Archive for Leica Noctilux

Street Photography And The Teton County Fair II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 26, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Day two Teton Fair 10 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm Noctilux

Did we mention there was a rodeo?  So of course there were rodeo princesses.

Day two Teton Fair 9 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm Noctilux

And did we mention there was pig wrestling? Who even knew such an event existed?

Day two Teton Fair 1 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

But on a beautiful evening in the Tetons, the Teton County Fair rolled along for a second day, and provided more opportunities for wandering with a camera.

Day two Teton Fair 2 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Every once in a while you would find someone surprised to be photographed.

Teton Fair 3 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

But for as many people as there were surprised, there were others whom, one suspects, enjoyed being part of the drama.

Day two Teton Fair 7 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm Noctilux

Day two Teton Fair 4 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm Noctilux

It was a pretty great party.

Day two Teton Fair 6 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 50mm Noctilux

And as evening fell, the lighted byways of the fair made it seem as if the party would go late into the night.

Day two Teton Fair 8 (1 of 1)

Leica M, 35mm Summilux FLE

Reviving The Bishop’s Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 11, 2013 by johnbuckley100

BishopJuly13

Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux.

We read in the morning’s paper that the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral apparently received a second insult, from which it is recovering.  It’s not enough that a rare earthquake, which two summers ago did so much damage to D.C. that the Washington Monument is today shrouded in what looks like a modernist condom — a spectacularly designed modernist condom, to be sure — but that earthquake also toppled spires on the National Cathedral, which led to unsightly cranes and scaffolding.  As it turns out, however, one of those cranes fell and damaged Washington’s essential urban garden, an area of respite from the busy city, a peaceful and beautiful space.

We take notice of this because we have made The Bishop’s Garden an area of photographic study, and intend on continuing to do so in the months ahead.  If you are interested in how beautiful a space it is, click the previous link, or stay tuned.  In any event, we are relieved to know it is on the mend.

The Power of Black And White Portraiture

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 5, 2012 by johnbuckley100

The Leica Monochrom, and our attendant focus on the power of black and white photography, raises the issue of why the absence of color renders images of people in a more arresting manner.

 

Leica Monochrom, Leica Noctilux f/0.95, 3x ND Filter

No doubt there is a literature on the topic, but our initial belief is that just as selective focus isolates the person or people who are the photograph’s subject, there is something about the desaturation of color that renders the image out of the context of (contemporary) time.

 

Leica Monochrom, Leica Noctilux f/0.95, 3x ND filter

And sometimes the combination of isolation and timelessness, even on a shot that you don’t quite get, reveals the power of photography in a way that’s compelling.

 

Leica Monochrom, Leica Noctilux f/0.95, 3x ND filter

Reflections On A Month With The Leica Monochrom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 27, 2012 by johnbuckley100

All photos Leica Monochrom and Noctilux f/0.95, except where noted.  Click on photos for a clearer view.

It is, of course, some kind of post-modern irony that with the release of Leica’s digital M Monochrom, which offers stunningly powerful technology yet takes only black and white photos, we rediscovered the timelessness of monochrome photography.  Yes, there are aficionados who never stopped taking pictures with silver halide film, and yes, since the earliest days of digital, there have been straightforward software solutions enabling color images to be transformed, as it turns out, back to the black and white images that are first captured by the camera’s sensor.  But as we have used it over the past 30 days, Leica’s Monochrom, which captures data as black and white and then, in a somewhat revolutionary move, stops there, not subjecting the image to a color filter, has been for us a revelation.

Photographers who embrace Leica cameras and lenses, particularly in the digital age when Canon and Nikon offer high-end devices with a plethora of options for the operator to consider, tend to favor fairly radical simplification.  After all, to use an M, even a digital M, means turning one’s back on things like spot metering and automatic focus — things most modern photographers take so for granted, they can’t imagine what kind of retrograde personality would do without them.  And yet here is Leica removing the option even to capture an image in color.  But as we have learned over the past month, there are many benefits to this approach.  To begin with, the image below was taken well after sunset, at ISO 5000 — a setting commonplace for use by DSLR photographers, but not by rangefinder photographers who use Leica’s legendary lenses.

