The trouble with cameras is . . . . . . . (Never meet your heros) – My weekend with the Leica M8

M8-Selfie

The oh so required self portrait in mirror with new camera.

 

Right, i’ll let you get it out of your systems, go on, tell me you thought I was immune from gear acquisition syndrome.

It’s no secret I have a thing for Leicas. Always have and always will. I’ve been loving shooting my film CL of late, the 40mm f2 is beautiful on that camera (which it was designed for) and with TriX or TMax loaded I’ve got some beautiful photographs. It’s a pleasure to shoot with, makes me think and work for the images I get.

 

Now it’s normally about this time of year that I drop a little cash on something new. A couple of years ago a gained the 5Dmkii, a year later the EF 85L, then last year the X100.

This year I came across a used M8 for sale at a good price. I’ve wanted to get my hands on one of these since they launched and finally thought “I can have the excitement and joy of using my CL but with all the benefits and easy of digital” right?

Well after a couple of days I’m sad to say wrong. đŸ˜¦

The M8 is a beautiful camera and I’ve seen some lovely images from them, however despite all it’s beauty and heritage the sensor is showing it’s age. Here is the problem with modern digital cameras. Leica M cameras were always cameras for life, this is pretty much shown by the fact the M8 I used was cheaper than a used M7 film body from the same dealer. In fact I’d say my CL will be worth more than the M8 in another 10 years (maybe less). The problem is with producing the body of a camera to last forever in the modern “throw away” world. Digital technology is still in it’s teens and as such moving and changing still. Camera bodies are no longer the investment pieces in a kit.

So the M8,

It’s lovely no doubt. You know it’s a quality camera as soon as it’s in your hands. It’s straight forward and easy to use if you’re used to cameras that require you to do the thinking. Aperture, shutter speed, focus ring and shutter release. Zen like pretty much describes the user experience.

The problems start once you get shooting, firstly it isn’t as quiet as I’m used to Leicas being. No biggie but worth noting, it sounds kind of mechanical in operation. The shutter release is actually rubbish. Now I’ve never said this about a Leica but seriously it’s all crunchy, if I can really feel the half press points on my shutter release I freak out. Leicas should be smooth like butter, silky and perfect, not jarring and stabby. Again not a deal breaker but another con for me.

These things I could get over as I was finally shooting with a digital M, I enjoyed the experience, well until I started to look through the images. I’ll not go into huge detail but here’s the main issues I had;

White balance is shocking, Forget auto WB unless you like blue tinted shots. Sure I shoot RAW but still I do like my previews to be close to actual colours.

My 40mm f2 ‘cron was appalling wide open on the thing. Crazy soft corners, like lens baby soft. This was a BIG deal to me.

Really rather poor ISO performance once you get above the base of 160. At 160 it’s really great but other than that noise starts to dance everywhere.

I’ll admit I was blown away by the sharpness of the images even when unsharpened in Lightroom but as we all know, sharpness isn’t everything.

Colours, h’eh, nothing to really write home about. Apparently the Kodak sensor in the M8 was designed to replicate Kodachrome colours. I’m no expert on Kodachrome but I’m pretty sure it was better than what I got with the M8.

Here’s a few shots from the weekend to give you an idea of my cons. These we’re edited to make them acceptable to me so you won’t see my issues with colour or white balance;

 

Red checks out

Red wall photographed with Leica M8, 40mm f2. Colour gained by running this through Color Efex and the Kodachrome preset.

Window shot with M8

Window shot with M8. Film (ish) look? yes. Straight from camera? No.

Shadow play

This one shows the stupid soft corners I got using the 40mm f2 on the M8. Never had this on the CL

Just testing for bo-keys đŸ™‚

Blus doors & stone work

A little street detail from the city this morning. Leica M8 40mm f2

Through the looking glass

British institutions, BT phone box and a Red Royal Mail post box.

