Adox CMS II and Adotech Developer Review

Ayr, Scotland. 22.08.2016 Hasselblad 205TCC; 80mm Planar; Adox CMS II; Adotech

Ayr, Scotland. 22.08.2016
Hasselblad 205TCC; 80mm Planar; Adox CMS II; Adotech Developer

I spent most of today trying to work out how to shoot Adox CMS II and develop it in Adotech developer.
It’s been a long day but I think I got there in the end.This is not a film for the fainthearted or darkroom newbies!
It’s stated box speed is ISO 20, however I don’t think I managed to get over 12-15 and due to it’s seriously slow speed, unless you have a lot of light and can keep exposures to no more than 2 seconds, you have to add time to combat reciprocity failure (this image was 9 minutes in total – 4.30 mins on the light meter at f/22 and I guessed at doubling it for reciprocity correction).
So shooting it is not straightforward.
Developing it is worse!

There is no “defacto” dev time. I’ve researched it a lot and the times vary at a 1:14 dilution between 9 minutes and 12 minutes. I gave it 11 to be safe and it seemed to work. I also agitated very, very slowly every 45 seconds.

The bit that got me was that development MUST be stopped in an acid stop bath, so I had to go to the kitchen for the vinegar and make up a 2% solution to stop the dev.

Here’s the really tricky bit. Adox CMS II can be fixed in standard fixer but only for between 30-60 seconds (not the recommended 5 minutes that almost all other films use). If you give it more than 60 seconds the fixer blows your whites.
I had to give it 60 seconds as it takes me 20 seconds just to pour it in. It seems to have been enough as I didn’t get any squeegee scratches.

The film dries very quickly but it curls like mad which is a nightmare when you come to scan it as keeping it straight on the film mounter means you have to touch it and this gets it covered in dust (which I have removed in photoshop).

However, due to the tiny grains of silver in the film, it scans beautifully and you have a lot more sharpening control than you would with standard grain film.

So, the film is amazing, but beware, the developer is ridiculously expensive. £15 for 100ml which allegedly could do 6 rolls if you could work out the replenishing routine. I couldn’t and used it as a one shot which means shooting and developing one 120 roll cost me about £14 in total.

adox cms 11 in adotech test (3)-Edit-Edit.jpg

Here’s the recipe and the darkroom procedure:
Developer : 33ml Adotech + 467ml Boiled Water @ 20ºC
Stop Bath : 2ml White Vinegar + 1ltr Boiled Water @ 20ºC
– – –
No rinse!
11 Minutes Development with soft 2 turn agitation every 45 seconds
1 Minute Stop Bath
1 Minute Fix
5 Minute Wash
1 Minute Photo Flow
2 Hours Hang Drying

Overall I’m really pleased with the result though and sort of glad I don’t have to shoot it every day!

If you’re looking for a film that will out perform 100mp Phase and Credo digital backs, this is it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

adox cms 11 in adotech test (4)-Edit.jpg

6 Months with the Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm

I’m a 50mm guy. For whatever reason, be it scientific or psychological, I just prefer shooting a 50mm over any other focal length. In my six or seven years of shooting Leica M bodies, I’ve owned pretty much all the modern Leica 50mm’s, a few of the classics and a few non-Leica brands.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/16, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

Until recently I thought that the Leica Summilux-M 50mm was without a doubt the best 50mm lens on the market. I’ve shot with it for four years and loved every minute of it. I’ve got to know the lens inside out and would have been happy shooting with it for the rest of my life.

However, when Leica announced the APO Summicron back in 2012 to much fanfare and exaltation, I decided to look into it. There were crazy claims flying about – some called it the best Leica lens ever made, some said it was even the best lens of all time, but it turned out I was going to have to wait a long time to find out how true these claims were.

Leitz Park, Wetzlar. 02.09.2015 Leica MM 246; APO Summicron-M 50mm 1/125sec; f/2; iso400

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 400 (Click image to enlarge)

I put an order in for one with my local dealer and after waiting around six months, I started noticing articles on the internet pop up mentioning flare issues and that Leica were binning 9 out of 10 that they produced due to production complications. I really didn’t fancy forking out a fortune just to be a guinea pig, so I cancelled my order with my dealer and went back to being happy (more than happy) with my Summilux.

A few years went by and I just happened to be in the Leica Mayfair boutique in February and there were two APO’s in stock. I asked the shop manager if the flare and production issues had been sorted and he confirmed they had. The lens had actually dropped slightly in price as well and I decided to buy it there and then.

So now I’ve had the lens for a little over six months, shoot almost exclusively with it and thought it was about time I wrote up my findings.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25000 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

I know the claims out there. I’ve heard it called “technically perfect” and “the best render of any lens ever”, but rather than be sensational about it, I’m just going to simply state that it is the best lens I’ve ever used. Not just the best 50mm lens. Not even just the best full frame lens (I shoot S lenses too), but the best lens I’ve used period.

