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Friday, March 27, 2015

LEICA PHOTO CHALLENGE


Leica Camera announced:


Leica Fotopark  #LeicaSpring

LEICA FOTOPARK

Leica Fotopark begins the season when everything comes to life with a photo challenge that comes with a spring feeling. Send in your photo and amaze other photographers in the Fotopark community with bright, lively or idyllic spring pictures! All you have to do is upload your pictures on the theme of spring to the Leica Fotopark between 30 March and 12 April, 2015 under the title #LeicaSpring. After the closing deadline, the pictures will be rated and three winning photos will be chosen and displayed in the Leica Store in Wetzlar. In addition, the photographer of the picture awarded first place will be sent their photo mounted on acrylic glass in the format 90×60. Should you be one of the lucky prizewinners, you automatically consent to your name and picture being published and used for media distribution purposes.

You could be one of three lucky winners to see their photos exhibited and you might even win the first prize and see your photo mounted behind acrylic glass! We are looking forward to receiving your entries and wish you the best of luck!




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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NEW LEICA T LENSES



Leica T

Leica announced two more additions to the lenses for the Leica T, thus substantially increasing the versatility of the camera.

SEE MORE OF THE SCENE

The new Leica wide-angle zoom

Leica Super Vario Elmar T

The Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH., equivalent to 17 to 35 mm in 35 mm format, offers excellent sharpness for particularly broad scenes. The great advantage of wide-angle lenses is that you can pack so much more subject into your picture, even when you move in closer.




GET CLOSER TO THE ACTION

The new Leica telephoto zoom

Leica APO Vario Elmar T

The high-performance Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-T 55-135 mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. brings faraway subjects to your fingertips. Its versatile range of focal lengths, equivalent to 80 to 200 mm in 35 mm format, makes it a lens you should never leave at home.



In addition, Leica published an article about the Leica T by Australian Photographer Nick Rains

TRAVELLING WITH AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHER NICK RAINS

An experience report

Nick-Rains_teaser-1200x800_5 © Nick Rains © Nick Rains © Nick Rains

Nick Rains was extended by the Leica T camera system on the go and he shares his views on the two new lenses with us on the Leica Camera Blog.

Nick Rains has been a full-time professional photographer since 1985 when he left the United Kingdom in search of adventure. He ended up in Australia, where is currently based, and has worked in commercial, landscape and travel photography. Since 1997 he has written and photographed six books. He has worked as a contributing photographer for Australian Geographic magazine and served as editor of Better Digital Camera magazine. In 2013 Nick was appointed Principal Instructor for the Leica Akademie in Australia. Below, he shares this thoughts and opinions on the Leica T Camera System lenses APO-Vario-Elmar-T 55-135 mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. and Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH.

Q: Most of the images in your previous Leica blog appearances were shot on medium format with the Leica S-System. What was it like shooting with the Leica T, and what are some of the advantages of shooting with a more compact system for the kind of work you do?

A: Working with a small camera can just be pure fun – photography can be too serious sometimes! The T is a fun camera to use but luckily it’s not compromised on quality so I can have my cake and eat it too, in a manner of speaking. I love the tiny size and I particularly like the Visoflex viewer and the touch interface – it’s a camera that I can be casual with, but still know that I can get publishable quality images if needs be. It’s also a discrete camera that people tend not to notice, which can be an advantage shooting out in public places.

Q: All the images that you shot with the Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm lens are of outstanding technical quality, exhibiting impressive sharpness and detail. Which ISOs did you use to achieve such high quality images, and what are your general impressions of the handling characteristics and overall quality of this lens?

A: I try to use all cameras at their base ISO whenever possible – this minimizes any possible image artifacts (like noise) and maximizes the dynamic range of the sensor. The T has an excellent sensor and I was very pleased with the results from the Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm lens – it’s light, compact in size and bitingly sharp even at its widest apertures. I also try to use a tripod as much as possible to make sure I am getting the most out of the camera and lens combination.


