things

Leica M-P (Typ 240)

I’ll never go digital for rangefinders! Film forever!
— Brian Tan

And so I get to eat my own words... those fortunate enough to peek into my freezer no doubt has seen the reels of Kodak films being piled up for the zombie apocalypse also known as "end of film". I've always liked the way film looked - and the fact that we are limited to 37 frames at the most. But I've not been very religious about it. I have being doing digital for landscape since the turn of this decade, and I use a Sony RX1 for point & shoot. 

What I miss with my digital cameras is the ability to quickly obtain focus without multiple takes or manipulating focus points. Not to mention difficulty of contrast detection autofocus when there is not enough details or in the evening. Sometimes you think focus is correct but when reviewing the images you realise it's out a hair. Optical rangefinder helps. At least for me. When shooting rangefinders you need it to be ready when you need it.

I prefer the clean lines of the "P" versions of Leica cameras. Film MP cost close to a M9P at the time of writing. M9P, while a capable camera is not in my shopping list. And the dropping price of the M-P typ 240 after the release of the M10 made me do it. 

I prefer the clean lines of the "P" versions of Leica cameras. Film MP cost close to a M9P at the time of writing. M9P, while a capable camera is not in my shopping list. And the dropping price of the M-P typ 240 after the release of the M10 made me do it. 

And so one day I was visiting my friendly neighbourhood camera store in Seoul and found a reasonable M-P 240 for the right price (i.e. still expensive, but I can justify through a list of financial computations and obscure investment philosophies). It is used, so I don't have to worry about it being scratched or being used outdoors where it belongs. 

By the way, the EXIF will say that the camera is a Leica M (Typ-240). Which worried me for an hour until I emailed Leica Camera and was told that it is normal. So it doesn't say Leica M-P. Besides, there's no way (today) to upgrade a Leica M to a M-P with the buffer (not able to test), sapphire display (you can see the engraved diamond on the right of the screen) and frame select levers. So it is unlikely I'm sold a Leica M for the price of the M-P. 

Sapphire crystal logo

Sapphire crystal logo

Love this modern Leica font.

Love this modern Leica font.

Here are some notes about this camera:

Exposure: While the auto metering does a good job balancing complex lighting, I find that it is just a basic center-weighted meter when set to "Classic" - no experience with "Advanced" - I don't like the fact that "Advanced" mode uses the sensor for metering. You will hear the shutter opening every time you turn on the camera. There are also different ways to meter when you use live view. But for me, if the lighting is flat, I use auto and when it is complicated I bring out my light meter and do the usual incident metering. 

White Balance: Performance of the white balance is no where near what my Nikon D3s could achieve. I find that I frequently have to adjust the WB in Lightroom. Go manual when you can. 

Speed: I don't notice much lag between pressing the button and the frame being taken. However when turned on, there's a second or two when the SD Card read lights blinks and photo is not possible. To prevent it, I keep the camera on when shooting. Then again there are at least a few cases when the camera had to do a soft start and I'd miss my shots. I'd say its annoying when it happens but not a deal breaker. 

Depth of Field: On film I usually set my hyperfocal distance exactly as it says on the lens. This is a high resolution 24MP camera, so when you do that, you would find that infinity is sometimes a bit soft. Sure was the case when I was shooting with an Elmarit-M 24mm the other day in Suwon city. I'd dial in 1 aperture stop less next time. 

Battery: I'm still using just one battery. I find that it has enough capacity to go through one day of shooting with a few hundred shots. No real need to carry a second battery. 

SD Card: I used a relatively slow Sandisk Ultra 16Gb card (my spare card). I think it's even just a Class 4. Definitely not one of the faster cards of the day, and I don't see any hesitation in read or write. 

Lens Detection: Works well when you have a coded lens. Some of my lens are not, and when you forgot to manually set the lens on the camera body you end up without camera EXIF info. And if you have it on automatic detection and you have a lens that is not coded, you don't even get auto-ISO working. The recommendation is to always check Lens Detection in the menu to make sure you have the right setting. Or go full manual. 

 

 

Artisan & Artists ACAM-75

I'm a fan of A&A's camera bags and straps since I saw them for the first time in Tokyo perhaps 7 years back. I've been using an ACAM-3000 since then and the worn canvas look and lack of big branding makes it a nice stealthy looking bag. 

Recently I have been drawn to small camera cases when I want to travel with a normal bag and have a small area to store a Leica M with a lens. Or a Sony RX1 with a spare battery. ACAM-61 does that nicely. So it was this one day when I was out looking for another ACAM-61 that I came across a new style case called ACAM-75.  

