Friday, August 28, 2009

going fast for less: the Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton review

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

Let's use a car analogy. Suppose the Leica 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH is a BMW M5; huge, fast and expensive. The Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton, by comparison, isn't quite as fast or advanced, but it's still impressively fast, cheaper, and Japanese: kinda like a Mitsubishi Evolution X. (Like the cars, it's also slightly less well built, and lighter thanks to an aluminum barrel instead of the Leica's brass.)

Howdy Pardner
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

Any sane rational person would probably just stick to a 50/1.8 on their wunderplastik DSLR, but since we've already proven ourselves consignable, you might as well go all the way. I've previously owned and used quite extensively both the Voigt 50/1.5 Nokton ASPH in screwmount, as well as the excellent (but poorly QC'd) Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. The Summilux is consistently excellent -if you get a good copy - and the tight tolerances mean it's possible to hit optimum sharpness every time, even when shooting wide open with razor thin DOF. The 50/1.5 Nokton isn't as precise, and it shows. The infinity calibration on my sample was also way off - with adjustment and careful focusing, it was very nearly as sharp as the Summilux but not as apochromatic, especially on bright edges. I was also not that happy with the handling - the focus ring was far too tight and sticky, and the aperture ring far too loose and prone to moving on its own.

The battle for a Summilux replacement lead me to the newly announced Voigtlander 50/1.1. Could it be? A Noctilux equivalent for Summarit money?

Kancil worship
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

I've not used the new 0.95 Noctilux, but the short answer is yes, I think it's every bit as good as the outgoing 1.0 Noctilux - even though the Leica lenses both have aspherical elements and this Voigtlander not a single one. Build is fantastic. The focusing ring is smooth and without slop. The aperture ring is tight and clicky. Sharpness at 1.1, focused carefully, is pretty impressive. At 1.4 my copy is the equal of the Summilux. So what's the catch?

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

There are a few, actually. Firstly, despite being faster, it doesn't isolate as well as the Summilux - it's almost as though the transition from in focus to out of focus is more gentle, so it's harder to achieve the same 'cut' effect.

Secondly, it's huge. It's Noctilux huge. But at least the focus ring is nicely geared, so instead of having to crank and crank and crank like the Noctilux, the throw is about the same as the Summilux. A focus tab wouldn't go amiss, but that'd make the lens even bigger still. And it'd be nice if the near limit was 0.7m like the Summilux instead of 1m like the Noctilux - it's a bit limiting for close in portraits.

Thirdly, the bokeh is weird - for a superspeed lens, it's important, because there's going to be plenty of it. Instead of OOF edges becoming melted, they take on an odd double or triple aspect and actually look hard - you can see this in just about every sample image here. Perhaps this also why we perceive the Summilux as having shallower DOF due to the blur profile.

Finally, my sample required some serious RF recalibration - I tried calibrating the cam for infinity, but it appears that the Nokton 1.1 overruns somewhat - calibrating for close distances yielded much better results, even at infinity.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

There is some lateral CA on point light sources and the like, but nothing out of the ordinary. And it all goes away by about f2, anyway. It's also worth noting that it works great at smaller apertures too - bitingly sharp everywhere. Probably a great partner for a full frame M, should one ever show up.

"I'm flattered, but y'know, you should really do something about your face."
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

So am I happy with the lens? In a word, yes, for now. No way did I expect it to best the Summilux and Noctilux for a third the price of the former; I'd say it's as sharp as the Summilux, with the speed of the Noctilux, but somehow doesn't quite have the character - probably from the bokeh - of either. But then again, there must be something Leica is giving you for all that extra coin...

Grease me up
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

Teenage posers
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton M

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Extraction... Part 1

I used something other than the Summilux 50 Asph in one or two of these shots. Better shooting than getting shot with a massive big ass steel syringe. I'm trying to like the Biogon too, but I haven't had much of a chance to use it 8-).

a lens is a personal thing: musings on the Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

Wet reflections
Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

The dress
Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

Night shift
Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

Tong Nam Piles Clinic and Driving School
Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon

Lenses are quite a personal thing, it seems. Since in this day and age it's really quite difficult to buy duds, we are left in the enviable position of selecting whatever we like the best. Case in point: the Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon. Launched together with the Ikon rangefinder, and a direct shot across the bows of the Leica 21/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH, it's an interesting piece of glass: plenty wide on full frame (academic) and pleasantly wide at 28mm equivalent on the M8. It's also a third the price of the Leica, and doesn't seem to give up anything much in any area, actually.