Q: What makes this image so engaging is not only the subject – motorized rickshaws and scooters moving lazily down a narrow paved pathway lined by huge old trees with monkeys playing on the side of the road – but the wonderfully diffuse hazy backlight that lends the image a kind of serene and timeless quality. Do you agree, and how do you think the Leica T and Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm lens handled the task of capturing this image in such challenging light?

A: The perspective compressing properties of a long lens are ideal for this type of shot because they accentuate the aerial perspective generated by the natural haze. At the 135 mm setting, the lens is the equivalent of 200 mm on a full frame camera so it’s a genuine telephoto lens. The haze is typical of this time of day – dawn – and the only real challenge for this shot was to make sure my point of focus was where the deer warning sign is. I think I used manual focus here so the camera didn’t try to refocus every time I touched the shutter button. Then it was just a case of waiting for the right sequence of people and vehicles, avoiding the occasional ugly tour bus!


Q: This image shot with the Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm wide-angle zoom shows a bridge over the Rhine with the Cologne Cathedral in the background was evidently shot at or near twilight. Because of the leading line of the bridge, it conveys a feeling of spaciousness and timelessness. What aperture, focal length, and ISO did you use to capture this image, and what do you think of the low-light and high ISO performance of the Leica T?

A: Thinking back, I’m pretty sure it was shot at dawn. That, and dusk, are my favorite times to shoot cityscapes – when the lights are still on but there is colour and texture in the sky as well. As I write this, I have just finished a series of courses on this exact subject for Leica Akademie Australia.

It was taken on a tripod, using base ISO and long exposures – up to 30 seconds – with apertures around 5.6 or 8. (For shots like this I don’t use high ISO, but when the T first came out I did a series of tests and was very impressed with the IQ up to ISO 3200.)


Q: The detail in this of an ancient Buddhist frieze is pretty spectacular and the performance of the Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm lens is impressive. Do you agree, and can you give us the tech data for this image, and also tell us something about the lighting, which greatly enhances the effect of this image?

A: The Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm is a stunning lens; I had been dying to shoot with it ever since I saw it at photokina. I was blown away by the pure quality of such a small zoom lens because it’s sharp right into the corners, even wide open. Not only that, but it’s incredibly sharp all over the frame and has very well controlled flare characteristics when shooting into the light – a tricky situation for a zoom lens.

These types of wall carvings are best shot with raking light to bring out the textures so it’s a timing thing rather than any photography trick. I simply shot them when the light was it its best, usually at dawn.

Q: What is your overall impression of the handling characteristics and imaging performance of the Super-Vario-Elmar-T 11-23 mm lens and do you think it effectively complements the Vario-Elmar 55-135 mm to provide a versatile compact system?

A: I think I have made it clear in the preceding comments that I am hugely impressed with the 11-23 mm. It’s a lens that is genuinely wide – not just a bit wide, but seriously wide! Yes, it definitely compliments the 55-135 mm and, in fact, I suspect that you could shoot just about anything with the two lenses. I’d take those two lenses along with a M-System 35 mm Summicron or Summilux (and the M-Adapter) to have a fast standard lens to fit between the two.

Q: Do you plan to continue using the Leica T in your work going forward, and how would you decide on whether to shoot with the Leica T, the Leica S, or the Leica M? If you decided to include both the Leica S and the Leica T in your outfit, what kind of subjects do you think would be the most suitable for each format?

A: Ahh! Hard question. They all have their merits and each system is capable of shooting any subject really. The T Camera System is a great way to get into interchangeable lens Leica systems. If I wasn’t already working with the M and S-Systems I almost certainly use the T: as it is, having three systems would mean I’d have to decide which one to use and with them all being so capable I’d be pushed to decide. The part of me that likes things to be easy would go for the T, the purist in me would plump for the M but the ‘quality at all costs’ side of me would go with the S.

