightroom 5, 6 and CC (I haven’t tried LR 4) and by Capture One v8.2. This support also extends to  Yosemite 10.10.3. without crashes or issues.
Apple support is more complicated. Yosemite 10.10.2 does not have support for the files, Yosemite 10.10.3 has just been released. The new CoreFoundation raw file support has a bug and crashes when trying to load the Raw files – this is potentially quite nasty.
Photos is the new Apple photography program, just released with 10.10.3: Once you have tried to load a Monochrom DNG file then the library will crash continually on loading. The only way I have found to fix this is to delete the library and restore from a backup (or to start a new library).
Aperture will also crash continually, in this case the only way to re-load the library is to delete the DNG file(s) you have imported (which can be a problem if you use ‘managed’ files rather than ‘referenced’ files); moving the files is not enough.
iPhoto simply will not load the files (but does not crash). However, you should not convert your library to Photos until this has been fixed.
The Apple finder  doesn’t show a preview of the file (no crashes).
This has been confirmed as a bug in the Apple CoreFoundation – they have said to Leica that this will be fixed in the next release – in the meantime:
If you are running Yosemite 10.10.3 or 10.10.4 pubic beta then do NOT load the DNG files into either Photos, Aperture or iPhoto or you may not be able to reopen your photo library.

 

12

 

Apo Summicron-M 75mm f2 at f2 1/60 sec ISO 1600

13

Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 at f2.8 1/90 sec ISO 500

Conclusion

The new Leica Monochrom (Typ 246) is a worthy and capable successor to the previous model, and it shows real improvements at every level; it’s faster, quieter, more flexible and has better image quality, especially at high ISO.

In addition to this it has Video capabilities and Live View together with the capacity to use a whole host of new and old quality lenses with the use of adapters. It works wonderfully with the new Leica 90mm Macro Elmar M and the Macro-adapter-M and also with legacy Leica R lenses.

With the new options for Auto ISO, together with the exposure compensation on the rear dial and the excellent high ISO, the camera is fantastic and fluid to use in low light situations such as concerts and bars where the file quality really shines.

For me it’s also a wonderful companion for landscape and nature photography (path photography as Jesko called it). It’s flexibility means that it can be handheld at any aperture in almost all circumstances. I’m sure that a lot of street photographers will find it their weapon of choice for many years to come.

I have kept my testing shots to myself. If I’ve disappointed – or if you would like some really detailed analysis of the files, then you should visit ReidReviews (http://www.reidreviews.com) and ULTRAsomething photography (http://www.ultrasomething.com/photography/).

Sean Reid has been doing side by side tests of the M9 Monochrom, the M-246 Monochrom, the M-240 and the Sigma SD1, and grEGORy simpson who wrote the popular “Fetishist’s Guide to the Monochrom” series of articles, is at it again with the new M-246.

14

Summilux-M f1.4 28mm Asph at f8 1/250 sec ISO 320

Remembering 9/11 – A New Perspective by David Knoble

We waited in line, checking pockets, removing belts and placing all objects in a container for scanning. The room was full of chatter as we walked through the gates. Assembling ourselves back together, I realized one of the sacrifices we now all made. Part of the price of feeling secure is loosing a little freedom. That was when I decided to shoot something unique, something more than just a postcard or pictorial of this 9/11 monument. I wanted something that depicted the emotion I felt while standing on this ground sanctified by so many.  I wanted to show the emotion that those people must have felt that fateful day.  I created the portfolio Remembering 911. Link here.

For my age group, the attacks of 9/11 were the overbearing loss of life that we viewed as it happened in real time. I remember other events as a child and many more from history lessons with wasteful loss of life, but none I experienced this close.  Visiting those historical sites is moving, but nothing evokes my emotion like 9/11.  I now understand my parents statement, “I remember where I was and what I was doing when Kennedy was shot…”  This site carries a somber meaning to me both as a human being and a citizen of the country.

As we entered the memorial, I noticed how quiet it was.  Surveying the area, I found a rose set in someone’s name and made the image permanent. I was using the Summilux-M 35mm wide-open keeping the depth of field to a minimum. The FLE version of this lens allowed me to remain close to the subject producing smooth bokeh while the rose remained sharp.

