alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘lenses’ category

100 years of Leica

This year Leica are celebrating their 100th anniversary. The very first Leica camera was invented by Oskar Barnack in 1914 and it became known as the Ur-Leica. For the first time film transport and shutter technology were combined in one camera.
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Ur – Leica, 1914

During its 100 year history many models have been produced including the Leica II in 1932 which had an integrated rangefinder and interchangeable lenses. In 1954 the Leica M3 was produced and to this day is the epitome of the M System.

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Leica M3

Arguably Leica still manufacture the worlds finest cameras and lenses. Their classic rangefinder has been used by some of the most famous photographers of all time, to capture many truly iconic and memorable images. Here are just three examples for you to enjoy.
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V-J Day – Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945
This photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine and grew to become one of Alfred Eisenstadt’s most well know images. ‘People tell me’ he once said, ‘ that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture’
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England – Gianni Berengo Gardin, 1977
Gardin’s images are considered classics of Leica Photography. Taken in black and white, they are quickly captured windows of everyday life, visual chamber plays of grand formal, aesthetic finesse, at times complex
and at other times delicately harmonious.
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New York City – Elliott Erwitt, 1974
Elliott Erwitt’s passion focused on dogs – for him, they were the incarnation of human beings, with fur and a tail. His photo titled ‘New York City’ was taken for a shoe manufacturer.

The three images and their descriptions were taken from ‘The Legend Lives On – 100 years of Leica Photography’ a page on the Leica website.

Today there are principally two digital M System cameras in their range. The M240 or M and the Monochrom, which only takes black and white images, yet is more expensive than the M which records colour and offers more features, such as live view and the ability to shoot video. There is also the ME which is based on the M9, the predecessor to the M, as well as two film cameras, the M7 and the MP.
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The Leica M
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The Leica Monochrom

Although Leica has had to move with the times, the sheer quality and craftsmanship of their cameras and lenses, coupled with the simplicity of their operation is still at the very heart of their brand ethos. Their is no autofocus; the lenses are manual focus only. The aperture control is on the lens which still features a depth of field scale for zone focusing. The speed dial and the shutter release are on the top plate which together with the bottom plate is made of brass for durability. In fact on the rare occasion I have been able to hold a Leica it feels so well made, extremely solid, and the craftsmanship is second to none. These cameras and their lenses, handle superbly, are built to last and the hold their value well too. This is just as well as the initial outlay to buy a camera body and one or two lenses can easily reach five figures. They are the camera equivalent of a Rolex watch or a Ferrari sports car. An aspirational luxury brand with performance and a price tag to match. Very different to the norm but a real pleasure to own and to use.

As you would expect there is a wide range of lenses available with names like Summicron, Summilux and Noctilux all denoting the speed of the lens. f2, f1.4 and f1 respectively. The faster the lens the higher the price. The 50mm f0.95 Noctilux has a price tag of nearly £8,000! They are all designed to be used wide open and still produce sharp results from corner to corner. 
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The range of Leica lenses

When comparing the ‘basic’ design of the first Leica camera with the Leica M, the very latest model, it’s impossible not to notice a similarity. Yes, Leica has had to embrace the digital age and the requirements of todays photographers, but those fortunate enough to use a Leica, share a passion for both their craft and for their equipment. The simple controls put the photographer in control, but that doesn’t mean to say its an easy camera to master. It’s not like so many cameras of today – turn the camera on and let the mini computer with a lens attached do the rest – in other words a point and shoot! The quality of the lenses can produce the most stunning images, but the most expensive equipment in the wrong hands does not guarantee a great photograph.

Whether my photographic journey will ever lead me to owning a Leica is unclear. What I do know is that as part of their centenary celebrations Leica in London are offering 100 photographers the chance to ‘test drive’ the Leica M during a three hour workshop. They recommend you take your own SD card so that you can take home the results. My place is booked and given my love of black and white, I hope I will get the opportunity to experience the Monochrom as well. It might be the only chance I get to release the shutter on one of these superbly crafted cameras. A camera with a wonderful heritage and built in temptation!

Losing weight with the Olympus OMD EM5

A few weeks ago I made the decision not to invest in a full frame DSLR and associated lenses and to stick with my Olympus OMD (which I love) and various Olympus prime lenses or fast Panasonic zoom lenses.

I don’t need to justify my decision but for a bit of fun I thought I would make one comparison  between the two systems – and that’s one of weight. Many will argue that I am comparing apples with pears and I will be the first to agree that both sets of camera gear have their pros and cons. However the weight of any set up has to be taken into consideration if you intend carrying your equipment any distance or for long periods of time.

