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

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A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (2)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Alex B Muir

Alex B Muir

Camelot98

Camelot98

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Frédéric Lanoizelé

Haoming Wang

Haoming Wang

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

jonathanliewys

jonathanliewys

Julien Ducenne

Julien Ducenne

Keith Goldstein

Keith Goldstein

Lane 4 Imaging

Lane 4 Imaging

Lillo Cabrera

Lillo Cabrera

Mark Heaver

Mark Heaver

Rick Bronks

Rick Bronks

Stephen Starkman

Stephen Starkman

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Tobias Gaulke

Tobias Gaulke

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

A Selection of Excellence from The Leica Meet (2)

This weeks top shots from The Leica Meet Flickr group.

Axel Wohlbold

Axel Wohlbold

Benya Acame

Benya Acame

Win Soegondo

Win Soegondo

Turodrique Fuad

Turodrique Fuad

Sung Soo Lee

Sung Soo Lee

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

Stephen Cosh

Stephen Cosh

Rob Steele

Rob Steele

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Marc Hartog

Johannes Huwe

Johannes Huwe

Jason Howe

Jason Howe

Giuseppe De Santis

Giuseppe De Santis

Gianluca Federighi

Gianluca Federighi

Gavin Mills

Gavin Mills

Ferenc Simicz

Ferenc Simicz

Elie Bescont

Elie Bescont

Daniel Novello

Daniel Novello

camelot98

camelot98

If you would like your photo removed from this article, please contact me via this blog.

Over Confidence with the Leica M Monochrom

Shooting with the Leica M System takes practice. At first it’s not easy, but the more you use it, the easier it gets until after a while it’s just instinctive. You lift the camera to your eye, adjust the focus tab, overlap the two images in the viewfinder and press click. Or at least that is what you do if you shoot Aperture Priority all the time. If you don’t use AP, it’s a little more complicated, but being a street shooter, I need to capture my subjects very quickly and Aperture Priority is a must. It alleviates the need to set shutter speed leaving you with nothing but focusing to worry about… Unless you’re shooting with a Leica M Monochrom.

The Monochrom is a superb camera. It is black and white only, full frame and captures an uncanny amount of detail, so much detail that numerous people have stated it produces a sharper, more detailed shot than most black and white medium format cameras. I can’t back this up as I have no experience of MF cameras either digital or film. What I can say is that of all the 35mm cameras I have ever shot, both digital and film, nothing I’ve ever seen compares to the clarity, sharpness and tonal gradation that the Monochrom achieves. It is simply outstanding… Until it bites you in the ass!

I live in Scotland. Scotland, albeit a fantastic country full of haggis and whisky, is grey. We don’t get much sun here, so setting an M camera up for street shooting is easy. Here’s the drill…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/60th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 5000 or 8000 depending on wether you are shooting day or night
  4. Get out on the street – you’re ready to go

This set up works great when the sun you do get in Scotland is forcing it’s way through layers of grey cloud. It never fails. Keep your lens wide open, click the button and let your camera sort out shutter speed and ISO and you have your photo. But last week I went to London for a day and took the camera… When I got home it bit me in the ass.

I took about 40 shots, got home and uploaded the shots from the card and all but a few were overexposed. Why? London was sunny! I was shooting wide open with the camera set up for grey Scottish light and the bright sunlight in London was just too much for the Monochrom. The (non-technical) reason for this is that the Monochrom has no Bayer filter and therefor lets in more light. Too much light hitting a sensor will burn out the blacks and cause overexposure. With a colour camera (one with a Bayer sensor), you can save nearly all overexposed shots by playing around with the colour channels in Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom, but with the Monochrom you only have one channel – black.

The settings I should have used are…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/125th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 2500

So there I was, sitting looking at 40 odd overexposed shots thinking what a waste and I started to delete them one by one, but then came across a few that had just enough black in them that I though I might be able to save some.

It’s testament to both the Leica M Monochrom and Leica lenses, that even in the harshest of sunlight and wide open with a shutter speed that is too slow, that they can capture and render such strong contrasts. It may be the main reason that Leica lenses are so damn good.

I opened up one of the shots in Silver Effex and started playing around with the contrast slider and hey presto, and totally by (happy) accident, came up with an image that looks like a deliberate hi-key shot. I played with a few more and managed to save 8 or 9 of the 40 i had taken. Lucky!

Lunch

So the moral of this story is that when you use a manual camera, specifically a Leica M Monochrom, just remember the word “manual”. Don’t rely on settings you used in one location just to “automatically” work elsewhere. Photography is all about capturing light and if your camera is set up for a different type of light than the one your shooting in… it’ll bite you in the ass!