Categories
Leica m9

Sensors and the dreaded dust!

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The view through the Visible Dust loupe. Note how the 6 led bulbs focus in the centre.

It’s been a couple of years now since I bought a Leica M9 and it’s taken me that long to finally get good results cleaning my sensor. I don’t expect perfection, after all, the odd spot is easily removed with Lightroom. But this is not the point. The cleaner you can get your sensor, the less time you spend touching up pictures. It’s not too much of a chore if you only have a few pictures but when you start dealing in the hundreds or the thousands, that is another matter. The time you can save is massive.

There are some manufacturers whose cameras offer various ways to keep the sensor clean such as ultrasonic vibrations etc but the M9 has nothing at all. If you don’t change your lenses often you might not ever see much dust but as soon as you take a lens off you are inviting dust into your camera. There is really very little you can do about this. The obvious things are to hold the camera upside down when changing lenses, make sure the caps and the lenses are kept clean. Don’t put a lens in a pocket or the dust that it picks up will find its way into your camera and onto the sensor.

Also it doesn’t help that I am a dusty person. Where we live it is generally dry and dusty. Sometimes it’s windy too and that moves things around. When I first began trying to clean my sensor I tried a system called a Dust-Aid. Many people claim to get good results with this system but I found it to be a complete joke. It put more dust on the sensor than it took off and it had the habit of leaving marks on it too. The Dust-Aid is supplied with some sticky strips. The idea is that you press the wand onto a sticky strip which removes the dust from it so that it is clean when you place it on the sensor. The strips were statically charged and it seemed to me that they were just attracting dust. The company who sold it to me said that I was being incompetent or my environment was too dusty. Or I was.

As I had so little experience cleaning sensors I had to assume that what they said was true. Since then I have discovered a few things. One of them is that despite being a dusty person in a dusty environment I am now able to get my sensor very clean so I now do not believe that it has anything to do with me.

I also believe that if you can clean a sensor without touching it in any way this has to be the best way forward. Why risk damaging such a delicate piece of the camera by touching it if you don’t have to? Obviously you are not cleaning the actual sensor but the low pass glass filter in front of it but it is still delicate and easily damaged.

After the disaster with the Dust-Aid I tried other systems. One of them, the Green Clean system was offered to me by the Leica dealer. This system sucks dust from the surface using a compressed air canister to create a filtered vacuum. The trouble is that it’s just too easy to touch the sensor with the hard plastic end and it also requires that you can see the dust that needs removing. I soon gave up with that but I did sometimes use the compressed air to quickly blow the dust off the sensor or lens and caps when changing lenses. This did help to keep dust down but using compressed air is fraught with potential dangers. Sometimes the can sprays out propellant and that can damage the sensor, or cover it in crap so that you then have to clean it. You cannot fly with compressed air, even in checked in luggage so it’s not really ideal.

After this I tried the swab and chemical route but every swab I tried just left dust or tiny lint particles from the swab on the sensor. What I learned is that some chemicals and cleaning solutions and swabs are better than others. I bought one kit recently in desperation as I couldn’t find any other system where I was and it came with paper swabs and a pen with a brush on one end and a pad on the other. As before I was not able to get the sensor clean and every time I passed with the swab I was aware that I was touching the sensor unnecessarily. All very nerve wracking just before an important photographic commission.

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A 100% crop of the top right hand corner. This picture of the sky is clean. Not a speck of dust in sight. Result. This was after using every tool in the bundle.

At that moment I decided that I was not going to stand for this any more. It is amazing that camera companies do not either recommend or sell a decent sensor cleaning kit for their cameras. It is as if they don’t even know. Maybe it is different for every camera and user? All I know is that it is very hard to get a clean sensor. So after 2 years of experimentation what system do I use now?

Well, one of the first things I can tell you is that it’s a multi stage process. not one system will get  the sensor as clean and dust free as you might want but a combination of them will.

The first thing to do when cleaning your sensor is to take a picture of the sky at f16. Then take a good look at it on the computer at 100%. Look especially in the corners as they seem the hardest to clean and also where dust seems to collect most.

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A 7x magnification and 6 bright angled leds makes this an excellent tool for a good close look at the sensor.

The most important thing, apart from a dry, dust free and windless environment to clean your sensor in is light and a way of magnifying the view so you can really get a good close up view of the sensor. I bought a Briteview light and loupe from Visible Dust

This is essential for getting a good look at the surface of the sensor. It has 6 angled led bulbs which light up the sensor well and evenly and magnifies by x7 which is about right. The lens is clean and sharp. It’s a nice bit of kit, powered by two small batteries (supplied) and it comes in a foam padded plastic box which keeps it clean and dust free. Obviously you don’t want dust falling off the loupe so being able to put it away after every use makes a lot of sense. I can’t really over emphasize the importance of keeping your tools, lenses and caps as clean as possible. You’ll never stop dust 100% but with care you can keep it at a reasonable level!

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Two cleaning products, one water based and the other alcohol. The padded swabs are excellent and practically lint free. The chemicals work well and evaporate quickly leaving no visible drying marks.

