Leica M Cameras – All I Need

Leica M Cameras  – All I Need…?

Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica

January 2017

Camera Porn!

Keeping it Interesting

After returning from my Budapest model photography trip earlier this week I have been trying to think what other cameras I can take on my next overseas photo shoot to try to produce more interesting or different looking images to my recent photos.  I often shoot with a 35mm lens on my Leica M cameras whether the digital Leica M 240 or the Leica M film cameras.  (I write ‘Leica M’ camera / lenses as the Leica R camera is an SLR camera system rather than a rangefinder camera so different ‘rules’ apply).

Alternative Film Cameras

I often complain that I can’t focus as close as I would like to for my model portrait photos so I was thinking of cameras that can get nearer than the 0.7m Leica rangefinder standard minimal focal distance.  Other ways to create different photos to my usual view of the world might be to use a very shallow depth of field or perhaps use a longer lenses to get more compression in the photographs.  (I have done all of these things before but less and less over the last 12-18 months).

I still love my Hasselblad 501C medium format film camera and in my mind it has captured some of my high quality film photos but it currently needs a little TLC so I don’t really want to take it overseas until it’s repaired. I then have various other very good cameras in their own right such as the Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya 6, Fuji GF670, Fuji GA645, Hasselblad Xpan, Nikon F4, Mamiya 645 but when doing a quick comparison they all have some drawback vs. the Leica M camera system.  I then tried to think what each of these cameras offer compared to a Leica M camera setup and other than the film format (film size; 35mm vs. 645 vs. 6×6 vs. 6×7) the differences were minimal (in simplified terms*).

Different Lens Characteristics

I made a list of lens characteristics I see as positives from a camera/lens combination for my model photography and taste and then listed some potential Leica M mount lenses I use for each characteristic (non-scientific and my opinion only*)(I just listed the most obvious choice to me but many lenses could fit many lists*).  I use these lenses on any of my Leica M film camera such as a Leica M2, M3, M4-P, M6 etc.  (I state ‘film cameras’ as I want to compare Leica film to non-Leica film.  I am not too interested in digital photography but as I use a Leica M 240 digital camera the same list applies to my digital work).

Leica M Mount Lenses

  • Shallow depth of field

  • Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2
  • Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH
  • Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO

Leica M9 + Noctilux f1

  • Wide angle lens

  • Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5
  • Zeiss Biogon 21mm f2.8
  • Zeiss Biogon 25mm f2.8
  • Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8 ASPH

Leica Street Portrait

 

Close focus ability (for tight headshots)(visually not in mm*)

  • Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO
  • Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 + SOOKY-M (close focus goggles)
  • Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR (Dual Range) + close focus goggles
  • Leica Elmar 135mm f4

Summer Love

  • Sharpest image quality

  • Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO

Portrait Photography Workshop, London

  • Crisp contrasty modern look

  • Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH
  • Leica Summarit-M 50mm f2.5
  • Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO

Summilux ASPH 50

  • Soft glow vintage look

  • Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8
  • Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5
  • Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5

Leica M8 B&W Portrait

  • Small compact lens size

  • Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5
  • Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5
  • Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8
  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4
  • Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4
  • Leica Summarit-M 50mm f2.5

Leica Fashion

  • Fast lens with wide aperture for low light

  • Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4
  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4
  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii
  • Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH
  • Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0

Noctilux - After Dark

  • Unique lens characteristics

  • Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH
  • Leica Elmar 135mm f4
  • Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5
  • Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5
  • Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0

Street Portrait

  • Compressed image style

  • Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO
  • Leica Summicron 90mm f2 Pre-ASPH
  • Leica Elmar 135mm f4

Leica Elmar 135mm f4

  • Low cost lens (In Leica M mount terms)

  • Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4
  • Industar 26M 52mm f2.8
  • Jupiter 3 50mm f1.5
  • Leica Elmar 135mm f4

Leica M9 + Industar 26M 52mm f2.8

  •  Highest resolution images – Fine grain film stock

  • Ilford Pan F5o
  • Ilford Delta 100
  • Kodak Vision3 50D / Cinestill 50D

Leica M6 + Ilford Pan F 50

Image Resolution

For film cameras the equivalent of a high mega pixel digital sensor is fine grain films which play a huge part in the final look of a film photo no matter what lens is used.  As an example here is a half frame film scan from a Olympus Pen-F SLR camera.  Half frame means half the size of a normal 35mm Leica film negative.