So after seeing my shots, I thought i’d be fun to compare to those I took last year with the X100 (now don’t get silly on me but I may be about to announce something)

Window details, X100

A window shot from the X100. Creamy and lovely

Shooting the shooter

Cameras a dawn. A little window detail whilst wandering with the X100.

Budapest doorway, Fuji X100

Street / doorway details from Budapest last year. X100. Oh the colours!

X100 bike

Bike in Budapest shot with the Fuji X100

I love this shot, blue hour in Budapest. The X100 excels in low light.

Busking in the rain, York. X100

Singing in the rain York style. Weather testing the X100

River walk details

Love this shot too. A little moment from down by the river last year.

 

Okay, now I know which series of shots I prefer.

Remeber last year when I let the X100 go, I said I loved it but it wasn’t worth what I paid for it. Well the same goes for the M8, I love the thing despite it’s short comings, I’m pretty sure that one day I will invest in some proper Leica lenses and a full frame digital M but for now, I just can’t part with that much money for a camera which doesn’t create what I want it too. So where does that leave me?

Well the CL is staying for all my B&W film work (no doubt on that one). It’s small, light and handy to have in the bag on assignments.

Now coming back to the “the X100 isn’t worth what I paid for it”. Well it wasn’t worth what I paid for it when first released brand new, however . . . . . . it is worth what I may have just found one for used and just serviced with a stack of extras.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve missed the little Fuji, every time I look back through my catalogue of shots from last years 365 the stand out images are normally from the X100, it’s colour reproduction is amazing, I really got to grips with converting my B&W’s with it, plus the thing is sexy as. Why didn’t I go for the new X-Pro 1? simple because HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRICE OF THOSE THINGS?!? I don’t care if it makes coffee for me and drives me to my commissions, I’m not wandering the back streets of eastern european cities casually swinging over two thousand pounds worth of metal and plastic from my wrist. Plus it’s going to get me into the whole lens system problem again.

So the M8 is going back, the Olympus E-P2 20mm combo is going to be leaving my company and all being well the X100 shall be returning. HA! its like a camera yoyo between the Oly E-P system and Fuji X100 around here eh? Stay tuned I’m sure they’ll be more on this subject to be said in a week or so.

 

So as they say sometimes is best not to meet your heros, I’ve admired the M8 from afar for a good while, now sadly I see it as a once was, a classic of old.

 

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(C)over boy // Reworked by himself



(C)over boy // Reworked by himself, originally uploaded by bang*.

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Another from last week with Jaime, well I say another it’s the same shot from before but with a little something something. He’s somewhat of a creative man and put this together. I dig it and figured I’d share the love. Check out more of Jaimes stuff here jwandsmurrayillustration.tumblr.com/

Model : Jamie Wands-Murray (Maverick Models)
Photographer : Mark Ivkovic (moi!)
Post Production – Jaime

Leica CL 40mm f2
Kodak Tri X in D76 (standard)

(C)over Boy



(C)over Boy, originally uploaded by bang*.

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Model : Jamie Wands-Murray (Maverick Models)
Photographer : Mark Ivkovic (moi!)

Leica CL 40mm f2
Kodak Tri X in D76 (standard)