If the sensor has drying marks or grease (from the shutter maybe) then you will first need to get this off. You don’t want to smear oils about on the sensor, or worse pick them up and contaminate your brush. I bought two types of cleaning product from Visible Dust. One is a soapy kind which cleans and the other is an alcohol based product that degreases. Both may be needed depending on what kind of dirt you have on your sensor.

For the swabs I bough Visible Dust’s Ultra MDX-100 which are made from lint free fabric. They are superior quality to anything else I have seen or used before. They are slightly padded and are the best I have used.

I started my clean with the V Dust cleaner and a swab. I was impressed with the way the swabs felt and how well they wiped across the surface. The liquid dries quickly on the sensor and leaves no drying marks. This has not been the case with the Eclipse fluid that I was using before. I was less impressed with the plastic packaging Visible Dust use in all their products. I would prefer to see a more biodegradable packaging.

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The Zeeion blower has two filters ensuring no dust gets blown into the camera. Comes with soft tip end to avoid accidental damage and a little carry bag. New internals can be bought when the filters are clogged.

After this, I swabbed with the water based version. Now that the sensor was clean, I could start to see about the dust. The first thing I do is take a look at the sensor to see how much dust there is on it and where it is. Then I hold the camera upside down and use Visible Dust’s Zeeion blower. This is a hand held blower that you squeeze to force air into the camera. It differs from others I have seen as it has two fine filters, one that filters the air being sucked into it and the other which filters the air that you blow into your camera. It is surprisingly good at removing most of the dust but it cannot get it all. Sometimes dust is surprisingly sticky and blowing it just isn’t enough and there is always the risk that you will just dislodge some dust from somewhere else and it will find its way onto the sensor.

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The Arctic Butterfly. Odd name but clever product. The bristles are charged to attract dirt by spinning the brush at high speed.

The final solution is to use the Arctic Butterfly. Don’t be put off by the strange name. This is a clever and obvious tool. It is basically a very fine brush attached to a battery operated handle. The way it works is this. You spin the brush at high speed for 5 to 10 seconds. This does two things, it flings off any dust that was stuck in the bristles and it charges them to attract dust so that when you wipe the brush over the sensor surface dust particles stick to it. (you do not spin the brush on the sensor!)

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The Arctic Butterfly spins the brush at high speed. This dislodges accumulated dust and charges the bristles to attract dust like a magnet. Do not spin the brush on the sensor!

The first time I used it I was not overly impressed with the results but it did remove a lot of dust. The secret, I discovered is to only make one pass after each spin of the brush. If the bristles are charged to attract dust they soon seem to become discharged by the action of touching them on to the sensor. This is the impression that I have. In any case the answer is simple, just spin the brush for ten seconds before you touch the sensor with it. Once you have lifted the brush off the surface it will need to be spun and recharged again. This is easy to do. It has led lights built in but they are not brilliantly placed and the brush obscures their view somewhat. It also comes in a padded plastic storage box.

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The built in leds on the Arctic Butterfly are not brilliantly placed.

The loupe is helpful at this stage. I use the Arctic Butterfly to remove the last few specs of dust that I can see. By starting in the corners and wiping towards the centre you can move or remove any dust easily. Then any dust that was not removed by the brush on that pass can be easily removed from the centre of the sensor.

This must sound like I work for Visible Dust or have something to gain by singing their praises but I promise you that I am just a humble customer with no connections to them in any way. What I have discovered in Visible Dust is a company who sell the best products for DIY sensor cleaning. From my experience they are only company that I have found who offer a complete solution. Every one of their products, from the cleaning products to the swabs to the blower and the arctic butterfly are excellent and WORK and that is all one can ask really.

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Here’s the bundle I bought for cleaning my sensor. Finally a system that works!

Yes it is expensive buying all this gear but it’s needed. It is as necessary to the modern photographer as a computer is. So my advice is don’t skimp on this. Cheaper products just don’t perform as well. You get what you pay for really seems to apply here.

Visible Dust offer various products either separately or as a bundle. I bought the Ultra Sensor Clean Arctic Butterfly 724 Super Bright Bundle It wasn’t cheap but frankly if I’d bought this in the first place my life would have been easier and I would not have wasted so much money on other lesser systems first. Save yourself some time and money and invest in the best. You’ll never regret it.

Categories
Leica m9

21mm 1.4 Leica Summilux lens review

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Leica M9 21mm Summilux f1.4 Asph lens wide open at f1.4 for 10 secs 160 ISO. Pin sharp from 5 metres to infinity. This is one spectacular lens. (click on this image to download a full sized jpg)

When my Elmarit 21mm had to go back to Solms for repair, Leica very kindly sent me another lens to use in the mean time. When they said they would send me another 21mm lens to use I had NO IDEA that they would be sending me a 21 Lux, and a brand new one at that. This is what I call looking after your customers!

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Wide open and taken at min focus distance of 0.7 m. Unbelievably sharp, nice bokeh and OOF areas. Vignetting apparent but not in any way offensive.

So what is it like? It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s shockingly expensive but what a truly fantastic bit of engineering. It is Sublime, Awesome, Incredible etc. Just pick your own superlative! This lens is head and shoulders above ANY lens I have used on my M9 so far and that’s a lot (very handy being mates with a Leica dealer!)