The RoseThe Rose

I kept taking images of the two large fountains.  Four sided cubes with water falling from every side to a large square drain in the middle, these occupied the foundations of the former Twin Towers.  The black sides of the fountains were stark in the shade of the tall office building across the street.  Shutting my eyes, I could hear the white noise resulting from the falling water.  I imagined the tears of those trapped in the top floors of the Twin Towers.

After clicking a few quick images of the hole in the center of the drain, I pulled the focus back to the reflections of the skyline contained in the water at the top.

The Lone Fountain CoinThe Lone Fountain Coin

Then I pulled back again to focus on the names that were written in engraved stone surrounding each fountain.  As the Vietnam Memorial came to mind in Washington, DC I decided I liked the names surrounding the fountain.  It was almost like a gathering place for their memories.

HerosHeroes

Reviewing the images, a realization came that I needed to show the intimate connection of the monuments and the people there.  I wanted to include enough of the people present, but not take away from the focal point of the memories.  The images had to speak of the silence all around.  I came back to that somber feeling.  I thought again about the tears in people’s eyes at the tops of the towers, waiting for help that didn’t come.   Some, I imagined, were crying as they determined how to meet their fate.  I could picture them looking down the building towards the ground but not being able to see through the smoke.  I decided to represent the tear filled eyes through the outstanding bokeh of the Leica lens.  I decided to represent the smoke through the sharp shadows of this sunny day.

Hushed ConversationHushed Conversation

I started taking images of shadows from the people surrounding the fountain and their interaction with each other. I looked at other shadows formed on the ground and mid April meant only the Cherry trees had blooms – the other trees had not yet sprouted leaves. I began shooting the shadows of the crooked, and spindled branches on the ground. It reminded me of the needless hand of death, reaching out to those it came to claim.

There was still a fair amount of construction as the visitor’s center was not yet complete.  The chain link fence provided two backdrops.  First, the length of fencing provided a border that people couldn’t cross.  The fence represented containment.  I saw the containment of the people trapped in the tower and our containment now as we look for more security in our life.  Second, the shadow of the chain link also represented the brief time during 9/11 we were trapped as a country.  Planes were grounded causing travel to halt, large cities closed down for safety, New York was barricaded to everyone in and out.  It represented fear then and fear now.      



Fenced InFenced In

There were many heroes that day and in the days that followed, even though many of them perished – and I consider each person caught in that tragedy a hero.  With them in mind, I began taking images of shadows as people entered the frame.  Feet and hands entering the frame from the edges represented the help coming to the Towers.  It represented the bravery and help that the passengers provided to each other when grounding the plane in Pittsburgh.  It represented the aftermath cleaning up the damage to the Pentagon.  This was the connection I was looking for.

There is no question that the Leica M rangefinder was what made this revelation possible for me to photograph.  Even with the 35mm focal length, which fills much of the viewfinder, I still had room to see people entering the image, before they got there.  It gave me the ability to anticipate the moment.  One of my favorite images in this series is the shadow of the tree with two feet entering, one from the left and one from the right.  Are they trying to escape death or are they oblivious to it?  I could not have made this image with a viewfinder that only showed me reality through the lens.

IntrepidationIntrepidation

The Monochrom is my favorite Leica body and I began learning photography with black and white film.  I considered making these images black and white for the focus and tradition of documentary work.  While that was a very easy choice I could make with the M typ 240, I decided the shadows and the black stone of the fountain gave me the dark black I needed, so I continued in color.  In fact, there is one strong color shot that spoke to me – the Survivor Tree.  Aptly named, it was the single tree in the area that lived through the falling of the two large Twin Towers.  In some ways, I wish I had taken more images that day of the tree, but my focus was on the ground.      



The Survivor Tree

The Survivor Tree

As I pulled together the images for this essay, I decided to make one additional choice.  I decided to use the RAW images out of the camera, unaltered in any manner save contrast and brightness adjustments (which most RAW files need).  There is no cropping or color adjustments in these images.  My thinking was that I would show the unaltered view of what I had seen and felt.  While I do not believe altering the images through basic settings changes the craft, similar to film work, I did want an exact replica the way my Leica saved the image.  There is somehow a sense of completeness to my work knowing that I cannot change the image, a sense of finality.

