Feb 072014
 

Leica M cameras are reknowned for their great full-frame performance coupled with the pure luxury feeling using precision tools for advanced manual photography. Prior to the new Sony Alpha A7/A7r the Leica M happened to be the smallest full-frame system camera in the market. Featuring comparatively small sized manual lenses does indeed make a luxury package Leica kit possible that fits into a medium size bag, but small does not necessarily mean compact.

There is one lens however, that can make this dream come true – a vintage collapsible Leica (or rather Leitz) lens that still is readily available on the secondary market. It can can be found for as little as 100-300 $/€ depending on the condition it is in. Very often you can still find almost mint copies that have not been used for ages.

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The Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm (officially it says f = 5cm on the lens but I will refer to it as the more commonly used 50mm) has quite a simple mechanical and optical design, but one that changed the face of 35mm photography when it was introduced in 1930 (screw mount version). Some years earlier its predecessor had already proven outstanding results on the first ever 35mm fixed lens camera (the famous Ur-Leica or Leica I as it was called later). When this non-removable lens was made available for an interchangeable Leica lens system, 35mm photography as we know it today was born. This makes this a very special lens indeed. And it can still be very special in our times – used wisely on a digital Leica M.

Lupico_130514__DSF2291-6-6

All you need is a comparatively cheap adapter that turns the screw mount into an M-mount and you are ready to go. I use a Pixco M39 adapter (you can find more about that accessory here). From 1954 on this lens was also produced with an M mount (which eliminates the need for an adapter).

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Disclaimer/warning: Be careful when you put the adapted lens on your prestine Leica M camera. Leica themselves state, the collapsible lens design is incompatible with the current camera models and I have heard some people complain they did damage to their equipment using the Elmar. I did not encounter any problems myself – but I will not take responsibility for any damages. You will have to try adapting this lens to your equipment at your own risk. If you want to make sure there will be no problems with the camera in question, only mount the lens when it is fully extended (i.e. not in its collapsed state). Once mounted there should be enough room for the lens to extend within the camera body – but again, all of this is at your own risk. For my part, I did not have any problems with the adapter used, but of course there may be camera/lens/adapter combinations that do not work as flawlessly. So be careful if you want to try this with your very own digital M. 

Having tried this myself, I can say that in my view the Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm works well with any Leica M camera ever made including the digital Leica M9, Leica M9P, Leica ME, Leica M Typ 240. The results are quite outstanding, especially considering the age, the simple lens setup and of course the incredibly compact size when collapsed. I got my copy via eBay, it was made in the 1940`s and is in a very nice condition.

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It is not the fastest of all standard lenses (only f3.5) but you get a whole lot of a lens apart from that. The Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm is quite sharp,  colours are awesome and there is practically no distortion or colour fringing worth mentioning either. The bokeh is quite nice too. Handling is fine by my standards. A small focus knob can easily be turned to enable precise focussing. Best of all, with this lens there is no finder blockage. The only caveats: the aperture is set on a ring on the inside of the front of the lens. This is quite awkward but you can get used to it. Using the new M you will have to rely on the rangefinder. The lens does not allow for live view focussing. Shooting in bright light without a sunshade can cause a little lack of contrast (as can be seen in one of the examples below). But this can easily be compensated for (and if you prefer black and white this is quite negligable).

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This lens is so tiny, there is no need to pick up your other compact camera any more. With the lens attached and collapsed, you can easily slip your Leica M in your coat pocket. Why not try one? This combination is almost as compact as my Fujifilm X-E1 with the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens mounted but with the added benefit of full-frame. You can`t do that with a Sony full-frame either…not yet anyway 🙂 .

Need some examples? Here are some basic raw shots (no photo editing tools applied except for conversion from dng to jpg) with the M 240 and the Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm. You can find some more pics shot (not by me) with this lens over at pixel-peeper. Just follow this link.

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Nov 262013
 

The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH just happens to be my favorite wide-angle lens. Actually, this is probably the best wide lens I have ever used.

