Former press secretary in the Kennedy administration Pierre Salinger told a story that shows the late president’s wit when the press secretary came to the Oval Office with a problem. “Mr. President. We’re getting into trouble with women’s groups over the fact that the First Lady is always seen walking three steps behind you.” (paraphrasing there.) The president thought for a moment, then said… well, I guess you can figure it out from here. 😉
The issues shooting the Leica M9/M-E sensor at higher ISOs are well documented. But it should also be well documented that, when shooting black and white, you can forget those noise concerns almost entirely. I very often will shoot JPEG FINE mode on the b&w setting when I make that decision to shoot b&w. I like the way they look and I always have since my first M9. I’ll tell the story of how I came to love shooting b&w JPEGs straight out of the camera some other time. But I love them. And at 18 megapixels in b&w, how much image data do you need? That was my attitude three years ago and it’s still my attitude today. Much more on that sometime soon.
Sometimes I don’t use a particular Leica lens for a while, maybe just to see if I could live without it. Well, of course I could live without any or all of them. But I’m not sure you could call that living. (winking!)
Anyway. I hadn’t shot this website’s namesake lens for a couple of months. I was just loving my 50mm Summicron (Canada) that much, along with the incredible 90mm Elmarit 2.8.
Every time I go back to a lens I’ve been neglecting, it always seems to let me know what kind of fool I really am. The 50’Lux came down hard and lovely on my conscience. Color is different from every other lens. I’ve called it ‘comic book’ color and I stand by that, although these images which are processed might not show that aspect as well as the RAW files.
It may not be quite as sharp as either of my ‘Crons, or quite have that classic Leica sizzle. But the Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH is the Scarlet Johansson of camera lenses. Overwhelmingly smooth and delicious. You really have to click on the images here to see a larger version to see how amazing this lens is.
These were all shot yesterday, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, on a relatively short ride around certain parts of Los Angeles. Happy to be able to take you all along with us. Me and Scarlet that is. (winking, again!)
I know it’s Polish model Joanna Krupa. But I don’t understand the photography aspect. Can’t be paparazzi, they’re too geared up and professional and paparazzi would have NO interest in whatever her name is. Can’t be a photo shoot. Photo shoots uh.. usually involve ONE photographer. Why would there be so many photographers fighting for a shot? Of Joanna Krupa. I just don’t get this. Someone enlighten me please. The only thing I can think of is that she’s got a really good publicist and it was a slow day in pseudo-celebrity land.
Someone just paid that much for Barnett Newman’s “Onement VI”, a painting which consists of two vibrant blue rectangles neatly divided by a single, light blue line, an arrangement that Sotheby’s called “a portal to the sublime.”
Won’t someone please kindly pay Barnat Donald a million or so for this fine image taken late last year entitled “Is This Leica a Righteous Bitch to Focus Already? #10465”
Point is, it’s almost like that. What specifically am I talking about? What’s so special about shooting Leica that is different than other cameras or systems? MANY things, but I’m thinking of one in particular.
The other night we jumped up into Beverly Hills for a couple of margaritas at Chipotle on Beverly Drive. I brought the M-E and the 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH. Many great opportunities for low light shots along the street up there but, unfortunately, after two or three of those Chipotle margaritas I’m just lucky to be walking upright.
So I’m shooting some store windows etc. and the young lady I’ve spent my life with points to a window and says something effusively positive. But what’s behind the window is unlit and there’s a large store front awning shading the glass itself from any visible ambient light from the surrounding stores or street. So I go into the photographer’s speech about, well, honey, you don’t understand, there’s NO light here. It’s a nice display but your eyes had to practically adjust to even see it.
We photographers look for LIGHT, silly non-photographer. Etc.
Then I thought, well, of course, we can SEE it. So there must be some light illuminating it. So I have my camera on 800 ISO and I don’t even open the 50 ‘Lux all the way. It’s at f2. I stand very still, press the camera against my cheek. Dial the shutter till I get a solid dot. And then I watch something in my image as the shutter is open to make SURE I don’t move. That is the Leica Death Stare. Master it. Lock on an object and YOU WILL KNOW if you’ve moved and have to retake the picture.
Honestly, this has become one of the most fun things I do with my Leica cameras. I LOVE shooting at disgustingly slow shutter speeds. I’m not happy if I’m not doing it. It’s orgasmic.
