Miscellaneous

Camera & lens review: The Leica MP Typ240

The Leica 240

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Lieca MP240 from above

I would like to start by saying that I am certainly an enthusiast of photography and greatly enjoy looking at different camera models, lenses and technological improvements that continue to provide the photography world with new ways to see.

The Leica MP typ 240 is a very specific tool and I wanted to review this camera while it was fresh in my mind. I am also going to take the time to compare it to a few other models and approaches.  To start I would like to say that this camera really should not be compared to any other camera, and at the same time it should be – we all need price comparisons and other comparisons to decide for ourselves if a camera is worth it or not. This is what I mean. This is a rangefinder and it is a very specific type of camera without autofocus and many of the bells whistles that you see in today’s current brands.  Not only does one possess simplicity with this camera, but you have a body that is second to none. It is made out of brass and is as solid as any camera made today.  It is made out of brass instead of a combination of various materials. It is heavy and feels great in your hand.  You know you are in possession of quality when you hold any Leica M.  Leica cameras also have the top lenses in the business. I’ve tested them against every company from Nikon to Canon to Fuji. Leica is the 35mm equivalent to Linhof in the larger formats.  Both German….both impressive.  With that said there are certain intricacies with the lenses that you have to get used to and need to be comfortable with.

Let’s start with some of the beautiful things about the Leica.  This camera makes you work.  We can start with all of the great fixed prime lenses. You have to move your feet and learn how to read light.  There is no electronic viewfinder unless you want to use the live view mode. I am actually a fan of the live view mode.  I think it’s important in certain situations like focusing far away where rangefinder cameras are hard to precisely nail the distance with precision. Using a 35mm lens and precisely focusing at infinity is not easy. So I do appreciate that Leica has included live view in their digital models though this may not entertain some enthusiasts and traditionalists of the brand.

 

Another appealing feature of the Leica is the relatively small size.  It’s certainly not as small as a point-and-shoot and because of its weight (brass is not the lightest material) we often disregard the size as an advantage though I certainly appreciated it when I wanted to hike through a blizzard to get a few photographs. It was very nice to not have to carry a bag of SLR cameras and lenses, so in that case the size makes a big difference.

The minimalist approach is something I think every photographer should employ from time to time, if nothing else.  It makes you better.  It’s very easy to want every lens in the book and I’ve been there myself but can honestly feel like I could survive with the 35mm lens and a 135 mm for distances and shallow depth portraits.  It would certainly be a very reasonable travel kit.

Leica 35mm 1.4

On this particular shoot I purely carried the Leica 240 and 35mm f/1.4. It was so much fun to just position myself and not have to worry about changing lenses.  It enabled me to hike through 4 miles of a blizzard and not worry about being too weighted down.  I was able to capture this photograph of the tree on route 20.

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This leads me into my favorite part about Leica lenses.  They are so sharp from end to end.  Lenses have their sharpest point in their middle apertures but this particular lens is very impressive wide-open at 1.4. I also greatly enjoyed rangefinder focusing. There is just an experience where you feel like you do everything – there are no electronic controls.  The downside to a rangefinder is that it might need to be adjusted from time to time so the focusing mechanism is accurate. However, that seems to be no different from the SLR lens combination from any of the major manufacturers. I typically send my equipment in once or twice a year to Canon for recalibration, etc.  It’s like taking your car in for a service appointment “just to make sure.”

I’ve owned the Fuji x100t for a while.  The Fuji and Sony mirrorless systems can certainly be compared to Leica and they certainly ask for a comparison with the retro styling and approach to the various builds.

Fuji front and back

In one area there is certainly a fair comparison….in another area, there is not. I love the Fujis and the ability to move around with them and be inconspicuous. The systems are small, they take great photographs, and honestly they have a great look to them.

The Leica is in a league by itself. There is no comparison with lens sharpness.  Unless you are enlarging above 8 x 10, I doubt you will notice too much of a difference. The other difference is that there is no comparison to build quality. The Leica is a tank.  When you feel them you will immediately notice a quality difference in that direction. There is simply no comparison. There is also no comparison in the price. You can get a Fuji x100 to you with a 35mm equivalent for $1000. Leica would run you $7000 for the body alone and at least another $3000 for a lens. So in regards to building up a Leica collection of camera and one or two lenses, you were looking at slowly starting to approach the $20,000 mark. Obviously these cameras and lenses only sell to a select few, devoted enthusiasts or those that will pay for the utmost in quality and branding. Leica is not interested in the quantities that Canon and Nikon produce.  Compare Canon and Nikon to BMW and Mercedes, good quality and reliable handling. The Leica is your Lamborghini.  Keep in mind, the Lamborghini brand commands its own portion of the price tag.  ….just sayin’.