Falling TearsFalling Tears

The sounds of nature.  The sparkle of the falling water.  The creamy background and inability to focus through it.  All this reminds me of the tears shed that day.  I thank the heroes of 9/11 for the strength and patriotism they have given to me through their sacrifice and that of their families.  I will remember.

David Matthew Knoble.

Fashion Cover Up – Leo Kwok

We know Leo Kwok for his wonderful street photography and after inviting him to be our current featured photographer we discovered his amazing ‘Fashion Cover Up Project ‘  and we wanted to know some more about it.

exhibition-

Can you give us a brief overview of what the project’s about?

Hong Kong’s air pollution is mainly caused by motor vehicles. There are about 306 licensed vehicles for every kilometer of road and they produce large amounts of particles and nitrogen dioxide which cause burning spasms; swelling of the throat; reduced oxygen intake and a larger buildup of fluids in the lungs — and in some cases death. You find people using such materials as facial masks, newspapers and tissue paper to cover their mouths and noses in order not to breathe in those harmful pollutants. We know that we cannot get rid of all the vehicles in the short run nor stay indoors forever. But wait! Let’s forget all the bad news for a while. Can we try to confront this issue positively and express the need to protect ourselves in a creative and fashionable way? In my Fashion Cover-up project, I invited five people with very different characters and occupations and created five unique outfits for them. The outfits serve both to protect and beautify the wearers. Instead of showing the sad and ugly side of air pollution, which everyone knows, I prefer to address this social issue in an alternative way, one that will arouse our government’s attention.

 

Tell us a little more about the incredible outfits created and what each one represents?

As I mentioned, I created 5 outfit for 5 different people. After I discussed with them, knew more about their job natures, what they did, where they went… I came up with these:

 

01_mask

Facial Mask Gown -Silvia Cheng, Marketing Company Owner based in Central “My nose and mouth need a protective mask, so does my skin, which is the biggest organ exposed to Hong Kong’s polluted air. I can feel protected in this glamorous gown.”

02_cloak

‘Good Morning’ Brand Towel Cloak – Ah Wai, Street Photographer “Batman has a bullet-proof cloak, and I also need a cool-looking air pollution-proof cloak when I’m driving my motorbike or working outdoors. Now I feel like I’m a superhero too.”

03_paper

Free Newspaper Skirt – Abby Au, Graphic Designer “I walk along busy roads every morning and usually have to collect a pile of free newspapers to cover my nose as the vehicles emit so much black smoke. This folded newspaper skirt works well, both functionality and aesthetically. I support recycling and support this outfit!”

04_roll

Toilet Paper Roll Costume – Tung Tung and Yau Yau, Primary 1 Students “Our mother gives us tissue paper to cover our mouths when we go to school. Instead, we are always looking for something cute and interesting to replace it. This outfit is functional and looks lovely. We love it so much because we are big fans of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.”

05_bag

Garbage Bag Suit – Kwan Jeh, Secondary School Cleaning Lady “I use the garbage bag to wrap around my head in order not to breathe in the toxic gas and substances. Now this full suit even protects my whole body.”

 

What made you choose to present the project in black and white also can you describe for us your studio set up and processing technique?

