Sony RX1R – Just brilliant, a Leica crusher.

After 6 months of frustration with the Sony Nex 6 I decided to let it go. It is a camera with potential, but the menu system is so bad I didn’t want to use it. Ever. After I sold it, I found a Sony 16-50 power zoom lens on a hillside where it had either been accidentally dropped or thrown away in disgust. Even this spot of unwanted fortune didn’t make me want another Nex.

I loved the 35mm view in the days of film. I loved it so much that I have a 35mm f1.4 L for my 5D2, and it’s just fantastic. But it’s too big for candid work. So I started researching and decided that maybe a Sony RX1 was going to do it for me. I discovered several tasty things – that Sony hadn’t messed this one up with crappy Nex-style impossible and slow menus; that is full-frame; that it has a fantastic 35mm f2 Zeiss lens. And also that it has an accessory electronic viewfinder.


Enter the RX1 into my stable, in the form of the RX1R with no anti-aliasing filter. I am in love. It produces output as good as my 5D2 can. It is tiny. Even though I normally only shoot RAW, it can produce beautiful JPEGs that are just fantastic. It can also just about see in the dark with its amazing ISO performance.

Here is a grab shot, an image of a co-worker that is a crop from a JPEG shot with no regard to any technical issues. It was at f2 and for everything else, the camera decided what to do. I normally would have shot this as a RAW file, but I had been messing about and it was set to produce just JPEGs.


JPEG file, cropped: f2, 1/1250 @ 3200 ISO, in mixed fluorescent light and daylight. Great file output eh?

Here’s one that was shot is very low light on a soccer field at night:


RAW file: f2, 1/80 sec @ 2000 ISO, converted in Nik Silver Efex 2

Some noise has been made on the web about poor focus performance. I can tell you that this is just nonsense. Look at the proof above. It is far and away better then the Fujifilm X100 I couldn’t get on with (see my earlier posts). I surmise that the focus debate has been propelled by people who have never touched and RX1. Did I say that the lens is sensational? That’s an understatement. Bitingly sharp at f2. great contrast and fabulous bokeh – it gives the buttery smoothness of a longer focal length lens of exceptional quality. The camera is small enough to fit into a coat pocket, and it is tough enough to survive. In my opinion it is capable of producing image files that destroy those from a Leica M240 with a Summicron 35mm of any version.

It is also a good action shooter if you are close enough not to need a telephoto:


Another JPEG: f5.6, 1/500sec  @ 200 ISO

This image of impromptu parkour practice was pumped up a bit in post in terms of colour as the day was flat and overcast.

A couple of tips – set the rear-mounted AEL button to be the focus button (away from the shutter release), set the camera to manual focus and you can have either immediately on hand. Set it to aperture priority, give it a fixed ISO (not auto) again set through a custom button, and you get around the 1/80 second auto-set shutter speed that some people moan about.  Oh, and put a tiny bit of electrician’s tape of the bottom of the EVF and it makes it impossible to lose it by falling out

I say get one – it won’t replace your DSLR, but it will free your creative side significantly, and is a brilliant pairing with a system camera – different horses for different courses. It will make you want to get out and start shooting creatively again.







Barnack IIIf (almost) sorted

Back together again

A couple of days ago I posted a shot of a Leica IIIf red dial, with a bit of commentary about what it needed to get it properly sorted. The last thing needed was to fix the shutter timing. Well, I bit the bullet and tore it down. Here is a picture of it in bits on my desk:

Pretty straightforwards, following many of the excellent directions available on the net. I got into a bit of difficultly reassembling the slow speed governor, but thanks to the wonderful Rick Oleson (google him), a brilliant and helpful camera fix-it whiz, I had foolproof instructions on getting it back together. The ripped film (above the knife) was hidden inside, all ready to jam things up as soon as I loaded it if I hadn’t found it by then.

The two images following are sound recordings I made to try and assess the before and after shutter speed situation. They were recorded using a freeware program called “Audacity”, using a microphone poking into the body cavity. Both recordings are of 1/2 second:

The first image shows that the first curtain traveled OK, and the second curtain started to try and close at 0.75 secs. but took another 0.25 seconds to actually close. It was also pretty noisy.