Using the film cameras more and more for these shoots. Partly as I’m starting to trust that they still work and partly as I’m still in love with that little difference that the film look has.
I’m still running with the Film26 project, 26 two week periods of the year where we work through the alphabet for subject matter. You may now understand the title of the photo & this post.
I have to say I’m blown away by this little rangefinder. Previous to the CL I’ve used a rare (simply because they’re kinda worthless and mostly broken) Lordomat & a Yashica MG-1 (cheap as chips fixed lens “compact” rangefinder from the 60’s (ish).
Before you all get “I thought you were immune to G.A.S.” this was all early(ish) last year during my long term GAS illness.
Now the Lordomat was my first rangefinder camera and for that I dig it, it is also a thing of beauty. All chrome and metal and heavy. The lens was actually pretty good if slightly dreamy wide open. I just hated the tiny (and I mean tiny) viewfinder. So I started looking for something to replace it with (whilst ignoring the Leicas) I really wanted something handy but also quick to use almost as a snapshot camera. So I headed into the muddy waters of 60’s Compact rangefinders. Compact is a laugh, you’ll see if you ever pick one up. The Olympus 35 SP was my real aim but not for the price they now go for. So I stuck with the Yashica Electro that isn’t a Yashica Electro and only cost me £15. It’s okay, shot plenty of stuff with it but the aperture priority only shooting mode really started to bug me as I had to rely on the meter firstly being right and secondly being accurate.
So to the Leica CL. This is pretty much exactly what I’ve wanted from a rangefinder since I discovered how much I like them. Sure i’ll admit it isn’t a Leica M but it takes M lenses and shoots the same film. It’s lighter, smaller and has a built in meter (which works). Plus if someone asks to see it I’m not going to have to ask them to pay a deposit before I hand it over.
Maybe soon I’ll run through my medium format camera of choice these days. I’ve been trying a few different systems (via a process of begging and borrowing) over the last 6 months or so and I’m now feeling sure that I’ve found my camera.
So more film coming from me in various sizes, type and such. Five rolls went to the lab yesterday and I’m planning on running a good few through the cameras during my shoots this weekend.

Oh happy Valentines and all that too.

Mark

(C)over Boy

(C)ase

The rare post without a photograph – Thoughts on gear, GAS, and all that.

So I’ve been bombarding you all with a lot of photographs lately, I figured I’d take the weekend to put down some words for a change. After all, I know how you love a rant every now and then. Plus  something has been welling up inside me of late, especially with all the new camera announcements. So if you’re ready to ride this one out with me, grab a seat, maybe a hot beverage and perhaps by the end I’ll have figured out what I’m trying to say.

Firstly for those not of a geeky camera leaning GAS is photo-nerd speak for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This is the usual follow up of spending too much time online looking at photographs, seeing what camera was used to take said photographs and then heading over to eBay to try and find one cheap. One of the problems with being a photographer is that we all have an inner gadget geek which drives part of our brain. The artist part is happy with whatever creative tool it is given, often it is happiest with the most limiting of kit. The geek side however, that side wants new stuff, new (old) stuff, different stuff. It wants all this as it feels that somehow by having it magically the photographs the photographer creates will be better. Now I’m fairly sure most will agree that in the modern digital arena this problem has become amplified with all the manufacturers telling us about the super dooper new features and mega high iso capabilities etc etc. People get really hung up on this stuff and one quick glance over some of the nauseating internet forums will reveal just how strongly some folk feel about how important it all is. I guess it’s human nature to want to have better “stuff” than the others and to try and claim some higher standing by having said “stuff”. However photography has a great leveller of the playing field in it’s bag of tricks. The end product. I see many self proclaimed “pros” shooting with the latest and greatest camera gear producing very mundane and somewhat dead photographs. On the flip side I see many modest “hobbiests” shooting beautiful, heart wrenching work on cameras aimed at the entry level, or on cameras manufactured 30 years ago. So what does this tell me, does this mean we should shed ourselves of out megapixel beasts and go grab a point and shoot? no. Does it mean we should all go and shoot film just because this one guy on the internet said it was cool? no. Should we maybe just stop and think about what it is that new bit of kit we’re lusting after is going to grant us? maybe.