First of all, I think the form, shape and texture of those outfits are very important. I strongly believe B/W photo works better. Secondly, although the idea is a bit humorous, i don’t want people to think that it’s a secondary school craftwork project. Instead, i want to present it in a serious, professional and artistic manners. It should be more like a B/W high-fashion photography. I shot in RAW and did some contrast and tone enhancement in Photoshop and Silverefex Pro. One more thing i want to mention, the idea of the outfits and photography style, both are inspired by the Issey Miyaki Pleats Please Collection.
Issey1
I have a tiny photo studio less than 300 sq ft with a very basic setup : 400W studio strobes x 3 and 150W studio strobes x 2, umbrellas, soft boxes, beauty dish….etc and etc.  For cameras, i have Canon 5D (just sold), Nikon DF & FE2 with 3 lenses, Pentax 645D with 4 lenses, Mamiya 6, Leica M240, M9 (just sold), M7, M4, M3, X2….. lenses: 90cron, 50 Noct, 50 lux, 35 Summaron, 28 elmarit, 21 elmarit and just buy a R 70-210 /4. I used M9 and 50 Noct with 4 studio strobes to take this set of photo. For street or documentary photography, i usually bring M240 with 50 lux and 21 elmarit, M7 with 28 elmarit ; HP5+400 or Tri-X 400 and X2. I am expecting the new Leica Monochrom : )
My_Leicas-

In one of our correspondences you said ‘Street photography is dessert, photo project is the main course”, what advice would you give to other photographers thinking about starting a project?

I always ask myself, “What’s the point to do this project?” If you think it’s meaningful to you or others, please go ahead. I have a life time project called “We are family” – record the significant moments of my kids and wifey, but not those typical family photos. I had a project called “Beautiful Strangers”, recorded the life of a tribe who lives in Yunnan, China, one of the poorest villages in the region. I believe some of the members here saw this set of photo in Leica Meet FB page. My motto is “To touch someone’s heart with photography”.

Where do you look for your inspiration?

Study the works of photographers, designers, artists I like, reading news everyday, watching movies and talking to different kinds of people.

Whats next for Leo Kwok?

I always want to improve myself and do better. As a photographer, I hope I could win an award in any significant international photo competitions like Leica Oskar Barnack Award, World Press Photo Contest….. I forget to say that people (even my friends)  think I’m a photographer. In fact I have been running my own branding design company and need to deal with my clients, staff, suppliers and all design works from 10am to 7pm everyday. Photography is just my serious hobby. I wish I could spend more time to take photos, travel and discover more new stories or one day it’s my second career.

on_the_way_to_exhibiton

An interview with Alex Coghe by Stephen Cosh

WARNING : THIS POST CONTAINS EXPLICIT IMAGES

Alex Coghe is a world renowned street photographer and I’ve followed his work for years, however it wasn’t until I interviewed him that I saw there was more to the man than his street work…

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Hi Alex, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background.

I am an Italian Photographer, and have been living in Mexico for 5 years. I’ve never just been a photographer, I was born a writer.

My profession is therefore a union of various activities: I am a photo-journalist. In the past I have written articles about Mexico for an Italian Magazine. I have also had experience as a political journalist but now I interview artists, especially photographers, for my blog and for The Leica Camera Blog.

I also have experience as a photo editor, a skill that I now apply to my publications. The most recent is The Street Photographer Notebook, a project that I’ve just started but that already has been greeted with much enthusiasm from street photographers around the world.

I consider all my professional entities equally important, I’ve never been just a photographer. I hold workshops, for example. And I still offer my journalist services.

I think Photography for me has been an evolution, an extension of my experience as a creative a writer. Poetry is an admission of loneliness and when I realised that I had no more time for this, my camera has become my pen. I will never abandon writing, but I’ve delegated the exploration of my soul to photography.

 

L1000166

 

Alex you are known throughout the digital world for your street photography. How and when did you get into street as a genre?

Well I actually began seriously in 200, but before that I had studied it alot. All the work done without a camera helped me a lot in terms of a solid base.

There were just a few resources on the internet then and books have been very important for me.

 

L1016283

 

What is it about street photography that compels you to get out and shoot?

The sense of self challenge. Street Photography is probably the most challenging genre and I consider it a permanent school for the photographer. I would advise all photographers to practice on the street because even a studio photographer will benefit from it.

For me Street Photography is an attitude, a state of mind. When I am shooting in the studio i still apply the approach of street photography.

But the main reason I shoot street and walk miles exploring places in the city si the feeling that at any moment I can be surprised and get as excited as a child, and the street is always and experience within an experience where you can meet new people and hear their stories.

To be a good street photographer you must have empathy for people. If you do not have a sincere interest in your subjects you will never get good photographs of them.

