One Camera, One Lens – The Evolution

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Canon 5D and 24-105L

Around three years ago I lugged with me the following whenever I went on a day trip or vacation with the family:

– Canon 5D Mk2
– Canon 24-105L
– Zeiss 35mm
– Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 21mm
– Canon 430EX
– Filters
– Ipad

I had on hand – other than for wildlife photography – a lens for most occasions: landscape, portrait (the 24-105 was pretty good for this), walk around, architectural. All were catered for with some of the best glass that money can buy along with a fantastic body incorporating the a full frame sensor in the shape of the 5D Mk2.

What was not to like? Well, as I have mentioned in previous a blog, the biggest downside was the weight and bulk.

We would regularly take two trips to Canada and the States each year and from where we live this would invariably involve two or three flights. This big bag of camera gear had to be lugged on and off various aircraft with three tired children to manage and cajole with their assorted paraphernalia.

And then it got to the point where I didn’t want to carry this bag with me at all and so the decision was made was to downsize but get the best “small” camera I could that would rival the 5D’s full frame sensor and the quality of the Zeiss optics.

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The M9 followed the 5D Mk2

The way to go? Leica (of course!). So I assembled a system around the Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summarit and 24mm Elmar. This little lot in small Billingham bag came to around half of the weight of the Canon/Zeiss kit in a much smaller bag. Oh and probably cost around twice as much! initial review of this camera is here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-as

I used the M9 for around 6 months. From an image quality perspective I will still say that in the right conditions it gave me the best “look” I have ever had from my photographs. Sharpness, contrast and colour were all superb. The Leica glass really lived up to it’s legendary reputation.

The M9 with it’s quirks – average sensor, poor screen, poor high ISO to name a few – was fun to use and really reconnected me with photography. It slowed me down and made me think a little more about shots.

But then the frustrations started. Whilst the size of the camera and the associated lenses meant I could take it anywhere I realised that I was missing more shots than I was getting. As I said above the majority of my photography takes place whilst vacationing with the family. It is one thing taking your time for a landscape shot but quite another taking pictures of the children playing, running or even moving.

Also, If the light wasn’t right getting focus was a pain using the rangefinder.

Also, when changing lenses the M9 seemed to attract more dust and dirt on the sensor than any other camera I had owned (it doesn’t have any form of dust reduction system) and post processing to remove the spots and splotches was becoming a chore.

So, despite the superb image quality and lightweight yet another system’s flaws start to outweigh the benefits……

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Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Lens

And so the M9 went and the 5D Mk3 was ushered in with history quickly repeating itself over size and weight. Eventually it was replaced by the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55 lens a review of which can be read here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-eY

The system fit the bill in terms of size and weight and now, owning one camera with one lens (albeit a zoom lens which offers a degree of flexibility) I am liberated.

Everything is simplified. No longer is there a requirement to consider which lens for which shot. With the Fuji 18-55 ( 27-82mm 35mm equivalent) lens, I have found is good enough for 99% of the situations I find myself in and the images I want to capture. From landscapes to portraits to cityscapes I have never felt short changed.

Admittedly it is not appropriate for sports or wildlife but for most other situations it is fantastic.

No more worry about dust or dirt on the sensor. Not happy with the field of view? Be more creative and find an interesting new one.

The other issue I had with all the lenses I used to own is that I was always looking for the next one to buy. One that could fit into a small segment of photography be it macro, portrait, wildlife, super wide angle etc. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a very expensive condition that always makes you feel as though you need that next fix, err lens.

Now I am happy with the one lens – if it doesn’t do exactly what I want I consider a way round it. I have enjoyed photography more than ever and for me, the sheer enjoy,eat of capturing an image you are later proud of, is what it is all about.

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Worldscape Photography

I thought it was worth pointing you in the direction of a sister blog to this one: worldscapephotography.wordpress.com

The site features a number of photographs taken on my travels over the years from Scotland to France to North America.

A number of the images featured on the Blog were taken with the cameras I have reviewed here.

It would be great if you could take a trip there and let me know what you think.

Thanks!!