Ok, so that is a big claim, especially when it doesn’t render nearly as good as a APO-Summicron-S 120mm, but for a blend of reasons, it is the best lens I have ever used.

Here’s why…

  1. I shoot black and white and primarily on a Monochrome Typ 246. The APO is perfectly matched to this sensor. It has resolving capabilities superior to any other Leica M lens and suits the high resolution, Bayer filter-free Monochrom sensor perfectly.
  2. It has much more contrast than any other Leica M lens and therefor tricks the eye into thinking the image is sharper.
  3. It “is” optically sharper than any other Leica M lens due to the aspherical design and modern apochromatic correction. When I say “optically sharper”, I mean it’s “way” sharper.
  4. Leica have been accused recently of producing lenses that render too clinically. The APO renders classically on the Monochrome sensor and the grain at high ISO’s is so film-like it’s actually welcome. On the M240 colour sensor, the colour rendering is so correct that very little processing is required and of course it shows very little to no chromatic aberration.
  5. The unique sharpness of this lens wide open produces a level of subject separation that I’ve never experienced on any other lens in any other format. You will have heard people talking about Leica’s 3D image quality, the APO is like 4D!
  6. The thing I loved about the 50mm Summilux was it’s creamy bokeh. The APO is not quite as creamy, but it’s every bit as charming and you don’t need the extra stop that the Summilux has to achieve it. At f/2, the APO renders a lovely, clean, swirl free bokeh.
  7. The build quality is worth mentioning too as Leica have raised the bar with this lens. It feels solid and exact. Leica’s build quality on any lens has never been in question, but the APO just feels better. The built in hood is genius!
  8. It’s highly useable. This might seem a strange thing to say about a lens, but when you are shooting moving subjects such as people in the street, short focus ring travel is essential. The APO’s focus ring travel is small and precise. The lens is also short and light. At under 50mm in length and weighing in at only 300g, it is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Summilux.
    (Qualification: The most unusable lens I have ever shot with is the Noctilux.)

So for the reasons above, I’ve fallen in love with this lens and it’s never off my mount.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

The last thing to talk about is price. This is an expensive lens. At the time of writing it is £5200 / $8000 / €7150. A lot of money.

However, if you’re in the market for this lens, you’ve probably looked at or owned a 50mm Noctilux, which is dearer and trust me, nowhere near as useable, as sharp or as portable as the APO. You may also have looked at the 50mm Summilux which at the time of writing is about half the price of the APO. Is the APO twice as good as the Summilux? No, it’s not, but consider the compactness of the lens, its awesome sharpness and its ability to separate subjects like no other lens in existence and the spend becomes more convincing.

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/4, ISO 320 (Click image to enlarge)

Image quality is subjective and open to differing opinions, but to reinforce my experience with he APO I’ve included a few unprocessed comparison shots between the APO  and the Summilux below…

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/2, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/1.4, ISO 2500 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25000 (Click image to enlarge)

APO Summicron-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25000

Summilux-M 50mm, f/8, ISO 25,000 (Click image to enlarge)

If you decide the APO Summicron-M is your next 50mm lens, let me know if you’re as delighted with it as I am.

Article originally posted on www.stephencosh.com

Leica M240 versus Leica M Monochrom for Black and White Photos

This review doesn’t need much introduction… the title says it all. I’ve been meaning to write it for a while as lots of people have asked me if there is much difference between the M240 and the Monochrom for black and white shots. Of course there is, the Monochrom is a dedicated black and white camera and has distinct advantages that should set it apart for mono photography. However, the M240 is better than the Monochrom for colour 🙂

The shots below were taken on a tripod and the camera settings were identical. Other than dropping the saturation to zero in Aperture on the M240 shots, they have not been edited, simply exported from DNG to JPEG at 50% actual size. You can click on the images to enlarge them.

The results might surprise some people…

50mm Summilux – f/1.4 – 1/45s – 640 ISO

M MONOCHROM

M MONOCHROM

M240

M240

35mm Summilux – f1.4 – 1/125s – 640 ISO

M MONOCHROM

M MONOCHROM

M240

M240

90mm Elmarit – f/2.8 – 1/45s – 2000 ISO

M MONOCHROM

M MONOCHROM

M240

M240

The Monochrom was always going to win this battle and on the 50mm Summilux and the 90mm Elmarit it is a convincing win (in my opinion), however I’m not so sure if you could say that the Monochrom is “better” with the 35mm Summilux. The M240 just seems to love that lens. There’s a beautiful softness to the bokeh elements that the Monochrom doesn’t seem to render.

