Monday, July 30, 2012

Quick thoughts between Leica X2 and Olympus OM-D

After having used my Leica X2 for a little over 1,000 photos and around 2,000 on the OM-D I have some initial observations between the two cameras. The Olympus is a technically excellent camera. It has great sharpness, responsiveness, autofocus, exposure and sensor noise. The Leica has excellent handling, portability, lovely files, exposure and good sharpness. I do want to point out that they are both inherent very different cameras. Designed for different uses, and aimed at different users. In my opinion, they are mutually exclusive.

In short, I find the X2 files a joy to process and finish. The colour, tonality and 'mood' have so much more life than the OM-D. The files with the X2 need less attention to get looking right. A curve adjustment here and there, some levels, and then the usual sharpen and noise reduction reviews. The OM-D tends to need more work to get the 'look' of the image. I find that the sharpness of the X2 is very good, but the OM-D (especially with the Leica 45mm f/2.8) to be just that much better.

On a day out with the family, which would I take? The X2. What would be in my go bag for every day photos? The X2. If I was going out for a night out, the X2. For me, I find the X2 a perfect match. For a photographic trip, I would consider the X2, and along with the OM-D mated with the 12mm f/2.0 and the 45mm f/2.8. Of which, it should cover me for most of my shooting needs. This all fits nicely into my Think Tank Restrospective 5 bag. The alternative would be the X2 and D700 with the Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 and Nikon 24mm f/1.4.

With the X2, there are two inherent shortcomings (that cannot be changed) and a few areas that can be improved with firmware. 

1. It doesn't do macro very well. On such a compact camera, surely it would've been easy to allow focusing down to say 15cm from the current 30cm.
2. It doesn't do a equivalent 70mm-ish FOV. Obviously no fault of the X2, but if Leica would introduce an X2 version with the longer focal length lens (and perhaps a wider one as well), it would allow people like me to build a system simply based on multiple bodies. No more lens changes!

If item 1 was to be addressed in the next version, and a new X2 released with a narrower lens, I think it'd be even better suited to me. Things I would like to see improved in the firmware;

1. Allow minimum shutter speed for Auto ISO to be set to 1/250, rather than just 1/30.
2. Allows the two dials to be customised to change EV, ISO, Flash ISO, etc. by the user.
3. Allow fro DNG only.
4. Buttons to be a little more response, especially the INFO button, when I am using the OVF, it sometimes takes around 1 second for the screen to come on.
5. Have a special screen display mode for when you are in OVF (as an option to no display) that will show all the critical camera settings (ISO, EV, WB, photos remaining, focus point, etc.). Even better would be to allow the photographer to select which ones to show.

Without sounding too poetic, I find that the use and results of the X2 to be have more 'soul' and emotional connection, despite it being noisier and not as sharp nor as fast as the OM-D; and for me, that   is why I think the X2 will be my long term photographic friend.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Leica X2 Battery Life

The first charge of the battery on my Leica X2 just died. The camera shut down. The photo count, 884. Impressive! I mainly use the Voigtlander OVF, so the screen usage was very minimal. Maybe used the screen about 15% of the time, and the after shot preview was set to 1 second. There was even some flash usage, say 5%. All around I'd say that this was a very impressive battery capacity, and two batteries should last for most short multi night trips.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


A day at the beach/pier with my Leica X2 - Mui Wo in Lantau Island, Hong Kong - to be exact. Terribly bad day. Very bright, hazy, smoggy, feel like you are in a tanning booth... A few comments. CA is fairly well controlled - red and purple fringes can be seen from about 50% upwards. There was a lot of CA along the horizontal members of the gantry, the vertical posts had very little (not sure which is the exact optical phenomena that is, but there is a name for it...).