Leica X1 vs Fuji X100 – The Imaging Wars

There has been a huge amount of talk about the Fuji X100 on the internet and a quick search on Google throws up dozens and dozens of reviews. Unsurprisingly, the X100’s closest competitor the Leica X1, is often used as a direct comparator.

The basic question I wanted to ask about these two cameras is purely in terms of image quality which captures the best image. From what I have seen so far the Fuji beats, no thrashes, the X1 in everything from styling to build to features. But as with the 5D and M9 comparison is the X100 a super computer with a decent lens compared to the X1’s Leica lens and simple approach.

I have both of these cameras here at home. I need to chose between them. One has to be sold. In an ideal world I would keep both. But I don’t live in an ideal world.

So my review will focus totally on the quality of the image from the two cameras. Tons of web space has been devoted to the specifications of each and they can be distilled down to:

Fuji X100 – tons of features with a questionable user interface

Leica X1 – simple feature set with straightforward user interface

So over the next few days I will be taking as many images as I can with the two cameras to see which one I will go for.

I will even conduct some blind tests – similar to Steve Huff on his site – to see whether you can tell the difference between the two cameras.

To whet your appetites here is a selection of a daft photographs. I won’t say which is which just the aperture and shutter speed each was taken at. Do you know which is the X100 and which is the X1? These images, as a taster, are jpegs and are at the camera’s standard settings. I have made no other adjustments. I was merely interested at this stage what a a standard image straight out of the camera would look like.

1. f2.8 1/40 

2. f 2.8 1/30

3. f4 1/40

4. f4 1/40

Which do you prefer?

Leica M9 Review – The Conclusion

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

Before I got the Leica I had a one question that I was hoping the M9 would be able to answer: was it possible to get a camera system that was portable, flexible and would provide the kind of image quality that I had enjoyed with the Canon 5D and Zeiss combination?

The bottom line is that, with the M9, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has it’s flaws and in terms of flexibility and features it cannot match up to most point and shoot cameras never mind high-end DSLR’s. But also by giving you less it gives so much more.

More than any camera since I owned an M6 many years ago, the M9 has reconnected me with photography again. It makes you stop and think about framing, composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field. Yes with any camera you have to think about these things but with the M9 it is no point and shoot. Something that a lot of DSLR’s seemed to have turned into with their different modes and automatic settings. I often see lot’s of people wandering around with an expensive Nikons or Canons weighed around their necks and wonder if they have ever been out of auto mode before and really used their camera properly.

The M9 has also made me stop examining the LCD so much and reviewing what I have just taken. I now get the shot and invariably move on looking for the next thing to photograph. All the things I used to do before cameras turned into computers. The simplicity of it all is empowering.

Simple to use freeing you to take photographs

Don’t get me wrong in the right situations the 5D has it’s place. It’s low light capabilities are superb for example and you can capture truly stunning images especially with the Zeiss Lenses. If you shoot a lot in low, low light and live view or video is your thing then the M9 is clearly not for you.

But I think that the 5D as with most modern DSLR’s make the process of taking photographs just that: a process. As I have said before it is highly sophisticated computer that is easy to get lost in when taking photographs. There are so many variables that it is easy to get confused with which is the right one for you and the image you want to create.

On the other hand I pick up the M9 switch it on, check the battery and away I go.I don’t have to wade through page after page of settings to ensure that I haven’t left it on a setting I didn’t want to. There are no custom functions to review which always left me confused.

To me the M9 hands back the photographic control back to the photographer and produces images of stunning detail, colour and balance.

As I stated previously I usually do most of my photography when I travel which is invariably with the wife and three children. Lugging the 5D around was becoming a burden to the point where I contemplated on many occasions not actually taking the 5D it and the assorted lenses away with me.

Now I have a 2 lens system (M9 with 35mm Summarit and 50mm Summicron) that fits very easily into a small Domke F-803 bag. There is so much room left over that that I can also get my X1 or X100 in there plus chargers, cards cables AND my iPad and it is all still significantly smaller and lighter than the Billingham filled with Canon gear.
I know that I am not compromising in quality and whilst the Zeiss lenses are hard to beat I just love the way the Leica lenses render an image with such depth and colour.