Olympus Pen-F Fashion

As these photos are half the resolution of a Leica M camera photo (in terms of film negative size scanned) then with fine grain film and a sharp lens there is great potential to capture very detailed film photos without the need of a medium format camera.

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Size Matters – Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4

Size Matters – Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 MC

Matthew Osborne Photography

As my photography ‘matures’ different things become important to me.  In the earlier years bigger was best.  I remember getting my first big lens, the Nikkor 80-200  f2.8 AF, and suddenly I felt like a ‘Pro’ when at family weddings as all ‘Pros’ have big cameras and big lenses don’t they?!  I then up’d my game and got myself a Nikkor 200mm f2 AI-s prime lens.  Now that is a proper lens and it makes you look more like the paparazzi than a wedding photographer.

All that was a few years back.  Now I use Leica M cameras (+ medium format / large format film) and the opposite mentality applies.  Smaller and more compact is best (for me).  I have touched on this before but I am finding I am turning into more and more of a purest, with regards to my Leica M film cameras especially.  I only want to use 50mm lenses on the Leica M3 (with it’s 50mm viewfinder) and I only ‘want’ to use 35mm lenses on the Leica M2 (with 35mm viewfinder).  That is all well and good but the chosen lens needs to meet my requirements too.  There is no point me having a small camera if I then hang a big lens on the front to imbalance it.  Similarly, there is no point me putting a tiny lens on the camera if it cannot produces images that I ‘demand’.  Therefore I need to find a happy medium / middle ground that ticks most of my boxes.

50mm (Leica M3) – My preferred lens is the 50mm Leica Summicron f2 v5 lens as it is  smaller than the Summilux ASPH.  I do use the Summilux if I need to work in low light and with colour film that I cannot push as easily. Black and white film is easier as I just develop as I need.

35mm (Leica M2) – I didn’t have a 35mm lens that I was 100% happy with.

35mm lens I have are:

  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii lens which is very capable (and to me very usable shot wide open for paying clients) BUT all that comes at a cost. It is big and heavy.  I think of it as my 35mm Noctilux with some slight similarities in certain conditions.
  • Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 Pii is perhaps my smallest lens but with an f2.5 widest aperture is not bright enough for many of my available light photoshoots.
  • Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 – low contrast slow ‘fun’ lens. Not for serious work but great for personal work

New 35mm I considered:

  • Older Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 Pre-ASPH
  • Older Leica Summicron 35mm f2 Pre-ASPH
  • Newer Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH
  • Newer Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH
  • Zeiss ZM Biogon 35mm f2 T
  • Zeiss ZM Distagon 35mm f1.4 T
  • Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 SC
  • Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC

I spent a fair bit of time reviewing images from the Leica lenses and Voigtlander lenses.  I was happy size wise with all the Leicas and the Noktons.  They are all tiny lenses and all built to a similar high standard.  I ruled the Zeiss ZM lenses out immediately due to their bigger size.  I already have sharp 35mm lenses if size is no issue.  I am not normally a pixel peeper but I read a few reviews of the Leicas vs the Voigtlanders and yes the new Leica lenses are sharper but I bet 99% of the population could not tell images from these lenses apart once they had received basic editing.  The little Voigtlander ‘Classic’ as it is called is not perfect by any means.  I know as I have a Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 already that I got on my Voigtlander Bessa R3A (that has 40mm framelines).  Going back to the purest thing briefly, I could easily use the 40/1.4 on the M2 and I have done but I am not satisfied to guess between 35mm or 50mm framelines for the 40mm crop.  I can’t compose precisely on film if I am guessing the crop / composition.

Nokton 35mm f1.4v2

The Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC is not perfect as it is less sharp wide open vs new Leica lenses (in tests done by others), has heavier vignetting at wider apertures, gives soft focus corners to images wide open, has distortion so a straight line becomes slightly curved in a photo, has ‘harsh’ bokeh with highlight edges to the circles, lacks the flare resistance of modern Leica lenses, and often has some focus shift issues (f2-f4 approx).  On the upside, the colours are better (more saturated) than the cooler colours of Leica glass, I like the harsh bokeh, I like vignetting, I like soft corners for portraits, I don’t mind a glow from slight flare and I plan to use it at f1.4 so am not worried about shift.  Better still you can buy a new Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 for about half the price of an old Leica 35mm lens and about 4 times cheaper than a new 35mm Leica Summicron ASPH /Summilux ASPH.  I was tempted to buy Leica but the older lenses are at least as soft as the Nokton wide open (it seems) and the Nokton has character rather than being clinical like the new Leica lenses (like my 50mm Summilux ASPH).  To me the Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 is like a mini Noctilux in that it is the imperfections and low light ability that attract me most of all.  I have had some great results with the 40mm Nokton so that helped my decision to buy a 35mm Nokton.