Its basically a roll top version of a single camera pouch with a firm elastic band to keep not close. I guess there are cases when a zipper too would be more convenient and times when roll top would be better. 

The fabric is canvas. Not as thick as the bags but still feeling strong. As usual A&A's workmanship is impeccable. No complaints there. No loose threads and it is made in Japan. I went with the red colour so it will not go missing inside a larger bag. Padding is not excessive and there doesn't seem to be any rough edges on the inside to scuff up a camera over the long term. 

 

It fits a Leica M snugly. RX1 will move around a bit since it is smaller but the elastic band solves that issue when secured. there are no rubber feet on the bottom, which I guess is more practical than aesthetically pleasing so not a big problem. 

ACAM-75 with a Leica M2 and 35mm Summicron ASPH. To be fair, it also has a Abrahamsson Rapidwinder attached to it and a half case. The elastic band closes ok but it is definitely pushing the boundary of "fit". 

ACAM-75 with a Leica M2 and 35mm Summicron ASPH. To be fair, it also has a Abrahamsson Rapidwinder attached to it and a half case. The elastic band closes ok but it is definitely pushing the boundary of "fit". 

With M2 and lens wrapped up. 

With M2 and lens wrapped up. 

This time with a Sony RX1. This camera also has a half case on it - by the way JnK in Seoul makes a killer case that rivals Luigi's plus you can choose the leather you want to use!

This time with a Sony RX1. This camera also has a half case on it - by the way JnK in Seoul makes a killer case that rivals Luigi's plus you can choose the leather you want to use!

RX1 wrapped up. 

RX1 wrapped up. 

No complaints over this case. I like the design, though time till tell if it is more practical for me compared to the zippered cases. We shall see.  

Nikon KE-48C

Let me first confess that I'm a fan of the Nikon F. There's something about the build of the camera and the way the mechanics feel in your hand that makes it very interesting camera. Not to mention all the different variations that exist in the roughly 10 years of production. The KE-48C is a militarized version of the Nikon F with an FTn finder. This was in the late 60s and early 70s and I believe that many saw action during the Vietnam War. I doubt that the one I have has seen war - the condition is too good for that. Perhaps it was used in a more docile setting but still military. Who knows. There are no engraving on the camera, unlike the ones I've seen on the web. I believe that this is normal, the US military sometimes machine engrave, sometimes they engrave freehand and sometimes they just didn't bother.  

The business end of this camera is the backplate. Without that sticker, its just a plain old Nikon F. 

The business end of this camera is the backplate. Without that sticker, its just a plain old Nikon F. 


Honestly, its just a standard Nikon F with a sticker on the back stating the model number, contract number, and so on. The sticker is one of those thin metal ones with stamped serial number that matches the body and with adhesive to it. When you put your fingers on the sticker you can feel it move like a piece of thin metal/plastic. 

So how did I get to own this sweet looking specimen? I was having my breakfast one morning and I browsed a Korean online store and came across the fella. Most samples I've seen online were in a much worst shape than this one, and the serial matches plus I trust the shop enough to buy sight unseen. I've bought enough mechanical cameras in my life to know that most mechanical defects could be adjusted and fixed, and the meter is probably dead or losing its sensitivity (something about CdS meters). Nikon F finders are notoriously prone to prism delamination and for me they're acceptable as long as it doesn't interfere with the viewfinder too much. The lure of the KE-48C was so strong I didn't care too much about defects. I wanted one to shoot with. There are only 2 sites that I could find on the English web with any mention of this camera, one on CameraQuest and another one by Matthew Lin. What they both agree was this is one rare camera. 

This serial is 72xxxxx which is towards the end of the run, so well past the Nikon Fs with the Nippon Kogaku logo, which I prefer. This one is so practical it is boring. Note the pre-Apollo frame advance lever. Right after this model is the last one with plastic tip. 

This serial is 72xxxxx which is towards the end of the run, so well past the Nikon Fs with the Nippon Kogaku logo, which I prefer. This one is so practical it is boring. Note the pre-Apollo frame advance lever. Right after this model is the last one with plastic tip. 

This is the general edge wear on the black paint on my KE-48C. I don't know, out of the pictures I've seen online this seems to be the best preserved one I've seen. Then again there could be some mint ones in private collection that is never displayed. Who knows. 

This is the general edge wear on the black paint on my KE-48C. I don't know, out of the pictures I've seen online this seems to be the best preserved one I've seen. Then again there could be some mint ones in private collection that is never displayed. Who knows. 

With FTn finder. One of the final version for the Nikon F. I like this look but too bad mine has a meter that is stuck to "on". I'm sure I can lubricate the switch to have the off button working but since there's no 625 1.3V battery out there, I couldn't' be bothered. I'll just shoot with my brain meter or with an external Sekonic which I think is more accurate than a 40 year old CdS cell anyway. 