If I was allowed two systems I’d probably go T and S; if I had to choose only one then I’d go for the M. But that’s my personal opinion; everyone has their own needs and the important thing is that any of these systems will deliver uncompromising image quality.

Thank you for your time, Nick!

- Leica Internet Team

Connect with Nick on his website.


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Monday, March 23, 2015

COMPARISON OF SENSOR VS FILM RESOLUTION



In a television advertisement a while ago the statement was made that, if it is on the internet, it must be true.  I was reminded of that a couple of days ago when I read an article comparing film to sensor resolution.  The writer boldly stated that most films have a resolution of at least 300 l/mm (lines per millimeter).  Of course that was overstating things by a huge margin.  I don’t mean to say that there aren't films that can attain such high resolution figures, but all films?

Resolution is generally tested by taking photographs of test targets which show a pattern of black lines in an ever decreasing size against a white background.  Eventually the lines will become so small that the film, or the lens, can no longer distinguish the black lines from the white spaces in between.  One black line and the adjacent white space are referred to as 2 l/mm or 1 lp/mm (line pair per millimeter).


Typical test target

It is a known fact, however, that evaluating resolution with test targets does not render very conclusive information.  The black lines and white spaces in between constitute a very high contrast.  This makes it substantially easier for the film (or a lens) to separate the two.  Reducing contrast by using grey lines on a white background would render substantially different results.

Another major factor influencing resolution is the grain structure of the film.  A film image is made up of silver halide clumps which show up in form of grain.  The smaller the silver halide clumps or the grain, the finer the detail that can be shown.  Faster films simply do display coarser grain which in turn lowers the resolution of a film. 


       

These three images are from a fine grain negative (Agfapan APX 25).
The first was scanned from an 8x enlargement, showing the entire negative area.
The second image was scanned from a 16x enlargement.
The third shows a cropped section of the same 16x enlargement 


File:2014 Ziarno na fotografii analogowej.jpg
Grainy film image.  The grain is so large that small detail simply cannot be shown
Photo: Góry Bialskie

      
For comparison:  Full image and cropped section from a 5 megapixel digital camera (Leica Digilux 2)

Finally, the structure of the emulsion or emulsion layers influences film resolution because in any case, light traveling through the emulsion, will scatter and thus reduce resolution as well.

Subsequently, to say that most films have a resolution of 300 l/mm is patently false.  As a matter of fact, only few commercially available films even have that high a resolution.

Researching this topic, I came across a report written by Joseph A. Schantz, Assistant Head of Research and Development Department at the Navel Photographic Center in Washington, DC.  He wrote that since 1963 the Navel Photographic Center and the Navel Air Systems Command as a matter of continuous policy have expanded efforts to upgrade 35mmphotography on a systematic basis.  The aim of this work was not only to improve the quality of documentary and reportage photography but also to improve intelligence collection capabilities of the Navy’s cameras.

According to the research done by Mr. Schantz, the best resolution obtainable with conventional, slow speed films, like the old Agfapan APX 25, is 250 – 300 l/mm compared to 550 l/mm with the Agfa High Contrast Copy Film and 600 l/mm with Kodak 5069 and 3414 film.

Kodak High Contrast Copy Film when processed in the POTA developer of Marilyn Levy (Levy, M., “Wide Latitude Photography,” Science and Eng. Vol. II Number I, January, February 1967) yield excellent high resolution negatives with adequate film speed.  The Agfa High Contrast Copy film gives a practical combination of good resolution and emulsion speed.

In addition, C. B. Neblette in his book “Photographic Lenses” clearly states: The resolving power of a lens-film combination is not fixed by the film alone, but by both the lens and the film (or sensor). Resolution is determined principally by the sharpness of the image (lens resolution).  But it is profoundly influenced by the tone producing properties of the receptor (film or sensor) and its ability to reproduce steep gradients.  For that reason resolution cannot be regarded as an exclusive property of the lens.