Over all though, the Monochrom is the better camera by a long shot for black and white photography. It’s built for that and it delivers. It excels at night where the M240 is pretty poor and it delivers better blacks and a sharper image than the M240.

If you are in the market for  a new Leica body and over 75% of your work is converted to black and white, the Monochrom is your camera. Having said that, the M240 black and white conversions are still world class – as you would expect from a Leica and if a lot of your work is in colour there has never been a better M body!

One Month with the Leica M240

m240It’s actually a little more than a month since I got my M240 but for the first two or three weeks I didn’t have the time to get out and shoot with it so to keep it inline with my other reviews the title isn’t too much of a liberty.

I’m going to set the scene early on…

I mostly shoot street and I’m not a colour fan really… or so I thought. My main workhorse is the Leica M Monochrom which I have written about extensively and I love the thing. I understand it, I can rely on it, I know it’s strengths and I can live with it’s downsides… and there are a few.

I bought the Monochrom about 18 months ago as I was using an M9 and converting 90% of my work to black and white, so logically I thought I would be better with a Monochrom. The Monochrom outperforms all 35mm cameras in black and white and many Medium Format cameras too. So I bought it and my M9 sat gathering dust on a shelf for over 12 months. I actually only shot it a couple of times in a year and when I did take it out I wished I had taken the Monochrom.

An M9 sitting on a shelf is a real waste and it made me feel guilty owning a Leica body and not using it so I sold it and stuck the £3000 into the bank. I felt fine for about 10 days and then realised that I had no colour capability any more. Actually, that’s not really true… I have an M3 but I really only like shooting black and white film. As I said – I’m not a big colour fan.

However, the fact that I couldn’t shoot digital colour at all really started to eat at me. I get asked occasionally to shoot a Christening or take the odd portrait and I was now quite restricted.

This, coupled with the fact that I have some very persuasive friends who also shoot Leica, eventually led me to purchasing an M240, which I was previously very unsure of. I made my mind up on a Sunday and by the Thursday I had the M240 in my hands. there is about a 6 month waiting list currently for an M240, but as I said earlier, I have some very persuasive friends who shoot Leica and the camera was delivered from an Italian outfit within 4 days.

Gordon's Lane

So, here’s what I think after a month…

The M240 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most versatile and complete M that Leica have ever produced. Now I want to state that I am not saying it is the best – I’m saying it is the most complete.

As soon as you lift it out of the box you notice the extra weight. It’s not much heavier than a Monochrom or an M9 but it is noticeable. However as soon as you click on a lens you notice it less. The camera is extremely well balanced with a lens on it and it seems Leica have put some attention into the ergonomics of the body. There is now a small thumb grip for your right hand which some will find enough, but I didn’t. I use a Match Technical Thumbs Up grip on all my Leica’s and I added one to the M240 just to give it a little more grip. I’m not a fan of front grips as they add a massive amount of weight, but the Thumbs Up is unnoticeable.

The finish on the camera is stunning. Leica has always made very sound bodies with immaculate finishes, but the M240 is the best yet. I bought a silver finished body and the paint just shimmers. It looks fantastic. The body is now weather sealed and I have shot it in several downpours (I live in Scotland and downpours are a daily occurrence) and so far there have been no issues.

So the first lens I tried it with was my favourite little 50mm Summilux. I never changed any settings on the camera, just clicked on the lens, took a few shots and loaded the DNG’s into Aperture and my first thoughts were… Really? That colour looks cheap and nasty!

Yes I was thoroughly disappointed with the initial shots. I was expecting to see files akin to the M9, but they’re just not. The files are more like a Canon 5d MkIII. Obviously digital and obviously CMOS. In fact I was so disappointed that I nearly boxed it up to send it back. But then reason got a hold of me and I remembered it wasn’t an M9 and it wasn’t as CCD sensor, and importantly I hadn’t installed the latest firmware upgrade which is essential as it fixes a yellow cast that blows skin tones and amplifies man-made light.

So after the upgrade was installed I persevered for another 50 shots, played with the settings, fired them into Aperture and… same thing… very disappointed.

When I bought my Monochrom, I was a bit disappointed with straight out the camera results too, so I decided to give a few files some minor processing and this is where I started to fall in love with the M240.

You have to process the files. But not massively. I upped the contrast very slightly and tweaked the colour balance and the files just came alive. Really alive, which was great because I was really upset with the previous results, but now, with a little processing I was starting to see the potential of this camera. It has loads!

Paint

It’s worth noting here, that if you are considering a shift to the M240 from an M9 or M9-P or ME, you will notice a big difference with the files and colour handling. The M240 is an M240, not an M9. It has a new CMOS sensor, not a CCD. The files are much bigger (you will need at least 4gig of RAM dedicated to Aperture or LightRoom) and they will take time getting used to, but please persevere… you do get used to them and when you do you will be delighted with them. Really delighted!

