Archive for Leica Camera AG

Thoughts On The Leica M (Typ-240) As A Multipurpose Tool

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 4, 2013 by johnbuckley100


Leica M, 50mm Noctilux, ND Filter

When the Leica M arrived at the beginning of March, we used it exclusively in its classic rangefinder mode, and immediately found it to be a step up from the Leica M9 we had used, and loved, since September 2009.  With 24 megapixels, not the M9’s 18, it had larger files to work with, and with a CMOS sensor, not the M9’s CCD, it had greater high ISO performance.  Almost immediately after posting some initial images, several commentators expressed confirmation of their worst fears about the color rendering of the new sensor, but we found those fears overblown, for two reasons.  First, because as the critique of some images, mistakenly posted by Leica as coming from the new M but actually from the M9, set off caterwauling from M9 aficionados, it was apparent that Leica loyalists were projecting their fears about color performance onto the images they saw.  Second, because in my own case, I like color-saturated images, and I knew that aspects of the color performance of an image such as the one above came from my having chosen to process the picture not simply in Lightroom, but also in various of the Nik Software products, such as Color Efex Pro, where I could choose a look to my preference.


Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

We quickly found that when used as a rangefinder, the focusing performance, speed, and reliability made the Leica M something of a dream come true.  Over the past five months there have, in fact, been some glitches in using it, and yes, it did get recalled to Germany, which door-to-door-to-door meant it was out of our hands for about a month, but all in this M seems closer in its steadfast reliability to our old Leica M film cameras than to the Italian-sportscar finickyness of the previous digital rangefinders, 2006’s M8 and 2009’s M9.  The rangefinder focusing mechanism itself seems to have achieved a degree of perfection, which is a big deal if you are relegated to using, by design, manual focus, not the comforts of modern autofocus that virtually every other camera system has made available for, oh, the past 20 years.


Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

From the start, we found the new M to be fast, and we loved having large files to play with.  As Thorsten Overgaard has pointed out, because of the size of the files, you need to ante up for the fastest SD cards, but given how inexpensive these now have become, it’s worth it.


Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

The brouhaha about color resolution which erupted on the Leica User Forum and around other online watering holes seemed to us fairly ridiculous, and we began to tune out of posts with 800 responses, mostly from people who had not actually used the exceptionally hard-to-find M.  We were extremely fortunate to have gotten our hands on one early, and immediately found that latitude for post-processing tweaks enable any user to get the look he or she wants.  You can dial color up or down; it’s up to the user.  One thing seemed clear from the outset, though: just as the Leica Monochrom files seemed flat when fresh from the camera, the significant latitude that camera and the new M allowed in post-proccessing was remarkable, and in part because of the dynamic range of the M, in part because of much better high ISO performance, in part because of the size of the files, images from the M can be transformed into pretty much whatever the user wants.  If you don’t like the look, blame the photographer, not the camera.


Leica M, 50mm Summilux

It was clear that the high ISO performance of the M enabled a photographer, for the first time, to go out at night with a digital Leica without fear of noise rendering images unusable.  This is a really big deal, and instantly rendered moot so much of the criticism, from within and outside of Leica circles, of Leica’s digital rangefinders.  People use Leica cameras for a number of reasons, but basically it comes down to these: First, amazing fast lenses.  Second, the simplicity — and purity — of a classic rangefinder system.  Third, the unobtrusiveness of the camera, which renders performance as great as, in many instances, the big DSLRs that “serious photographers” lug around, much to the delight of their chiropractors.  But the M8 and M9 were clearly substandard when it came to high ISO performance, and even with fast lenses, there were limitations in what one could do at night.  No more.  The M is a fully realized camera at night.


Leica M, 35mm Summilux FLE

We’ve had commentators question whether the photo above was an HDR image.  In fact, rather than having been taken on a tripod, it was shot at ISO 640, f/4, 1/45th of a second.  In other words, in the mode of a classic Leica M.  From the time we visualized the image, raised the camera to our eye, and took the picture was, oh, two seconds. This one was processed in LR5, and is quite true to the color and light available at that moment.


Leica M, 35mm Summilux FLE

The image above was sent from LR5 over to Nik Viveza only because it gave us a greater ability to dial down the brightness of some of the direct lighting that otherwise unbalanced the image.  So to us, if one of Leica’s goals with the M was to render it as capable at night as the M9 was during the day, our belief is mission accomplished.