Loading Platform.
(Leica X2 1/500 f/5.6 ISO 100)
Sharpness again is generally quite even across the frame. But I do not that DOF, even with a 24mm lens set at f/5.6 is not everywhere. In my eyes, the  field that appears to be sharp and in focus extends from the bottom of the rusted steel platform; all the way to the end of the timber platform. If you look carefully at the light blue rendered wall on the right hand side. The wall surface appears to be rendered with very good detail and sharpness. But if you move down towards the concrete pier itself, a lot of that becomes softer - which it should, cause it is on a similar focal plane.

A few notes about the colour and exposure. It was difficult lighting conditions, but still, the Leica X2 files were very easy to work with. In this particular photo, it had an exposure of -0.65, had RGB, Blue and Lab Luminance curves applied; along with some contrast, saturation, tint mid tones and tint highlights applied in RAW Developer.

Full frame mirrorless

There have much speculation of a full frame mirror less system coming. With the Canon mirror less finally been leaked, I think the rounds by the manufacturers are completed. In the past there have been two standout Japanese manufacturers always doing something different; Fujifilm and Ricoh. The Fuji has released X series, very innovative and very different to the mainstream. Ricoh chose the GXR route, with different modules.

At this time, I want to speculate a bit about the GXR future. I think Ricoh will come out with updates to the body and the GXR A12 M module in the following in the next 3 to 6 months.

  • A new body with a build-in EVF. 
  • Updated GXR A12 M-mount module. It will have the same 16 megapixel sensor as their new A16 module. 
And my prediction is that they are working on one, or will work on a full frame M-mount module. But my thoughts are this is maybe one to two years away. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pimp my X2

Recently got the following extras for my Leica X2
  1. Auto lens cap.
  2. Kiwi filter tube.
  3. 49mm to 52mm adapter.
  4. Canon 250D 52mm diopter lens.
Items 1 and 4 are on hand, and waiting for eBay sellers to deliver items 2 and 3. All I can say about item 1, I got was - crap. Plastic and the threads aren't even full diameter. The Canon 250D on the other hand - good quality. I hope that someone makes a better quality (i.e., metal barrel with plastic cover) version of the auto lens cap. Am still indecisive about the case, and since I got the grip, I am finding it indispensable for good holding at lower shutter speeds (for me, that means at 1/30 and slower). 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Some test of RAW Processors

Some test black and white shots from the Leica X2. Please note this is in-progress testing.

Test 01 - RAW Developer: Everything off

Test 02 - RAW Developer: Everything off Enable Soft Look On

Test 03 - RAW Developer: Enable Soft Look On an RL Sharpening

Test 04 - Aperture: Fully edited - Obviously different exposure to the above.

Lightroom - Fully Edited

RAW Developer - Fully Edited

Prediction for Leica M10

There are currently two photos allegedly of the new Leica M10 circulating around the net. Here is what I produce for the M10, launched I think at Photokina later this year.
  • Liveview and/or EVF (same as the X2). 
  • 28 MP KAI-29050 sensor from Truesense.
  • 920k dot screen.
  • Very low chance; but introducing an electronic lens contact to facilitate auto aperture. Which I think is required for the EVF. This would mean that some/all existing lenses would be upgraded to one that can have auto aperture. Obviously larger, but will enable proper live view operation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Western Market

Image of Western Market in Hong Kong with the X2, on a bright sunny morning. Processed with RAW Developer.  With this image, I did notice a slight unevenness in sharpness across the frame. Generally quite sharp, but not as what I had imagined, i.e., sharp across the entire frame. Also interesting was a stepped edge that came up during the sharpening process. Not sure if it is a function of the file, sharpening process or the RAW de-mosaic process.

Leica X2 ISO 100 f/4 1/640

Another day...

Another day comes to a close.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blue Skies

Part of my job takes me to the Dongguan area of China often. In most of those time, I only see hazy skies, or rainy skies. But lay night - magnificent. One of the best skies I have ever seen in the past 7 years or so of going there. It is such a shame that China, a naturally beautiful place, is so encumbered by man made effects.

Location:Dongguan, China

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More test snippets from the X2

Please find some more snippets from some test shots with the Leica X2. 100% crops. All process within RAW Developer. No colour correction, purely noise and sharpening applied. 