I want to talk about something that is very hard to put a price tag on. The Experience. Shooting with this camera was wonderful. I enjoyed every second of it. It begged me to frequently pick it up and walk around for a while. So I did. I also registered 13,000 steps on iphone from this movement…..not a bad result – all thanks to the Leica.  Every function, down to even simple mechanical click of the shutter, is a beautiful work of art.  Now you have to decide if you would like this camera and a few lenses or a new kitchen or bathroom remodel – a good used car may also fit into the same expense.

There are some limitations on the Leica MP typ240.  It only goes to a 1/4000 of a second so if you think you might want 1/8000 shutter speed then obviously you would need to look elsewhere. This is not your action sports camera. It’s a totally different thing. I’m not saying you can’t shoot action sports with it but you need to manually pre-focus on a point and wait for the athlete to end up in that area or zone focus and shoot sports but you won’t have the same high number of quality captures that one might obtain with an SLR. It’s simply a different tool.  It’s why you don’t see rows of Leica’s at the Super Bowl.

In the wedding photography world, I could certainly see using a Leica in some situations. When the bride is getting ready, the action isn’t moving as fast, I could thrive with one of these cameras. I’m also very intrigued by the Leica Monochrom typ246 for this reason. You can shoot in high ISOs and not have color noise affecting the image at all. Those cameras are beautiful.  If you haven’t had a chance, Google some full size samples of the Monochrom Typ 246 and look at the detail for yourself at 100% in Lightroom or Photoshop.  See for yourself!  I had a chance to use one of these in Washington DC and was blown away at ISO 25600.

The Leica camera is simply less intrusive than a big SLR and lens equivalents. I think that would be a wonderful option in certain aspects of the wedding. They’re just simply times with low light focusing and the speed of current SLR autofocus standards that I’m not sure I could live without in many situations that present themselves in weddings.  Canon is my number one choice for nuptials.

If you were into having long zoom lens, a rangefinder is probably not for you either. Since the viewfinder doesn’t change, you are looking at the focal length lines through a very small piece of the viewfinder and that is why you don’t see many rangefinder lenses eclipsing the 135 mm mark. If you were interested in bird photography with the 400 or 600 mm lens you are shopping in the wrong place when looking at this camera.  Long focal lengths and rangefinders are like oil and water.

Street photographers love this camera and for good reason. You just have to justify an extremely high price tag. It’s the equivalent of buying a car that will get you from point a to point B. We all choose to drive luxury cars at times but we certainly don’t need them. This camera falls into that category. It’s a luxury piece. It’s selling your brand. It’s got wonderful quality but a very high price tag.  Only the user can decide if it brings appropriate value. In a world of overusing the term investment in what we sell, I can honestly say that these cameras hold their value well but they certainly depreciate over time. I’m not sure there is a camera made today that’s a good “investment.” Of course I would also say the same thing about a vehicle purchase.

With all of that said, I do think I will own one at some point, possibly buying used or previously released model that’s one generation from being the latest and greatest.  I really do love them.

Fuji has just released their xPro2. This is a very nice camera for someone who is looking for the rangefinder look and feel without the true focusing experience of the rangefinder. It’s still an autofocus camera with a fairly unusable manual focus option. I’m not sure if I have made a decision on the direction of Fuji. They have certainly dabbled in the SLR world and elected not to continue, instead finding their own niche with their X series.

The other option for owning a Leica would be to buy a used Leica film camera and a used lens. You can certainly enter the market in the $1000 to $2000 range and develop a lot of film before you equal the cost of any digital Leica.  Just a thought. The Leica M6 is very affordable and has many advantages. Even if the battery expires, the camera is purely mechanical and as long as you understand exposure you don’t need a functioning light meter to take photographs. It has many advantages over the newer M7.  The M7 has an electronic shutter so if you lose battery power you totally lose the ability to take photographs. It makes the M6 a little bit more appealing in extremely cold conditions.  The electronic shutter has proven to be slightly more accurate, but I’m not sure that makes one bit of difference other than for the sake of discussion.

Leica has also released a digital M262 which is a toned down version of the MP 240. It’s got the same sensor, so the image quality is not different but it doesn’t have live view. If you’re interested in purchasing a new camera it would certainly save a few thousand dollars by electing to purchase the M262. You do have an aluminum top instead of brass, saving the camera little bit of weight.

The experience shooting with these cameras is second to none. It’s very different from an SLR so please don’t think that it’s even a fair comparison. Different tools for different jobs. The current versions of most SLRs will certainly have higher ISO abilities than a Leica. So if stretching the limitations of ISO is your thing then again you may want to go another direction. Personally I found the ISO noise levels at ISO 6400 very acceptable.  I’ve also found low ISOs and those Leica lenses nothing less than stunning.