Leica Monochrom, 35mm Summilux FLE, f/8, 1/500th.

Over a decade of shooting with Leica rangefinders — first film, and later the digital M8 and M9 — many of the essential elements of photography we learned as a kid came back to us.  However, it must be said that with our M7, we shot black and white film sparingly, and with the M8 and M9, seldom converted digital images to black and white, because we so loved the highly saturated color that we saw in Fuji Velvia transparencies or what showed up in Lightroom.  Being forced to think in black and white, viewing things in luminance, not chroma, has been an adjustment, a revelation, and a delight.  Did we need to use a monochrome-only camera to achieve this?  No, of course not.  But the binary system has forced us to take our Monochrom into situations we previously would have “seen” in color and forced us to see them anew — and in more classical terms.

Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summilux FLE

The grip of color is too powerful to give up, and even after we had our Monochrom for a week or so, when the opportunity presented itself, on a beautiful sunny day, to wander around the city taking pictures, of course we took our M9 — it was a cloudless day, the sky was blue, and we realized that we think of black and white more for when the light is dimmer, the sky is grayer.  (When we think of the thousands of black and white pictures taken by our favorite photographers, they always seem to have been taken on days with imperfect light — imperfect for a color photographer who needs bright light to get the saturated colors he loves.)  The warning that blown highlights with the Monochrom cannot be recovered, because nothing is hiding in one of the color channels, hasn’t really affected us so far — and blown highlights, in which the sky shows up as white, looks pretty much the way they always have in black and white photography.  But even now, we find ourself giving into our instinct, when wandering out into the street on a bright and sunny day, to leave the Monochrom behind and shoot in color.  After all, one can always convert to black and white in post-processing, right?

The possibilities inherent in the Monochrom and its sensor, in softer light, has consistently blown our mind.  Consistently, we’ve gone out to take pictures and been transported into a prior time — not just the black and white film-wielding days of our youth, but something that we are not too self-conscious to say reminds us of some prior age of classic photography.

A picture we might well have previously taken with our M9 has emerged from the Monochrom looking, well, different.  Maybe everything we’ve learned over the past decade is paying off; it obviously can’t just be the equipment.  After all, cameras are just a tool, right? But we can’t help but think that the Monochrom is a special tool — a deliberately limiting mechanism that paradoxically opens up new horizons along classical lines.  When William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and others shook the art world by its lapels and demanded that color photography be taken seriously, something important happened.  But this back-to-the-future approach of using cutting edge technology to render something timeless is strangely liberating.  Skeptics will say, Yeah, there’s nothing here that couldn’t be captured by an M9, or any other camera, and be coaxed out through software.  And our reply is, Yes, but we never would have explored those possibilities before the Monochrom.  If the best camera is the one you have with you, as the saying goes, the corollary is that the best way of seeing may be the one that reflects the tool you have to use.

Yes, of an evening, we would have wandered Northwest Washington D.C.’s gardens and urban oases with our M9, and come back with some lovely images, because how could you not, given the gorgeous material?  Yet we doubt we would have thought of what magic could occur, after sunset, when the light was “bad.”  The range of the camera is extraordinary — and we have barely scratched the surface of what it can do.  We’ve barely used it at high ISOs, we haven’t deliberately taken it into impossibly dark situations, we’ve shot most of the images we’ve taken with it at ISO 640 or below.  And yet we find ourselves gravitating to an approach that is at odds with the capabilities most celebrated, and used this simplifying camera in a simplified form: low ISO, but mostly shot with fast glass wide open.

Not just because it takes color images, we view our M9 as our main camera, and the Monochrom as a specialty tool.  But just as all photographers, learning and trying to improve their craft, seek to find an identity that is their own — a style that has some consistency, and isn’t simply a grab bag of opportunistic snapshots — we are fully willing to accept a split personality.  The Monochrom will operate in one universe, the M9, or someday, the M, in another.  We sit here, having had the Monochrom for just a month, marveling at the worlds it has opened up.

Keeping The Olivia Tremor Control On Their Journey

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 31, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Wait, don’t turn off the road… Leica M8, Noctilux f/1 (the last batch).