The old photographic rule of choosing a shutter speed that’s faster than the focal length of your lens in order to eliminate camera shake? If you shoot Leica, you should know that, OF COURSE, this rule does NOT apply to you.
Not to be a jerk, but you SPENT that whatever thousands of dollars you spent to shoot this gear. And you’ve all too often heard people say… What’s the difference? What’s the point? It’s the photographer, not the camera!
Well this is a difference. A huge difference. And one of just many. I shot Nikon pro gear for most of the last ten years. A heavy D2Hs and D3 and D700. Massive lenses that jut out 6 inches from the body of the camera, and more. I wasn’t comfortable shooting less than 1/250 of the second! You’d BETTER adhere to photographic rules and guidelines like the one stated above. And then, hold your breath!
But with a Leica M-anything? Just never mind all that. It’s not your concern at all. If it is, you’re doing something wrong. The flatness of the M bodies and the slim center of gravity allow you to hold the camera firm against your cheek and there’s NO long heavy lens to teeter the center of gravity and blur your photograph.
And, as a result, you can practically make your own light. Yes, the light is bad. No, I don’t really care. There IS light, that is the only relevant point to a Leica shooter. We just have to operate in a different universe of expectations about how much is there and what we have to do with our camera to capture the light that is there. And these cameras do that like no other cameras on Earth.
The above shot was taken with a 50mm lens in almost no visible light at all. The shutter speed was 1/8th of a second. And I was drunk.
Had the opportunity, yada, yada. The first and third images are ISO 800. The others, ISO 200. No noise reduction. But, sorry pixel peepers, I’ve adjusted anything else I wanted to adjust and I hereby pronounce the camera fantastic. Handling. Speed. I love the pictures. No problems here. All images were made with the 50’lux.
I have not seen my 50’lux, meaning seen the results of taking pictures with it, in quite this way prior to the five minutes or so that I shot it on the new M yesterday afternoon. That is the look I’ve wanted and dreamed of, and it’s been there to some degree with both film and my M-E. But that lusted-after wide-open Summilux-look just gob smacks you when you look at the files from this new M 240.
It was also very important to me that I process the images into what I want them to be. As opposed to just doing a straight JPEG conversion as so many people seem to of done when showing the results from this new camera. I understand why people would want to do that and why people would want to see those images. And they have done and seen it, ad nauseum. But someone, for balance, I felt, needed to do what they would normally do with their images from a camera. And that is process them to their own liking.
I did these in 10 minutes tops. Once I processed the first image, I copied the settings (in Lightroom) and just applied them to the other images. I like to do that with any set of images from a particular situation so that there is consistency throughout a group of shots from any one lighting environment or moment in time.
So from the time I walked in the front door till the time I posted these images to my blog was no more than 25 minutes, and that included grabbing and eating a salad. The reason I was in a hurry was that I wanted to get back to the camera store and take more pictures before the Leica representative closed up shop and put away Leica’s new baby. I was easily able to do that and I do have more shots though I’m not sure there’s anything worth showing but I will see.
This new camera is a unique creative tool. That is something I’m very confident in saying. I think that it presents the product of your lenses, these great Leica lenses, in their best light.
But also I think it will allow photographers who want to shoot Leica to do many of the things that fall, or have fallen, only within the realm of what Canon and Nikon pro gear users can do and that is indoor work, inside churches and reception halls, press situations, etc., and come away with the raw material to very quickly produce a professional standard product.
Leica seems to have added that layer of capability to their M system now, in my opinion, topping off what their gear can be used for and by whom.
Today, it is the digital Leica M-E that embodies the philosophy of the M-System in its purest form. – Leica Camera AG
HEY EVERYONE! DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER…
From the get go I should point out that this is as much a love story as it is a review of a piece of photographic equipment.
Yes, I love the Leica M-E. But this is the love of someone who owned a Leica M9 for over a year and who put 24k shutter clicks on that first full-frame Leica digital rangefinder. I did not like my M9. I don’t like YOUR M9. (I’m kidding, I don’t know your M9)
Almost from the moment I first held my M9 something seemed to be not quite right. I’d been shooting an unused silver M7 for about four months, a camera that Ken Rockwell likens to a gun. I know exactly what he meant by that. The camera feels like a .45 caliber military side arm. Heavier than you would expect and more solid than you’d think possible for something made to simply take pictures.