 

L1016527-2

 

Recently you have entered into erotic photography. Why this move and how does it link with your street work.

I’m just exploring another part of being a photographer.

I’m a commercial photographer and sometimes I’m not a contractually restricted from showing the images I made which is a pain. I respect the agreements with my clients, but I am pleased with some of this work ,especially my work for fashion brands. I would share but I can’t by agreement, so a year or so ago I launched the Mexicana Magazine project. It is a project where my followers finally can know another side of my work.

I don’t think I need to find a connection between my street work and erotic or fashion photography, but you can certainly see some elements typical of my vision as a street photographer inside my work with models.

I use the available light most of the time and my approach to this genre is the same as my approach to street, looking for that special candid moment. Yeah, erotica and fashion is “set” photography, but I am always looking for the “random moment”, that special, natural moment avoiding fake expressions and poses.

Mexicana Magazine is not just erotic photography, inside you will also find good documentary.

 

L1013920-Modifica

 

Between street and erotic photography, which do you find the most creative and why?

Both are creative in a different way. I think creative ideas in erotic photography can be more interesting as I am not alone like I am in the street.

I do not direct my models. It is real creative work with them. We have equal power. They are in front of a camera and I’m behind it, but there is always a dialogue and a shared experience. I think erotica is like sex; it can never be one-way. The result would be bad.

 

L1011418-Modifica-2

 

Can you tell us about the kit you use to shoot with, especially the Leica gear and how you go about processing your images?

I have been using a Leica X2 for two years now after delivering work on assignment from Leica Camera AG.

The Leica X2 is my main camera. I use it for street photography, photojournalism, fashion and erotica.

As a photographer I don’t need a lot of equipment or big cameras.

I have two ways to work with Leica X2. When on the streets I use the X2 like an analogue camera: LCD turned off, and shoot black and white JPEG without RAW (DNG), optical viewfinder and pre-set focus. When I am working with models I prefer to work with the electronic viewfinder, autofocus and of course I work in RAW.

In my opinion, this camera is always best with manual exposure.

For street photography I don’t edit the files that much. Sometimes I add contrast but that’s all.

For erotica and fashion, yeah I work the images with Adobe Lightroom where I will choose colour or black and white and of course I alter the mood and aesthetics to suit the shoot’s particular requirements.

 

AUTORRETRATO SERIES -8047200 copia

 

What is next for Alex Coghe?

I will continue to devote myself to the projects that I have… with two magazines there is a lot of work to do.

I need to prepare work for the agency I am collaborating with: it will be a classical photojournalistic piece, here in Mexico City.

I have other projects and ideas for 2015, but right now I can’t tell you about them. I will announce them when they are ready to go.

 

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Thanks Alex!

Alex Coghe website

A day with Summilux-M 50mm ASPH – Possibly the ‘best’ standard lens ever made!

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

The lust

I have wanted a ’50 Lux. ASPH in my collection for quite a while, so after much deliberation, I finally bit the bullet. My finish of choice was the silver chrome version, which, if you’ve ever compared it to the black version, (almost) weighs a ton. It’s easy to see why tho; the black version is made of anodised aluminium, while the silver is build of solid chromed brass. It’s all brass, even the lens hood. While it’s heavy on the M (Typ 240), it’s truly a joy to use; it instantly felt right when handling it for the first time, especially the wonderful aperture and focus operation. This is a geek with a new toy. A very happy geek.

leica_M_typ_240_summilux_50mm-1600x1066

The lens and the camera, M (Typ 240) with Summilux-M 50mm

First impression

On first use, I was astounded by the performance wide open (f/1.4) and slightly stopped down at f/2. Naturally, I didn’t expect anything else, but the reality is impressive. Some further testing showed that even at the closest focus ranges, the performance is very high indeed. This is clearly made possible by the floating element at the rear of the lens. Due to this element, the focus is smooth, yet slightly stiffer than other lenses. And gosh, is this lens ever beautiful on the chrome M.