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The ‘rope man’ makes a bracelet for a pretty Italian girl. Shot wide open as usual!

In fact I seem to just use it wide open. I just love the wide angle view it gives with fabulous OOF areas that look like you’re using a 50mm lens. It’s a unique view. The images it takes are completely sharp even at 1.4. There is some vignetting wide open but this is a super fast super wide angle lens after all. It would be weird if it didn’t have some character.

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Leica M9 Summilux 21mm. Shot taken at f1.4. Here you can see the vignetting. The effect is somewhat exaggerated with the black and white effect and the fact that back ground is very bright. In lower light situations the effect is much reduced.

The DOF is very slight at 1.4 but my M9 was spot on when focussing, even when at minimum distance of 70cm. Stopped down, the DOF this lens has is superb.

As for distortion, of course it has some but then it is a 21mm lens. Sometimes at the corners you can see some elongation but really it is very good as you can see from looking at the pictures in this post.

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This lens has some distortion but it never seems intrusive. Most shots just look really natural. This one was taken at f4.

I was brutal when I tested this lens. I shot into the sun wide open, I took the hood off, I left it on. I tried close to, I tried far away. I tried long exposures at night. In short I put this lens through its paces! Occasionally I saw some serious purple fringing but only in extreme situations which isn’t really surprising considering what I was asking it to do.

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Shot wide open as usual. Judge for yourself. If there is some vignetting, it only adds to the ‘look’ of the image.

It really needs the lens hood though or stray light can create a halo effect in some shots when shooting towards the light but considering how fast and wide this lens is it really handles it well. 

If I had to fault it, I would say that I think it needs a focusing knob like the one on my 21mm Asph. I initially found it hard to locate the focusing ring without it but I have since gotten used to it but I really like the focussing knob because you can tell by feel at what distance the lens is focussed and this kind of thing makes the lens faster to focus and the camera quicker to use.

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There can’t be many cameras that can capture an image like this. Remember that this seagull was shot using a 21mm lens. That bird was no more than a metre away! This one shot at f5.6.

The aperture ring is close to the focussing ring and I have managed to change the aperture by accident while trying to focus. But again, I’m sure I will get used to it with time.

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The aperture diaphragm has 11 blades and produces an attractive star burst effect when shooting into the light. However sometimes there can be some flare but considering how wide and fast this lens is and how many elements it has (10) it handles it really well. There might be flare but the lens keeps its contrast.

What is most amusing is that the focus ring only moves about 90 degrees from 70cm to Infinity yet the aperture ring moves around much more than that as it has so many stops!

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Leica M9 Summilux f1.4 Asph lens. Wide open at f1.4. 160 ISO. This shot is not made up of multiple exposures layered together, it’s pretty much as it came out of the camera. It really is amazing that you can shoot wide open and get such sharp results.

The hood screws on and stops at exactly the right place thanks to a slight indent in the thread casting but there’s nothing to lock it in place and it can get knocked off of true and that is not good. I have got into the habit of checking that the hood is done up tight before shooting.

Also pants is the lens hood cap, a rubbery plastic affair that just falls off as soon as you look at it. It doesn’t bother me as I never use lens caps with a rangefinder but for the money it really is a joke and it’s a bit annoying having to buy special filters for it but if you have just spent 5000 Euros on a lens, you’re hardly going to baulk at this point.

Also I have noticed that the screw-on hood is a bit small and up until f8 the corners are slightly dark. Taking off the hood cures this. I do find this a bit strange that the lens hood would encroach into the view of the lens and cause these black corners but maybe there is a good reason for this. If not I am sure Leica will soon sort it.

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This picture shows a shot of the sky taken at f1.4 with the lens hood fully screwed in place. As you can see the corners are slightly dark. These dark corners do not fully go until f8 which is a bit strange.

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This picture shows the same shot taken at f1.4 with the lens hood off. Black corners have gone but now the lens is far more susceptible to flare. Note the large orange halo bottom right. This halo was there right up to f8.

I am going to be gutted when it goes back. It is far too big, heavy and expensive but I have never enjoyed using a lens more on my M9 and I forgive it all its faults.

Categories
Leica m9

Tilt Shift effects. An experiment

Recently I discovered an Australian photographer called Keith Lutit. He makes little time lapse films using a tilt shift lens. Have a look for yourself, it’s mesmerising.

It got me thinking about trying this with the M9 but there are lots of reasons why this won’t work or would be extremely difficult to do. There are some lenses out there like the Lens Baby but the quality looks poor. If you use existing M lenses you will not be able to get the lens close enough to the sensor to make it work so you won’t be able to focus on infinity.

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Leica Digilux 2. Chrysler Crossfire at the Sequoia National Park in California. This one works really well.

The answer is to buy an SLR but I am a rangefinder man so that idea is no good for me. However there is a simple way to create a very similar effect in Photoshop. It’s not bad actually as the following pics demonstrate. I won’t go into detail about how it’s done, just google, ‘tilt shift photoshop tutorial’ and you’ll find loads.

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Leica Digilux, Doolittle at anchor in Croatia. Looks so sweet.

