PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux


Leica 75mm APO Summicron-M ASPH Review

The 75mm Summicron-M is one Leica’s flagship lenses, a best among bests for anyone keeping score.  Though the Noctilux and Summilux lenses generate more gushing excitement in the press, the reputation of Summicron lenses is that they generally deliver more even performance.  This Summicron’s performance is even indeed, and also essentially perfect when focused properly.


Early Samples

Samples for the 75mm APO Summicron-M ASPH.  It's an outstanding lens, though at times it can be difficult to focus and it's not as resilient to veiling flare as I would have wished.


Next Review : 75mm APO Summicron-M ASPH


Starting Fresh with Leica’s M9

Hello again!  We here at the Photoog Command Center have survived our introduction to the Leica M9.  We're over it, optimism has returned.

Family picture, 35mm Distagon ZF included for scale.


Fun Fact

The Leica M9 can drive a Nikon SB-600 flash unit on manual through the X-sync.

I guess this is industry-standard so it works with everything.  Still, it's great to know it works.

Now what would be awesome is an even smaller flash unit...


First Encounter with the M9

I have a unit in my hands, here through a friend.  It's a very nice looking camera and it handles pretty well.  Today is day #3 with the camera.

Plenty of detail.


Key Concepts

Sean Reid from recently sent out a survey asking what people felt needed to change or needed to stay with the Leica Digitla RangeFinder (DRF) cameras.  I answered Sean's survey, but I thought I would record more publicly the core of my argument.

In terms of factual details (like specific knobs, windows) there is nothing that I think must be preserved.  There is also nothing specific that want to see added.  I'm open to change but I don't ask for it.

Here are the key concepts which I believe must be preserved - concepts, not specific current details - in priority order:

  1. The Future Leica DRF uses M lenses “as intended” : it mounts the lenses physically (directly or via adapter), without any crop factor (1.0x), and introduces no significant image flaws as a result of being combined with M lenses (no undue amounts of light falloff, cyan drift, IR pollution, edge softness). The native mount of the camera is not necessarily the M mount but all meaningful/relevant functions of the camera work as normal when M lenses are mounted.
  2. The Future Leica DRF is a camera that is operated manually by default, for all parameters. Its user interface is not built for manual control to be an option, it is built specifically for manual control. Then, in addition to that, optional automation of any parameter is acceptable if it is discreet and does not distract during manual operation.
  3. The Future Leica DRF is a compact camera which aims to achieve a form factor that is at the minimum limit of what can house the necessary components, be handled comfortably and kept steady. The M3 size and shape need not be preserved at all cost, smaller is possible, larger is possible but not much larger.
  4. The Future Leica DRF preserves the aesthetics of the Leica M lineage, at least in spirit but not in all details. The Future Leica DRF camera is recognizable from across a room as being an M family camera. Beyond this small details do not matter.

This is it - a camera that implements these concepts meets all of my needs.

I had a section about how to lower price at the expense of the ultimate mechanical quality.  It is less important than the concepts above, but I do believe there is a point of diminishing returns and the currnet M family is beyond it.  A design that is more tolerant of deviations may be needed, even if that means replacing more mechanical parts with electronic ones, and I would welcome that change.



Filed under: Leica, Personal 1 Comment

A Taste of What's to Come


Commentary : M9 analysis by DXO

This week some absolutely-completely-expected data from DXO came out for the M9 and the web forums caught fire.  All the usual tripe came out – cheaper cameras push better pixels.  Yes!  Whatever!

I’ll say my position on this: Leica’s cameras are desirable only because they mount Leica’s lenses.  If the M lenses weren’t so exquisite or so small, Leica probably could not sell M cameras above their manufacturing cost.  However, support for M lenses without cropping is a significant cause for enthusiasm about the M9.

In my humble opinion, the serious M9 buyer isn’t buying the M9 because it’s the best sensor in the business.  To a first order the M9 is only required to not suck eggs because it uses M lenses the way they were intended to be used.

Now, let’s see if we can make more sense of all the predetermined-yet-controversial data.

Here’s a comparison that speaks to me, from first-hand experience:

I’m sorry DXO, I wanted to link to your widgets but I have no idea how to make that work with my blog software.