For the average films available today, a more modest resolution of 100 to 200 l/mm is a realistic figure, based on film speed and general properties of the film.  Black and white films generally have a higher resolution than color films.  The former Agfapan APX 25, for instance, had a resolution close to 300 l/mm while Fuji Velvia 50 is rated to resolve 160 l/mm. 

To make film resolution more understandable in this comparison, let’s refer to the smallest detail a film can show as pixels.  On a standard 24 x 36mm 35mm frame, a film with a resolution of 100 l/mm would render a total of over 8,6 million pixels.  That increases to over 19,4 million pixels with a film resolution of 150 l/mm and over 34,5 million pixels with a 200 l/mm resolution.

Of course a 35mm negative or transparency is of little use just by itself.  Today transparencies generally are scanned and then further processed digitally.  Does anyone still use a slide projector?  Many film users still make their own enlargements, mostly from black and white negatives, or the negatives are scanned for further processing.  Regardless how films are used, any further processing will have an image degrading effect, based on the slide projector, enlarger or scanner used and by their respective quality.

For more details on this topic go to LEICA Barnack Berek Blog article “LEICA LENSES – WHAT GIVES THEM THEIR OUTSTANDING QUALITY.” 

How does this compare to digital sensors?  Top level full frame (24 x 35mm) cameras currently have resolution levels of approximately 25 to 35 megapixels, with higher pixel counts to be expected in the near future.  The general belief is that the higher the pixel count, the better the image quality.  However, there is a lot more to that than meets the eye.  The new CMOS sensor in the Leica M (Typ 240) has definite advantages over conventional CMOS sensors.  For a more detailed description of digital sensors and some of the major differences, got to LEICA Barnack and Berek Blog article “THE PIXEL RACE - DOES IT REALLY MAKE SENSE?” 


pixel diagram
Section of a typical sensor
 Image courtesy of  Red Dot Forum

CMOS sensor
Conventional CMOS sensor with deep pixel wells and flat microlenses

MAX CMOS sensor
Leica CMOS sensor with very shallow pixel wells and tall micro lenses, allowing for larger pixel area

Unlike film, digital sensors will render the same contrast level up to the finest detail.  This has the result that the finest detail becomes less visible. A color image is made up out of RGB (red, green, blue) image elements.  With the exception of the hardly ever used Foveon sensors, digital sensors can record only in black and white.  In order to obtain a color image, the light passes through an array of red, green and blue filters, the Bayer filter grid.  This means that the total number of pixels in a sensor are exposed to either red, green or blue light only.  To form a color image, the information obtained from the sensor is then processed by interpolation in the camera or by raw conversion software.  It takes the pixels of each color, and assigns all colors to each pixel.  With other words, the software will take a red pixel, for instance, and assign theoretical green and blue values as well to form a complete color image.  As good as these types of software have become, there are certain losses involved.

With lower quality cameras these losses can be as much as 50 percent of the resolution.  The only exception to this is the Leica M Monochrome.  Here the Bayer filter and interpolation software is eliminated to record just black and white images.  See LEICA Barnack and Berek Blog article “MONOCHROME SENSOR - WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE.”  The result is an unsurpassed image quality and tonal range. 



In the final analysis, just as there are definite performance differences among films, there are also considerable differences among sensors.  CCD sensors used to be the choice of most camera manufacturers.  These have been widely replaced by CMOS sensors.  In this respect, Leica is no different.  Many people are under the mistaken impression that the CCD sensor in the Leica M9 delivers superior results than the current CMOS sensor in the Leica M (Typ 240)  A recent comparison test by David Farkas of the Leica Store Miami thoroughly debunked that.  He took this very subject to task in a three part series in the Red Dot Forum (www.reddotforum.com).  See LEICA Barnack Berek Blog article “LEICA M (TYP 240) VS LEICA M9”.