The next thing I played with was Focus Peaking. This system draws red lines over the image on the LCD on the areas of the image that are in focus. It’s weird but amazing and with a little practice you can get some über sharp shots. Why bother though when you can get sharp shots through the optical viewfinder? Simple… using the screen to frame allows you to get into angles previously impossible with any M.

It’s a very strange feeling framing and focussing through an LCD screen if you are a long term Leica user. We’ve never had this facility before and there are a lot of us out there who think it’s nonsense and unnecessary on an M. I did before I got one and I don’t use it much now, but I do use it a little. There are times when I want to get a low point of view and previously I would have had to lie on the ground to nail a shot that I can focus off the screen now. Lying on the ground in Scotland gets you very wet!

There is also the option of an Electronic Viewfinder, which I have, but use very little. It works very well but adds extra bulk to the camera and so I rarely have it on. One thing I will say about it is it’s good for focusing in the dark, which leads me on to low light shots.

L1000275

The M240 massively surpasses the M9 in low light capability. It can safely shoot up too 5000 ISO whereas the M9 was a disaster after 2000. This allows you to get a shot without too much noise in near dark situations. It’s nowhere near as capable as the Monochrom with it’s 100% useable 10,000 ISO, but 5000 ISO is still very good.

The other thing the M240 does is video. I’m not going into that here. If you want a camera that shoots video you’re not a Leica shooter. Spend the £300 on a Panasonic. I haven’t used it and I never will. It’s ridiculous. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should and Leica did. Ridiculous!

The M240 also allows you to mount Leica R lenses with an adaptor. I don’t own any R glass but I think this could be interesting, especially for Macro and for those who want to shoot longer focal lengths.

The menu system is also improved. The thing I liked about Leica’s previous menu was the simplicity and they have done a great job in adding more functionality and options to the menu and managing to keep it simple at the same time. It is bigger, but the button layout and hierarchy in the menu make it as easy, if not easier to use than the previous menus in the other digital M’s. The LCD is also much improved. You can actually see your images in it now 🙂

So, six weeks in…

I have used the camera extensively now and I do love it. It is better than the M9, in fact it’s a huge evolutionary step for the M. It was long overdue and will be a great platform for Leica to build on. But it’s also a great platform for us users to build on too. The camera feels very complete. There’s not much now that you can’t do with an M that you can do with a full frame DSLR. In fact I know three professional photographers who have dumped their Canon and Nikon systems to shoot professional studio work with their M240 system. I’m not sure you could have done that with the M9.

All in all I’m delighted with it. However, If I had to choose one camera to be stuck with for a month’s shooting would it be the M240? Not a chance! It would be the M Monochrom and I really hope that Leica use the M240 platform for the new MM240 🙂

Discarded Matter

Leica M240 – A 1 Hour Review

My M240 arrived today and to be honest, of all the Leica’s I have owned, I have looked forward to this one the least.

There are a few reasons for this, but mostly because I’m a purist and think things like live view and video in a rangefinder are nonsense. The other main reason, I suppose, is that I absolutely love my M Monochrom and didn’t see me using the M240 that much. However, I sold my M9 and there were a few occasions when I wish I still had colour, so I ordered the M240.

So I’ve now been playing with it for an hour and I am totally in awe of the thing. It’s the most complete camera I have ever owned. It does everything a high-end DSLR can offer you (apart maybe from the ability to shoot fast moving shots such as sport), but of course it does that one thing that no DSLR ever has been able to or likely will be able to… mount Leica glass.

All my concerns over the CMOS sensor are gone… in less than an hour… gone! The files of the new M are just stunning. The colour is bang on. It’s better than the M9 by a long way. The images still have that Leica look, albeit that the colour is maybe slightly more saturated.

The thing that really got me is live view. It’s unbelievably useable and when combined with focus peaking, you can use your rangefinder at angles previously not possible.

It’s a solid thing too. Maybe the best built Leica M since the M3. It’s marginally thicker than the M9, and heavier, but you don’t notice it. If anything it feels more balanced in your hand and the built in “Thumbs Up” is excellent.

Anyhow, I’m going to go and play with it some more and leave you with some test shots I did. These are straight out of camera. No editing.