Adjusting the first and second curtain settings has altered this poor situation – the second image reveal a few things after my tear-down, clean and lube – it is much quieter; the timing is just a bit off at 0.55 secs (only a +10% variation); and the second curtain now properly closes the shutter and caps the film. The situation seems to me to be similar across all of the speeds.

It seems to work pretty well now. I will soon get around to properly timing the shutter speeds – they have gone from abysmally slooow to just a tiny a bit fast now, I feel. To get closer, I need access to an old fashioned TV with a CRT to act as a timing device.

Hopefully I will soon have that sorted, and then in with a film. Now all I have to do is find my collection of antique Weston meters. Or should I just guess through the “Sunny 16” rule?

Whatever, I can’t wait.

Barnack heaven

Leica IIIf Red Dial

Oh my God. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. In the past few days I have unearthed three beautiful finds. A Canonet QL17 GIII with its original instruction book, a Nikon FM2n with an unmarked 50mm f1.4 AI Nikkor (both for $5 each), and – a Leica IIIf RD ST fitted with a Summicron collapsible 5cm f2 lens. I will spill about the Nikon and Canon shortly in a subsequent post, but for now, I want to share the Leica with you.

Oscar Barnack designed the very first in Leica in 1914. The first World War intervened and stopped the first ones being sold until 1925, and Barnack, as head of Leitz’s construction office, continued designing improved variants until he passed away in early 1936. His legacy lived on in all of the screw-mount Leica cameras that were produced until their line was first eclipsed and ended by the bayonet mount M3, released in 1954. I say his legacy has lived on, as all of the screw mount Leicas were simple, graceful and above all small jewels of ingenuity and incredible quality.

Let me introduce my new best buddy – my beautiful Leica IIIf RD ST – meaning the red dial, self timer variant as shown here, fitted with its Summicron:

Some call it a IIf RD DA. More correctly, Erwin Puts (a Leica fanatic and generally regarded as an oracle) describes this as a “Leica IIIf Vorlauf ELC (RD)” and from its serial number it was actually made in Canada – making it rare and very, very collectable. There were only 4,000 Canadian units made out of a total of 184, 100 that were produced between 1950 and 1957. (Thanks, Leica Wiki:  http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-wiki.en/index.php/Leica_IIIf  )

The RD or “red dial” means the version introduced late in the production run with some red filled figures on the speed and flash synchronization dials. The ST means a factory-fitted self-timer is present. (The DA in some names refers to the presence of a delayed action – or a self timer…) Only one other version of screw mount Leicas was made after this one, and, yes, it was called the IIIg. It is very rare – I have never seen one. Mine dates from 1954, when the IIIf was marketed in parallel with the first M3s. The screw mount collapsible Summicron started life in 1953, the first year that this brilliant lens series was born, and is one of the very first batch of 6000 ever produced – I wonder if they have been mated all their lives?

My one was practically given to me by an old fellow who knowingly said it “has some issues”. I got it home, and checked it out. The list of issues: filthy, dirty chrome; scratched front element and dull glass; jammed aperture ring; missing vulcanite under the lens mount; and slow speeds issues.

Well here’s the health report after a couple of days:

  • chrome – sorted. Cleaned up nicely and shines like new with only a couple of minor rub marks, and a bit of brassing on the winder and rewind knobs;
  • scratched front element and dull glass – sorted. The lens had a very marked filter jammed on. I eventually got it off, and guess what – clean, clear, unmarked almost pristine glass elements all through the lens. This is almost unheard of as the front elements are notoriously soft, and most have been ruined by cleaning. It seems this one’s jammed filter saved it from this fate.
  • jammed aperture ring – sorted. I unscrewed the front section, and cleaned out the old hardened grease jamming it up with lighter fluid. It is now a very easy one finger adjustment.
  • missing vulcanite under the lens mount – sorted.  “Star brite” brand black liquid electrical tape mixed with talcum powder makes new rubber the same colour as the old vulcanite. This then is applied with a skewer to fill the missing area, and when nearly set is pressed with a sealing wax block that I melted and pressed onto a good area of the body to make an impression of the existing pattern. Looks pretty convincing.
  • slow speed issues – nearly sorted. Both curtains now open and close nicely. One half second times electronically as 0.55 secs so its only 10% out now. I have to check the fast speeds.