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IMHO nothing can compare to what can be achieved using this lens on a digital Leica. I had loads of fun putting the little gem to use with my Leica M9 and Leica M Typ 240. The results were nothing short of spectacular. 

I was pretty happy when I heard Sony was introducing a full-frame mirrorless ILC (camera with interchangeable lenses) which would let me mount my Leica M lenses using commonly available adapters. But would the results be adequate? Previous tests with the Sony NEX 7 did not work out the way most people thought, so there was always room for doubt. Using ultra-wideangle lenses might prove a problem – or maybe not.

 

Image: Sony Corp.

Image: Sony Corp. / Sony A7R with Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8

 

Some early adopters and professional reviewers have already had the chance to try the new Sony Alpha A7 and Sony Alpha A7R and have posted first look (p)reviews. Some have been full of praise, especially in combination with the new Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 prime lens (as depicted above). Others have more than hinted there might be color shift and other complications using legacy lenses.

I was hoping I would be able to keep on using my Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH with the new Sony, so I had to give this combination a go myself. My local dealer finally gave me a call saying he had the new Sony body in shop and I was able to take a look at the offer. Unfortunately there was little time and I was only able to take a few quick snaps. Only JPG using Auto ISO and standard camera settings straight out of the box. Nothing professional, i.e. only some basic shots without interest in art or composition 🙂 .
I actually chose a quite demanding city setting simply to push the new Sony with the UWA Leica lens to its limits. I used f5.6, aperture priority, Auto ISO and OOC JPG straight out of the camera. No compensation for shadows and no post processing applied (except for change in file size and e.g. blanking out faces for use of the images in this blog). But see for yourself.

 

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These first snaps may not be a professional test under ideal conditions and the results may be somewhat limited. I simply did not have enough time for anything more. And I guess the resulting pictures (with bad light, out of box camera settings and not using RAW format) are quite o.K. – sort of…

I do not see myself as a pixel peeper. But these quick snaps with the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH on the Sony Alpha A7 did not really get me overly excited. I had high hopes for this lens combo. Some minor color shift, vignetting and distortion at the edges may be manageable in post processing. But do I really want to go to all the trouble? Do I want to spend hours manipulating files in Photoshop or Lightroom? Not really.

There may be cause for hope. The Sony Alpha A7R with its offset microlens design might be able to handle Leica UWA lenses better than the Sony Alpha A7. But that remains to be seen. Due to the higher pixel count (36mp compared to 24mp) the results might be even more disillusioning. Native lenses for the new Sony Alpha full-frame  system will probably be the best bet. But there are only few to choose from right now. The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and the Sony 28-70 kit zoom are available right from the start but no UWA will be available for some time to come. The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH I was hoping to use with a Novoflex adapter does not seem to be an ideal stand-by player. I will probably wait on the sideline until there are more lenses to choose from.

The camera itself was a pleasure to handle. Just as pleasing as the Sony RX1 which I used quite extensively in the past few months. But I am just not quite willing to sell off any other camera in favor of this machine. The Sony sure is a great piece of equipment. But the glass is what really makes a system stand out and there simply is not enough to choose from right now. Adapting Sony A-lenses may be good for photographers with existing Sony equipment but adapting legacy lenses may prove to be more restricting – not only considering the lack of Auto Focus. I did not like the focus peeking on the Sony Alpha A7 too much. I just could not see it well enough (at least not with standard settings using red highlighting color). Split screen focussing or rangefinder focussing in general seems a lot easier to handle.

Nonetheless this full-frame camera offering is quite outstanding and will probably frighten the competition to death. In time no doubt this will develop into a killer system. Some more full-frame lenses is all it will take to push me over.

Sep 252013
 
Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

The new Leica C (Typ 112) was unveiled a short time ago. It will be available in October and be priced around € 600,-. It might well be a sufficiently nice compact camera, but since I cannot see much of a difference to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1, I do not feel a great urge to go into any detail about this Leica offspring. If I decide to do a full review at all, I will write about the Panasonic later. I always prefer the original.

