Friday, July 29, 2011

Go Wide

Just before leaving work yesterday I met up with a friend from work who is also a Leica shooter.  He wanted to try out my 21mm Summilux and I wanted to try out his Voigtlander 12mm lens so we wandered around the basketball court on the 6th floor of the Adobe buildings shooting random targets.

I've never been much of an ultra wide angle photographer but working with the 12mm was a lot of fun, especially when you get really close to your subjects.

Whats even more amazing is the optical performance of this lens especially given its small size (compared to DSLR lenses) and cost (compared to most Leica lenses).  I just may have to get one for myself.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sandhill Cranes at Twilight

Sandhill Cranes at Twilight - 1Ds3, Zeiss 21, f/5.6, 25s, ISO 200
I made this this after an evening shooting at the "crane ponds" in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge last December.  Once the sun had set all the other photographers left and it was just our group, but before packing up I wanted to create a long exposure image with the cranes and the fading sunset light.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Way Conversation

One Way Conversation - M9, 50 Summilux, ~f/4, 1/500s, ISO 160

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

M9, 21 Summilux, f/2, 1/250s, ISO 800
Well if you're a rambunctious 3 year old, you jump on the bed after your nap.  Since I don't nap, I had to find something else to do.  So I did what any camera geek would do I started playing around to test the new lens I got on Friday the Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux.

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 160
I won't bore you with a bunch of test images, I was mostly looking to see what the focus accuracy was like and how much focus shift there was. There is a little bit of focus shift but its not a big enough deal to be important in most real world shooting (the depth of field increases more backwards than forwards as you stop down but its not enough to render the intended focus target out of focus). I also tried to shoot the lens in difficult light conditions wide open like the image above. I am amazed at just how much contrast and detail the lens can deliver wide open even in challenging light conditions, look at the crop below (the point of focus was the front right blub of the light fixture):

100% crop, M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4
So for variety I slapped the 50 Summilux on and photographed my favorite portrait subject, my daughter Maya.
M9, 50 Summilux, f/2, 1/60s, ISO 320
M9, 50 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/125s, ISO 320
The 50 Summilux is still a wonderful lens to use, I've been getting used to how much the focus distance changes for a certain amount of moment of the AF ring so I can almost get the focus plane where I want it before the camera is even at my eye. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Night at the Lick

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/3000s, ISO 160

Its summer, and that means time for the Lick Observatory's Summer Visitor Program. This year, I decided to organize an outing for a larger group, inviting several others in my lab as well as a bunch of our summer interns. In total, our group had 18 people and this was the first time to the Lick for most of them.

I also received a new lens yesterday to help round out my Leica kit, the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux and that was the only lens I used last night.  I will intersperse my observations of the 21 Summilux throughout this post.
M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 250

Before heading up to the observatory, we all had a very tasty dinner at my favorite Thai place in the bay area, Thai Lover's located in East San Jose. The dinner was enjoyed by all with many saying it was one of the best Thai places they'd been to in a while.  The 21mm focal length gives a nice wide view to capture groups. 

M9, 21 Summilux, f/2.8, 1/30s, ISO 2000
We managed to get up to the observatory about 15 minutes before the doors opened securing us an early spot in the line.  Right beside the line, a volunteer had set up a scope with a solar filter allowing people to view the surface of the sun.

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/750s, ISO 160.
One of the benefits of getting there early is that you get to watch the beautiful sunset.  The sunset is usually very colorful as it sets since the sun light scatters through all the hazy and particulates in the atmosphere that hangs over silicon valley.

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/1500s, ISO 160
The f/1.4 large aperture can give nice separation between subject and background but it isn't as pronounced because of the short focal length.  I'm finding the bokeh of this lens to be quite pleasing.  This is what Radomir is photographing:
M9, 21 Summilux, f/8, (varying shutter speeds), ISO 160.  Fusion of 5 exposures.
Once stopped down to about f/8 all vignetting disappears and the lens delivers very sharp images across the frame.  Though flare is present in this shot, I don't find too offensive.

Just before the start of the excellent "history" lecture, we had a chance to check out both telescopes in daylight (another good reason to get there early).
M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2.8, 1/12s, ISO 2500

The 40" reflector (pictured above) was pointed at the star Altair which could be observed even in daylight.

M9, 21 Summilux, ~f/2, 1/30s, ISO 1600
We then made our way over to the large dome with the 36" refractor for the "history" talk and followed that up with the "science" talk on the "Galactic Planetary Census".

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO 2500
We then observed the Swan Nebula (M17) through the 40" reflector and M92 through the 36" refractor before returning home.

High ISO is definitely not the M9 sensor's forte but the 21 Summilux is reasonably sharp (though not as sharp as the 50 Summilux ASPH) has excellent contrast and very balanced color.  Though the files when zoomed up do have a lot of noise the overall image is still very pleasing.

