Let me begin by saying that I like Leica. The truth is that I love things built to exacting standards, high quality workmanship with high grade materials. Naturally Leica is one of my favorite photography brands. That is not to say that I love everything they do.
I own a Leica M6 and a Leica ME (simplified M9), both of which I purchased used and decent pricing. I have a single Leica Lens (90mm) and two Zeiss lenses (35mm and 50mm). The next lens I am planning on getting for this kit is a Voigtlander 15mm lens. Notice how I claim very little "Leica" brand things. The reason is simply the price.
So when Leica announced a new lens I was interested but due to previous sticker shock, I viewed it only as academic. Imagine my surprise when I found out that they lens is a 28mm f/5.6! I have long said that the ISO performance of sensors is improving so quickly that the "fast glass" becomes less important in the digital world (not so for film). Is Leica agreeing to this philosophy?
No. Simply put Leica is tipping their hat to a classic lens and are trying to capture its character...this begs for a deeper look.
First question...what is the "character" of a lens? There are some lenses, that through their imperfections, create a pleasing rendition of a scene. This gives it a certain balance between sharpness, contrast and blur that is pleasing. This "lens effect" is indeed difficult to reproduce which is why we all have our favorite lenses. A perfect lens has no "character" because it renders the scene perfectly.
Second question...So every old, imperfect lens has character? Yes but this is not necessarily a good thing. I own a lens (which I will talk about some other time) which is absolute crap. Sure it is predictably crap but I would never say it has a pleasing character.
Third question...What does Leica say?
"Frequently, photographers use lenses with a “vintage” signature to achieve particular effects that are difficult to reproduce, even with the most modern digital post-processing software. The Summaron wide-angle, now more than 50 years old, is a particularly popular and compact lens that has been recreated with an M-bayonet mount, 6-bit coding, and a slightly revised design."
This lens has obvious vignetting, something most lens makers try to avoid and the contrast is soft. A bit of lens flare of light and you have something that many will find pleasing.
Leica is possibly realizing that with all the digital photography quality and the software corrections that can be applied our photographic sensibilities are crying out for something different. The resurgence in film, retro design cameras and the "simplified" design ascetic is all evidence of this. Perhaps Leica realizes that photographers do not need perfection we need something that lets us shoot beautiful pictures. Sort of the search for the "perfect beauty found in its imperfections".
I am not sure what was behind this lens release. I have not tried it so I cannot give a fair opinion about it. In fact the only thing I am sure of is that it will be priced beyond my budget so my study of these lenses will continue to be "just academic".
We have all been there...you look over your pictures and they all start looking the same. We run around town, with the same camera, same point of view and obviously our pictures start to seem similar. This is why I try to do a little night photography on every vacation, just a handful of images taken in the dead of night. These help break me out of my routine and adds a little spice to my travel shots.
The picture above was taken with a Nikon D800 in Cambridge. It is a 30 second exposure with a wonderfully wide 14-24mm lens. The people in the photo were two groups of friends who ran into each other coming back from a party. The stood there for a few seconds catching up. I am a sucker for an photo with an umbrella in it!
Speaking to friends it seems few people really shoot at night which is a real pity. It is easy to do and gives your photos a bit of something special. So for those of you who have never ventured out, give it a go. Below is a little cook book on how to do it and as you can see the gear is pretty basic.
Camera (digital or film)
Lens (does not have to be fast, any lens will do)
Shoot in RAW if digital
Set your camera to your native ISO (usually 100 or 200).
Set your camera to aperture priority or manual
Set your aperture to f/8
Let your camera suggest a shutter speed or set it yourself (20-30 sec)
White balance is always an issue on night shots. Different lights will have different temperatures but that is what makes it so colorful. I select a bright spot and correct for it. I then touch the sliders a bit to get a nice temperature.
Noise should not be an issue but do not try to increase the exposure too much. The objective is to have a night shot, not a shot at night looking like day.