 

 

A Picture Taken Recently when at Windermere

A screenshot from my Mac showing 100% of part of the Windermere photograph – click for full size

I have read about a lot of people moving from Nikon and Canon DSLR’s to the M9 and at first thought that they must be deranged. Deranged or not I can happily say that I am joining them in that journey and loving every minute of it.

Leica M9 Review – Sample Images

Here are a few photographs taken with the M9 and Summarit 35mm 2.5. I had only had it for a week or two and not used it extensively outdoors because of the bad weather. This was the first sunny day that I was able to get outside and start shooting.

I love the balance of this image and those Leica colours

The M9 captures colours so well that I have not had to do any post processing to get what I want

The M9 captures the detail in the trees incredibly well

There is an arty feel to this image that I don’t think I could capture with my 5D

One last one. Again colour, sharpness and detail are all there

Okay not the greatest gallery in the world but for some of the first images taken with the M9 I was pretty satisfied with the results. Would the quality of these images convince me that the M9 would fulfil my requirements in a flexible compact camera system?

Full and final part of the review to follow…….

Leica M9 Review – First Impressions and Musings

Okay this thing of beauty has been unboxed and now sits in my hands ready for shooting. Well almost but not quite. First things first – the battery needs a good charge.

Okay, battery charged and rewind. After removing the bottom plate and inserting battery and memory card it is now time for lift off. And to switch the thing on.

The very first impression then? It was actually, is the M9 on? Testing, testing….. one two three….There were no whirrs of machinery, flashing of lights or other indications that it was powered up.

I have to admit that the first 5 minutes with the camera were frustrating to say the least. You see I rarely read manuals.  Most of the electronic equipment I have ever played with has been reasonably intuitive to muddle through and have fun discovering the various elements of operation. Reading the instruction manual is always a last resort to discover access to some hidden menu.

Not so this camera. What confused me is that there are two menus. One under “Menu” (obviously) and one under “Set” (not so obviously). It took me a while and then even then it wasn’t that clear in the manual about how to set compression etc. Maybe I was having an off day……

Up until the M9 acquisition I had a pretty impressive set up: a Canon 5DMkII and a handful of Zeiss glass – 21mm 2.8, 35mm 2.0 and 50mm 1.4. It is hard not to love the image quality, sharpness and colour rendition of the Canon and Zeiss combination. I will be honest and say that it was a set up that I could have continued with for years without feeling I was being short changed in any way.

Most of the performance was thanks to the amazing Zeiss lenses and the world class images they help produce with the aid of the 5D’s full frame sensor.

The main issue I had with it was that it was all so damn heavy and cumbersome to carry around in the Billingham bag I had for it all.

Side by side comparison of the 5D Mk2 and M9

Most of the photography that I love to do – landscape – is done whilst I am on vacation with my young family. I have, over the past five years, struggled to lug the 5D, tripod and lenses along with vacation luggage for a family of five across the “pond” to the USA where we spend most of our holiday time.

So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to downsize.  After researching for a few months I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t want to compromise on the quality I was getting from my current set up the Leica M9 would be the best and most flexible way to go. Coincidently it would be the most expensive way go too. Doesn’t that always seem to be the way?

Back to back it is easy to see just how much more bulk there is in the 5D and Zeiss lens

On paper the Leica is comprehensively trounced by the Canon. More mega pixels, bigger LCD, higher resolution LCD, more FPS, more flexibility, better low light capability, live view, cheaper.…………the list goes on.

But after a while using the Leica you came to appreciate it’s simplicity and realise that actually some of the pro’s of the Canon can start to be slowly pulled apart:

More Megapixels? Well surely the 18 of the Leica are enough? There is a school of thought that says 6 is enough. There are also apparently imaging issues with the way light hit’s the sensor above 18MP –  a coincidence?

Bigger LCD? 2.5” seems enough for me. Better than I had on my M6.

