Posts Tagged ‘elmarit’

35mm Elmarit-R (I)

19 July 2008

Dear J-

They talk about the expense of the last ten percent — that is, the most expensive part of any pursuit is getting that last ten percent of quality; should you be able to convince yourself that ninety is pretty darn good, you can save yourself a ton of dough.  Consider high-end audio; the people that lose sleep over the lossy compression of MP3s are probably the ones who still have turntables hanging around (or in other literally suspended situations) somewhere.

So too with photography; for a given amount of money you could buy a crapload of cheap lenses (I’ve done that) or, as I’m discovering now, you can train yourself to know one lens intimately (now nearly four months with the 35mm Elmarit and I’m only now thinking I’ve got it dialed in fairly well) and get the best effects — or the desired picture — from it.  My example is the first version of the 35mm Elmarit (with Series VI filters); indeed, it comes with but a single metering cam, meaning that it was released at the time of the original Leicaflex SLR, and never received an update from Leica for compatibility with any of their later models.

There’s a soft-focus effect at f/2.8, wide-open.  It’s not displeasing, unless you’ve got some lights scattered at the edges of the picture — then they tend to coma and look downright odd — a couple of stops down and most of that disappears.  But it’s an Elmarit, and it’s a Leica, meaning it lives most of the time at f/2.8.  For the subjects I photograph, that makes it perfect.  Depth of field is reasonable wide-open, so focussing via the E-1’s viewfinder isn’t too difficult.  What sells it to me, though, is the rendition of the out-of-focus highlights; I’ve gotten used to (via the Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 and pretty much all the Nikkors I’ve used) seeing specular highlights rendered as round blobs with bright edges.  The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI-S (original version, not the compact later design) I hung on the camera before does downright evil things to the out-of-focus areas, even though there’s no denying how the contrast and sharpness pop.

It’s not the greatest lens, resolution-wise, and it’s probably far outclassed by modern zoom designs.  The focussing throw is long and slow, and it’s been replaced and then discontinued by the parent company.  Yet I finally understand why and what folks talk about when Leica lenses are referred to with reverent tones; it’s a lens that rewards the photographer by making them look far more talented than they deserve.  And the cost?  You tell me what’s more expensive:  cheap lenses that never get used, or moderately pricey (and Leica R lenses are reasonable secondhand) lenses you drag out every day to capture your memories?



Glassy Eyes

19 June 2008

Dear J-

The more I shoot with my current setup (Olympus E-1 with vintage lenses) the more I’m tempted to acquire more glass, even though I swore off more acquisitions only a month ago, and this even despite already owning multiple lenses in those same focal lengths.  What I’d be smart to do is set money aside for some actual Olympus lenses instead of making do with the motley crew of lenses I currently rotate.

For example, Olympus makes a 50 f/2 macro lens for the 4/3rds system; that lens is fast, compact, autofocus, and a 1:2 macro lens to boot, so why would I even consider instead spending a fraction of its purchase price on something like a Summicron-R 50 f/2?  I will say that there’s something seductive in the way the Leitz lenses feel:  well-damped, solid, and with an impressively long focus throw.  Here’s where my limitations come into play, though; anything less than 50mm or so of actual focal length and I can’t honestly say that I’m focussing accurately.  Besides, giving up on manual focus and aperture rings would mean that one-handed operation would be a bit more feasible; considering that for most photographic opportunities I find myself juggling baby, dogs, and camera, a free hand would be greatly appreciated.

I’d also like to be able to regain wide-angle photography without having to resort to pulling out some of my exotic lenses; the full-frame 16mm Fisheye-Nikkor works surprisingly well with minimal distortion, but what I’ll probably save my pennies for is either the 11~22 zoom or the 8mm fisheye, along with the 50mm macro.  The 14~54 has had great reviews, but considering my recent usage of that focal length range (on the LC1, I’d usually rack the zoom out to full-wide or full-tele, 28 or 90, and be perfectly happy with those results).  I don’t generally find myself limited when shooting with single focal lengths, although that may be a by-product of the lenses I’ve owned.  Now if Olympus would just lower the price on that 7~14 …