Keep in Mind:
Movement will be an issue. It can be wonderful but it can be problematic. Trees, moving in the wind will look fuzzy. People walking by will be invisible or ghost like. If properly composed the movement can be beautiful.
The shot below was captured on film with a Nikon F3 camera. I used my digital camera to meter the scene and then I set it and fired away. I love the image below as ti captures all the mystery of Disney World in a wonderful monochrome.
You will read about film reciprocity however I never have worried about it. I meter the scene and get it fairly close and fire away. Give it a try...worst case you burn a bit of film!
This is the Kodak Brownie Flash II which was made in England between 1957 and 1960. I bought it for a few dollars a couple of months ago because I had seen so much about "old box cameras" that I wanted to give it a try. But that is a story for another day. This post is about a YouTube video that Ted Forbes just made which can be seen HERE.
On the video Ted puts forward a concept, which he read on "The Amateur Photographer's Handbook", that there would be a lot more great photographers if the world still started shooting on a box camera. The argument, and a very attractive one, is that working through the limitations of such a primitive camera helps make you a better photographer. I have long believed that 2,000 images caught on film teaches you more than 2,000 images on a digital camera but it took me awhile to understand why.
As Ted mention's in the video, working around the camera limitations forces you to think about what you are shooting and how you are shooting it. Shooting on film has three great benefits over digital photography as a learning medium. The first is that film is expensive so every image needs to be more carefully considered. Digital photography is free, once you purchase the equipment, so you are more likely to snap a quick picture that has no artistic value.
The second is that film cameras are generally more basic than modern digital ones. You have to pick an aperture, shutter speed and carefully consider the ISO of the film you are putting in. All of this thought goes into each and every image you take.
The third is that when people send their film to be developed they typically get some nice 4x5 prints made. This forces you to look at every image you have taken, the good, the bad and the ugly. The process of going through your images is vital for improvement. On digital we can quickly skip over the poor images and more on to find a good one.
I believe this is where the secret rests. Thinking about what you are doing, looking at the results with a critical eye, and learning from your mistakes is essential to creative progression.
I am not suggesting people purchase a box camera and Ted does a good job warning new film shooters to stay away from such cameras. I am suggesting that you can learn just as much from digital as you can from film but it requires a great deal of self control. You need to limit your number of shoots, have them all printed out and look through each one. Consider what you are doing, how to set up your camera and what is the best composition to use.
A math teacher in my youth used to say "practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect". I believe this is true in many walks of life. The act of pressing a shutter 2,000 times will not make you a good photographer. Shooting 200 images, thinking of each and every one of them will bring you more value regardless of the medium used.
Shot taken by my son Lucas. A great capture if I do say so myself...
So I have been playing with my new lens a bit and have discovered something I did not know before. I thought I would share it just in case there was someone out there who was in the same, blissful ignorance I found myself in...On the Nikon D800, and I presume many other digital cameras, I found a menu option which allows me to semi-program old analog lenses. If you did not know you could do this then read on, if you knew then you can stop now and check out some cat videos on YouTube HERE.
For those blissfully ignorant check this out....If you go to your menu, down to general settings (the little wrench icon on the left panel of the menu options) there is an option called "Non-CPU Lens data". It allows you to program up to 9 different lenses with the focal length and the maximum aperture. Once done the camera will know what aperture setting you used. While this will not correct for lens anomalies at least you will have a record of the shutter speed and aperture of every shot. I thought this a useful tool. You can see this rather intelligent person put in a useful video of it 2 years ago! Man I am slow. See it HERE.
For those keeping up I have burned through my first two rolls of color film! Shooting out here in the Lake District is wonderful for color. It did bring up a question about the use of color as a composition tool. I will be doing a bit of reading on the topic and will see how this plays out once I get my film developed. I will share when I can.
After yesterday's post I began looking for a used, manual focus lens that I could purchase to use on my Nikon F2 which would be inexpensive, fast and a solid performer. It is easy to blog that it is possible to get an inexpensive fast lens, and another thing to actually buy one.