The D80 was a good camera.  Under ISO 1000 the D80 delivered excellent results in my hands, even indoors, and even in crappy light.  When I paired it with a Zeiss lens the D80 just roared to life and produced results way above its price tag.  I probably came close to extracting maximum image quality from the D80 towards the end of my time with it, and those images still look as good as the best images I’m taking today.

The D700 is a better camera.  Purely judging from pictures, upgrading to a D700 brought me 1 extra stop of dynamic range and 2 extra stops of sensitivity with acceptable noise.  DXO agrees with both, note.  However, these aren’t all the improvements in the D700, and there are plenty of conditions where they are basically moot.

In my review of the D700  (forgive the bad product photography, not my cup of tea) I concluded that the D300 would have been a better choice, because it has all the same non-sensor improvements for half the price.  A year later, still with the D700, my final verdict comes down to the crop factor or lack thereof.  I’m very happy with the D700’s sensor but basically because of its physical dimensions.

One thing that the D700 did not terribly improve over the D80, and DXO doesn’t take into account much, is resolution.  DXO noise results do account for resolution in a way, but they never tackle the subject of image acuity and microcontrast.  In this area the D80 and D700 definitely fall within 10-20% of each other and the M9 ought to trounce both (expect ~50 better).  If any camera system can actually deliver a perfect 18MP image sample it’s the M system, as opposed to Canon’s APS-C system, say.

Let's combine the DXO data with other M9 facts to draw a bigger picture:

  1. The M9’s color depth is only slightly better than the D80.
  2. The M9’s dynamic range is halfway between the D80 and D700.
  3. Low-light ISO on the M9 is maybe a half-stop better than the D80.
  4. The M9’s image acuity is about 50% better than the D80 and D700.
  5. An M9 with lens is less than half the size and weight as the D700 with lens.

That’s a very good balance – I would gladly give up some high ISO performance for greater acuity and shoulder relief.  Especially if I can make up some sensitvity loss by leaning on fast Leica lenses, and here the trade-off gets really interesting.

As you know, I own a Zeiss 1.4/50 Planar ZF.  You may not know that I simply do not shoot this lens at f/1.4, ever.  At this aperture the bokeh is ugly and distracting, micro-contrast is lost in various fringe effects, and it is extremely difficult to focus closer than 12 feet if ambient light is low.  I use this lens starting around f/2.4 - 2.8, where it is much easier to focus and produces beautiful bokeh and micro-contrast.  This is basically 1.5 - 2 stops of light-gathering power that I choose to throw away because the D700 can make it up in ISO sensitivity.

Judging by lens availability right now, most M9 owners also carry a 1.4/50 Summilux-M ASPH.  This lens has beautiful bokeh at all apertures, is essentially apochromatic, exhibits almost no focus shifts and, best of all, delivers very high micro-contrast right from the maximum aperture.  Focusing in low light is easier on a rangefinder than an SLR ground glass.  I would shoot this lens wide-open by default, or step down 1 stop to gain some depth of field and forgiveness of focus error.

Some people will cry foul, that I’m excusing sensor limitations by finding lenses that mitigate them.  But these lenses in particular can only be used with this sensor, so the two might as well be considered together.  They would be right to complain if the Summilux could be mounted on a D700, but alas this is not possible.

So, in my opinion, the M9’s ISO performance being lower is both predictable and partly a moot point.  The M9 clearly does not suck and that’s really all it needed to (not) do to succeed.




Commentary: 24G's MTF

Here are super-imposed the charts for the 50mm f/1.4G (lower red & blue) and 24mm f/1.4G (higher red & blue) lenses. There isn’t a single point where the 50mm beats the 24mm.

Most satisfactory, I suspect this lens is quite special now.

Let’s see what happens when I super-impose the charts for the 24mm f/1.4G and Leica’s 24mm Summilux-M ASPH. The faint/light red curves below are Leica’s; I have drawn a yellow curve between the lowest pair and the second lowest pair of these that is comparable in metrics to Nikon’s blue curve.

Oooooh, it is special.

To the exception of the extreme corners, the theory is that Nikon’s implementation surpasses Leica’s.  The Leica is almost assuredly smaller and less conspicuous but it doesn't eclipse the competition with its performance.

Finally, it's relevat to know how it compares to the Canon.  The lower set of curves, the fainter ones, are comparable to Nikon's.


The Nikkor is better over the whole frame, but not by much.