Friday, June 25, 2010

One Wedding and a Leica, Part II

Last week, I attended the wedding reception of the wedding in the series below.   I brought along my M9 with the 35 Summilux to keep it as light as possible while allowing for some low light shoot.  This time I shot the whole series in RAW without parallel JPGs.  They were later converted to black & white to match the rest of the pictures.  

Having seen and processed the pictures, I'm very satisfied with what the M9 has enabled me to shoot.  Its compactness and superiority for low light scenes are miles ahead of DSLR.  Sure there are a few blurred shots, but they still look great! IMHO.  The mood, the faces, and their expressions are unlike any other pictures I'd made with other cameras.  Maybe this is another Leica magic?

There are two more friend's weddings (at least) this year, and I'm already planning to bring the M9 along again.  Enjoy the photos, I shall let my pictures do the talking.  


Memorable moments.

Guys gang after the reception.

Happiest mothers of the night!

My friend and his daughter having a good time.

And the happiest couple...


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putting "Magic" into Leica

The word "Leica" and "magic" are frequently used together in a sentence by many.  I don't know if there's a better word than magic to describe Leica images.  Over the years, I had not paid much attention to Leica images until recently.  There's something special about the way the lights are captured and rendered in those images.  The magic of Leica, I believe, lies largely in their very special lenses.  As special as their cameras may be (and they truly are), it's the lens that paints the images.  

As my interests in Leica grew, I started browsing the internet for more and more images taken with Leica cameras.  Many of them possess that dreamy and painterly look that is unique to Leica.  Later I discovered that there's one particular lens, the Noctilux, that is renowned for this special quality.

Many have written about the Noctilux, its history, quality, and the different versions over the years.  I'm not even going to try.  One version that I find most interesting is the last series of the f1.0, before Leica replaces it with the f0.95 version.  The optics isn't technically perfect since its root dates back quite a few decades.  But the refinement over the years have made this f1.0 a truly unique lens.  The bokeh of this lens is truly unique in a sense that it almost has a signature look to it.  At f1.0, it renders the bokeh with a swirly effect and the focus area remains on the soft side, much like older cinema lens would.  Stopping it down a few clicks, and it sharpens up while keeping a watery-smooth look in the bokeh.  This quality seems to be missing in the new and technically superb f0.95 version.  

Late in 2009, luck came my way when a used 6-bit coded Noctilux popped up in the local market.  I didn't even have the M9 when I decided to buy it.  The seller showed me a few shots he had taken with the lens, and I tested the focusing on his M6.  After some more inspection, we had a deal.  No matter what camera format you normally shoot, the Noctilux is a heavy lens.  By Leica standard, it's huge!  By DSLR standard, however, it is on the 'normal' side.  Focus throw, on the other hand, is quite long and it takes time getting used to unlike Leica's smaller "Lux" and "Cron" lenses.

I started shooting the Noctilux on Olympus EP-1 before my M9 arrived.  Even with Micro 4/3 format, I was already impressed by the images.  But not until I shot the Noctilux on the M9 that I truly appreciated its special quality.  For some, the Noctilux will remain an occasional lens.  For me, I don't really mind carrying  and shooting with it.  Most of the time, I shoot the Noctilux between f1.4 - 2.8 so that the images remain sharp with silky smooth bokeh.  I shoot at f1.0 only when it's very dark, or when the swirly bokeh is desired.  For me, the Noctilux will always be the definition of Leica magic.  There are other great Leica lenses, no doubt, but the Noctilux has its place secured in the history book.


This photo must have been shot at f2.0 or so, note three dimensionality and the creamy bokeh.  

One of my early shots with the M9, testing out the Noctilux.

One evening, we had to pick up our son from the boy scout camp at school.  This teacher in the photo also taught me years ago, so it was really special to see him working, still!

"Star Spotting" - This shot was made in near total darkness (later adjusted in Aperture). I came away impressed with the ability of the Noctilux.

A recent photo taken at a local concert, showcasing the warm glow of Leica lens.

Hope you enjoy the photos,


Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Gear, Part II: The Leica M9

Since I'd switched to digital several years ago, I've never been all that satisfied with the photos.  Sure I've taken some good pictures, but it was never the same somehow.  Dynamic range and tonality of digital files (at least from early 2000s) were not even close to film's.  In the last few years with full-frame sensors, they sure brought back some dimensionality to the pictures.  The cameras themselves also changed a lot.  ISO can now be freely adjusted from one shot to the next.  Colors are more camera dependent, rather than film dependent like before.  White balance is a whole new frontier in digital photography! Pro's DSLR are now capable of ultra fast autofocus, virtually lag-free shutter, and they now shoot HD videos.  I can't help but wonder what these cameras will do in a few years.  Wash your clothes, maybe?
Leica's first attempt with digital started with the M8 and later with M8.2 which were flawed in their own ways.  Despite those flaws, Leica engineers must have learned quickly and produced the M9 the way the M8 should have been.  