I bought the MC (multi-coated) version rather than the SC (single coated) as it has slightly less flare and more contrast.  People often say SC is best for black and white film and MC for colour film.  As I develop my own B&W film I control the contrast when I develop the film so I can easily develop film to be less constrasty if I need to retain more shadow detail.  On the whole it is better for me to have high contrast and more apparent sharpness in camera from the lens so I chose the MC.  The Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 MC will now spend it’s days on my Leica M2 for my ultimate travel companion and to pair with the Leica M3 + 50mm setup.

What triggered this purchase?

I was shooting in London yesterday and had my Leica M3, Leica M2 and Leica M9 cameras.  I had the 40mm Nokton on the M2 and it fit like a glove.  With the leather hand strap it was the perfect street photographer camera. Very minimal and HCB like!  I then decided to take the Summilux off the Leica M3 to ‘borrow’ it on the M2 as I knew it was sharper.  The size of the Summilux just ruined the whole feel of the camera and experience in general.  I got home and thought to myself, I need a low light 35mm lens that is as small as the 40mm Nokton.  I like the size of the 50mm Summicron but sometimes have to use the ‘Lux if low light.

I have also recently being tempted by 28mm lenses such as the Leica 28mm Summicron f2 or Leica Elmarit 28mm f2.8. I am most tempted buy the Elmarit for the M9 due to it’s compactness as the Leica M9 has 28mm framelines and I can adjust the ISO if need more light.  That would be perfect for a compact digital travel camera setup but for my usual work, portraits and low light weddings I needed a faster lens and not quite as wide. 50mm is still my go to focal length for portraits but 35mm is good for environmental portraits, wedding photography, street photography and when working in tighter spaces.

Here are a few sample images using the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 to give an idea of what images may look like

Leica M9 B&W Portrait

Leica M9 Fashion

Voigtlander Bessa R3A Portrait

Ukraine

Leica, Ukraine

Leica M2 + Nokton 40mm + B&W Film

Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4

CV Nokton 40mm f1.4 Bokeh

Leica Portrait

Leica M9 Fashion

..As you may imagine I am not too concerned that the 35mm Nokton is not sharp enough or has a list of other failings.  It’s 40mm sibling seems to do OK 🙂

Leica + Voigtlander 35mm Lenses

Leica Cameras + Voigtlander 35mm Lenses
Leica Wedding Photographer

The photo shows my two Leica camera setup for Leica wedding photography. The lenses are optional.

Leica Cameras

Top – Leica M9 (18MP) released in 2010
Bottom – Leica M8 (10MP) released in 2006

Voigtlander Lenses
Top – Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii
Bottom – Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 ii (New!)

Why do I need two 35mm lenses you may ask?

The CV 35f1.2 is perhaps my current favourite Leica M mount lens of all my LM mount lenses. It is sharp wide open at f1.2, produces beautiful bokeh with a shallow DOF and renders images in such a way that they are pleasing to the eye. Why do I need a second 35mm then?  The Nokton 35/1.2 gives great results and is brilliant in low light however if you are stopping the lens down to f2.8 onwards, perhaps for street photography, then it is an unnecessary weight to carry around your neck all day. The 35/1.2 also makes your Leica M camera much more bulky and more easily noticed by others.

My newly purchased CV 35/2.5 ii is one of the smallest Leica M lenses (The MS Optical Super Tripet III Perar 35mm f/3.5 is smaller) and both lightweight and more discreet. Samples will follow but the 35f2.5 is sharp enough for portraits at f2.8 and also renders images beautifully. It really is THE perfect walkabout lens or travel lens, fitting into a large pocket and unlikely to draw attention to itself.

Leica Wedding Photography
One way I could use the pair of lenses and cameras is have the 35f1.2 on my crop sensor M8 giving me an almost equivalent of 50/1.2 (35×1.33=46.55mm). This would be great for low light and portrait photos. I could then mount the 35/2.5 Skopar on my Leica M9 for discrete reportage / documentary style wedding photography where i can work close to my subjects without drawing attention to myself.