By the way – the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 can be had for around € 450,-. Of course there are differences (e.g. Leica adding a free Lightroom license) – but all in all this Leica compact does not thrill me much. IMO this is another Leica product that simply does not quite hit the mark. But there may be enough amateur photographers that are willing to pay the premium and simply love that shiny red Leica logo. Leica is a luxury brand after all and of course it is quite legit to try and scoop up some of the dough folks wish to depart with.

So the Leica C is not the real Leica “Mini M” I was anticipating but IMHO rather what I feared “…might turn out to be just another point and shoot Panasonic clone.” You can read my wish list for a new Leica “Mini M” here. So it did not turn out to be the camera some Leica fans (myself included) hoped for. Neither did the Leica X Vario (Typ 107) which was promoted as Leica “Mini M” and initially raised quite false hopes (see my article on that here). I am sure both camera models will be sought after and guarantee good returns for Leica nonetheless.

But as it goes, I have now given up waiting for a new Leica Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) with AF and some other features that are clearly missing in previous versions of M-mount cameras. Sony will probably deliver the goods for those that think likewise. Maybe those Leica Lenses can be put to good use on one of the future full-frame Sony NEX cameras that are rumored to be shown off in the next month or so. That might be worth writing about…

 

 

Aug 092013
 

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The previous marketing campaign for the “Mini M” was seen as misleading by many Leicaphiles who were hoping for a new kind of Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) with some brand new features from Leica. All they got was the Leica X Vario Typ 107. The final unveiling of this camera was a great disappointment (at least to me) and certainly was not what most people were expecting. See my earlier report via this link.

Now there is a bit of hope for all who have patiently waited for a Leica mirrorless camera with better features giving an alternative to the bigger, manual focus Leica M.

Several sites have reported a recent filing of a Leica C (Typ 112) with the Taiwan National Communications Commission (NCC) – see this link at digicame-info if your Japanese is any good at all 😉 .

There are not many infos you can derive from that except that the new camera will have built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. That fact and the tentative preliminary naming “Leica C” does suggest that there will be some kind of camera featuring an M-mount and possibly some other cool features. Maybe this will indeed turn out to be what many Leica followers were expecting the clumsily advertised “Mini M” to be in the first place.

The new camera will probably be announced this fall or next spring. In a recent interview published on Focus Numerique the CEO of Leica Camera AG, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, almost said as much when he hinted at some new interesting products that would be introduced in this specific time span. Since he also stated that Leica is working on other solutions for the full format, this could even point to a full-frame solution for the Leica C Typ 112. Then again it might turn out to be just another point and shoot Panasonic clone.

 

My personal wish list for a new Leica C:

  • built-in Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) or possibly even hybrid OVF/EVF (but that is too much to hope for…)
  • 24 MP APS-C CMOS sensor without anti-aliasing filter (better still full frame…but let`s not get overexcited 😉 )
  • Auto-Focus
  • M-mount
  • 2 or 3 new zoom and prime AF-lenses to kick off the new line
  • compact camera body dimensions (comparable to Fuji X-E1)
  • body price below €4.500 / $6.000

 

That is about it. If this camera came true, it might entice a lot of photo enthusiasts to buy into this system. Alas, I am not convinced. I am pretty sure, Leica will not endanger their Leica M Typ 240 by introducing a strong competitor with features bettering the professional system. Building up another line of lenses is equally unrealistic. But maybe they should, to keep up with the game.

We shall see what Leica will do in the next few weeks to promote the new camera. I am sure they have learned the painful lesson not to proclaim greatness and then just deliver another perceived mediocre product that tees off a great score of their loyal customers.

 

Jun 202013
 

Leica has announced a new fancy version of the popular Leica D-Lux pocket camera.

“In collaboration with G-Star, the Dutch denim label, Leica is proud to present a limited special edition of the Leica D-Lux 6 compact camera. Inspired by the successful G-Star RAW collection, the new Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition by G-Star RAW’ features an unusual colour concept, is finished in the typical RAW design, and features the inscription ‘LEICA BY G-STAR RAW … JUST THE PRODUCT.'”