The M9 did not have that feel. Mine didn’t anyway. The material used to cover the camera felt rough and uncomfortable to my hand. The camera had smear marks which showed constantly on the black metal top and bottom plates. From the start I was disappointed in the build quality of the camera.
Now I know these are just impressions. But those were my impressions of the camera. It never really felt comfortable in my hand or solid and impervious to anything other than gentle treatment.
I also had issues with the color and working with the files out of the camera. Overall, my experience with the M9 was a downer and I sold mine a little over a year after buying it.
Then I shot film for almost two years. I shot my M7 and then also added a black M6. I shot and scanned probably a hundred or more rolls of color film. I learned a lot about shooting Leica by shooting within the limitations of a chosen film speed for the entire roll. I also learned a lot of discipline given the fact that 24 or 36 frames is all you get per roll and also given that you can not see what the result is of the frame you just shot.
But you might be thinking, if you didn’t like the M9 and you have two film Ms to shoot, why did you jump back into an M-E which is merely, in the opinions of so many, just a ‘cheaper’ version of an M9?
There are a couple of reasons. One I grew very tired of the process of having to drive somewhere, the dropping off for developing, then waiting, and then scanning the negatives. Having to do all of that just to see what kind of images I’d shot. I also got very tired of not being able to experiment freely with my great Leica lenses as one can only truly do with a digital camera.
But I also recalled some types of things that the M9 did really well photographically. Black & white, for one, and if I only used this camera for shooting black & white, and I loved my results, well, uh, jeez, aren’t there people out there who have made that exact choice by purchasing and shooting the Leica Monocrom?
There were more reasons. I thought that another M9, but this time much less expensive, but new and with a new warranty, wasn’t a bad thing to have as a second camera to go with the truly new M that I and so many others have on order.
So I took the leap. Very nervously and apprehensively. Unsure of myself or my purchase. It’s still a very expensive camera. I’d heard the M-E was ugly, made of cheaper materials, gutted of at least a couple of rarely used features in order to save production costs. I heard that it was also viewed as the entry level Leica M.
And then, I really didn’t hear much else. No one that I’ve seen has even taken the time to write a review on this camera. Why bother? It’s just an M9 stripped and cheapened for ‘entry level’ users anxious to make their move into shooting Leica digital rangefinders.
At BelAir Camera, where I buy my gear if I’m not buying online, the guys were talking about what a great camera the M-E is. Our relationship isn’t one wherein they are inclined to try to hard sell me on anything and they all knew how much I really didn’t care for my M9. My buddy Rika would go on about the anthracite finish. I wasn’t expecting, however, that I’d have any different sort of impression or experience in buying and owning and shooting an M-E than I’d had in buying and owning and shooting an M9.
Well, my goodness, was I surprised. From the moment I took the M-E out of the box and mounted my 50 1.4 Summilux on it, and held the camera in my hands, I began to immediately bond to this mechanical object. The fit and the finish are unlike anything that I’ve ever owned. Ever. It is the most flawless and solid piece of digital equipment I’ve ever seen or held in my hand. That alone was a huge surprise for me.
Where do I even begin? How about the anthracite-paint finish. I have to confess that I’m notoriously bad about wiping down my gear when I’m done using it. It just doesn’t happen unless I’m doing a job and my hands have been sweating, both of which are rare things these days. While my M9 showed everything, the M-E shows absolutely nothing, even after weeks and weeks of use. It’s as if this paint has properties that resist the accumulation of the oils from your hand.
But one of most important changes that improves the M-E over the M9 is that the body covering is now *LEATHER. Soft luxurious LEATHER. The camera is a pleasure to hold and to grip with one hand. It is never hard feeling on your fingers. The camera feels incredible compared to the much rougher feel of the M9.
(*correction. the body covering on the M-E is synthetic leather. it feels soft and fantastic, but oops on me, it’s not real leather. maybe there’s a language mishap to blame, but Leica shouldn’t refer to the body of the M-E as having a leather covering as they do “its leather trim offers superior grip” on their product description page. It’s only when you read the specs page where they mention that the leather is synthetic. Not so good on them.)
The application of the leather on the body of the camera is so perfectly accomplished that looking at the camera itself makes you wonder how it isn’t selling for MORE than the M9, as opposed to much less.
I said on dpreview in a thread on the Leica forum a few weeks ago to someone that they should buy an M-E, that it was a better camera than the M9. That statement was met with just a little bit of questioning of how such a thing could be. How could it be better than the M9 when it is essentially an M9 with some slight changes in the finish and covering and two rarely used features removed?