I feel one of the things we’ve lost in this digital age is time. Time to truly acquaint ourselves with our tools, to fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of kit we own. The only way to get this is through spending time with our equipment, shoot with it, feel how it works, or if you like “become at one with your camera”. In the olden days (man I feel old typing that) we’d have one camera for years, the only thing which would make a huge difference would be the film you ran through it. Now you’re lucky if the fancy new DSLR you bought will last two years. Less if you spend time reading photo magazines and review sites. A lot of the photo industry is about trying to part you from your hard earned money, to be fair I’m part part of that crowd in that I’d like my clients to part with hard earned money in return for some beautiful photographs. However much of the industry would have you believe it’s more important to have the latest camera and lens than it is to truly understand how to create those beautiful photographs. I’ve seen many a person on photography workshops and training sessions not really know how to use their cameras and I don’t mean how to use the camera to take photographs I mean the basic stuff like change iso, format a CF card, that kind of stuff. You know read the manual stuff. I’ve seen the “Photography basics 101 : how to take great photographs”  courses end up with people lining up to ask how to set the camera up. I’ve even worked with “pros” who seemingly lack those same skills much to my dismay. As Mr Canlas tweeted yesterday “if you accept money for shoots, you should know how to meter.” Pretty much sums it up

Know your gear.

Now I’m not claiming to be immune from said GAS, after all some may recall my acquisition of a Canon 85mm f1.2 last year. A lens which is rather highly regarded. Do I still own said lens? I do not. Why not? it spent far too much time sat on the shelf than it did in my bag. At that time last year I was all hung up on the gear I had and on what I wanted to be able to shoot the kind of photographs I thought I wanted to shoot. I was all about the geek rather than the artist. Looking back If I’d just concentrated on going out and shooting those photographs I’d have learnt a whole lot more than I did photographically. Sure I learnt that the 85L is a great lens (in optical and bulk terms), however it just wasn’t for me. Would I buy one now if I had the spare cash floating around? probably not, there are a number of other things I’d invest that cash into before another 85L.

So what is it that I’m really going on about?

Well I guess I’d be nice if people started to rebalance their inner battle between the nerd and the artist. Let’s all just step back from the latest press releases about magical new cameras and concentrate on actual photography. You can lust after cameras and lenses that’s perfectly fine, just don’t let that be your overriding pull to photography. If you’re not out there creating new work, new work that you are proud of, then who the hell cares how many megapixels you have. Or that the photograph you took of your cat last night in the kitchen without the lights on at iso 1000000 with your 12-1000mm f1.4 lens and at 30 frames per second has next to zero noise in it at 100%. Seriously unless you just got a commission to photograph really fast black cats in a coal mine under ambient lighting conditions it really isn’t that important.

So to re apply the Baz Lurhman line “Don’t read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly”, don’t spend all your time reading photography magazines they will only make you poor. The reward from going out and taking a great photograph that you are proud of is much longer lasting than that momentary joy you get from buying a new camera.

 

Just saying. . . . . . . .

The Olympus PEN E-P2 bag.



The Olympus PEN E-P2 bag., originally uploaded by bang*.

Day 282 / 365

Seeing as I promised a show and tell about how tiny the Oly kit is here it finally is.
Sure beats lugging the money earning kit around when I just want to head out and perhaps shoot if I see something that catched my eye.

E-P2
VF-2
20mm f1.7 Panasonic
35mm f1.9 C Mount
50mm f1.8 OM mount

YN560 Speedlite
RF-602 triggers
Cheap bendy tripod (for the flash)

Spare Battery
Extra SD Card
Wallet
Phone
Pen

All wrapped up in a bag made from recycled plastic bottles.

Olympus PEN – E-PL2 Long Term Real World Review – Initial Impressions



The PEN, originally uploaded by bang*.

bang | Photography – Marks Olympus PEN – E-PL2 Long term review – Part 1- Initial Thoughts.

Now that I’m sure i’m hanging on to the PEN, here’s the first of a running real world review of the Olympus E-PL2. I figured the blog could do with some asides from the 365 project which seem to be commanding its posts. Plus my feelings for the micro 4/3 system cameras has changed now I’ve had chance to use one for a week or three.

As I say, this is real world review, no test charts, measuring devices or other dull stuff like that. People do those kinds of reviews in other corners of the web so if that’s what you want google is your friend.