It’s not very often that I need to use the kitchen scales(!) but out they came…. and now for the results –

Losing weight with the Olympus OMD EM5

The Olympus OMD EM5 with two part battery grip plus Panasonic 12 – 35 and 35 – 100 lenses with constant f2.8 aperture = 1,440g

….and for the full frame equivalent.

Canon 5D MKIII, with battery grip and 24 – 70 and 70 – 200 f2.8 L lenses = 3,555g

So the Canon system is very nearly 2.5x heavier, not to mention bulkier, and far more expensive.

Both sets of lenses cover the same focal length and  are weather sealed. Yes, I know the Canon set up will produce bigger files and therefore give better results, but for my needs and in real world use I’ll save my back and my bank balance thank you! :o)

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Full frame or not full frame?

The new year is now well and truly with us and as I have already looked back on 2012, its now time to look forward to 2013 and make some decisions and plans about what I would like to try and do and achieve in the next twelve months. I will elaborate on my future objectives in another post but for now I want to write about my choice of camera equipment.

As far ‘camera gear’ is concerned the first decision to make is whether or not to go full frame. This has been playing on my mind for some time, really ever since some very capable full frame DSLRs came to the market superseding older models. Last year Nikon introduced two new full frame cameras, the D800 (and 800E) and the D600. Whilst Canon upgraded their 5D Mark II and introduced the 5D Mark III, as well as releasing the 6D. Since their launch the prices have started to fall, so I know I made the right choice not to do anything the day they first hit the streets. Besides it was only back in the Spring when my high regard for the Olympus Micro 4/3rds system became a reality and I bought the E-PL3, shortly to be followed by the Olympus OMD EM5. For me both cameras, but particularly the EM5, produce great results and given that I do not want to print larger than A3 or possibly A2, why would I need a full frame camera and all that extra weight, not to mention the added expense? Providing you couple the best lenses for the Micro 4/3rds system with the EM5, then for a humble amateur who only shoots for pleasure and not for profit, I am very happy. I ought to add that there are some stunningly good lenses for this system and I am confident that more will be released by both Olympus and Panasonic in the future.

On the subject of new lenses, Panasonic did release two new zoom lenses during 2012, both aimed at the top end of the Micro 4/3rds market. The 12 – 35 f2.8 and the 35 – 100 f2.8. Both are beautifully constructed, dust and splash proof and replicate their ‘classic’ full frame equivalents of 24 -70 and 70 – 200 with a wide aperture opening of f2.8. Whilst prime lenses are fast, small and very sharp they do require the user to switch lenses on a regular basis to achieve the required focal length. This is fine when you have time on your hands, but a fast zoom lens covering the range of focal lengths offered by these two lenses can’t be beaten in certain photographic situations. Yes, the kit lenses are good but they are nothing like as sharp nor as fast. Unfortunately both these lenses come at a price.

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The 12 -35 lens with lens hood attached
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Mounted on the Olympus OMD EM5

Fortuitously luck was at hand when I spotted the Panasonic12 -35 lens in the window of my local camera store. I don’t know if it was an unwanted Christmas gift or being sold for some other reason, but it was virtually brand new, and the price heavily discounted compared with the cost of a new one. I took a few test shots outside the shop using my EM5, negotiated down the price a little more, traded in a Nikkor lens that I no longer wanted and the rest is history.

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Panasonic 12 – 35 lens compared to Olympus 12 -50 kit lens

First impressions – well its a great lens, much faster and nicer to use than the 12 -50 kit lens, plus it is much sharper across the whole range of focal lengths.. It does suffer from chromatic aberration at 12mm (but I have read this is fairly typical of any zoom lens). With one click in Lightroom it can be removed and as I shoot mainly in black and white its really not an issue. I can’t wait to get out and about in the weeks to come and put it to the test.

Of course this purchase has finally put the final nail in the coffin as to whether or not to go full frame. I couldn’t wish for a better selection of lenses for my Olympus Micro 4/3rds system. The quality of the results is now down to me taking good pictures, good post processing and not down to the equipment I use. Great images have been taken on old, inexpensive cameras  and I realise how fortunate I am to have what is in my camera bag. So full frame is off the agenda, at least until I win the lottery or I turn professional, neither of which are very likely! So I’m off to take some photographs with my fantastic, lightweight, Micro 4/3rds system which is a joy to use.

Happy New Year!

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