M9, 21 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 200
The 21 Summilux does have fairly pronounced field curvature.  In this image, there is stuff that is sharp that really shouldn't be.  This type of field curvature would probably drive a landscape photographer batty but would likely be welcomed by the street photographer.  I'm pretty sure that a DSLR with the Zeiss 21mm Distagon will produce better images for landscape photography but the 21 Summilux with its f/1.4 large aperture will be very interesting street photography tool.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Afternoon Nap

Family Afternoon Nap - Canon 5D2, 24 f/1.4 II, f/9, 1/125s, ISO 100
We found this pride of lions in the morning and spent a lot of time with them including what looked like was going to be an epic battle between them a group of hyenas (but didn't end up happening).  That afternoon, we returned to the area we knew they would be and found them all resting under the shade of an Acacia tree.  We spent about an hour with them here but none were too inclined to do anything interesting.

Looking back on my Tanzania images these last couple of days, I sure do miss it.  Can't wait to return, but sadly it will be some time before that happens.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eternal Embrace

Eternal Embrace - Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 200
Over many centuries these two Bristlecone Pine trees have come together and are now locked in embrace which will likely outlast all of our lifetimes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fuji X100 v1.10 firmware thoughts

Photographer at Work - X100, f/2, 1/40s, ISO 3200
 With all the excitement over getting the M9, I completely forgot about the new firmware for the X100 that Fuji released a few weeks ago.  I updated my camera as soon as the firmware became available but didn't use it much.

California Theatre - X100, f/2, 1/45s, ISO 3200
 There are many places where you can get the full list of changes in the new firmware version so I won't repeat them here.  I'll stick to just talking about the things that have been most important to me.  The most important thing for me is what Fuji has done to address the parallax issues when focusing on something close with the optical finder.  I highlighted in my original thoughts on the camera that for a lot of photography where the focus point wasn't at infinity I was finding the need to switch to the EVF.  Now, the camera puts up two boxes for an AF zone, one which represents what will be in focus if it were close the other if it were distant.

X100, f/2, 1/60s, ISO 2500
Using just a little bit of intuition you can line up the appropriate box and when AF is locked a new box will blink green to highlight what was in focus compensated for distance.  Simply put, this is fantastic.  Its a clever solution to this issue and with just a little bit of thought on the part of the photographer, its now possible to get what you want in focus even at distance as close as 2 or 3 feet.  Note that it isn't perfect, but its significantly better than before.  All of the images in this post were taken with AF, all with just the optical finder and all were bang on the first time.

San Jose Museum of Art - X100, f/2, 1/50s, ISO 3200
Most of the images you see here were taken last night.  My wife and I had an opportunity to spend the evening having dinner and hanging out in downtown San Jose, eventually shooting some pool.  It was the X100 that came with me not only because I figured it would be right focal length but because its the highest quality camera I own that fits in my spring jacket pocket.  I can't emphasize just how important that is.  As you can see a lot of these images were taken at ISO 3200 and the image quality to me eye is excellent.  Granted, I won't be doing exhibition fine art prints at this ISO but they are certainly clean enough for a decent 13x19.  

They other 2 important things that Fuji fixed in this firmware version is that the camera now remembers settings like Macro AF shot to shot as well as remembering settings when changing from aperture priority to manual, etc.  Also one other annoyance thats been fixed is that its now possible to shut off Red Eye reduction when shooting RAW (which was a bug I mentioned in my first X100 post).  Finally, just to demonstrate that I do occasionally make color images:

What Shot Next? - X100, f/2, 1/60s, ISO 3200
Its by no means a perfect camera and in most cases I prefer shooting with the M9 but I find it hard to beat for its size.  I am on a waiting list for a Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE and who knows when it will come in (if I'm unlucky, it could be 6-12 months!).  I have been tempted to pick up a f/2 Summicron in the mean time but with just how good the X100 is I have opted against it.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Marine Iguana on Isla Seymour Norte

Canon 1D4, 70-200 II @ 200mm, f/11, 1/400s, ISO 400
I wanted to take a break from working on landscape images so I went back to look for an image from the Galapagos I hadn't yet work on and found this one.  I just don't get tired of Marine Iguana images, in fact I think they're my favorite subject from the Galapagos. 

I made this image on North Seymour Island which is a small island just off the north shore of Baltra Island.  Though the bulk of the time at North Seymour was spent with the Blue Footed Booby, we did run into a bunch of Marine Iguanas near the end of the hike.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Evening Storm over Grand Teton

Canon 5D2, Zeiss 21, f/14, 0.4s, ISO 100
I made this image on the last evening at the Grand Tetons about a month ago.  Cloud cover meant we wouldn't get the pretty sunset we were hoping for but the clouds were layered just enough to still give a little bit of drama.

Ed returned to this area on a subsequent morning and made a panorama which I like very much.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lambert Dome Through the Trees

Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/14, 1/50s, ISO 100.  Fusion of 3 exposures.

On my drive through Yosemite last Thursday I made several stops looking for images I could use with water.  This image is probably my favorite from the day through the Tuolumne Meadows area.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Its Flowin' in Yosemite

Unnamed Waterfall - Tioga Pass - Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/10, 0.4s, ISO 100

I returned to Yosemite and the Bristle cone pines the last couple of days.  Unsurprisingly the water was flowing quite heavily all along Tioga.  I stopped at a few places to make some images and this unnamed (at least I couldn't figure it out) waterfall was one of the most spectacular right along the Tioga Pass highway. 