Leica M240 - 50mm Summilux f/1.4

Leica M240 – 50mm Summilux f/1.4

Leica M240 - 90mm Elmarit f/2.8

Leica M240 – 90mm Elmarit f/2.8

Leica M240 - 90mm Elmarit f/2.8

Leica M240 – 90mm Elmarit f/2.8

90mm Elmarit f/2.8 Review

90mm is an odd size for a lens. Traditionally considered a portrait length, I had never even considered a 90mm for shooting street until I shot with Gavin Mills in London last month and he was toting a 90mm Summicron. He gave me  a shot and I fell in love…

Traditionally (but not solely) street shooters stick to prime lenses ranging between 18mm to 50mm and nowadays longer focal lengths are almost scoffed at as the new trend in street photography is to get as close to your subject as you can. I don’t follow that belief. I think if you get too close, you alter the scene. You also have to remember that most people these days are shooting cameras with cropped CMOS sensors. An 18mm on a cropped sensor equates to roughly 35mm on a full frame or film camera and a 35mm equates to 50mm. So, with 50mm on a full frame, you’re actually pretty close.

I shoot pretty much everything with a 50mm. I love 50mm. However, there are times when even a 50mm lens gets you too close. Enter the 90mm lens.

Having had a go with Gavin’s 90mm Summicron, I immediately noticed the extra throw the lens gives you. You get right in the scene you’re trying to capture, but you’re still far enough away that no-one sees you. So I was sold. I was having one. But the one thing I wasn’t sure of was the extra weight the Summicron was adding to my Monochrom.

You don’t buy Leica glass without doing a lot of research. It’s imperative when you’re spending that sort of money to read as many user reviews as possible. I did and the one that convinced me to go for the Elmarit over the Summicron was Steve Huff’s.

I hadn’t considered an Elmarit as fully open it only manages f/2.5. I’m used to a 50mm Summilux which shoots at f/1.4. Couple this with a Monochrom and there is no such thing as “low light”, so moving to a f/2.8 aperture lens worried me a little. However, Steve Huff pointed out that for a 90mm lens, f/2.8 is actually quite fast. he’s right!

I also looked at a ton of pictures made with the Elmarit and I really liked the old fashioned rendering it produced. It is not a modern lens – mine is 10 years old – and Leica have discontinued it now, replacing it with the 90mm Summarit, which by all accounts isn’t in the same league as the Elmarit.

So speed being ok, quality of render being great, the only other concern (other than money) was ergonomics and this is where the Elmarit shines. For a 90mm lens it is super-light. In fact it weighs only margiunally more than a 50mm Summilux and considerably less than the 90mm Summicron.

So the last thing to look at was money, and this is where I was really surprised. I bought this lens, in mint condition, for £900. That’s £1755 cheaper than the current 90mm Summicron, and £400 cheaper than the current Summarit (and much better). Granted it’s used, but that aside, it’s an absolute steal considering the benefits it has over all the other Leica 90mm’s.

If you are considering a 90mm for your Leica M system, I would thoroighly recommend this one, but be careful not to get mixed up with the even older 90mm Tele Elmarit as it is heavy and has a Voigtlanderesque focal grip which is fat and ugly. the one you want is the Leica 90mm Elmarit M f/2.8 (1990-2008).

Below are some pictures I took this afternoon straight from the camera – no editing. Each subject is shot at f/2.8, f/8 and f/16 with aperture priority. If you click the images you can see hi-res versions in a new window.

Badge f-2.8

Badge f-2.8

Badge f-8

Badge f-8

Badge f-16

Badge f-16

Woodman f-2.8

Woodman f-2.8

Woodman f-8

Woodman f-8

Woodman f-16

Woodman f-16

Bins f-2.8

Bins f-2.8

Bins f-8

Bins f-8

Bins f-16

Bins f-16

Three great tips for film beginners

ilford_XP2_35

So far, it’s been trial and error. What I thought I knew back in the day, I’ve forgotten. I’m shooting now with a Leica M3, which was surprisingly good value for what still is one of the very best manual film cameras available and I’ve had to re-learn almost everything apart from how to push the shutter button.

However, the  hardest challenges I’ve come across are…

  1. Choosing the right film
  2. Measuring light
  3. Scanning negatives

…so this article will concentrate on those three things.

Shot on Ilford XP2 Black and White C41 film

Shot on Ilford XP2 Black and White C41 film

1: Choosing Film (Black and White)

I shoot street and I choose to shoot it in black and white only. I no longer own a colour camera at all and shoot solely now with my Leica M Monochrom and my M3. So the decision to choose black and white film was easy… or was it?

With black and white film there are loads of choices which lead to loads of results and you could spend a lifetime trying out all the options. But basically, there are two types of black and white film. The first is Professional Black and White, which really means that you either develop the films yourself in total darkness or send the rolls of to a lab for processing. The other option is C41 Black and White which means you can shoot onto black and white film, but get them processed in a high street store in a colour film processor.