Basically you use a gradient tool and the lens blur effect. Some experimentation is necessary to get the right area and amount of blur. It’s also very important to select the right photo to do it with. If you want to create the effect of a miniature world, the best photos are those taken from above with plenty of objects in them.

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Leica Digilux 2, Some old French geezers playing boules at Moustiers, in the Gorge de Verdun.

After adding the blur effect, increase the contrast and the saturation slightly to give the images more intensity. That’s it. Once you get the hang of it, you can produce images in just a few minutes.

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Leica Digilux 2, Shamrock barrelling downwind under spinnaker at Cannes. The effect works on most subjects I find, even in black and white.

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Leica M9, 21mm Asph. Cornwall.

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Leica M9, 21 asph. City of Florence in Italy in miniature.

Then I discovered that it even works with paintings. The most obvious choice of artist I could think of was Lowry with his match stick men. It worked really well. No doubt you could try this with any number of paintings.

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All the photos can be viewed full screen by clicking on them. They look much better bigger.

Categories
Leica m9

Leica M9 and Visoflex III

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Leica M9, Visoflex III, Elmar 50mm Dragonfly on a basil plant.

The Visoflex was a device manufactured by Leica almost 50 years ago. It enabled their rangefinder cameras to be converted to an SLR. Even today the Visoflex can still be used on the latest M cameras. I was fortunate to be donated one. I have been having a lot of fun with it ever since.

There are those out there who will laugh at the Visoflex because it must be said, it’s not the easiest or the fastest system in the world to use. That said it is very versatile and obviously robust since you can still find fully working examples for sale for a fraction of their worth although prices are rising as folk realise they can be fitted to the M8 and M9.

Leica made a few versions but I am only going to be discussing the Visoflex III version. The main difference between the III and other models is a very clever bayonet lock system that means the unit can be affixed to the body without having to first remove the prism assembly. This speeds things up a bit.

Having played with the Visoflex, I wouldn’t be surprised if Leica introduced a newer version along with some adapters so it can be used with more modern Leica lenses. It is quite brilliant and has great potential for image making, especially with the M8 and M9.

If you want to do macro work, like the photo above, all you need is the Visoflex housing and either a 35 or 50mm lens. Once mounted on the Visoflex these lenses will not be able to focus to infinity but they can be used for very close up shots. You need no other adapters or bits and pieces.

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Here the Visoflex is attached to the M9 with a 50mm Elmar collapsible lens. The lens cannot be used collapsed or it would interfere with the mirror assembly inside the Visoflex. This set up is all you need for basic macro work. A 35mm lens can also be used.

If you want to do even more close up work, never fear, even that is possible with the use of the Leica Bellows. Here it starts to get a bit more complicated. The bellows attach to the Visoflex using the standard Leica bayonet mount but at the other end there is a screw thread so you’ll need an adapter that allows the mounting of bayonet Leica M lenses. (16596).

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Here the Elmar 50mm lens is attached to the bellows and allows for awesome macro ability. The image is focused by rotating a knob which moves the bellows backwards and forwards. The quality of the mechanism is amazing and the bellows still work perfectly even though they are nearly 50 years old. Classic Leica build quality.

You’ll probably need a tripod to get the best results and there are two sizes of mount on the underside of the bellows. The Visoflex also has a tripod mount. However the bellows are light as is the Visoflex and although the whole caboodle is quite bulky it’s not as heavy or cumbersome to use as you might think. I was able to take perfectly excellent sharp shots using it hand held.

If you don’t want to use the Visoflex as a macro tool you can simply use it as an SLR. This is helpful with long lenses where the small rangefinder window makes focusing tricky. The lens I have is the Elmarit 135mm f2.8 with goggles. This lens can be used directly on the M9 and works perfectly well. If you want to use it on the Visoflex, the lens head must be unscrewed and attached to a short focusing ring adapter. (16462)

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Here the Elmarit 135mm is fitted to the Visoflex using the adapter which also allows focusing. This set up is no longer than the Elmarit fitted to the M9 with the goggles and makes the M9 a true SLR.

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This shot shows the various elements that allow the Elmarit to be mounted to the Visoflex. The focusing ring attaches to the Visoflex using the normal Leica bayonet and the lens head (unscrewed from the rest of the lens with goggles) is screwed into the adapter.

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The Elmarit 135 with goggles attached directly to the M9. As you can see it is no longer than the Visoflex fitted with the adapter and lens head. Talk about choice. This lens cannot be fitted to the M9 with the added grip in place, that has to be removed and then replaced afterwards.

The Elmarit 135mm is a lovely lens although it is quite heavy. Once attached to the M9 using the Visoflex it is compact but heavy. No one would ever steal it from me, one clout around the head and they will be going straight to hospital!

By using adapter plate 16598 it is possible to use the Elmarit head with the bellows for a macro system with a surprising amount of depth of field.

There are a number of other lenses that can be used on the Visoflex but they are generally old lenses and each one needs it’s own adapter plate. This is the most confusing aspect of the Visoflex. Leica even made lenses up to 800mm which can be used so that makes the M9 a very versatile camera being able to take Leica lenses from 16mm to 800mm!!! If you want to learn more, there are plenty of other sites with all this sort of info.