Blossom blooming in winter

Blossom blooming in winter

Cadzand-Bad

After my initial play, I just couldn’t wait to test the lens further and get some more images with it. Since the weather was warm (18˚C, in fact – really warm for winter in the Netherlands) I decided on a lovely location, the beach at Cadzand-Bad. If you’ve never been, it’s a great place for some fresh air and landscape shots, even more so with the 50 Lux. I love the old style of the wooden breakwaters they have on the beach there, especially compared to the harsh modern concrete crosses they have elsewhere.  They made for a nice subject on a winter’s day, that while warm, was ultimately colder than anticipated. We can thank the strong sea breeze for that. As long as I didn’t stand in the shade for too long, the bright sun kept me warm enough.

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

The sea and wet sand was causing glare and reflection, so I made use of Leica’s Universal Polarizing filter. This not only cut them right down, but also acted as a two stop ND filter, allowing me to shoot in very bright light. An ideal combination of both effects in one handy package, like killing two birds with one stone, or like we say in the Netherlands, ‘Twee vliegen in een klap’. I was concerned that the filter might cause reflections of it’s own, but the lens performed really well, even against direct sunlight. I only managed to get the lens to flare in a single photo; pretty good if you ask me.

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Just when I thought the lens couldn’t amaze me any more, the shots just kept coming. I didn’t shoot wide open a lot, as I wanted a deep depth of field on the beach, mainly shooting between f/4 and f/8 to maximise the depth captured. Returning to the handling again for a moment; the focus and aperture feel really good, better than the Summicron-M in my opinion. The focus tab is also a welcome change from the 50 Cron; I found it make focusing faster and easier, especially when focusing on people. For more precision, you can still use the knurled ring, so it’s the best of both worlds – you don’t have to use the tab if it’s not to your taste.

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Golden hour

As the sun started to set itself into the sea, I made my way up into the Dunes to find new shots. I love the texture of the dune grass, it’s subtle colour against the sand gives a soft pastel palette when lit by the golden glow of the setting sun. Just add some great bokeh from the 50 Lux and you simply can’t go wrong! I was lucky enough to have a model on hand in the form of my companion Lorenz, who’d been along for the ride to shoot some long exposures with a 6 stop ND filter on his M8/50 Cron combo. As he was going through his shots of rocks in the sea, I took the opportunity to grab a few shots. Note the subtlety of the out of focus areas in front of him, and the creaminess of those behind.

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Even wide open, the 50 Lux is sharp from edge to edge, it’s performance is sharp, with a subtle vignette, which I love. I feel it actually adds to the images and certainly shouldn’t be considered a negative point. The colour rendition of the lens is also very pleasing, but I haven’t really been able to compare it directly with other lenses. I’m planning a 50mm lens comparison in the near future, to show the different qualities of each lens for a variety of subjects. I have always been a big fan of the 50mm Summicron-M and it’s angle of view; now I think the 50 Lux will become my most used lens. It’s as if a whole new world of possibilities has opened up to me.

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

 

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

Memory, Narration and Curation in Photography by Mick Yates

my1

In recent meetings and photo shoots with friends, I have been attempting to self-appraise my photography – when do I shoot my best work, when do I not? Perhaps a little presumptuously, what is my signature style, when am I doing a good job? And therefore what should I focus on in 2015?

Having been a “serious” photographer my entire post-teenage life, it has probably been too easy to slip into travel snaps, family record keeping and simple reportage. In the past eighteen months, I have been getting into “street” photography quite seriously (and even published on the subject). Yet, it does seem that a little more thought is required, before pressing that shutter release.

So, how should we think of our “photographic voice“?

my2

A perfect place to start is “The Decisive Moment” (1952) by Henri Cartier-Bresson, just re-published in a superb edition. I was lucky enough to receive this as a Christmas present.

My favourite paragraph?

“Memory is very important, particularly in respect to the recollection of every picture you’ve taken while you’ve been galloping at the speed of the scene itself. The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterward it is too late. He is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.”

Whilst Cartier-Bresson is adamantly against the “shoot everything as fast as you can” approach that is used by so many with high-speed DSLRs (myself included), he absolutely advocates extracting the maximum possible meaning from the scene presented to the photographer.