Initial impressions –
As the latest incarnation of the digital Olympus PEN this camera has had effectively three younger siblings, the E-P1, E-PL1 & E-P2. Having never used any of the other models I can’t tell you how this one relates to those. I can however compare it to my Leica DLux4, the Leica DigiLux 2 and fairly or unfairly to my Canons.

Things I liked straight away –
Straight out the camera jpegs – The things just pop.

The screen – It’s big and it’s pretty darn bright.

Image quality – Super good for such a little camera.

Depth of Field control – With a larger (than usual compact sized cameras) sensor this is a huge plus to me. Not as good as full frame dslr but the camera is somewhat smaller and much more portable.

Noise control – Higher iso capability means I’m willing to push beyond where I used to with the DLux4. It isn’t a 5D mk ii though.

Hot Shoe – Well all my other cameras had one too but it’s still a huge plus for me (actually it’s a must).

Its looks – Hey to me how my cameras look plays a big part in my choice or purchase. The kit lens may be an okay lens but it spoils the look of the camera to me. Hence my instant purchase of the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 (well that and the fact I choose to mainly shoot with prime lenses)

It’s customisation ability – Sure the menus could cause some people problems, me however I just jumped right in and got it working how I wanted. Again to me this is a must, I have to have complete control over my camera otherwise It just doesn’t feel (or look) right.

Some things I’m not too keen on –
The kit lens – I know it’s a good lens and all image quality wise, and for most (actually probably all) the other users it will be a perfect companion. It just spoils the retro look of the time for me, the max aperture is kind of slow and the collapsable thing just bugs me too. When I’m out and about I like my camera ready for use but compact enough to sit by my side. Stick one of the pancake primes on and it’s perfect though.

The Strap – Again this is a personal thing. They could have gone for a more retro piece rather than the advertising. Needless to say mine never graced the camera.

ISO 200 as lowest ISO – Grrrrrrgh. Sure it’s only two stops from all my other cameras, but come on that’s two whole stops. If I’m using this thing with flash I’m going to be wanting lower iso some times to knock out some ambient light (again I’m of the minority users of this camera who will want this, most will be happy with the increased iso speed). Also combine this with the max shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. I’m a fast prime lens shooter and as such like large apertures. On a number of occasions already I’ve been forced to stop down If I want to keep exposure correct, hence having to compromise my vision for the shot.

The Battery life – It pretty much sucks compared to everything but the Leica DigiLux2 (which was pretty old tech batterywise). I’m not sure if the battery warning comes on too early (although this can be tweaked in camera too) but I’m constantly aware of how quickly it seems to appear. Actually after further use I’ve found one battery struggles to power a full day shooting, this weekend I got about 290 shots to the battery and was left powerless at 10pm. I managed a few turn it back ons to grab a couple of extra shots but in todays world I do expect one battery to manage at least one full day. I’m not expecting the 1600+ shots I can get from one charged 1D or 5D battery but still 300 all out seems pretty weak.

As yet no “proper” RAW support – Adobe have candidate releases of LR3 and Camera RAW which support the Oly RAW files but as yet no stable support. Although with the quality of the jpegs this isn’t too much of a problem.

It’s noise – The Leicas I used were both very (read almost silent) quiet. My Canons make noise but aren’t really built for stealth anyway. I thought the PEN would be along the compact camera quiet lines. However it makes a “real” noise, sure it isn’t deafening but it is perceivable in quieter places. Just something to consider I guess. It’s sound is something akin to that of stepping on a big beetle, kind of squelchy.