So let me introduce to you my new (to me) Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. I found this at a nearby brick and mortar camera store and was able to purchase it for GBP 140. They also had a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 for a mere GBP 49 which is a steel but I wanted that extra stop of light and I REALLY paid for it. To put this in perspective a new Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S is GBP 350. So here we have a lens for less than half of a new autofocus lens.
I purchased an AI-S type lens specifically for it to work on my Nikon F2. The new AF-S does not work on the Nikon F2. So the key was to find a lens that would work on my film camera but that I could also use on my digital.
This lens is SMOOTH to focus and very easy to use. In is small and light but is built solidly (unlike the 50mm f/1.4G which seems a bit plastic to my feel) and will work on any Nikon. The reviews will tell you that it is a bit soft wide open but a stop or two down and it is tack sharp. There is also a slight issue with chromatic aberration which shooting in color. All of this is indeed true.
The chromatic aberration (a color shift at points of high contrast) is easily manageable with post processing software (with Lightroom it is one click to fix) and in film this is not really an issue. While I had not seen this to be a big issue it is visible when shooting wide open.
The lens is a stellar performer. It is fast, sharp and well built. I love the bokeh, which is creamy and consistent as can be seen in the tea tray image below or in the portrait of my son. I can throw it on my Nikon F2 and it is perfect well balanced. The focus is smooth and the aperture clicks are clear and sure. When I put it on my Nikon D800 the lens is small and light but fits well.
Below are some test images I took with this lens. The image of a bridge has been cropped. The tower image has seen post processing but the coffee cup and the tea tray have not seen any processing. The image of my son was shot at 400 ISO. All images shot on the Nikon D800 using the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S and all are shot at f/1.4.
Photo above is a stock image...no photographer mentioned but free use rights.
Lenses are like potato chips...you can never have just one. Most people I know start off in photography in the same way, they buy a camera with a lens and start shooting. My first DSLR (Nikon D300) came with a 18-200mm lens. I loved it. A single lens allowed me to cover a very broad focal range.
As I got more into photography, I began to see its limitations. I could not open it for low light shooting which forced me to increase the ISO which was not very good on the D300. So I purchased prime lenses which were faster and I dreamed of the NIkkor trinity in the form of the 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200mm F/2.8 lenses. Slowly I bought them all. I added a 85mm, 50mm, 35mm and even an old 28mm.
When we look for lenses we typically aim for a fast lens that is very sharp and are willing to spend a pretty penny to buy it. The truth is that this is no longer such a necessity. If you are into modern DSLR then you already know that their ISO capability has improved a great deal. On top of this you can correct distortion in your post processing on Lightroom. So what is the point of buying a very good lens when you can leverage your software and camera to make up the difference? Aside from bokeh (which can be simulated in post processing as well) there is no real need for a high priced lens.
Film is a bit different in this regard. A faster lens can get you a couple of stops more of light which considering the ISO limitations is a very good thing. In the darkroom there is little that can be done to correct for lens distortion so a good quality lens is a must.
Fortunately you can buy some manual focus, fast prime lenses for very little these days. Most people prefer the autofocus so the manual ones are going for a song. Try moving these lenses onto a DSLR and you get the best of both worlds, a cheap lens and great quality glass...so long as you can overcome the manual focus requirement....
There are plenty of great composition tools that we can learn and play with. I am slowly going through several, in order to understand how best to apply them. You can read more about my search HERE.
The picture above was captured in Cambridge where I was trying to get a shot of the man on a the bike in the background. I needed the man with an umbrella (I love shots with umbrellas in them) in the shot but did not want him to be the point in focus. This is the play on the compositional rule whereby your main subject is in focus. I wanted him to appear a bit mysterious so I needed him sufficiently far away as to obscure his face.
But if you look below you can see what my original intent was. The umbrella man was just going to be some well placed window dressing to the shot of a race being held in the street. I still prefer my original composition but this is because it is how I pictured it before I pressed the shutter!
