Photokina 2014 saw the release of an updated Leica X model – the typ 113. I’ve decided to review it for two reasons: firstly, to make another attempt at overcoming my personal lack of enthusiasm for the 35mm FOV, and secondly, out of curiosity to see how good the new lens is – it’s now a newly-designed 23/1.7, changed from the previous 23/2.8 which I believe is a derivative of the M-mount design. The sensor remains the same as the X2 at 16MP, and APS-C. Finally, some design updates complete the package – leaving the X looking more like a mini-M than ever.
Caveat: this review was produced with a final production beta camera and lenses; this means that whilst we’re probably 99% of the way there, there will almost certainly be some small changes before the camera finally ships. All sample images were shot in DNG and converted via ACR, with the 18-56 and 23mm native T-mount lenses.
Let me say up front that whilst I have been very clear that innovation has been somewhat lacking in the camera industry across the board of late, there have been a few standouts that do so precisely because they push various aspects of the game – be it image quality or more rarely, ergonomics. I’ve long had the feeling that Apple’s latest camera implementations – touch once to lock exposure and focus, again to shoot – have really distilled the essence of the camera down to its bare minimum. It uses technology not to pad out a spec sheet, but to free the photographer to concentrate solely on composition. Shame then, that none of the more capable cameras have really gotten this implementation right – until now. I believe the Leica T is the first generation of a paradigm shift in the way we control and interact with our cameras.
Advance disclaimer: I’m not a full-blown Leica M nut, so most of my opinions are just that: opinions. But I’ve used a few of these things in my time, both professionally and for personal work. These images predate my recent DIY film efforts, so you’ll see a mix of color negative and slide film in there – I was mostly shooting Provia 100 and Velvia 100F at the time. The vintage of the images is also given away by the early watermark…
The Leica M6 series is perhaps the most accessible film Leica for most; I mean this in terms of both usability and price. A very large number of these cameras were produced in several key variants from 1984 to 1998; this volume means that prices on the secondary market have stayed relatively affordable. For not much more money over a ‘classic’ M2, M3 or M4, you can have something with slightly updated materials – likely resulting in longer service intervals – and of course, most importantly, a meter. With any of the classic M bodies, you need to use an external meter or an experienced eyeball to determine your exposure. Ignoring the design oddity that was the M5, the Minolta-collaborative CL and the more recent (and expensive) M7 and MP, we’re left with the M6 for most people if you want a film M camera with a meter.
Warning: what follows is an unashamed post about gear. Yes, Ming is writing a gear-centric post. There will be no photography in this article beyond the obligatory camera p***.
Imagine, for a moment, this is an automotive blog. In fact, the precise segment that comes to mind is Richard Hammond’s recent series in Top Gear on driving the classics; every month we see him wrestling his boyhood poster fantasies with a silly grin on his face. After re-reading that sentence, I realize that sounded very, very wrong. I can’t claim to be anywhere near as popular as Hammond or the rest of the Top Gear trio, nor does my enthusiasm for photography extend that far so far back as for me to have boyhood fantasies about it, but I do distinctly remember lusting after a lot of (then) out of reach gear in the early days of my obsession. I admit that one of the high points of this job has been having the opportunity to fulfill those desires. I may never get the opportunity to drive a BMW 3.0 CSL, let alone a 250 GTO SWB or a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, but a 903 SWC is still feasibly within reach…
What follows today’s article is a little mini-series; I wouldn’t really call them reviews, because the context is very different and they’re not really that relevant as current products.
Most of these are square because I was under the influence of Hasselblad at the time; with your primary camera set up to shoot black and white squares, it’s difficult to break your shooting rhythm to see much of anything else. However, this set was shot entirely with a Leica(sonic) D Lux 6. I think what’s interesting here is when I used the DL6 over the ‘Blad: mainly in situations where a) I wouldn’t be fast enough with MF; b) when it was too dark and I didn’t have the 400 back already on the camera; c) when I needed longer or wider perspectives I didn’t have as most of the time I was only carrying 50 or 80mm lenses. There’s still very much room in the bag (pocket?) for a smaller format and a smaller camera, even if you have to give up image quality: a shot is better than no shot at all. Admittedly, at these sizes and this presentation format, it’s not easy to tell what camera was used. Regardless, it’s always about the images: enjoy! MT
When the Leica X Vario (Typ 107) was first announced about a month ago, I honestly didn’t quite know what to make of it – though it seemed like a logical evolution of the X line, and a compliment to the M line, the headline spec left most photographers scratching their heads – including this one. It packs the same 16MP Sony-derived APS-C sensor as the X2, a body somewhere between the X2 and the M Typ 240 and a 28-70 equivalent zoom. Actually, it wasn’t any of that which caused the consternation visible in the comments on this earlier post – rather, it was the modest f3.5-6.3 maximum aperture, and the stiff price. At $2,850, it’s a solid $850 more than the X2, which has a faster fixed lens, and well into second-hand M8 territory – including a lens. The challenge is one of product positioning: the price is high enough to deter serious photographers from taking a second look, perhaps steered away from Leica’s claims that it’s meant to be a mini-M. The X Vario has the body size of the X2 mixed with design cues from the M (top plate step, thumb grip, chrome D-pad, new 3″, 921k-dot LCD). What I found during my week of use (so far) is that they’re both right and wrong.
Judging from the email traffic over the last couple of days, I know there are many of you wondering why I’ve been silent on the new Leica X Vario (16MP, APS-C, similar to the X2 body, 28-70/3.5-6.4 equivalent) – the simple answer is that I wasn’t given a camera to test, so not having used one, I have no opinion on it as yet. I have requested one, and have been told it should arrive this week or next. As usual I will do my best to answer your questions if/when it arrives.
Ostensibly, this is already perhaps not the most practical of ideas; if one is extremely masochistic, things can be compounded further into the really bad idea class by using film. And a manual focus camera. Without a meter. I think it takes a certain amount of insanity – or at least a healthy dose of optimism – to even attempt it. Street photography (the genre itself being discussed in this previous article) is the kind of thing that’s handled best with a responsive, unobtrusive camera that also has a goodly amount of depth of field for a given aperture, plus what I like to think of as being very forgiving of slightly loose shot discipline. This generally means good high-ISO ability, perhaps a stabilization system, a low-vibration shutter and decently large pixels to make the effects of camera shake less obvious.
During the day, you sometimes come across one or two of these food carts hiding dormant and parked in an alleyway, shuttered up and slumbering. Lights off, boarded up, you have no real idea as to their purpose. However, as night falls, Fukuoka’s traditional food carts start to emerge from their various hiding places, spread their wings, awnings, seats, sidewalk tables, makeshift walls/ partitions, lights, signs (in effect being a complete portable mini-restaurant around a counter-cum-kitchen) and cooking paraphanelia, and more attractively, their fragrant smells. Most of them congregate by the river under some trees in a stretch that’s bounded by Hakata Canal City on one side, and the seedier red light district on the other. I suppose they cater to the shoppers before they go home, and the punters before they go out.
I’ve got far too much stuff in my dryboxes; it’s time to let somebody else enjoy the bits of gear I’m not using. Up for sale today, we have five items; prices are in USD excluding shipping (depends on where and how you’d like it sent, of course) but including PayPal fees (you can use a credit card, too; let me know and I’ll send you a checkout link). Everything is in perfect working order and has been QC’d by me personally. If you’re interested in any of the items or have a question, please email me. Same goes if you think my prices are out of whack – make me an offer! Thanks, MT