My question is how could it NOT be better? Just think about what I’m saying. It is an M9, right? The camera that so many people are crazy about. But it’s missing two holes from the body that give moisture two places to enter into the camera. Those two missing features are things that you can feel with your hand as you hold the M9 and believe me, they are things that your hand enjoys NOT feeling on the body of the M-E.
Leica says on their product page for the M-E.
The top and base plates are discreetly and unobtrusively finished in anthracite-grey paint. The design of its body expresses clarity, and its leather trim offers superior grip. The mechanical yet almost inaudible sound signature of its shutter release remains as a reminder that this M too is a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship.
Look, if you’re someone inclined to dismiss this as just some corporate marketing bullshit, then we’re both probably wasting our time in this review. But this will be your mistake. And you won’t be able to say that you weren’t warned or at the very least that no one came forward with a user review to give their impressions or feelings about the Leica M-E.
But the truth is that Leica did not strip some expensive features off of their flagship M9 in order to produce an entry level M made up of either less or lesser body components. That’s snobbery talking and it’s not at all a reflection of what Leica could or would do. The M-E is a refined M9. That is the news I’m delivering to you now in this reveiw. It IS a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship and it WILL be classic camera for years to come.
I have bonded with this camera and love it more than any thing I’ve ever owned. I can not express to you how different those feelings are for me than how I felt about the M9 that I ultimately could not wait to get rid of. I am sure that over the years of manufacturing that camera some refinements were made in the quality control or subtle changes that maybe account for how happy people have been with a camera that so displeased me.
Maybe that is what is reflected in the M-E that enables me to agree with the Leica product blurb that calls the camera a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship. I honestly don’t know the answer to what my issues were in comparison to the satisfaction of others. But this camera is, by all accounts, simply an M9 that’s missing two unsealed openings in the body that make the earlier camera that much more vulnerable to moisture or the elements, and the M-E’s anthracite paint and sublime leather grip make it an unparalleled pleasure to hold and shoot with.
So much so that I now find myself dreaming of a second M-E far more than I’m dreaming of the new ‘M’ that I have on order.
That’s about all I have to say. Except I’ll add this for anyone who thinks I might be just another Leica fan-boy or merely sucking up to Leica.
I’ve been on record in the past as being very critical of the Leica M9 and especially the color issues that were ultimately something I just couldn’t live with any more. And I mean, I have been brutal. I despised not only the color I got from the M9 but also the color most everyone else was getting. A visit to the M9 Master Shots on LFI is still like a trip to the dark side of a year of bad memories for me. Sorry, Leica.
I still and always will hate the look of the M9 images as produced by a majority of M9 shooters. I don’t like what people are doing with their images, but I believe I’ve come to understand that it’s not the camera’s fault entirely and the hint that I might be right about that comes from something that Monocrom users often say about the files that camera produces. You have to REALLY work with them to get good results.
That applies, I contend, equally so to the DNG color files that come out of an M9 or an M-E. Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about all that in the coming weeks and months.
And that brings me to what will be the next part of the discussion about the M-E and that is what I’ve done to make myself as happy with the camera’s images and color as I am with the body itself. And I AM happy with the color I’m achieving at the end of my processes. I don’t know that I can replicate a process, however, or that I plan on outlining exactly what I do because that would be impossible. It varies so much for every lighting condition.
Anyway, thanks for reading. If you are a person who frequented this blog in the past, thank you for coming back and for your patience and for, I hope, excusing my long absence. If you read the blog from the early days you know that last year was a very difficult one for me. It’s taken a long time to feel like posting about photography and Leica equipment again.
Bottom line, thank you, Leica, and bravo. You’ve outdone yourself with the M-E. Unfortunately very few people in the Leica community seem to have any idea of how true that is. I sincerely hope that this review begins the process of changing that fact and awakening the deserved recognition for this amazing camera.
Was back in May at the Los Angeles Sparks Media Day. I’ve published these shots and posted them elsewhere, but I came to realize that I’d never posted them here on the blog. Duh. All shot with the aforementioned lens which lends its name to this blog, and a Leica M7, with Kodak 800 Max color film. The last show below of the LA Times reporter holding a video camera is just a gratuitous oh-that’s-my-first-shot-of-the-bokeh-I’ve-always-dreamed-of shot. Please excuse.