Leica M, Vario-Elmar-R 80-200

But there was another reason we were excited about the M when it was announced last September, and it was the prospect of using it not as a rangefinder, but as a DSLR, both with an electronic viewfinder, and with an adaptor enabling us to use telephoto lenses, including those from Leica’s discontinued R system.  Pretty early on, months before getting an M, we acquired a fairly inexpensive R lens — the Vario-Elmar-R 80-200, f/4 zoom.  Using it out West recently, we have been delighted by the possibilities now open to us.  It is quite easy to simply put the EVF on, affix the adaptor and long lens, and use it as Canon and Nikon users have for years been able to use their DSLRs.  It’s a bit of a kluge, but the performance is, to our eye, pretty great.  We are no longer second-class photographic citizens when it comes to wildlife or landscape photography where a long lens is necessary.

Postcard Tetons

Leica M, Vario-Elmar-R 80-200

In part because Leica still — five months after the release of the M — has not made available such accessories as a hand grip (which would make handling long lenses more practical) and their own R-lens adaptor, we’ve not yet plunged into the world of telephotos longer than 200mm, but we could if we wished.  Which opens up possibilities that have not been open to us since we made the switch, more than a decade ago, from Nikons to Leicas.   We made that switch because we wanted a simple, pure system based on enhancing one’s skill, not the latest available technology.  We haven’t regretted the switch we made, but there have been moments when we’ve missed what a more flexible DSLR system provides.  Now, with the M, we have a multipurpose tool that gives us pretty much everything we’ve hoped for.


Leica M, Vario-Elmar-R 80-200

Now we too can flock to the riverside to capture that moose that previously we wouldn’t have had a prayer of getting, save for as a speck on a larger image that, yes, we could seriously crop, but in the process kind of lose the plot.

It has been been five months since we first picked up a Leica M (Typ-240). The camera has critics, but it has even more people anxiously awaiting that call from their dealer telling them one has arrived with their name on it.  As a longtime (11 years) Leica user, we can state that certain quibbles notwithstanding, the Leica M is the finest camera we’ve ever had the privilege of using.  It has fulfilled our fondest hopes.  It is a fully actualized, multidimensional and multipurpose tool.  It is a winner.

You can follow Tulip Frenzy on Twitter @johnbuckley100.  Follow here.

For observations on the Leica M after a single month go here.

Illuminating Leica’s Recent History: Interview With Andreas Kaufmann

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 13, 2011 by johnbuckley100

From an unusual source — Film and Digital Times, which calls itself The Journal of Art, Technique and Technology in Motion Picture Production Worldwide — comes an interview with Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, who since 2004 has been the principal owner of Leica Camera. The interview provides more information on Kaufmann and how he came to own Leica than has been available via any English-language article we’re aware of.  It is slightly maddening — questions Leicaphiles would love to ask don’t get asked, and the translation is a little stilted.  But still, for Leica enthusiasts — yeah, the gang at Tulip Frenzy actually stopped listening to the new Black Keys album long enough to read this — this stuff’s cool.  Download the pdf and scroll to page 34.  Or enjoy this summary:

Kaufmann comes from a wealthy Austrian family in the wood products business.  After graduating from the University of Stuttgart, and forbidden from joining the family business (we don’t get told why) he spent 15 years (1983-1998) as a private school history teacher.  In the early 2000s, he and his brothers became what in the US we would call private equity investors. Through other investments in Wetzlar, Kaufmann ended up investing in Leica in 2004, buying 27% of the equity, with a view to learning the business and assessing its prospects before making a decision on his next move.  Only, just at that moment, the company went into its existential crisis.  (We remember it well: three CEOs in rapid succession, tremendous confusion about the company’s strategy, hints of a digital future, but it all rather opaque to us outsiders who were hanging on every word about the company’s fate.) He basically either could have let his investment be lost, or he could double down and buy the whole thing, which he did, to the consternation of his brothers.  It was Kaufmann who cut the emotional cord Leica had to film and forced the wholesale embrace of digital technologies.  The M8 was released in 2006 (clearly in progress when Kaufmann made his investment, but his money helped bring it to market.)  Three years later came the M9.  Two years ago saw the release of the S2.  Last year, Leica had a profit (EBITDA) of 42 million Euros on sales of approximately 250 million Euros — tiny by Nikanon standards, but a truly impressive achievement given how close to the brink Leica came just eight years ago.

Today, there’s a waiting list of a year to buy a Leica M-mount lens.  No dealer can keep an M9 in stock.  Even at $22,000 for the body alone, there’s a waiting list for Leica S2s.  And the reason Andreas Kaufmann is featured in Film and Digital Times?  Because Leica has released a full set of lenses for motion picture cameras.  Thank you, Dr. K.

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