You can check all the details on the Leica site.

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Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

Designwise it certainly is a nice little cam. No doubt G-Star was able to spice it all up and create a new look for the D-Lux. But remember, technically this still is the same Leica D-Lux 6 that you can get off the rack for about €699/$799. The new special edition version will cost you a stunning €990/$1.300.

If you like to go cheaper and still want to have about the same camera you might as well opt for the Panasonic version. The Panasonic DMC-LX7 is priced at roughly €400/$450. Some instant savings offered right now might make it even more affordable online or at some local dealers.

So in my humble opinion it`s about looks and showing off brand names. All of the above mentioned pocket cameras can take the same pictures. Some people probably never will with special Leica editions though. Some pieces will no doubt disappear behind glass just to be adored by the loving eyes of a collector. To each his own…

 

Jun 112013
 
Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG


The new Leica camera proclaimed as „Mini M“ has finally been unveiled. It is called the Leica X Vario (also denoted as Typ 107). A big marketing campaign with teasers of a closed box opening a little bit further each time as the campaign unraveled created a lot of buzz. Loads of speculative threads appeared on the net and Leica fans got all excited.

There were great expectations that finally there would be a Leica product that could compete with the likes of the Fuji X100s or even the Sony RX1. There were numerous rumors and hopes went high. The “Mini M” might be full frame, incorporate a viewfinder and feature a fast fixed lens. None of that came true.

A strangely leaked iPad image with specs far ahead of todays announcement was seen as fake by many – because it did not seem possible that Leica might be sandbagging that much.

In my own article I spoke about the notion the “Mini M” could appear in the dress of a Leica X2 featuring an APS-C sensor. I never would have thought Leica might put a bulky and slow fixed zoom lens on the camera though. But as it turns out, this highly anticipated new Leica product seems to be just like that – no more nice prime. Maybe the new cam will appease its critics with outstanding image quality. It is supposed to have a newly developed 16,2 MP sensor. Will it be a gigantic leap in sensor technology with superior low light performance eliminating noise at high ISO settings like nothing we have seen before? Hmmm…

 

Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG


These are the basic specs of the new Leica X Vario

  • 16.5 (16.2 effective) MP CMOS APS-C sensor
  • Leica Vario-Elmar f/3.5-6.4 18-46mm (28-70 equivalent) fixed zoom lens
  • contrast-based AF with face detection
  • 3“ TFT LCD monitor
  • 1920 x 1080 Full-HD video (30 fps)
  • HDMI out
  • Lightroom 5 included (free download after camera registration)
  • price €2.450/$2.850)
  • available in Leica stores from today

More detailed information can be found following the link to Leica Camera AG.

 

Image: Leica AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

Image:  Leica Camera AG

Image: Leica Camera AG

 

Good thing I still have my Fuji XE-1. It has a great 16MP sensor too. But it also features interchangeable lenses and a very nice electronic viewfinder plus image stabilization included in many of the lenses. I cannot imagine why anyone would choose the new „Mini M“ when there are cameras around that are quite similar in size with far better features and pretty much equal quality – at a far lower price. The Fuji XE-1 bundled with the excellent Fujinon XF 18-55 f2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom only costs around €1.299/$1.199). For the Leica you will have to pay almost twice that much (also consider the additional costs for buying the external viewfinder at around €400/$500 and the not included lens hood at €100/$140).

Opinions may vary and there may be people who appreciate such a zoom lens on a camera like that. The new Leica X Vario is quite good looking and it does indeed resemble the Leica M Typ 240 in a way. The build quality (“Made in Germany”) will most probably be superb too. Still, in my book this camera is a missed opportunity for Leica. It lacks a full frame sensor, a built-in EVF and a fast prime lens. If Leica had only incorporated one of these three features, the new „Mini M“ might have had a „raison d’être“ for me – but as it goes this new Leica camera is somewhat disappointing.

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