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The Visoflex III. It weighs 480 grams. The shutter release is adjustable so that the mirror kicks up at the right time. The position of the shutter release on the M8 and M9 is slightly different to earlier M cameras but the very slight offset is no problem and the camera works fine. A soft touch button screwed into the M9 shutter release would be a good idea.

The round knob on the side has three positions. Yellow is the fast action setting, where the mirror ‘clacks’ up at high speed. The black setting is much slower and is used for long exposures where camera shake might be a problem. The red setting lifts the mirror up. This is also the setting used for storing the Visoflex.

The lever on the bottom is for locking the Visoflex to the camera body. The red dots are lined up, the Visoflex inserted and then the lever is lifted up to lock the unit to the body. This means that the prism assembly does not need to be removed beforehand. The prism can be removed by sliding it backwards and it can be replaced with a vertical viewer if required.

Conclusion: Brilliant fun and actually surprisingly effective. Makes the camera a bit bulky and heavy but the versatility gained makes up for this. The added weight reduces camera shake. The ground screen has no prism and isn’t very bright. This can be solved by fitting a new glass available from http://www.brightscreen.com

Use as a SLR with lenses from 65mm to 800mm or as a macro camera with no need for adapters with any 35 or 50mm lens. Add bellows for stronger magnification. A crazy system that has many merits despite it’s ‘clunkyness’ Whatever you might think about the Visoflex system, the bottom line is that it can produce stunning images and at the end of the day, that’s what photography is all about. N’est pas?

Categories
Leica m9

Leica M9 emergency battery option

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What was fabulous about the film M Leicas was that they could work even if they had no batteries. You might lose the light meter but you could still take pictures. The biggest problem with digital cameras is that will only work with a battery. If your battery is flat, there is nothing you can do.

Because of this fact, many people carry a spare battery with them only it’s a pain, always remembering to take it with you and knowing where to put it. It could easily get lost or damaged. The solution, at least for the Leica M9 is actually quite simple.

The optional grip that replaces the bottom plate on the M9 could easily be modified to take a slightly smaller battery. This means that you will always have another battery (albeit with reduced capacity) so you never need to miss that shot.

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Lets look a bit closer at the logistics. The outer diameter of the grip is 23mm. Assuming that the thickness of the metal and rubber is no more than 2mm allows an internal diameter of about 19mm. By reducing the M9 battery in width it is possible to make it fit inside the grip handle.

The battery only needs to be reduced in width, the grip is easily tall enough to take a battery the same height. The top of the grip handle could have a screwed thread to gain access to the emergency battery within. A spring (not unlike the one under the battery in the camera body) would push the battery out when the cap is removed.

The emergency battery would still fit and lock in the camera body with no modification necessary to the camera. The one slight issue is the battery charger. The emergency battery would still fit in and charge but would not lock in place. This could be solved by using a plastic frame which would hold the battery in the charger, both easy and cheap to make.

I calculate that the emergency battery would have about 50% of the capacity of the original giving a further 150 or so shots. In other words, a very useful ‘second chance’.

If you didn’t need (or want) to carry an emergency battery in the grip, the empty space could be used for any number of items. Perhaps a small sensor cleaning kit or simply a lens cloth. Even a small survival kit could be carried within. The possibilities are endless!

The only issues I can see is a slight increase in weight. The original battery weighs about 50 grams so I estimate the emergency battery would weigh about 25 grams. Not much extra weight really. The battery charger may have to be modified for the reduced capacity of the emergency battery but maybe not. In any case it would be a simple enough feat for Leica.

I for one would welcome an emergency battery that I could carry at all times in the camera grip. Please comment and if there is enough interest maybe Leica could be persuaded to create it. I did write to them about it and although they were very impressed with the idea are simply too busy to deal with it. Maybe this is something a third party could manufacture. If someone does take up this idea please remember where you saw it first and share your good fortune. We are a non profit making company, please help us to change our status!

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Leica m9

Leica M9 for Lefties

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This idea came from watching my left handed friend use my M9. He placed the whole camera over his face as if the camera was an SLR. This is not the reason though, it was simply because he was left handed! Because he is a pro photographer, he had no trouble using the camera but you could see that it wasn’t right. That got me thinking.

Creative people are often left handed so I began to wonder how many left handed photographers are there out there who own a Leica M camera? Must be quite a few. What they need is their own M especially for them.

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Here it is. I give you the M9L (for Left handed). How mad does that look? Maybe it looks perfectly normal if you’re left handed, I really can’t say, being right handed and very happy with the M9 as it is.

If you are left handed, please comment on this idea. I’d love to know what you think. It must be terrible living in a world that’s all arse about face. If enough of you like the idea, then maybe Leica will make the M9L.

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Leica m9

Leica M9 reconsidered

Please note that this post was written in July 2010 long before Leica launched the M9-P Sorry for any confusion!

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It was a post card that I received from an elderly sailing friend that set me thinking about an M9 re-design. He had recently bought a new GPS to replace his trusty old one but was annoyed that it just did far too much. All he wanted was a few basics like the Longitude and Latitude. He couldn’t have cared less for maps and cross track error. His missive said that he was getting used to the GPS although it had far too many USELESS (in caps) functions.