With FTn finder. One of the final version for the Nikon F. I like this look but too bad mine has a meter that is stuck to "on". I'm sure I can lubricate the switch to have the off button working but since there's no 625 1.3V battery out there, I couldn't' be bothered. I'll just shoot with my brain meter or with an external Sekonic which I think is more accurate than a 40 year old CdS cell anyway. 

 

What's it like to shoot with a Nikon F? They're not as smooth as a Leica M for sure. The king of butter smooth operation still goes to a Leica M3 as far as I'm concerned. Then again if you wanted a mechanical SLR, I don't believe any come close to an F. I've owned a Canon F1 for a while, and while it felt hefty, it has a clank to it when the shutter is tripped. The F just feels a lot tighter. When you wind the lever, it is mostly smooth with the feel of the gears engaging some cams along the way. It feels like a ratchet. But satisfying. There are not that many controls, just the photographer, aperture, shutter speed and focus to worry about. Of course if you need mirror lockup or DOF preview, the buttons are there. Otherwise its full manual and there's something satisfying about shooting without batteries. Like hunting with a bow and arrow I guess. Or a dagger! The cheapest Nikon F I have cost me just $25. You have to try one to know what it is like. 

Nikon D3s Test 1: ISO, ISO & ISO!

I have not done a post on photo equipment for some time, and I think I should at least do a new series for a test I am doing for the new Nikon D3s. Before this I have been using mostly film and a portable D300 for most of my landscape trek. While I love the rendering of the D300 and the D2 series camera, there are always something lacking in them. On the D300, it was the ergonomics for me as I hate to go into the menu to adjust something on the field, especially with light diminishing quickly during dawn or dusk. With the D2 series cameras, anything other than base ISO just wouldn't cut it. It might be fine with the D2x, but with the D2h, even at base ISO, shadows can get blocky if you are not careful. So, in anticipation of a long trip to South America at the end of 2010, I decided to pick up a D3 to familiarize myself with its high ISO performance. My thoughts at that time was that a D3 for main body and D300 for that extra DX reach would be ideal for a long expedition. And just before I was going to ask my usual dealer for one, the D3s was released, and just as well.

Long story short, I now have a D3s. And in summary: while I'm not new to photography, nor digital photography, this camera does induce a bit of an extra learning curve.

First test as I shoot my first 1000 pictures: ISO performance. I don't intend for this to be a review, hence I don't plan to include sample pictures. The early feedback from the internet forums is that this camera performs about 1-1.3EV better in ISO compared to the previous high-ISO champion, the D3. As I do mostly landscape with this camera, I intend to test it only for that purpose.

I did 3 tests today, first was a landscape shot with camera focused at infinity in bright daylight, a second scene with an close-up object (confession: a pretty wartime Leica IIIc) with proper illumination, and third was a city scene from the top of a tower.

Results:

What I can say is that this camera's ISO performance is amazing.

- ISO200-ISO1600: I will not hesitate to shoot with the D3s up to ISO 1600. I could not see any noise or loss of details on the NEF file all the way up to that level in Adobe Lightroom. For once, auto-ISO is an option in the field. (Of course, one should always shoot at base ISO if you can, with a tripod, but still, 1600 is something I will not shy away from. It is THAT good!)

- above ISO 1600 - ISO 6400: From ISO higher than 1600 onwards, I see some noise appearing in the shadow areas, but the well illuminated areas are fine. This goes on all the way up to ISO6400 easily. The noise is very much film-like chroma noise, which is bearable. Not noise-free, but not too much of a concern as details in the scene are all still there.

- up to ISO 12800:  The details held up all the way up to ISO 12800. I love this camera! At 12800 the noise is still very much chroma like with some tinge of colour noise creeping in.

- above ISO12800 - ISO102400 (HI 3): the detail performance starts to drop at ISO +1 to +3 EV, basically ISO 25k up to 102k. Basically the image gets smudgy and bands appear at the highest ISO. But if the difference is between taking a picture and no picture, I'd take the 102k ISO shot anytime over lost opportunity.

Next up: Movie mode at 720p. This is something I've used, but the camera seems to be adjusting most of the functions automatically. I will need to test it out to find out how it works.

Shanghai GP3 120 Film: Fogged, but interesting!