If you end up purchasing one of these cameras one will certainly miss a few focus on a few photos of your kids running around or moving extensively – but the joy in shooting this German made a work of art may override a few missed shots here and there.  I certainly recommend getting close with a 35 or 50 mm lens as a great starting point. If it were me, I do believe I would start with 35. It’s wide enough to capture the scene and you can still do portraits with that lens.  I think I would possibly gravitate to a longer lens like an 85 or 135 and stay with those two for a while. If I could have three lenses it would be a 35mm (or 28mm), a 50mm and a 135mm.

Remember one thing, no matter what you pay for a musical instrument it’s about the person more than the instrument. With photography, the most important piece of equipment is the one on top of your shoulders.

…..and if you are buying a brand, remember that the M240 doesn’t come with that nice little red dot.  They left it off of this camera to add to the nostalgic feel and look of the MP film cameras as well as a more inconspicuous feel.

Below, an image of my daughter, Clare, taken with the MP Typ 240 and a 35mm f/1.4:

20160124 Clare in bed

 

Unforgettable – Natalie Cole at The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville

 

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I would like to start the New Year with some photographs I took at The Paramount Theater in 2012 as a tribute to the late Natalie Cole:

It’s always disheartening to post about the loss of someone special.  Natalie Cole passed away yesterday at the age of 65.  I had the chance to photograph the legendary singer when she came to the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville in 2012.  She began her career listening to many R&B performers, as expected – but also many of the rock and blues musicians like Janis Joplin.  She was initially welcomed in the club scene as “the daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole,” and initially disappointed folks as she performed styles unlike her famous father.  She eventually made a wonderful career for herself.  Many people don’t know that she was also the daughter of Maria Hawkins Ellington, a former Duke Ellington Orchestra singer.  “This Will Be” and “Inseparable” becoming hits would awaken critics and they would proclaim her “the next Aretha Franklin.”  The 1970s gave Natalie Cole a lot of success including her own television show and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979.  In the early 1980s, Cole recorded an album and had her own personal problems with drug abuse.  In 1987, she released “Everlasting” which included the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” and became a platinum selling album, her first in over ten years.  Natalie Cole’s best selling album came in 1991 with “Unforgettable.”  Interestingly enough, she had absolutely refused to cover any of her father’s songs twenty years ago.  This record obviously included “Unforgettable” accompanied by her uncle, Ike Cole, on piano.  “Take a Look,” “Holly and Ivy,” (a Christmas album) and “Stardust,” (another album containing traditional standard tunes) all went gold in the early 1990s.  Many may remember her from Nelson Mandela’s seventieth birthday celebration.  She also sang the national anthem at Super Bowl XXVII with the Atlanta University Center Chorus.

Other appearances include “The Real Housewives of New York City,” “The Real Housewives of Miami,” “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and Tina Sinatra’s Father’s Day Special on Sirius radio along with many children of famous fathers, including Deana Martin, Daisy Torme, and Monica Mancini.  She was also featured on the 1992 tribute to Nat King Cole.   In 2009 Natalie Cole sang “Something’s Gotta Give” on America Idol.  Cole also released her autobiography in 2000, titled “Angel on My Shoulder,” which would discuss her issues with drug abuse during a big part of her life including crack cocaine and heroin.  There was also a made for TV movie titled “Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story” that was released at the same time as her autobiography.  Cole won nine Grammy awards from 1976-2009, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Record of The Year.  She also won the George and Ira Gershwin Award for lifetime achievement and three America Music Awards.

Natalie Cole had cancelled many of her December 2015 concert dates due to illness and passed away in Los Angeles on the evening of December 31, 2015.  I will never forget her appearance at The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville – it was exciting to have her in town to perform some of her most famous hits, including a duet with her father on the theater’s giant video screen.

 

Walter Iooss – The Festival of the Photograph – The Paramount Theater

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I hope you enjoy these images from Walter Iooss’ talk at The Paramount Theater for the Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville.

I’d like to start this post by saying the Walter Iooss was probably my first influence in photography.  As a young man, I had the extreme fortune to photograph Major League Baseball, World Championship Wrestling, NBA games, and college athletic events.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.  It allowed me into a world I would never be a part of…..I certainly tell myself the professional scouts didn’t notice my illustrious career as a college intramural flag football player, softball champion, and basketball sixth man of the year – THAT’S why I didn’t make it as a professional athlete.  Seriously, I loved sports and still do.  I subscribed to Sports Illustrated in 1983 and still Continue reading

Oratorio Society Winter Concert at The Paramount Theater

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Tonight, the Oratorio Society of Charlottesville performed at The Paramount Theater for two shows.  One at 2:30pm with The Field School Achapella Boys Choir.