After trying various professional films and the two C41 B&W films available, I decided to stick with C41 B&W. There are three reasons I went down this road…

  1. I don’t fancy developing my own films as it is messy and time consuming and to be frank I’d rather spend the time shooting than developing.
  2. C41 B&W film is just easier and quicker. Empty the roll, rewind it, take the film into Boots or any high street photo shop and choose the process only 1 hour service, go for a coffee and come back and pick up your negatives. Easy. Clean. Coffee!
  3. After having compared the results of all the obvious professional B&W films such as Kodak Tri-X, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford HP5 and Fuji Neopan, I decided I actually preferred Kodak BW400CN and Ilford XP2 Super, both of which are C41 and can be easily processed in the high street. I found the grain and tone, especially in the Ilford XP2, to be more pleasing than the professional films I had tried. It is also more forgiving if you overexpose than the likes of Tri-X and if you want to push it you can do this on and off throughout the roll and not worry about special development techniques… just hand it in, go for a coffee and come back in an hour.

If you’re new to film or picking it up again after a while, concentrate on shooting, not developing and have a go with C41 B&W.

2: Measuring Light

The last time I shot film was on a fully automatic SLR and although I know my way around a manual camera well, I overlooked the fact that the M3 did not have a built in light meter. There are numerous ways you can learn to measure light without a light meter such as the Sunny 16 Rule, but this takes time and effort and you will lose a load of shots (expensive on film) in the process.

Another option, and generally better than in-camera light meters, is a handheld light meter. These range in price from around £50 to £250. One of the most recommended is the Gossen Digisix which is a fantastic little meter but will cost you about £180.

However, I found a great little free app on Apple’s Appstore for the iPhone called My Lightmeter (there are dozens available for Android too) which is free and will measure light and tell you what speed to shoot at very accurately. We are all carrying smartphones around these days, so why carry a phone and a separate light meter? Don’t! Travel light and use your phone to measure your speed.

Even when I’m not shooting now I find myself walking down the street measuring the light on the iPhone and trying to learn the speed I need for different scenes.

3: Scanning Negatives

I had two main objectives when choosing a scanner.

  1. Fast scan speed
  2. High resolution

and after a lot of research, I chose a Plustek 8200Ai available on Amazon for about £350.

This scanner and it’s bundled software is capable of scanning and saving a negative at 3600dpi in about 25 seconds. It can also scan at 7200dpi if you want to output large format prints, but for the majority of prints and for posting to Flickr etc, 3600dpi is fine.

A 3600dpi scan will give you a 50mb file which is more than ideal for A4 prints. The Silverfast scanning software bundled with the 8200Ai is fantastic. It’s very intuitive, you can preset the “look” you desire and of course has settings to match almost all films available today.

I also looked at some flatbed scanners, specifically Epson’s, but after having read many reviews I decided on a dedicated neg scanner as it’s quicker and cheaper as long as you want to scan negatives only.

The other option for digitising your negatives is to have them scanned by the people who are doing your film processing. I have had various results with this and none particularly good. High street labs will give you a CD full of low-res images which are useless for anything other than viewing on screen and professional labs charge a fortune for scanning to disc and although the scans themselves are very good quality, you don’t have control over the settings or final look.

Another handy little tip is to use your iPad or Android tablet as a lightbox to view your negatives. There are free apps specifically for this on the Apple Appstore and Google Play.

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So there you have it, three tips to make your entry or re-entry into film as painless and cheap as possible while maintaining the quality you are used to with digital.

I thoroughly recommend trying film as shooting with analogue can be more rewarding than shooting digital. It feels great pressing that shutter, it makes you much more selective about what you shoot (because every shot costs you about £0.50) and there’s a great sense of anticipation waiting for your negatives to come back.

However, shooting film does NOT make you a better photographer than you already are shooting digital. Anyone that tells you that is talking nonsense. What it does do, is teach you a little more about photography in general. Digital cameras are based on film cameras and if you know a little about the theory, it will assist or improve your decisions when shooting digital.

The flip side to shooting film is the time it takes and the cost. Digital is much quicker and much cheaper to shoot in the long run than shooting film.

But it’s definitely not as romantic!

The Billingham L2 Camera Bag

SONY DSC

The Billingham L2 is the second edition of a bag Billingham designed specifically for Leica cameras. In fact the first edition of the bag was called “Alice” which is an anagram of Leica.

To this day it remains the perfect bag for carrying 2 Leica M bodies with lenses attached (and lots of other handy stuff like film, batteries, iPad and headphones for the plane, passport and notepad… all in a tiny, over shoulder bag that doesn’t scream “I’ve got two Leicas in me!”

The bag is extremely well made with a hard, waterproof canvas outer and a padded, customisable sectioned inner. Unlike many bags sold for cameras, the L2 is very lightweight. This is important for street photography as you really want to be travelling light and unhindered.