The power to crop, either in digital or film workflows, is a second chance to make the composition as strong as possible. This is where the better image quality, either in terms of Mega Pixels in your digital camera, or in terms of negative size in film. Cropping a medium format film shot is easy as there is a great deal of detail there. Do the same on 35mm is possible but there are limitations as the grain will become too coarse to be natural.
I use a 16Mp OMD camera and the Leica ME which is 18Mp. Both of these give me plenty of real estate to play with however both pale in comparison with the Nikon D800. With 36Mp to play with I can recrop the image all day long and not suffer too much loss of detail.
Many people believe that a good photographer will not need to crop and will be able to get it right in camera. This is absolutely true and most of the time I do manage to get it right. But in this example, both crops work and make drastically different images. Do you want a feeling of a solitary walk in the rain or are you after the juxaposition of the man in a suit along with a bunch of runners sharing the same street?
I firmly believe that a good photograph is made when the image is taken and it is improved by delicate post processing (either digital or in the darkroom) and is finished with an appropriate paper selection for the print. Knowing how much you can crop before having a visible effect on quality for the planned print size is an important thing to know. It will give you the freedom to play with an image you already took to see what other compositions you could make.
My photography journal is out and ideas are flowing into it which means something is about to happen. This time is a road trip I have been thinking about. Nothing immediate but over the next few months I would like to take a trip to small towns in the UK. I want to have a look at what the countryside looks like.
The first thing I began putting in my journal is that perhaps it is time to use some color film. While I love B&W film and digital pictures, I believe that the countryside is a good excuse to try color again. I have ordered some 35mm Porta 400, which I have always considered some rather expensive film however it is very well regarded among photographers.
So the basics of a photography trip is beginning to take shape. A road trip, visit small towns in England and take some color film photography. In terms of potential places to go I have highlighted Cambridge, York and maybe the Lake District. This last one is where I really gave in to the color film itch.
I will also be carrying a digital camera, probably the Nikon D800 as I would love to get some night shots of the narrow streets in these old towns. There is nothing like old stone or brick buildings, narrow streets, and dim street lights to give a sense of place.
Now I just have to find the time...
What makes a street photography or environmental portrait spectacular is time. If you deconstruct and image from Vivian Maier (see image above) we would see two young girls, laughing and playing on the street. The motion of the jump rope flying over their head is wonderful and the girl's expression brings it all to life. But the "special sauce" is the time, the girl's coats, shoes and the car in the background. Even the sign above the battered door speaks of a different time.
The image on the bottom of this post is one I took on the streets of Antwerp earlier this year. The image called to me because a young girl in a hijab was playing a pickup basketball game. She did not know the male players but just stepped in and began playing. They passed her the ball and congratulated her on good shots. They played as if nothing were different about the game. In todays context the image is a powerful one yet it was taken recently.
The image below is well composed, it tells a story deeper than a simple street scene, it freezes the action and the main subject happens to be lit with the sun through the trees. While I believe this image is currently a half step above a snapshot, it does not posses the power of an image taken in a time gone by.
I wonder what this image will be like in 30 years? Will we have become more tolerant and the image only be seen as a window into the odd clothing people once wore? Will we be less tolerant and the image stand as a testament to a time when we were better? Will population growth force the closure of such neighborhood basketball courts so that we will look at it and wonder where they all went?
Not really sure, but I believe that in 30 years this picture may be a full step above a snapshot...all I have to do is give it a bit of time...
I love photography books. It amazes me that so many photographers do not bother looking at books. I am not referring to "how to" books, rather books dedicated to showing photography. These range from very cheap little books (see last blog post) to exquisite works of art that cost a small fortune. I purchase both ends of the spectrum because a book, once purchased, will last you a lifetime if well cared for.
In this new section of my website found HERE, I hope to share some of my favorite books. I will photograph the books themselves, rather than looking for online images of the pictures. This way you have a feel for the book, its layout and the quality of the paper and print.
Have a look!
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.