Sadly, I didn't have very much luck with weather so my plans for the images I wanted to make with the Bristle cone pines didn't happen.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Artists at Work

Arists at Work - M9, 50 Summilux, f/2, 1/4000s, ISO 160
 Yesterday I met up with a friend from work at Stanford to do a little bit of shooting and to buy a 50mm Summilux from him.  The Summilux is widely considered the finest 50mm ever made and it certainly lives up to its reputation.

First Time with a Leica - M9, 50 Summilux, f/1.4, 1/2000s, ISO 160
One of the sketchers noticed us and started talking cameras. 

Arist at Work - M9, 50 Summilux, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 160

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Locked - Leica M9, 50 Summicron, f/5.6, 1/350s, ISO 160
On the 4th of July, we left Bishop and stopped off at Bodie State Park.  We rode around on our bikes and I found myself using mostly the M9 with the 50mm Summicron.  I didn't have issues getting accurate focus with the rangefinder and the image quality of Summicron wide open is good but its simply stellar when stopped down.  Here are some crops that show actual pixels from the image above:

100% crop (actual pixels) of the lock area from image above

100% crop (actual pixels) from extreme upper right area from image at top

Goin' Leica

Leica M9, 50 Summicron, f/2, 1/60s, ISO 320
In a post last year I went over my thoughts on the Leica M9. I'd had the chance to work with one for a couple of weeks and felt I knew what the strengths and weaknesses were and at the time it didn't make sense to add the M9 to my shooting kit. Last week I picked up an M9 kit and am now on a few lists to get some hard to find Leica lenses. What's changed?

The biggest change is that my need for a compact, high quality system has gone up. Last year the prospect of adding an M9 along with the appropriate complement of Leica lenses was financially impossible. Now, having sold a significant chunk of my dedicated bird photography gear, it becomes possible.

The second is a rather obvious realization. The reason I added an M9 is the same reason I disqualified getting a Pentax 645D and is the biggest complaint I have with the Sony NEX. The overall system. In both the Pentax and Sony case, the lenses available for each body is woefully inadequate. In the case of the 645D, its modern high quality lenses that can do the sensor justice. In the case of the Sony, its really any high quality lenses for the system. In the case of Leica, there exists a whole slew of high quality lenses that are not only great but in many cases are the best lenses for the 35mm format ever made.

So the M9 still has some of the short comings I mentioned in my post, but I see those short comings as the price to pay to get to work with Leica's superb optics. In short, I have confidence that Leica will address these shortcomings in an M10.

These last 4 days, I went on a family trip to the Eastern Sierras. I did some shooting but it was mostly a scouting trip for future trips, including a short 3 day trip to Bishop on which I'm leaving tomorrow.

I had the chance to use both the 5D2 and the M9 quite a bit. I had forgotten just how much I liked the Leica ergonomics, everything was in exactly the right place. I'll post several images in the coming days to show the image quality of the M9, but in general I was very impressed. I'm confident that if Leica adds LiveView to the M10 (so that very precise focusing at intended depth of field is possible), I will probably use it for the majority of my landscape work.

Leica M9, 28 Elmarit ASPH, ~f/11, 1.5s, ISO 160

One difference that is striking is colors, especially the greens. The above image was pretty much exactly what my eyes saw at capture time. I didn't fiddle around with the colors, pretty much straight out of Lightroom, Adobe Standard color profile and 'Shade' as the white balance setting. Below is the 5D2.

Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/8, 1s, ISO 100
The difference may not be huge, but thats because I had to fiddle around with the file in Lightroom a LOT to get it here and it still doesn't feel right to me in terms what I saw.  This was with a custom color profile I created for my 5D2 using a ColorChecker Passport chart and I played with the white balance and also the hues of the branches.  Still, I think the water has a green cast to it (which I would fix for a final image).

Thats one of the things I noticed right away in the hundreds of images I took, the M9 images required very little fiddling to get colors right while post processing.  This also has a direct consequence when converting to black & white as I find it easier to get the tones exactly where I want them when there is a good color separation in the original file.

Still, the image quality differences between the cameras themselves (especially after careful post processing) are IMO minor enough that they alone might not be enough to go down the Leica route.  But its the size and weight thats the icing on the cake. 

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Half Dome & El Capitan

I am heading out on a trip through Yosemite and to the White Mountains today, so it seemed like an appropriate day to release a new image of Half Dome & El Capitan. This trip will mostly be a scouting trip for future dedicated photographic trips, though I'm bringing some new gear which I'm excited to try out.

The above image was made during my trip to Yosemite in February this year. The warm evening light bathed both Half Dome and El Capitan with just a hint of purple starting to show in the sky.

Technical: Canon 70-200 @ 70mm, f/5.6, 1/5s, ISO 100. Grad ND filters were used.