So those are my initial thoughts after three weeks use. Some things I have figured out work arounds, others I’ve learned to live with. One thing is for certain though, I do love the thing and really love how it renders what I put before it. Compared to any other compact camera I’ve used this blows them away in this respect. I’ve compared it against the 5D mk ii / 35mm f2 and to tell you the truth they are pretty darn close under good “normal” lighting (actually quite frighteningly close). I’ll probably do a comparison post latter in the year so you can see what I mean. I’ve shot some studio portraits with the PEN and they came out beautifully (the jpegs were spot on).
People following my 365 project may have noticed I’ve shot most of my images over the last three weeks with the PEN (and the Panasonic 20mm, which is a very very good lens). It seems to just do what I want and expect it too pretty much all of the time. On that note if you wish to see more sample images from the PEN just browse through either here on the blog (I normally indicate which camera I’ve shot images with) or through my flickr stream (same with the camera details).
Only time will tell if it continues to impress as I push it further.

So far so good for the might small Olympus E-PL2.

I’ve heard internet rumblings about an E-P3 possible release this year. Judging by Olympus’ speedy model upgrades so far I’d expect this to be true. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do to improve this little camera. I am thinking someone needs to put out a fast wide angle prime for the micro 4/3 system though, the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 is good as it serves a good 28mm relative, but something like a 12mm f2 would just be peachy (24mm (relative) and fast, perfect landscape, interiors and for me travel lens when paired with the 20mm (40mm relative)).

More to follow in later updates through the year.

New Beginnings.



New Beginnings., originally uploaded by bang*.

Day 59 / 365

The courier came today and we did a little swapsies, one big box out and a smaller box in. Inside said smaller box was a little something which has taken me the last five years of my career to finally obtain with a clear conscience.
Different people approach gear in different ways. Me, I’m a right tool for the right job kind of guy. If something will do the job then why use anything fancier (read more expensive). Take my old 50mm f1.8, sure it’s made out of plastic, yeah the focus motor sounds is a bit noisy but that lens is more than capable of producing beautiful, vibrant, client pleasing photographs. Clients don’t care what equipment you use to take a photograph, how much time it took you in photoshop to make it look that way, all they care about is the final image, period.
So that has always been my ethos when it comes to buying equipment, look at the options then look at my list of must dos, then buy the most appropriate thing. The canon 50mm was replaced with the Sigma 50mm as I needed something faster in lower light conditions, and I needed something more reliable in focusing.

With all this being said though, we all have a wish list of kit that one day we’d love to own. Many people ask to me, “why don’t you just go and buy it, the business will pay for it anyway?” Well yeah the business will pay for it, but the business is me and I’d much rather go buy the kit that I need and be able to pay my rent, afford a nice holiday, put petrol (gas) in the car etc. I know photographers who go out and buy all the latest and greatest kit as soon as it’s released. Guess what, you know all that second hand top end spec. gear for sale, that used to belong to those now bankrupt and out of business photographers. Zack Arias does a great workshop going over this very thing, I can’t remember the link right now and he’s mid website changeover but that guy is a rock in this industry, he’s the self proclaimed suck-sessful photographer. If you haven’t watched the film he put together for Scott Kelby’s blog a while back GO WATCH IT, it’s pretty emotive stuff.
“I’m going a hundred miles an hour down a dead-end road. . . . . . . “.

David DuChemin also touts the mantra “Gear’s good, vision’s better”. This I’m also a firm believer in, there are many ways to achieve the shot, not just by using top end gear. For pretty much all photographers our gear is ahead of our vision 99% of the time.

Yeah yeah yeah I hear you cry, what was in the blooming box?
Well I’m not spoiling that secret yet, it’s a lens as I say I’ve lusted after for some time. After years of hard work and creative development, I came to a junction in my career where I realised that I was ready for it. It has a place in my kit bag that can’t be filled by anything else. It has a look and signature that I’ve come to understand is my own.

My personal lens trinity is complete (this is beginning to sound like a film script). It’s the beginning of a new chapter for bang photography and by the end of the year a final few loose ends will be tidied up and I’ll be where I want to be. With a lot of hard work, grit, determination and luck anyway.

Also, I’m going to stop stating what I’m shooting with unless It has some basis in the explanation. I think it’s time to get back to our artist and give the geek some time off.