But the real bonus about the bag, and the reason I bought it, is the way you open and close it. The leather straps at the front attach bottom up as oppose to the regular top down. This makes getting in and out of the bag to swap cameras on the fly really easy.

The Billingham L2 comes in at £140 and, I think, for the quality and what you can pack in a small unobtrusive and minimal bag, it’s a steal.

Anyway enough words. Here’s how it looks and packs in pictures…

inside

Inside of the Billingham L2 with 2 x Leica M bodies and attached lenses, 5 rolls of film, a notepad and pen, iPad Mini, earphones, lens cloth and passport.

contents

The contents.

Summilux v’s Summicron – The Leica 50mm Battle

lensesI’ve finally admitted to myself that I’m a  50mm guy. I’ve tried numerous other focal lengths, but when it comes down to it, I’m a 50mm guy.

I’m a street photographer that doesn’t like to get in the way of his subjects. I don’t like to alter a scene by being so close to a subject that they change what they were doing because they have a camera in their face and I find 50mm is the perfect length to get close… but not too close.

I also find a 50mm lens more natural to frame on a Leica than say a 35mm or a 75mm. I like to have a little bit of “bleed off” to play with. I can move the viewfinder about and see exactly what’s going to be in the frame and what’s not. To me, the “what’s not” going to be framed is as important for composition as the “what is”.

I have shot various 50mm lenses on my rangefinders including various Leicas, a Zeiss, a 1963 Canon and a Voigtlander, but the one I keep coming back to and the one I truly love is the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4.

The 50mm Lux, for me, epitomises everything Leica is about… amazing sharpness, incredible bokeh / depth of field and the ability to capture an almost 3D feel in selective focus. I use this lens for nearly everything from street photography to portraiture and really never thought of using anything else until I started to travel with work.

The Summilux is a heavy lens. That sounds ridiculous if you compare it to DSLR lenses, but for a Leica lens it is quite heavy and quite big. This isn’t an issue unless you are carrying it about all day. I do. It’s also mounted on an M Monochrom most of the time and the Monochrom is noticeably heavier than the M9.

So I got to thinking what lens would be best for travel. I was looking for a lighter, more compact lens that could deliver Summilux quality and the only answer as far as I could see was the Leica 50mm Summicron f/2. So that’s what I went for and here’s my finding…

There’s not a great deal of practical difference between f/1.4 and f/2. Obviously f/1.4 is faster, but in real life f/2 is still really fast. The big differences between these two lenses is how each lens renders the image, ease of focus and size/weight.

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Size and Weight – Summicron Wins

The Summicron is definitely the champ here weighing in at only 240g, nearly 100g lighter than the Summilux. This doesn’t sound much bit it is immediately noticeable in your hand.

The Cron is also shorter than the Lux by 9mm (approx 20%) at only 43.5mm as oppose to the Lux’s 52.5.

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Ease of Focus – No Clear Winner

I was worried about focusing on the Cron as I’m used to Leica lenses with focus tabs. The Summicron, for some reason lacks the focus tab. However, like all other Leica lenses, it’s focus ring is silky smooth – not too stiff that you miss shots and not too loose that you can’t nail it.

In practise, the Cron is every bit as easy to focus as the Lux. In fact you could argue that focusing a faster lens like the Lux is more difficult as the focal plane is narrower.

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Price – No Clear Winner

The Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 is a lot of money in anyone’s books. At £2650 ($4100), you have to “need” a fast lens to justify this price, especially when the Leica 50mm Summicron comes in at only £1650 ($2550).

However, it’s not exactly horses for courses, and here’s why…

  1. The Summilux is faster and although it’s only one stop faster – it’s still much faster. At night the Lux is in it’s element mailing shots that the Cron just can’t cope with.
  2. The Summilux is Aspherical which allows only very minimal spherical aberration and to get this quality of lens this small costs money. Period!
  3. The Summilux, wide open produces dream like results that in my opinion cannot be achieved with the Summicron. However from f/4 down, the Cron is pretty damn close.

Leica glass is expensive. We know that. But that doesn’t mean it’s overpriced. In fact, compared to the likes of modern Canon and Nikon glass, Leica lenses are extremely good value even if they cost up to five times as much for the equivalent. Nikon and Canon lenses are mass produced by machines in cheap labour factories. Leica lenses are hand-made in Germany. It’s like comparing a Toyota to a Porsche – the Porsche is more money, but it will outperform the Toyota all day long.

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Rendering – You Decide

Everyone has different tastes in how particular lenses render images and much of peoples preferences are based on the type of shooting they do, so it’s not my job to decide which you prefer.