The debate of which is better, film or digital sensors, cannot be answered with any certainty because the large differences among films and sensors.  What can be said is that both film and sensors are capable of delivering very high quality images.  In many cases they do exceed the requirements of the photographer since extreme cropping or enlarging is necessary to even reveal the limits of their capabilities.  Thus it is more a matter of personal choice than effective differences pointing to one or the other medium as being superior.

As for myself, I used to spend many hours in my lab developing films and printing with a Leitz Focomat V35 as well as medium and large format enlargers.  Having switched to digital, I don’t miss analog photography at all, and I can say with certainty that I am not compromising the overall quality of my work by having done so.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Short Leica Story



During a visit to Leica in Germany a while ago, I had the opportunity to get a personal tour of the facilities and to ask a lot of questions.  At one point my contact person and guide introduced me to a gentleman who was working in the lens design department.  I took the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about Leica lenses which also led me to ask about filters.  My question was met with a very stern face with him saying,

     “If we had intended our lenses to have flat pieces of glass in front, we would have designed them that way.”

Do I use filters in my Leica lenses?  No!

 
 The legendary Leitz Thambar, a lens that was indeed designed to have a "flat piece of glass" in front.
The filter was designed to cancel out the sharp center rays to allow controlled amount of soft focus by varying the aperture.

For more on the Thambar, click here

For more on the topic of filters click here

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WORK FOR LEICA?



The Wetzlar daily [m]ittelhessen.de offered a rare look at what criteria Leica uses to hire people to work at their facility in Wetzlar.  They conducted an interview with Leica personnel officer Alexandra Takak.

Unlike most companies in the US, Leica trains many of their employees in house, including opticians, mechanics, electronics specialists and specialist in metal technology.  But what does it actually take to be hired by Leica as an apprentice?

Not unimportant are the grades achieved in prior education.  The commercial and technical fields include grades in the natural sciences math and physics, while for merchants great emphasis is put on language skills.  Another criterion is the hobbies of the candidates.  Someone who in his spare time likes to take photographs, for instance, has already a closer connection to the company.  Additional importance is put on social skills.  An apprentice must be polite, punctual and reliable.

The new Leica headquarters at Leitz Park in Wetzlar

More specifically, initially Leica teaches their apprentices basic skills.  Later on they will work in areas pertaining to the particular jobs they are seeking. This has led to Leica being able to employ virtually one hundred percent of their trainees.  In addition, the young people can continue their education with additional training and university studies.  Of course top scientific positions, as in lens design, for instance, require university degrees before any individual can seek a position at Leica.

Leica also considers it important for the trainees to go beyond the specific requirements of their future position in the company and to have a say in their education.

It should also be mentioned that this approach is free of charge.  Not only are apprentices and trainees able to get an education in specific fields, they will earn an income during this time as well.  In addition, these individuals have the assurance of a job once they have completed their education.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

ERICH SALOMON – THE FIRST MODERN PHOTOJOURNALIST




In the past many famous photographers were enabled to excel in their craft with the help of Leica cameras.  The small size and speed of operation of the camera allowed photographers to work in a much different manner than what was possible with the slow, large cameras before.  The Leica literally allowed photographers to create an entirely different type of photography, modern photojournalism.

Erich Salomon is credited of being the father of modern photojournalism.  His candid photographs of important events in the early 1900s are masterworks that even today are important examples of excellent photographic work.

 
 Mussolini, left, talking with a delegation of German diplomats in 1931.

Erich Salomon was born on April 28, 1886 in Berlin.  His father was a banker; his mother came from a line of prominent publishers. He first studied zoology and then switched to engineering before finally settling on law.  He got his degree in 1913.

At the outbreak of World War I Salomon was drafted into the army.  He was captured during the first Battle of the Marne. He spent the next four years in prisoner-of-war camps, where he served as an interpreter. He became fluent in French which later proved to be invaluable in gaining entry to conferences.