So what does one get for one's money? Solid, all metal construction with no slop or loose bits anywhere; a nice positive clicky aperture ring in 1/3rd stops (which is actually annoying because every other M mount lens uses half stops, and the meter on the M8 deals with half stops) and a very smooth, precise focusing ring with a small nubbin of an afterthought for a tab - actually it's useful to determine the position of the focusing ring, not so much trigger focusing like the Leica tabs. It also has enough helicoid to focus down to 0.5m, though it's only coupled to 0.7m, of course. The hood is bayonet fit, but idiotically, on the M8, blocks the rangefinder patch despite having a cutout - I bet it's perfect on the Ikon, though. The filter thread is even a considerate 46mm, which lets you use standard Leica UVIR filters (unlike those darn Voigtlanders which use a non-Leica 52 or 58mm, which are impossible to fit without stepping rings or resorting to B+W).

So what about the optics? Superb. Truly superb. I'd put it comfortably in the same league as the legendary Leica 35/2 Summicron-M ASPH and the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH. It's that good. Possibly even slightly better than the 21/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH wide open in the corners, actually. It also has a wonderful way of drawing - sharp yet creamy at the same time. It's a microcontrast and bokeh thing, of course. The backgrounds are just defocused enough to know they're not the subject, and the transition from in focus to out of focus is well defined. Microcontrast is excellent, and there isn't any trace of chromatic aberration nasties anywhere. Just take a look at the image samples above.

There shouldn't be any reason NOT to like this lens, right? seems that Fuzzbucket and I differ on this one - I love the 21 biogon - but a week later, he's contemplating swapping it for a 90 Summarit. Framing is admittedly tricky - long enough to require the rangefinder to focus, but wide enough that the FOV is somewhat larger than the viewfinder of the M8 - I use the 24 line and add a little. Maybe that's the difference - I used 17mm (also 28mm equivalent) a lot when I shot on DX, so I have a good feel for the framing; Fuzzbucket never shot DX. Conversely, I briefly owned a 90/2 Summicron-M, but never got along with that - telephoto lenses on the M8 just aren't very practical, despite my favourite DX/ FX focal length being 105mm. (I think I've used just about every major version of the Nikon 105 - the AI 105/2.5, AIS 105/1.8, AF DC 105/2, AFD 105/2.8 Micro, AFS 105/2.8 Micro VR N...the AIS 105/1.8 had the best character of the lot, IMO.)

And there's the 50mm saga - but that's another story.

Each to his own...

Monday, August 24, 2009

making the leap

Dawn, Kuala Lumpur
Leica M8, Carl Zeiss 21/2.8 Biogon

I'm about to try to go full time pro for the third time. The first time I missed my break because I was working full time to support myself and didn't know when to jump on to a good thing and take a risk; by the time I did, there were jealous people who wanted a piece of that special pie to themselves. The second time I think I didn't have a strategy. This time I'm going to make damn sure I know exactly what the game plan is, and where I want to specialize. Focus. One must try to balance risk with hope in chasing your dreams.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tasty Treats

Malaysians love to eat. The cliche certainly ring with some semblance of the truth in this multi-cultural country. While the land struggles with political and economic strife, we mostly choose to take comfort in a pastime or a delicious treat, of which there are plentiful.

cojones and I plus our respective spouses delight in the occassional visit to our favourite camera store, and indulging in some 'cucur udang' or fried prawn pastries.

Not surprisingly that one day, we made virtually identical photographs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's nice to see somebody taking compacts seriously...

In case you haven't already seen the new Canon Powershots, here they are (image courtesy DPReview)

Top - S90; bottom - G11.

The interesting thing isn't the feature set, or the LCD, or any of the external stuff. It's that they actually reduced pixel count from 15 to 10 on the same sized sensor as before, meaning hopefully much better image quality - lower noise, better color, better dynamic range. That's the G10.

And then they got serious and stuffed that inside a nice compact body - that's the S90. And this one should be *really* interesting. Shoots raw, too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"There Was a Time" by pres~c

"At first I was a little hesitant when Fuzzbucket aka JediSavant invited me
to post my photo There Was A Time here. I've never talked about
my work on a blog before, and have only really been shooting with
interest in the last few months, mainly inspired by spending time at
DeleteMeUncensored, a Flickr critique group we both visit.

I’m an Aussie, living in northern country Victoria, and this was taken in not far from the base of Mt Buller. While out in the car one afternoon with my camera (Canon 300D and 50mm 1.8 lens) exploring country lanes, I stumbled on this gem of a location. It struck me as a wonderful opportunity for a composition of the timeless and bucolic landscape. Unfortunately, when I set up for the shot, the light was fairly ordinary, flat and dull… I spent sometime playing with exposures, but walked back to the car feeling like I didn’t get the shot. Then just as I was about to leave, I turned to take another
look, and that sweet pocket of sunlight appeared on the horizon. I ran back up the road, and fired a few shots.

There’s been some discussion on my flickr page from voting pools that
the shot would be better composed with a crop to emphasize the beauty of the background. However, to me it’s the long and disjointed road that gives a sense of broken memories, and reflections back to a
golden ideal of rural romanticism. Including the base of the road at the viewers feet, helps to lengthen it and also gives the composition a nice 3 part balance of dirt, grass and sky which I like.