One Year With The Leica Noctilux 0.95

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 21, 2011 by johnbuckley100

For many people, taking photographs with a Leica M camera has always meant low-light photography, being able to take advantage of Leica’s superb fast Summilux and Summicron lenses to photograph indoors or at dusk without having to use a flash.  But there is one lens above all that Leica photographers, for the most part, love and admire, and it’s the 50mm Noctilux, which with its large aperture of f/1, was legendary for its gorgeous bokeh (selective focus, with the out-of-focus area pleasingly blurred.)  I say it was admired for the most part, because there were a few downsides to the f/1 Noctilux, namely that it was a one-aperture camera (it was sort of average, compared to the 50mm Summilux, when stopped down to a smaller aperture), and very difficult to focus, especially in the low-light settings in which its performance was optimal.  Hence its reputation as a “soft” lens — not only did it have a wonderfully creamy bokeh, but it was often difficult to get the damn thing to focus, so many images with the classic Nocti look were… out of focus.  I should know; for several years I had one, and never could quite get the hang of using it effectively.  So one day I traded it as part of a complex deal to acquire the 21mm Summilux.

But then at Photokina 2008, Leica came out with a new and improved Noctilux, moving it a notch faster (f/0.95), but with the advantage of also rendering it both easier to focus and with dramatically higher performance stopped down.  (At f/8, it is difficult to differentiate it from either of the less expensive Summicron or Summilux Leica 50mm lenses.)  Yes, it is pretty ridiculously expensive.  But one year ago, I basically traded in every lens I could not bear to part with in order to procure one, and in the year that has just ended, I have grown to believe that the f/0.95 Noctilux is the apogee of photographic glass, the ideal lens.  I have grown to believe that it is, in fact, worth taking out a second mortgage to procure.

The first thing one does when putting a new Nocti on a Leica M9 is to go play, to rediscover the joy of photography.

The ability to choose just that area of an image you want in focus, while knowing that the out-of-focus area will prove to be far more interesting, liberates one to invert his normal priorities.

The lens is also so fast that sometimes, when shooting a particular image, a near miracle occurs.  Yes, the beauty of rangefinder photography is the ability to keep one’s eye on what is moving into the image, but with the Noctilux, the sense of kismet is profound.  In the picture below, I would have been happy just to capture the flower.  But something else happened.

As the autumn progressed, I grew to love how carrying the Nocti on my M9 enabled me to slow down the world and see things differently.

Walking around my neighborhood offered new possibilities, new ways to look at things I might otherwise take for granted.

It wasn’t enough to see a pumpkin patch, now I had to play with the possibilities.

But it became very clear quickly that, with the ability to focus faster and more precisely than with the previous Nocti, this truly could be, if not a reportage lens, at least one not to be afraid to take into fluid situations.

And something new began to be clear.  Yes, I still enjoyed taking the lens into boring places like malls just to see what the possibilities were.

But as the first photo in this post — showing girls in my neighborhood at an evening Christmas event — makes clear, the Noctilux really is for taking pictures not of inanimate objects, which look cool blurred, but people, who deserve to have their portraits stand out from the background.

It is a wonderful lens for capturing children in all their delightful mischief.

While it might not be perfect for street photography — it is big, and somewhat unwieldy, and while it focuses faster and more assuredly than its predecessor, it still needs some skill in capturing someone moving — it could absolutely shine in an event photographer’s kit.

With the old Nocti, I never would have thought to bring it to a rodeo. With the new Noctilux, I wanted to go to the rodeo just to see what the lens could do.

It draws light like no other lens I have ever seen, and can capture the essence of its subject — separate and apart from her surroundings — in a way that, to me, is almost breathtaking.

There is no other camera and lens combination [insert edit: that I am aware of] that could have captured the following image (well, other than a Nocti with any other Leica M camera built since the Second World War).

I used to laugh (sort of) when hearing the Charlton Heston line about his pistol invoked, that someone would have to pry it out of his cold, dead hand.  After a year of working with a Leica Noctilux, however, I know just what he meant.

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