Leica X2 1/125 f/2.8 ISO 1250

Leica X2 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 400

Leica X2 1/125 f/2.8 ISO 800 (Focused section)

Leica X2 1/125 f/2.8 ISO 800 (unfocused part from above photo)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Capture One - Leica X2

Processed with Capture OneLeica X2. I noticed that the white balance was off and there was a strong green tint. The sharpening also played strange things with the vertical balusters around the rotunda. Of the three so far, the least easy to operate (due to my least amount of recent experience with it) and also has a very heavy user interface.

Leica X2 100 ISO f/5.6 1/250

RAW Software

I now have four different RAW processing software. Aperture, RAW Developer, Capture One Pro and Lightroom. For the early part of my digital years, I was Capture One, and then moved to Aperture when it was released. Since then, Aperture has been my software of choice. Two years ago, I started to play with RAW Developer for two reasons; black and white processing and its RL Convolution Sharpening. Early this year, there was a great deal for Capture One Pro, and I purchased it. Finally, I got a license for Lightroom as part of the Leica X2 package.

Over the next few months, I want to do a review and comparison between the four RAW packages. I do not necessarily just want to concentrate on final output image quality, but also on its usability and how well it can produce B&W images. As soon as DXO supports both the X2 and the OM-D, I will be acquire that also.

X2 processed with RAW Developer

Here are the same Leica X2 image processed with RAW Developer; one in B&W and the other in colour. I have to say that the sharpness across the frame is very even. Also, using RL Convolution sharpening, it tends to accentuate grain, which was causing some strange 'stepped' artefacts with angled lines. The B&W image does have an excellent tonality to it, and reminds me of real B&W film scans.

Leica X2 100 ISO f/5.6 1/250
(B&W RAW Developer)

Leica X2 100 ISO f/5.6 1/250
(Colour RAW Developer)

First X2 Image

Find attached my first Leica X2 image processed through Aperture. I only had a quick chance to process the image. I tried RAW Developer, and found the edges to be a little bit too stepped, and found Capture One to have weird greens. Aperture also had its own issues, but I think they were limited to Aperture and not the processing of the file.

Leica X2 ISO 100 f/5.6 1/250

Friday, July 6, 2012

Photography Basics

If one puts aside camera brand, format and medium, what are the basic parameters that a photographer can control? The answer lies in two parts: perspective and exposure. That is, how you see it and how you capture it.

This is effectively a combination of the lens used (to control the field of view) and the position of the camera relative to the object(s) one is trying to photograph. As many will know, the choice of focal length will only affect how much of the current scene or perspective is captured. It doesn't alter the perspective per se. Perspective is purely about the relationship between the photographer and the scene. Fir example, in a crowded room, moving further away from the crowd will generally make the people appear closer. Move closer in, and the gaps between the people will become more apparent. This, and in tandem with the 'critical moment' is the most important aspect of our craft.

Exposure is a combination of shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity of the medium. The latter, in the old days, was simply controlled by the ISO of the film. We were stuck with whatever we have loaded and brought with us. In the age of digital, the ISO can be varied and changed on the fly. An thus, becomes something that is as critical to exposure as the other two. We can now have, or should have; aperture priority, shutter priority and ISO priority. And a good camera sold allow the photographer to easily set, change and know these parameters easily. I have yet to see any digital camera that has all three controls as dedicated dials.

The final important control is exposure compensation. Unless you are using fully manual exposure, this is a very key control to enable the desired exposure. For this, the Fuji X100 and X-Pro 1 includes, which is nice, but I think Leica needs to include for the X3.

I think, that a camera that has all four dials as physical controls; easy to access and change, will make a camera eminently more useful and easy to operate. The kind of thing where the camera gets out of the way of photography.

My prediction for the rumors for Leica mirrorless and Hasselblad mirrorless

Have been reading about two particular rumors of interest. One is concerning Leica and the other Hasselblad. Both are about an upcoming mirrorless - here is my take.