After the war Salomon began to work for Ullstein publishing house in 1925.  At Ullstein, Salomon immediately was fascinated by photography, and soon began shooting feature pictures for the Ullstein dailies. He began to experiment with the technique of shooting indoors by existing light and, after mastering it, had no trouble convincing Ullstein to let him cover the headline-making trial of a police killer for Berliner Illustrierte.

 
Ermanox camera with Ernostar 100mm f/2 lens

 
Erich Salomon with his Ermanox camera

 
Erich Salomon, Self-Portrait on Board of the Mauretania, 1929

 
Erich Salomon, right, using a Leica camera, and E.O. Hoppé photographing each other, 1936

The camera Salomon used was the Ermanox, a 2 1/4 x 1 7/8 glass plate camera with a 100mm lens of the then sensational speed of f/2.  Later on, when the Leica too offered lenses of that speed, Salomon switched to using the smaller and easier to operate Leica cameras.

Photography in courtrooms was forbidden.  Any pictures taken would have been a major scoop for the paper, but the ones that Salomon returned were extraordinary. Salomon had accomplished this by hiding his camera in a bowler hat, cutting a hole for the lens. On the last day, when a court attendant finally realized what he was doing and demanded his negatives, Salomon resorted to a trick he used time and time again. He handed over unexposed plates, and left with the exposed ones still in his pockets. Salomon was known to have rather droopy coat pockets.  He was using glass plates in his camera at the time, unexposed plates in one and the exposed ones in the other.  In 1928, only one year after he had become interested in photography, Salomon´s career was launched.

 
Krantz trial. Hilde Scheller in the witness box, Berlin, 1928.

At another murder trial Salomon concealed his Ermanox in an attaché case which contained a set of levers to trigger the shutter. When these pictures were widely published throughout Europe, he left his staff position at Ullstein to become a full-time professional. That same year, he covered his first series of international conferences: the summit meeting in Lugano, a session of the League of Nations in Geneva, and the signing of the Kellogg-Briand disarmament pack in Paris, where he calmly walked in and took the seat of the absent Polish delegate. In his free time, he frequented diplomatic and social events in Berlin.

 
Five Gentlemen Conversing around a Table, c. 1928

Albert Einstein with British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Nobel Prize-winner Max Planck, far left, and other German political and business leaders. August 1931

Because of his persistence, unobtrusive manner, and dramatic results, Salomon found little objection to his presence at events where all other photographers were excluded. Indeed, many statesmen began to develop a good-humored acceptance of his presence. At the opening of an international gathering, the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand is known to have been looking around saying, "Where is Dr. Salomon? We can´t start without him. The people won´t think this conference is important at all!"

 
Aristide Briand pointing to Salomon, shouting: "Ah ! le voilà ! The king of the indiscreet !" (1930)

 
German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann en route to Paris for signature of the Briand-Kellogg Pact, 1928.

By 1931, Salomon was at the top of his career.  But Salomon´s celebrity in his homeland was short-lived. Only a year later, after returning from his second trip to America, he found Hitler gaining power in Germany.  The Weimar Republic was soon to come to its end.  Salomon began making preparations to leave.


Salomon decided to settle in Holland, his wife´s native country. They moved to The Hague where he still covered many important events. He also continued to travel. Britain especially fascinated him, and he made frequent visits to photograph government and opposition leaders and members of the royal family.  In the late thirties he was invited to come to America by Life magazine.  They had published many of his photographs. He considered emigrating, but kept procrastinating. Soon it was too late to leave. In May 1940, the Nazis took Holland in just four days. The famous photographer from Berlin was now forced to wear a yellow star. In 1943, Salomon and his family went into hiding. They were betrayed by a meter reader who noted an increase in gas consumption. According to Red Cross records, Erich Salomon, his wife and their younger son died at Auschwitz in July 1944, a month after the Allies landed in Normandy.

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