Higher resolution LCD? At first glance the LCD on the M9 is appalling. Then in use you realise that it is good enough. In any case shouldn’t you be just getting on with the job of taking pictures and not constantly referring back to the LCD? Also I have found with high resolution LCD’s they can lull you into a false sense of security. They can make an image look too good. I have downloaded images confident in the fact that they were perfectly in focus only to find that although they looked like they were reality was something totally different.

More FPS? I don’t shoot sports or anything particularly fast moving.

More flexibility? Yes. But only if you want to start digging through menus or setting up custom profiles (none of which I can remember once set). I want to take pictures not play with a computer with a lens strapped to the front.

Live view? Only really useful if you have the time to fiddle with it and a tripod. I have a tripod but time is precious. I have also found that the stability of holding the camera to your eye far exceeds that of live view performance unless, as stated previously, you are using a tripod.

Cheaper? Err. Yes, the 5D is cheaper.

The Leica 35mm Summarit 2.5 and Zeiss 35mm 2.0 – good things come in small packages

Another lens size comparison this time without the Leica’s lens hood on

But when it all comes down to it the bottom line is could this camera achieve the brief that I had set it in that I wanted a light, unobtrusive camera that was easy to carry around with a couple of lenses and have a world class imaging?

If there were such thing as a M9 wish list I would put on it automatic sensor cleaning and some weather sealing. That’s it. Keep everything else simple. I wouldn’t want anything else that would detract from the straightforward userbility of the M9.

The short answer is a resounding yes but check out my next blog where I will go into some more detail on using the M9 and upload some images for you to check out and see what you think….

All images taken with the Fuji Finepix X100

Leica M9 Review – An Introduction

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

There have been many, many reviews written about this camera and a cursory search of the web will bring up dozens of opinions, photos and occasional criticism.

So here is another thrown into the mix. Following the recent trend for real world reviews I will not be delving deep into technical aspects, 100% crops, pixel peeping.

It will be a straightforward honest and practical review of the latest digital rangefinder from Leica.

The first thing that struck me about the Leica M9 was the packaging. You have to get through that before you can actually get your hands on the camera inside. It is beautifully manufactured and put together with each element of the contents under different layers that you slowly lift away until you reveal the box the camera body sits in.

There is a true pride of ownership in just this part of the process. A foregone conclusion you would think when spending nearly £5,000 on a camera body but I have purchased a few high value items over time from pens (Mont Blanc) to watches (Rolex and Omega) to hifi (Linn) and nothing is as well presented as a Leica product.

As an aside the Leica X1 is an even better experience in some ways with the outer box gently falling open to reveal a camera “cabinet” box in which the X1 and all the accessories sit.

Unless you have handled a camera from Leica’s M range, nothing prepares you for the sheer pleasure in touching and handling and M camera and the M9 is no disappointment. The feel, the weight, the solid metal body all go into making it a pleasurable experience simply to hold a camera such as this. It makes the 5D MkII I have feel like a toy in my hands by comparison.

The Rear of the Camera – obviously!!

It may seem like a sad state of affairs but the first time I took the camera out of the box and it’s plastic packing I just sat there staring at it in my hands as though I were cradling a new baby. I then gave myself a mental slap in the face. It is a camera. It takes pictures. Don’t be so ridiculous.

And then went back to caressing the metal and, like a new father, eyes welling up, imagining the possibilities, the days we would spend together watching my baby M9 grow into the camera I had always wanted….okay maybe I made that bit up but the camera is, honestly, a sight and tactile experience to behold.

Anyway, first things first is to charge the battery fully before use (Leica’s advice and good advice for any Lithium battery) and then wait patiently whilst it has a good charge and then it is on with the 50mm Summicron and away we go picture taking.

Simple uncluttered top

Over the next week or so I will be giving you my first impressions with this supposed king of picture takers in the 35mm category. There are a number of people trading in their DSLR’s and lenses for this camera. I have a 5D MkII with lenses from Canon and Zeiss. Will I feel then same? Time will tell.

Stay tuned.

PS All images of the Leica M9 taken with the Fuji X100.