He goes on to say:

“There is subject in all that takes place in the world, as well as in our personal universe. We cannot negate subject. It is everywhere So we must be lucid toward what is going on in the world, and honest about what we feel.

Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. Through facts, however, we can reach an understanding of the laws that govern them, and be better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.”

So the subject is all important, but the reality of the subject isn’t a simple depiction.

I have also been reading John Berger’s “Understanding a Photograph” (1967), where he addresses “memory” in photography.

“I am not saying that memory is a kind of film. That is a banal simile. … Unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances – with all the credibility and gravity we normally lend to appearances – prised away from meaning. Meaning is the result of understanding functions.”

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearances. Habit now protects us against the shock involved in such preservation.”

Simply capturing an image, however technically skilled, without giving it a meaning is not enough. Narration is needed.

Berger also notes:

“Memory is not unlinear at all. Memory works radially, that is too say with an enormous number of associations all leading to the same event.”

And

“When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future. … Yet unlike the storyteller or painter or actor, the photographer only really makes, in any one photograph, a single constitutive choice: the choice of the instant to be photographed. The photograph, compared with other means of communication, is therefore weak in intentionality.”

Looking at an image as a mere “instance” isn’t enough to provide any real meaning.

In reviewing my own work, I “feel” most comfortable when telling a story. Une histoire. In recent times, two of my images seem the most satisfactory in this regard, both offering a pictorial examination of an “event”.

The first I have referenced before, showing a short-lived interplay between worlds at a pedestrian crossing, in Dublin. There’s lots of context and content in this shot – layered memories perhaps. I just love the expression on the girl’s faces, and the almost “defiant” attitude of the ‘lady”.

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The second, in Glasgow, was taken late at night in the rain, with two young women, obviously seeking a party, sheltering together almost against the odds.

There is context and layered content, and a capture that tried to sum things up at that exact time for the two women.

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Both are telling a story. And, interestingly, both are amongst my most liked recent pictures on social media. Of course, one should never be swayed by false praise (how do we value “likes”?), but it does seem to me that art is so often “in the eye of the beholder”, whatever the artist’s intent, so it is a useful view about how others see images.

Berger led me to read more, including Susan Sontag, in On Photography (1977)

“ … such [photographic] images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real.”

This seems to underpin the idea that the photographer is interpreting the real, as a photograph combines both gritty reality at that moment, and the artist’s interpretation or composition built around it – the “memory” he or she is attempting to create.

That said, Sontag also noted:

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”

If people are never “seen as themselves”, in a sense their very existence is being curated, moment by moment, by the photographer.

The photographer should thus, at least in a  “street” sense, be about both narration (the story) and curation (the moment of memory that is chosen). And the subjects are captured almost like Schrödinger’s Cat – you only see their true reality in that exact moment of capture, however much you might like to ponder the before and the after.

Berger’s references to other forms of communication led to Berthold Brecht, where I found this passage appropriate.

“Portrayal of Past and Present in One” 

Stand out, without in the process hiding

What you are making it stand out from. Give your acting

That progression of one-thing-after-another, that attitude of

Working up what you have taken on. In this way

You will show the flow of events and also the course

Of your work, permitting the spectator

To experience this Now on many levels, coming from

Previously and

Merging into Afterwards, also having much else now

Alongside it. He is sitting not only

In your theatre but also

In the world.

From John Willett, Brecht’s translator, attributed to poems Brecht wrote between 1947-1953.

The photographer’s job is thus very much like the actor’s. Both want to involve their audience, even though they use different means.

The photographer, though, unlike the actor, can only involve the viewer by curating the most appropriate moment. A fragment of time (or perhaps a series of fragments), rather than an extended performance.

Yet in that fragment of time, there must be both depiction of the reality of the moment, with enough narration (content, context) in the composition to suggest to the viewer that they can see beyond that very same moment, both past and future.

That will truly engage the viewer.

A sound challenge for 2015!

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Images taken with either Leica M9-P or Leica M-P, processed in Color Efex Pro. Henri probably wouldn’t approve, but he did say colour was in its infancy when he was writing in 1952 …

Leica M6 TTL, Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 pictured.

Mick Yates

http://micksphotoblog.com/