San Francisco with the Leica M-E

in Gear Review, Travel by on September 9th, 2013

If you read my post from earlier in the year, you’ll see I made the decision to try out a Leica M6 in an effort to find a system camera that was more suitable for taking along with me when I travelled. After putting a bunch of films through the camera, I was quickly convinced that the Leica rangefinder was an ideal travel companion – legendary lenses, and a no nonsense camera body, which, whilst fully manual, offered enough flexibility to be able to shoot quickly and reliably. The size of the kit meant that I could slip the body and a couple of lenses into a bag, along with my laptop, in a fraction of the space that I would have required should I have chosen to travel with my Nikon gear. There was only one problem with the M6 – despite the fun of waiting for the films to be returned from the processor, and scanning the images in – it wasn’t satisfying the immediate need to see my images that I have become accustomed to whilst shooting digitally over the past 15 or so years.

 

Drummer on Market Street

Drummer on Market Street

So, as my interest in the Leica camera system ‘developed’, I heard that a local Leica dealer, Henny Hoogeveen in Lisse, had a Leica M-E ex-demo body in stock at a very attractive price. To cut a long story short, I was able to purchase the body in time to take with me on a trip to San Francisco for the RSA conference.

Spelling Mistake

With a huge marketing budget, you would have thought RSA would have employed a proof reader. Or at least someone who knows how to spell February……

I had timed my travel so that I would have the weekend before the conference to recover from any jet lag, and spend a bit of time walking around the city. An ideal opportunity to see what the digital rangefinder would be able to do for me. The learning curve from the M6 was very slight – although the M-E is a digital body, feature wise it is very similar to the M6 in that it is very feature light – the only addition in terms of taking photos is the addition of aperture priority on the M-E in addition to the fully manual exposure mode that the M6 offers. Needless to say, both cameras are manual focus, which is quick and easy with the rangefinder.

Sleeping Rough

Sleeping Rough – if you look closely (click for a larger image) you’ll see a guy climbing out of the car’s trunk. He appeared to have spent the night inside….

Many street photographers choose to shoot with Leica, or other similar rangefinder cameras, as they are able to approach and photograph their subjects without getting in the way, and even if they are noticed the subject’s attention is hardly captured as the camera is very unobtrusive. Shooting with the M-E gives me a confidence that I never have with the Nikon in terms of the opportunities on the street where I will press the shutter release, rather than walking away when with a Nikon to avoid any unpleasant confrontations. With a bit of practice it’s possible to visualise what you will be seeing through the rangefinder, and prefocus and shoot from the hip if necessary. In the situations where you are noticed, a smile and a whispered thank you is normally enough to appease most people.

Taking a Break

Taking a Break

I took my 35mm Summarit and a 50mm Summicron with me, and wandered through the streets of San Francisco looking for opportunities. In Chinatown the local community was celebrating the start of the Chinese New Year, providing a very photo rich environment, and as always a walk along Market Street offered a number of opportunities.

Phone Call

Phone Call

San Francisco is a beautiful city, and the mixture of cultures means there is something new to discover around every corner. I walked a fair distance during my days there, and carrying the Leica over my shoulder was no strain at all due to the lightweight construction. Since acquiring the M-E I have started to take my camera with me a lot more frequently, and ultimately taken many more photographs compared to previous years.

Take My Picture

Take My Picture

Of course, the Leica comes at a price, and there is a lot of discussion in online forums as to whether or not the Leica is worth the money. After all, technology wise the camera is miles behind competition from the dSLR vendors such as Canon or Nikon. My Nikon D800 for example has excellent AF, and great low light capabilities – the Leica is manual focus, and starts to lose definition above around 1000 ISO. So ultimately, no, the Leica isn’t worth the price you pay if you are simply adding up features, but the Leica provides a different sort of emotion to the photographer, and a different way of shooting – after all Leica is celebrating 100 years of rangefinder cameras this year, and wouldn’t have been around for so long if they weren’t doing something right……

Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

 

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Gear Review: Nikon 200mm F/2G VR

in Gear Review, Lens Review by on September 9th, 2013

I’ve owned this lens now for 5 years, and have been meaning to provide a write up for a long time. I guess I just haven’t used the lens enough, for reasons I will explain during my blog, to do it full justice, but enough is enough, it’s time to write up my experiences…..

DNRT April 2011, Circuit Zandvoort

DNRT April 2011, Circuit Zandvoort

This short review is based upon the v1 lens. It has since been replaced by a v2. The main differences between v1 and v2 are the addition of Nano coating, to help reduce flair/ghosting, and VRII. The optics on both lenses are exactly the same, so I believe this review still holds a lot of relevance to those considering the purchase of this fine optic.

Blossom

Blossom

I bought the lens on a whim – I was traveling through Schiphol airport one afternoon, and noticed they had a rather large lens on the shelf in the electronics section of the duty free. On closer inspection I noticed it was the venerable Nikon 200mm f/2G VR lens, an optic that had been getting rave reviews and was subject of the longest thread on NikonCafe (so long in fact it had to be split into two threads to prevent the forum software from crashing) at http://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/showthread.php?t=61674 and http://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/showthread.php?t=261618. One thing struck me immediately about the lens – the price – it was listed for €2500 when everywhere else was selling it for over €3000 (in fact if you look for the best price today you’ll see the newer version two trading for closer to €5000).

So, thinking that I could always sell it again for what I had paid later if I didn’t like it, I bought the lens.

Amsterdam Gay Pride

Amsterdam Gay Pride

5 years on, this is a lens that I don’t use that often. I think the main reason I don’t use it is simply down to the size of the lens. In order to provide a f/2 maximum aperture on a 200mm lens, the front optic has to have a large diameter – around 120mm/5inches. This makes the lens big and heavy, and not something that gets chosen to go in the day bag (if you can indeed find a reasonable day bag that will fit it!). Especially when I have a 70-200mm which is a lot more flexible. It’s a great portrait lens, as it really blows the background, but the focal length means the model to photog distance is a little bit too long, so I typically resort to my other cream machine, the 85/1.4, or the 24-70/2.8 in the studio. For wildlife, the lens is a bit too short, and the 300/2.8 or 200-400/4 get chosen in favor of the 200/2.

Giro D'Italia

Giro D’Italia

However, the 200/2 does have a place, and it’s a nice lens to use when the opportunity arises. The autofocus is lightning fast, and combined with the f/2 aperture, it doesn’t miss a shot. So I have used this lens a number of times as a sports lens – most recently at the DNRT race days at Zandvoort, and a couple of years ago when the Giro passed through Amsterdam. With the shots of the cars in this post, I dropped my aperture to f/4, to give me a bit more depth of field tolerance for the fast moving vehicles, but with the cyclists I shot every bike at f/2, and the autofocus was dead on every time.

Giro D'Italia

Giro D’Italia

The lens weighs just under 3kg, so it is heavy, but it balances nicely on a pro body such as the D3, and sits nicely in the hand. Although it is a lot more comfortable to use it with a monopod, it is definitely possible to shoot hand held for extended periods of time, and the Giro shots are testament to this – I shot handheld for the whole afternoon, and didn’t feel any strain on my back.

Tabatha

Tabatha

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the lens though is the sheer bulk. It’s certainly not a lens that you can use inconspicuously when shooting on the street or in public for example. So it remains a very specialist lens, and one that unfortunately doesn’t see much time on my camera. But the pure quality of the images that I end up with when I do use it mean that I won’t be selling this beautiful lens without a very good reason……

DNRT April 2011, Circuit Zandvoort

DNRT April 2011, Circuit Zandvoort

 

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