Comparison – Leica M9 // Contax G2 Tri-X

Rock and roll model in street

Leica M9 – Konica Hexanon-M 50mm B&W Jpeg

Rock and roll model in street

Contax G2 – 45mm Zeiss Planar – Kodak Tri-X

I just had these two frames sat next to one another on the screen and found the comparison interesting. Not a million miles apart to be honest.

Leica M9, 50mm Konica Hexanon-M f/2 (iso320 @ f/2) – B&W in camera JPEG plus a little Lightroom tweak to get it how I like

Contax G2, 45mm Zeiss Planar f/2, Kodak Tri-X (@400 @f/2) – Developed in Kodak D76(1:1) then Plustek Opticfilm 7400i scan (not rescanned or cleaned hence drying marks)

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The trouble with cameras is . . . . . . (6 months with my M8.2)

Some of you good people may remember a post around 6 months ago about my dirty weekend with a Leica M8. If not then you may wish to go read that before carrying on with this one.

Well the fact of the matter is I never got her out of my system, a few astute folk who follow my work may have already noticed but that camera was rapidly followed by my now precious M8.2.

So why the rapid change of mind? Why the “it just ain’t right” “Oh it’s so right” split?

Perhaps I owe you an explanation. . . . . . .

My dirty little secret.

6 months with my precious.

Some of those you may have seen before, some are “none selects” others are just little pieces of what I see.

 

Warning – This is a long post so maybe go grab a cuppa before continuing . . . . . .

As you can see the Leica has been with me on many a job, I slowly tried it out and instantly realised why I had a need for this little German gem. I just get different photographs when I use the Leica than I do with the Canons, not better just different. Particularly on fashion jobs, I can just calm everything down from the high energy studio work and tuck into the corner creating a very different feel between myself and my subject. It becomes a much more personal process, just my subject, me and a little camera. Simple light & simple gear, leaving all the more room for emotions and feelings. It’s like that feeling of peace you get when slowly breathing out, well to me it is anyway.

I won’t lie, some of the joy in using the Leica is in the fact it’s such a simple tool. It makes you work for the photographs you create with it. That’s an important point, I tend to create photographs with the M, not just take them. Sure i’ve had a little Auto / Auto / f/8 preset focus action but it just isn’t my way of working. If you want a sharp well exposed photograph of something with the M then you better get focusing and thinking about how you want the image to look. Could I have taken the photographs I have with a decent compact? I guess but the fact is I wouldn’t have enjoyed the process as much and that would have probably shown in the final image. Sure the final image is all that counts but if I don’t enjoy and revel in the process then my love isn’t going to come through in that final image. My Canons are almost like extensions of my body in that I know them both inside out and back to front (literally) I don’t have to think about what I want them to do, my fingers know exactly how to translate my minds want into the camera.

“A poor craftsman blames his tools” as the saying goes, so does a good craftsman also accredit his skill to his tools? None that I know of. The best response to the question asked often of photographers is “I use my eyes”. But to a degree it is about the camera. It’s about how that camera (tool) makes you feel when you use it. Much like how a £7000 bespoke suit from Brioni is going to make you feel slighty different than a £35 supermarket version. Both do the same job yet only one is going to make you feel like James Bond (I admit that only one is going to be worth more than your car too but hey). A friend made a good point once, he’s a rather talented carpenter and he himself admits to buying more expensive tools knowing that he will enjoy using them much more. They feel nicer, look a darn sight sexier and more than likely out last the cheaper option.

So that’s one reason for sticking with the Leica, it’s a well crafted, beautiful feeling tool that engages me like no other camera. As a working photographer that’s an important factor when creating my work (provided that those final photographs are of the quality my clients and I demand). Speaking of my clients, they don’t care what I use or how I create the photographs they pay for (well within reason and legal parameters), mostly all they get to see is those final images. So long as those photos blow them away, I’ve done my job and the exchange of currency is finalised.

What about all those negatives I spoke about when first using the M8?