Under the baton of Music Director Michael Slon, The Oratorio Society of Virginia (TOSVA) has expanded its appreciative audiences and is now widely regarded as one of the preeminent community choruses in the region. Founded in 1966, the Oratorio Society is the community’s longest running chorus and performs in Charlottesville finest venues — such as the historic Paramount Theater and the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center.

Chorus members are of all ages and from all walks of life; all have considerable choral singing experience, and some are professional musicians and music teachers. They come together to perform choral masterworks and to share with audiences the genius and inspiration of the composers and works performed, which are carefully selected each season. Maestro Slon’s leadership of the 90-person chorus is attracting new and returning singers from past seasons, and he continues to form exciting partnerships with other community arts groups, including Ash Lawn Opera, the Charlottesville Symphony, the UVa University singers, and more.

As we approach our 50th year, we continue to engage the community in our music – as singers and as audience. To achieve this, we provide learning opportunities with lectures before each concert; collaborate with other arts organizations; invite students from UVA, PVCC, and local high schools to audition, as well as to perform at our Christmas concerts; and work with the UVa Music Department’s arts outreach program, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, UVa’s Madison House, and local churches to bring more young community members to our performances.

In spring of 2014, TOSVA hosted a community sing-in of Vivaldi’s Gloria and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus as a benefit for PACEM, a nonprofit that works with the faith community to provide services to homeless individuals. In March 2015, we will engage the community again as we perform Schubert’s Mass in G as a sing-in to benefit another service organization, to be chosen this fall. Our entire season’s repertoire is as follows: December 2014 Christmas at the Paramount Seasonal selections including Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata and elegant holiday favorites Partnering with Albemarle/Charlottesville School choruses Paramount Theater, Downtown March 2015 “ Together in Song ” Community Sing-In Schubert: Mass in G and other works Benefitting a local nonprofit organization, to be determined in October 2014 First Presbyterian Church, Park Street April 2015 Beethoven: Symphony #9 with the Charlottesville Symphony and UVA University Singers Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Arts Center June 2015 Arthur Honegger: King David with members of the Charlottesville Ballet Dickinson Theater, Piedmont Virginia Community College
Our audiences are comprised of both experienced music from the Charlottesville/Albemarle area and surrounding counties, and have rewarded our previous performances with enthusiastic applause and supportive comments:

“GLORIOUS! Kudos all the way; best thing I’ve seen this year…” Audience member, Candide, May 2014

“What a wonderful treat for our community to have such a grand collaboration.” Audience member, Candide, May 2014

“After the concert I was so elevated, so inspired to just live and work, that such artistic vision is available to us. It was for me one of those higher moments never to be forgotten.” Audience member, Gems of the Baroque, June 2013

“Wow, what a great huge sound! I was just enthralled by such beauty! The concert was truly captivating.” Audience member, Gems of the Baroque, June 2013

“[Michael Slon] has artistic talent and gets so much subtlety from the chorus! Bravo! Love the music!” Audience member, Christmas at the Paramount, December 2011

“. . . generous and altogether moving. Thank you (and your fine musicians and volunteers) for drawing together our community for an hour of wonders.” former UVa president John Casteen, Christmas at the Paramount, December 2012

 

Dedicated to musical excellence, the Oratorio Society of Virginia enriches, inspires, and educates the
community through regular performance of choral masterworks that express the best of the human spirit.

UVA Keeps Winning – and we like it!

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Tony Bennett pictured on the 1995 Charlotte Hornets calendar

Enough is enough. I’m starting to see a few articles suggesting the University of Virginia basketball team is bad for the game…..that they are boring.  WHAT?!?!?  I have read they are being compared to “the guy at your dinner party who won’t shut up about his jet ski” by “USA Today” writer, Nate Scott.  People love to hate success in America.  I’ve seen it time and time again and I find it very interesting.  I get it – jealousy strikes.  Combining that with a blog post and a little bit of social networking, you have a scenario for shamefully scripted silliness from our sports stenographers.  There is so much to be learned from successful people and you inadvertently herd people towards mediocrity by encouraging them to shy away from watching and enjoying accomplishment.  UVA basketball is achieving outstanding results in a tough conference, and we should Continue reading

Secret Service sharpshooter at sunset

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I had the chance to photograph a political event recently and wanted to showcase a fun image.  I looked up on the building next to us and saw a sharpshooter pacing back and forth at sunset.  Enjoy!