For a long time now I have believed that we are being offered far too much of everything and it’s getting completely out of hand, almost as if manufacturers of electronic goods are showing off by installing so many functions that the instruction manual weighs more than the product! None of these extra functions make us any happier, nor is the end result any better. At best we are blindly trusting electronics to run our lives, at worst, we are losing any skill we once had as these ‘indispensible’ features do everything for us.

My last camera is a case in point. It was a Leica Digilux 2 and it was good. It took better pictures than me and for 95% of the time it was spot on. The bottom line is that I got lazy and my photos lost that certain ‘je ne c’est quoi’ so when the M9 was launched I thought, ‘great, here’s a chance to get back to basics’ but in fact even the M9 does far more than I will ever require from it.

So of course I played with the menu, considered the choices and set the camera up as I wanted. It even has profiles so you can easily get back to a previous setting that you liked. What happens in practice is that you forget to put the profile back to the one you normally use or the profile you think you are using has changed because you changed something somewhere else. Many times I took a picture only to realise I had only a black and white JPG and not a DNG. Having all these choices does not make me a better photographer, nor do I take better pictures and I’m certainly not faster either.

I tried an experiment with the M9. I imagined it was my beloved old M3 and all I had to play with was the shutter speed, lens aperture and composition. It was a revelation. I found that I didn’t even need the light meter after a while, the human eye being surprisingly good with practice. My pictures suddenly looked better to me. It might only have been because they were taken by me and not by an electronic brain. There might have been something subconscious in my subject that no computer could see. A sixth sense which made me stop down a little more than the camera might have done, but which gave a completely different result.

Take the M9, a simply awesome camera but still way too complicated and I believe that it’s too far from Leica’s philosophy to be quite right. No doubt Leica themselves thought that no one would cough up £5000 for a body that didn’t try to justify it’s high price with impressive electronics. But I beg to differ. Having used the M9 for half a year I would be quite happy if it didn’t have any of the features and I don’t think I will be alone here.

For decades about the most technical advancement any M user had was a light meter. We had no choice about ISO, you put a film in and lived with it until it was used. None of these restrictions stopped people taking amazing pictures with their M cameras. So I’m going to suggest something that will surprise many but may well be applauded by others. See what you think, and please comment so we can get a consensus.

We need the M9P (P for pure) and do away with ALL the superfluous nonsense. No screen, no menu, no choice. Not only will this M9P be simpler and less likely to go wrong (surely reliability is a core Leica philosophy), the battery will last longer and you’ll spend more time taking pictures than looking at a menu on a screen. You keep the light meter, the Aperture priority option and AE lock. ISO would be chosen by rotating a knob in the middle of the back (exactly where the ISO reminder dial was on film M’s). Exposure compensation can be easily added to the ISO knob. (see pic below). There would be no other controls.

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Two dials: Outer dial adjusts exposure compensation, inner dial for ISO adjust. The advantage over the standard M9 is that this important information is always visible at a glance without having to press any buttons! Adjustments can be made without even looking.

I’d go even further than this too. I’d be happy to see a lever for cocking the shutter and lose the continuous shooting option. The motor that cocks the M9 shutter isn’t very quiet and it’s a shame that it’s not nearly as discreet as film Ms with their almost silent silky ‘click’. Having a wind on lever would not only add a mechanical touch to the camera and make it much quieter and more reliable, while using still less power but would also be able to act as a small power generator every time the shutter was cocked. In an emergency, the wind on lever could be disengaged from the shutter and operated enough times to charge the camera and allow it to carry on taking pictures even when the battery has run down.

Think about it for a moment, it makes a lot of sense. Let’s work our way through the menu and you’ll see that there is a logical solution to not having a screen. I suggest a camera that would work with default settings that could be user changed when the camera is connected to the PC.

Lens Detection: This could be set on Auto and you can simply use coded lenses. Lenses can be coded in minutes using only a felt tip pen so there’s no argument for not doing this. The camera could have a default setting so if it didn’t recognise the lens it would go automatically to a setting that would work for all lenses. If you only use one lens you could preset the camera for that lens by using the ‘Camera control’ software that Leica would supply with the M9P.

Save user profile: You won’t need this option as you have no settings to prefer over others.

Advance: This will be set to Standard so that you can have AE mode when the shutter dial is set to ‘A’.

Self Timer: Set for 10 seconds as it was on old M cameras.

Auto Iso Set up: Here’s another one you won’t need. If you want more sensitivity, simply turn the ISO dial at the back of the camera.

Sharpening: M9P doesn’t take JPGs. If you want that, make one in Lightroom afterwards.

Colour Saturation: As above.

Contrast: As above.

Bracketing set up: No need for this either. Want to bracket, rotate the speed dial or aperture ring!

Exposure compensation set up: Simple, by using the knob on the back of the camera.

Monitor Brightness: What monitor?

Histogram: What histogram? Film Leicas never had these.

Folder management: I can’t see the point in this. If you wanted to name the folder you could do it when the M9P was connected to the PC.

Auto Review: Nothing to review!

Auto Power Off: Could be set to 5 minutes or user set via computer.

Flash Sync: M photography has never been about using fake light. Personally I couldn’t care less about any flash functions and if it wasn’t for the need for somewhere to put viewfinders etc I’d remove the hotshoe altogether. In any case, this could be user set when camera is branched to the PC.