Moving from DSLR to a rangefinder was a big risk for me, but a calculated risk nonetheless.  Rangefinder cameras have their own attributes that differ somewhat from pro DLSR.  Attributes like manual focus only, no-mirror, basic center-weighted metering, and no full auto exposure can unacceptable to many photographers.  But for others, these attributes are attractive.  

With the Leica M9, I am more 'photo conscious' and I look for the opportunity to shoot more often.  When I carry the M9 along, I think mostly with the 35mm frame line in mind (my 'default' lens).  Other times, I react to the environment around me and the M9, despite being almost full manual, let me do that quite quickly.  It sure is very different to be shooting prime (MF) lens on a rangefinder than DSLR with autofocu zoom lens.   With a rangefinder, there's no viewfinder black-out (mirror interruption), less vibration (again, no mirror flipping up and down), fixed viewfinder with frame lines so I can see outside the frames, small foot print, manual focus works even in low light where AF fails, and the list goes on.

A lot of things have already been said (and written) about the M9 technicality.  I will not repeat especially when I'm not a tech expert.  What I can say and confirm, is that the M9, due to its smaller dimension, helps bring out the neutrality of your subjects more than professional DSLR.  Being smaller and lighter also means I carry my M9 around much more often than I do with my DSLR.  I  have three M lenses, the 24 Elmarit, 35 Summilux, and 50 Noctilux, and I use them all.  I cannot say the same with my old Nikkor AF-S 70-200 VR.

With the M9, I shoot exclusively in RAW (Compressed DNG).  This works exceptionally well with Aperture 3 and my iMac i7.  RAW format brings out the best of the M9 especially in dynamic range department.  Aperture, and I'm sure LightRoom, plays a big part of mimicking that film development experience, minus the chemicals and smell.  

A Leica M is truly a special equipment.  It certainly isn't for everybody.  Some may find its features as limitations.  Some may never get used to the manual focus.  Some may crave for ISO12500, HD video, and GPS navigation from their pro camera.  But if you love photography and want to get back to the basics, give a Leica M a try.  No matter it is film or digital.  

Now I understand full well what it means when someone once said, 'Shooting with the M9 is like taking a step back technically, psychologically, and financially. 

The photos below show just how practical the M9 can be.  Given practice, it can do action shots as well as portrait shots.  


Even when the 35mm Summilux isn't shot at maximum aperture,
there's still plenty of depth and sharpness.

Our recent trip to Hong Kong Disney, I shot this one to test the camera's metering and the lens bokeh.  Both performed very well.

This night shot on the Main Street is a straight output, no processing whatsoever!

A photo from a series of 3-4 shots.  Without any mirror interruption in the VF, I don't miss opportunity like this.

Buzz LightYear ride was a perfect challenge for the camera and myself alike.  Most autofocus systems would have failed in this situation.

A friend, also a Leica owner, and his lovely daughter.

Practice makes perfect.  Action shoot with the Noctilux.  

My daughter is now good friends with the M9.

With an optical finder and manual focus, low light shoot is not that difficult.

Have a good week,


Sunday, June 6, 2010

One Wedding and a Leica

Last month I received good news from a good friend that he would be getting married.  Over the years, many friends have tied the knots and I never thought (nor wanted) to seriously take any pictures of their weddings.  To me, suits and big DSLR just don't mix.  I'd rather enjoy the wedding and do away without the camera bulk.

This wedding, however, was a little different.  I have now been using my M9 for four months and I have more confident in shooting with it than ever.  Plus, the M9 is small enough to carry even while wearing a suit.  To make things more challenging, I decided to mount the 50mm f1 'Noctilux' to the wedding as its only lens.  To most DSLR user, the size  of the Noctilux is consider 'average' for SLR lens even though it weighs a tad more than average.  The challenge of the Noctilux, for me, isn't its weight or size.  It's the long focus throw that needs to be mastered to capture the images in right moments.

In the space of around three hours, I shot some 75 pictures of the wedding (as a guest, not a wedding photographer).  Later, I decided to process them into black & white to set a different tone from many 'traditional' colorful (Thai) wedding photos.  Surprisingly, there are  more than 20 pictures of the bride & groom, plus the friends, that I really like.  It reminded me of the time when I used to shoot black & white films, that there would be a good number of photos from every few roles of film shot.  After this shoot, I became fully convinced that there's life after DSLR!

A true test of the camera and lens set up.
It holds up shadow details real well given such challenging lighting.

This is one of my favorites.
The contrast and my friend's expression really made this photo special.  

True to its reputation, the Noctilux produces that swirly bokeh.
I'd like to call this photo "Smoky Dreams."

With a rangefinder, there's no mirror interruption like DSLR.  So the action can be viewed through the finder continuously.
If you're quick enough, it's not so hard to snap moments like these.

Have a good week,