Imaging Indecision, Part One Hundred Twenty-two

[Note: This has been sitting in my drafts folder since March of 2013. I ended up not going with the M as I have issues composing with a rangefinder and its attendant parallax challenges. Anyway, thought I’d throw it up here finally because I found it a funny glimpse in my thought process.]


So, I picked up a Leica M9 to play with. Reasonings could be as follows:

A. Having actually had the same photo set up for upwards of 8 whole months, I must go insane and waste time and untold amounts of energy selling and buying stupidly. You see, the rest of the world’s photographers try to take good photos. God bless but that’s not my way. I play with fun toys and in so doing, occasionally, by accident, take pictures I don’t hate. Well, hate that much.

B. I like small cameras. Ever since I got the Fuji XPro1 my D800E has sat in its bag unless I was taking catalog shots. The Fuji can fit in my jacket pocket and, as such, I take it everywhere. My trip to London a month or so ago was great with the Fuji.

I have a couple problems with the Fuji though. The smearing problem is the biggest. Even with Capture One this does not go away. Further as the ISO increases noise in the dark areas bunch up into odd shapes that you really can’t fix.

Now the second problem is pretty fixable if you stay at 3200 max. MOST of the time you will not see the problem unless the frame is pretty uniformly dark. But if you keep it at 1600 max it is great all of the time.

However the first problem doesn’t go away. I recently did a quick catalog shoot with the Fuji as I had left my D800E at home. It was a tool that was a special and was shipping that day so time was cramped. I took a ton of pictures of it and put it in UPS. I was really, really excited about one set of the pictures. This was one I was thinking that I could blow up and use on our booth at trade shows. When I was editing the pics later I noticed the vast majority of them had areas where the detail became washed out. We have lettering that is cast in aluminum and the detail was lost even when converted to B&W. It looked like plastic. Odd. These were not really useable on anything but a small print (which is completely fine for the vast majority of my work). But I really wanted that shot so the next day I had another tool built to take pictures of with the D800E.

The last problem is just one of aesthetics. The Fuji lenses are incredible and have really wonderful rendering of black to white. Everything is damn smooth. I have a couple Leica R lenses and they really remind me of them. Just buttery. Now I also have a couple Zeiss lenses and they are not that. Contrast is huge and all pervasive. Things that are black can be none more black. And I just absolutely love this. For example:

1. Note ISO 1600 and no NR

Now that is an image of nothing, sure, but doesn’t it just look heavy as hell? I just love the tones. The Fuji would give you a completely different, actually more detailed image. But it doesn’t move me as much. Don’t get me wrong I do love what the Fuji can do. I mean, this shot I really like:


walter-hop (1 of 1) by Andy Henry Photo, on Flickr

These two pictures have pretty much the same processing through Nik Silver. Number 2 though is much smoother in contrast than 1 and it just isn’t as striking to my eye. Again, this is personal preference not an absolute better or worse thing.

I did buy the Fuji M-mount adapter to try mounting the Zeiss stuff on the Xpro1. It is pretty good but manual focus on that is a fair amount of work. If it had focus peaking like the X100S or NEX cameras do this would fix this. But as it stands it is too much of a pain.

While we are on that subject, why not a NEX-6 or NEX-7? First, colors. When I had a NEX-5N and NEX-7 I just never shot in color. No picture ever worked for me that way. It was only when I got the D800E that I realized the problem. The Nikon colors are just fine for me but the Fuji’s are incredible. And the Leica seems to be in that same league:

Now this is, again, a crap photo of nothing but this is just straight out of the camera. To me it is great.

The second problem I have with the Sony is ergonomics. The tri-nav on the NEX7 was really pretty good. But I just like the obviousness of the Fuji or Leica manual controls. It is really easy to change settings quickly and know where you are at a glance.

Conversely, this is also true with pretty much every DSLR. (If you are still reading this respond on this thread with the word “orange” just to cause confusion for the non-massochistic among us who stopped reading or, smarter still, never started.) The Nikon (and Canon) ease of changing aperture, speed and exposure comp with finger dials is great. You really don’t have to take your eye off of anything to get everything done. This was especially true with the D3S which seemed to have a few more buttons and switches but that is definitely overkill on little cameras.

So with Sony and Fuji with things that I don’t find optimal, that kind of leaves me with Leica (and Samsung but I’ve never even seen one or heard of people using it–not a knock but I’d like a bit more data).

The initial impressions are:

3. Holy wow detail:

Working on this shot actually reminded me of when I first got the D3S. The Nikon zoom lenses having to cover only 12 mpix of really clean sensor left me with hilariously sharp images at 100%. If you had to crop or print bigger you really had no worries. This is actually a very, very, very small problem with the D800E. I really think that most of the time the bottle neck in the equation is now the lens. I don’t really think most of the lenses are capable of 36 mpix of detail. Again, small nitpick but it is real.

Noise is an issue with the M9 but 1600 in B&W is really workable. I would say that it is comparable if not a small bit better than the noise I would get out of my NEX3.

4. Note no NR

I can live with that for the time being. If I have a working ISO 3200 I can be happy. ISO 6400 and I then can forget about all things ISO.

So I think my plan is going to be to play with this for another couple weeks. See if I can live with the focusing patch–this is taking a bit of getting used to. I am finding myself slower on complex subjects where I wouldn’t be with an old SLR type split focusing screen. But on other subjects it is faster because you can figure out which way and how far you have to turn the focus by the position of the double image.

If this works out I think I’ll sell the Nikon and Fuji stuff, some plasma, the neighbor’s baby and the title to the Brooklyn Bridge and get the new M. That would fix the known problems with the M9 being better high ISO, lacking live view and the ability to mount long lenses as the M has an EVF so TTL focusing is on.

And then I’ll keep that for at least a year. Oh, who am I kidding. Six months. Tops.

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