Auto Slow Sync: As above.

Colour management: Can be user set via computer.

DNG Set Up: Set on uncompressed. After all if you have the best camera in the world, why would you risk lowering the quality? In any case, user set when connected to PC.

Reset: Nothing to reset!

Sensor Cleaning: This could be simply achieved by holding down the shutter release, then turning the on/off switch to Self Timer. (or whatever).

Date: Set by PC connection. Do you really need to see the date?

Time: As above.

Acoustic signal: No loss and no need for it either.

Language: No menu, no language. A truly International camera, any one can use it.

USB Connection: Default: PTP but can be user set to mass storage by PC connection.

Format SD Card: I see no reason why you couldn’t only do this when the camera is connected to the PC. Most Pros would have plenty of spare cards which can all be formatted before they go out.

Firmware: This doesn’t need to be in the camera menu. It could easily be viewed or changed via the PC connection.

That is the M9 menu. As you can see there is no reason why the M9P couldn’t be set up to work perfectly well with some default settings which can all be changed by connecting the camera to the PC. The simple fact is that an M9 is completely useless without a PC anyway. With digital photography you need a computer to go with it. The camera is just for capturing images until you can get back to it, download and work on them.

There are other buttons on the back of the M9 of course. The Play button is no longer needed. There’s nothing to play.

Delete: Some might think this useful but even my 16 gig card can take over 400 pictures at no compression DNG quality so who cares if I take a few bad ones. I’d rather carry another card.

ISO: As already mentioned, the logical step is to put the ISO setting on a round dial like the old Ms used to have. (I’m sure Leica can come with a more elegant solution than my pitiful efforts in Photoshop!)

Info: This could be reduced to remaining pictures and battery life. A simple window as the M8 had would suffice.

Set: The only button here that matters is the White balance which should be set to Auto since for 999 times out of a 1000 the camera does it perfectly. Since there is adjustment for this in Lightroom anyway I don’t think anyone would miss it. It could be set via the PC connection of course if you really wanted.

Losing the screen and all it’s associated electronics would also free up space in the camera body allowing Leica to reposition the sensor further back. This would mean that the lens mount could then be flush with the camera body. This would reduce the thickness of the camera by a good 5mm.

So that’s about it. An M9P would be simpler to use, lighter, the batteries would last longer, it would be more reliable but most of all it would be less expensive. Maybe this would allow Leica to drop the price so that even more people could afford to get into the M philosophy. Either the M9 or the M9P will be able to take exactly the same high quality image.

I’m convinced there’s a large market for this M9P. I would be quite happy without a screen. You think you want one but you have a viewfinder for composing the shot anyway, and the screen it pretty hopeless for viewing images anyway so why not wait until you get home to branch the camera and look at your shots. After all, in the old days, you had to develop them first so it’s still much quicker!

Even a very simple M9P would offer massive advantages over any M film camera ever made but the best part is that as a photographer, you will be made to think and make those choices alone without some gadgetry doing it for you. You will learn and you will improve your technique. Allowing the camera to do your work for you won’t make you a better photographer. All these so called ‘time saving devices’ are making us more stupid. If we’re not careful, we’ll become a race of morons, completely unable to think for ourselves. It fascinates me that my own eyes and brain are quite capable of calculating light and I like to keep my brain active. Taking your own pictures is a good way to do this.

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Leica m9 T Shirts

Leica M9 T shirt

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Leica M9 T shirt from Redbubble.

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Leica m9

Summarit f2.5 50mm Leica Lens review

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Leica M9 Summarit f2.5 50mm 160 ISO f2.5 @ 4000 sec

When I first got my M9 I needed a lens for it. Having already spent far too much buying the camera in the first place, I couldn’t really justify a new lens. I couldn’t really justify any lens at all really but a body is useless without one. There wasn’t a great choice of lenses in the shop, either new or secondhand. I wanted a wide angle but he didn’t have one so I chose the new 50mm f2.5 Summarit.

It was quite compact and I was pleased to see that Leica had stopped using that nasty square font and had reverted to a more classical style. I took a lot of pictures with this lens under a wide variety of circumstances and at first it seemed as good as one might expect for a modern Leica lens. It cost about 1000€ which was relatively inexpensive for a Leica lens.

Shooting wide open produced sharp images with a soft bokeh but the bokeh seemed to have a double image which rather spoiled the effect. I also thought it rather odd that the aperture ring started at f2.5 then went to f2.8. It hardly seemed worth it and I found this a bit annoying. Surely it would have been better to start at f2.5 and go straight to f4.

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This picture is a 100% crop taken at f2.5 which shows the strange ‘double image’ look to the bokeh. (click to see all images bigger)

Now, one thing about Leica lenses is that they should perform well especially in demanding situations yet I found that this lens did not like shooting into the sun. Since I often do this and quite like the effect of lens flare I was rather disappointed. The lens flare was nice enough but it often created strange pink patches in the image which rendered them unusable, at least in my opinion.

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Here there is a red patch top right and it’s not even shooting directly into the sun!

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What is this strange blue patch in the bottom left hand corner? Faults like these happened often using this lens.