Well let me recap –

Shutter noise

Shutter release feel

ISO performance

40mm f2 cron performance

Colour reproduction & white balance (The UV problem)

Firstly the noise, yes the M8 is a noisy beasty when shooting. I swapped up to an M8.2 (which was Leicas little upgraded model with new shutter box, screen and something else I forget). It’s quieter, not ninja quiet but quiet enough for me. Plus the M8.2 has a natty discreet mode where the shutter doesn’t recock until you release the shutter button, good to dampen the sound a little. Oh yeah and it’s the only digital camera I’ve had that I don’t have a screen protector on (well actually the 1Diii doesn’t have one either but that’s because that thing is a tank anyway) The sapphire crystal glass is somewhat of a bourgeois addition but hey if it means I can sling the thing in my bag without fear of a scratch then count me in.

Next the shutter button feel, still a bit gritty but I’m getting used to it. I’ve heard that one can tinker with it to make it all smooth but I don’t really want to get the screw drivers out just yet.

ISO performance – Right, here’s my honest take. If you’re working in colour then 640 is your maximum working iso (and that is at a push) The work around is to accept that and either use fast lenses (more on this later) or switch to B&W. I’m more than happy shooting ISO 1250 knowing the final image is going to be monochrome. In fact my working settings are DNG (RAW) + JPEG where the JPEG is B&W so when I review my shots I see them in B&W.

The 40mm f2 summicron performance compared to on film – Well I’ve shot this lens with and without a UV/IR cut filter, with and without coded setting. Fact is yeah sometimes the corners are a bit soft wide open, but as a fashion/portrait photographer this doesn’t really bother me so much. I think the reason I’ve never really noticed this before on film is me shooting fast films so the grain covers some of that softness. This being said I’m never going to be the guy who wants clinically sharp and smooth photographs. I pretty much always throw grain over the top of all my digital work to give it the look I desire. Plus another factor of the apparent soft corners is down to how ridiculously sharp the centre is wide open. This is one thing that still amazes me about the M, even having said images sharpness is not the be all and end all, the resolution of the kodak sensor is ridiculous.

Colours – Firstly the magenta blacks problem. Well documented and known about, the easy fix is an UV/IR cut filter. Sometimes I use one, sometimes not, sometimes I wish I had used one but a little desaturation localised brush work sorts out most of the problem. Under good light the colours just sing, I’d say it runs into problems still when under “odd” lighting conditions. So mixed sources normally indoors, Marks simple solution? B&W 🙂

 

So to how the Leica managed to take ahold of my heart. Well for one thing it really does slow me down, so again on a job I can be rocking with the Canons and then just step back and simplify, breathe and zen out. It brings me closer to my subject, in a way it takes me from Fashion photographer to Portrait photographer.

Right, time for something of a 6 month review, in the opposite way of most reviews this is my opinion, no test charts, no tech specs, just how I feel the camera works for me. It isn’t a comparison of DSLR Vs rangefinder, I use both and probably always will, each has a place in my bag.

So to start my little review here are some photographs (seems a good starting point);

On set with the M8.2

A little moment during a fashion shoot. I loved the opposite of the blacks & whites

 

On the nature of daylight - Leica Masters Gallery

Selected for the Leica Masters Gallery – Time out from the studio lights, a moment of calm reflection.

 

Manchester NQ

A quick change of camera and pace during a location shoot.

A quick note on the last shot, see that black suit she’s wearing . . . . . . . . yeah I wasn’t using the IR cut filter and so you can see what the magenta problem can look like. As I say not a massive problem and fairly easy to correct but I wouldn’t want to do a whole shoot of correcting and obviously for fashion true colours are quite the big deal at times . . . . .

6 months down and the Leica is getting more and more shoot time on jobs with me, partly because I’m more confident in what it can give me, plus partly because I’m more able to command gaps within the shoots to step outside the normal shooting approach.

It’s my always and everywhere camera. As such it’s taken a beating, I’ve probably shot over 2000 frames with it (so to those thinking why not shoot a film Leica that’d be over 56 rolls of film which is probably about £300 plus days worth of scanning time). Here are a few more everywhere shots;

Love Your Hair

I did until it threatened to leave me.

