alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘50mm Summilux’ category

An eye for detail – just one reason why I love the Leica Monochrom

I have now been using a Leica M Monochrom for eighteen months or so and there are many reasons why I have grown to love this camera. It was a fairly steep learning curve switching to a camera which has no colour sensor – each pixel only records luminance resulting in a black and white file with any number of shades of grey in between.

The fact it is rangefinder with its split frame manual focusing mechanism was an added hurdle for me to get over. Initially it was difficult enough to focus a still subject let alone a moving one, as is the case here. Even more challenging when using the 50mm Summilux f1.4 nearly wide open. The depth of field is so narrow I would be the first to say that a little bit of lady luck is required to get the main subject of the picture in sharp focus. When it happens though, you can jump for joy because the level of detail captured is quite extraordinary.

I very much doubt this image would win any prizes and I have used it simply to illustrate a particular point; and that is quite simply the level of detail or resolution captured by this camera.

For reference the final image (at the bottom of this post) is a fairly mild square crop of the original RAW file which has been processed in Lightroom 5. There are some adjustments but principally the addition of contrast, clarity and a tone for effect, but no sharpening. I repeat no sharpening.

The original image is shown below with just the processing applied and no crop.

 

Un-cropped image

 

Next is a much more detailed crop. You can now see the exceptional level of detail captured by the Leica Monochrom.

 

A tight crop

 

If you are yet to be impressed, below is an even tighter crop. The number of eyelashes can almost be counted and if you look closely veins are visible in the eye itself. If nothing else this image confirms my good fortune when I focused on the eye.

 

An even tighter crop

 

And by way of a reminder the final image which is how I imagined the picture might look when I pressed the shutter. I knew I wanted the eye to be at the centre of the viewers attention, but the photograph also needed to include part of the leather harness to add context and another element of interest. The harness also confirms you are looking at the horse’s head in profile and not straight on.

 

The finished photograph

 

As I said at the outset there are many reasons why I love this camera. It can be a frustrating and quirky tool at times, but get to know its ways, and I defy any photographer not to be impressed by the quality of file it can deliver when coupled with an equally exceptional fast Leica lens. It has a purity and a simplicity to its operation which places the photographer in complete control. You need to consider every step, every setting but the rewards are more than worthwhile.

I would strongly urge you to click on each image to view a larger version. This post is all about ‘detail’ and it’s only by looking at a bigger version that you will truly appreciate the output of the Leica Monochrom. 

Creative use of depth of field in Snowdonia

Sunlit fern

Sunlit fern

 

It was not until the summer of last year that I finally decided to go full frame, and purchased a second hand Leica Monochrom. I had previously used APS-C (Nikon) and Micro 4/3rds (Olympus) cameras. One of the principal reasons for my decision was the potential to use minimal depth of field more creatively in my work. The combination of a full frame (35mm) sensor, coupled with a large aperture, has given me photographic opportunities which were simply not possible before.

However just blurring the background doesn’t necessarily giving a pleasing result. The out of focus areas are still important to the overall appearance of the image. Blurred shapes, tones and arrears of light of shade still influence how the image is viewed, even though the eye may initially be drawn to the main subject of the picture which is in sharp focus.

The main photograph I have included in this entry is I think a good example of what I am trying to say. Taken on my recent trip to Snowdonia, the bright early morning sun was shining on small area of bracken in a wooded glade, whilst a path in the middle ground weaved its way down to the waters edge of Llyn Dinas.  I tried to visualise how the background elements of the image would be rendered when out of focus and whether or not the shapes of the trees would enhance the overall composition. You can of course try and visualise what the image might look like if everything had been in focus. I didn’t take a shot with a small aperture opening so I cannot make this comparison. My feeling is that there would be too much going on. The foreground and background would be fighting for attention. By using a narrow depth of field I have been able to isolate the sunlit fern which is the principle point of interest. The blurred background informs the viewer about the setting, complimenting the main subject and enhancing the overall appearance, but in my opinion it is no longer a distraction.

Here is another example – This image was taken in the woods near Capel Curig.

 

Autumn saplings

Autumn saplings

 

I am not saying there isn’t a place for landscape images which are very sharp from front to back. I take a good many myself, but increasingly I prefer to shoot wide open (50mm at f1.4) and by doing so I add another dimension to the composition, which until last year was not possible.

Click on either image to view a larger version which will open in a new window. By doing so I think you will appreciate the photograph just that little bit more.

Shutter, window and steps – a simple picture?

Shutter, window and steps

Shutter, window and steps

There is something about this image which appeals to me. It’s a fairly straightforward and simple composition, made up of three principal components. There is light coming through the window on the left, balanced by the dark shadow area on the right. The contrast of light and shade is separated by the window shutter which is worn with peeling paintwork needing attention. The wooden steps have a lovely grain to them but it is unclear from the photograph where they lead. Up to another floor possibly or just a high level cupboard?  To climb the steps you would need to close the shutter, cutting out the light – why was it designed this way? Through the window the out of focus detail hints at a garden beyond with a line of trees on the horizon. Bright spots on the glass suggest it might be raining. A simple image perhaps, but on closer observation plenty to hold the viewers attention, at least that’s what I believe.

It reminds me of the saying by Ansel Adams – ‘There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer’. If both are happy then I guess that’s what makes a successful photograph.

This photograph was taken with a Leica M Monochrom and 50mm F1.4 Summilux lens – @f2.4 1/2000th sec ISO 3200

Do click on the image for a larger view.

Foggy morning on the south coast

 

Boat by the pier

Boat by the pier

The weather has been quite glorious for the past week or two, but sometimes at this time of year the coastline can be affected by sea fog. More often that not it burns off but while it lasts it will bring the temperature right down. A few hundred yards inland it can be bright sunshine and much warmer.

The weather forecast predicted early morning fog, so I left for work much earlier than normal, took my camera and walked along the seafront for about half an hour and took the photographs you can see in this entry. I like the emptiness of a seaside resort first thing in the morning and when coupled with the fog it takes on a very different feel. Later in the day the blue skies and warm sunshine had encouraged people to come out and the coastline took on a whole new character.

 

Painted hut

Painted hut

 

Cockles and whelks

Cockles and whelks

 

Empty tables

Empty tables

 

Gull on a groyne

Gull on a groyne

 

Boat and huts

Boat and huts

 

Lone walker

Lone walker

All of the images in this post were taken with a Leica M Monochrom and 50mm Summilux lens. Straight out of the camera the images are very flat so they do need processing. I used Lightroom and then applied a Kodak Tri X 400 ‘film type’ preset in Silver Efex Pro which adds some grain and contrast to the image.

Click on any the photographs to view a larger version.

Frazzled in London – with a little ‘ICM’

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

I was in London recently for business purposes. A rare occurrence, so rather than waste the opportunity I took my camera with me in the hope that I could take a few shots at the very end of the day before catching the train home.

I also wanted to take a look at a second hand 90mm f2 summicron lens being sold by Richard Caplan in Pall Mall. The lens appealed to me but when I tested it on my camera it did appear to be ‘back focusing’. I tried a couple of other lenses including my own 50mm summilux and the results were the same. In real world use it probably wouldn’t be a problem but I was left pondering whether or not the rangefinder on the camera needed a fine adjustment. They did offer to send it away to be repaired but I decided not to do anything there and then, and simply make my way home.

By the time I left the shop in Pall Mall it was already dusk, so I walked down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, heading for Victoria Station. I had joined the commuter conveyor belt all heading for the next train back to the comfort of their home.

 

The Queen's Gallery

The Queen’s Gallery

 

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