The Hasselblad mirrorless, I think, will be a rebadge of the Fuji X-Pro1. Why? The current H system is made by Fuji. The Xpan was made by Fuji. Since the original V series, not much has been made by Hasselblad themselves and due to the long term tie up between Hasselblad and Fuji, I think the launch of a rebadged, and tweaked X-Pro 1 is very strong. This is the fastest way for Hasselblad to get in on the mirrorless market. They may add a few features, and add a few bonus items, but I think it'd be inherently a Fuji.

The Leica mirrorless, I think will be like the Contax G system. A high quality, interchangeable lens system, albeit a point and shoot. But the would add good manual controls. I don't see the sensor being full frame, but probably APS or even the M8 size. I am sure they will release a M mount converter, but it will probably be a new mount. I would absolutely drop dead if it was a m43 mount, but I don't think so. I reckon there will be an EVF, rather than a zooming OVF.

Here you go, my take on the upcoming cameras.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why I chose the Leica X2

After spending 15 minutes with the Leica X2, reading about it for hours and paying the cash for it; I wanted to lay out the reasons for the purchase. There was no desire to buy the Leica based on 'brand desire', but I think it was based on a number of very rational reasons, of which I would like to lay out. The primary reason was to look for an digital equivalent to the Contax T3 - my much loved compact film camera. Most of the following reasons outlined below will have references back to the T3.

1. Compact. The X2 is small, light and compact. Everything I look for in a camera. Although the lens barrel does provide a hump of sorts, it is reasonably minimal and not too offensive. It can still easily fit into a bag or a jacket pocket. It is definitely not as compact as the T3, which retracts into a package not much bigger than a deck of cards.

2. Simple. The X2 has simple and easy to use controls. I can see my aperture and shutter speed without have to turn anything on. I only wish that in the X3, Leica would also include an exposure compensation and ISO dial. That, would be the magical final addition for me. The button layout on the Leica is simple. As many people put it; I want to use a camera, not a laptop. As a photographer, I only need to set my camera up once (really) and then only need to change the exposure controls.

3. Optical quality. There was little doubt that the T3 had one of the best lenses in its category. It was a 35mm f/2.8 and suited my photography just fine. Even in the days of 400 ISO film was my standard, and 1600 ISO was pretty grainy already. The Leica's 24mm f/2.8 provides the same angle of view and same aperture, and it can go up to ISO 6400. I don't expect the lens to be a problem. Of course I would've loved a f/2.0 or faster lens. But that would've meant a heavier, bulkier and more expensive camera. I think they struck a good balance.

4. Tactility. The T3, with its fit and finish, was second to none. The Leica X2, feels good in the hand - but not quite at the quality of the T3, or the M's. But it feel solid and well built. The controls are in easy to access positions. I can change both aperture and shutter speed with one hand. If only I could can exposure compensation and ISO with one hand also - that'd be ideal.

So, not have the opportunity to open the X2 yet, I look forward to charging the battery and running through its paces in the coming weeks. Look forward to test pics and hopefully test pictures with the Olympus OM-D.

Leica X2

Just found stock in Hong Kong, and got spousal approval! Very exciting, will be picking it up later today. On a side note, the official price of the X2 in Hong Kong is HK$18,400. Wen you convert this, it is about US$300 more than the going price in the US and Australia. Darn the Mainland China demand!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

E-M5 and 45mm Macro

Up close and personal. Find some test shots I did this morning using the OM-D and the Panasonic Leica DG 45mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Handheld and natural light. Using the built in body IS, with the lens IS turned off. All I can say is wow, the image quality is superb. I did notice that when getting near to 1:1, the front of the lens and the lens hood gets quite close to the object which is really an issue. But then again, the working distance offered by a 45mm lens at 1:1 is not great. The image has beautiful transition from sharp to blur and renders the overall image so well. On a side note, even with such low shutter speeds and high magnification, the IS seems to be doing its job really well. Enjoy.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Marco (ISO 200 f/4 1/100)

Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Marco (ISO 200 f/8 1/100)