Keeping my thoughts wide open
As promised, here is my second part of some photographs I took with the Leica M8 (see part one here). And should I mention something serious about this camera and the used lenses? Partially I think I should and partially I think I shouldn’t either. Why? Well first the serious part then. Even though it is a dream camera it still costs a lot of money. I mean really a lot of money. And yes, prices are dropping since the M9 was released. But the magic is still the lenses I think. And boy, these lenses come at serious prices.
And then the less serious part. I didn’t test this camera, I tried it, and to be honest we kept it at auto. I just scratched the surface to get some feeling of using a rangefinder camera and trying very fast lenses. I could have tried the Epson R-D1 too, but Cam, the sweetheart, insisted that I should try the Leica. And I don’t regret it. I loved the experience. And I loved using these lenses that screamed to be used wide open.
So what about these lenses? Leica lenses come at different flavors. Noctilux, Summilux, Summicron, Summarit, Elmarit, Elmar. The Noctilux lenses are the really fast ones. These lenses have a maximum apertures of f/1.0 or even f/0.95! You will find these only with 50mm focal lengths. And on the other side you will find the Elmar lenses. These are the slowest lenses, but by no mean bad lenses . Many users like to call their lenses Nocti’, ‘Lux or ‘Cron. I think they do so, because the owners have some sentimental relationship to their lenses. See it as a term of endearment (to quote Cam). And lets face it, Summilux or just ‘Lux sounds so much sexier than Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM. Interested? Then check Stephen Gandy’s CameraQuest for all the details and history of these lenses.
Would I want one? Yes, I would like to have a rangefinder, be it Leica or Epson. In the end they are still simple to operate cameras. The finder is large and bright, unlike with most SLR’s. I found manual focusing very well implemented. The finder provides the frame lines for three focal lengths, but these aren’t really accurate. Those who use external optical viewfinders for their compact sensor cameras know what I mean.But if you prefer accurate framing and if you like to have a sense of the depth of field you might be better of with a SLR.
So what is the part of all the attraction? I think to a large extension it is the unpredictability. Not the unpredictability of the system when it comes to the technical aspects, although some complained about that too. But more the end result part. When you shoot wide open it is quite difficult to really nail the focus and although you can have a feeling of the outcome and the depth of field by experience, you really know what you did until you see the end results. But that does bring excitement too. You can shoot an entire day and feel miserable after you see the results or you feel thrilled and stoked, because you’ve done everything right.
The lenses are exceptional. The quality is very high and in particular the wide angle lenses are much smaller and better performers than the SLR counter parts. I just loved the feeling of the Summilux lens and using the smooth focus ring.
But will I ever own one? Although it is my dream camera, likely not. The price, in particular the lenses, surpass my monthly income.
I would however still love to use M-mount lenses. And Voigtländer or Zeiss might be fine too for me. Some say they are 90% of the quality of the Leica lenses, but so are also the prices. Would I use such lenses with a rangefinder? I just don’t know. The M8 might eventually still be too expensive, even after a couple of years and a M9.2 or M10 announcement. Currently do the micro4/3 cameras provide an option to use these lenses too in combination to LCD screen or electronic viewfinder framing and focusing. It is just that I don’t like the 2x crop factor. And to be fair and honest, the new Olympus E-P2 looks like an ugly duck with that external EVF.
But maybe the new Samsung NX10 will be able to use these lenses too. This camera will have a 1,5x APS-C sized sensor. And will more manufacturers join this new competition? Sony mentioned being interested and they are the intellectual owners of the Hexar heritage! And maybe more will follow too.
All photographs by Wouter Brandsma