I have unearthed an old finder from my collection of bits and pieces which serves well as the 50mm bright line viewfinder this camera really needs. The camera’s rangefinder works perfectly, and even has a built-in diopter-adjust mechanism. It just keeps getting better. I am definitely going to get back into film with this incredible camera. I have promised this before and never followed through for long, but this camera has sparked something special in me again. My reading has informed me that Henri Cartier Bresson used exactly this combination to make some of his most famous images. What’s good enough for him surpasses my modest needs.

Dare I say it – I like it a whole lot better than my M6. It’s much quieter, too..

Heresy – The Olympus E-P2 IS better than the Leica M8

The Olympus E-P2 is better than the Leica M8 … at least for me.

A good friend of mine loaned me a Leica M8 body recently (many thanks, Zoran!) with an eye to a sale, as I had a hunger to go Leica digital as I have a few nice old rangefinder lenses hanging about.  This hunger arose and then intensified as I have been having more success with my Olympus E-P2 than I usually enjoy with my Canon 5D outfit for more candid and intimate shots, and I guess I thought that the M8 body might confer a bit more of the old Leica magick on me if I had one.

To get ready for it, I sold off a wad of kit that I owned but never used, and now it has gone I know I didn’t actually want (let alone need) either. This included a FujiFilm S3 Pro DSLR, a Canon G10, and some other digital paperweights. Don’t get me wrong – in the right hands, these are serious tools capable of great work, it’s just that my hands were not the right ones. This was a Good Thing. No-one wanted to buy my old Tamron Adaptall zooms and Pentax Takumar primes either, so I still have them. This outcome was also a Good Thing.

I used  the Leica for a couple of weeks in parallel with my E-P2 “Pen” that I also have been using as a mount for old glass. Before I confer my decision, I must confess that I own and occasionally use a beautiful chrome M6, so I know what a camera fitted with the famous red dot can do in the right circumstances. Notwithstanding my love of my film M6 (note that I have also owned and used an M5 and loved it too), I just couldn’t get the M8 to feel right and work with me as I have done with it’s film-based brethren.

The M8 is a beautiful tool – hand made and handsome in a most purposeful way – that can excel as only a rangefinder can with the right eyes and brain behind it. It seems that I am not one of those appropriately equipped to delight in the M8 experience. Here’s why:

  • It’s too heavy.
  • I hate the viewfinder – the framelines are worthless, and the 0.68 magnification factor – optimised for longer lenses, just what you don’t need on a crop sensor body –  is not nice when you have been used to a classic M6 with the standard finder magnification of 0.72.
  • I had issues with the rangefinder leading to consistently out-of-focus images with a properly calibrated modern Summicron 50mm, if you can believe it.
  • I was worried about its worth and felt as though every eye was on me – this is the opposite experience most people report about using a discrete black dumb-looking rangefinder.
  • Now I have discovered the value of family video, the M8 can’t actually shoot any.
  • The in-camera JPEGs are horrible, although the DNG RAW files are as industry-standard as you can get.
  • Because of the excessive inbuilt IR sensitivity, you really do need to invest in IR cut filters for each lens you use, and they are expensive.

There are some good M8 things as well:

  • It’s so cool.
  • You can use any of the fantastic glass made for a Leica over the past 80 years by Zeiss, Canon, Voigtlander, and yes, even by Leica. It’s all fabulous, and you can pick and choose the rendering intent you are seeking.
  • It’s low-light noise performance, although not as good as the Canon 5D, is pretty darn good, and better than the Pen’s. The sensor is nearly APS-H size (but not quite), which is more than double the area of the micro 4/3 standard sensor real estate.
  • Did I already say it’s cool?