While out in Changxing Island outside of Shanghai, I shot 4 rolls of 120 film in one whole day with my Mamiya RZ67II and being my first time out with the ultra cheap Shanghai film (less than a buck each US) I didn't know that the end tape doesn't include any licking tackiness to it. There's a piece of paper that says that the film is exposed, but what's the point as it doesn't stick to anything, wet or dry. So I jury rigged something out of the next roll and stuffed it into the phone pocket in my pants, and when I got to the ferry point, realised that the first roll unrolled itself. Definitely fogged to Hades, and I was hoping the black paper would save the day. No it didn't. Light did REALLY get to the film. Processing was via 1+100 Rodinal on stand development in 27C water for 1 Hour. To my surprise (seriously, there was no big surprise!), the base was all dark, no frame marking at all, and there were just a small trace of image on it. First frame was 90% destroyed, and other than uneven fogging, some Photoshopping might recover some details.

And it did. Actually, the result is less Holga, and more wet plate collodion with a little age induced fogging. Possibly making some nice artistically inclined shots. Here they are...

First picture of the frame. No, its not god rays, but a ship under repair on a floating dry dock. Being the first frame in the roll, this one took the full brunt of the fogging.

All these rural places in China are full of these crude minotaur of a vehicle. The fogging is apparent, but there's also a little texture in it. This frame is in the first half of the roll, so I'm guessing this is the texture of the black backing paper, that somehow managed to transfer itself to the film during the fogging.

This one I like. Looks like the result from a lost world war 2 negative of some Japanese port. No, its Changxing Island circa 2009. And the texture is also here. This one is actually frame no.2.

Stacks of bricks. The actual shot of this is less interesting as the background is visible. The yard is not THAT big, but due to the fogging, it suggests an infinite storage area. On the contrary, but a nice surprise. This one is towards the middle of the roll.

This is a small river that cuts through the middle of Changxing Island. The fogging sets back the scene 100 years to the past. Nice!

Tractors here are all caked in some white alabaster thingy. No I didn't stick my fingers into it to confirm, but up till now I still don't know what it is for sure. This is one of the last frames in the roll.

Surprise, surprise! Now I've added another processing trick into my darkroom arsenal!

Cheap Films: ERA 100 Panchromatic Film Adventures

  ERA100 Flatenned Film Packaging

I have been quite adventurous with film. For serious shooting, I'm sticking to Tri-X and just recently 125PX but every once in a while, as I now live in Shanghai, I would try out a Chinese film or two to see how they perform. The first thing that would catch my eye would be the cost of one roll of these local film. ERA 100 costs 10 RMB, or right about $1.5 USD. I have heard a lot about this film from local shooters. The other popular Chinese film is Lucky SHD100, but the only problem I find with it is that it is good for flat scenes, but once you have plenty of contrasts, you'll find that the chemical tends to leak or diffuse across the border, giving the "glow" look of older RF lenses. 

This was the first roll of film I shot this new year, and over the long weekend I took a long walk around Shanghai Puxi area with my Leica M3 and 50mm f2 Summicron loaded with ERA100 for some street shootout. First thing I noticed was that the film base seems a little thicker than Lucky films, which is a good thing. Lucky has been known to have very thin film, sometimes breaking when the rewind motors are strong.

Developing was not that difficult. Digital Truth  has the right timing for HC110B which I am using nowadays. With the tap water adjusted to 20C, 7:00 minutes would do the trick. However, the result of the dried negatives were not too encouraging. Other than allowing for a little metering issue (Since I dont use meter) the exposures and timing seems accurate enough, but I did see some cracks all over the emulsion layer. I have seen this before during my shooting in Macau, and this is most likely due to thermal shock when transfering the film from one bath to another. I'm guessing during the stopbath to fixer phase, I must have turned on the tap water too hot. It is impossible to use cold tap water now in winter as the water temperature is below 10C, again resulting in thermal shock, but not wise for it to be too high either. 

I did find that the result of the scans were quite soft as well. Only one thing to do... I did some setting up this morning, on a Gitzo tripod and cable release and used up a whole roll of ERA100 to test the characteristics of the film. The result is still hanging in the washroom, so I will update my findings after this. 

So far my experience with this film has been mixed. I will need to see my control roll before I know if it was a user problem with the first rolls or something wrong with the film. Still 50/50 on it.

Gitzo 1541T Tripod with RRS BH25 Ballhead system

One of the main complains I have when hiking light, is that you have to compromise what you bring with you. I have tried to hike with less than 3 cameras but at the end always convinced myself to bring a point and shoot, a rangefinder and a SLR at a minimum. The point shoot for everyday tourist shots, rangefinder to shoot people, and SLR for the more artistic shots where I need a TTL-accurate compositioning and filtration system. So I found myself oogling at a compact Gitzo GT1541T 4 sectioned tripod while on business trip in Taipei, and before I knew it, I had that tripod in the hotel room. It weights just shy of 1kg (0.98 to be exact) and extends to a height where you just have to crouch down, or get down to your knees to shoot. For a 6 footer at least. Not too bad considering I wouldn't be able to cover the hiking distance I usually cover in a day if I had to bring my old Gitzo 1228 tripod with Kirk Photo's BH-3 ball head.