I think I'll return to this spot sometime soon and explore more opportunities, perhaps a black and white version, or some kind of portrait. Wish me luck!"

Check out more of pres~c's work here, it's worth it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Collins St, Melbourne, July 2009

110 Exhibition St, Melbourne, July 2009

Bourke St Mall, Melbourne, July 2009

Swanston St, Melbourne, July 2009

Bourke St, Melbourne, July 2009

...are also here there everywhere. Each time one person steps off a tram or bus, another one gets on. Some even walk. And mixed in there are lots of workers. The struggle continues.

We will be spending the weekend doing a fair bit of both, as we document the nuptials of cojones.


Durian man, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Canon SD780 IS

Checkout, Damansara Uptown, Kuala Lumpur
Canon SD780 IS

Tyre shop melancholy, Damansara Uptown, Kuala Lumpur
Canon SD780 IS

Waitress, Bandar Utama, Kuala Lumpur
Canon SD780 IS

Shot chef, Bandar Utama, Kuala Lumpur
Canon SD780 IS

Once again, in hommage to Salgado. However, unlike Salgado's workers, Malaysian ones seem to have it significantly easier. Entire set shot with the Canon SD780 IS - I'm rather enjoying this point and shoot while Fuzzbucket fights with the Olympus E-P1. Undoubtedly he'll have something to say about that later.

I also take this opportunity to apologize to our readers if I don't post for the next few days; it's my wedding Saturday and I'm going to leave worrying about images in the capable hands of Fuzzbucket.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A sad, sad day

Lament for a dying field - Photojournalism

In the New York Times. I am saddened...but have to agree.

Melbourne - Lanes Pt. II

While waiting for and drinking one cup of coffee, one was subjected to several mini-dramas being played out, each with a unique narrative. Lit naturally by the morning winter's light, and leakages of tungsten and halogen and fluorescent from windows and doors, each singular moment compels and seduces.

One should wait and just watch, and if one is lucky, one gets to record. One location, one morning, and a nice cup of coffee is all one needs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

many faces of one subject

The boredom of waiting - Goa, India
Leica M8, 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

Inviting - Kuala Lumpur
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Asph LTM

Lookout, Kuala Lumpur
Leica M8, 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

Outdoors - Kuala Lumpur
Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Asph LTM

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Asph LTM

Timing, and time itself, is critical for good images. Missing the moment can make or break the strength of your composition. Some subjects are immediately inspiring and straight away one can see images. Others work, but only if you've got the time to sit and wait - or even sit and come back later when the light is just right. Fuzzbucket's Lanes Part I post is a good example of that. Sometimes the essence only comes to you when you've been there long enough to know what to look for. And this applies not just to places, but events, people and still lifes/ landscapes too.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

how long does it take to do a dozen portraits?

According to my recent experience with yipieyaya studio, a whole day from 10am to 7pm, apparently. In what must be the most poorly organized shoot I've ever seen, the participants - winners of a scholarship - were called in at 10am to be made up. Fair enough. Except then they were made to stand around and wait for several hours until they started shooting. And of course whichever assistant was supposed to organize the shoot failed to notify people that the time slots were switched around.

How on earth can it possibly take a supposedly professional studio NINE hours to produce a few useable shots per person for twelve people? Perhaps the group shots yield a clue: despite shooting a tethered MF rig, and having TWO people reviewing images as they popped up live, almost every single shot - of perhaps a hundred - was misframed; limbs were cut off, proportions out, compositions imbalanced. At least they could have cropped a little, considering they were using a Phase One P45.

It gets better. The makeup was poor and unevenly caked; you'd definitely have to retouch that for advertising use. Personally, I've always tried to skip non-critical makeup (only mascara and hair; skin tone, texture and eyeshadow etc can be sorted out in post.)

I'm surprised the client stood for that. (A big international advertising agency with two nearly consecutive alphabets representing the initials of their name.)

In every commercial shoot I've done, the client has never allowed more time than strictly necessary - because they know we charge proportional to the time required - and even if billed per job, every photographer tries to cut down the time required to fit in more jobs. In one particularly memorable fashion shoot I had to manage fifteen costume changes in one day - with a change of hair and makeup for each, leaving me with about five minutes per set to change lighting and shoot. And I didn't even have an art director telling me what to do, nor did the client have any clue what he wanted.

So, if you're reading this and shooting sequential portraits, think about how you're going to organize it beforehand. Nobody wants to sit around waiting for seven hours while you get your house in order in a leisurely way, nor do they want to do dozens of retakes because you can't get it right the first time. Group portraits should be done first, then release individuals as you're done, and let those at the end leave and come back. Simple.

No wonder this country is nowhere on the photography map - the best here doesn't even make the rank amateur cut overseas.

To make this post remotely photography related and at the risk of offending Fuzzbucket by straying outside the boundaries of photojournalism, I'll include some images from my aforementioned fashion shoot. Everything was shot with a Nikon D3, AFS 24-70/2.8 and lit with multiple speedlights.