On the other hand, my creativity with old glass has been recently unmatched by my use of the Pen. I believe that I have recently taken some of the best shots of my 47 years of having access to and using a camera (I started when I was 7 with a Box Brownie) on the Pen. Here’s why:

  • It’s so cool.
  • It’s small and relatively lightweight.
  • I have a huge choice of glass – with just 2 adapters that cost $25 each, I can use any screw or bayonet mount lens  ever designed for the Leica rangefinder family, or any of the almost limitless array of glass built on the M42 / Pentax screw mount. Oh, and don’t forget the modern M4/3 glass from Olympus, Leica, Panasonic, Voigtlander or some of the boutique glass factory products designed to fit M4/3 cameras too. And just like with the M8, you can pick and choose the rendering intent you are seeking by your choice of lens.
  • When I use old glass, because of the M4/2 two-times crop factor the sensor sees only the prime middle section of the chosen lens’s image circle – goodbye soft corners, farewell vignettes.
  • The Pen’s optional electronic viewfinder (VF-2) is amazing, in that with its 1.15 times magnification you can actually see and compose the picture even in low light with the camera pressed up against your face, just like we all used to do until optical viewfinders were cruelly snatched away from us at the dawn of the digital age, and not replaced in order just to save a few bucks in build costs. You can also examine the effects of your chosen aperture on the depth of field. A side benefit of the VF-2 finder is that at least with some lenses, keeping both eyes open results in a most unusual 3D view of the scene you are shooting.
  • This face-stabilised mode allows for sharp images as the camera wobbles about far less than when held at arm’s length like every other digital P&S wonder on the planet does without a viewfinder.
  • It has sensor-stabilisation available for every lens that you can fit, making otherwise shaky images possible in low light.
  • The JPEGs it makes automatically are far and away better than the Leica’s by a country mile. The RAW images are of course every bit as good for raw material as the DNG varieties that the M8 creates.
  • The colour performance and white balance is better than the M8.
  • The low-light performance, although not as good as the M8, is pretty darn good, and vastly better than any point-and-shoot can do, because  although not offering any more resolution, the sensor is 9 times bigger (225 mm2 vs 25 mm2) than the 1 /2.5 “ sensor in the typical 12 mpix auto-everything Canon/Nikon/Samsung/Pentax and, yes, Olympus offering.
  • It’s a fantastic video camera, especially when fitted with old glass.

It’s not all rosy, however – now for the bad Pen issues that have impacted me

  • The autofocus with a modern M4/3 lens is slow compared to a DSLR (however it kills the M8’s, which has none at all anyway).
  • The crop factor is 2 times, making your old 50mm a short telephoto, and thereby automatically making very wide angle lenses very expensive. The M8’s crop is only 1.3 times, which is far more useful (to me at least).
  • It’s so cool especially fitted with an old lens, that people stop you to ask “what camera is it”?

I find that my creativity, especially with people, portraits and candids, soars with the Pen (compared to using but primarily worrying about protecting the M8 because of its cost) especially when it is fitted with a quality old fashioned manual-everything lens. My current favourites are the 50 year old Canon 50mm f1.2 LTM light bucket, and the fabulous Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2 M mount lens, my new “standard”.

My percentage of keepers is massively higher from the Pen than from the M8. On this basis alone, I am prepared to accept the two compromise areas I don’t really like about the Pen – the crop ratio, and the low light noise performance. Simply put, a successful keeper is infinitely better than and preferable to an out-of-focus or missed shot to me…

If I want really wide or super low light quality, well I just use the Canon 5D instead. It’s horses for courses, I guess. So, I’m staying with the Pen as my choice for a small, super-high-quality unit to use when the Canon 5D is just too big.

Oh, and I have just saved wasting $2500 on a dream that would not deliver for me, too. Just don’t hate me for being a heretic

Three rangefinders

Film rangefinders – you either understand true lust or have paased them over and are into digital everything. There’s room in my heart for these beautiful cameras.
Here are a few from my small collection, all with interchangeable lenses.
The Leica M6 classic in my favourite chrome, 1997, fitted with its current model Summicron 50mm f2.
The old box it sits on really appeals to me – I have kept prints in it for 25 years.
I know they are not fashionable, but the M5 really appeals to me – solid, reliable, and with a TTL meter.  My trusty Canon 50mm f1.2 with its vented hood is a great lens in its own right, but I felt that now I needed a Summicron 50, so the Canon could go back to its Canon 7 body and not feel guilty about being in a mixed marriage.
I had the luxury of a choice of 2 Summicron possibilities – a 1958 chrome rigid, or a 1981 black Canada tab. I ended up with neither – I eventually got the one on the M6, a modern, sharp, version 4 from the 1990s. Just beautiful.