What is so special about the 1541? There are many sites on the web with the technical feature description, but for me, the foot folds over the top of the head to create a compact system, enough to fit into my 25 litre backpack and sturdy enough to put on a DSLR with a wide angle lens. I know I don't carry anything more than a 105mm prime lens when I hike, so there's no need to consider the weight of a 200mm or 300mm lens weight on that thing.

But next trouble I had was the ball head. I have been using the Arca-Swiss compatible plates and brackets for years now, and so it was not a question what I need was a new lighter ball head. I checked Kirk Photo first and their smallest ballhead is the BH3, which I already have, and it looks oversized for the 1541T. I wandered over to Really Right Stuff's website and found that they have the BH-25 ballhead, which is about the same size as a Gitzo 1177 ball head. The loading specifications look the same, but at least the BH-25 comes with an A-S compatible clamps so I do not have to get another.

Placed the order with RRS and in less than a week, the package arrived in Shanghai together with a new D300 L-plate to go along with it. In time for my November hike.

Here are some photos of the setup:

1541T Caption

1541T Caption

Single knob on the BH25 that is used to adjust the panning base and the ball head...

Arca-Swiss clamps on the RRS BH25

Precise coupling between the RRS BH25 and an L-Plate mounted on a Nikon D300

New Lens: Nikkor AFS 12-24mm f4 DX

After 4 years of deliberating, finally got my first DX wide angle lens on Saturday in Tokyo. It's rated a little below mint because of overused mount, and somehow I didn't see any rubber seal on it, so I guess it was replaced by the service centre. So justification: I have been holding back on this lens but finally thought its time for my first AFS and DX lens (previous lenses are mostly AIS and AFD at most) because it seems to work at 18mm and above on my full frame film SLRs as well. The initial test yesterday confirms that at 24mm the lens is sharp. Can't say too much about contrast as the weather was quite hazy here, but its nice to be able to go wide on my D2H now.

Welcome D2H to the family!

Finally went back to digital photography. Didn't fall for the tricks of the industry and get something with the most number of megapixels. The last thing I'd want to do is to have mega megapixels, and have large RAW files that's taking forever to process. So this morning went for the first time to Nakano station on the west of Tokyo and found that Fujiya (www.fujiya-camera.co.jp) still has a D2H left. On their website search it seemed as though the D2h was already sold out a few days before. There were a few D2Hs but they cost twice as much at 230k Yen. So D2H it was.

First checked the auto exposure  since D2H were quite famous for failing exposure meters. Tried the 8fps continuous shot as well. Tried just about all features I can think of just to make sure its a good sample. Nothing to be concerned about, I'd even rank it 8-9 out of 10 in terms of condition. Only complain I have is the smell of cigarrette reeking out of the camera. Obviously used by a chain smoker before. Put the first few pictures thru Opanda EXIF viewer and noticed there were 36k shutter clicks on the camera so far. Not that bad for 3 years. Not low, but not high as well considering its a pro level camera. Will be fooling with it soon, and so far the AIS lens compatibility seems quite perfect.

Fujifilm F30 Firmware 1.02

Upgraded the firmware on the Fujifilm last night. Not sure if there's a difference yet but it seems that there are a lot of forum posting that complains about corrupted images, and how its fixed by Firmware 1.02. The one that came with the camera was 1.01. The upgrade was relatively painless, and no settings are reseted by flashing the firmware, which I was quite afraid of, especially when the numbering of the photos goes back to 1 from the 600+ that we have right now. If that happens I'll have duplicate photos with the same number. But luckily it was all good after the upgrade. So... as I mentioned, 600+ photos so far. and its an amazing camera. Like most websites have said, when you take it in the open with bright lights and large contrasts, you'll see purple fringing... but I see that with most point and shoot as well. Its just a small annoyance. But the low light performance is just great. The ISO3200 shots are ok at 5R or 4R printouts, just don't do 100% zoom or else it looks blotchy. But this allows you to take without flash even indoors, shown by the pict the wife took in the Opera Garnier in Paris, where even with a flash you can't illuminate the end of the large hall. With the Fuji F30 you get a ISO3200 shot that has just the right amount of detail left. I'm sure with a pro shooter steady hand and some support you'd be able to take it at ISO800 or 1600, but... 3200 will do.

Love the camera.