Platform 2

The alternative selfie

Elliot Erwitt I am not

Dogs driving cars, what’s not to like

The Exchange

The Exchange – lost in translation

Leon nostalgia

Leon nostalgia

Down the pub

Down the pub

Dodging the raindrops

Dodging the raindrops

Deep in the forest

Deep in the forest

Oxford Street detail

Oxford Street detail

 

So it’s been around a bit. It’s a joy to use and I get a lot out of that enjoyment.

I promised a little review but to be fair this is a 4 year old digital camera. It’s still very expensive and it has it’s problems. I’ve had conversations with people asking how I find it and I feel kind of bad saying yeah I love it, the image quality can be amazing but I wouldn’t recommend they buy one. Fact is if you’re in the market for a new (or new old) digital camera there are much “better” options for you for the amount of money a basic M8.2 set up will cost. For example a decent used M8.2 will be around £1800 for the body, a bog standard no frills 35mm voigtlander lens will be maybe £300 used (a decent 50mm leica summicron £600) So we’re talking over £2000 for one camera and one lens. This is big money in the current camera market. I could go out and buy a used Canon 5Dmk2 and add a 35mm f2, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8 for around the same amount. How can I ever recommend someone go and buy the Leica right. However if that person says “I love shooting with rangefinders and want a digital experience with it.” Well now we’re playing a different game. The field is very very narrow. You can get the Epson r-d1 (very old tech but a lovely looking camera), the M8 or the M8.2 (or I guess you could argue to a point any film rangefinder and a good scanner plus a stack of film but lets not have that discussion). To me the M8.2 is an addition to my bag rather than a replacement. Could the Fuji X-Pro do the same job, to me not really, it isn’t a rangefinder. It’s autofocus for starters and much of the joy of a Leica is it’s simplicity of use, you set the aperture, you set the shutter speed, you focus the lens and you compose the photograph. If it sucks then you only have yourself to blame (it’s a brutal world). Ever tried manually focusing the 50mm f1.2 L lens handheld on any Canon? trust me even that super high tech auto focus system has it’s problems sometimes. Now take the even faster 50mm f/1.1 Voigtlander Nokton, twist it, see it’s focused, take the shot and move on. It really is that simple.

So here’s the crux, would I recommend the Leica M8.2? in answer, no & yes. It really depends who is asking and what they want it for. If you’ve never used a rangefinder before and this will be your only camera, I’d be on the no side of the fence. If you like the rangefinder experience but want an all digital experience, maybe. If you have a solid DSLR set-up but want to add a rangefinder for the joy of using one and for a different feeling while shooting, YES.

Using the Leica is like using no other camera, the photographs one creates with it seem more personal simply due to the fact that the photographer makes all the decisions. To me my subject is more closely involved in the process, they see more of my face when I shoot, I’m normally closer to them, the set up is very simple and as such a more intimate feeling is evoked. Not in an odd way just the process becomes (to me) more naturally collaborative. Behind the Canons I direct, behind the Leica I play more of a reactionary roll.

So to me, I love my Leica (as much as one can love material goods). It forces my mind and creative process down a different path and from that I’ve grown as a photographer.

The final take away from this non-review review, only you will know whether or not the M8 / M8.2 is right for you. No amount of reviews and forums and looking at data charts will inform you, sure use those to convince your other half but in reality if that Leica bug bites then there is only one way to find out (on the plus side if you change your mind they do hold their value fairly well 🙂 )

 

I’ll leave you with a few more photographs from the last 6 months;

Down the garden

Such a lovely greenhouse.

Light reading

The vitals for being on the road. Leica, iPad & Vogue Magazine.

No review is complete without a photograph of a cat or dog

No review is complete without a photograph of a cat or dog

Blue doors, blue eyes

Blue doors, blue eyes

A momentary rest

A momentary rest

 

 

James W Blind Swineing some coc

James W Blind Swineing some cocktails

Triptych piece from E&E

My go to for triptychs M8.2 50mm f/1.1