Last, but certainly not least, the wonderful Canon 7, up close and personal, coupled with the fantastic Canon 50mm f1.2 lens, an optic made well before the release of the fabled Leitz Noctilux, is capable of incredible imagery. This camera and its CdS-equipped siblings are the pinnacle of the screw mount rangefinder camera design.

Postscript – The M5 has had to go to pay for the M6…

Olympus E-P2 as a night / street camera

In my never-ending quest for the perfect P&S camera that will give me at least some control over depth of field choices, I have deliberately put down my trusty 5D for serious work for a short while, and in its place dusted off my Olympus E-P2 (digital Pen) with a half-hearted promise to myself to have it with me as often as I can (rather than a hollow claim of “all of the time”).

Here are some early results from it as a night shooter:


The first is (obviously) a B&W conversion, done outside the camera from a RAW file. The second is (equally obviously) a bit of a fraud – the comet and stars have been added to give it a bit of oomph. Irrespective of the truth of this image, I like it.

The more serious mono image requires a bit of processing info to explain its look – this was a bit more complex than normal – firstly get the exposure and white balance right in ACR. A dark vignette then drops the unattractive edges away. Conversion to mono, with the look of a titanium-toned image, filtered with green to kill off some of the brightness of the overpowering neons.

As for the rendering from the little Pen, it seems to be excellent. These images were shot on auto-pilot at 400 ISO, using the body’s inbuilt image stabilization as (of course) I had no tripod with me when I was returning the rented DVDs back to the shop just around the corner from this magnificent homage to the neon sign’s possibilities. Oh, and the lens for both was the bog standard kit zoom, a seemingly good bit of glass even if it a bit slow for my tastes. I took advantage of a wobbly signpost to rest the camera on, a couple of snaps – no movement as there is no mirror – and here we are.

As for street use, for unobtrusively sneaking in a few candid camera shots, it’s equally brilliant:

How’s this – an image from inside an art gallery, that was so quiet an SLR would have had the curator down on me in no time. Again, shot with the kit lens, opened to its maximum aperture, and set to 400 ISO, and processed to mono outside the camera from RAW. I love it. It’s small – my ruler says it’s just 122mm wide – that’s only about 4 & 3/4 inches. You can use any old Leica/Canon/whatever M39 screw mount lenses as well as any Leica M glass you may have lying around on it. Some call it the poor man’s M8 – I reckon it’s better – what do you think?

Canon 7 – An available darkness machine

Body from 1961, lens from 1957, so it’s of the same vintage as me.

This was the end of the line for screw mount rangefinders, the Canon 7. Rugged and beautiful, it was equipped with a selenium coupled meter (still works), a long base rangefinder, an accurate and very rugged shutter, and in my case, the wonderful Canon f1.2 50mm lens, fast and sharp. I would still use this lens even if I was fortunate enough to have a f0.95 dream lens. My secondhand shop rummaging has turned up a Canon 135mm f4 lens (a Sonnar design), a 50mm Canon Serenar f1.9 collapsible lens from about 1949, and I also have a modern Voigtlander Snapshot Skopar 25mm f4 zone-focus lens when wide is needed. All of these lenses can fit the Digital Pen through two adapters.

The viewfinder is clean and uncluttered. A dial on the top selects 35, 50, 85/100 and 135mm framelines. It is much better than the cluttered finder in the Canon P, a screw mount  camera that is sought after by just about everybody else. Been there, done that, and didn’t like it at all.

I have found the correct Canon ventilated hood, and its original design ever-ready case too. Oh, and a modern unbreakable strap. Just made for portraits in available light.