Lastly, why buy Voigtlander lenses?

I bought the CV Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii rather than the Leica Summilux ASPH 35mm f1.4 as I liked the images and preferred the lower cost.

I bought the CV Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 ii for 3 reasons.
#1. Size. I love the small size. A camera or lens that is easy to carry with you all the time is more likely to get used and be with you when you see that special moment you want to capture. (For a contrasting comparison, the Nikkor 200mm f2 AI-s lens must be one of the most amazing and high quality lenses ever made however due to it’s weight and bulk I find I don’t use the lens as much as I should on my Nikon D800).

#2. Price. The 35/f2.5 ii is very competitively priced and one of my cheapest Leica M mount lenses. The Voigtlander lens is 5x cheaper than the Leica M Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH and 2x cheaper than the Zeiss ZM Biogon 35mm f2 T.

#3. Performance. I looked at all three 35mm lenses noted above. I read the reviews but more importantly to me, I reviewed sample images on Flickr from each lens. I own both Leica and Zeiss lenses and tend to lean towards Zeiss for a combination of performance and price. For the 35mm focal length neither the Leica M or Zeiss ZM images impressed me enough to pay more money for a lens that was larger and heavier than the little Voigtlander 35mm pancake (Skopar) lens. As a result my purchase decision was very easy.

Sample images to follow.

MatthewOsbornePhotographer – Leica Wedding Photographer

Leica M8!

Leica M8 Camera

Leica M8!

I felt my Leica M9 needed a wingman for the Leica wedding photography. By this I mean a fellow Leica M body to make use of my various Leica M mount lenses.

I looked at a the newest Leica M, the Leica “Typ 240” but they are too expensive for me and would depreciate faster than my car! I then toyed with the idea of a second Leica M9 body for Leica weddings but it seems a waste to have both cameras devaluing with age when I can only use one at a time. I then accidently stumbled across the older Leica M8 (released in 2006) on eBay when looking for used M9 bodies. I started my Leica M8 research and got more and more impressed with every article I read. To cut a long story short a purchase came soon after! A special thanks to Julie who sold me her beloved Leica camera via eBay.

..I never thought I would buy another crop sensor camera after going full frame with the Leica M9 and Nikon D800. The M9 is 18MP and the Nikon D800 is 36MP. The M8 has a 1.33x crop sensor and only 10.3 MP but I feel I can still get just as good results from it for my needs.

Here is a quick summary on why the Leica M8 excites me so much (in no order):

1) Maximum shutter speed 1/8000 (Same as D800. M9 is 1/4000)
2) Maximum flash sync speed – 1/250 (Fastest shutter speed at which I can use a strobe/ speedlight / studio light with the camera). A fast shutter can reduce the amount of ambient light hitting the sensor and is great for Leica strobist work on a bright day. (M9 is 1/180).
3) Kodak CCD sensor (The same filmic look as achieved from the Leica M9 CCD just smaller).
4) No infrared filter – This makes the Leica M8 fantastic for B&W photography. (For colour photography it is recommended that an IR UV filter is used to reduce green ghosting and colour cast). I shoot mostly black and white so this will be perfect for my taste. Some even call it the ‘original’ Leica Monochrome camera.
5) Crop sensor – Most people would see this as a negative however it means the M8 will use the sharpest centre part of my various lenses but more so it gives all my lenses a new lease of life. With a 1.33x crop applied to all my focal lengths it means my Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii would be equivalent to almost 50mm (35×1.33=46.55mm) and my Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 becomes a 66.5mm. This will give me more reach for my wedding photography from my existing lenses.
6) Price! I think the biggest plus is the price of a used Leica M8 camera body and the excellent value for money. Costing 3x less than a used Leica M9 it really is a steal. That is the same price as a used Canon 5D Mk II yet you are getting a Leica!

Any drawbacks of the Leica M8?

1) The coating is said to be not as good as the M9 (or M8.2).
2) The shutter is less refined and more noisy than the M9 (corrected in the Leica M8.2)
3) Minimum ISO is 160 rather than ISO 80 on the Leica M9. I find a low ISO useful to control light levels.

..I am sure there are more but those were the main ones that stood out to me and /or have already been covered above.

To celebrate my now two Leica M camera family I will setup a specific Leica wedding photography website to exhibit my Leica wedding photography work and to separate it from my current model photography that often dominates my pages.

Example Leica M8 photos coming soon!

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk – Leica Wedding Photography