The images below were shot on a tripod in natural sunlight (too much actually) and on a Leica M Monochrom body set to Aperture Priority. The images are straight from the camera (converted to PNG) – no processing at all.

The shots are comparative at wide open,  f/4 and  f/8. Click the images to enlarge to full frame resolution. Please feel free to download and play with them.

Sample 1 - Summilux f1.4

Sample 1 – Summilux f1.4

Sample 1 - Summicron f2

Sample 1 – Summicron f2

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Sample 1 - Summilux f4

Sample 1 – Summilux f4

Sample 1 - Summicron f4

Sample 1 – Summicron f4

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Sample 1 - Summilux f8

Sample 1 – Summilux f8

Sample 1 - Summicron f8

Sample 1 – Summicron f8

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Sample 2 - Summilux f1.4

Sample 2 – Summilux f1.4

Sample 2 - Summicron f2

Sample 2 – Summicron f2

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Sample 2 - Summilux f4

Sample 2 – Summilux f4

Sample 2 - Summicron f4

Sample 2 – Summicron f4

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Sample 2 - Summilux f8

Sample 2 – Summilux f8

Sample 2 - Summicron f8

Sample 2 – Summicron f8

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Overall, for me, the Summilux is the winner. I find it generally sharper and the creamy bokeh wide open is on another level. However, it has it’s drawbacks… size, weight and price.

Going by the images above, there’s really not too much in it and for half the price of the Summilux, the Summicron is a belter of a little lens, razor sharp, no noticeable fall off and perfect for travel and every day shooting.

> Leica’s 50mm Summilux webpage

> Leica’s 50mm Summicron webpage

Over Confidence with the Leica M Monochrom

Shooting with the Leica M System takes practice. At first it’s not easy, but the more you use it, the easier it gets until after a while it’s just instinctive. You lift the camera to your eye, adjust the focus tab, overlap the two images in the viewfinder and press click. Or at least that is what you do if you shoot Aperture Priority all the time. If you don’t use AP, it’s a little more complicated, but being a street shooter, I need to capture my subjects very quickly and Aperture Priority is a must. It alleviates the need to set shutter speed leaving you with nothing but focusing to worry about… Unless you’re shooting with a Leica M Monochrom.

The Monochrom is a superb camera. It is black and white only, full frame and captures an uncanny amount of detail, so much detail that numerous people have stated it produces a sharper, more detailed shot than most black and white medium format cameras. I can’t back this up as I have no experience of MF cameras either digital or film. What I can say is that of all the 35mm cameras I have ever shot, both digital and film, nothing I’ve ever seen compares to the clarity, sharpness and tonal gradation that the Monochrom achieves. It is simply outstanding… Until it bites you in the ass!

I live in Scotland. Scotland, albeit a fantastic country full of haggis and whisky, is grey. We don’t get much sun here, so setting an M camera up for street shooting is easy. Here’s the drill…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/60th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 5000 or 8000 depending on wether you are shooting day or night
  4. Get out on the street – you’re ready to go

This set up works great when the sun you do get in Scotland is forcing it’s way through layers of grey cloud. It never fails. Keep your lens wide open, click the button and let your camera sort out shutter speed and ISO and you have your photo. But last week I went to London for a day and took the camera… When I got home it bit me in the ass.

I took about 40 shots, got home and uploaded the shots from the card and all but a few were overexposed. Why? London was sunny! I was shooting wide open with the camera set up for grey Scottish light and the bright sunlight in London was just too much for the Monochrom. The (non-technical) reason for this is that the Monochrom has no Bayer filter and therefor lets in more light. Too much light hitting a sensor will burn out the blacks and cause overexposure. With a colour camera (one with a Bayer sensor), you can save nearly all overexposed shots by playing around with the colour channels in Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom, but with the Monochrom you only have one channel – black.

The settings I should have used are…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/125th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 2500

So there I was, sitting looking at 40 odd overexposed shots thinking what a waste and I started to delete them one by one, but then came across a few that had just enough black in them that I though I might be able to save some.

It’s testament to both the Leica M Monochrom and Leica lenses, that even in the harshest of sunlight and wide open with a shutter speed that is too slow, that they can capture and render such strong contrasts. It may be the main reason that Leica lenses are so damn good.

I opened up one of the shots in Silver Effex and started playing around with the contrast slider and hey presto, and totally by (happy) accident, came up with an image that looks like a deliberate hi-key shot. I played with a few more and managed to save 8 or 9 of the 40 i had taken. Lucky!

Lunch

So the moral of this story is that when you use a manual camera, specifically a Leica M Monochrom, just remember the word “manual”. Don’t rely on settings you used in one location just to “automatically” work elsewhere. Photography is all about capturing light and if your camera is set up for a different type of light that the one your shooting in… it’ll bite you in the ass!