As far as I am concerned this lens does not live up to Leica’s reputation and is not as good overall as other 50mm Leica lens. It was returned for a refund.

Categories
Motorbikes

Michelin Pilot Power tyre review

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Leica M9, Voigtlander f4 21mm 160 ISO Michelin Pilot Power

Before buying some new tyres for my cousin’s Ducati Monster M900 he’d been kind enough to lend me, I did some research online and soon realised that there is a huge choice of rubber out there. Actually it’s just plain confusing. I tried reading reviews of tyres but everyone seemed to be happy with their choice no matter who the manufacturer was and anyway, how can one know the experience of the reviewer?

In the end I decided that since the Monster is a powerful bike and I want to live for many years to enjoy it I’d go for a high performance street tyre and sacrifice a certain amount of wear for more grip. Since tyres are what keep you planted it makes sense to me to buy sticky tyres plus I wouldn’t be touring or going long distance on the Monster because without a fairing it’s just too tiring to ride.

Not sure why I chose the Michelins over any other brand but in the end I went for the Pilot Powers, maybe it was the tread pattern which is about as minimal as you can get. It looks pretty slick. I wanted to try the dual compound version but they didn’t do one in the right size for the Monster so single compound it was. The Pilot Powers are made from synthetic rubber straight from Moto GP land so should still be pretty good.

Another thing that I like from a tyre is a nice clear end to the tread. I want the tyre walls and the tread to have a sharp angle and not be rounded off. It just looks better to my mind. The Pilot Power is a good looking tyre. Some might say that it doesn’t matter, what matters is performance, not how a tyre looks at standstill. But the designers of bikes go to a lot of trouble making their bikes look a certain way and there’s no denying that tyres can completely change the look of a bike. Don’t agree? Put some trial bike tyres on a Ducati Monster.

So choice finally made, I took the bike down to the garage to have new shoes fitted. I was glad to be rid of the Pirelli Corsas that were on the bike, especially the rear, it was too wide, a 180/55 and not the correct 170/60/17. It’s not much, but I always think that designers know what they are doing when they specify a certain size of tyre. If they had wanted to fit 180/55 they would have done. It still had plenty of tread but the tyre gave me absolutely no confidence at all. Every corner I went around filled me with terror. A Ducati Monster is a great handling bike and shouldn’t feel like that.

The Pilot powers looked much better on the bike and the back tyre better proportioned to the wheel. After a warning from the fitter to be careful until the mould release has worn off the tyres I set off and wheelspun out on to the road. I had not intended to at all but the low down grunt of the 900 cc engine was enough to spin the back wheel. Guy wasn’t kidding.

Right away the bike felt better. The ride was softer yet firmer and the steering neutral. After 100 kms or so of gradually riding faster and faster and building confidence I realised that these were bloody good tyres with excellent grip and feel.

They need warming up for about 10kms but once up to temp they just do their job. The only time they aren’t very good is when riding over white lines. That may just be because the French have a rubbish reflective paint that appears to be made with Teflon on all their roads. Someone told me it was because the high quality Patented grippy version in the UK was too expensive. Who knows, perhaps with some other tyres it might not be so bad.

On one trip with a mate following on his Hornet 900 I was told that I was leaving black lines on the road coming out of the corners! The power of that big V twin must have been pushing the back tyre to the limits but I had no inkling of any drama being played out, the bike just goes around corners like it is on rails.

The turn in is very fast with these tyres, I think I read somewhere that the front tyre has a slight V shape which aids this. The bike lays down in the corners and stays there, the angle of lean stays fairly constant. They were never tested in the wet so I can’t give any feedback about how they might have performed but in the dry they grip very well.

They lasted well too. I managed to get about 3000 miles from the rear which, considering the kind of abuse it was subjected to was quite impressive, or at least I thought so, no doubt some reading this would be horrified but from what I can tell this is about right for a high performance street tyre. The front has plenty of tread left but it is lightly deformed but that’s hardly surprising considering the awesome stopping power of those 8 pot Brembo brakes. Both tyres wore evenly but that’s mainly because I rarely ride on straight roads.

I have been warned though by someone who gets through a hell of a lot of tyres on his bikes that Michelins can become suddenly unpredictable near the end. I have recently noticed a couple of little twitches from the back end when well heeled over but I couldn’t say whether it is the tyre going off or just an irregularity in the road surface but in my mind it could be the tyre, it probably is the tyre and so it’s time to change it.

Even though the front tyre looks OK, I’ll change it as well just to have a new matching pair from the same maker. One set of new tyres every year seems fair enough and the Pilot Powers were bought and fitted for about £200 which isn’t bad really, the Monster has big wide wheels after all.

If all I could get was a new set of Michelin Pilot Powers as before I would not be disappointed at all. Marks out of ten? I’d have to say at least a 7, maybe an 8 but I really haven’t tested that many different types of tyre so this is fairly meaningless although it can act as a bench mark. Lets go from here.

This time I am going to try the much rated Bridgestone BT 016 (read the review here) just because I feel that the bike deserves it and can you ever have too much grip? Will the BT 016 be better? I’ll let you know in a few weeks after I have thoroughly tested them in the real world.